Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Towards an Understanding


“The reason why Aboriginal youth kill themselves at a rate six times higher than the overall population is to stop the pain and hopelessness that result from being subjected to colonization.

"You can’t understand Aboriginal suicide without looking at colonization. We, as Indigenous people, must realize that we did not have sky-high suicide rates before the European invasion (contact is too clean a word for what actually happened).

"When Canadian society says we’re sick that’s like a psychopathic killer complaining to someone he’s tried to strangle repeatedly that she should do something about the marks on her neck and see a psychiatrist about her recurrent nightmares and low self-esteem.”

-- Richard Bull, “Sweetgrass Coaching”



I don’t know what else it could be.

It’s not like we are all mentally unstable, or that we are taught to yearn for death, or anything in our culture makes us more prone to it.

There is a dark current that reaches out from time to time and drags some of us under.

I remember that in my childhood my schoolmates and I would whisper about the best methods for killing yourself with a horrid fascination. Hanging was often discussed.

I can’t say if this is still true. But it seems to be one of the methods of choice.

When you are in the depths of despair then choosing life seems so pointless. When you cannot envision a future, what is the point of continuing?

These are questions many indigenous children and adolescents ask themselves. I resolve to be there to try and tell them there are futures, there are different pathways, there is something to hold on to. Our culture and our traditions hold the key, and with them in place we can go forward. We just have to walk the warrior’s path to get there, and even though the way forward is not easy and fraught with hardship and pain, it will get better.

Because it has to, dammit. Not just for myself, but for all those beautiful children I know.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Jewel Candace-Lin Monture: A Lament

On Friday November 12, my beautiful cousin Jewel woke up early, got ready for school as usual, then went to the basement of her mother’s house and hung herself. She was 12 years old.

I cannot describe the shock, the shudder of horror, the indescribable heartbreak that reverberated through two families and an entire community when this news spread like wildfire. I found out through a phone call around noon (on a day that I was coincidentally celebrating my birthday) and I thought I was going to pass out, throw up, or do both at the same time. I fell to my knees and sobbed when I got off the phone. Within two hours I was in the car with my shell-shocked kids, on the way back to the reserve to be with my family. I believe that I have cried more tears these past four days than I have in my entire life, and my life has not been without its share of heartbreak. But this, this loss of our talented, lovely, brilliant little Jewel, this has eviscerated me and has somehow ruptured something in me that I thought tougher and invulnerable to events of this nature. I was so wrong.

I loved that little girl from the moment I laid eyes on her, at a family gathering when she was about six months old. She was smiling and bright even then, her cinnamon-coloured hair so unusual in our family, and the family resemblance between her and my own daughter at that age was remarked upon by everyone. Her father is my first cousin and we thought it wonderful how similar they looked. But my own daughter grew up tall and big-boned while Jewel remained petite and perfect for the dancer she became. As she grew older she became an accomplished dancer and athlete, smart, beautiful, and funny. She was also passionate about learning our language and traditional culture, and danced in powwows in the Iroquoian category of smokedance, a graceful, athletic and fierce dance style that was perfect for her. One of my favourite memories of Jewel is watching her compete at a powwow in this category, her small frame a blur amid other dancers bigger than her, her feet stamping out intricate patterns and her arms open wide to the sky as if she could embrace it. When the music stopped she was smiling with the joy of movement and the fierce music that the water drum pounded out, and I remember clapping in astonishment at how good she was.

Whenever I happened to see her, whether at a family thing or a community event or just coming by my parents’ place because she was visiting her dad, she would suddenly appear beside me with a shy hug and a sweet, “Hi, Terri,” and I always would say, “Hello, Beautiful Girl! How are you??” and we would have a quick conversation and she would tell me what she was up to and then scamper off to go hang out with Carole or Kristen or Lilly or whoever was around.

Her Mohawk name was Gahwediyo, which means “Beautiful Meadow”, and it suited her. She seemed so self-possessed and placid, serene and so very lovely to look at. Little did we know the anguish that obviously lay beneath her outward appearance. She had already known enough sadness in her short life, having lived through the loss of her beloved older brother Craig to the coma he had suffered in a car accident and never came out of. Her parents had broken apart long before then and she had been shuttled back and forth between them, but to us she seemed to be coping well with it all. All of us adults failed her, not seeing any sign that she was in trouble. Not until it was too late, and she was already dead by her own hand.

This overwhelming tragedy is seven times likelier to happen to an indigenous family in Canada than to a white family. On my reserve suicide is the second leading killer of our youth ages 10-20 after fatal car accidents. I know that the dark spectre of suicide trails its rotting fingers over both sides of my family, and there is not one family on the reserve that has escaped this horror. I ran from the reserve when I was seventeen because I did not want to live under the dark cloud of sickness and sadness that sometimes threatens to overwhelm the place. There is so much laughter and potential and fierceness and joy on the Rez, but at the same time, there remains the undercurrent of tragedy. I have since learned that you can never run far enough, because it will always reach out to touch you at some point, to remind you of the dark legacy of colonialism that touches your family even in this modern world we live in.

I’m trying to find answers, not only for myself, but for my own children who have been left devasted by their cousin’s death. I know that whatever pain my poor sweet Jewel felt that she could no longer cope with is over now. The tragic knowledge is that she lacked the maturity to understand that it would get better if she just hung in there – this is what breaks my heart. But for our youth, it’s a much harder road than white, privileged kids would ever understand.

I have a lot of healing – and understanding – to do. In coming entries I will be talking about it. Because we need to talk about it, and I will be damned if I let another beautiful child of my family slip through our fingers because we didn’t see the signs.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

In Anticipation of the Real Thanksgiving

An abridged Ganyonhon:yonk -- The Thanksgiving address:

Teyethinonhwerá:ton ne Onkwe’shón:’a
We give thanks to the people.

Teyethinonhwerá:ton ne Yethi’nisténha Ohwéntsya
We give thanks to our mother the earth.

Teyethinonhwerá:ton ne Kahnekarónnyon
We give thanks to the waters.

Teyethinonhwerá:ton ne Kentsyonkshón:’a
We give thanks to the fish.

Teyethinonhwerá:ton ne Ohonte’shón:’a
We give thanks to the grass and vegetation.

Teyethinonhwerá:ton ne Ononhkwa’shón:’a táhnon Ohtehra’shón:’a
We give thanks to the medicines and the roots.

Teyethinonhwerá:ton ne Kahikshón:’a
We give thanks to the fruits.

Teyethinonhwerá:ton ne Tyonnhéhkwen
We give thanks to the foods.

Teyethinonhwerá:ton ne Otsi’nonwa’shón:’a
We give thanks to the insects.

Teyethinonhwerá:ton ne Okwire’shón:’a táhnon Karonta’shón:’a
We give thanks to the bushes and the trees.

Teyethinonhwerá:ton ne Otsi’ten’okón:’a
We give thanks to the birds.

Teyethinonhwerá:ton ne Teyowerawénrye
We give thanks to the winds.

Teyethinonhwerá:ton ne Yethihsothó:kon Ratiwé:ras
We give thanks to our grandfathers the thunderers.

Tetshitewanonhwerá:ton ne Etshitewahtsí:’a Entye’kehnékha Karáhkwa
We give thanks to our elder brother during the day time celestial light.

Teyethinonhwerá:ton ne Yethihsótha Ahsonthenhnékha Karáhkwa
We give thanks to our grandmother the night time celestial light.

Teyethinonhwerá:ton ne Yotsistohkwarónnyon
We give thanks to all the stars scattered about.

Tetshitewanonhwerá:ton ne Shonkwaya’tíhson
We give him thanks the one who finished our bodies (the creator).

I have been thinking a lot about the idea behind Thanksgiving -- and not the glitzy American version or the kinder, gentler Canadian one -- but the idea that we thank everything in this marvelous creation for sustaining our lives. Not prayed for -- but thanked. A lovely Iroquoian concept that I particularly like.

I often wonder if the settlers saw us do this -- the Ganyonhon:yonk is recited at the beginning of every gathering -- and thought it was a good idea. Because it is.

Happy Thanksgiving, if I don't post here between now and then.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Toronto: A Love Song


I have been extremely lazy over this past summer, occupied by my little routine of work/home/sleep/fun. But mostly it’s because I have been enjoying the fact that I live in Toronto and have been immersed in how much I love living here.

I love this city. I have always felt at home here – in fact, I have been an urban dweller for far longer than I lived on the reserve. I left that home for this one when I was 17 and have remained here, reveling in my life as an urban Indian, since that point. I can’t imagine living anywhere else. I have been blessed over the course of my career to visit other Canadian and American cities and can honestly say that there is no where else I could even think about living in. I love Toronto. This is a beautiful, living organism, a vibrant and exciting place, pulsing with great expectations for the future. The thing that I love best however is when the ghosts of the past brush against me when I ride my bike home at twilight along Front Street. I can feel the vibrations of my relations here.

I often laugh when people say, “Oh the First Nations here were the Mississaugas”. Well they may have been here when the English settled the town of York, but that’s because the Haudenosaunee had moved to the south side of Lake Ontario to consolidate our power and position in the wake of the Beaver Wars. In our absence the Mississaugas moved in. Up until that point, this entire area was riddled with our villages and hunting encampments. Toronto/Tkaronto itself means “There are trees there in the water”. This is because when our hunting or war parties would come across the lake in our immense elmbark canoes, the tall elm trees that at that point lined the entire shoreline would be reflected in the still surface of the water, looking as though they were standing in the water. How beautiful and how romantic this image is to me. And I love how that word conveys an ownership to my people that we can still claim through our naming of this place.

I love this modern, cosmopolitan place, crammed with its steel and glass towers and honking cars and clanking buses. I love the fact that when I step out of my house I can hear five different languages spoken in the space of a city block. I love looking at the diverse beauty of humanity reflected in the faces of my neighbours. I love the fact that I can go within six blocks of my house and sample ten different cuisines of cultures far beyond Turtle Island. I love the bustle, the crazy intensity, the 24-hour busy-ness of this place. I love the anonymity, but also the strange camaraderie that happens with people that you see every day. I absolutely love riding my bike, dodging in and out of traffic like a modern-day warrior clinging to the back of a pony. I also love the fact that Toronto absolutely does not give a fuck about what anyone else thinks about it. Love it or hate it, it does not care. And this is why I adore it so.

Once upon a time I wrote in a short story which was my first love poem to Toronto: “…you are obsessed with finding the lingering images of Iroquoia that are scattered throughout the city, buried beneath the strata of the modern age, like fossils. The city crest, murals on the sides of buildings, the huge bronze Iroquois brave on a storefront in Yorkville, the names of streets, the wooded and garbage-strewn ravines themselves whisper to you, saying, "Haudenosaunee daughter, here we are, we have not gone away.”

Here in my beloved city the present and the past collide in me, and I think of this often as I zoom around my downtown orbit.

Monday, August 30, 2010

TEDxDU - Aaron Huey - 5/13/2010 | Owe Aku International Justice Project | Causes

TEDxDU - Aaron Huey - 5/13/2010 | Owe Aku International Justice Project | Causes
This video encapsulates almost everything I have ever tried to convey to non-indigenous people about what happened to us. And this young man understands it. Please watch.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

An In-valid Inva-lid

So I have to apologize for my silence on the blogging front, but I have a damn fine excuse.

I was hospitalized for eight days in St Michael’s Hospital here in downtown Toronto about three weeks ago for what ended up being a bleed in my small bowel, brought on by an abscess which was ostensibly caused by some kind of parasite. It was the worst experience of my life. I was scoped, probed, x-rayed, CT-scanned, poked with at least seven different IV sites, and given three different kinds of intravenous antibiotics. It was not up there with my favourite experiences, to say the least. I also learned that I could never be a junkie because I got bored with the amount of morphine they were letting me have.

I’m just now getting back to feeling normal. It cut the legs out from under me in a way that I didn’t anticipate, and made me realize just how much I take the normal functioning of my machine, my body, for granted. I will try not to do that again.

However, I cannot say enough about the staff and caregivers at St. Mike’s. They were, like all health care workers in this province, understaffed and overworked, yet they were compassionate, caring, funny, and professional all through my entire ordeal. The nurses were everyday angels. They were tough as nails and had the healing touch. They were amazing. I cannot say enough about them and the care that I got from them. And every day I said a little prayer of thanks to the ghost of Tommy Douglas for the excellent care I received – and that I didn’t have to pay one red cent for. It’s an amazing thing when you think about it. I had state-of-the-art tests performed and didn’t have to pay anything for it. We are lucky. And I am lucky that I got sick in downtown Toronto, where the fact of my indigenous heritage wasn’t even a factor in how fast I got through the emergency triage system. I think of other people in other parts of this country who have not been as lucky, and I am truly thankful all over again.

In the coming weeks I’m going to be talking about other things – the G20 protests, the 20th anniversary of the Oka resistence, the passport snafu that the Iroquois Nationals Lacrosse team finds itself in as they try to get visas to play in an international tournament in Britain – but for now, I’m trying to be kind to myself, eating lots of good, healthy food, having a ton of naps, and going back to my Rez and hanging out with my parents by their pool as much as possible. I’m returning to work next week and I hope that my health will be back to the level it was long before I got sick.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Murder is a Crime...



Unless it was done
by a policeman
or an aristocrat
--“Know your Rights” by The Clash

I’ve given myself enough time to absorb the implications of the fact that Michael Bryant is essentially absolved in the death of Darcy Allen Sheppard, and can speak about it without frothing or feeling like I may explode. I’m not going to dwell at length about the whole sordid affair, in which Bryant doesn’t even have to go to trial because it has been determined that Sheppard was on a homicidal/suicidal rampage that night and was essentially the architect of his own misfortune.

However, I have to point out that had that been the other way around – there is no damn way Sheppard would have been absolved. Perhaps at the end of a long, convoluted process – but highly doubtful. Essentially the message is, in the end, that in this country, a white dude can kill a Metis guy and have it be the victim’s fault. Somehow it always is made to be that way when the circumstances are in a white person causing the death of an aboriginal one -- the victim was drunk, or angry, or a drug-addicted prostitute who put themselves in harm's way.

I know people will argue differently, I know they will say that Sheppard was clearly bent on causing shit of some kind and that he would have figured out a way to make something happen, but I’m not talking about that. I’m talking about the optics of the situation, and what privilege means in Kanata.

I’ve experienced this kind of thing before and know what happens when a white person kills an indigenous one.

And in this instance, it obviously means that aristocrats get treated differently.

People don’t want to talk about the wider implications in this entire incident, but I do. The circumstances surrounding each man could not have been different. Michael Bryant, born into every advantage and exercising the full entitlement that privilege bestows upon him – the education, the political position, the wealth, the seamless career but for this one little speed bump. Contrast this to Allen Sheppard– Metis, poor, shuffled around to foster home after foster home, alcoholic, full of rage, unable to hold down a job other than bike courier, and most likely determined to make someone pay for his hatred towards himself. I don’t think he could help being what he had been made into. It takes luck and fortitude and discipline to rise above the circumstances of one’s birth, and I don’t think this man could have done it.

The whole thing was definitely a tale of two cities and an almost stereotypical example of class warfare in action. While it was a tragic intersection of lives, I can’t help but feel that everything I know about justice in this country has been reinforced by this instance. And I have never felt that there is any meaningful justice for those of us who are aboriginal.

I hope to be proven otherwise one day. Guess hope springs eternal.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

No Wonder Canada Won't Sign



I’ve been reading a lot about the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and the controversy around Canada’s – and the U.S., Australia, and New Zealand’s -- refusal to sign on and finally got around to reading a copy of the Declaration to check it out for myself.

The majority of the document is a nice feel-good declaration – not a law, not an edict, not even a proclamation – but a declaration around the rights of indigenous people to not be the subject of a genocide, that we have the right to preserve our customs, religions, etc., and to address the very real aftermath of colonizatio. Article 28.1 is most likely, in my eyes, the stickler for the Harper Government (because let’s face it, that’s who is in charge right now and who is behind the refusal to be a signatory). It also has problems with Articles 19 and 26, regarding consultation of public policy and the re-opening of historical agreements, but as sure as I’m sitting here, it’s Article 28 that sticks in their craw like a giant chicken bone.

A declaration, as we know, is not a law or a statute. It is merely that – a public announcement that yeah, indigenous people got shit on, we’re sorry, maybe we can figure out a way to make it up to you. So it’s not even about concrete restitution. It is merely the acknowledgement that something happened to injure indigenous people and that the forces of colonization continue to keep them injured.

Yet the colonial occupier government of Canada can’t even bring itself to do that.

And there’s a very real reason for that.

It’s because Article 28 is all about land.

Article 28.1: Indigenous peoples have the right to redress, by means that can include restitution or, when this is not possible, just, fair and equitable compensation, for the lands, territories and resources which they have traditionally owned or otherwise occupied or used, and which have been confiscated, taken, occupied, used or damaged without their free, prior and informed consent.

Article 28.2: Unless otherwise freely agreed upon by the peoples concerned, compensation shall take the form of lands, territories and resources equal in quality, size and legal status or of monetary compensation or other appropriate redress.


Yeah, that’s all very well and good in principle – but vast acreages in these former colonial nations still belong to indigenous nations, and settler governments sure as shit do not want to have to deal with the fact that most of what it considers “theirs” was acquired by genocide, theft, warfare, trickery, or my personal favourite, promising to hold the lands “in trust” then never paying up when asked to do so. Being asked to even look at it by the international community puts lie to every myth Canada tells the world about itself. I’m not saying that the entire country rests on stolen land, but vast tracts of it remain in dispute and other vast areas were not compensated for properly. There’s a problem here in Canada, a problem that it does not want to face. So in denial it turns away from addressing these very real issues and says nice things like the document contains elements that were "fundamentally incompatible with Canada's constitutional framework". O-Kay. Sure. We get it.

Australia and New Zealand, Canada’s sister colonial nations have subsequently signed. I salute their governments for having the courage to do so and to face the legacy of what the colonial occupation did to their indigenous populations. They have publicly declared before the world that they understand what happened in their past and are taking steps to redress the blatant injustice.

The U.S.? Well, enough said. I highly doubt their crazy fundamentalist mentality would ever allow them to see past their internalized fascism and manifest destiny philosophy to sign anything that requires them to deal with the very real genocide that happened on their soil.

And sadly, I cannot believe that this current government would ever have the balls to do so. Perhaps we will have a regime change, but until then, this failure to sign remains an international black eye.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Surviving the Alien Invasion


Stephan Hawking, noted celebrity physicist was quoted the other day as saying that contacting alien life is too risky. "We only have to look at ourselves to see how intelligent life might develop into something we wouldn't want to meet," he says. Any alien species might burn through the resources of its home planet and search for new areas to exploit. "Such advanced aliens would perhaps become nomads, looking to conquer and colonize whatever planets they can reach," Hawking says. Far from being a benign visit by benevolent aliens, it might be more like Christopher Columbus' first trip to America, "which didn't turn out every well for the native Americans," he says.

Well no duh, huh.

And who would want to be oppressed? It sucks. Imagine all those poor white people, chained and broken, forced onto little plots of land to eke out what pitiful survival they could until the galactic masters either got bored with them and finished the job or simply drifted away to another planet to reap its resources.

Oh man, who would want that?

Ask me what it was like. It happened to my people, and countless others who were the indigenous people of a place. We know all about it, and could tell you some stories. Some of us died outright. Others were assimiliated. Still others prevail.

Here on Turtle Island, those of us who remain are survivors. Survivors of smallpox, war, genocide, conversion to the colonial invaders’ religion, residential schools, family breakdown, alcoholism, drug abuse, despair and racism. We survived all of that. And it wasn’t because we laid down and took it either. It’s because those of us who survived it cultivated a core deep inside ourselves made of resistance. We were able to find ways of sheltering our customs, languages, religions, rituals, and tribal lore. We were wily, adapting to what the other culture offered, taking from that what we needed to survive, to get our numbers back from the brink of extinction, to protect the languages from being lost forever, for teaching our children the legends and stories of our Old Days and ways, and defying the colonial government when it came to take the last of our lands. We survived, and thrive today, because some of us were able to live in defiance, in resistance.

That living in defiance has shaped so much of my character, it’s hard to see where I learned it or where it began. It seems to be inherent in so many of the people that I know, that I grew up with, in my family and the community that I come from.

Defiance and resistance are as natural to us as breathing. We’re formidable, tall and strong and stony in our silence and our resolve. But when you get to know us we are funny, and caring, and smart. There’s still so much more work to do in our communities, in remaking our culture and reclaiming what is rightfully ours, but we will do it. We can’t help it. We were made to defy, and to adapt, and to endure. And maybe that’s what is at the heart of it. A stubborn, firm belief in our inherent right to exist, to be the People Building a Longhouse Together, and to know that we will prevail.

The older I get, the more I realize that my individual choices – the music I like, the books I read, the politics I choose to practice, and even my job – all of these are representative of a person who is shaped by resistance, and by defiance. First and foremost, I have always been something of a rebel yell. And remain so. Even as I live in the colonizer’s world and speak their language and bend to their rules and their tribal customs, in my heart I remain a woman of the Kanienkah’keh, of the Haudenosaunee, and that identity is born in the blood. Even if I don’t, at first glance, look it -- this is what I am. A warrior, a survivor. A survivor of an alien invasion.

Now real alien masters -- that may be a tad different.

But take heart, Stephan. It can be done!

Monday, April 19, 2010

Public Service Announcement


This is completely off-topic, but I have to express my undying love and ecstatic joy for Amanda Palmer. The woman is a freakin’ Goddess, and if you haven’t experienced her, go out and get some of her music RIGHT NOW. I find myself so captivated by her, I want to write her fan mail and grovel at her feet and peel her a grape, that's how much I adore her.

That is all.

We will return you to your regularly scheduled blogging next week.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

"Your People have had two hundred years more experience than anyone else in negotiating"


I have been appointed lead negotiator for the next round of collective bargaining to renew the agreement at APTN. I am so honoured, and excited, and driven to get the best damn agreement I possibly can get for the membership. I can’t wait to start. I have been thinking about the process of negotiation and why I love it so. I think it’s because it’s psychological, and sportsmanlike, but at the end of the day, fundamentally crucial to formulating the ground rules that a living document can be based on. I love it. I’m really good at it. And I aim to get better.

At its heart, negotiating is a diplomatic art, a skill of finesse, persuasion, supple argument and brute force. It’s a metaphorical warrior skill. It’s supremely Iroquoian in nature. Perhaps this is why I adore it so.

We Iroquois have had a long history of negotiating, of reaching treaty agreements as exemplified by the Covenant Chain, one of the first treaty arrangements between us and the Dutch settlers, later extended to the British. The Two Row Wampum remains the basis of all our nation-to-nation agreements. We negotiated peace treaties with the French. We also have agreements, codified by wampum belts, between the nations of our Confederacy and other nations, like the Ojibway and the Abenaki, the Chippewa and the Susquahennock. We spend a long time in hammering out treaties and agreements with other nations through subtle, persuasive argument, backed up with war when necessary.

We drove mean, hard bargains. But where has that gotten us? An agreement is only as good as long as both parties are willing to live up to the spirit of the contract, and the British crown, and its descendent colonial power Canada reneged on their duty almost as soon as they were able to. Our rich, fertile lands were too tempting to resist for a land-greedy settler population, and the respect accorded to our people could not be sustained in the mindset of an expansionist, fledgling imperialist colony that saw its whiteness, its European sensibilities as superior.

So I reclaim my heritage as an Iroquoian diplomat. I reclaim that part of me that wants to bargain, mediate, and negotiate. My work as a labour activist lets me stretch these skills, forgotten and lying dormant in me. I think if more Iroquoian people were able to flex these abilities, Canada wouldn’t know what had happened to it. We should aim to empower more of us in this fashion. Because we are damn good at it. We just need to remember how.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Stuck inside of Winnipeg with these Haudenosaunee Blues Again


I swear, every time I come to Winnipeg it just makes me sadder.

I love the work I do here, and I especially love the opportunity I get to visit my dear gay husband Dwayne and his band of happy mutant friends, but Winnipeg just makes me sad. I can’t get over the poverty and the despair and the outright racism I see. I am immune to its direct effects on me – nobody messes with a six-foot-tall Iroquoian woman in business attire – but what I see around me saddens and enrages me and makes me feel like a stranger in a strange land.

Is it economic privilege that envelops me? Is it the fact that I don’t “look Indian”? Just what is it? Right now I’m tanned from my trip to Mexico and I’m wearing some of my favourite Iroquoian silver jewellery pieces but maybe this isn’t enough to identify me as a member of the same disadvantaged group that I continually see getting ridiculed, told to move on, spurned in the streets, and openly ignored. I just don’t get the same treatment.

I often wonder if the answer is simply lookism, in that because I don’t look stereotypically “Indian” I get to be immune from the consequences of my status in this nation. I often wonder if that’s the reason. By virtue of being moderately pretty and moderately smart I get to enjoy a privilege that many other people of my same culture don’t get to enjoy. It’s weird. Must meditate on this some more.

In the meantime, I’m going to plug into my iPod and play some Bob Dylan and wait for my flight to be called so that I can go back to the centre of the universe and indulge myself in the security of being Haudenosaunee in my own traditional territory.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Mexican Radio


I was going to have a whole bunch of pithy observations on a whole pile of things – the amendments to the Indian Act that are going to restore status to a whole pile of people – and going forward, allowing my children to have their kids claim status – the changes being talked about in funding post-secondary education for indigenous students, the alarming rise in racist remarks that show an incredible amount of ignorance regarding the history and status of indigenous people in this country....but dammit I’m in Mexico. So I’m not in a headspace to give any of these things serious consideration. I’m concerned with hanging out by the pool, how much sunscreen I need to apply, or what drink I should have now. I should be all concerned with privilege and how the burden of north American greed crushes these polite, friendly people here all working for pennies to keep the drinks flowing and the pool clean and the tile free from sand and the sagauro cactus from overrunning the carefully-landscaped areas...but I’m on holiday where my economic privilege translates into a seven-day stint in a resort in Los Cabos at the very end of the Baja Peninsula, the south-western most point in Turtle Island, or as I’ve been delighting in saying all week, the tip of the Turtle’s flipper.

But in contemplating this, I’ve also discovered that The Minutemen’s song Corona is so very fitting here...

The people will survive
In their environment
The dirt, scarcity, and the emptiness
Of our South
The injustice of our greed
The practice we inherit
The dirt, scarcity and the emptiness
Of our South
There on the beach
I could see it in her eyes
I only had a Corona
Five cent deposit

This desert landscape is beautiful and so weirdly alien to my southern-Ontario eyes, and laying about in the sun has totally lowered my IQ by several digits, so I am unable to formulate a coherent thought, let alone a sentence. Given that, we will return to our usual topics next week.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

And One More Thing --

-- if I have to read another bunch of bullshit racist crap from the so-called good citizens of this nation as spewed out in the comments sections of the Globe and Mail or the CBC any longer, I may go postal.

I really don't understand why these sorts of things are allowed. What is the point, what is the purpose? What is this kind of vitriol contributing to? Overall debate, policy setting -- what??? It's just dangerous, ugly poison spewing out over the web and does nothing but create negativity. It's ugly. It's essentially the equivalent of all that hateful propaganda put out by totalitarian regimes throughout history, except that average people are espousing this shit and that's what makes it worse. I don't need to see it any more. I think they should be shut down.

This is my rant of the day.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Tribalism Redux



Humanity likes its tribes. We try to pretend we’re beyond that, so modern, so technologically and emotionally advanced, but the Olympics are really just a giant display of tribalism writ large. It was never more apparent to me than watching the hockey game yesterday. I found it extremely interesting that all of my onkwehonwe friends could put aside our unease and our unrest at having to be indigenous people in this colonial construct, and for a couple of hours unite with everyone else across this northern part of Turtle Island.

There we were, wearing our hearts on our sleeves right beside our settler neighbours watching the beauty of that fast, skillful game played between two political and cultural entities, those players being the true avatars of our national prowess and passion. And what a glorious victory that was, in overtime against the giant eagle to the south who played with military precision, roughshod menace, and with the heart of that rebellious spark that gave rise to their nation. But our boys were disciplined, skillful, industrious – all those things that Canadians pride themselves on. And the defining moment, with the nation’s favourite son making the most of a hastily-passed puck and firing it past the American magician who manned their net – it was truly a magical moment. It was pretty damn cool.

And the celebration afterward – I had to run to a 24 hour drug store for my stomach-flu ridden daughter and the only one still open was on Yonge Street, and I was pulled in to utter pandemonium trying to get into the store. It was a sea of red and white and complete strangers high-fiving me. I even got bear-hugged by a giant white boy in a cowboy hat – talk about symbolism. For a beautiful shining moment, I felt like this nation could escape its colonial past, embrace true inclusiveness, and become something bigger and brilliant than it actually is.

And then I woke up this morning, and everything was the same.

Oh well. For the briefest of moments, it felt like Canada could be something bigger. That we could all be something bigger. That was pretty darn intoxicating.

Such is the power of sport. Bread and circuses, sustenance for the tribes. It always goes back to that – where do your tribal loyalties lie? And what is it you will rally around, make part of your identity and your culture and your way of life?

Then I remember – hockey was originally an Iroquoian women's sport, designed to be played in the winter when there wasn’t much to do, so that everybody could get outside for some fresh air and the women could shriek and holler and trip each other on the ice, and the men could get to see what the newly-grown girls were looking like, and look forward to the spring when they could pay court. Lacrosse, the little brother of war, is the men’s game.

So hockey is now played by the colonizer with a national pride and fervour bordering on obsessiveness and considered a man’s game, when in reality... That’s why it was so cool to see Canadian women winning the gold, and totally dominating the field when they had their ice time. Now that’s what I call a woman’s game.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

This Land IS My Land



And in this case, wishing it wasn’t doesn’t change the fact that it is.

I was initially going to avoid the entire issue of the Douglas Creek Estates land claim in Caledonia, bordering the territory of the Six Nations of the Grand River that’s currently the subject of so much media coverage and resistance/anger/misunderstanding/utter governmental bullshit that’s been happening for the last five years, but I simply can’t. How can I? It is an undeniable fact that this land was stolen, despite our protests, despite our formal complaints and attempts to forestall the process, practically from underneath us. And in this world, where so much of our lives as aboriginal people is dictated by the statues of the Indian Act, what is left to us but an act of defiance, of resistance, of the outright fuck-you to the white culture that stole it in the first place? Seriously. Sorry for your luck you fucktard developers and you oh-so-politely racist denizens of Squatterdonia, but it’s ours. Hate to disappoint you, to point out this irrefutable fact of history, but there it is. Even your courts are reluctantly beginning to see this fact, much to the consternation of your citizens and the upright burgermeisters of Haldimand County. Even if two levels of your government is reluctant to deal with it, has always been negligent because it’s a political hot potato, sooner or later the truth of it, the utter rightness of our claim, must be heard.

The Haldimand Proclamation of 1783 is explicit in the original land grant, given to the Mohawks and the Six Nations Indians for their fealty and alliance throughout the American War for Independence, a dry historical fact that hides the reality of what happened to us. We were driven out by the one of the first genocidal wars initiated by the fledgling American government, our towns and villages burned, our crops destroyed. Our numbers, already dwindling from over one hundred years of contact, warfare and disease, were very nearly decimated. By the time Thayendenageh, Joseph Brant, had successfully guilted the British government into providing a sanctuary for our by then refugee population, we were probably about a thousand Mohawks with a scattering of people from the other nations. We were ragged, sick, and broken, huddled at Fort Niagara, refugees in our own homelands. How can Canada forget this? Because they never knew, and it suits the colonial franchise NOT TO KNOW. But I digress...

That original land grant was six miles on either side of the Grand River from mouth to source. That’s a hell of a lot of real estate. Originally it was designed to be a buffer between that upstart American nation and the comfortable colonial franchise of Upper and Lower Canada, the idea was that the remainder of the Six Nations would provide security for the British colonies and act as a defence corps against the Americans. During the War of 1812 we proved the wisdom of that decision, effectively keeping the Americans out of Southern Ontario and creating the present border, so that Canada has this weird little dip into what looks like the American territory and securing the carving up of the Great Lakes. It is no accident that the province looks the way it does. It is because of my people and their acumen at defending territory, and the wise strategic moves made by Tecumseh the Chippewa war chief and his principal allies, the Oneida of the Thames (who, yeah, are Iroquois).

Over the years the architects of the Canadian government sought to diminish the power of the Six Nations and erode that magnificent land base that the British government had left to us. As the burgeoning British population moved into the lands of Southern Ontario that were originally forested, the valley of the Six Nations proved irresistible to them. And remember, our population had crashed and was on the verge of extinction. Plus the movement onto this restricted land base took its toll on us. Alcoholism and family breakdown was rampant, as were the loss of language and the destruction of our culture, taking place even before the residential schools were up and running. We were lucky in that we Iroquois tend to be stubborn bastards, and were the recipients of several factors that allowed us to survive this period, not the least of which is the Gai’wiio, the Good Word of Handsome Lake, and the diplomatic cunning that has always served our people well. We were able to hold on to a fraction of our land base, but it was not without tears and betrayal and outright theft.

The current area in dispute, the land known as the Douglas Creek estates, is but one parcel that remains unresolved. In 1842 the land currently running south from Caledonia was requested to be ceded for a new road to provide access from Port Dover to Hamilton. This road was called the Plank Road and is now the present day number Six highway. The chiefs of the day refused. This “ceding” had only resulted in vast tracts being wrested away from us. Some areas, like the source of the Grand had gone years before and other “leases” had taken place under dicey conditions, and they wanted to prevent the remainder of our territory from being leached away. It was only through the manipulations of the Indian Agent, a dude named Samuel Jarvis (who turns out to be a freakin’ thief, so much for his identity as a founding father of the City of Toronto) that a lease was drawn up and a swath of land where the road was located and a buffer zone between the eastern boundary of the present day reserve was established, with the understanding that the money for the lands would be held in trust. Uh – not. Jarvis gave bits of this land to his business buddies and other lackeys but did NOT provide them with leases so that there wouldn’t be any evidence of his cheating, because for all his bluster, he was not just a little bit scared of the Iroquois and their fierce reputation. And well he should have been.

To this day, none of the white people who are in possession of these land parcels in question have actual deeds to their “property.” That’s because there are none. These lands were swindled.

Fast forward to 2006, and the necessary resistance and all the ugly racist response and subsequent shit that has gone down since then. I’m not going to recount it. Suffice to say it reminded me that for all of its protestations to the contrary, Canada remains a deeply racist nation founded under false pretences and built on the backs of indigenous people without acknowledgement, justice, or thanks. Perhaps that is a harsh assessment, but this is the ugly reality of my people’s dealings with Canada to this point.

When I was a child my dad would drive us around the lands of our people and point out exactly when and where we had lost this or that parcel. And I know this was a common experience for a lot of my friends on Six as well, regardless if our families were traditional Longhouse people or Christianized the way mine was. That didn’t matter because we all knew the score. We all know what happened. And that gives us an edge over the people living outside of the reserve, on our land. Perhaps that is why they are so angry. They, too, have been deceived. It sucks to think that in the middle of nice Southern Ontario suburbia there’s a big honking elephant in the room, a massive land claim that will dog development and stall progress and disrupts the safe, comfortable myth that this is your home. On native land.

Someday there will be a reconciliation, an understanding. But until the government stops its posturing with regard to our land claims, recognizes our sovereignty as the Six Nations of the Grand River – and grants this to all of the Iroquoian territories – this issue is not going away.

I drive my kids around the perimeter of the reserve and tell them the same stories that my father told me. And so it goes.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

2010 Olympics Opening Ceremony -- A Canadian Fantasy





For the millions of people around the world watching the opening ceremonies of the Olympics broadcast from Vancouver last night, it must look like Canada is a vibrant, diverse place rich in the storied shared history of hundreds of aboriginal nations with all those intrepid European pioneers and later the arrival of displaced people from around the globe. What a beautiful, wealthy nation they have created together, rich in culture that borrows from those shared stories and the reverence with which this history is celebrated.

Um... NOT.

It is said that symbols are everything, with the national myth of a country being the most symbolic of all. I found it very interesting last night that all those indigenous people come out in their traditional finery, speak the surviving languages into the universe to welcome in everyone from the globe, and then dance happily about the stadium in what looks like a lovely display of formalized greeting. But what was very interesting to me was as the indigenous people were dancing away, they were surrounded by white people dressed in white. I tried not to read anything into it, but my daughter and my niece who were watching the spectacle with me were like, “Why are all those white people circling the Indians? Are they making sure they are going to stay away from the athletes?”

I laughed, but found myself bothered by uneasiness. And then it hit me – in a nation that does not address the legacy of colonialism with regard to its aboriginal peoples, that does not allow them full access to the kind of wealth generated by the rest of the nation, that keeps them indentured on a reserve-based system and our very existence dictated by the terms of a paternalistic Indian Act, this is exactly what was happening. Symbolically we were being kept away from the rest of the action, only trotted out as window-dressing and part of the colourful spectacle that is Olympic pageantry. It made me think of what happened to the proud Lakota after the decimation of their people post-Wounded Knee – able only to find work in Bill Hickok’s Wild West show, dancing around desultorily in their finery and looked upon as objects of curiousity, a throw-back to the past and also the spoils in a war that secured a continent for the expansion of colonial supremacy.

I have often thought of our relationship to the colonial construct government as being trapped in an abusive marriage. Seduced, betrayed, abused and abandoned. Seduced by these newcomers and their new technology, their guns and trade goods, their religion and rum, their talk of alliances and treaties and sharing the land. Betrayed by an entire system that once entrenched, denied us our rights under those very treaties we had made and deliberately cheating us out of fair settlements and compensation for our homelands. Abused by a religion that told us our ways were savage, and forcing our children into residential schools in order to conform to the colonizer’s culture, and by a parochial Indian Act that dictated the terms of our very existence as indigenous people by telling us who could claim that status. Ultimately we have been abandoned because the government of Canada does not want to deal fairly with those outstanding land claims, offering us pittances for what was rightfully ours and attempting to extinguish our rightful title to vast acreages that should still be ours. And so the opening ceremonies remove all reference to the Canadian reality and instead reach once more for the myth that Canada is a peaceful, diverse and welcoming place, and that everyone lives in prosperity and equality for all while respecting the cultures that contribute to the fabric of the nation.

Thus does the abuser wear the mask of the loyal, supportive husband and the abused the happy, loved consort.

In discussing the ceremonies with an (enlightened white) friend of mine, she told me her partner had said that he had hoped for a contingent of masked warriors ambushing the ceremonies on snowmobiles and ATVs, flicking cigarette butts at the crowd and littering the ground with empties, a giant fuck-you to the Games and all they represent. I laughed, delighting in the imagery. That would have been a much more fitting representation of the reality of what has happened in indigenous communities and exposed the dirty laundry of Canada’s colonial legacy to the world, instead of this sanitized and carefully-choreographed fantasy.

I am lucky to count among my acquaintances Taiaiake Alfred, eminent Iroquoian scholar and thinker who has written about the colonial experience and indigenous resistance and how to address the problems of governance for our people. He said that how onkwehonwe people respond to the Olympics is a litmus test for how deeply colonized we are, and I agree with him. Our own communities are divided over the issue, with those of us who view the collaboration of our people who have been turned into Olympic cheerleaders with suspicion and being told by our own people that we are too angry and not seeing the opportunity these games represent. I don’t deny that for many indigenous people they have profited from the Games, and more power to them, but for myself view the entire thing with scepticism. The amount of money poured into this thing is staggering – money that could also have run arts programs, daycares, hospitals, better transit systems, infrastructure and green job initiatives.

I myself have been sucked into the Olympic spectacle before, with its seductive glamour of competitive sport and the drama that it represents, but as I’ve developed my own personal economic/class/race analysis, I don’t think this way anymore. The Olympics have become a bloated, exploitive thing that instead of honouring the purity of athletic endeavour relies on how much wealth a competitor nation can pony up to essentially buy medals. It is the ultimate circus, distracting people from the very problems of class and race divide that oppress the majority of the world’s population, and the nations who win those medals reinforce the hegemony of the North over the South, of white over brown, of rich over poor.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

In Memorium: Karl Staats 1962-1983

I was overcome with an unaccountable melancholy when I woke up this morning and soon came to realize it was because of the weather. This kind of weather always reminds me of that March day so long ago when my mother called me to tell me that my friend, Karl, had been murdered when his car broke down and he gone to a house to ask for help. He was shot in the head because he asked for help. It was March 21, 1983.

Karl and I first met each other in Grade 7 and went on to be very tight friends by the time we were in Grade 13. We at first had competed against each other for grades, especially in English – which I find really ironic for two Mohawk kids to be excelling at. My competitive nature didn't want to be friends but he won me over -- he was slyly funny and whip-smart. We both loved fiction and wrote reams of poetry and used to try and outdo each other with our short stories and poems, competing for prizes and then later collaborating on work together because we admired each other’s turn of phrase and mindset so well. It was really the first time in my life I had realized that you could be friends with a member of the opposite sex and love them thoroughly without any kind of messy sex tension rising between you. It was because deep down we were brother and sister, tuned into the same kind of cosmic interests and a bone-deep conviction that our lives were going to take us far from the reserve. By the time we were in Grade 13 – he was the only guy with me, Lynx and Lorrie the last remaining Indian kids with our sights on university (when I started at that school there were over 100 kids from the reserve in Grade 9; by the time we graduated Grade 13 there was just the four of us. Goes to show you how hard it is for aboriginal kids to get into higher education). By then our interests had expanded into music, both of us freaks for Motorhead, the Ramones, Judas Priest – any kind of loud, thrashy stuff that jarred with our classmates who wanted to listen to Journey and Styx. We also liked bizarre movies, the two of us quoting A Clockwork Orange and Monty Python’s Holy Grail much to the eye-rolling of everyone else, or breaking into spontaneous song from the Rocky Horror Picture Show. We were forbidden after a while from being partners when we would play euchre in our Grade 13 spares because we had a psychic connection which meant we could guess what each other was holding in their hand – and clean everyone else out for their lunch money. We hung out on weekends and traded music back and forth, along with books and bits of writing, poetry, critiquing each other’s work with suggestions that were only meant to make it better. We would skip school when the weather got better and smoke joints on the beach at Port Dover and talk about music and poetry. Karl played guitar so it was inevitable he would start a band and I would get invited to band practice, allowed to hang out and offer suggestions. God it sounds like some kind of teen movie and I guess in a way it was.

After graduation I went to York University because I had delusions of being a writer. Karl went to Fanshawe in London were he was studying sound engineering. Our contact started falling off because our lives were just going in different directions. Back then there was no internet, no email, no cellphone to make it easy to keep in contact. We tried making the effort to hang out but our schedules were just so radically different. It wasn’t because we hated each other or that there was a dramatic falling-out, it was just the reality of being in different cities with contact getting increasingly infrequent when we managed to be at home on the Rez at the same time. And you know – it is with great sadness that I don’t even remember the last time I saw him. But I remember him playing guitar, and headbanging, and I know utterly that we would still have been friends especially in light of the music that was starting to come out – Husker Du and the Replacements, Metallica, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Black Flag, Sonic Youth – all of those bands that were fusing thrashing, angry guitars with thoughtful, poetic lyrics and intense melodies – and also because of the books and films and theatre and art we were both being exposed to.

That horrible morning...I remember the numbing shock and the taste of ashes in my mouth, my knees buckling and sliding down the wall of the phone booth on my dorm floor, hearing what my mother was telling me but not comprehending, not understanding that Karl was dead, that he had been shot. In the head. Because his car had broken down and he had gone to a house to ask for help. And I couldn’t cry. I didn’t cry at the funeral, or at the horrible visitation at the funeral home where they had an open casket and he was as pale as only a corpse can be with a ghastly putty thing over his forehead that was supposed to mask the bullet wound. I’ve never been able to cry about it, for him, until now. And now I weep as I write this, remembering it as vividly as if it had been last week.

It was a bad footnote. Indian kid gets shot by a white man. White man claims he was defending his property. White man gets sentenced to ten years involuntary manslaughter (whatever the fuck that means) and gets out in three years (for good behaviour). Wonder what would have happened had it been the other way around? You tell me.

Three years and this murderer got his life back.

Karl is dead and the potential for who and what he could have become – god I feel so desolate in thinking about that.

In 1983 we were 20 years old, with our lives ahead of us and a future so bright it was blinding. And for Karl, it was snuffed out in an instant and only the memory remains, and some of us in mourning for all the might have beens.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Contemplating Personal Power


I’ve always been extremely interested in power. The trappings of it, the scramble for it, what is power, why do we want it, how can I get it, is it just primate dynamics played out in a human forum… et cetera ad nauseum. I like power. I like how it feels, how it looks, what it means. I like it when I get to exercise it in whatever little sphere of influence I have, I hate it when I have none. It’s an interesting thing.

My people have always been interested in power. We even have a word for it – orenda, or the “soul of all things” – which I am given to understand is kind of a bad translation, as this is one of those purely Haudenosaunee concepts that really doesn’t have an equivalent in English. It is the philosophy that every human being is invested with his or her own power, a life-force that is equal parts aura, destiny, force of will, strength of character, and personal charisma. Probably the closest comparison is karma, but even that kind of falls short. Men and women equally are expected to develop their personal orenda, to follow its pathways and exercise their abilities in the pursuit of peace, power, and righteousness – and ultimately for the benefit of the entire nation. There is also the expectation that a healthy orenda leads to balance and equanimity among the people. When there is sickness, madness, or internal conflict within the tribe than some agent, whether external, internal, or supernatural has caused this imbalance and there are all kinds of rituals and songs and dances and feasts to be performed to restore the balance.

However, I am interested in orenda as a purely personal reflection of my keen desire for power. I have always wanted the kind of power that a strong ruler would yield. I joke among my friends that in the event of a world-wide apocalypse I am totally going to band together the survivors and rule an entire kingdom from a Throne of Skulls in a wild Mad Max scenario, and they believe unflinchingly that it would be possible for me to do so. Perhaps they are humouring me, but hey -- I have never grown out of that adolescent desire to be Empress of All I Survey.

However, the sad reality is that as an aboriginal woman in this country I will never achieve the kind of political or economic power that I really would rather enjoy. Sometimes the obviousness of that fact smacks me in the face. One could say it should to keep me humble, but sometimes it’s just depressing. Like tonight I was driving along the Grand River through Caledonia (or Squatterdonia, as my dad calls it) towards where my sister lives in Cayuga and I was thinking, hey look at all these beautiful houses ON OUR STOLEN LAND.

In reality I don’t want to move back to the Rez and environs, but it would be nice just for once to think – hey look at all those beautiful houses here ON THE RESERVE (not that there aren't any right now, but it would be nice if they reflected a higher standard of living, and that this was the norm right across the country).

Or to think, gee, if I ran for election into a political office, I bet I’d get elected.

Sometimes I have idly entertained delusions of getting into politics. I love politics and have always been good at the kind of office/power/group dynamics that drive a large group. I don’t think any human gathering of more than twenty people is without its own internal politics. And I’m damn good at it, at fostering alliances and talking to people and debating and/or defending positions. I love it. This sort of thing is something I was born to do, use my Iroquoian guile and power of oratory to change minds and influence decisions. This ability actually got me somewhere in my old union, but now I'm staff and can't indulge my prediliction for politics any longer.

Sometimes I think, I bet I’d be an awesome MPP/MP or hell, I’d make a damn fine party leader. But then I realize there’s no party that I would seriously join and be committed to. I’m way too irascible and even though I’m nominally an NDPer by virtue of my union affiliations, it does not suit completely. Maybe I’ll become one of those cranky weirdos that always put their name on the ballot in any election in the hopes that other disaffected losers will rally around me. Yeah, that’s it. It’s my new plan and I’m sticking to it.

But somehow I can’t help but wish for my Throne of Skulls…

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Career Opportunites (the ones that never knock)


One of the things about being the staff representative for a union is that you end up being equal parts paralegal, confidante, shit disturber, therapist, cheerleader, and career counselor. Lately I’ve been doing a large amount of the latter.

I was thinking about that the other day, and came to the realization that career counselling needs to be more prominent, especially in indigenous communities. We need to have role models about how to have a career. The vast majority of us come out of homes where, if you were lucky, Dad was an ironworker or a factory worker, Mom was in healthcare but more likely stayed at home and occasionally went strawberry-picking or picking tobacco (if you lived on Six, that’s what your mom did). You might have had a relative who was in the DIAND bureaucracy, or aunties that were teachers, but what about other professions? Where are all the lawyers, the bankers and economists, the designers, the professors, the doctors, the journalists, the IT and telecommunications specialists? The answer is nowhere. We all know why that is, but it’s becoming different now. It’s only been in the most recent generations where the combination of post-secondary education, movement into the cities, and family stability created the opportunity for our young people to have actual careers.

I say this because one of my roles in my career – which I bootstrapped into out of a job, by the way – is to help people when they are in crisis in the workplace, and quite often, that is when they are faced with a discipline track because of some incident that happened while they were on the job. One of my units is comprised of perhaps 85% aboriginal people, working in various positions in the broadcast industry, and when they get in trouble, the general trend seems to be they simply quit rather than let me work with them through the conflict and deal with what’s happening in the workplace. Quitting seems to be easier and solves the problem right then and there, albeit permanently.

I think that’s interesting. We have spent so much of our focus on GETTING employment that we haven’t really thought about – or prepared our young people – for KEEPING that employment. Because one of the things that happens in any job is that there will be conflict between managers and employees, there will be conflict between co-workers, and there is a mechanism that the corporate world – like it or not, in order to be employed we have to abide by its cultural rules – engages in so that people understand their obligations under their employment agreements. Perhaps our backgrounds don’t prepare us for dealing with conflict in a healthy way – these things have been broken, lost to us because of the rupture with our old ways and the demands of the colonial process. Perhaps it is because we grew up with unhealthy conflict and we can only turn away from it in self-perservation…But whatever the reason, in order for us to keep meaningful employment, to have a career, we have to learn how to work with the conflict, work through it and emerge victorious on the other side.

That is the secret that white people have, the edge they have developed over us. White privilege allowed that to happen but now they have generational role models on how to deal with it.

Navigating through work conflict is important. Now I should be careful here, it’s a generalization to say that – and how many times does it erupt in the angry white dude bringing a semi-automatic to work and solving his problems that way? But for every crazy mofo like that, the vast majority swim quite happily through shark-infested waters and reap the benefits that having a career implies. And I’m not just talking about the monetary benefits – I’m talking about the empowerment for an entire community. For us indigenous types, seeing healthy role models out in our communities is crucial. In fact, I’d go so far as to saying it's as important as breathing for us right now.

Sure it’s hard work and it’s not without its sacrifices, getting and keeping a career, but dammit we can be innovative and bring to our work our core indigenous values and our spirit without surrendering to an assimilationist model. I am quite open about telling my colleages and members that I plan to infect them with my Haudenosaunee values and ways; the dominant culture should get more of it. This culture is built upon the bones of our ancestors; we have every right to be out there working and remaking the nature of work with our own indigenous toolkit. So for those of us who are doing it, we have to become the role models. There’s generations of our young people who will benefit from it, even if right now it feels like we are toiling in obscurity.

I know it places a burden on those of us who are out there doing stuff, but like it or not, we stand on the shoulders of those who came before us, and we have a duty to those who are coming after us. It’s all part of our continuum as First Nations people and a value that everyone else benefits from. So let’s do it. Let’s be the role models.

(God help anyone who tries to look up to me... but I suppose there’s worse things in life than being a shit-disturbing, troublemaking, shoe-loving rock’n’roll union grrl).

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

My recovery from Comments Sections, or a boycott for practical purposes

I really have to stop reading them, I really do.

Those comments sections in the Globe and Mail and the CBC – the sites I look at the most – make me stark-raving, tear-my-hair-out-by the roots insane. I don’t know why I feel compelled to look at them, but I do. It must be the same natural inclination that causes us to look at disasters, at train wrecks, at all manner of calamity with the voyeur’s fetishistic appreciation –

I’m starting to question why they are there, what is the purpose of them (other than to make this indigenous woman freak out)? What is this fad, this desire to comment on every story, like average citizen Joe Blow from Bumfuck Idunnoknow is a qualified expert on every little thing that happens in the world? There’s got to be more accountability, too. I bet if people were forced to leave an email address there’d be less of this bullshit. Like in pre-Internet days when you sent a letter to the editor of a newspaper they would publish your full name and city where you lived. So at least you had to own what you said. Here on these comments sections it’s the Wild West, with everyone shooting from the hip and shooting all over the place – into the sky, into buildings and trees and stray dogs and me.

But I have to stop reading them, I really have to. Like an addict, I have to stop.

Because this morning I read a comment so vitriolic, so laced with racism and ugliness and bile that it still makes me want to cry hot tears of angry bitterness. In fact, I think I did. I think I actually broke down and wanted to smash something. I paced around my office like the crazed puma at the zoo that is psychotic from captivity.

The comment appeared after an article in the Globe and Mail discussing Google’s threat to pull out of China due to the censorship by the communist government. As I am always interested in how business decisions impact workers’ lives and other assorted developments, I had finished reading the article and was idly scanning through the comments sections when I read some fucking swine of a commentator – who named himself “Sooty Harry” because he can’t possibly be THAT balls out dirty – meandering about Chinese censorhip and then the improvised weapon of mass destruction --

“… Robert Pickton putting the muzzle of a gun up a Native woman’s vagina and pulling the trigger saved her from a life of degradation and drug addiction.”

WTF?

I think I may actually have seen red. I went cold all over and felt a lump come to my throat. I felt violated and desecrated all in one breath by one stupid cast-off sentence probably written by some fucking white privilege muthafucker sitting in his stupid office cubicle over in some Bay Street tower plotting to part a bunch of pensioners from their life savings.

Now, the sentence is not verbatim. I should have copied it in its entirety to be more truthful about it here, but I didn’t. I instantly notified the moderator and got the plug pulled on that obscenity within five minutes, but still – why the hell did this fucking asshole feel he had the right to pull that kind of hyperbolic verbal diarrhea? And why the hell does the most venerated national newspaper in this country feel the need to entitle its readership to the ability to spew this kind of perverted racist swill?

I had to stop reading the comments around any issues regarding all aboriginal people because the level of racism that permeates these forums proved to me that most Canadians have zero regard, tolerance or understanding for my people and the reasons for the decimation in our communities. Which is why I naively thought that reading about Google in China was going to be free from this kind of shit. Wrong.

I am going to start writing impassioned letters to the people who run these boards and demand that there be more accountability. Because I’d love to show up at the door of the motherfucker who felt he could write that comment and ask why he felt he could just blithely say shit like that without thinking through the consequences, and have him tell me his reasons, just him and all six feet of righteous Haudenosaunee warrior woman in war mode. And then it would be a whole other ballgame now, wouldn’t it?

Monday, January 11, 2010

Angry All the Time


Yesterday I was waiting in line at Shoppers Drug Mart and an elderly Caribbean lady, perhaps in her mid-70’s, was at the lone cashier and fumbling a little with her bag and her purse and her wallet – basically taking some time to get through the check-out process. The woman behind her, a white woman maybe a few years older than me, marched up to the cashier, put all her purchases on the counter and basically stood there tapping her foot and frowning and muttering at the elderly lady and the cashier, who was also a young black woman. She essentially pushed the older black woman aside and was acting extremely put-upon that the other woman was taking a bit of time to finish her transaction. The older woman looked at the white woman with this expression of – damn, it was heartbreaking. Resignation and a touch of humiliation and sadness. Defeat even.

The guy behind me was a young black man and I turned to him and muttered, “White privilege in action.” He looked at me with the same kind of look and shrugged. I watched as the elderly lady gathered up her purchases and walked slowly away. She was also leaning on a cane. The white woman brushed past her and wouldn’t even hold the door open for her.

I don’t know why it is but these sorts of incidents infuriate me more and more as I get older. Perhaps it is part of my personal decolonization process, a result of my own awareness and sense of outrage at the way the world is. Perhaps it is because I am starting to get tired of these years of struggle and have no patience for the visible signs all around me of white privilege in action. I’m starting to realize that I have an inner rage inside me that I have to keep clamped down on, only it’s becoming more and more difficult as time goes on to contain it. No wonder I have hypertension and have to take drugs for it. No wonder it’s a prevailing condition among indigenous and African peoples in North America. I bet if there was no colonial system that’s propped up by the twin pillars of race supremacy and capitalism we wouldn’t be having this disease.

I never thought of myself as a particularly angry person but it’s always there, just below the surface, waiting for little incidents like the lineup at Shoppers Drug Mart to fan the flame into an outright inferno. One of the reasons I got into being a union activist was that injustice makes me crazy. I felt that if I could fight in the workplace, where I spend most of my time anyway, and advocate for other people, at least I could feel like I was doing something and not just bending over, waiting to take the corporate boot up my backside.

The other thing that I’ve got to try and get a handle on is the burning rage I feel when I find myself driving through a particularly well-heeled neighbourhood. Where even five years ago I would think, “Wow, look at the beautiful houses”, now all I can think about is “Wow, look at that wealth on our stolen land” while thinking of some of houses on my Rez. Intellectually I know this is a waste of time and gets me nowhere, but the resentment and the envy and just how crazy this fact of reality makes me is starting to feel poisonous. Dangerous, even. This is the kind of thing that eats away at a person like cancer. Or gives them cancer. Or a stroke.

Intellectually I know this thinking is futile and that I should just let it go. This is why I take yoga, why I meditate. To try and work through this shit and let it go. But dealing with things, working through the anger, is hard. It just feels righteous and easier to be angry. It’s not though.

Being angry is exhausting, and in the end, what is the point? Better to work around it. Educate, resist, lead through example. And in the end, I hope it’s easier for my kids. I probably unconsciously chose that path for them by having their father be a white man. They will get the easier ride in life because they will have white privilege working for them instead of against them – until they open their mouths and announce the fact of their Haudenosaunee DNA. That makes me feel a bit better. I’ve successfully infiltrated by the best means possible, launching my own onkwehonwe ambassadors into the world. I hope they don’t have to be angry all the time.

Monday, January 4, 2010

People always say “but you don’t LOOK like an Indian…”


On the weekend I had the pleasure of hanging out with my family for my niece Lilly’s 9th birthday party. I saw several of my cousins on my mom’s side of the family that I haven’t seen in a while, got to exclaim over several of the new generation and how big they are getting, and to dandle one of our newest family members in my lap for awhile (who coincidentally turns one on the same day as my sister – look out!). I also got to see one of my aunts, my mom’s middle sister, and of course shoot the shit with my brother, my sister-in-law, my sister and her husband and assorted other family members. Looking around the room the family resemblance is obvious – my mother’s family are very stockily built with wide, round faces, skin with an obvious yellow tint, wide, mobile mouths and loud, happy laughs. My father’s family are very tall – none of the men are under 6 feet – which is where my height is factored in but I look mostly like my mother’s side of the family.

I have lived off the reserve since I was 17, and have forever gotten the reflex remark on the part of new acquaintances, colleagues, and just-barely-met people who say, “You’re Indian? But you don’t LOOK like an Indian…”

First of all, what the hell does that mean? I don’t look like Disney’s Pocahontas? That’s not what most Indians look like anyway. And I don’t look like any of the stereotypical ideals of what an Indian woman is supposed to look like anyway. I’m 5’11”, I wear black almost exclusively and my hair is –well, it’s whatever colour I want it to be. And no, I don’t look like you think I’m supposed to because I’m a Kanienkehah’keh and we don’t look like Lakota, or Ojibway, or Cree or Nisga’a or the Mikmaaq. We’re a DIFFERENT people. Our language is different, we are related to the Cherokee more than the Ojibway or Algonkin, and besides, we’re the Children of Sky Woman and the proud followers of the Gayanashagowa. We call ourselves onkwehonwe, the real people. So that tells you something of my culture right there.

On my mother’s side I am privileged to trace my lineage in an unbroken line of Kanienkehah’keh women straight back to the Mohawk Valley and from there – who knows? On my father’s side I know there is a French woman – my paternal grandfather’s mother was originally from Montreal – a scandal at the time but probably more common than not – and my paternal grandmother’s grandfather was, according to family legend, an English nobleman who abandoned his New World family in the Mohawk Valley when he learned that his older brother had died and suddenly he inherited the family fortune. So see you around, nice Mohawk girl, it’s been nice knowing you, but cheerio and all that… My mother’s great-grandfather was a red-haired, blue-eyed white child who had been adopted by a Mohawk family and raised so thoroughly in our culture that he never spoke a word of English. I’m sure there are more settlers scattered throughout my family.

When you think about it, the reason that I am an “Indian within the meaning of the Indian Act, chapter 27, Statues of Canada (1985)” has nothing to do with that proud, fierce lineage of Mohawk Wolf Clan women on my mother’s side but everything to do with the fact that my father’s family stayed firmly on the side of the Indian Act that enabled them to keep registering its members to the Upper Mohawk band at Six Nations.

The reason I mention this, though, is that I have been thinking a lot about blood quantum. I’m not comfortable with the concept. I truly believe that it is the colonizer’s tool to actually destroy us. By determining Indian status through blood quantum the colonizer gets to define what a “status Indian” really is. And for a good portion of the colonial history we got registered that way because of who our father was, totally separating the Haudenosaunee from our reliance on tracing lineage matrilineally. That was obviously designed to weaken the proud Iroquois -- you can thank that bastard Duncan Campbell Scott, architect of the Indian Act and the residential school system for that (one day I’m going to look up his grave just so I can spit on it, but maybe that’s just being too hostile). He knew what making us realign our tribal membership by the father’s side would do to us as a people. I don't think he realized about the power of the aunties and the grandmothers on the fathers’ sides, though, because most of our people held on quite firmly to their beliefs as Iroquoian people quite happily, no thanks to Duncan Campbell Scott (*ptooey*).

But I’m alarmed at how many of our people are hung up on blood quantum and the unnecessary qualification of how much “blood” you have, as if that’s somehow going to make you a better person. O-kay. It has nothing to do with your blood but everything with how you live in your culture and the values that have instructed you, informed you as a functional, onkwehonwe person with all of your duties and responsibilities, and how you live in the world.

And yet in the wider culture there’s an interesting phenomenon at work, where I constantly get people telling me, “I just found out I had a great-great-grandmother/grandfather who was __________(insert tribe here), what should I do to claim my status?” For chrissakes, do I look like your community’s membership clerk? But in all seriousness, I’m glad for you that you take pride in this fact of blood, in this reclaiming of heritage, but I hate to disappoint you – unless your family back on your territory claims you as one of their own, and you work diligently to learn the languages, to learn our ways, to live on a reserve or community, you will never seriously be able to be a true part of indigenous culture. The colonial construct will not allow it. They want you to be a citizen of the colonial corporate franchise, not a proud member of an Indigenous nation. How else are they going to get the tax dollars out of you and your property?

This is why I think we need to re-vision the way we determine membership to our Bands, to our nations. We could base them on the Gayanashagowa, which basically states that “ If any man or any nation outside the Five Nations shall obey the laws of the Great Peace and make known their disposition to the Lords of the Confederacy, they may trace the Roots to the Tree, and if their minds are clean and they are obedient and promise to obey the wishes of the Confederate Council, they shall be welcomed to take shelter beneath the Tree of the Long Leaves.”

This picture is me with my mom and dad. Guess we don't look Indian to most people...I