Tuesday, February 7, 2012

This is My Brain on Colonization

I was driving to work this morning, consumed with the thoughts of what I had to do today, when this seriously old song from my teenage years came on my iPod. It was the Blue Oyster Cult’s “Veteran of the Psychic Wars” from 1981’s Fire of Unknown Origin (Yeah, I know, I’m dating myself, but seriously – I’m an old woman, not gonna deny that).

You see me now a veteran of a thousand psychic wars
I’ve been living on the edge so long, where the winds of limbo roar
And I’m young enough to look at and far too old to see
All the scars are on the inside
I’m not sure if there’s anything left of me

I turned it up very loudly. And I started to listen, really listen, to the lyrics.

Don’t let these shakes go on
It’s time we had a break from it

We’ve been living in the flames
We’ve been eating up our brains
Oh please don’t let these shakes go on

Dude.  This is me and my people. We’ve been living with this thing pressing on our communities and on our bodies and minds for five hundred years. We’ve been given the shit end of the stick and told to like it. We’ve been colonized. Living with the aftermath of colonization is being through a psychic war. Especially when you are told that your people need to be “managed” by a racist piece of legislation that was forced on your communities without you being able to vote against it. When your people were cheated and betrayed out of every agreement we tried to make with the tide of newcomers, when you are forced into battle against an enemy that says it has your best interests in mind. Every single day of your life you are in flight or fight mode.

No wonder we have diabetes and strokes, depression and suicide. My family has been impacted by every single one of these conditions every single day of our lives.

Somedays I’m amazed that we’re even here at all. This speaks volumes to our tenacity and our strength.

You ask me why I’m weary why I can’t speak to you
You blame me for my silence say it’s time I changed and grew
But the war’s still going on dear and there’s no end that I know
And I can’t say if we’ll ever
I can’t say if we’re ever going to be free

In the last few years, I’ve become increasingly aware of how tired I am.  Actually tired isn’t the word. Exhausted is more like it. I’m exhausted. I’m tired of being a veteran of these psychic wars. I’m an indigenous woman living in Canada, the ultimate settler paradise that exists at the expense of me and every relation I’ve ever had.

For years I could put this realization out of my mind and just live my life. I was obsessed with boys, bands, and beer. Being young and living in the downtown of an urban centre is distracting and stimulating all at the same time. I was so busy running around to bars and live music shows and chasing the cute dirty white boys there was no time for reflection. There was barely any time to stop and change my clothes. In between rock shows I’d go home and recharge on the Rez, hang out there and return to my little hip downtown life without a care in the world. I even downplayed my heritage and my history. I wanted to be just like them.

Then I grew up and kind of calmed down and started a family of my own. That was when I decided that I wasn’t going to pretend to be anything else. This is who I am, an urban indigenous woman. No point in getting all dramatic and pretending otherwise. I’m lucky – I’m a Kanien'kehakeh in close proximity to my territory. It’s cool. 

However, even though I love my life and the easy anonymity of being in a big city, I’m finding other aspects of it kind of wearing.

Even though I don’t get the in-your-face racism that a lot of people who “look” more indigenous than I do – because let’s face it, we Haudenosaunee don’t fit the typical “mold” of what white people and new Canadians think of when they think native – the casual, everyday racism and sheer bloody-minded ignorance of most Canadians is driving me nuts. If you doubt this, read the friggin’ comments section of any daily newspaper when they are reporting a story from indigenous communities. Then you’ll see how “generous” and “compassionate” Canadians really are.

I love what I do, and where I live, and the people that I work with, but goddamn, some days are harder than others. Some days I love being the educator and explaining the history of my people from my perspective, giving folks a capsule history lesson from my point of view – and make no mistake, sometimes I have to do it EVERY SINGLE DAY. Some days I have endless patience and can repeat the same things over and over. Some days I do it with a bit of irritability. Some days I just want to shout, “DON’T YOU PEOPLE KNOW THAT A GENOCIDE HAPPENED HERE?” or on the worst days I want to scream and shake them all, “WTF IS WRONG WITH YOU???!!!!.” But I don’t. Not yet, anyway. I’m trying to be strategic and pick my own battles, and I  -- all of us -- need allies, not enemies.

It’s hard, though. And tiring.

You see me now a veteran of a thousand psychic wars
My energy is spent at last and my armour is destroyed
I have used up all my weapons and I’m helpless and bereaved
Wounds are all I’m made of
Did I hear you say that this is victory?

I’m tired of these battles. But at this point, to continue fighting is going to hurt both of us. Being in a war is far too costly – for both sides.

We have to figure out something different.

Because otherwise, the whole dang thing will collapse.

P.S. I offer my apologies for not being a consistent blogger, but work has always been my first focus, and work was exceptionally busy the latter half of 2011. I'm afraid I will always be something of an inconsistent blogger.

P.P.S. And yes, I am a fan of 70's psych rock.

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