Relationships are a delicate thing.
The plants teach us this. A seed, a life, will lay dormant in waiting until just the right relationship exists for it to grow. The right amount of water, sunlight, nutrients and pressure has to show up. And then continue to show up, or the plant will sicken. If the relationship is not restored to balance in a finite amount of time, the plant will die, perhaps short of reaching its full potential. Short of using all the gifts it was given it to share with the world.
We have to be careful in our relationships.
Colonial violence surfaces as poison in our thoughts, our words, and our actions, unless we fight it every single moment of every single day. Colonial poison causes sickness by every name. In our most intimate relationships, we spread sickness when we do not create space for the healthy sharing of emotions. We spread sickness when we gossip. We spread sickness when we take to social media as our outlet for expression, rather than having real conversations. When we are not honest. When we are so consumed by our own agendas that we can’t listen. When we project our trauma onto one another. We allow sickness to spread and fester when we are not willing to do the work, the work of fighting back.
Relationships require work.
When we fight sickness in our bodies, our minds, our spirits, and in our relationships, we fight colonial violence. Or, instead of the word “fight”, let’s call it what it really is: self-love. And so we have to find the courage to believe that we are worthy. That we belong. We have to find the courage to do the work of planting, growing, harvesting, and honouring the relationships. In this work, it is kind to ask for help. We are such pitiful beings, there is nothing we can do on our own.
Our bodies are water, our bodies are plant, our bodies are animal, our bodies are spirit. When we feed ourselves with good medicine we give ourselves the strength to do the work. We cannot fill our lives with packaged foods, booze, and television and expect to have the strength to say ‘no’ to a world that only wants to hear ‘yes’.
Relationships are the most precious gifts we have.
It is our responsibility, then, to cleanse ourselves of the heaps of bad medicine that affront us on a daily basis. To sit in silence. To fast. Sweat. Cry. Sing. Cough up grief. Forgive. That’s how we (re)discover that the strength that is already there, it’s how we hear the muffled voices of our ancestors… it’s how we decolonize.
Learn how to love, to really truly love, by fighting for that balance. And in the balance, we nurture life, according to the values and philosophies of our ancestors. And that right there? That is the work of Indigenous resurgence, my friends.
My kokum told me that as a young girl, her mother gave her strict instructions to never rely on a man for anything. She was raised to know that she had to be able to provide for herself. That is the ethic that led her off reserve, to pursue post-secondary education. That is the ethic, then, that resulted in the loss of her status card, my father’s status card, my status card. That is the ethic that keeps me legally excluded from decision making in my Saulteaux/Cree community, and disconnected from my family’s ancestral land base.
How can I be mad at my grandmother?
In spite of what she was taught to believe at residential school, her mother’s Nehiyaw values didn’t ruin her; they guided her towards choices that helped her to love herself. To help her children to love themselves. Raising us without culture, days away from our traditional territory, meant that we were raised without the fierce colonial violence that she endured in residential school and on reserve. But what she didn’t see, is that keeping our culture hidden and shielding us from Indian Act-imposed borders couldn’t protect us, not fully. Because we were still brown. And we still had to go to school and learn that we were savage. We still had to read in the news that we would most likely end up drunk and incarcerated or prematurely dead. What she didn’t know, because nuns and priests don’t talk about things like blood memory, is that our ancestors would still speak to us when we closed our eyes. When we walked on the land. When we lied awake in bed at six crying, wondering if our dads would ever come home. When our “intergenerational residential school traumas” resurfaced in every intimate relationship we ever tried to have. And our ancestors would speak to us very clearly:
You come from beautiful people. You are loved. You did nothing wrong.
My grandmother was forced to choose from such dismal options, one could hardly say that she had a choice at all. She did the best that she could with the tools that she had. She loved and cared for her children always. There is nothing “less” or “half”or “non” Native about that. Or about our family story. What she couldn’t see, is that those teachings and languages and ceremonies that she thought would hurt us will be what save us. Because our ancestors are alive inside us. Maybe it was too scary for her to imagine, but her strength is what helps me to see it now. And I forgive her.
I forgive her.
"Regarding the law – Canadian law – as it is – is only made by one side – one party. When the newcomers came to our land – they shook hands – they said they agreed to live with us. They agreed to live in peace and harmony. They had an agreement – they lifted the pipe and made a treaty. Then he went his way and Indians stayed on the land. He started writing laws and using the paper to make things his way. An Indian person should have been there looking over that paper and seeing what it said. How that law affected Indian people, because we are half of that agreement that was made. It takes two people to make a treaty. Those treaties…that relationship is the relationship we are in today. Everything that the law is doing is affecting us but we have no say. They are not living up to their agreement – because of that there will always be disagreement and conflict. We have a relationship with the White man – a wahkohtowin. If they were to listen to our side, our law and rules about relationships, behaviours in the community and societies – we would have a stronger, healthier society. Their own children are being affected the same ways as we are. Because we don’t follow the rules anymore. They are lying to the Creator when they do that. There was three parts to that agreement because the Creator was part of the treaty. It is all connected. The protection that this country is under [is] based on that agreement by our ceremonies and our people. When we lifted the pipe – there was the Creator, the Whiteman and the Indian. Because they are breaking their agreement, the protection of the country itself is becoming more at risk.”
- Anonymous Cree Elder, quoted in LaBoucane-Benson, P. , Gibson, G., Benson, A. , Miller, G. (2012). Are We Seeking Pimatisiwin or Creating Pomewin? Implications for Water Policy. The International Indigenous Policy Journal, 3(3) . Retrieved from: http://ir.lib.uwo.ca/iipj/vol3/iss3/10
Dear white person,
I expect that I, by addressing you
as ‘white’, have already gotten us
off to a bad start.
I’m sure you don’t appreciate being called
I expect that you will almost immediately
want to know where I am from
and that ‘Vancouver’ won’t be
a satisfactory response.
what you really want to know is,
why I don’t look quite ‘white’.
you will push further until
you receive the sought-after information
and you will be on edge
until you get this.
I expect that when I say that I am
Saulteaux and Cree your face
will cloud with confusion
and when I clarify that I am ‘Native’
your ah-ha moment will quickly transform
into the inquisitive stare of a reporter.
I expect that you may or may not
comment that I am very pretty
“for a native girl”
and if you don’t say it
you are thinking it.
To clear the uncomfortable silence
you might name drop so-and-so
friend or relative of yours
who is “part-native” too
or you might make reference
to a piece of first nations art.
I expect that when you find out
I am a university student,
you will congratulate me.
my mention of university will be your cue
to comment about how nice it must be
to get free school.
resentment will wash over you
when you say this.
and when I tell you I’ve paid
for my entire education
you will again be confused.
I expect that when I tell you
I’m in the Native Studies program
you will nod as if
that makes perfect sense.
surely you will ask what I plan
on doing with my degree
before or after you commend me
for wanting to help my people.
I expect that you think my people need help.
You will most likely be oblivious
to how agitated I have been
throughout this entire conversation.
When I turn the tables
and ask you where you are from
you will say something like ‘Vancouver’
and expect that I should be
satisfied with this answer.
The next time you meet a Native person,
you might bring me up
but when you watch Tonto, or Avatar,
or the Last of the Mohicans
you will make no connection
between those Indians and me,
and you will feel much
I expect that my expectations
might have upset you
causing you to miss the point
of connecting my expectations
I could think of myself as an individual
one of howevermany billion
a chequing account
a student ID
a social insurance number
a non-status Indian
or I could think of myself as:
my nieces and nephews
the food that I eat
the air that I breathe
whole in every way
the physical manifestation
of every single one
of my ancestor’s prayers
I could think of myself
I’ve been told that we should listen twice as much as we speak. Perhaps that explains why I couldn’t find the motivation to write on here over the past year. But now I feel like I have a lot of catching up to do. Thanks friends and family for sticking with me.
love, peace, and oolichan grease,
There is a lodge
Rib cage bent like
A sacred fire burning
deep, below my belly
for grandfather rocks
and my heart beats,
pushes breath, clockwise
I exhale words, prayers,
songs, water brings
another day, another round
The ceremony is life.