anishinaabewiziwin

all the elements that make up anishinaabe life through ojibway makwa ikawe embodiment + anishinaabe feminist lens

Invasion and War: (Il)Legibilities of Significance in Canada: An Anishinaabe Perspective

Depending on the circles you read, bead, and move in throughout Indian country, Canada, or the United States, you may or may not be aware of the Wet’suwet’en, a people and nation whose territory is presently occupied by the province of British Columbia and the settler state of Canada. The hyperlinks in this blog post provide some information and context for the thoughts I want to speak to regarding the global, settler colonial, and capitalist invasion the Wet’suwet’en are, and have been, enduring and resisting for some time now. With a recent ruling from the settler state’s provincial Supreme Court (B.C.) that has resulted in an extended injunction against Wet’suwet’en Nation members who are preventing corporate access to their lands and waters, Wet’suwet’en are once again in active protection of their lands, waters, and life-ways against corporate development of infrastructure needed for economic and energy growth and development. My understanding is that some Wet’suwet’en have determined such development, and the infrastructure needed for it, will be detrimental to the natural world (i.e. lands, waters, animals, humans etc.) and the health and well-being of their, and our, collective futures.

The injunction, issued by Justice Marguerite Church, restricts Wet’suwet’en members from “barring workers from getting through their checkpoints along a remote logging road”. This road runs through Wet’suwet’en unceded, unsurrrended, and untreatied territory upon which Wet’suwet’en themselves have established checkpoints. The particular area of territory this road runs through is called Talbits Kwa and, based on their governance structure, the Unist’ot’ en house of the Gilseyhu clan are responsible for protecting it. Based on my reading/viewing of various Wet’suwet’en online sources and news articles, the Wet’suwet’en stand upon the authority and precedence of their own laws in protecting their territory and continue to do so in the face of the injunction.

This past Friday in my work, I recently supported students to miss class if they wanted to take time to participate in a scheduled rally in support of Wet’suwet’en who are protecting their lands. I also supported them to take time to grieve if they were connected to any of the Iranian-Canadians or others who died in the Ukrainian airplane crash. On the day of the rally for Wet’suwet’en, which was a day after Canadian PM Trudeau announced that the Ukrainian airplane had been shot down by an Iranian missile, I became alert to varied ways discourses of “war” were circulating and emerging. Regarding the downed airplane, a discourse of war had been circulating in media for days before because the attack occurred at the same time there had been much talk about an US-Iran war arising from the US killing an Iranian military leader and Iran firing missiles onto a US military base located in Iraq. Messages of “No War on Iran” had been etched in chalk on cement posts here and there on the university campus where I work, universities typically and importantly being sites of protest and agitation regarding local and global affairs. I heard students talking about these messages while moving between classes. War had been on the minds of many, including our youth. My teenage child shared with me that her social media world had been on fire with circulation of the idea about a third world war.

The second discourse of war involved Canada and Wet’suwet’en. However, this discourse was not even a discourse. It was a chant from the student rally:

1-2-3-4 Wet’suwet’en is at war;

5-6-7-8 Take apart the settle state.*

Yesterday, I read yet another headline from an Canadian online national newspaper that prompted me to track on the different ways it was emerging in regards to Iran, Canada and the US but not in regards to Wet’suwet’en. This time, the headline read, “Anti-war demonstrators rally in Winnipeg to remember victims of Iran crash, speak out against conflict”. The week before there had been other headlines signifying anti-war protest in Ottawa and Montreal, like this one and this one. The word “anti-war” and the phrase “anti-war demonstrations” made me think of cultural references to anti-war demonstrations against the US military in Vietnam in the 60s and 70s that were carried out in the US. It made me think about the motivation Canadians have to demonstrate against war and conflict abroad when it results in the deaths of innocent victims but Canadians do not view what is happening between Wet’suwet’en and Canada in the same serious light. It made me think about how we are exposed to the idea and/or fact of war by Canadian news outlets and how news outlets give meaning to what is war? It made me think about the ways Canadians signify or characterize their activism, their protest, the demonstrations, their public acts against, or for, a thing or people. In the case of the US, Iran, and Canada, as well as the case of Iranians-Canadians and passengers from other countries who were travelling and were killed by Iranian military decisions and their weaponry, Canadians position themselves as being anti-war, putting their bodies, voices, hearts, minds, spirits, and hand-made signs in public spaces to demonstrate these desires, commitments, and visions of no conflict.

When it comes to what Canada, Coastal GasLink, and RCMP are doing to those Wet’suwet’en people of the nation who uphold land-based laws, which are not commensurable with natural gas pipeline development, Canadian online national newspaper coverage is pale in comparison to Iranian-Canadian-US matters. And, media coverage definitely does not frame it as war. The one article I was able to find in my quick search that even came close to the several that gives space to the idea and practice of “anti-war demonstration” was a headline that reads, “Protestors block streets in Hamilton to support Wet’suwet’en anti-pipeline camps”. Media do not evoke the idea of war in regard to the relationship between Canada and Wet’suwet’en and do not frame the people who, in this case, have a desire, committment and vision for a better world as “anti-war demonstrators”. In domestic terms, in regards to Indigenous nations, such peoples are described as “protestors”. Canadian news outlets and Canadians contribute to how war, and anti-war, is made legible or illegible, in both the public sphere and consciousness of readers and witnesses. Canadian news outlets and Canadians contribute to the meaning-making of what conflicts are significant and insignificant, creating a societal vacuum about what conflicts ought to be significant or insignificant to readers of newspapers and witnesses of demonstrations.

All this leads me to ask, “What is war”? What difference is made of  “anti-war demonstrators” and “protestors”? How does this difference shape how we see Indigenous peoples, Indigenous nations, Indigenous territories and Indigenous peoples will to assert our sovereignty and protect our worlds? What is the difference between the US attacking one group of people over there across the ocean with military weapons, Iran attacking an Ukrainian airplane with military weapons, and Canada invading Wet’suwet’en people here in Canada, doing so with legal power that is enforced with policing power, policing power that was first reported in the UK to have historically “been prepared to use snipers on Wet’suwet’en Nation protestors” and had “argue[d] for ‘lethal overwatch’…”. Canada has been known to “wage war” against Indigenous peoples before, bringing in military, paramilitary and/or fatal policing power to do so. For example, Canada enacted such violence against Kanien’kehaka, Ojibway, Secwepemc, and Mi’kmaw. While we can hope that past deaths and inquiries will prevent the repetition of such violence, who is to say Canada, it’s “workers” (i.e. RCMP) and it’s loyalties to global corporations won’t result in history repeating itself?

It also leads me to consider the difference in discourses of violence invoked by words such as war, conquest, occupation, and invasion. While the words chanted at a student rally invoke the idea of the settler state being at war with Wet’suwet’en, thereby importantly raising the register of seriousness of this matter, I have no way of knowing if that framing reflects Wet’suwet’en thought or whose thought it reflects. I do know that I have not heard We’tsuwet’en invoke a discourse of war in how they describe what they are experiencing and navigating. Most recently, a short documentary called Invasion (2019) has been produced. The title suggests how Wet’suwet’en describe what is happening to them and their territory. It signals the way Wet’suwet’en want outsiders to see this situation. It also prompts the question then, what is the difference between war and invasion?

To me, war suggests two or more groups are engaged in conflict where each group has somewhat similar or equitable power either as independents or allies. Invasion suggests that two groups are in conflict and where one group has more power than the other they utilize it to non-consensually enter into another’s territory. In this case, Coastal GasLink has the powerful backing of a settler colonial legal system which is enforced through settler colonial policing institutions and when needed, settler colonial military. Where policing institutions have the power to criminalize, detain, imprison, and physically hurt or harm both police and military also have weapons. Wet’suwet’en have their own everything except policing and military power and therefore do not have the same power as the Canadian state, RCMP, or the corporation who want access to their lands and waters. Invasion seems to fit best in describing what is happening.

Regardless of the discourse utilized, while it does matter, I feel that the Canadian popular media needs to amplify this seriousness of this situation. In my mind, they are supposed to be working for the interests of the people, not government or corporations. They need to utilize words like ‘invasion’ in their headlines to raise consciousness and critical engagement with what some Wet’suwet’en are navigating right now. It impacts us all. If the more popularized register of (anti) violence that is connoted through ‘war’ and ‘anti-war’  is the only one media is going to expose Canadian audiences to, then I think Canadians need to engage a bit more deeply with the the ideas and meanings of war and anti-war demonstration. “War” against, or more correctly, “invasion of” Indigenous peoples, nations and our territories is happening in Canada. Canada is built on both because there was a time when Indigenous peoples did have legal, policing and war power in the face of the British and French. In an article written by Zach Ruiter for NOW, Canadian “demonstrators” were described as taking part in the national day of anti-war action across North America in the action, “No War with Iran”. Ruiter quoted organizers as saying, “the protest ‘was to let our Canadian elected officials know that Canada needs to stand up against any acts of war and be a voice of peace’.” In the case of the Wet’suwet’en Nation, I think that Canadians need to do and say the exact same thing or alternatively begin to make significant the fact that Wet’suwet’en are being invaded by a corporation and it’s Canadian backer.

* miigwech to the students who rallied and marched in the cold and pouring rain on this day. And, to the two Gender Studies student allies who came trudging down my department’s hall soaking wet and who translated for me the rhythmic roaring I heard from my opened office window.

gashkadino giizis in oahu

#17

warm winter saltwater ocean    buoyant sway     curly white foam of long waves rising, breaking, rising, breaking forever meditative sounds     sea mists + sea turtles feasting    little girls whispering about a boy in the shallow lapping waters     young one jumps off the remains of a dock while another meanders in contemplating            a man plays shark with children and i am reminded of Island Lake Northern Ontario, swimming all day into dusk, how balancing on shoulders under water and being launched off into air and water was the most exhilarating game    i remember intoxicated adults swimming at night, a woman taught me as a little girl to float, she laid buoyant beneath me, i can feel her round body supporting me and then slowly moving away      my mother? my stepmother? another?           here in this winter ocean i float in the undulating colours of sea green, light sand, surf foam and navy blue, taste salt on my lips hear myself breathing endless sky and wonder what it must feel like to paddle out to those mighty waves out there where those surfers are paddling towards right now the feel of the roar of those ten foot waves the feel of that kind of courage and trepidation and rush and freedom         here now, on this cloudy december night on the west pacific coast in Lekwungen territory     i remember how that floating in these waters and these memories brought me to shore     returning to your long lean brown back sprinkled with light-coloured sand, soaking up the medicine of that place      your spine and curve of shoulder, shoulder blade       our sun-warmed bodies breathing in rhythmic contentment   i love how your feet are bigger than mine, a cradle          i love how you love these anishinaabe feet in summer all wide and deep brown with tan lines    i loved how those teen girls rolled out at dusk in traditional skirts with their iPhones and that you felt what i felt about how special and significant that was and is          those Kanaka Maoli girlfriends having a good long visit         surfers returned safely to shore just this side of last light, apparently right around the time sharks come around for dinner    the smell of fragrant flowers in the night as we walk back to the car, make our way back to the city

‘āweoweo beach, mokuleia in gashkadino giizis      the complex mountain-to-ocean ecosystems defy understanding through anishinaabe seasonal lenses     kanako maoli womxn as generous teachers and hosts  

 

maaba giizhik. XP,Á TI,Á. this is cedar.

the foundations here are tended to with such precision that thick bark can be peeled clear away the height of giizhikaatigoog. exacting slices, clean angles, and textured edges make a WSÁNEĆ aesthetic that’s sure. horizontal cuts, the graceful tri-angles, the upward harvest exist right alongside trails made by “friends of” the provincial park that claims and occupies this place. these trees stand there with majestic authority witnessing visitors who hike them. how, as you turn the bend, lost in your own self, this precision, this straight up the height of the tree to the sky in front of us all, endures and in doing so holds us to account to where we are, whose where we are in. compels consideration of slices and angles, edges and shapes, the im/possibility of removing valuable exteriors away using sacred methods straight upward to seemingly unreachable reaches. forces us to face the now-exposed inner curvature of this life. hard, smooth, misshapen in places. cedar leaf shadow. vulnerable. unfazed by the vulnerability. it just grows new, beautifully hearty edges and seams to support it.

*

As the young folx say, “It’s been a minute”.

The minute though, hasn’t been for lack of wanting to be here.

Over the very long time, I’ve thought of “anishinaabeweziwin” often.

And been in conversations with others about this place, too. This place who I now see as a friend.

Been in conversation about a tugging.

I asked about writing pain, as I’ve done here in this place, here and there. Rarely, but raw.

I wondered out loud what it means to write pain or trauma that results in nothing different other than its’ public exposure. I suppose it wants to be healing writing. I suppose it asks for help. Or, witnesses.

Ugh.

Why inscribe pain into a place, a friend, into the out-open if it amounts to nothing but still feeling it, now it is just in the wide open?

I wondered what it meant that writing it out and having it here hasn’t done anything but make me feel like one or several gaping wounds remains gaping. When writing pain reveals something about what Tressie MacMillan Cottom refers to as the scab or not yet scabbed in trauma writing. Gaping wounds here, out there. Around.

Kinda like Nanabush, I suppose.

A walking wound.

A walking-around-wound.

Makes me think of how some, in the modern moment, describe Nanabush as a buffoon and I wonder if this is because he walks around with his wounds wide open. As though to say, “Here I am everybody, hurting.” The Mother Theresa’s, cult leaders, and narcissists of the modern moment love that shit: the walking around wounded. Deer. Fools.

So, I had that conversation. A few times. With the living. The computer screen animated with brilliant people. Spirit. In my brain.

I was invited to consider giving myself permission to go back and remove the painful pieces.

“You can do that.”

I mulled.

And considered.

I liked that idea. Even writing that idea into being makes me feel good. You can take out the painful pieces.

The pain about the painful pieces. Take it all away. I could.

But, what does it mean if I do? About my friend, “anishinaabeweziwin”.

I didn’t do.

Another person invited me to consider leaving it. This is life, after all. Yours. Anishinaabe.”

I appreciated having people to have these conversations with. Still, I did nothing. And still, nothing is resolved. I remain mulling. Now, writing. Trying to. Been.

Over the past few months, I have kept and keep wanting to post. I keep wanting to get caught up with an old friend. There’s been so much in public life that I wanted to write about. Things to mull over. So many stories to tell. Photo collages. Meh. Writing, mm. I have three pieces started. Semi-finished. I won’t post them. They don’t feel full up. So, I keep writing and stopping. Thinking about these colours with those shapes, edges, angles, lighting; triptychs, trips, a description. Joy. Walking away, back. Start again. Wave my hand—leave me alone, I’ll get back when the time is right. I’m thankful for this friend and contemplate how the relationship is changing. A couple of weeks ago, I edited “About” as medicine. Now a fourth iteration of the purpose of this blog which was born as a way to relief the anxieties around the expectations of academia, I took out the bit about pain and the interesting part about citational process. Pain as portal was necessary before (or so I felt); it doesn’t feel necessary anymore. Removing the pain of the pain feels good. I may put the bit back in about citational process because it’s interesting and has potential. And, this place is a good place for that bit of interesting. I’ll do that in a minute.

I want to write and post because I keep imagining there is something about me that keeps tugging on him, keeps him coming back to check on me. Segueing from his life ever so gently and briefly just to see about me. Here and there. On occasion. No one gets hurt. He showed up in my dreams this past month. The relief of knowing he still cared was everything. His entering my life, still unavailable, being torn—frustrating to read but I read him. I admit, I’d rather that than nothing. I keep thinking I can sense him here. On the land. My land. In me. Longing about. Not (yet) willing to make a move that matters in any significant way. Gestures.

I want to write because a woman is also here.

Skulking around. No judgement. It’s her nature. I contemplate giving her something to run with because her nibi seems to be receding or, repeating itself.

gii iskaabii?

Dried up?

I contemplated me as libation. Woman-as-familiar-taste-to-her.

I want to write about pronouns and identity and how in a modern global, colonial, English-speaking world “she” and “her” are legible but how really for me, I live like my pronouns are my clan and my name and the summer ceremony I have yet to do for both. Fall now, too. That’s Anishinaabe. It’s not cis or trans or queer; beyond the binary. It’s just Anishinaabe. Ojibway. How my sexuality is my clan and my name and my tobacco offered every morning, words spoken to all the directions and ancestors. Today. How my sexuality is a chemistry, a spark, time, and care-to. It’s a moment, a process, not an expectation or marking or parameter.

Pronoun: makwa. waaseyaa’sin.

Sexuality: same. More. Ceremony. Flicker.

I want to write about little bits laid on hot glowing rocks making sparks. Flying up. giizhik medicine in the air.

I’m really just trying to keep up with the rhythm of life since I hunkered down to finish my PhD last spring and into the fall. There was that. It’s been almost a year since done was reached. Then there’s been my family’s recovery from the more than a decade of graduate school. A job. There’s movement and these wholly saturated autumns. Heavy, joyful rain. My skin is dewy?

mino dagwaagi.

Happy Fall.

There’s my Dad, too. He got the flu at the beginning of this year. I was scared he would die. The last time I was scared he would die was winter 2017. It triggered me so that was a ride. This time, I was just stressed so that was good. I asked my step-mom and his neighbour to make him up some fish broth the way I was taught. I knew being from the east ocean and raised on cod, it would do something for him at a cellular level, if not deeper. I feel that way about food. Food from the lands and waters that our bodies are buried into and born out of, on repeat. It’s food that’s cellular-DNA-microscopic-spaces-deep good for us.

Dad didn’t want any broth.

He got worse.

He said, “Ok.”

His neighbour made him some.

I was scared it was too late. I really worried he would die.

I considered n’dodem and wondered what I should do. I smudged and late at night, I took out n’dewe’igan and sang. I just sang whatever came to me. I chanted, or something. I did that until it felt like I didn’t need to do it anymore. I imagined him and the vibrations reaching him. I imagined our dodem system, my mother’s land, the stories I’ve read and learned regarding makwa. I let myself put everything into visualizing him fighting that flu—the vibrations of those medicinal sounds and those intentions knocking the shit out of that virus.

I didn’t tell anybody. Not even him. The silence that comes with such statements with my white family is worse than the silence of not saying anything. It’s just me anyways. What I do. What I want. Think. Feel. Need. Do. It’s just me really trusting who we are as Anishinaabe. Nobody needs to know. I don’t need to talk about it. It’s ours. It’s what we do. See?

He got better.

It was anishinaabe mashkiki; makwa dodem mashkiki.

It was.

I went to Transylvania, Romania with a womxn who asked me to be her companion while she travelled around the region doing research for her poetry project. We travelled with a woman-friend of hers while there. A week in, we arrived in Brasov. We were all just getting settled into our hotel rooms when a text came in from my brother:

Chris, Dad had a stroke. It’s bad.

When?

A few hours ago. I was home with him.

K. Are you ok?

*

LeavingBrasov

Looking for the car rental place so we could leave Brasov and get to Cluj-Napoca where I could get to an airport. May 14.

 

Forty-eight hours later, I was by my Dad’s bedside in Ontario; stayed for ten days and slept in a lounge chair beside him the whole time. He was awake for four hours maximum a day but when he was, he knew I was there and he knew I had him. I want to elaborate on all this. It’s one of those posts that isn’t full up yet.

 

May16,5:47ambawating

May 16, 5:47 a.m., Sault Area Hospital. First morning home. I forgot how beautiful the sunrises are in bawating. I remembered how I knew these days were coming.

 

I went back again three weeks later. Stayed for a few days. I went again in July. This time by daaban. It was my first solo drive across so many Indigenous Nations (aka Canada).

 

HotelRoomViewT'kemlups

Hotel View in T’kemlups/Kamloops. Just dropped off my girl who was my driving partner for Day One. I love, love, love, love the lands here.

 

Well, the Fur Beebs was with me.

 

FurBeebsinBawating

Fur Beebs, chillin’ like a villain. At Dad’s.

 

While I was super scared of driving through Kicking Horse Pass in the Rockies and of breaking down, particularly where there was no cell signal, nothing bad happened. It turned out to be a hands-raised-to-the-sky-eff-yea kind of experience that included visits with friends, family and listening to great, great, great music. It included long phone conversations through the prairies and one, two, three interesting podcasts when the music and audio books weren’t cutting it. It was seeing land-things I never imagined before, like treetops coming out of the flat, green fields; like prairies opening up into gaping ravines. Like little unexpected gift-treats of geology and colours and shapes that filled me up so good.

 

It included one return drive back to B.C. a month ago with my girl. I can’t describe the thrill of heading out on the road back home with her.

 

OldPostNo43

August 18, 2:31 p.m. Old Post No. 43, near Wood Mountain. Heading West on Hwy 18 just this side of a melt down in Southern Saskatchewan. We got lost. Yes. Over and over. That happened in Saskatchewan. This was the post-cathartic moment when we got back on track literally and relationally. I dream for that young woman before me. Reminds me of when me and my two then-sisterfriends at 16 and 17 used to take photos of ourselves on Hwy 17 North in Heyden, ON as we’d be walking to the Esso for coffee. The danger and possibility no less or more, then or today. North Dakota, Montana, Saskatchewan and Alberta were where we felt the most stressed, including the Regway Border. More on that later.

OldPostWoodMountainFacingNorthwest

August 18, 2:32 p.m. Old Post 43, Wood Mountain. Facing northwest. I dream for nêhiyaw and Métis all the good things that come from your beautiful, beautiful lands, skies, and winds. The side-of-the-road summer flowers in deep purple and yellow, the sage,  the happy, healthy coyotes, the antelope and yes, the prairies dogs….I can close my eyes and still see all that beauty.

 

All this sounds rad, yes. But I was scared and stressed and had to do a lot of work to stay in a good place. On driving across the country alone:

My first teacher was my Dad. This included some things on how to be a human being: one of them was how to be with a beloved who is sick.

You go.

No questions asked.

You just go.

(Money may be tight, but you do everything you can to get there. Be there.)

Just.

You just drive 300 km when your adult kid is getting their wisdom teeth out for a day surgery. You show up after an 8-hour shift in the steel plant to be with her in the hospital when she’s a little girl and your wife just left you (for good reason). You leave your family no matter how pissed off your wife is to go be with your friend on his death bed even if the dying takes weeks. Even if she gets really pissed off.

You sit alongside your person in the waiting room, in the hallway, in the hospital room, in silence. You do it for hours.

And more.

You go.

You just sit alongside them.

Doing nothing.

Because it’s everything.

It wasn’t just him who taught me. There have been girlfriends and mother-figures. Clan mothers. Mary Jane. You just go. No biggy. You certainly don’t blog about it. Pat yourself on the back. That’s another thing my Dad taught me. Don’t.

To be honest, it kills me to think of our old ones being alone in any situation. It killed me to think of my Dad being alone. It does.

And now it’s been just over four months since he lost his ability to talk and execute basic tasks.

I’ve learned that life does not relent. But, blowing bubbles on a windy day helped. So too did trying to teach him to blow bubbles, watching him give over to just waving a big bubble-making wand around. Happy.

9BubblesAndTree

Day Passes from the Hospital/Nursing Home: Blowing bubbles, bubbles blowing, with willows and Dad, in the backyard. July-August 2019.

 

Witnessing him and my step-mom, who suffers with chronic pain but still tries to go see him (they’re just friends now), I’ve learned about life and its’ relentlessness.

 

DebAndDadinBlackandWhite

Deb and Dad waiting for me out front of the nursing home. This is a few days before me and the kid left to return to BC. August 13, 1:30 pm.

 

I’ve learned that, as one nêhiyaw blogger writes about her Auntie’s wisdom, as you get older you don’t remember or cling to the bad stuff, you just remember the good.

This must be what was happening to me while there in the Soo, there back home, in the thick of relationships.

This must be what happened to me this summer.

Some kind of letting-go magic, because, I love to cling.

There’s something hard-earned about the glowing embers of anger in me that makes me not want to let go of it. Not now, now ever. Fuck gentle. Fuck forgiveness. Earn it. Warrant it. Give me a reason to. For instance, I clung to the memory of a white aunt calling me a squaw when I was twelve because she was angry with my step-mom. I’ve learned this about white women. We are their whipping posts when they are all come apart over anything no matter how old we are, no matter how fickle the reason for their come apart. Magic happened because I let it go when she hugged me at forty-seven. Then, she hugged me again. This time wearing a Cleveland Indians shirt. And then, her niece, my cousin. Maybe I just remembered the good for self-preservation reasons. I mean, if you have to live in a context of gas-lighting and racismsexism (never mind the deeply invisibilized coloniality of the context), then maybe it’s survival to let it go. Maybe its survival with some people to let it go but maybe for others it’s a shedding of pain and unresolved matters when other, more important ones present themselves. I think I birthed both kinds of letting go this summer. You just remember the good whatever the context, whatever the why. I felt okay with it then, there. Four thousand plus kilometres distance between me and that gives me space to think it through. Consider. Reconsider. For when I go back. And, order up that (Cleveland) Caucasians t-shirt I’ve always thought was brilliant but always wondered what context I might wear it in.

At 81, my Dad’s life has entered a new chapter and I witnessed him roll with the punches with grace and a grin. Some things of him have disappeared or receded but other things have come to the fore in a big way.

Like his spirit.

His joy.

His mischievousness.

His smile.

I hadn’t heard his, “Hey kid” on the other end of the phone up until a few days ago. That his face popped up on my phone meant that he was able to use his. That he said words that sounded like “Hey kid” was like a little gift from gizhe manidoo. I’ll likely not hear it again the way I have all my life. And, he also recently Facetime’d me at 5 am my time for the first time earlier this week using my girls eight-year-old iPad. To teach him to use it and to get Facetime going was a thing. It’s the only application on the screen other than a radio app which is too difficult for him to understand. We talked—he babbled, I grunted (it was 5 am my time after all). He called me again later that day. This time he babbled and I used English; he saw me and I saw his feet. Trying to tell him to hit the button to reverse the screen was no use. The next day, he picked up his phone and called me: “Hewo. Wha-u-yooin?” It was everything. And, this time of our lives offers so much up for the contemplating.

There was this and that and this and that. And the other day.

The other day, I ended up on memory lane with a friend. We used to go driving around a lot together when I lived in his territory. Now that I don’t live there anymore, we drive around memory lane on occasion.

Ten years ago, this month I was just finishing my MA and starting my PhD about Anishinaabeg womxn and the sugar bush. I consider the Indigenous academy-inside-the-settler-academy and think, it’s not safe to do that in any real way so

i’m working first

on a monograph

based on

my dissertation,

not a book

dissing

or

on lamentation

I think of Indigenous womxn of various generational locations in the Indigenous academy-inside-the-settler-academy who have engaged in complaint who have gone quiet who have documented and archived their pain and their fight in order to survive. Their life-lines inform me. Anyhow, after I got over the fact that a decade ago I started my PhD, me and my friend got to reminiscing about the things we would be up to this time of year. There’s manoominike but we were particularly remembering the duck hunting. And the bass fishing. wewebenaabii. Damn. That was good for the soul but it was hard work paddling him around the thick lily pads and tall grasses. He laughed. I’d been in a canoe growing up but only for playing around in on the lake with friends; I was no paddler. I learned from him that paddling was a skill, an art, and in particular, an anishinaabe art. I still think about how trusting he was letting me paddle around, particularly during one of the last dagwaagii (autumns) I was still living there: nodin was high and after some deliberation we decided to head out. Geezus, it was everything I could do to keep us slowed down enough to maneuver around the grasses, careful not to startle zhiishiibag (ducks) too soon. All I remember was that wind at my back, the dark blue water with waves (small but big enough to be dangerous for a canoe) and how petrified I was about the conditions, my lack of skill, and that we would tip, he would drown, and the whole community would blame me for letting their beloved Elder go duck hunting in that weather! And, the bass fishing. First, we had to go catch the little amakakiig (frogs) for bait and then we’d head to this little lake. The last time we went to get amakakiig, I remember his frog hunting technique: crouch down low, come up quiet behind them with a slow hand and then snatch! He was really good at that. He’d get them and then bloop, into the minnow bucket they’d go. Little bright greens frogs. When there was enough, off to the little zaa’igan we’d go and then into the canoe looking for the perfect spot amidst the lily-pads to ker-plunk amakakii down into it, hoping for a bass or two. You’d think that frogging isn’t much but this is the guy who went far into the court system to protect his peoples bull frog hunting rights which he was successful in (albeit there are really no bullfrogs left to hunt) and how this, decades later, had a thing to do with his people getting their hunting and spearing rights back. Settler law is a bizarre beast. The unruly ways Indigenous resistance and endurance work, a mysterious and beautiful one. Timing seems a powerful factor in the alchemy of how things work out.

We talk about all the things we did on the land when I was living over there. I openly wondered why gizhe manidoo allowed me to learn all those things with him only to make it so that I am now in someone else’s territory. Now he’s there in his home still and I’m out of my territory, and we’re reminiscing as land-based practice. He says he doesn’t go out on the land much since I’ve left—no one to take him. I’m sure he just says that to make me feel not so lonely.

I go back even further and think about some of my first teachers. I think about the first womxn I learned anishinaabe’aadiziwin from. Cedar. I think of Jules Casselman, who learned from these people who learned from these people. That was about twenty-five years ago. I’ve learned from many others over the years. Gramma Jean, Elders in ceremonies, womxn in circles and on and on. I’ve learned that cedar is a cleanser and a protector. I hear it crackling in the lodge. A hot tea. A medicine pillow, good for niibaa. A funeral. A floor for a sweat. A bath before and after a fast. Washing a lover and reciprocal. Healing a child. Blessing a baby. Something pretty.

In the spirit of honouring the power of Anishinaabeg medicines and Coast Salish medicines, I’ve taken to going to the WSÁNEĆ peoples sacred mountain called Lau’wel’new to harvest some cedar. I use this cedar for work. Specifically, I hang it outside my office door, around my desk and from a large mounted print of a photo of “Lummi Woman” taken by Edward Curtis that I have on my bookshelf. Ok, it’s literally an alter to her. She keeps me accountable. And, the relationships portrayed in this portrait keeps me mindful. The cedar is a blessing, cleanser, and protector in this case. I want folx who come to my office to be greeted with this. I want Lummi ikawe to be protected. I want her to protect me. I want to be blessed.

Going to the mountain is always bitter sweet. Sweet because it’s the Pacific forest. Bitter because this place, this sacred mountain, claimed by settlers a long time ago, is named John Dean Park. John Dean’s cabin is still there somewhere. On any day, you’ll find all kinds of hikers. On this day, Labour Day, the place was busy. The signage is settler signage except for one or two that reflect Indigenous presence. I worried about being interrogated by a settler nature lover or sexistracist for harvesting cedar. It’s happened to me and my friend in my own territory. I was annoyed with the feeling of feeling afraid. The white peoples’ ignorance, entitlement, and bliss bothers me. Wrong. It scares me. The (un)intentionally of all of it scares me. The (lack of) consciousness scares me. I hadn’t realized how deeply the matter was in my body as I was walking until I came across a sight for sore Anishinaabe eyes: WSÁNEĆ womxn’s presence in the shape of bark strips harvested from gargantuan red cedars. It felt like the womxn were right there. It felt robust, and animated, and healthy. It made me happy and relieved to witness this. Elation. Amidst the dominance of settler colonial presence, WSÁNEĆ endurance reigns:

pleasantlysurprisedtoseetheseWSANECwomxnonthetrail

I happened to look beyond the trail and right there was a whole other world. waatebaaga giizis/September 2019

 

I rounded the bend and fell to my knees.

 

thisisnotapostcard

This is not a postcard.

Back home, we call these ones, giizhikaatigoog. This translates as sky trees. The old one said we called them this because of the way they raise their arms up to the sky. The name WSÁNEĆ folx have for this one is XPÁY.

 

delicateshadowonexposedcedar

This place, a beautiful friend.

Indigenizing the Academy is like Putting Ode In

This is a story about the heart and the brain. ode and ndib.

This is a long story,

short:

Academia is cerebral.

Most academics are settlers. White settlers.

Most academics are cerebral white settlers.

(Sweeping statements and vast leaps in logic are abhorrent, yes. In this case, true and sound. Do the stats if you must; elucidate the links if need be. And here too, an olive branch: yes, yes, inclusion, diversity, equality, equity, decolonization, indigenization …yes, yes, yes.)

Onward.

Girl, cerebral-ness is like

abstraction

distance

theory

the brain

the mind

thought, think

reason

rationale

cold, cool, colonial

yadda yadda.

Hearts think and thoughts beat (we know this to be true. we being indigenous you and indigenous me and anyone who lives deeply in their pain while still faithful to the idea of worlds that are wondrous and possible)

But academic cerebral settler-ness

is disconnected

from the heart

and the beat.

mhm.

THAT power?

THAT power is the crux

of death and despair

and dehumanization everywhere.

Indigenizing the Academy is like putting ode in

Indigenizing the Academy is like pulling a silk thread out

from our heart-beings and heart-beats

Indigenizing the Academy is like using that silk heart thread

to connect heart and mind

Like pulling out your sheshegwan (rattle) or odewe’igan (drum)

and putting vibrations into the air

Like getting that connection beating,

a pulse

Indigenizing the Academy is like resuscitation

Like having to resuscitate

Like witnessing (the descendants of) imperial/globalized subjects

resist, become unsettled by, be afraid of

the (indigenous) heart

and the (indigenous) beat.

What is indigenous to Indigenous peoples

(the heart      and the beat      and the mind,     ALL TOGETHER NOW)

is strange and foreign to cerebral-centric settlers.

Indigenizing the Academy is like

having to teach the Academy

how to be cerebral

in an indigenous way.

 

 

The Best IndigeNews I’ve Read This Holiday Season (Biased)

Treaties Between Anishinaabeg and Canada are Alive, Living Agreements and a Canadian Judge Agrees

Being born and raised in that part of Anishinaabewaki where, at the behest of the British Crown, the English and Anishinaabeg treated in 1850, resulting in the Robinson Treaties, I’ve been aware of the legal case Anishinaabeg from the Robinson-Huron Treaties launched against Canada, one of England’s off-spring, some years ago. Launched in the Canadian legal system for failure to increase treaty annuities, this case has been referred to as historic and precedent setting.

In Canada, treaties are neither a well known nor popular subject in everyday chitty-chat. (And neither are their contemporary formations, known today as land claims by some, real estate deals by others.) While I don’t get a sense that Canadian-Anishinaabe treaties are that embedded within Anishinaabeg consciousness north of the settler-imposed border, I do get a sense that they are a significant part of Anishinaabeg consciousness south of this border, nurtured in part through the Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission. But treaties, and their alive-and-living-ness, ought to be as embedded in Canadian and Anishinaabeg consciousness as Christmas shopping is as their existence or non-existence, impacts all of us, including our more-than-human, and dare I say, super-human relations. Some say that Canada literally exists because of them which, in certain periods of history and geography, is the case. In fact one Canadian (and likely some Canadians) says, I AM CANADIAN! (Because of treaties with Indigenous Nations) However, complicating this is the fact that Canada, through domination and subjugation, occupies Indigenous lands where they have not forged treaties with the Indigenous peoples of those lands. These are most often referred to as unceded lands. In this regard, one, or some, could say, I AM CANADIAN! (Because my government illegally occupies the territories of some Indigenous Nations). Today,  because there are so many who genuinely want to make Indigenous life in Indigenous lands better and see making a better Canada as a key step in achieving that, many position treaties, where they exist, as spectres of salvation. How it goes is that if treaties were honoured by the Crown, this would allow for better relations between Indigenous nations and the Canadian nation which will allow for better quality of life for Indigenous peoples. This is very likely accurate. And, because treaties are legally binding in both Canadian and Indigenous nations, there is an effort to hold the party that is not upholding its end of the bargain to account. Leveraging the legality of the treaty, in treaty relationship seems a fairly logical and best-outcome approach. However, in this way of salvation-making, treaties are painted in one fell swoop as mutually-desired, consensual agreements that were, or are, wanted by both parties. The fact that some treaties were made under duress (e.g. starvation) and other manipulative or pressuring strategies employed by the Crown and her representative to get what they wanted from Indigenous peoples disturbs this naturalization. These particular treaty contexts or conditions are overlooked, erased, or forgotten about. I think that such conditions and contexts need to be remembered, centered, and taken seriously in contemporary considerations of nation-state and Indigenous nation relations.

Anyhow, moving past Indigenous-Canadian Treaties 101, I was scrolling through CBC news the other day and learned that a decision was made on the court case regarding the Robinson Huron Treaty. Justice Patricia Hennessy indicated that Canada has an obligation to ensure the annuities evolve with the times. Today, Anishinaabeg leaders met in N’Swakomok Sudbury, ON on this important decision. Some see this judgement through the lens of resource revenue sharing, which, in a capitalist world that sees many Indigenous peoples suffering, is a practical way to frame this (if indeed the outcomes are meant to decrease the gap between those Anishinaabeg who have and those Anishinaabeg who do not). However, I see this ruling more broadly and in a more-breathing way. I see it, as I think many do, as a ruling that recognizes the alive-ness and living-ness of treaties between Canada and Anishinaabeg. I am very happy for all the Anishinaabeg and non-Anishinaabeg who worked diligently for years to have this treaty between Anishinaabe and Canada recognized as a living agreement that must be engaged with as such by Canada. An alive and living agreement means that what was agreed to in the past is not static and frozen in time; a living agreement means that the relationship is constantly in discussion and where needed, renewed.

 

News from My Mother(‘s)land

I have conflicted feelings for media and the public realm. For this post, I want to espouse my love for CBC news. I want to particularly espouse my love for CBC Indigenous. When I think of the most concrete, powerful, and lasting manifestation of INM, I think of CBC Indigenous. I think, we’re better with it than without it. 

Complicated feelings for media aside, a few days ago, some news from my mother’s lands was posted on CBC Indigenous. It was a story about how a woman spearheaded a traditional foods meal program at the hospital so Anishinaabeg patients could have their food-medicine.

Because I wasn’t raised by my mom-ban and my relationships with her family are newly forming, I appreciate news about her childhood, and our ancestral home.

I also appreciate the way we see sustenance from the lands and waters as both food and medicine, that this view is given space to be practiced materially in settler institutions that are notoriously hostile to Indigenous peoples, and that this view is given textual space in the public realm. The way we see touches me; that it persists in practice even in the most restricted spaces moves me; that it is given space in an Indigenous public space for others to hear about, witness, or be inspired by is so important. Being raised working-class rural white in a working class, rural, white community, and racialized Indian in that milieu, I didn’t know about Anishinaabeg relationships with the land other than what I experienced for myself (which of course, I didn’t know as anything other than that it was). I first learned about this idea about food-medicine from a Mushkego Elder in Fort Albany. There is no separation of sustenance between food and medicine–it is all food-medicine. Knowing how my mother, and so many Indigenous peoples have been and continue to be treated in the hospital system either as patients or employees, makes this story a bit of medicine for me. It is the exception, I know, but it is inspiring. Seeing a lot of toxic things in the public realm, this article, and the way it conveys this story, is just real gud.

The woman in the photo wearing the kerchief on her hair also made me wonder if any woman in my family wore those. I recalled a sentimental poem or story I just read written by an Indigenous woman about her grandmother wearing these. The photos I have of my mother’s maternal line don’t indicate that they wore them. I wonder about the particular history of women wearing those kerchiefs. When I see them I think about christianity. When I see historical photos of Indigenous women in skirts and/or kerchiefs, I think of imposed settler gender norms and conformity, not tradition. I also wonder about practicality in regards to kerchiefs. They would be a great thing for wiping sweat while labouring hard or keeping hair out of the way. My white step-mother (hereafter mother) and her sisters and sister-in-laws, my aunts, wore kerchiefs. They didn’t wear them tied under their chin though. They wore them over their curlers. I can still recall my mother putting her hair in curlers and covering them with a kerchief–how she tucked in the little flap and the two corners tied together in under the curlers closest to the nape of her neck. I can see her sitting at the end of the couch, smoking her Number 7 cigarette, either talking on the phone to one of the women in her life or watching soaps. I remember all the women went about their day, in town or in their houses, with curlers and kerchiefs.

Anishinaabeg affinity for attire, and distinctions amongst Anishinaabeg in a particular area, with some attention to women in particular, can be picked up here and there in Following Nimishomis: The Oral History of Debibaayaanimanook Sarah Keesick Olsen (2008).

 

A Winter Solstice Poem by a WSÁNEĆ Person

The name of the city newspaper where I live is awful. It’s called The Times Colonist. That said, in a holiday season where consumerism is the holy grail and being connected to the doings of the earth, seasons, and celestial beings is off the radar for the majority, I was happy to find out that this newspaper hosts “The Times Colonist Solstice Poetry Series” and has been doing so since 2006.

That’s impressive, right?

This year, the out-going poet laureate for the city, Yvonne Blomer, curated the series.

I was super happy to see the first poem by Philip Kevin Paul, a WSÁNEĆ person who is well know for his poetry and important cultural work. Having attended a public reading he gave last year, I was so moved by the intimate, sensitive portrayal of his familial relations; and, having read a collaborative project he was involved regarding WSÁNEĆ place names and stories, his work has personally and importantly helped me learn more about this place where I am in a debwewin, geget (true, real) way. Seeing a poem by a WSÁNEĆ person on the subject of winter solstice in WSÁNEĆwaki, seeing this poem positioned as the lead, and seeing this space being created by a white settler woman in a white settler newspaper called The Times Colonist that values winter solstice + poetry is one of the best little treats a die-hard Anishinaabe person who is trying to make sense of her complex occupier status in these lands can come upon while flipping online through the news. It’s “Such A Tiny Light ” but it was an amazing one that made me happy.

 

 

 

 

the shortest day of the year to be Anishinaabe

turns out, this year, to be one of the best days of the year to be Anishinaabe.

Let me explain.

First, it’s winter solstice.

That means, the light is coming back.

Yay! The light is coming back.

And in Lekwungenwaki, the dark is dark and the dark is long so the light coming back is a hella good reason to sing a song:

waaaaaaaaaay-hey-yaah, way-hey-yaaa-hey-ohhh

waaaaaaaaaay-hey-yaaah, way-hey-yaaa-hey-ohh

way-hey-yaA-way-hi-ohh

way-hey-yaA-way-hi-ohh

way-hey-yaa, way-hey-yaa

wey-hey-yaa-hey-ohhhhh

Next, this year, I was sick as an animosh the last few days and being in that not-here world made me remember some things about anishinaabe medicine. Some winter medicine things. Some hot liquid things. Some boiling bones down to get the minerals and vitamins into my body things. Broth things. giigooNh aaboo things.

Yea, that’s right. Some fish broth things.

I remembered in 2013 when INM started and shortly thereafter then-Chief Theresa Spence  embarked on her fast in protest of Canada’s dishonourable relations with her nation, the Muskego nation. I remembered how her fast only included taking fish broth daily as a way to keep her healthy and strong while fasting from everything else. I remembered how my friend and teacher, Gidigaa Migisi taught those of us with questions, about fish broth—how to make it and how it was used for it’s nutrients and how it could be used to keep people alive.

While sick and somewhat in that other world, I told myself that as soon as I returned wholly back to this world, I would make up some broths and not only start taking those in to slowly return to eating but that I would start taking in more broths on a regular basis. There has to be nothing more healthy and nutritious than hot broth, especially when you are sick or aging (or eating a lot of processed foods, [like I do since I’ve left my territory]). So I went to get some giigooNh late last night but couldn’t find what I wanted and ended up getting some beef soup bones.

Today, I ventured out again and couldn’t find exactly what I was looking for but I did find some geget cod (not farmed) from the Atlantic and thought you know, I may not be able to get atigamek or ogaa over here but I can get Icelandic cod and b’ye dat kind of cod is sum close to Atlantic cod and dat DNA or somethin’ of it is in me and me duckies’ bones too and b’ye da lord my dad used to make sure I took a cod liver oil pill every morning as a kid so lord tunderin’ I’m gonna use sum of dat dere cod dats four dollars off —geezus dat’s a gud price lah—and duck wouldchya look at dat? Now dat’s some good lookin’ cod, lah! Dat’ll make up some real gud giigooNh aaboo, b’ye.

Before I headed to the miijim adaawegamik (grocery store) I texted up my dear niij and asked him to remind me how to make up that broth. I also asked him if I could share it here as I knew I wanted to make a celebratory winter solstice post. He said he’d be honoured (which reminded me of the kind of person I want to be when I’m in my 70s). I personally wanted to share it here so Anishnaabe can have it, in case we forgot or forget. I remember all too well the years of not having the people in my life that I do today who can do what my mom couldn’t do and that is help me be and live anishinaabe. I know too well how hard it is to build that homefire and keep it going and so I put my tobacco down everyday for it. I want to share what has been shared with me in a careful, boundaried, ethical way.  So anyways ducks, here it is—Gidigaa Migisi’s Fish Broth Recipe:

469E384C-8B61-436A-B2A5-9ED1F380391E

And, here it is, in practice—

… giigooNh (cod); green onion; Hawaai’in pink salt (a gift); dollar store black pepper; and, tap water (that comes from T’Souke [Sooke] and has been treated by the settlers so, instead of drinking it right from the source as T’Souke, Lekwungen, WSANEC, Cowichan, etc. folx have done for thousands of years, we can drink it, you know, treated, and straight from the tap).

And here it is, in more practice—

B31686F7-8296-4B39-96AA-1A047F927834.jpeg

… in a container-cum-saved pasta sauce jar, which leads me to the third and last-to-be-discussed reason why this years’ solstice has turned out to be the best.

This little bundle of food in a recycled pasta jar was carried off for a wee solstice-seasonal-odoodem ceremony on the top of PKOLS (Lewkwungen name for Mt. Tolmie as per Cheryl Bryce, which is the same as the name for Mt. Doug).

This particular little feast offering is a first for me and it felt right and good. Making and offering a feast whose main base is a fish broth?

Yaass.

I thought ninodoodem would definitely like that.

This offering also included some of the boiled fish (which is yum by the way), some frozen Saskatoon berries, and some ziigamide (maple syrup).

Geez, we Anishinaabe sure know how to do it up right.

My girl and I went and did our thing and you know, it was beautiful up there in the Garry Oaks, in the dark that was lit up by Nokomis, who is full tonight and despite being behind a thin layer of cloud, was quite illuminous. Apparently, there will be meteors tonight as well. The light IS coming back.

This evening, we also both had a good helping of the fish broth. It was tasty. It was oily. The oil lingers for a bit on the lips. Joseph Pitawanakwat says that that oil in our food is called mideh; he says it’s really good and powerful medicine. I believe it. We never get this medicine in this way anymore. So, let’s make broth and feed it to our babies. Let’s feed it to ourselves. Feed it to the old ones in our lives. The ones who are ill or recovering. Lets feed it to our lovers. To those who are grieving. Give a little bit to our pets. Let’s offer it to tibi giizis, to winter solstice, to our clans, our protectors, and to the spirit of what ever season we are in. Let’s offer it to the east and offer it with a song, a smudge, some asemaa, and our amazing, enduring Anishnaabe spirits.

 

 

 

 

a kind of Ojibway love

I asked that Ojibway man once, over the phone, “Do you ever get lonely?”

I was lonely being Anishnaabe in this non-Anishinaabe world that has evolved in our territories. I was lonely, even amongst Anishnaabe, who seemed to not care anymore about being Anishinaabe, who seemed content to let our ways go with the winds of change or willing to give up. Where being famous, popular, or “of value” in the settler world seems to be more the priority than tending to our fires.

“Do you ever get lonely?” I asked into the receiver.

His deep voice, as always, resonated in my chest, “No. The ancestors are always around us. You can’t get lonely when you remember that.”

I was immediately comforted. I don’t know if it was how his words turned on a light in me or if it was his immediate and unwavering confident knowing in who we are as Ojibway, but I was comforted. It was like a puzzle piece found its place.

He shared with me some other things and while I think of him in many ways, when I am feeling lonely or scared about being Ojibway in this world that is not Ojibway, I think of him, perched in a tree looking about, observing the world, detached, contemplating it. I think about how our ancestors are always around us, perched about, watching us, whispering to us to keep on being us. I think about old teachings about healthy detachment, about how being perched on a limb smoking a pipe can be an act of self-preservation.

And I think that this is what it is to be Ojibway: to be faithkeepers is to keep that ancestral fire glowing as an ember within ourselves no matter what. No matter if we have failed or if the world around us is failing. I think to be Ojibway, to be faithkeepers means allowing ourselves to be ignited by fellow Ojibway who also live and love as deeply as they can for that fire. It means believing that maybe, once in awhile, you can also be that ignition for fellow Ojibway as well; you can do your part as a faithkeeper.

When I think about this moment on the phone with this man, his voice on the other end, I think about Ojibway love. I feel what Ojibwe love might be like. I think that maybe this is what one kind of Ojibway love is—the intimate sharing of how to keep our life lines going in this world, through many worlds, regardless if we are close to each other in proximity or far apart, regardless if we are in our territories or out of them.

*zaasaa’ikawe*

Funny, That White Woman in the Mayfair Mall Food Court Who Loves the Environment …

and Hates Indigenous Woman and Black Girl

It’s fitting that this experience happened by the garbage can, the trash, la poubelle, ziigwebinigan

Because that’s the white woman in a mall food court who loves the environment and who came up to ziigwebinigan to discard their trash.

And who,

Standing beside my girl

Standing beside me

As I discarded my trash,

Reached across her

To get to my garbage;

Tried to take it out of my hand

Because apparently,

I was putting it in the wrong trash bin;

Who failed to grab that garbage

BUT

Successfully grabbed the food tray I was holding

–grabbed it right out of my hand

So she could put the onion and paper that was on it

Into the “correct” bin

Shaking her head, grumbling all the while

Reaching across my girl

To me

Back across my girl

So she

Could love the environment

There

In the Mayfield Mall Food Court,

Mumbling and grumbling and shaking her head

As my girl and I stood there

Registering

What was happening,

Looking at her

At each other

At her

At each other

At her whisking off–

 Job done!

Environment saved!

White-woman-(maternal)-authority-over-Black girl-and-Indigenous-woman-established!

Self-righteousness rejuvenated!

We stood there momentarily, still registering, watching her walk away, beyond the food court border

And we moved too, still within the food court, in a slightly different direction, and as her walking trajectory veered gently back to the border, I called out to her, over the people in the food court:

“What you need to be worried about is the fact that you are living on stolen land.”

To which she responded with a look, a shrug, a buoyant gait–her back and long salt & pepper hair setting off in the distance

My girl and I keep walking, Anishinaabe formation; she participates in this resistance, too, says:

“VEGAN.”

I affirm her resistance, chuckle, and yell out a few decibels higher (but not so high as to draw attention: “Yea. VEGAN.”

We laugh.

We looked at each other walking beside each other:

“That just happened!”

Shook our heads.

That just happened!

 

 

 

On Moral Courage and Heroes, (anti) Racism, and Beauty

Last week, Dr. Cindy Blackstock was in my neighbourhood giving a talk titled, “Spirit Bear’s Guide to Reconciliation”. The day before, she was conferred with an honorary PhD in Law and celebration was in the air. Aside from Odawa Elders and Drs. Edna Manitowabi and Shirley Williams, Dr. Blackstock is the only other Indigenous woman I know of who has been conferred with an honourary PhD. A social work scholar and well known human rights warrior for Indigenous children in Canada,  I knew her talk would be in a field that I’ve had little to do with for over a decade. Admittedly, I was feeling a bit unsure about the significant presence of a teddy-bear as front-line in her talk and in the lunch I had prior to her talk (not with Dr. Blackstock but with another person who is a part of the “Spirit Bear” movement). I quickly checked myself on my epistemic arrogance regarding “the teddy-bear” and pushed myself to move outside my disciplinary boundary. Also, prioritizing learning from Indigenous womxn is a form of self-care. I know the important work that Dr. Blackstock has and does do and how vital and important Indigenous social work in a settler colonial context is to Indigenous peoples–all of us.

I’m so glad that I went.

So, so glad.

Aside from being an amazing speaker, Dr. Blackstock’s words, energy, and method were inspiring and rejuvenating. I was moved by her message of “moral courage” that everyone of us must have if we are to attain any kind of justice for our babies, children, and youth.

She called in her hero–Dr. Peter Henderson Bryce, MD–who generations before, in the early 1900s, had informed the government of Canada of their discriminatory health care practices against Indigenous children (then in residential schools). He had been hired by the state to examine the health care of Indigenous children in residential schools as a result of the high rates of death. When the state ignored his recommendations to provide the same level of health care, he persisted in advocating for an end to the discriminatory practices and suffered economic and professional consequences. Dr. Blackstock emphasized his moral courage despite the consequences and indicated we all need to have this today in our work for creating a better reality for Indigenous babies, children, and youth which will be founded upon equitable treatment with all other children and ensuring all babies, children, and youth are treated well.

She shared wisdom from an Elder who told her to never fall in love with the institutions we embed ourselves in. The danger in doing so is that the values and ethos of the institution we work for may come into tension and conflict with our own values and morals. This may result in a displacement of our values and morals in order to be commensurable with our institutions. Suddenly, we find ourselves doing work that is very distant from who we are and what is right. In fact, this seems to result in what I have witnessed as being a kind of professional legitimation to being anti-social. How many times have I heard, “It’s my job” being used as a reason to do wrong. You know, like when RCMP, police, or security guards use physical violence, dogs, and the legal system against Indigenous peoples who are protecting their lands and water or non-Indigenous folx who are allied in such actions. Falling in love with our institutions (and the social dynamics that animate them) is something I have experienced in my professional and student life. Coming to grips with the reality that the institutions that we are embedded in may not reflect our values and morals is a tough one, especially if they provide us the resources we need to survive or sur-thrive. Yet, as Dr. Bryce’s and Dr. Blackstock’s lives show, having the moral courage to act true to what is right–in this case, fighting for equitable health care for Indigenous children no matter the consequences–is absolutely necessary.

Over here in the west coast nations, the Lekwungen and WSANEC folx raise their hands to those whose actions are deemed courageous, righteous, and reflective of being a good human-being who looks out for others. It is a fitting gesture for Dr. Blackstock and her message.

*

This week,  Dr. Robin DiAngelo is giving a talk on  white fragility from her latest book entitled the same. As a way to engage more deeply with the subject, a pre-seminar discussion was had last week which included reading three articles: “White Fragility” by DiAngelo (2011); “Tracking Privilege-Preserving Epistemic Pushback in Feminist and Critical Race Philosophy Classes” by Alison Bailey (2017), and Comforting Discomfort as “Complicity: White Fragility and the Pursuit of Invulnerability” by Barbara Applebaum (2017).

I want to bullet-point some quotes from these readings that I found helpful, validating, empowering, and rejuvenating. Thinking that others might also find something of this helpful, I wanted to share:

  • “‘Racism is especially rampant in places and people that produce knowledge.’ – Anzaldúa, 1990, xix” (Bailey, 876)
  • “We know injustice when we feel it.” (ibid.)
  • “In general, white fragility triggers a constellation of behaviours that work to steer us back to epistemic terrains where we feel whole, comfortable and good. Consider how white folks repeatedly bolster our metaphysical wholeness with stories about our good deeds, merit-based accomplishments, immigration stories, or the long hours we’ve worked. These narratives keep us whole.” (Bailey, 880)
  • “White people in North America live in a social environment that protects and insulates them from race-based stress. This insulated environment of racial protection builds white expectations for racial comfort while at the same time lowering the ability to tolerate racial stress, leading to what I refer to as White Fragility.” (DiAngelo, 54)
  • “Although mainstream definitions of racism are typically some variation of individual ‘race prejudice’, which anyone of any race can have, Whiteness scholars define racism as encompassing economic, political, social, and cultural structures, actions, and beliefs that systematize and perpetuate an unequal distribution of privileges, resources and power between white people and people of colour …. Whiteness itself refers to the specific dimensions of racism that serve to elevate white people over people of colour. This definition counters the dominant representation of racism in mainstream education as isolated in discrete behaviours that some individuals may or may not demonstrate, and goes beyond naming specific privileges… (ibid., 56)
  • “Whiteness is a location of structural advantage, of race privilege. Second it is a ‘standpoint,’ a place from which White people look at ourselves, at others, and at society. Third, ‘Whiteness’ refers to a set of cultural practices that are usually unmarked and unnamed.” (Frankenburg in DiAngelo, 56)
  • “White Fragility” yields “a range of defensive moves” that “function to reinstate white racial equilibrium.” (DiAngelo, 57)
  • “A large body of research about children and race demonstrates that children start to construct ideas about race very early; a sense of white superiority and knowledge of racial power codes appears to develop as early as pre-school” (ibid., 63)
  • “Whites who positions themselves as liberal often opt to protect what they perceive as their moral reputations, rather than recognize or change their participation in systems of inequity and domination. In so responding, whites invoke the power to choose when, how, and how much to address or challenge racism.” (ibid., 64)
  • “While anti-racist efforts ultimately seek to transform institutionalized racism, anti-racist education may be most effective by starting at the micro-level. The goal is to generate the development of perspectives and skills that enable all people, regardless of racial locations, to be active initiators of change. Since all individuals who live within a racist system are enmeshed in its relations, this means that all are responsible for either perpetuating or transforming that system. However, although all individuals play a role in keeping the system active, the responsibility for change is not equally shared. White racism is ultimately a white problem and the burden for interrupting it belongs to white people.” (ibid., 66)
  • “White Fragility doesn’t always manifest in overt ways; silence and withdrawal are also functions of fragility. Who speaks, who doesn’t speak, when, for how long, and with what emotional valence are all keys to understanding the relational patterns that hold oppression in place….(ibid., 67).
  • “Comforting not only alleviates white discomfort and preserves white innocence, but is also constitutes feminists of color as the offenders. Feminists of color who offer antiracist critique are labeled as ‘angry’ and carry the burden of being blamed as the source of white discomfort.” (Applebaum, 865)
  • “Srivastava underscores not only that white tears terminate the conversation but also that white “calming techniques” provide absolution from guilt. In fact, white women’s professions of weakness serve ‘as a buffer from consciousness, responsibility, and struggle’ … When white discomfort is comforted, white women are relieved from all accountability. In other words, white comforting becomes the mechanism by which white women can avoid confronting their complicity in racism and whereby power inequities in the organization can be maintained.” (ibid.)
  • “Whiteness is … a doing: less a property of skin than an enactment of power reproducing its dominance in both explicit and implicit ways.” (ibid., 868)
  • “Rather than relying on the exclusively negative conceptions of vulnerability, Gilson suggests reconceptualizing vulnerability as encompassing as openness to change, dispossession, and willingness to risk exposure. … Gilson maintains that vulnerability is a common human capacity that, first and foremost, involves the capacity to be affected and to affect in turn. … ‘Being vulnerable makes it possible for us to suffer, to fall prey to violence and be harmed, but also to fall in love, to learn, to take pleasure and find comfort in the presence of others, and to experience the simultaneity of these feelings. Vulnerability is not just a condition that limits us but one that can enable us. As potential, vulnerability is a condition of openness, openness to being affected and affecting in turn.”  (ibid., 870)
  • “…epistemic vulnerability is not just about being willing to challenge one’s ideas and beliefs but, even more significantly, it is about a constant vigilance and willingness to change one’s self.” (ibid., 871)
  • “Critical hope, first and foremost, acknowledges that systemic oppression exists, and such hope entails responsibility to challenge what Boler refers to as ‘inscribed habits of emotional inattention’ and involves ‘a willingness to exist within ambiguity and uncertainty’ …. [It] does not obstruct purposive and critical reflection around one’s complicity in systems of oppression but instead encourages a ‘willingness to be fully alive in the process of constant change and becoming’…. [It] aims to encourage openness toward continued struggle and forefronts discomfort as a signal to be alert fro what one does not know about others but also about oneself.” (ibid., 872)

Today, UnSettling America published an important essay, “Settler Fragility: Why Settler Privilege Is So Hard To Talk About”, by Dina Gilio-Whitaker. Here, Whitaker transposes the concept of racial fragility to relational fragility with place and people (i.e. settler colonialism). Another important transposition would be on the topic of sex/gender (i.e. male fragility, baby men) and class. The concepts of vulnerability and critical hope could be also easily applied.

*

Last night I attended a dual book launch of two Canadian literature texts. It was held in this quirky old building in a neighbourhood known as James Bay; the building known to be haunted, re-tooled into a pub known as The Bent Mast. It was located on a triangular block, on the triangular tip of a block that I’ve driven by a few times and was always curious about. It’s get dark here at 4:30–and dark here is not like dark back home. It is DARK. As in DARK DARK. As in layers and layers of thick blankets dark. Add the cloud, rain and dim street lights that characterize this city. Anyhow, as I walked up, I smiled. Ok, grinned. A curious place that I had been curious about, now a place I had a reason to be in. I was reading and happy to be meeting friends–some who value poetry and others who value friendship and jet as soon as you are done. ❤

On “meeting”, Amanda Jernigan, advisor editor for The Best Canadian Poetry in English 2018 and contributor to What the Poets Are Doing: Canadian Poets in Conversation (and whose long blond hair and whose unabashed love for literature reminded me so much of my first creative writing teacher, Alana Bondar-ban) gave a beautiful reading, quoting Dionne Brand and Souvankham Thammavognsa in conversation. I fell into it and am going to remain here for awhile:

Brand: … We met, you and I, in poetry. What an ordinary and strange place to meet. We didn’t meet on a dance floor or in a factory or in a store or in a line waiting for a bus, but in the structure of nothing, of ambiguity, and of malleability, of air and sound. I find that amazing.

Thammavongsa: Like someone working to connect people to other people and then listening in, caught by some urgency in the voice asking.

 

 

On Words and Tugging

So the phrase “Indigenous assholery and windigoism”, which I used in my last post, has been tugging on me.

Tugging in the way of,

hey, christine, are you sure about using these words?;

Tugging in the way of,

these words sit uneasy, sit uneasy in my stomach;

As in, mmmm, these words. thesewordsthesewords. hmm. *squinty eye* hmmmmmm;

Tugging as in, are these the words I want to use?;

Tugging as in, these are the words I want to use, wanted to use and did use, and now hmmmm, tugging, tugging

As in, could you have done better?  

As in, hmmm. the energy invoked now, with words; these words. to do and not to do, undo. re-do. more do. hmph. 

Assholery is such a serious word, such a fun word. Cutting. Not fun. Rhythmic. Deadening. Windigoism, an ism. Both verbs. Actions. Movements. Ways of being. So, it’s not so much the words as the unpacking of them; the making-meaning of them in this ground I threw them into, pulled them up from. My lack thereof. My own assholery in opening a door fast and slamming it shut just as fast. Stories don’t dig this. Stories deserve more.

There are things to unpack, theorize, document about being Anishinaabe feminist in the academy and community and, communityacademycommunity. However, not feeling it right now (it being blogging about it). For now, I’ve attended to this tugging using the super power of asterisks, strike-outs, the replacement words of exploitation and extraction, and addendum. Maybe this softens the energy. Makes it more live-able, more able to do what it needs to do.

The tugging is gone.

And this addendum-as-post is just healing through words and art and opening up space to let the thing breathe.

*zaasaakwe*