for the Indigenous Men of AFN at this time of transformation

by waaseyaa'sin christine sy

I wrote the following poem in 2009 for my manuscript City & Cedar. She is a woman’s voice watching a man or men in her life go out there into the public Canadian arena while she tends the home fires: family, kinship ties, ceremony, land & relationship with land. She is a gentle pulling on him for 400 years to not forget, to not be swayed by the short-term gems & pressures heteropatriarchal capitalist colonialism (the kind of colonialism that puts man in the centre, erases fluid genders, forces male-female relationships, and puts wealth-generation and material status first) has to offer. She is a gentle reminder that he needs her and all Indigenous peoples of his community, his Nation, to change the colonial, occupied world we live in. She is a gentle, compassionate woman calling out to him, holding him accountable to the People and Her.


In the past few days, I have spent a lot of time thinking of Shawn A-in-Chut Atleo, Canada’s National Chief for the Assembly of First Nation (AFN). And his mother; wondering about the women in his life. I have been thinking of the male dominance of AFN and how they recently had the opportunity to make Dr. Pam Palmater the National Chief but chose not to, choosing to re-elect Shawn Atleo again. I think about the mothers, grandmothers, aunties, sisters, daughters, partners, significant women, friends, colleagues, mentors, teachers, Elders, in their lives. I imagine these women and people are calling out to them to get their attention. While I centre Chief Theresa Spence, the women of Idle No More, and Pam Palmater in the revolution that is happening today, the ubiquity of colonial power and it’s entanglement with AFN must be engaged with. I think this poem from 2009 fits what is happening today.

nogsho wo (to call attention to someone)

go on up ahead there

walk     talk     be in the light.


remember me

back here

holding our heart,

remember to pause    and walk back to me

because it’s hard to get certain kinds

of the many Progress People out there

to slow down.


remember how to be brave     all your relations     your past

remember the future     the reason you are There in the first place,

do this so you can     in the very moment needed

call on all your words, your strength, your power* (if you have to)

so you can tell them

that you need

to walk back to me


talk to me

about the glories

and the struggles

and then sing to me

your moments of crumble

so that i can walk with you

to humility,

head up or head down

i will listen to you eagerly.


when you’re done sharing your knowledge


and be eager,

to ask me what i think,

what i feel,

what i know,

what i have smelled on the ground,

seen in the sky,

ask me about three different trees growing from one dead

about murmurs within buildings and between

ask me how my body is working and what it says

what comes of prayers when my lips are on the earth

or melting falling snow


in this way you will

walk     talk     be in the light

with new life


in this way     We

can push the boundaries

that shape our world.

* For Indigenous peoples, power comes from our relationships with the land, the animals, the language, our ceremonies, and the materials we make and utilize to manifest, feast, and affirm our powers. This is different than the power humanely inscribed and taken away in hierarchical colonial institutions.