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

Month: October, 2013

The UN Special Rapporteur James Anaya Statement Upon Conclusion of Visit to Canada

The UN Special Rapporteur James Anaya Statement Upon Conclusion of Visit to Canada

It was my girls’ dad who first prompted me to consider that perhaps the United Nations is not all that it purports to be: an institution for the people. It was he who publicly questioned a guest speaker, an Indigenous woman of African descent, at an Indigenous Women’s Symposium in 2007 at Trent University in Ontario, Canada, when she constructed the United Nations as being an institution that legitimately works for Indigenous peoples. He asked something to the effect of,

“Excuse me Madame, you don’t really believe that the United Nations is for the people do you? That it really works for human rights and helps us in that?”

This question, posed in this setting, made me wonder about a few things but ultimately it prompted me to re-visit my present understandings and belief about the UN.

I trust his analysis of global politics and institutions that govern international interests. His education is focussed on such things and grounded in a broader understanding of the world whereas my education is i) Canadian which seems most involved in navel-gazing and ii) on Indigenous peoples in Canada with some international attention as well. His knowledge and experience is that of farming, rurality, and the elite; education human rights and global politics. He scoffs at mention of the UN as a site of legitimacy for promoting life for people. For him, I don’t think there is any other truth about the UN other than it is not debwe (true).

I also watched a movie called “Whistleblower” that is a dramatized version of a true story about Kathryn Bolkovac, a UN employee learned about and revealed how some people in the UN protected traffickers in the sex trade in Bosnia. This movie, and the quick follow-up research I did on it prompted further skepticism.

And here’s more about why I now question the legitimacy of the UN as an organization that helps Indigenous peoples in real ways:

As Anishinaabe ikawe living in my homelands that have been colonized by government, settlers, and their descendants, and that has been educated in the fields of Psychology, Women Studies, Language, Canadian Studies, Indigenous Studies, and Anishinaabe life, I have come to be hesitant and skeptical when presented with possibilities for something positive that will restore good life for Indigenous peoples in our lands. For better or worse, this is how several hundred years of lies and propaganda manifest in my body today and for better or worse, this is what 10 years reading body language and facial expressions as a counsellor and a few years of discourse analysis has resulted in: skepticism and hesitancy. I’ll have faith and hope in western created institutions when I begin to see something real manifest for our people.

Did you know that Anishinaabeg have a sacred song teaching us to be hesitant when entering in matters of significance? Say, like a ceremony? For me, when talking about making life better for Indigenous peoples in our homelands is a matter of great significance. I have to be hesitant otherwise waste my precious time and energy chasing hope on faith when i can be on the land reclaiming our knowledges and practices there; engaging in maajiimaadiziwin (keeping the life-line going through the generations). Being hesitant isn’t a bad thing; it’s important and keeps the heart tempered. Being skeptical also isn’t a bad thing; I prefer it to the rose-coloured glasses I used to wear a few years ago. Also, skepticism is not a constant; it is easily replaced with debwewin (truth), genuine action for change, and new ways of doing things that work for Indigenous peoples. The way it is for me is this: I’m eager to have my skepticism blown up. Please, please, please give me reason.

This is my ‘baggage’ so to speak. I own it and am aware of it.  I like it; it helps me; I’ll keep it until something better comes along. Truth be told, I’ve yet to see anything that compels me to lose it. To my knowledge, the UN has done nothing to date for Indigenous people in Canada other than provide rhetoric for us to sink our hopeful teeth into. It wields imaginary power and that’s about it as far as I can see. Given all this context, I was skeptical about James Anaya’s, Special Rapporteur on Indigenous Peoples for the UN, visit to Canada. After reading his statement upon the conclusion of his visit, I continued to be skeptical about its purpose and value but it makes also makes me curious about why he was really here. Here’s what makes me curious:

1) this statement is not published on the United Nations website. I did a search. I did not find it;

2) this statement is published on a site that seems dedicated to Mr. Anaya’s position as UN Special Rapporteur; and, this site is sponsored by a university. I guess I expected this statement to be on the UN website and not an American university sponsored site dedicated to promoting the position of Special Rapporteur;

3) Indigenous peoples as a name are not capitalized anywhere in the text, not even the title;

4) Mr. Anaya has capitalized his job title, the institution he works for, the nation state he visited (i.e. canada), and the names Canada has for Indigenous peoples. This suggests a kind of privileging of professionalism over matters important to Indigenous peoples;

5) Mr. Anaya uses a hodge bodge of labels for Indigenous peoples including Aboriginal, First Nations, Metis, and Inuit when he could have just use the name Indigenous peoples have chosen for ourselves, that being Indigenous peoples;


6) at the beginning of his statement, which is a statement about Indigenous peoples generally, he uses the label Indigenous peoples however in specific reference to the Canadian context, which makes up the body of his statement, he call us Aboriginal peoples. This is the name neo-colonial canada has given Indigenous peoples and the name neo-colonial canada uses in the constitution for Indigenous peoples. by using this name, Mr. Anaya privileges canada’s reality and erases that of Indigenous peoples, particularly the one most recently articulated through the INM movement which, in part, wishes canada to affirm their relationship with Indigenous Nations, not multicultural special interest groups known as ‘aboriginal’.

Other than this Mr. Anaya seems to be rhetoric-ing on things we all already know (i.e. we are downtrodden in social economic ways) and for that reason I will not elaborate on the content of his statement.

What I am curious to know though is this: Why would a Special Rapporteur on the rights of Indigenous Peoples refer to Indigenous peoples in canada as Aboriginals and not Indigenous peoples? I mean, the UN deals in the discourse of Indigenous Rights, not Aboriginal rights; the United Declaration of Human Rights for Indigenous Peoples does not use the word Aboriginal anywhere throughout the text; and, the UN, in my understanding, began to use the name Indigenous peoples to reflect the political meaningfulness of us naming ourselves and using that name in an international context.

Why is he privileging Canada’s construction of us and not our construction of us?

At this point, while the photo-ops of such things are always plentiful, I’ve not seen anything meaningful come out of the UN regarding Indigenous peoples in Canada and I don’t anticipate anything useful from this visit. I don’t think this will prompt any change. Upon referring to UNDRIP and reading the introduction, I was struck by this statement: “This universal human rights instrument is celebrated globally as a symbol of triumph and hope.”

Reading that I can now see why Mr. Anaya is pleased that our people are referring to this document in advancing our agenda: he is glad that people have hope in it.

I suppose when you know the UN is an institution of imaginary power, the objective is to get people to believe in it whether it produces outcomes or not. Hope is important. It’s upsetting if that’s all we have.

Me? I’ll pass on symbols of triumph and hope. I’ll continue to hesitantly wait until I see something that legitimates the UN’s ability to do something practical and real in terms of manifesting the agenda of Indigenous peoples in Turtle Island, the northern part of her anyways. I’ll continue to engage in the real and tangible: the land, the language, the people, and resist the re-creation or continued dynamic of colonial relationships every step of the way to the best of my ability. Does this mean I won’t call on the rhetorical power the UN does have to influence thought? Absolutely not. I do and will use it because I think as a body, it has the power to influence thought and thought can leads to positive action for Indigenous peoples. I think that there are a lot of people in the world that do respect the UN and will shift their consciousness to reflect the ideologies the UN purports. I think we need everybody to be doing everything. All strategies are needed to get our Nations back on track and in sync with mashkikimakwe (mother earth) and we need every tool there is to help us do that in the face of canada’s dominance of our lives. I just think we need to ensure we don’t put more time, energy, and dollars into symbols of triumph and hope when we can be putting time, energy and dollars into reclaiming and re-generating our knowledges and practices with mashkikimakwe (mother earth), each other as individuals, and between our Nations.

INM Proclaim October 7: What Does The Royal Proclamation of 1763 Mean for University Communities?

The weeks leading up to INM Proclaim Oct. 7 events have prompted me to think about what the Royal Proclamation of 1763 means within my life as Ojibway Anishinaabe ikawe (woman) living in Michi Saagiig (Mississauga) Anishinaabe homelands. Particularly, I think about what it means as I live here in Nogojiwanong (Peterborough) while I’m studying at Trent University. It’s an unlikely pairing for discussion: the Royal Proclamation of 1763 and the University. However, once we remember that the university is an institution that is accessed and navigated through a series of constructed qualifications that afford certain individuals certain powers and privileges while we are within it as well as when we depart with particular credentials, the significance of the pairing comes into a bit of focus. And then once we remember that the Royal Proclamation of 1763 made way for settler colonialism, which in turn made way for institutional development, such as Trent University, the reasoning for this pairing becomes clear. My thinking in making links between the Proclamation and the University (as institution) is connected to my own on-going personal decolonization and the insights I’ve come to about the importance of knowing where my family and me live, work, or travel. Understandings of self-in-situ were inspired by my relationships with Michi Saagiig peoples in the communities where I live, work, and play. Wanting to plant seeds of this consciousness in the university community, I wrote about this to some degree in their newspaper, Arthur, last September.[i] Proclaim Oct 7, as an INM event, in turn inspires me to extend my earlier discussion to the present context and ask, “What does the Royal Proclamation mean for me as a non-Michi Saagiig member of the University community?”

Where INM “calls on all people to join in a peaceful revolution to honour Indigenous sovereignty, and to protect the land and water” (, the Royal Proclamation is a declaration that was issued by King George III in 1763 to assert British control over North America. At the time, hundreds of Indigenous Nations lived, worked, and travelled throughout Turtle Island (i.e. North America). This proclamation affirmed that Indigenous Nations had title to our land and forbade settlers to claim any land until it was ceded through Treaty between Indigenous Nations and the Crown. While the meaning and definitions of treaty vary in accordance with the worldviews, languages, and understandings of the parties involved, essentially a treaty is a formal agreement between sovereign nations or states.

So what does this have to do with being a part of a university community in our singular or overlapping roles as students, employees, or volunteers? Of course, it will mean different things depending on locale, positionality, and our engagement with decolonization but I’m fairly sure there will also be similarities across sites. In order to get a better sense of what this might mean for my family and me and our responsibilities while here, I spoke with Doug Williams, Michi Saagiig Anishinaabe Gichi Piitzijig (Mississauga Elder) about what the Royal Proclamation meant for the Michi Saagiig.[ii] I’ll write more in another post on what it means for my responsibilities as Ojibway Anishinaabe in Mississauga Anishinaabe territory; for now, some interesting local oral history.

According to Gichi Piitzijig Doug Williams, within the next few decades following the Proclamation, British representatives (i.e. military and governor) requested the Michi Saagiig Anishinaabeg Nation for a Treaty in which they would cede land to the British in exchange for annuities and goods. This request was made by the British who needed land to support the influx of Loyalists arriving after the War of 1812. This request would have been made within the context of an existing relationship between the Mississauga and the British that was shifting in terms of the British valuing the allied relationship with the Mississauga prior to and during the War of 1812 and thereafter seeing this relationship as no longer needed once the war was won. As in understanding any treaty, there are always important details around the context the treaty request arose from, the conditions it was negotiated in, the accuracy of documenting those negotiations and agreements, as well as the outcomes of the treaty for the parties involved. The same can be said for the 1818 Treaty.[iii]

Ultimately, this 1818 Treaty was negotiated and it covered the area from south of Rice Lake, north to the Halliburton area, west to Lake Simcoe, and east to Marmora area. As has been typical in many treaties the British made with Indigenous Nations, the Michi Saagiig side of negotiations was not reflected.[iv] This essentially resulted in a land grab for settlers. In the present day Peterborough area, the first settler to arrive was Adam Scott, who claimed a mishkode (i.e. savannah) that was being actively tended and used by the Michi Saagiig. He claimed this in order to build a mill and named the area “Scott’s Plains”, Peterborough’s first settler name. Interestingly, this mishkode was where Hunter Street now exists and Hunter Street, as many of us know, is a popular place for Trent students. According to Gichi Piitzijig Doug Williams, the Michi Saagiig did not want to change their life-ways and had no intention of having to do so as a result of the 1818 Treaty. However, settlement happened with little regard for their assertions during treaty negotiations to maintain access and use of certain harvesting areas.

As it turns out, the 1818 Treaty, and later the Williams Treaty of 1923, unfolded in a way that was detrimental to Michi Saagiig. The significance is that what was detrimental to this Nation became beneficial to non-Michi Saagiig Anishinaabeg here in the 21st century: it allowed for settlement, development, progress, and within all of this, eventually the creation of Trent University. By being part of the Trent community then, those of us who are not Michi Saagiig benefit from their displacement. The University literally lives on the banks of their relative, the Otonabee Ziibi (Otonabee River), a historic travelling route and source of sustenance and drinking water for thousands of years. Today, access is fettered in multiple ways and in within the past forty years, the river water has become undrinkable.

The questions that must be asked this year in the spirit of INM and the 250th year anniversary of the Royal Proclamation, and every year after are: what does it mean to be a person in this Treaty area, whether here for a short time or a life-time? How do I benefit from this Treaty? What can I do to carry out my responsibilities as a person benefitting from my participation in the university? In fact, what are my responsibilities? In order to answer these questions, we need to know who we are; we need to know where we come from; and, we need to know our own histories. We also need to know where we are and something about the history of the place we are in, two subject areas I’ve been reflecting and writing on, which I hope may be helpful in thinking things through. Indigenous resistance, under the banner of INM, has been happening for a year. The intent of this revolution is clear and may offer guidance in how to carry ourselves out like the Treaty people we are while visiting or living in Nogojiwanong (Peterborough), a place that was created as a result of Royal Proclamation of 1763, the 1818 Treaty, and the Williams Treaty of 1923; a place that is our home and the forever-home of the Michi Saagiig. Given the University is a site for education, there is much that can be done within this institution to promote consciousness of place, history, and realities of the Indigenous peoples who live where universities live. Given the University is an institutional site  that benefits from Indigenous displacement and is also a site of power and privilege, it has the responsibility and freedom to do what it can to promote the agendas of the Indigenous Nation(s) upon whose homelands they do business.

[ii] Personal communication, September 30, 2013, Nogojiwanong (The Mouth of the River; Peterborough, Ontario).

[iii] I’m not an expert in Treaties however the fact that much energy has gone into treaty education and enforcement (see Mushkego Chief Teresa Spence’s hunger strike) during INM is one example indicating how treaties have often been detrimental to Indigenous Nations and are argued by some to be tools of colonization. I point this out because there seems to be a theme in treaty discourse that suggests the solution to (neo) colonialism is the recognition of treaties. I agree that compelling the nation state to honour treaty agreements and even re-new these agreements is definitely one important strategy for Indigenous Nations to take and for Canadians to become educated about however I hope that such engagement doesn’t erase the original context, conditions, and questionable unfolding of treaties that have been detrimental to Indigenous Nations. I’m interested in knowing what will happen with the truth of Nations that may say, “We were coerced to sign this treaty” or, “We never wanted it.” How will Canadians, the voting power of Canada, respond to these Indigenous truths? I’ve long felt that progress in Canada will not be made until a critical mass of Canadians are ready to hear, accept, and work with the realities of Indigenous truths. It’s also important to note that while treaty-talk dominates the discourse on solutions to colonization and/or resource exploitation, it definitely is not the only truth that forms the foundation of Canada. There are many Indigenous Nations, including the Métis Nation, that have not treated per se with Canada (see Indigenous Nations on the west coast for examples; Indigenous Nations that have engaged in or are engaging in land claims negotiations; and Métis truths as blogged about by Chris Anderson at

[iv] As an example, Treaty 3, which is the treaty that governs the area of my familial ties, the Anishinaabeg version is known as the Paypom Treaty. Anishinaabeg versions to this treaty are discussed in “We Have Kept Our Part of the Treaty”, Grand Council Treaty #3, Also see The Míkmaw Concordat by James (Sákéj)Youngblood Henderson (1997) and “Rethinking Treaty 6 in the Spirit of mistahi-maskwa (Big Bear)” in Cree Narrative Memory: From Treaties to Contemporary Times by Neal McLeod (2007).

Indigenous Peoples and Sports Mascots

Indigenous Peoples and Sports Mascots

Earlier this week, I was contacted by Michael Purvis, writer at “The Sault Star” newspaper in Sault Ste. Marie, ON, my hometown. He wanted to know, given the recent public attention to use of sports mascots that portray Indigenous peoples or appropriate Indigenous culture/symbols, what I thought of the Bawating Braves mascot.

I met Michael in Sault Ste. Marie at a conference on Anishinaabeg peoples that he was covering for “The Sault Star” where I was presenting. He was kind enough to interview me on my research. An article was published about it and other presentations made at the conference the next day. The whole process of sharing knowledge, talking about it, producing it, disseminating it, being asked questions about it, interpreting it–everything–is HUGELY about power and privilege. The opportunity that Michael created by asking me questions and by publishing those ideas was based on his decisions and how he negotiated his power and his privilege as a reporter and writer. I live in those spaces too and I’m becoming more and more aware of the responsibilities that go with this. As the interviewee, and an emerging scholar, having a reporter be interested in your work is a big deal. Third, besides the fact that he was making space for an Indigenous woman’s research in the local (settler) news, the other thing that really impressed me about Michael’s work was his question: do you ever see Indigenous peoples and non-Indigenous peoples working well together in a better world. (Ok, this is not the question verbatim but it is the essence of his question.) I really liked this question because it created space for alternative thinking, alternative possibilities. See, my presentation was very much about the social history that shaped the creation of my research project: this social history was informed by racism, sexism, white power and privilege, and a denial Indigenous womens’ history and sovereignty in the lands where Canadian workplaces exist. My presentation was not about “will Indigenous-non-Indigenous peoples ever be able to get along”. His question opened up this space of possibility.

It’s within this context that I’m going to talk about what I appreciate about the sports mascots article and what I would have done different had I wrote it.

What I Appreciate:

1) That space is even being given to this important subject. I think every local newspaper needs to do this because the use of Indigenous peoples or Indigenous cultures as sports mascots is a phenomenon that likely occurs in every city with a highschool or municipal sports teams;

2) That Michael interviewed me. Heck yes. Who doesn’t want to share their thoughts on something that is important to them;

3) That my words were not skewed or grossly placed out of context. This happens a lot with people who give interviews in order to portray the views that the reporter wants to portray. Not in this case;

4) I like that Michael had a few different voices sounding in on the matter;

5) I like that there is both men and women sounding in on the matter. I’m not sure if this was  purposeful on Michael’s part but it’s significant and important. On a daily basis we are inundated with men’s perspectives of the world and this can be shifted by ensuring women are sounding in on matters of public concern. Also, the fact that a woman is sounding in on matters that are dominated by men–sports–is key;

6) I like that Michael includes the emotive/affect of this issue as expressed through my quotes; the emotional impact of being poorly represented by a dominant group of people is distressing and has an emotional impact on people of all ages and genders. Also, because we live in a society that diminishes the importance of emotive learning and emotive relating, and puts things like reason, logic, rationality, and the imaginary concept of ‘neutrality’ on a pedestal, it is important that the emotive aspect of a thing is included. This is not only reflective of an Anishinaabe intellectual tradition (see Robert Warrior for more on Indigenous intellectual traditions) and way of being but is much needed in a society that, to its detriment, minimizes the value and significance of emotive ways of knowing the world.

What I Would Have Done Different:

1) I would have used the word Indigenous peoples in the title and not “Native” because Indigenous refers specifically to our place, history, relationship with place and land and importantly, it is the the language that is used internationally to identify ourselves as people of the land. (For more on this see the UN Declaration of Rights of Indigenous Peoples.)

2) I would have used a different title because as is the title implies that a controversy is resurfacing and I have to ask, is it? Or, is this subject the interest of the reporter. There is nothing in the article that talks about a pre-existing controversy regarding the Bawating Braves and so it’s hard to know is something is resurfacing;

3) I would have balanced the quotes between woman and man. As is, Maurice Switzer, editor of Anishinaabek News, has more of the floor;

4) For those ideas that were similarly shared by interviewees, I would have said, “Both Sy and Switzer state that meaningful consultation with Indigenous peoples first on such matters is what needs to happen”;

5) I would have left my spelling of Indigenous as Indigenous and not changed it to indigenous.

Now, final point. Going back to one of this reporters’ strengths in posing questions that open up new possibilities. In the interview done for this, he asked, “Can sports teams names/imagery etc. ever be used in a respectful way?” This part of the dialogue was not included in the article. (I get space limitations etc..) I think this part of the dialogue is key so I’ve included the answers I gave below:

“Great question. I sure hope so. Here is when it can and is respectful: i) when Indigenous Nations/peoples use our own imagery or create our own imagery to reflect our own life/sports. etc.; ii) I have not heard of this happening but if an Indigenous Nation goes to a Canadian institution and ask them to consider using a symbol/imagery significant to that area and that sports team does as a way to honour that relationship, that knowledge, that request, I think THIS would be a very interesting possibility for respectful use of Indigenous symbols/imagery; iii) if someone who is non-Indigenous on a committee or something wanted to use an Indigenous symbol/imagery for their team and they wanted to use that to reflect the Indigenous peoples in that area, the history, the significance, the relationship AND they went and discussed this with the Indigenous peoples/Nations of that area and got permission, then I think this might also be another possibility for respectful use.

It feels good to respond to this article. I hope to see  “The Sault Star” and other news sources in SSM including thoughtful coverage of matters the are important to Indigenous peoples, particularly given such news sources exist in Indigenous homelands.