grief and loss, in three

by waaseyaa'sin Christine Sy

“I heard that the issue of decolonization is a big one among academics and so I looked into it. I bought a book on the subject written by an Indigenous scholar who says she isn’t colonized anymore and how the rest of us are. It was written in a colonizer’s language – English – on paper, with pictures (taken by a colonizer’s camera I presume). It referred to a lot of research on the subject undertaken by people with degrees from colonizing American and European universities all of whom studied black and brown people around the worlkd. Not all of those writers were black or brown.
I concluded that I might be colonized, so I read more, watched some videos (in English and French) and attended a lecture on decolonization (delivered in English with a few Indigenous words thrown in for emphasis) by a self-identified Indigenous academic with a Bachelors Degree from one university, a Masters from another, and a PhD from a third, who works as a professor at a fourth, who told me to go to a sweat lodge. I did, and now I’m not. Whew!!” ~ Murray Sinclair, Facebook Post, February 2, 2015, 7:56 a.m.


What is this language you speak?
I know it not–
Your words strain upwards like false towers.

What is this creed you follow?
I don’t believe in it–
your will against mine.

I stand before you again,
and red with betrayal.

–Clara Blackwood, from the poem, “XVI. The Tower”


fear and anger and confusion aside, experiencing a lot of sadness and grief this morning over that post yesterday. disparaging of an indigenous woman scholar whose work we don’t even know and can’t see for ourselves if she does indeed claim to be no longer colonized. (personally, i hardly think there is such a thing. also, i’ve never read anyone who explicitly or implicitly implies they’ve become decolonized and the rest of us should do the same. everyone, i’ve read recognizes it’s a process.) disparaging of indigenous scholars working in theory and practice of decolonization; no gender mentioned to these other sources which are also unnamed, so we can’t even see for ourselves what’s what. disparaging of a whole body of scholarship that is and can be life-giving personally and politically, a body of scholarship that has been growing for decades around the globe.

i feel that i’m supposed to just sit and take the punches to the gut. i don’t even get to determine for myself, can’t even determine for myself if what is being said is true.

oddly enough, despite thousands of years of shared power and work and life-making together as anishinaabeg, some people today feel threatened, annoyed, irked by an indigenous woman’s thought, theory, practice, vision, words. i would like to judge for myself if this scholar does indeed claim to be decolonized and if she does indeed tell the rest of us to do the same because maybe, maybe this is just an indigenous man who is mis-reading an indigenous woman much like imperialism and colonizers mis-read indigenous peoples to suit their own benefit. or, maybe, just maybe this is a man who has been threatened, annoyed, or irked by some truth or some incomprehensible something that she is writing and instead of dealing with the discomfort or destabilization of a truth or an inability to comprehend, he is turning it into an indigenous woman thing, an indigenous scholar thing, a stupid decolonization thing. or maybe, just maybe, this is just an indigenous man who is threatened, annoyed, irked by an indigenous woman’s intelligence. because maybe, even if she is claiming to be decolonized, as though it is some finale, tangible place—an island perhaps– in a society that continues to be colonizing and maybe, even if she if she is wagging her finger at the rest of us as some superior man in a position of power might, i would like her work to be treated with respect and dignity and taken up seriously for what it contributes and where it falls short, or where it can be improved or you know, where it is limited so that the next indigenous woman, gender queer person, or man who wants to go to college or university and get a diploma or a BA, MA, or PhD or some other professional thing like being a lawyer can be inspired and informed well about what they need to do to make our lives better for the future. at a minimum, i would like to determine all of it for myself. not be told it, expected to believe it as fact. i am not a follower. i do not just automatically accept peoples words as truth, particularly if they are disparaging of others. especially if they are disparaging of groups of people of which i am a part. i will not accept it as truth. i am a thinker and i am in my heart and body and moved by my spirit. anishinaabe. i am working towards self-determination of the personal and political.

in this morning after, where i wake with the feeling of grief and loss of the ability to decide for myself because no sources have been given, the ability to be treated with dignity as an indigenous woman scholar, dignity as an indigenous scholar, to be able to have pride in learning from, being inspired by a particular body of work that makes sense to many of us without having that body of work wiped off as invalid, to not have to work harder now to counter the negatively biased cards that have just been piled higher against the few indigenous scholars out there in a sea of white western supremacist thinking, i’m grateful for the ability to go outside, put my tobacco down and say a few words to greet the day. this is always a way to affirm our connection to creation and our place here even in the face of one powerful person’s alienating, disparaging opinion of us and the ripple effect of their opinion. i’m grateful to hear the hum of a lament song mixing with fire, not knowing the words, the hum and memory is enough to help. i take a drink  of nibi. it’s all good. i’m grateful for the poets and the poem that came by way of other paths and for syncronicity in my relationships that bring such things. grateful for the something in me that decided to reach out to this man to try to find some understanding. i’m grateful for the snow and a healthy bear all safe, warm, and loved.

i’m grateful for my sugar bush writing. today, i’m thinking about all the action that is happening in the roots of ininaatigag (the man trees, sugar maples), the work that is being done to bring us sweet water and new life in just a few weeks. aki and manidooyag are working for our life. i draw a lot of comfort in that.