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

Month: May, 2017

Is PM Trudeau gouging Indigenous Moms in order to live up to Liberal Promises?

So many places to go with this blog but once again, gizhe manidoo—the great kind mystery—opens a door and says, “Here you go. Write.”

This time, the door opened up at the behest of an article written by CBC journalist, Jennifer Quesnel in her important coverage of how Indigenous families (read mothers) in Saskatchewan have been having their Child Care Benefit (CCB) cut off. Apparently, CRA has been “randomly” reviewing the files of these mothers to determine entitlement to CCB. As a part of the process, CRA requires submission of documentation to prove children are in their care and that they are “Canadian citizens”. Given the process is onerous and obtaining documentation is expensive—unaffordable for most, if not all—these mothers are not able to submit the documentation and, as a result, their CCB is terminated. This “random auditing” has resulted in 117 complaints to government representatives with most of those occurring in the past six months.

This story inspires me to document my own because there is so much similarity between us. And, when looked at through an anishinaabe feminist political economic lens, I can’t help but wonder if the CRA is targeting Indigenous women with children allowing for, in some twisted way, the Liberal government to live up to their promises about the Child Care Benefit. First, I’ll share my story and then I’ll make links to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his “decolonizing, feminist” agenda. From here, I’ll make a few cheeky postulations. I’m writing this because one, documenting our exploitation is important; two, making linkages across Indigenous women’s experiences in different Indigenous territories and Nations is important; and, three, revealing more broadly how the Canadian government takes from Indigenous women and our children’s’ lives in order to advance their own, is vital.

Also, I am tired of being fed upon by those who have everything. I am tired of witnessing Indigenous women with children with economic and material barriers be fed upon; taken from again and again. While today I write from an economic place where I do not have to worry about how to spend my last $10 dollars — on food, gas, or a few bucks for my kid to go out with her friends — I know what CCB means for Indigenous mothers surviving on low-income. My adrenal, physiological, and cognitive system reminds what this is like all too clearly as it’s a lived experience in my not-too-distant-experience; and, when I read this story, I am angry that this is happening to Indigenous moms. In that, I’m motivated to illuminate some connections, see if there are other Indigenous folks having similar experiences, and shine a light towards the PM, the Liberals, and Canada and ask, Are you using Canada Revenue Agency to not only wear Indigenous moms down but to remove and withhold the little bit of money we have to provide for our kids? 


For over a year, I’ve been dealing with Canada Revenue Agency. This has been nothing but a weight, a burden, a stress, and it’s been onerous. It feels like I’m being colonized through administration and it has eaten up my already stretched time and labour as a single mother. Since July 2016 I have not received Child Care Benefit (CCB), Universal Child Care Benefit (UCCB), or the Goods and Sale Tax rebate (GST). And, most recently, despite filing my taxes on time and being told I was receiving a refund, I have not received that refund.

Here’s the story:

Around March 2016, CRA sent me a letter stating they needed evidence that my child was in my care. This request was because I left Canada (I lived in Michigan from July 2014-July 2015 which I did for school purposes).

The request came in the middle of getting ready to move to a new province, being a full-time student, working part-time (which required extensive hours of commuting per week), and yes, being a present parent to my child. As always, my first thought was, settler states and their neediness, gah! And, as an act of self-preservation, resistance, and practicality (I just didn’t have time to deal with their what-I-thought-was-random request), I put it aside thinking I would get to it when I had the emotional energy and time.

A few days passed and I returned to the letter only to be further squashed with the extensive documentation CRA required: proof of residency in Canada and the US between a specific period of time (actually double proof of residency in both places—lease/rental receipts, proof of housing/tenant insurance with payments, as an example); and, proof that my child lived with me in both places, wherein this proof required letters of school registration in both settler states, copies of report cards, evidence that the school my child attended was associated with the address we lived at and that we lived there together. I died. And then, came back to life. Again, as an act of self-preservation, anti-colonial resistance, and practicality, I put this aside thinking, I’ll get to this when I can. In the meantime, I filed my taxes, got a refund, and continued to receive CCB and GST.

Then July 20, 2016 rolled around and so signalled the beginning of the end of this settler colonial soiree: since that time, I have not received any “benefits” from Canada’s decolonizing, feminist PM and his government, despite paying taxes at the till and on my pay cheque.

I thought to myself, Ok. I get it. I’m not getting CCB, GST, or UCCB until I submit the million documents that CRA wants. So, after moving across the country and finding some breathing space in the fall 2016, I returned to the letter and start systematically going down the list of requirements. I began to send out emails to obtain the documents I needed from various schools, landlords, insurance companies etc. and eventually I was able to gather all the requested documents. I wrote a succinct covering letter addressed to Spry, signed with my odoodem and full name. I uploaded these documents to CRA’s website in early March 2017. Having been in the U.S., my daughter and I have passports so that was a cost that I did not have to figure out and therefore I was able to send that information along as well.

Within a week or so, on March 15, 2017, I received a letter from CRA stating:

Dear Madam:

Re: Child and family benefits and credits

The review of your Canada child benefits (CCB), goods and services tax/harmonized sales tax (GST/HST) credit and any related provincial or territorial programs is complete. Based on the information you sent, we have confirmed that you are eligible.

We will reverse the adjustment previously made to your account.

Your account will be updated to reflect these changes and notices explaining changes will be sent if required….

P. Spry

Validation and Controls

Benefit Programs


Page 1 of 2 of Letter from P. Spry, CRA confirming eligibility for benefits

I have to say, I was impressed with Spry’s promptness in reviewing my file and sending this letter to me. I was happy to know that the matter was resolved and that these benefits would start up again. Curiously though, the letter was not uploaded to my CRA account.

And, importantly, shortly after receiving this letter, I received others letters stating I owed Canada money. There were no explanations given only that I owe CCB, UCCB, and GST. I didn’t panic because I assumed that within the empire that is the CRA, that one department had not yet communicated with the other on this latest letter sent by Spry. I didn’t panic when there was no CCB for March, again understanding that while technology is fast, bureaucracies are slow.

However, here we are nearing the end of May 2017–several phone calls and log-ins to my CRA account later–and still no CCB or GST. In fact, Canada continues to say that I don’t have a child in my care and that I owe them money.

Screen Shot 2017-05-26 at 8.42.31 AM

Screenshot of my CRA account for UCCB, CCB. May 26, 2017

I also completed and filed my 2016 taxes on time and anticipated a tax refund but of course, because CRA says I owe them money and are using that towards payment. Since March, I’ve made four calls to CRA—the CCB department, specifically—to find out what’s happening with this matter.

In late March when I did not receive CCB I called them. I was told that yes, I am eligible for CCB but because I had been in the US, my file was sent to CRA’s immigration department so that my return to Canada could be confirmed.

I called in April, and was told again that it looked like I would not be receiving CCB that month because my file was still at CRA’s immigration department. I was told that it was just a simple matter of them making note that I am in Canada. The person I spoke with assured me that it would not be much longer and that I could anticipate something in May.

Because there was no further correspondence uploaded to my CRA on-line account, I called again on May 15 and spoke with a woman named Dolly. I was told the same thing by her. At this point, I let her know about my frustration with this situation and told her the timeline of things. She agreed that it had been on-going for too long; she said she was sending a note to the immigration department that this matter was urgent. I explained to her that it was incredulous that my file was even with immigration given I am Anishinaabe and have never left ‘my’ country. As an aside, she told me that the file says I left Canada in 2013. I said I wasn’t surprised by this significant error and trusted it would be rectified soon. (It seems that “data” about us gets bandied about and then they taketh and giveth away or say we owe them money and do so without explanation. What is most egregious is they do this without ever considering the fact that their whole governmental process is happening on our stolen lands. What’s next, immigration Canada trying to deport Indigenous peoples if we don’t fit their rules?)

As a matter of having to keep on the CRA, I’m going to call again today despite being exhausted with the whole matter. I’m going to bring up this point about the CBC article and ask if I am being discriminated against because I am an Indigenous woman and single mother.  I’m going to ask if Indigenous moms are being discriminated against. And, I’m going to ask how they explain the pattern bought forth in the CBC article. I realize that the person on the phone is just doing their job and has little power in the big say but still, I’ll ask. I’m going to ask who in the CRA does have a say about these things so I can metaphorically light a fire under their arses. I’m also going to tell them that I’m getting in touch with the CBC reporter to tell them my story and to see if more investigation across the country can be done. I’m going to be asking them how they reconcile their government lauding the great changes they supposedly started making in—wait for it…

July 2016…

and gouging Indigenous women of their CCB.

And here is where my lay-person political economic analysis comes in (lay-person in the realm of political economy but ferocious with the anishinaabe feminist analysis, that is):

The other day, I read a light-hearted article about how PM Trudeau was photographed jogging through a group of teens on their prom night. This was in Vancouver. Ok, sweet enough. What got my attention was a seemingly innocent line at the end of the article situating the PM in that context. The journalist wrote, “The prime minister has been out west this week reiterating his support for the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion, promoting Canadian tech at Microsoft summit and touting the Liberals’ Canada Child Benefit program, among other things.” (Emphasis mine.)

Ok, once we get past the pipeline that will be destructive to the environment and violate Indigenous sovereignty and once we get past the technology which is built on extraction from Indigenous lands and the exploitative labour of many, we get to the Liberals’ Canada Child Benefit program at which point I go, the Liberal’s Canada Child Benefit program?

And, I proceed to do a quick search, where I find this:


And this; and, this.

And, a quick survey of news coverage relays an optics that suggests that Indigenous peoples and POC are heavily represented in this project.

So, if I get this straight then, Justin Trudeau—the decolonizing, feminist PM—and the Liberal Party of Canada, are making things better for middle-class families, single parent families, and low-income families by paying more CCB and they are doing this by taking the UCCB from the wealthy?


And, I also presume then, that the table at the bottom of Quesnel’s article showing the increase of audits in the past year and the termination of benefits must be representing wealthy Canadians, right? That these reviews and extinguishments of benefits do not reflect an attack on single-parent families or low-income families? Or, Indigenous moms? That this table is evidence that PM Trudeau is truly being Peter Pan, right?

And, I guess my own experience of having my CCB, GST, and UCCB cut off since July 2016 (and my income tax refund used to “pay back” some made up narrative that I owe them) and the increase in Indigenous moms in Saskatchewan having their CCB’s reviewed and cut off is all an anomaly…is not discriminatory… is random, in that methodologically sound way of “random”. And that even though Indigenous women make up the lowest population in Canada, have the highest rates of low income, and whose children live in the highest poverty, the number of Indigenous women who have been cut off CCB in Saskatchewan compared to the wealthy who have had their benefits removed is also statistically sound and equitable? That in this new turn in CCB, there is legitimate cause for Indigenous moms–the ones most economically burdened in Canada–to have their benefits removed, right? And, that the fact that so many Indigenous women would have their CCB’s cut off in the same year that PM Trudeau is saying that CCB is going to make things better for everyone except the rich is a part of the narrative that is just somehow, accidentally being left out of the media?

And, it’s also very likely that the Indigenous moms in Saskatchewan and myself are the only Indigenous moms in Canada who have experienced this too, right?





in the year of reconciliation and #Canada150?

That it’s perfectly normal for Indigenous moms to have their CCB cut off in the year of Liberal CCB celebration?

Am I getting you right, Canada?

Because I was thinking that maybe if I wanted to appear like Peter Pan to the broad, general public who reads CBC and the Globe and Mail, and watches CTV, I might project that I was taking from the wealthy to give to the less wealthy in order to impress a massive population of voting citizens. But because I know the wealthy keep me in power, taking from them might not be in my best interest so I might  have to figure out another way.  I might actually figure out that the best way to recoup money would be to take from a population of people who I know are already burdened and therefore would be least able to jump through my hoops. I might think that maybe by imposing incredible administrative and financial burdens on Indigenous moms who would not be able to meet my requirements, my CRA agents could say, “on paper” that these individuals (who collectively look like Indigenous moms) have not met the (mysterious) requirements I impose and therefore are not eligible for CCB. As a collateral benefit, if these individuals do not prove what I ask them to prove I can actually show that they have been ineligible for previous CCB payments they’ve received and now owe that money back to Canada. In this case, their tax returns can be used to pay off their debt. What better way to recoup money, increase payments for whomever it is that I truly want to benefit from my new CCB program, and in the process, leave the wealthy alone.

In such a scenario, my only questions are, Who truly is benefitting from this new CCB (because we know who isn’t)? and, How does a PM (who identifies as feminist who is engaged in decolonization of the government) explain touting a shiny new CCB program that is supposed to benefit low-income families and single mothers but whose hidden structures seem to be built by further impoverishing Indigenous moms and their children of income? [These last two paragraphs added on May 27, 2017.)



Update as of May 27, 2017: Yesterday after writing this blog, I called CRA’s CCB department and spoke with a person named Brenda. Once again, we went through the whole story and exchange. The difference this time was that she said there was a note on the file dated May 16, 2017 (when I last called) with an indication to expedite it. She was prepared to leave it at that however I said, “Well that was almost two weeks ago and I’v not heard anything even though it says to expedite.” I then told her about the CBC article and asked her point bland if CRA is discriminating against Indigenous women. Of course she hadn’t seen the article (but said she was going to try to find it after work and read it) and she denied discrimination. After asking her about the discrimination, I also asked her who had authority on this matter and how could I contact them. She put me on hold and when she came back she said that I would be getting a call within 3-5 business days. I told her this was not good enough and that I would be sharing my experience with CRA publicly.

Also, just as an informal checking in amongst Indigenous women in Ontario and Saskatchewan, I’ve learned that within the last year, several moms have had the same experiences as the women in Quesnel’s article and my own — audited by the CRA with requirements to prove residency and that their dependents are living with them; cut off CCB due to not meeting the audit requirements; and, as an additional outcome have had their tax refunds diverted to pay back CCB payments that the CRA deems they owe due to not proving they are eligible for it.

And, I’ve emailed my MP and chatted with a few journalists who may be interested in pursuing this. If you are Indigenous and CRA has audited you regarding your CCB; if you have been cut-off your CCB since July 2016; or, if CRA is telling you that you owe them CCB payments and have not received your tax refund because CRA says it will go towards a balance owing, please be in touch at 🙂 Miigwech!

Update as of May 31, 2017: After emailing and calling the wrong MP, I finally called the right MP yesterday (Elizabeth May) and spoke with them. After giving all the details including S.I.N., address. D.O.B, my name was forwarded to a “Constituency—um, I forget their title”–and was told I’d get a call back. I haven’t heard from that person and am not sure if they just went ahead and did something on my behalf but first thing this morning, I received a call from P. Spry. She said that she entered all the necessary information into the computer and all the matters will show that they are cleared up (by matters, I’m assuming she means balances owing) and that I should be receiving a direct deposit within 10 days and that my regular CCB should be starting in June.

It’s unclear to me why she would send me a letter telling me that she reviewed my file documents that I sent to her in March and that I am eligible for CCB but then did not enter the data into the computer. Surely she knew that not entering it would mean I would not receive the CCB and that this would mean any tax refund would be diverted to a “bogus” balance owing. I’m also not clear why her correspondence had me calling some general line for information on this matter when she had the power to deal with this file the whole time. Since I was told the file was sent to “CRA’s immigration department” I assumed it was out of her hands and in the hands of someone else. Anyhow, I’ll see if this money shows up or if they present another barrier. In the meantime, I’m still convinced CRA is discriminating against Indigenous moms and gouging them of benefits and tax refunds. If this is you or you know somebody, please be in touch. Think about what  a few hundred dollars a month means to you and then ask yourself what it means to a mom on a low and fixed income. Every cent counts in our households and every cent goes back into Canada’s economy. miigwech!


Righting from Where We Are: A Non-Traditional Situated Perspective on CanLit-IndigiLit Relationality

“Another world is not only possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing.” ~Arundhati Roy

Like many of us, for the past several days, I’ve been engaged in reading, discussing, and thinking about the unfolding dynamics and relationalities between Canadian and Indigenous cultural production in literature and media. Some of the issues are old, yet freshly painful (e.g. cultural appropriation); and, some of these dynamics are emergent and, depending where you sit, hopeful or discomfiting (e.g. shifting of structural power). I’m grateful for the solid, sustained, and dynamic push-back against the paradigm within Canadian literature and media that seeks to legitimate and reproduce on-going relations of domination with Indigenous peoples. And, I’m grateful for the critical tousling about from within some of relationships that comprise these circles. People have resigned, or been reassigned from, their positions as matter of these shifting dynamics.[1] Many have apologized.

And many have not.

A new world has burst open and from it a watershed of perspectives, dialogue, analyses, and recommendations. It has been brutal. It has been life-giving. From the pain, frustration, and wisdom I’ve noticed important advocacy for continued efforts to create and advance our own literary and media spaces. 

On continuing to create and advance our own spaces, I say yes! We need it. We need it so much. We need it so that we aren’t dependent on Canadians. We need it so we can be who we are and get back to generating who we are anew without unwanted mediation or interference. Importantly,  Canada also needs us to have our own literary and media spaces so that it can learn how to be without windigo-ing off of us; and, so it can learn how to stop thinking and acting like it owns us, has a right to control us, or can appropriate from us to enhance it’s own culture.

Amidst the needed push-back and evident failure of so many Canadians in power to get what is really at play here, I can’t help but sense if a relationality of “us and them” is emerging. “Us and them” makes sense if those with institutional power as well as racist and ignorant ideas about Indigenous peoples are going to persist in that vein. When I think about an “us and them” relationality I get it — been there, done that, adopt it when needed– however I worry how this kind of relationality, as a way of being engaged with CanLit, could put an additional strain on emerging, un-established, un-connected, or not-famous Indigenous writers who have limited pathways and opportunities to publish or work collaboratively with others.

My own experience in writing and publishing is filled with varied experiences with white folks and people of colour in CanLit, and in IndigiLit with Indigenous writers, editors, scholars. I have been generously supported in all three contexts. I think it is important to nurture diverse relationalities amd relationships across literary circles as we work hard to stymy the ones that perpetuate colonial or power-over relationships. In that spirit then, in this essay, I want to highlight particular relationalities; ponder paradigms and query if gender is operating in particular ways in white CanLit; and, advance ideas about restructuring power in CanLit and media while supporting individuals to nurture their relationships from wherever they write/right. The best way for me to do this is through my own dibaadjimowin–my own story of relationalities with CanLit.

Having not yet published a book, I write from a place that in many ways is traditional and untraditional. For now, I will just say that as an Anishinaabe woman whose trails have been here and there, Indigenous literature has given me life time and time again and it has saved me time and time again. Indigenous literatures are a fire who I continue to feed and be fed by.

This fire was lit in the late 1990s by Lee Maracle’s Ravensong—a book gifted to me by my friend Anna’s daughter, Jessica, Ravensong didn’t save me, so to speak, but Maracle-as-writer, Maracle’s raven, and the way raven moved throughout the story was new life. I had never read spirit in a book before and this was spirit. For me, spirit was a new way to read, experience reading, and know the world. It made my world bigger. More than a decade later, witnessing the poetic performances of Louise Bernice Halfe, Janet Rogers, Rosanna Deerchild, Duncan Mercredi, and Gregory Scofield compelled me to be and do better in terms of letting the spirit of my poetry be its own life.

The ones whose writing continually save me are Maracle’s I Am Woman and Maria Campbell’s Halfbreed. When I despair, I just have to think of the trajectories these women have navigated and I am motivated to step up. But, I came to them later. The writing that first gave me new life after a very difficult time were Kateri Akiweni-Damn and Richard Van Camp—and Rolland Nadjiwon’s introduction of their writing to me.


Cape Croker: Kegedonce Press, 1993. Cover Artwork by Rebecca Belmore.




Cape Croker: Kegedonce Press, 2002. Cover Image: Tim Atherton (2002).


I won’t delve into the details of how their writing landed in my life as I’ve written about that elsewhere. It’s just important to know that for many of us, we have those writers whose writing saves us; those publishers who create space which are for us (e.g. Kegedonce Press, Theytus); and, those teachers who lead the way to our being saved. Literally. That was in the early 2000s and around that time, I was struggling with a toxic workplace where white dominance, anti-Indigenous racism + sexism, homophobia, and religious intolerance were occurring. I was surrounded by highly educated professionals, colleagues who I thought were my friends, who either refused to support me in calling these problems out, denied it was happening, or constructed me as the problem. The betrayal of those who witness is in many ways worse than the actual perpetration.  I struggle with understanding those with privilege who don’t step up in the face of injustice or at least try to; who use their privilege to avoid discomfort; or, who twist circumstances to create an alibi for their own unwillingness/failures to challenge power-over dynamics. My work culture, like many of the work cultures many Indigenous peoples navigate, was oppressively white, middle class, and toxic. It was structurally oppressive and highly (un)aware of its colonial presence. This culture launched me into situational depression. And, Indigenous literatures saved me and gave me new life.[2] I share this personal information because these relational dynamics cannot be emphasized enough: as we have witnessed, white Canadian domination exists and it harms Indigenous lives. In such a context, Indigenous literature can save lives. What is happening now in the CanLit-IndigLit scene with those who have been, and continue to be, stepping forth and putting themselves out there against the dominant colonial Canadian paradigm saves all of us.

On the other side of depression, I returned to work and also to school. As a part of my Anishinaabemowin degree, I started taking creative writing courses which were offered specifically in “minority writing”. And, where Anishinaabe language and thought and Indigenous literature was good medicine to make me strong again, creative writing courses saw the beginning of my move to writing, editing, publishing, and performing. My journalling days about men and love (lost) had long been over and I was so ready to start doing something with the writing space that opened up. That readiness took place in 2005 or so and it began with Alanna Bondar-baa. After publishing in the university journal, Algoma Ink for a few years and performing in the Shingwauk Auditorium with my peers and others, she encouraged my first publication in a CanLit journal which was Rampike Magazine, where she was a guest editor.



Toronto: Coach House, 18, 1 (2009). Cover Art: “Openings” by Camille Martin


That was in 2009. And, I was proud of “Haibun #11”: it was in baby Anishinaabemowin; it was published; and, it was the last poem in the collection. (Alanna had told me that having a piece published first or last in a collection was kind of a thing … so, yea, boom-chicka.)

The same year, I took a risk and submitted three entries to a special edition of Matrix Magazine called, “New Feminisms” which was co-edited by Melissa Bell and Karis Shearer. I say I took a “risk” because it was “feminism”, Canadian, and my truths as Anishinaabe woman were and continue to be unapologetic. Back then, I had promised myself that if I was going to start publishing I would be open to editing that helped me develop my craft but I was not going to compromise or concede my truth to make it comfortable for others. The pieces I submitted included a creative critical prose about be(com)ing Anishinaabe; a historical poem about land-based gender complementarity; and, a righteously raging poem called “wonderbread whiteboy”. Melissa and Karis accepted all three pieces—two went into the digital publication and the third creative critical piece was published in-text.



Spring 2010, Issue 85. Front Cover: Helen Hajnoczky.


The launch of the magazine was in Montreal in spring/summer 2010. I attended and was a brown-ish fish in a sea of white fish and I was out of water. Though I was nervous, and it was nerve-wracking, I had a friend with me and people were kind, friendly, and engaging. Relationships and connections were made through that project and, I have on-going friendships with some of the women I met at that time.

Smart women.

Brilliant women.

White women.

Women whose awareness of power and relationality was evident to me. As I got to know some of them, I came to witness an actual decolonizing practice/politics. These women, like other people before, compelled me to complicate the binary lenses that I easily adorn.[3] Women who were, and are, invested in making Canadian literature (and I suspect Canada, per se) better through their own writing, scholarship, pedagogy, and thinking. Who do make it better.

Some of those women include those mentioned but also include Melissa Bull and Angela Hibbs.

When I reflect on my own experience with white CanLit in the last decade, I want to say there is a pattern that I cannot overlook; and, I think it is worthy of being illuminated:

My writing and thinking has been supported by Canadian white women time and time again in journals, magazines, zines, and anthologies across Canada consistently over the past decade.[4] I have never veered from writing my truth or in developing my aesthetic in any of those publications and I have not, in my memory, been asked to edit anything in any substantial way. Some of these other women include Gillian Jerome, Vici Johnstone, and Clarise Foster. One time, Zoe Whittall read my work blind and deemed it worthy an award. These exchanges were prompted in the typical ways: submissions, invitations, or anonymous contests. I have not experienced disappointment, hurt, or anger by working with any of these people in sharing my writing with them or in having my writing published in their projects. I don’t feel that power was misused. I don’t feel tokenized or that my work was appropriated. I have always been made better somehow by my professional exchanges with them.

It’s also important to note that I have had my work rejected by some white women in Canadian literature. This is also important; it establishes some kind of legitimacy, in my opinion, to the field. And, to me, writing. It keeps me humble. It keeps me working at craft. It also suggests that my writing, which is evidently Indigenous, is not being tokenized. It kind of makes me go, Hmmmm – is this an invitation to be like them or be better at me and if so, do I want to rise to it? And that, for me, has many possibilities of being invigorating.

When I think about a time I was disappointed and frustrated with my experience with CanLit, I want to be generous. I also want to be honest. I want to be generous because one, the editor was generous, in a way, to invite me because I am not famous, established, or well-known (although I am fabulously Anishinaabe and maybe in some circles that can make a person any or all of these things). Also, I came to learn that the situation was mediated in part by inadequate funding and lack of human resources. It was also an opportunity for me and a co-editor of my choosing to work on a first collection of Indigenous writing for this particular venue. And, this was my first experience on this particular kind of project.

I want to be honest as well because the editor—and my experience working with them—was very different from the other experiences in CanLit. It prompted much reflection. The reason the project was implemented was because the editor “had never done it before” (yes, I asked why they were doing it). The powerful visual content that I had solicited for the front and back cover was not accepted because it was too political (that being Indigenous political). And, other things (which don’t need to be noted because I’m sure they fall under annoying conditions that can be common on projects when dealing with minimal resources.) The editor was a white man and he was largely unavailable.

The motive of publishing Indigenous literature in a Canadian literary site because “we’ve never done it before” is the worst motive. It’s akin to, “We’re going to sail westward because we’ve never done it before and we can.” That said, he was honest with me when I asked and while I doubt he understood the colonial undercurrent of his motivation, I take full responsibility for entering the situation knowingly because I did know the colonial undercurrent of his motive. To be sure though, I entered this situation because in a world of trying to make change and establish yourself somehow, being Anishinaabe woman, you need to do all the things. Turning away opportunities is not really an option if you are trying to survive or make a way for yourself and your kid. This was also an exciting opportunity I wanted to try on for my own professional development. It was also a chance for me to contribute to opening up more space for Indigenous writers, It was one small chance to get more Indigenous literature out there and impact Canadian readers who were the primary audience, despite the humbleness of the project.  I had also been recently informed by something I read by Lee Maracle and I thought you know, I’m pretty sure neither she nor any other women like Jeanette Armstrong, Maria Campbell or Akiwenzie-Damm have had smooth sailing in the literary world so why should I expect things to be easy-peasy. Space needs to be made so make it when you get the chance.


Halifax: Goodread Biographies, 1973.

The experience, in tandem with other reflections, gave me so much; it all resulted in an essay called,  The Politics of the Invitation. This was supported by Geneviève Robichaud of Sina Queyras’ Lemonhound. Introduced to me by Melissa Bull, Geneviève was my contact in publishing a number of conversations I had with Indigenous poets like Gwen Benaway, Vera Wabegijig, Janet Rogers, and Marilyn Dumont. When I asked Geneviève about publishing this essay, she agreed. Muskrat Magazine did as well, because yay, Indigenous media. I bring this up here because I keep thinking about these invitations Indigenous peoples get from CanLit. I keep thinking about—imagining—the exchange between Hal Niedzvecki and the Indigenous writers in the latest publication of Write: Joshua Whitehead, Richard Van Camp, Tanya Roach, Louise Bernice Halfe, Elaine Wanger, Gord Grisentwaithe, Alica Elliot, Shannon Webb-Campbell. Helen Knott, and Gloria Mehlman. And, I keep thinking about Gregory Scofield’s poignant words about being invited by Jon Kay to submit his beautiful poem, “She is Spitting a Mouthful of Stars” to The Walrus (Facebook May 14, 2017) and then having to ask for them to be retracted as a result of Kay’s participation in Ken Whyte’s revitalization of an appropriation prize. In thinking about my experience with being invited to participate in that editing project several years ago, I can’t help but wonder what any of these white men were thinking when they invited Indigenous peoples into their worlds (which are presumably supposed to be for all of us). What do they think? And, what will they think the next time they extend an invitation to any Indigenous writer?

When I look at these invitations and exchanges and think of my own experience with CanLit women, I can’t help but wonder if there are gendered differences in relationalities between white CanLit and Indigenous peoples. And, I wonder how it is for the many, many Indigenous writers who have not been a part of the dominant discourse unfolding in the past few days.

I keep thinking about so many things and here’s what I think:

Inviting Indigenous writers to CanLit spaces is never benign.

Neither is being Indigenous and negotiating these invitations.

Neither is accepting or rejecting them.

None of this unfolds on the part of Indigenous peoples without some kind of intellectual, social or emotional labour. I know that I personally spend time and labour in assessing the matter when I am invited to submit to anything. I know some of my friends and peers do as well. Prepared with the information I require to make a decision, I make a decision and get ready for any unfolding dynamics.

Even when Indigenous writers cross the “t’s” and dot the “i’s” and weigh all the pros and cons, we can never know what will unfold from these relationships. Relationality is very much about continually navigating and negotiating; keeping at it or knowing when to walk away. And, in thinking about this hard space that has opened between IndigiLit and CanLit, until Canada is done colonizing us and our lands (and others, globally) and has made some major headway into restoring balance with Indigenous Nations and peoples in our lands, maybe Canadians in positions of power—the ones who are doing the inviting—can ensure they get right in what they are doing when they do extend invitations to us. And, as many navigate this new opening that has been created and unpacked by so many vibrant voices, lets consider how we want us and them to operate and if there any nuances in our own experiences that can provides insights on what to do with the new space.

As my own experiences testify, there are many white Canadian women in CanLit who are working from a different paradigm than the men and women we’ve seen in the spotlight over the past few days. There are people and relationships operating in healthful, conscientious ways regarding Indigenous literature. This is not to say that CanLit spaces that include Indigenous peoples’ truths and present them the way we see fit get a pass on being scrutinized regarding structural power. These spaces must also be structurally empowered with Indigenous presence–presence that is operating critically towards decolonial realities and relationalities. This is to say, in the pain, anger and frustration of futile exchanges with some of Canada’s cultural elite, let’s not fail to consider what is working well in IndigiLit and CanLit relationalities. And, consider what is working well in consideration of individual Indigenous writers who are out there on their own, so to speak; and, in consideration of how what is working well may somehow contribute to the broader goals of decolonization, regeneration of Indigeneity, and creation of new relationalities.

Maybe people who are operating from a similar paradigm—ideally Indigenous—will be hired to the positions vacated by Hal Niedzvecki, Jon Kay, and Steve Ladurantaye. While Kay is advocating a ‘he’ who deeply understands “Canada’s status as a land of immigrants” (suggesting that he has learned nothing in any of this), I blatantly advocate Indigenous people who are engaged in a paradigm of critical relationalities replace those who have resigned or have been reassigned. I advocate this because one, this is how structural power changes and becomes renegotiated and two, the pain, sustained critique, and generative insights bore out from the cultural appropriation debate has been delivered from the backs, minds, hearts and spirits of Indigenous peoples. It is Indigenous peoples who should benefit from any steps forward made here. When invitations go out to potential candidates, hopefully they are issued from a paradigm that is committed to (learning about) decoloniality and affirms relations of creative power grounded in appreciation as opposed to appropriation.



stratum I: creative kidowinan & aesthetics wo mazinigananing  (2017)

[1] Job loss is significant for so many reasons and warrants a fuller discussion. For now, I will say this: in a capitalist world, there is being fired, forced to resign, or being shut out of economic opportunities for good reason. These processes are typically tied to a human resource process. There is also being fired, forced to resign, or being shut out of economic opportunity which are not tied to a human resources process; these processes are forms of structural economic violence. From Anishinaabe axiology, things are a bit different than any of this: everybody eats; infractions occur but are taken up in ways that have nothing to do with one’s ability to provide for oneself.

[2] I don’t want to romanticize or simplify mental health issues or minimize the power that hostile work conditions have in creating them. Effective medical support, therapy, and a damn strong spirit line (in my case, my baby girl who needed me) got me through, in conjunction with Indigenous literature.

[3] In Ending Domination, bell hooks argues against the binary of “us and them”. Personally, I have ideas about the (dys)functions of “us and them” and discussing them is beyond the scope of this essay. I will say this though: the binary has saved my life operating as it did in my early 20s as a tool to disrupt the hegemonic ideas of Canadian equality and the naturalization/normalization of relational domination that I was suffocating in. The binary is also a tool of self-preservation. I’ve needed it to theorize my relationships, to protect myself from them, get out of them, or navigate them more effectively. The colonizer and the colonized and the oppressor and the oppressed are real. In the worlds I live in and the relationships I live in, with, and through, I’ve come to learn that I need to see through both the binary and the nuance in order to live more fully and close to the home fires I (want to) tend to. And, I need to talk about my relationships in this way if I am to honestly make my way out of sick worlds and towards new ones. In fact, talking about my relationships in such ways I think is one method of getting out of sick worlds and towards making new ones. There are many reasons to carve out our own spaces however I don’t see how we can or do live discretely separate from each other. I think where such social realities were the norm, for many Indigenous peoples today these relationalities are either unwanted, impractical, or highly unachievable for those without the privilege to construct their worlds as such.

[4] This blog post does not delve into cross-cultural/racial collaborations, projects edited by women of colour/people of colour, or Indigenous specific projects. Each warrant their own discussion. In this post, I wish to keep the light focused on white CanLit and IndigiLit relationalities, power, and shifting dynamics.

Addendum (May 19, 2017): This is a companion piece to a post published on May 12, 2017. “My #Canada150 Response: #AppropriationPrize140” is created from the fire of anger, pain, and “Ok, if you want to play this game, let’s play.” It was viewed over 1000 times on FB and Twitter which shows the power of social media vs. established.

My #Canada150 Response: #AppropriationPrize140

May 12, 2017

To Whom It May Concern:

RE: “Appropriation Prize” Contest Submission

I would like to enter your contest.

Please find 12 entries below. Each are original and unpublished creations.

I want to share that I was busy licking my never-getting-over-it colonial wounds this morning but am super glad I took a moment to step away and go on twitter. Super glad I gave myself permission to be really inspired by the camaraderie (and playfulness) exhibited by some of the culturally influential white Canadian folks who worked to make this contest a kind of thing. Miigwech!

I was so moved, I decided that given I don’t belong to the culture these folks belong to, I would appropriate from them in order to try my hand in a new genre: flash fiction-non-fiction thought bubbles. To really push myself to be a better writer, thinker, and doer like they are in some CanLit, news, and mag circles, I thought, what the heck, why not flash fiction-non-fiction thought bubble twitter style?!

Of course, in order to deeply understand the unique idiosyncrasies and differences the individuals in this cultural group convey, I conducted quick online searches for everyone (well, everyone except for Christie Blatchford because we all know her) . I didn’t include the white guy from the Writer’s Union who started this whole thing because he’s too apologetic – resigning after making a very big “mistake” and then telling you your contest is a bit off? *yawn* I just pretty much started and ended with Ken Whyte’s public twitter feed with a little meandering here and there. You know, I did my work, so to speak. Admittedly, I also didn’t include the two or three people who either qualified their contributions to this game or deleted their comments. There’s no fun in self-reflexivity, second thoughts, or lessons learned now is there? In other words, bor-ing, right?

I hope my entry meets the contest submission qualifications.

I hope it actually is a thing I’m writing. And if it’s not, I hope you consider it innovative, edgy, or so far off the radar it warrants being on the radar. You know what I mean? I know for sure each submission is no more than 140 characters so it meets tweeting genre. Most of all, I hope you deem it worthy writing! I so need an award or something to memorialize #Canada150. It would be super awesome on my writing portfolio.

In the spirit of equality, multiculturalism, reconciliation, #Canada150, and bevvies, eh,

w. c. sy

Flash Fiction-non-Fiction Thought Bubble Tweets

Entry 1:

Wow, it feels sooo good to explode my virile truth about Indians, in public. But confused. Why do I have to work so hard to rally my buds? @KenWhyte3

Entry 2:

See? See?! I told you so! Give’em an inch and they’ll take a mile. HOW did we let this happen? Savages. @jonkay

Entry 3:

I’ve got $500 towards freedom of thought and expression that keeps us in power-over over the First Nations people any day! Freedom Matters! @alisonuncles

Entry 4:

People can change…. when enough pressure is put on them. … but, do they really? *shrugs shoulders* Baseball. @stevemaich

Entry 5:

I am Canada. @acoyne

Entry 6:

Writers need to imagine(ary Indians) the lives of others. I need to keep building new urban worlds on colonized lands. @MiroC

Entry 7:

Reflections. Reflections. Glass. Glasses. I’m in. I’m out. I’m watching myself/you/us. I’m everywhere. Nowhere. @davidreevely

Entry 8:

There are so many of me online. All white. All men. All Canadian. All shiny-happy. I am John Smith. In Canada. @RickAnderson

Entry 9 (I’m breaking trail here. Please don’t hold it against me.):

Because wtf is going on out here, you ask? Colonization. You’re part of it. Take your $500 and buy some books. @scottfeschuk

Entry 10:

My company has an office in Six Nations. I just threw in $200 for a prize that encourages cultural appropriation. Who the *$% even am I? @jasonlietaer

Entry 11:

I’m blegh. This is blegh. Canadian Aboriginals are blegh. Canadians are blegh. Meh. All life is so blegh-tchford. @blatchkiki

Entry 12:

I’m totes down with English…when it’s used to keep les autochtones, les autochtones. @liseravary



ADDENDUM  (May 18, 2017): Where this response was born of righteous anger vetted through creative fires, please consider reading its companion piece, a reflective essay on  IndigiLit-CanLit relationalities and new worlds.