Anishinaabe Knowledge Production in Anishinaabewaki + Lekwungewaki
by waaseyaa'sin Christine Sy
Back in the early days of this blog which I started in August 2010, I promised myself to make monthly posts on “Anishinaabewiziwin”. As a new PhD student, I wanted this blog site to be, in part, a place where I could work on my anxieties around having my writing in the public realm (which I quickly learned was going to be an aspect of being an academic). Since that time, with the exception of a few months, I have have made monthly posts. Over the past year, I have made only a few. It turns out that getting down to the wire of finishing my PhD thesis resulted in having to take a hiatus from “Anishinaabewiziwin”. I simply did not have the intellectual, creative, or emotional energy for moving between, and participating within, more worlds than my immediate worlds which consisted of home-work-thesis-bear-cat-grocerystore-coffejoints-anishinaaberesponsibilities.
I’m just coming off the high and shock of being able to say that, FINALLY, last month, during binaa’ikawe-giizis (falling leaves moon), I defended my PhD.
As in, “no revisions” successfully.
So now, it’s done.
My girl is ecstatic.
And, in disbelief.
She now gets me, and us, in a way that she hasn’t had for most of her life. We’re looking forward to it. I’m looking forward to being a mom without treading the water of all things PhD.
My dad called me daily for a week just to say, “Hi. Is Dr. Sy there?” which was always followed with a chuckle. I appreciated his sense of pride but admittedly, I prefer, “Hey, kid!” Friends email and text, “Hey, Dr. Sy!” and then laugh, saying “I just had to.” My heart is big; they make me feel loved. It is an accomplishment; a kind of one. Injustice prevails, the work continues.
Let’s see if I can mobilize this settler power effectively to benefit Anishinaabeg, Indigenous peoples and whomever else might benefit from Anishinaabe feminist work.
My chiropractor and decompression doctors woot-wooted me; Grant from Tim Horton’s celebrated me in the only way he could–by typing in my name as Lady Christine on the prompter and asking to read the thing and then sharing with some of his friends who in turn reached out. He read it and one morning taking my coffee order, “You are a storyteller. You wrote straight from your heart. You gave it everything.”
A bouquet of flowers graced my desk for a few weeks; a spa and fancy dinner was had with fellow Indigenous scholars. More.
It has been an indulgent ride.
It feels good to be cared for and celebrated by people who know me and know the ropes of this place, this thing, this process; who know my particular journey.
I’m proud of myself for being able to do it.
For doing it.
I think of a recent someone I just learned about a few years ago–Argentinian feminist, María Lugones. I wished I would have had the wisdom of her words before entering into this world in 2009. Written from within her conceptualization that women of colour in white dominant U.S. live in “worlds”, worlds they travel to and between, she says,
There are ‘worlds’ we enter at our own risk, ‘worlds’ that have agon, conquest, and arrogance as the main ingredients in their ethos. These are ‘worlds’ that we enter out of necessity and which would be foolish to enter playfully.
I entered into my PhD in Indigenous Studies fuelled with anti-colonial, decolonial, Anishinaabe feminist intelligence, heart, and spirit. However, that fuel did not prepare me for my failure in entering into this field, and some of the social relations that animate it both inside and outside the actual academy, playfully. Or to be more correct, naively and assumptively. In my experience with Indigenous Studies in Anishinaabewaki, it is not a place that is ready for anti-colonial, decolonial, Anishinaabe feminist intelligence and practice. If it is, it isn’t ready for the way I understand, practice it, and have been cultivating it in my body and relationships since the mid-1990s. In my experience, there are ways of being in some Indigenous academic circles (which are made up of both Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples) that can be detrimental to Indigenous students well-being–emotionally, spiritually, psychically, psychologically, socially, and career-wise which impacts economic and material well-being. I refer to lived and witnessed experience. I will sit with this and try to make sense of it over the coming years.
The days of waking up and crying because I couldn’t believe that the awful things that were happening were really happening, and hanging on from a place of dark oblivion because I did not know if I would ever be able to get out are over.
I did it.
And while I want to say that nobody will ever again treat me the way I was treated over the past few years because I won’t allow it–I won’t let my Anishinaabe ideals, empathy and compassion for the ways colonization and colonialism has shaped us, and loyalty to Anishinaabe relational practices get in the way of refusing the a**holery and windigoism exploitive, extractive behaviours of some Indigenous peoples–I know that this university world, being a part of the global, settler colonial, capitalist society that it is, is filled with the makings of a**holery and windigoism exploitation and relations based on extraction. Awful things could happen again. I have no control over this though. However, now I know that awful things can, and do, happen. And, whereas I entered into this world in 2009 unafraid to speak, and unafraid to speak back, I did break from the hazing that resulted in my heart-thought-speak and my setting of boundaries. I flinched because reflex, survival, and self-preservation. Sitting back, recovering from it, I am no longer afraid to take the blows that come with my heart-thought-speak and setting boundaries. I’ve taken the blows over and over by some of the most celebrated people and while emotionally, psychologically, and physically altered by this behaviour and the way it is allowed, I’m unafraid to take the blows that come with speaking. I now know these ways of being are a part of this world and I know I can survive the blow-back of being Anishinaabe feminist in Anishinaabewaki. This energy comes also from knowing I am not the only one who feels this way or has experienced these things. There are many Indigenous womxn in many Nations who have, and do, and will speak, speak-back, and who have survived the disciplinary blows from both settler and Indigenous worlds, and who keep speaking and doing.
I am processing certain elements, or circles, of the academy. I have been, and will continue to work hard to makes sense of several things that have occurred in my own path. My heart is broken; I am angry; and, I am grieving. I know, and have heard of, other Indigenous womxn academics who have been brutally treated by fellow Indigenous academics–and not just men. I’m privy to their coping strategies. I’m grateful our paths have crossed, overlap and that we can call upon each other. Being cognizant of, grateful for, and always looking towards the many other circles in the Indigenous and non-Indigenous academy which are working towards decolonization and Indigenous endurance and re-generation in genuine ways will be, and is, a great part of acceptance, healing, and staying mobile.
When I was a teen, what I needed was a safe place and I got that. When I was a professional, what I needed was another career option out of the toxicity of that world and I got that, albeit in a tricky kind of way. When I was a wife with a child, I needed enough money in my account to start over and I made sure I had that. When I was doing my PhD, after several years in, I realized that the only way I was getting out of the culture of abusive dynamics that shape the culture of academia as a broad structure, system, and sphere of being (not just an institution, program, or people), was to write myself out. Keeping my eye on the human-buoys that mark my life and that live in this culture allowed me to. I raise my hands to them.
I wrote myself out of that sinking place I was in, that place of oblivion. I wrote myself out. Out to this point anyhow.
I did it.
The support from many human beings, more-than human-beings, and supernatural beings, and the on-going celebratory nature of this, has been a joy. Based on my experiences and witnessing, I never imagined my defence would be wonderful. It wasn’t a defence. It was a rich conversation of a beloved subject with other Indigenous and non-Indigenous women who share similar passions. I wish this kind of experience for all Indigenous academics who embark on the same journey. I wish this to be the experience for upcoming Indigenous graduate students for their entire journey to that moment. I’ve been accused of being idealistic; rather that than apathetic and accepting of the status quo. I hold the moment of my defence experience very close to my heart. Very close, like a blanket, a medicine.
Here are some preface parts of my thesis. I still look at the Table of Contents and can’t believe I wrote this. Lol. I wrote this. If you would like to read it, please let me know. I would be honoured to share it:
Next blog post: six weeks in dagwaagi. Coming soon.
Addendum, Nov. 12, 2018: So the phrase “Indigenous assholery and windigoism” 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 this addendum. Maybe this softens the energy. Makes it more live-able, more able to do what it needs to do.
The tugging is gone.