The second issue of our journal is now live at www.decolonization.org!
Check out the table of contents and then go read all the great work. And please share!
Poetry, Art, and Video
Leaks – Leanne Simpson (with audio track)
Check out the whole issue HERE!
i could feel her eyes lingering over me,
the only thing
that would avert her gaze
is the threat of mine.
if she wondered
if i wondered
what she was thinking.
if i felt confined within her judgements,
if i feared them
or more so
if i felt complete by them.
slowly and purposefully
i looked over to meet her gaze
only to watch it turn away.
what is it
about looking people
in the eyes
that we find so frightening?
Manjeet Birk lives on the traditional unceded territory of the Coast Salish. She is currently a doctoral student in Education at the University of British Columbia. Her research interests focus on women’s organizing, racialized and Indigenous girls, and social justice. With a lifetime of experience organizing, troubling and challenging systems, Manjeet is always looking for new ways to re-conceptualize a more beautiful world.
Corey Snelgrove, a settler student doing his Master’s degree in the fantastic IGOV program at the University of Victoria, began compiling a list on Twitter of short articles, mostly blogs, which are written by non-Indigenous writers and which examine the task of unsettling settler colonialism for the goal of decolonization, or as Stephanie Irlbacher-Fox wrote – “co-existence through co-resistance.” For your weekend (and hopefully further) reading, here are five short articles on settler solidarity with Indigenous struggles and decolonization, in no particular order.
People are contemplating if the rush of a new revolution called Idle No More is bubbling down to a whisper. There are news articles asking if this is the end of Idle No More, and there are people wondering if the Indigenous nations have gotten the protests and rallies out of their systems and have gone back to life as usual. I read the tweets and the Facebook posts suggesting that Idle No More is in its final gatherings, using the very last energies of a fury of activity that was short-lived and powerful only at its peak; its power diminished now that Chief Spence has finished her hunger strike and Grand National Chief Shawn Atleo has fatefully – despite great resistance – undercut the movement by meeting on January 11th with Stephen Harper and other elect officials. Despite all of this, from my vantage point as an Indigenous woman, mother, academic and activist, I see fully that just the opposite is true because the idea of Indigenous Nationhood must also be considered and understood.
Bill C-45 and resistance to it, particularly the hunger strike by Chief Theresa Spence of Attawapiskat First Nation, catapulted Idle No More into the public spectrum at an opportune moment in history. Fueled by Indigenous voices, cultural renewal and acts of resistance, and led by the rise of Indigenous women and youth, treaty discussions, political engagement and resistance spread through social media and many new ideas, both academic and creative, sprung up as quickly as a camera shooting in quick succession. Click. Click. Click. So rapidly that people were in constant motion. It was the breaking of a long sheet of ice and the overpour that hits the shore; a thaw during the onslaught of winter. A soaking of history and immediacy that attracted the attention of people globally. A wide screaming of the earth against the hand of a Prime Minister who callously ignored the pleas of a starving and desperate Indigenous woman whose voice lay protectively over all of the earth and the bones beneath in her singular action toward justice and accountability. An accumulation of voice and resistance that rose to meet the parting of history and justice that lay swallowed deep underwater. The remnants that lay in wait within the water.
After some time, things quieted. The media and outside world heard the quieting ebb. When those on social media began to discuss other issues, when the urgency of the movement was not on the forefront, the mass media began to insinuate that this was just another movement like Occupy, or merely another Oka or just one more Native issue. When the flashmobs and round dances became spaced further and further apart, when the screams fell into humming, and there was a feeling that the urgency has ended. When there was a lapse between the drumsounds, between the urgent gathering of a country holding hands and dancing round and round and round.
Idle No More was the moment of release, the flurry of activity before a great flight, the prayer before the takeoff, the stretch of breath before a new mother pushes a first baby from her body. Think of a woman in labour: the creation of the new life is a period of gathering, of nurture and preparation. The labour is immense work and action where the mother and child are working together intensely to produce and to shift into a new way of being and life; her physical body needs to undergo a great transition in order for a new life to come into the world and to begin to live and thrive inside of the world that she already knows. But she has to endure the loud action in order to be able to hold the fruits of her labour. In transition, the last stage of labour, the woman often goes into herself and her will and uses the very last morsels of her strength and resilience in order to help her baby find its way into the world. This is a moment of great willfullness and strength, often much quieter and more intense than the previous hours of labour. And then, shortly after, she imparts the final strength onto her own body and her baby birthed, and she can hold this new life in her arms as her body regains momentum and begins the building up of strength once again. All great movements come from a moment of sacrifice and great inner working to produce and birth something vital, earth-changing, and necessary.
Nineteen years ago, when I started my undergraduate degree, I was introduced to Indigenous women’s writing for the first time. Until then, the words in my own personal journal were the only reflections of Indigenous women’s lives available to me. Reading the stories of Lee Maracle, Jeanette Armstrong, Beth Brant, Patricia Monture-Angus, and others, I was struck by both the prevalence of violence in their lives and the strength of resistance to this violence. Their stories of resilience sprung off the page, transforming moments of shame and silence into ones of strength and survival. After a family member took her own life, these stories inspired me to focus on issues of violence in our communities, and I’ve taken my direction from this calling ever since.
Over the years, much has changed in how violence against women is talked about. With the emergence of a discourse around ‘the missing women’, gendered violence is being recognized as a widespread reality in our homes, schools, cities and streets. The conviction of a serial killer in Vancouver’s downtown east side solidified the reality that our aunties have been preyed upon for far too long. But in talking with other Indigenous people across Turtle Island, I know the daily reality of interpersonal violence continues despite this increased awareness. After close to 20 years of talking about this issue, what unsettles me the most is the similarity of stories from girls in small towns and large cities, in urban centers and remote villages. Across this land, our daughters continue to be targeted for physical, mental and emotional abuse on a daily basis, by people from both inside and outside our communities. Something needs to change in our strategies to stop this violence.
I have been working in the field of anti-violence since recovering and healing from experiences of violence in my own personal life for the past 20 years. I write this with lessons I have learned in dealing with every type of violence that exists including the most extreme use of violence; that being murder. My family is still recovering from the murder of my cousin Tashina General (who was 21 years old and pregnant), who went missing in January, 2008 and found murdered in April, 2008. The trauma experienced as a result of her murder still resonates in me, in my family and in my community. I write this for Tashina and her mom, who not only lost a daughter but a future grandson, who was already named Tucker.
During my professional life as an entrepreneur, lawyer, consultant and professor, my focus has been on understanding the impacts of trauma and violence upon Indigenous peoples, and specifically Indigenous women. I have made conscious choices about the work I have done but I never believed that after supporting and advocating for families of the missing and murdered, I would have to experience the same loss and trauma. I have used my life experiences to revitalize our teachings that focus on peaceful relations and to continue to advocate for families of the missing and murdered women.
While on my healing path, I began to learn about Haudenosaunee teachings that were cut off from me, from my mother, and from my grandmother – my matrilineal ancestors who were directly impacted from the residential school system. I began to understand our teachings that women are honoured and respected because of their decision-making instincts and their responsibilities in carrying and bringing life into this physical world. I began to understand that our men are Warriors and are responsible to protect women and children and to protect our lands and territories. I began to understand that how colonization had such a detrimental effect upon these roles and responsibilities.
“The woman is the foundation on which nations are built. She is the heart of her nation. If that heart is weak, the people are weak. If her heart is strong and her mind is clear, then the nation is strong and knows its purpose. The woman is the center of everything.”
-Dr. Art Solomon, Ojibwe (1914- 1997)
Recent growth of the Idle No More movement has planted hope in the hearts and homes of Indigenous communities across this continent. Elders and leaders have noted the arrival of the long-awaited Seventh Generation. The power of this moment, however, is matched by our responsibility to build our futures on foundations older than those imported from Europe. Brutal insertion of patriarchy and the violence that allows it to flourish has undermined the centrality of women in our communities. In her book Conquest, Andrea Smith tells the story of the systematic raping of our women, our communities, our cultures, and our dignities; in effect, the colonizer has successfully repressed our communities for centuries by controlling our women through the many forms of violence, and eventually, encouraging our own Indigenous men to value their own power over that of our women. The violence embedded in our larger national cultures (i.e. US and Canada) has been reflected at alarming rates in our own tribal communities.
Far too many social movements have made the mistake of relying on this same patriarchal power structure in their attempts to make change. Additionally, within social movements meant to empower women, Indigenous women and other Women of Color have found that whiteness and patriarchy go hand in hand as they have found themselves silenced by white women. However, unlike any movement we have seen before, Idle No More has brought the concepts of decolonization and reparation into the public view. As the name suggests, the movement is a vehicle for Indigenous peoples and their allies to take a stand against the continued exploitation of Indigenous land and resources, as well as the larger ideological systems that benefit from that exploitation, i.e. colonialism and capitalism. The goals of this movement and the visibility Indigenous people have gained as a result, marks the turning of a new leaf in the history of this continent.