Everyday Cry: Feeling Through Ogitchidaakwe’s Hunger Strike
by Waaseyaa’sin Christine Sy
Every day since Mushkego Ogitchidaakwe, Ogimaa Theresa Spence has been on her hunger strike, I have cried.
I don’t think the in tandem-ness of my flowing tears and Ogitchidaakwe’s hunger strike is a coincidence. However, I can’t make sense of it. And I want to. The bouts of crying on a daily basis have me perplexed. While Ogitchidaakwe’s journey and #idlenomore are a very public affair, my tears have me wondering how people are dealing with it in quiet moments, not because I want to know those private details, but because I want to not feel alone; I want to feel that my response is understandable.
I think about these consistent tears and wonder first if it has anything to do with Ogitchidaakwe’s actions at all. Isn’t an increase in crying a sign of depression? Aren’t we in the season of S.A.D. (seasonal affect disorder) and vitamin deficiency due to loss of light? Maybe I’m not eating enough greens or getting enough exercise. Maybe I am depressed over Chief Spence’s actions, over the conditions that have led her to this action.
But I don’t feel depressed.
I feel awake. I feel alive. Akooshin – in awe to be here amongst creation; in this physical world; awake.
Maybe I am being too emotional? Is there such a thing or is that some sexist idea about gender, impinging on my thinking? Or, is the idea of too much emotion an abhorrent manifestation of capitalism where social capital and money are the objectives and emotion only slows the whole culture of “getting money” down? Alternatively, maybe I am not resolute enough, disciplined enough, the way I imagine Anishinaabeg would be, are, when taking on such matters; the way Mushkego are. Are my tears just me being indulgent? Am I a suck? Would my great grandmothers and grandfathers have cried like this? Over this?
The tears come without exception, spontaneously, intensely, wherever I may be: at my desk, reading Facebook, showering, driving, shopping at stupid Walmart or stupid shopping anywhere, cooking, looking out the window. They come whenever I take a moment to be present with Her and what She is doing for The People.
My heart beats faster, my chest gets tight, my throat constricts, my face flusters, my eyes well up.
I cry everyday and I don’t know why. I want to understand it because I’ve learned that my body is a genius. It knows things about the world that I, thinking in my head, cannot discern. What is my body trying to tell me?
I wonder if my tears are about guilt for not also going on a hunger strike like Elder Emile Bell (Canoe Lake, Saskatchewan) has done (more than once now). Or, Raymond Robinson (Cross Lake, Manitoba) or Wilson Hardy (Nisichiawayasihk Cree Nation). Or, even doing daily fasts like Sheila North Wilson (Manitoba). But then I realize as soon as I found out Ogitchidaakwe was going on a hunger strike, I cried and well, I wasn’t feeling any guilt then.
Then I wonder if my tears are born of the weird feeling I have for not giving up some self-indulgent privilege (that is not even good for me) like Tim Horton’s coffee? Is cutting down on food intake enough? Should I give up more? Weird feeling but not the kind that brings on tears; it’s not self-pity I am feeling. My tears are not the “I-feel-bad-and-should-do-something-but-oh-well-I-am-not-going-to” kind.
I wonder though if they are desperate. Tears born of a desperate “NOOOO! Don’t do this!” But then in my belly I know that desperation is not the source of my daily crying because above all else, as Anishinaabe, I recognize the autonomy of Ogitchidaakwe’s decision. I revere the sacredness of that autonomy and her decision. I am humbled by the great kind mystery, gizhewe manidoo, and manidooyag (the spirits) who are working with her and for her in her sacred autonomous action. Action that is autonomous from human interference but bound tightly to her spiritual world, her path, her journey. I am awed. None of these sentiments are of the desperate kind. So why am I crying?
Are my tears an expression of anger at Canada? At Stephen Harper?
I surprise myself to realize that I’m not angry at Canada or Harper. (Well, I was angry about the “mmmm bacon” and Homer Simpson tweet, angry enough to name him in an FB status update, but that was one flash of anger). I’m not angry because how can I be at something I know and understand? Canada was born on the deceit and abuse of Indigenous Nations and individuals to gain access to our Mother. Four hundred years of this in my bones and a Prime Minister whose behaviors are predictable makes it hard to be angry.
I have no emotion for this round of occupier government. Windigo is predictable.
This is not to deny the anger—beautiful, life-changing, life-protecting anger—that is likely fuelling much of this movement. Indeed, anger can be healthy. It can preserve the self; get a person out of life-diminishing situations. It protects, compels movement, makes change. It’s also given a bad rap. We are often made to feel like criminals or savages or out of control when we name, claim, and show our anger. Or, we are treated as such. The world seems to say, “You shouldn’t be angry. You should be positive. Yes. That’s it. Smile. Let’s move forward shall we?”
Constantly being happy, being in the mindset of ‘moving forward’ is ridiculous, hugely privileged, and unhealthy. It’s grounded in what I think is a delusional view of reality.
And, still, I wonder why I cry everyday.
I go back to the minute I read about Ogitchidaakwe’s plans. I re-visit every cry since then. I think I’m getting close to understanding.
It’s times like this I long to have my Anishinaabemowin in my body so I could sound the thing out geget debwe (real close to the truth). In english, I think I’m crying about loss, unimaginable loss and grief. I have nothing else to elaborate on this. I can’t explain it definitively. I just sense an overwhelming loss and grief. Maybe those aren’t even the words. See what I mean about having our language? My Elders would be able to explain.
Maybe I am afraid.
But there is something else here too. Upon reflection, I think the crying is about being overwhelmed by what I see as Ogitchidaakwe’s ultimate act of truth, sharing, strength, and kindness. In my Anishinaabe culture these are foundational values that are expressed through the land: truth being the tree because he is straight, knows his intention, grows straight up; sharing being the deer because she is the ultimate giver, giving up her life so we can live; strength being the rock that is unwavering; and, kindness being sweetgrass, our mothers’ beautiful, sweet smelling, flowing hair. Ogitchidaakwe’s intentional starvation, is the tree, deer, rock, and sweetgrass. Her act is whole.
I cry because I’ve never been given such a gift from a stranger. I cry because she is giving this to us all.
I have zaagide (love) for this woman. I think of her family often. I imagine the quiet moments between her and those she loves most and who love her most. I imagine the whispers, the tears, the silences, the eye-contact, the touch, the chuckles, the rhythm of breathe between people. I think of her ancestors and how they must be vibrating, nodding, dancing, singing, sounding out, for her and for our future. I think of the manidooyag looking out for her and I am comforted.
These are elements of a caring life. The life we are after having with Canada and Canadians; and, with each other, again. I am overwhelmed to tears by the sacrifice she and her family are giving me and us.
I cry because whatever it means, at some level in my body, when the words “I am going on a hunger strike..” came to life, I somehow knew this: Chief Theresa Spence’s continued physical life or her eventual physical death will mean something that will change life for all of us in Turtle Island.
Her spirit is already changing me and us.
This is overwhelming and so, I cry.
Chi-miigwech Ogitchidaakwe. Aapidjii nendam gaa miizhyaang.
Big thanks Ogitchidaakwe. I am very grateful for all you give us.
Chi-miigwech to your family.
Chi-miigwech to those who support you and support life by also being on a hunger strike.
Chi-miigwech to all your Helpers and their families.
Chi-miigwech to Attawapiskat First Nation; your Muskegowag Nation; and, the beautiful lands, waters, sky, seasons, beings, and spirits that have grown you all up to be awesomely perfect human beings.
Ogitchidaakwe, you are taking all of us on a collective journey and you are compelling our transformation. Chi-miigwech.
Author’s note: Ogitchidaakwe is a woman who steps out ahead of her community to protect her community. Ogimaa is a leader.
Waaseyaa’sin Christine Sy is Ojibway Anishinaabe from Lac Seul First Nation, grew up in the Bawating (Sault Ste. Marie. ON) area and presently enjoys life with her daughter and the Mississauga Anishinaabeg in the Nogojiwanong (Peterborough, ON) area. She is a poet, adult language learner, and Ph.D. Candidate in Indigenous Studies at Trent University. A longer version of this article appeared first on the author’s blog.