Moontime as a Technology to Embrace Self

I remember having to go to a rehearsal for a runway show that I was taking part in when I was about 15. Of course, it had to be the week of my moontime. I’ll be straight to the point that, I told my agent that I will not be coming and she flat out told me, “You know. You’re going to have your period for the rest of your life and you can’t just call in and cancel everything when it happens!” Thanks, Debbie. I suppose you can say that’s when my motivation for modeling and the sacrifices (or should I say…deprivations) that I allow my body to endure should not have to come in the form of looking pretty while in excruciating pain.

Fast forward twenty years and last year I’m sitting in a university classroom, in THE WORST IMAGINABLE PAIN that I could have ever believed I could take. Imagine someone has a fist deep inside your womb and mid-gut area and they are scrunching, twisting and pulling on your insides and you have no idea when they are going to let go!!! This pain then oozes, drips and jolts to your back, pelvic area, hips and sometimes transforms itself into nauseating experiences in the bathroom all while being alone and afraid to pass out from the intensity (because this happened to me once, and suddenly I woke up to paramedics asking why I fell). All this to say, I guess this bullshit called endometriosis has been fucking up my life so bad since I was 15 that I finally feel proud to say that I can TALK ABOUT MY MOONTIME AS A TECHNOLOGY TO CONNECT ME TO MYSELF.

What does this mean to me? So, when I was in school I took a course that asked us about the different ways we can consider technologies. For example, we always think about technologies as if they are just electronic equipment like computers and phones that ‘connect’ us and ‘mediate’ our relationship to the outside world. BUT, my Professor taught us that we can explain technologies in other meaningful ways to describe the way these things can also ‘connect’ and ‘mediate’ our experiences while embodying said technologies. In other words, I can say that items like the ribbon skirt, the drum or my regalia are technologies that allow me to connect with spirit. They are tools that offer spiritual resonance and guidance. Just like a phone is a technology used to connect to other people, my drum is a technology used to connect to the spiritual.

Therefore, I’m saying that all the pain, the agony, the anticipated fear and isolation that comes with my moontime is almost like a conduit for me to embrace kwe and all the strength she carries. My moontime as a technology has taught me patience, adaptability, restoration and most of all…power. There is a reason why we are told we are most powerful when we are cleansing. In my eyes, I feel as if my body being depleted of its blood and nutrients can be considered a small sacrifice all while being in tune with Mother Earth knowing that one day, that gift of giving life might one day be mine to bear.

Thunder Bay: A Place that Houses Transient Spirits

The Connection to Place: A Spirit Within

The smell of a place, the crispness of the air, the way the sun only comes out at the end of the day to illuminate a city of darkness. These are my first recollections of the city I was raised in, the city known as Thunder Bay. I am not positive why the landscape and the natural beauty of the city are the first memories that come to me when I could easily recount discrimination such as being followed in a store out of fear that I will steal something. I like to think that I am a part of the earth there, as my ancestors originate from this area and my adolescence and young adulthood were formed there. Jackson 2bears (2012) cites Vine Deloria Jr. in saying that “our ancestors did not think of the land as something they owned but rather as an animate entity that possessed or inhabited the people” (p. 1). In other words, it is wise to ask oneself not how you live on the land, but how it lives in you and is intertwined with your spirit. I also like to think that my mind and spirit were shaped, in positive and negative ways within the confines of this space, and these imprints made me who I am today.

I believe that the youth who tragically lost their lives in Thunder Bay by drowning in the River of Tears or the Mackenzie River are connected to the place too. Not only that, I believe that their spirits, as well as many others, are in a state of unrest in Thunder Bay. This paper will discuss how Thunder Bay is a haunted place because of these unrested spirits, how Indigenous people live in an almost haunted third space on their own homelands that casts them as outsiders and how Indigenous people must watch out for themselves and other Indigenous people, a form of sousveillance as survival. The paper begins with a section on my experience with a haunted past in Thunder Bay and how the podcast Thunder Bay served as a medium for me to communicate and remember this past.

My Hauntological Imprint from Thunder Bay

When I first considered crafting this paper, I wanted to respond to the podcast Thunder Bay by Ryan McMahon, an Anishnaabae man from Couchiching First Nation who has ties to the city. His parents, like many other Indigenous families, would travel to the hub of Thunder Bay from their communities to shop, or to party, as it was the only city close to northern reserves. My original idea was to discuss how the podcast acted as a conduit for McMahon to communicate with the dead (YIKES, thanks John Durham Peters) and how he can be an advocate for the youths who died by reshaping how their stories are being told. However, I realized that after listening to the first chapter that the podcast shed light on the crooked leadership of the city, the sex ring industry in the city, and the corruption among police and authorities in criminal cases. McMahon touches on the fear, isolation and normalized violence that Indigenous youth from Northern communities’ face when they attend high school in Thunder Bay. After listening to the entire podcast, I shifted my focus to include my personal experience with a haunted past in Thunder Bay, and how it effects my memories, my feelings of being an outsider in my own hometown and my experience with sousveillance, or how Thunder Bay is a place where Indigenous people are always looking over their shoulder to make sure they’re safe from the hands of cold blooded murderers. I will be tying in my experience to what I believe the youth who were murdered may have experienced.

I recall choosing to write about the topic at hand out of a desire to face my fears about Thunder Bay. Although I grew up there and the city is a place where my most cherished memories are, there is an unnerving anxiety that overwhelms me whenever I visit. Thunder Bay is a place that haunts me. I came close to getting involved in the sex trade there, when an addiction to opiates consumed and took over my life. I have a mother whose death seems to lurk around the corner of her run-down house because of her reliance on substances. Jackson 2bears (2012) cites philosopher Gregory Cajete in saying that in “many Native cultures, their landscapes were seen as metaphoric extensions of their bodies…[and therefore they] experienced nature as part of themselves and themselves as a part of nature” (p. 28). I think Thunder Bay may be full moonna place that houses transient spirits. These spirits are neither in the spirit world nor in the living world. They do not have peace as their deaths were done so in such a dishonorable way, that they have no choice but to haunt the city.  In McMahon’s podcast, he speaks of how there is a metaphorical dark cloud that looms over the city. Regardless of the aesthetic beauty, a gloomy residue of hate blankets the city. I feel this residual negativity when I am in Thunder Bay. This fear is what I call a hauntological remnant of space, where the spirit of the land built on violent deaths, racism and repulsion haunts me today.

Indigenous peoples’ bones are encrusted into the landscape of Canada. Our spirits and our blood memory have seeped in its underground roots, causing certain spaces in Canada, like Thunder Bay to be haunted by its violent colonization. Cameron (2008) notes that “it is assumed that Aboriginal ghosts are all that remains of the ‘disappearing Indian’, and that settler-Canadians have inherited this rich land from those who have now ‘passed” (p. 384). The podcast turned out to be a medium to connect with my haunted past and with spirits that are housed in Thunder Bay. The podcast also allowed me to experience and almost relive the ongoing issues in Thunder Bay from afar in a safe manner. I do recall, while listening to the podcast, being transported back to Thunder Bay, my body being placed by the river of tears, watching helplessly as Ryan told the story of a high school student who was thrown in the river and begged a bus driver to cover the story up. Peters notes that “by preserving peoples’ apparitions in sight and sound, media of recording helped repopulate the spirit world. Every new medium is a machine for the production of ghosts” (p. 139) and I think that the podcast reopened connections to spirits who I thought moved on.

I suggest that my concept of the hauntological remnants of space can also be experienced by newcomers, or Indigenous youth who attend high school in Thunder Bay. The ghosts of Indigenous youth, men and women whose lives were taken suspiciously in Thunder Bay are embedded into the soil and the air. The Mackenzie river no longer holds the power that water is supposed to hold, which is to heal. The rivers remnants haunt the city like a bad spirit who has cursed a place because of unimaginable deaths occurring near it. Indigenous youth who move to Thunder Bay are welcomed with anything but open arms. In Chapter 3 of the podcast, Ryan McMahon tells the story of the grandson of famous painter Norval Morriseau, Kyle Morriseau. Kyle was found dead in the McIntyre river with abrasions on his body and blood in his throat. He was the sixth student from the Indigenous high school, Dennis Cromarty Franklin High School who went missing. This high school runs specifically for students who fly in from communities without high schools. Talaga notes that Kyle’s father went to the river after hearing about his death and gave thanks to it. He said, “Miigwetch. Thank you. That is it. It was not easy to thank the river for taking my son” (p. 264). Therefore, the spirit in the water, houses all the spirits who have been subsumed by its flows, and it deserves acknowledgement of how it acts as a vessel between the spirit and physical world.

Lost Souls in a Third Space

At the beginning of the podcast, McMahon says that “Thunder Bay was never supposed to be anyone’s home in the first place” (Chapter 1, 12:11-12:15). It was a place to extract from and leave. Thunder Bay was a place to pass by. He goes on to say that outsiders are met with skepticism because they do not want anyone “coming here to kick up a storm and make a great story and burn the city to the ground” (Chapter 1, 14:15-14:17). McMahon describes that it is inevitable for people to act differently in a place that they know they are not staying in. Moreover, McMahon’s friend, John Thompson says that people in Thunder Bay have a sense of Northern alienation. They feel as if they are left alone with their devices and that outside views are dangerous to their inner circle. It is evident that residents in Thunder Bay are just as exclusionary to Indigenous people who come from Northern community’s vis a vis outside media that write about the issues the city faces. Hirji (2011) cites Bhabha when she discusses the notion of the third space. This is a place where peoples’ realities are made up of being “neither here nor there [and where] the third space can also signify loneliness and alienation” (p. 18). Indigenous people, myself included, often feel lost and like strangers on our own lands, as we navigate our existence through this constructed, and at times haunted, third space.

Indigenous people in Thunder Bay, my mother included, experience racism in the forms of yelling and taunts from moving vehicles. Sometimes this racism ends in death. This was the case for someone that I knew. Someone who was best friends with my first cousin. Barb Kentner was murdered by a white man in Thunder Bay when he threw a trailer hitch out a moving vehicle at her. Her ghost and her blood memory are still remnant in Thunder Bay. Barb’s story contributes to the haunted nature of colonization and extermination of Indigenous women’s bodies. The ironic thing is that the Kentner family was not an outsider family, or a family that moved from a reserve to the city but she still existed in this third space. McMahon questioned non-Indigenous residents about the normalized racism. Most of the responses were leaning towards the idea that every city has problems or that it is Indigenous people who cause problems for themselves. Indigenous youth who move to Thunder Bay for high school also exist in a third space that casts them as outsiders. Even the former Mayor, Keith Hobbs has been known to say that Indigenous people are dumped into Thunder Bay as lost souls (Chapter 3, 6:23-6:26). They are thrown into a city that doubts their success, judges their every move and sees them as passerby’s unworthy of respect.

Indigenous youth who go to high school in Thunder Bay usually get onto a plane, sometimes for the first time, and as the principle of DFC explained, that you simply hope for the best. She also says that, “you only have your circle of friends who are going to help you” (Chapter 3, 8:44-9:00). These youth come from small communities where the roads are not paved and where everyone knows everyone, to a city with bus routes and traffic lights and strange people. Indigenous youth who move there are forced to live in the third space of walking between their past life on the reserve and their present life in a fast-paced city. In this third space, they will even face discrimination from other urban natives, who, from what I have witnessed first-hand, will compare the northern natives as not as advanced or accepted in Thunder Bay as they are. In this space they will feel nostalgic for home, for peace and quiet, for a familiar face. Therefore, many youths turn to alcohol and drugs for comfort, for a way to haze over the constant ridicule from the people of the city.

It seems that as the number of Indigenous youths who go missing increases, that the more the residents and leadership of Thunder Bay resist responsibility. Countless stories are told by Indigenous people that they have been victims of attempted abductions, assaults, racial profiling and the list goes on. Whether Indigenous youth are aware of it or not, this third space that they live in makes them a target for violence and discrimination. “In 2013, Statistics Canada crowned Thunder Bay the hate crime capital of Canada” (Talaga, 2017, p. 268). I suggest that because the racism is so normalized, it encourages an outsider/insider perception in Thunder Bay. If you are an outsider to this one-horsed town, you are undeserving of respect. One Indigenous youth named Darryl Kakekayash believed his life was over when he walked down by the river alone at night. He was assaulted, thrown in the river, dragged himself out of the river, then got thrown in again. Darryl proceeded to ask a bus driver to keep quiet about the situation out of fear that his attackers would find him but next time he wouldn’t be so lucky. If that’s not outsider vs insider I don’t know what is.

Watching with the Ancestors

When I was growing up, I recall that it was normal for us to talk how to stay away from Simpson Street, which once used to be the main drag for John’s, pimps and hookers. It is now desolate and ghost town looking. Every time I drive down Simpson Street, I feel as if I have just entered a time machine and have been transported back to the 1940’s. The street where prostitutes now frequent is Mackenzie Street, where Barb Kentner was assaulted. Now that I think of it, my own sousveillance as a child was a regular thing to talk about. However, if a youth from a Northern community moves to Thunder Bay for school, in most cases they are not aware of the history of these spaces, they are not aware of the haunted past that the streets possess. This section discusses how Indigenous people engage in their own sousveillance, as we watch from below, by acting and behaving in ways that are deemed acceptable by the white mans standards. Watching ourselves and others for our own survival.

Those in control of the city are corrupt and are fully aware of the city’s haunted past. I suggest that Indigenous people in Thunder Bay have conditioned themselves to almost be their own protectors. They partake in a form of sousveillance where they watch out for themselves on the streets on Thunder Bay. McMahon’s podcast discusses the corruption, the sex rings, the violence and other illegal activity. In Chapter 2, McMahon discusses stuff between a lawyer and the Mayor and how a leaked YouTube video showed important details of an extortion case. The Thunder Bay Police have been known to abuse their power with Indigenous peoples, as I have known of first-hand stories from other Indigenous people of police brutality, police involved in drugs, prostitution and tampered investigations. It is because of stories like this that Indigenous people have little faith that the police in Thunder Bay have their safety in their best interest.

In Chapter 4, he tells the story of Brigette, an Indigenous woman who grew up in an adopted family who was recruited into sex work. She describes Thunder Bay as a place where sex brothels and the underaged, sex trade on ships was normal. Brigette knows the ins and outs of the sex work industry and she also knows of how people who are allegedly high up in society in Thunder Bay who abuse their power. On one of the ships, Brigette recalls telling one woman to calm down after being assaulted otherwise the men would throw her overboard (Chapter 4, 9:00-13:00). Brown discusses how for the slave trade; sex ships were a “sea going mobile prison at a time when the modern prison had not yet been established on land” (p. 17). Therefore, what we see is a watching and controlling of Indigenous bodies, a version of the panopticon where authority figures in Thunder Bay “would abuse their power by engaging in the sex worker industry” (Chapter 5, 16:00-17:00). This distrust between Indigenous peoples and the police, and the need for us to provide our own safety for ourselves and each other is not something new. Countless youth hide their stories of violence, attempted abduction, rape, taunts, and yelling and throwing objects from cars out of fear that their abusers will return because involving the police only causes more problems.

Out of reasons for safety and survival, Indigenous people engage in their own sousveillance. I grew up, some would say too fast, in Thunder Bay and I watched as the evil past of the city consistently haunted and followed it like a shadow that clung on, especially at night. My own sousveillance trained me to be more than aware on those streets. In one case, Talaga (2017) tells the story of an Indigenous mother, who fled Thunder Bay after running into her abuser in a mall after a group of them “grabbed her, threw her into the back seat of the car, and took her far out of town. Once in a secluded are, they viciously beat and assaulted her. As they were raping her they told her she liked it because she was Indigenous” (p. 269). This fetishization of the need for men to take Indigenous bodies without fear of consequence is because they are aware that the police are in on the activity too. Endless stories are told about cab drivers denying Indigenous people rides, floor walkers following us in the stores, and police partaking in physical, sexual and mental abuse but are unreported. It is because of stories like this that the Bear Clan Patrol Thunder Bay group was created.

According to their Facebook page, Bear Clan Patrol Thunder Bay simply wants to help keep Thunder Bays’ streets safe. It is haunting to know that this form of sousveillance, vigilantism and self-protection was created because of how Thunder Bay is known for its increase in the number of murdered youths. Traditionally, people from bear clan are supposed to be the protectors among the clan system. We are like the police officers of our people because we have power to lead, to govern in a good way and to mediate. Sadly, the first and most recent post that has been posted is a story about Braiden Jacob, a 17-year-old Indigenous youth found dead in a place where I used to jog, in Chapelle’s Park. Scrolling down, there are trigger warning for posts of screen shots. Collections of stories from Indigenous youth who have had encounters with the police who used force or flat out humiliated them are submitted to the page. My mind races with the image of the road that I ran on in Chapelle’s park. I see the path that goes toward James Street and I remember that the Dennis Franklin Cromarty School is in this area. However, a Go Fund Me page for the Jacob family says that Braiden was in Thunder Bay to go to counselling. Now, whenever I go back to visit Thunder Bay, my own sousveillance will instinctively tell me not to go near Chapelle’s park out of fear for my own safety.

A Home of Heavy Hearts

I began this paper discussing my connection to Thunder Bay and the land, the water and the air there. It is so refreshing for me to visit home and to walk down Lake Superior, the largest fresh water lake in the world and breath it all in. The waters off Lake Superior are chilling and crisp. For me, Thunder Bay is a sacred place. I cannot speak on behalf of any of the youth who died in Thunder Bay and what their connection to the place was, but Jackson 2bears notes that the “Indigenous experience of life involved a belief in the “sacredness, livingness and the soul of the world . . . all things being animate, space/place, renewal, and all things being imbued with spirit” (p.14). Sleeping Giant, or Nanabush, a huge rock formation in the distance shaped like a man wearing a headdress and sleeping with his arms on his chest, casts a mixture of good and bad spirits onto the city, he may let some rest with him, but other spirits roam.

The streets of Thunder Bay feel like a ghost town after a certain hour. Jackson 2bears (2014) said that there was “something almost hauntological and spectral that is etched into the grooves of the record” (p.15) when he discussed that as a child, the song Ten Little Indians haunted him because he had a “life changing experience” that “caused me to re-confront some memories of a long-forgotten past” (p.15). I experienced something similar while listening to McMahon’s podcast. The podcast brought out thoughts, fears and memories that I repressed. The podcast reminded me of the importance of my story. However, Indigenous youth who are strangers to Thunder Bay are not afforded the opportunity to move cities like I was. “Indigenous women have spoken and written powerfully from experiences that they have lived or have chosen to relive through the stories they choose to tell” (Million, 2009, p.54), therefore, I believe that the podcast allowed me to relive a haunted past and to liken it to my haunted feelings I experience when in Thunder Bay. I believe that Thunder Bay is a place that houses transient spirits who have not made it or do not want to go to the spirit world. Just the thought of visiting Thunder Bay gives me an eerie feeling. I suppose that Creator had a different plan for me, one that escaped the depths of darkness on city streets filled with intoxicating terror.

References

Brown, Simone. (2015) Dark Matters: On the Surveillance of Blackness. Durham: Duke      University Press.

Cameron, E. (2008). Indigenous spectrality and the politics of postcolonial ghost stories. cultural geographies, 15(3), 383-393.

Hirji, Faiza (2011). Dreaming in Canadian: South Asian Youth, Bollywood, and Belonging.    Vancouver. UBC Press.

Leween, J. T. B. (2012). Mythologies of an un]dead indian (Order No. NR94720). Available    from ProQuest Dissertations & Theses Global. (1442476138).

Loft, S., 2bears, J., Loft, S., & Swanson, K. (2014). Coded territories. University of Calgary Press.

McMahon, R. (Host). (2018, December 7) Chapter 1-5. [Audio podcast].  Retrieved from https://www.canadalandshow.com/podcast/thunder-bay/

Million, D. (2009). Felt theory: An indigenous feminist approach to affect and history. Wicazo Sa Review, 24(2), 53-76.

Peters, John Durham. (1999). Speaking into the Air: A History of the Idea of Communication. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Talaga, T. (2017). Seven fallen feathers: Racism, death, and hard truths in a northern city.    Toronto: Anansi.

Finding Lively Ways to Improve Health

My experience of thinking and living throughout my university life pretty much consisted of trying to eat food that would actually HELP me think!! The school that I attended made sure their options were greasy, processed and high calorie. So, it was safe to say that I usually packed lunches comprised of leftovers of home cooked meat loaf, chili or soups. So, when I finally graduated and became the Communications Officer for the Energize Communications team, I knew that life have more structure and regimen. I would say that my job isn’t really a job. It’s more or less getting to meet new people who create events geared toward young adults. The events that I help promote and create are for young people who want to live a clean lifestyle but have fun and socialize while doing it. Drinking and drugging are not really the “thing to do” these days for the younger crew because so many of them want to live healthy, productive lives.

My work includes tailoring to the needs of urban young adults in Ottawa over the age of 16. In my job description, I have to show young people basically how cool it is to be healthy. I often talk to the younger crowd through my experience. My experience of having an eating disorder and struggling with body image. I talk about health eating habits, exercise and positive self talk. I don’t consider myself a motivational speaker but I have been asked on occasion to speak at high schools to share my strength.

Since I started working, I noticed that one of our most popular activities that has been gaining traction is the “Cyber-Scavenger Hunt” where people take a whole weekend to stay updated on their phones as to when the next scavenger hunt clue comes out. This gets young adults out of the house and gets them meeting new people. It’s a non-competitive environment where clues are given out and people look for things such as “the stuffed duck with a red beak” in the market. We place 5 plush ducks with their beaks painted red and the 5 people who found the ducks get access to passwords for the next clue. These 5 people all participate together to let others know their locations and how they close they may be to finding the next clue. In the end, prizes like movie passes for all 5 people are granted. Whole Foods’ actually incorporates the same time of “Win Win Partnerships” with the companies who supply their food market. Whole Foods’ is the type of company that establishes relationships with their suppliers that are fair and honest, just like how our scavenger hunts encourage friendships and working together.

Another event that has had a huge success rate is the “Parks Clean Campaign”. We go online and create events like picnics and “day raves”. These are extremely popular because one of the “free admittance” fees is the mandatory clean up next day. this actually gives these youth and young adults a chance to continue to “rave” about their experience the next day by helping to give back. This reminds me of how Whole Foods’ uses their packaging which are made from recycled products and how they produce organic food without overusing pesticides and harsh chemicals. Our picnic and rave participants are usually passionate about recycling properly and not just because they “have to”. One of the best part about our picnic and rave weekend is making groups to see who could clean park sections the fastest, with 3 small prizes. The first prize is usually something useful like a cooler or lawn chairs to bring to the next event.

Lastly, a growing favorite event is the local garden club where we email all of our past participants to take part in community garden growing. Hopefully this trend grows because of the rise of interest in health and fitness. Our youth and young adults are encouraged to grow fresh veggies and throughout our first event, we had an amazing stock of corn, cucumbers and tomatoes! Whole Foods’ works the same way that we do by advocating for the need for education in healthy eating. They educate their partners in business on the four main pillars of healthy eating: veggies and plant based nutrition, natural and non-processed foods, healthy fats from things like seeds and avocados and foods that provide real nourishment. It was so cool because most of these kids have never grown anything that they could actually eat before! The look of surprise and sense accomplishment we could see and feel were amazing. Some of the comments I heard from them was “I feel so alive eating this!”

Garden growing

I just want to give a shout out to Whole Foods’ because they have assisted with the development of the content I wrote today. They help implement a well rounded way of looking at why healthy foods are essential to living a healthy life. If it weren’t for Whole Foods’, I wouldn’t emphasis the importance of values like reusing, wasting less or contributing locally to my events for the youth and young adults I work with. Since graduating university, my confidence has grown and so has my passion to help others learn about positive self image. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

 

Adam and Eve Seen Through Indigen”eyes”

I remember how the sun hit my face that day I was taken by the Priests and the Nuns. I remember it because the side of my face that stared out the window cast the sunlight directly onto it. I would not move my worrisome, frightful face. I let it heat up because I didn’t want to look at these people who just took me from my parents, who took me from my home, my sanctuary. My eyes…glossy and tired, felt as if they remained open for the whole four hour ride.

AlberniResSchool_600px

Children receiving their “numbers”

On the outskirts of Sioux Lookout, Ontario, my new home was known as St. Anne’s Residential School. It was a building painted white, with bars on the windows and a door the size of two grown adults. I recall the towering doors resembling a cave because they were painted black and looked like they would scoop me up from the outside world. No one would be able to find me in this cave I thought. Me, and three other Ojibwe girls were escorted towards the cave where two men dressed in black stood. “Welcome, Sophie, you will now be known as number 31” said the man with whose hair was going white on the sides.

As I became number 31, I came to realize that my long hair was wrong, my language was wrong, my Creator was wrong and my childhood was insignificant. When I arrived at St. Anne’s at six-years-old, a whole three years passed before I could almost train my mind not to think in my mother tongue, Anishnaabemowin anymore. Not speaking it reduced the amounts of hits to my head or the pulling of my ear, so I guess it was a positive thing.

One of the favorite stories the Nuns would make us memorize was about Adam and Eve and the Garden of Eden. Now from what I remember, Adam lived in a Garden, created by God who let him live there as long as he took care of the plants and animals that also lived there. There was a tree called the tree of knowledge of good and evil that was forbidden. That was also one the favorite words spoken by many of the Nuns. “That kind of talk is forbidden.” “Those gestures of tapping your foot are forbidden.” “Talking to or craving the attention of the boys is forbidden.” Anyways, this Adam character was lonely, so God created Eve from one of his ribs and they pranced around with no shame in their naked bodies in this Garden. In this Garden, a serpent or snake enticed Eve to eat from this forbidden tree and she goes on to give a piece to Adam. I guess these two acquire more knowledge but God tells them that the ground they stand on will now be tainted with feelings of shame and evil spirits. I guess Adam and Eve weren’t allowed in that Garden anymore and they were told by God that a place called Hell would be waiting for them when they died.

I think this is how it went because whenever us kids did something forbidden in the eyes of the Nuns, we were told about Adam and Eve and how their evil actions sent them into a “life of destitute filled with burning flames for all eternity”.

At six or seven-years-old, this story was terrifying and I gave me nightmares for at least a year. But, I always kept the Creation story that my ni-maa-maa (Mom) used to tell me and my siblings around the fire.

She told me that Sky Woman had twin sons. Sky Woman lived in the Sky and she was the protector of Earth. She lived alongside Grandmother moon who shared wisdom with her throughout her life. Sky Woman lived with all other Sky People in harmony and love. They watched life form in the shape of animals down on Earth and gave them all names. For example, there was Maang (Loon) or the Washashkoonh (Muskrat).

One day, Sky Woman gave birth to two twin sons. Their names were Jiikwis (One who Came First) and Miishen (Michael). Miishen was known to have powers that would cause destruction when he came down to Earth such as the drying up of lakes. Miishen would do this to intimidate others in the Sky World so that they would not betray or lie to him. Jiikwis would come to aid and restore the waters back to natural health so that the animals could continue to survive. Jiikwis would use his powers to create beauty on Earth like colorful fish, and the blue sky. One day, Miishen got very angry with his mother Sky Woman about an argument having to do with him using his powers to strike lightening to trees. Miishen got so angry that he used this lightening force to scare Sky Woman, and she was struck, dying instantly.

Turtles back

Turtle catching Sky Woman

Sky Woman fell from the sky, and as she was falling it all seemed so graceful, so peaceful. One of the animals, Mizheekay (Turtle) saw her falling and caught her on his back. He continued to swim on top of the water and made sure she was safe. Turtle asked all the animals to gather around. Turtle said, “We need someone who is a good swimmer, someone who can dive to the bottom of the sea and collect some mud.”

Ahjijawk (Crane) said, “I’ll do it! I swam once to rescue my baby chick, I can hold my breath for a long time.” Crane was gone for a minute or two and rose to the water flailing and breathless. “I could not reach the bottom Turtle, I’m so sorry.” Loon sang, “Let me do it, I have swum these waters for years and I know how far it is to the bottom. I’ll grab the mud.” Loon was gone for awhile but arose to no avail. Then Muskrat came forward and said, “I could do it, let me dive to the bottom, I’m small and fast!” All the animals laughed at Muskrat and paid no attention.

As all the animals were arguing about who to go next, they noticed a small dark object floating near Turtle’s hind leg. It was Muskrat. He dove to the bottom and had given his life in his efforts. When Turtle looked closer, he saw that Muskrat had a small piece of mud in his mouth. Now Turtle called to the ants to spin and weave this piece of mud into a formation of land on his back. They worked vigorously. Creator noticed all the hard work that the animals were taking part in and he spoke to them. “For the strength you are all demonstrating, this gust of wind will restore life back into Muskrat and Sky Woman.” He breathed life into both of them, just as the land on Turtle’s back was complete. From that day on, all the animals held Muskrat in high regard.

I grew up knowing how life was created on Turtle Island, or North America. The story of Adam and Eve eating the forbidden fruit never resonated with me. The only thing it gave me were nightmares. When I was lucky, I would dream of Sky Woman, and how her shiny black hair flowed around her body as if it were catching her fall. I would dream of the animals, working in partnership to create a land that people could live on. As soon as I left St. Anne’s in 1984 at aged 16, one of the first thing’s I did was grow my hair as long as Sky Woman’s.

The Spin Cycle

Charlotte made sure she always kept the house clean. She made sure her kids were fed and didn’t fight too much. She would comb her short, brown hair but the frizziness never went away. She had a dimple on her right cheek that showed when she smiled and she always made sure that her glasses were spotless. Charlotte always knew how to make people laugh, although her facial expressions often looked serious and stern. Her brown skin always glowed in the sunshine when she hung the laundry on the line that was connected from the house to the old shack. Armstrong, Ontario was the only place she knew as home, her parents left Fort Hope because the cost of food made sure they ate oatmeal at least twice a day. Not only that, the fly in reserve offered nothing in terms of advancing their lives. No school. No jobs. No future. She always remembered that oatmeal could end up gooey or thick, be served hot or cold, and that when it was mixed with moose meat, it was the night when she’d hear all about Joomish’s (Grandpa’s) hunting stories. But that one sunny, windy day when the old ring washer was left on the spin cycle, I had to hang the laundry and tell my 5 young siblings that our Mom, Charlotte, vanished without a trace.

I am Mary Anne. I remember being questioned by my Dad about where Mom went. Why no one was helping her with the laundry (Mom told me take some of the kids for a walk to the store for some more bleach). Imagine that. A six-year old walking with three of my siblings and a 2L bottle of bleach. Luckily the wagon I pulled fit all the kids with the bleach on Mervin’s lap. I remember Dad saying that he had to go back to work the next day and that I’d have to watch the kids. Nothing new here. When I was six, I knew how to wash the dishes, cook mac n’ cheese, tidy the one room all of us kids shared and to never answer the door. Ever. This time Dad told me to answer the door because it might be Mom coming back after a drunken night or maybe even auntie Dorothy who comes to get Mom for Bingo night.

The next day there was a knock at the door but I didn’t see auntie Dorothy’s rusted, shabby green car anywhere. I only saw what I didn’t want to see. A cop car with a slick, shiny black car behind it. I thought “Great! They found Mom and maybe auntie Dorothy followed them in her new car that she bought with winning Bingo money!”

The cop had curly, yellow hair and a big nose. He was as tall as the door and he smiled at me while saying, “Hello kiddo. Can I speak to one of your parents please?” I answered, “Dad’s working driving the big truck and Mom’s…. Mom went to borrow sugar from up the hill.” He paused and said “You mean at Dorothy’s? We just came from there and she told us that your Dad came looking for a…” He glanced at his notebook then continued, “Charlotte early this morning.” I looked down. Sad and worried. “Is that Mom’s name? Charlotte?” I looked behind me to make sure Mervin was still watching TV and I said “Yes.”

When the cops arrived at auntie Dorothy’s with all five of us in the back seat of the slick black car, I heard the yellow haired cop ask her a few questions. “What was Charlotte wearing? Did she up and leave like this before? Does she have family anywhere other than Armstrong?” Dorothy answered, “She was wea23120530ring blue jean shorts and one of her many white t-shirts. Just a plain white t-shirt. She would never think to just up and leave her kids! Good heavens, no! She has uncles and aunts up in Fort Hope but she can’t afford the flight it costs to get there.” Dorothy cried and I could feel an emptiness inside my gut. A loneliness, like a deep, hollow tree trunk. Like the one tree I used to pass and throw rocks at when I would walk to the store. It was right by that turn on the road when the gravel finally turned to pavement.

Three days later, the cops were back at auntie Dorothy’s. They asked me if Mom seemed scared, if Dad hit her or if she told me where she was going. I answered, “Mom likes to smoke behind the shack while the laundry dries. Dad only hit her once when they were drinking. And she only ever goes to Bingo one night a week.”

That same day I heard Dorothy say that the cops searched the whole reserve, they went down to the dump and they even drove up and down the highway. Maybe she hitchhiked to Thunder Bay, the nearest city four hours away. I heard her telling uncle Terrance that the cops asked my Dad where he was they day she went missing. They even went to his work site forty-five minutes off the Rez to ask them if Dad was there. He didn’t leave work until six o’clock that night. When I found that washing machine spinning uncontrollably it was only one o’clock. Mom’s soap, The Young and the Restless was on at the same time I had to finish up the laundry on my own. I knew the time because she used to laugh while saying “One o’clock! Time to find out if Victor will leave Nicki for me eh Mary Anne!?”

Now that I’m grown up and I have moved far away from Armstrong, I always wondered why the cops only searched for two or three days. Did they go down to the railroad tracks where her brother Craig got hit ten years back? What about to ask if Mom jumped on one of the trains going to Gull Bay, the nearest reserve? Did they go down to the lake to find out if Mom accidentally swam too far? Did they search the sand pit where some say portions of quick sand had swallowed animals? Why were no posters put up outside of our house and down by the store? No one ever asked why the spin cycle uproariously created a broken family and lonesome, lost kids.

Why we shouldn’t let FEAR stop us from calling out fakes.

This whole disaster with Boyden has so many positives to it. So many people are talking about “oh this is so bad, this is lateral violence at its finest, this is not what our values entail”. Well, to tell you the truth, to every negative there’s a positive. The positive here is that people no longer have to feel afraid to call other fakes/frauds out. It is not a value of mine to be fearful of inquiring about a persons ancestry. What I’m going to address here are ideas that we (Indigenous people) should visit when we are feeling “afraid” to call someone out on their “shape shifting Identity” as Jorge Barrera would say it.

First of all, we need to remember that we fought for our place within this society by enduring racism and discrimination. Why do others who could “pass” as white overstep their boundaries and continue to displace us? Secondly, we should remember that when most Indigenous people speak casually, we don’t all sound like some warrior with our medicine words. We don’t say things naturally like “the Spirit of my People is entrenched in my roots that are intertwined with this land” or “my sacred foot path is walked alongside Spirit for my strength is both outside and inside of me”. When someone starts talking all majestic and guru like, RUN! And lastly, we need to think about what type of people we need to represent us in 10, 20, 30 years from now because all these mock Indians will give the romanticized depiction (and their fantasy life) of what it is to “be Indigenous”.

For me, racism began at a really young age. I was on a Greyhound bus with my little brother when I was 9 or 10 years old. We stopped at a roadside stop and the full grown white man said to me as I was getting back on, “What if I just dropped you off on the side of the road somewhere?” I was stunned and a bit scared, but not too scared because I had to maintain a strong face for my brother. I knew then, that as a little brown girl, this world was  dangerous place. I knew then and there that I could fall victim at the hands of someone who seemed as if he was a courteous fellow, transporting people from one destination to another. As a young girl, I was taken into a foster home for a few days and one of the sons of the foster parents pulled my pants down to “look at my panties”. Luckily, I had a voice and told the foster Mom what her son had done. I knew then that as a young brown girl that I was thought of as “easy prey” or someone who deserved to be disrespected. The mother gave him shit, and needless to say, I got one of the evilest eyes a kid could give. So, for these reasons and many more, we should NOT be afraid to call out fakes/frauds when we see them. I am not saying that our discrimination bought us a seat at the “right to bitch and moan” table, I am saying that our experiences trump those that feel that being “Indigenous is a big part of who I am” (Boyden).

The notion of a person who holds a solid spirituality is something that I coff63fb9a18e1a19aae0da6b7b3236fbfmmend and uphold. But I do not talk like a medicine woman, healer or spiritual leader. The reason for this is that…it’s weird. If you want to know a real Indigenous person, ask us what we like to watch, where we like to eat or where we grew up. We will know the answers to those questions. For myself, my spirituality comes from an unspoken place that is innate and natural. If the time and place grants the occasion to speak about it, so be it. I don’t talk all majestic and noble, using metaphors bounced off of buzz words like “reconciliation” to make a point. I noticed one of the arguments Boyden had with regard to his claims to identity was that it is unproductive to “rely on the colonial record of who you are”. Well, Boyden, sorry to say but, “the colonial record” is how we weed out the ones like your uncle Erl who “admitted he had no native blood, and laugh[ed] at the people who ‘idiotically’ took him for a real native” (Jago, 2016).

Who do I want to speak on my behalf as we plunge into the future? I want someone who is truthful from the beginning. I want someone who will visit communities and experience what it’s like first hand. I want someone who has gone through the devastating realization that as a child, this world is not safe for you. Not someone who grew up as a “white kid from Willowdale with native roots” (Boyden). I want someone who will take criticism and ask how they can take a back seat if they are too overbearing in exploiting Indigenous issues. If they get accused of being a fraud/fake/grey owl/plastic shaman, I want them to communicate with us, ask us why we are questioning them, and ask us how they can contribute without taking on the victim role. Ask yourself if you want more counterfeit native people bending over backwards for government organizations, catering to the colonial powers and censoring their dialogue to fit the narrative of settler society.

The reason people feel afraid to call out these fakes is because these fakes are already in higher positions than they are. They already have “networks” and “connections” which make it possible for them to live comfortably as they profit us Indigenous folk. They don’t want to “lose that connection” or “possible opportunity” at that job. They don’t want to go hungry, become homeless, or be seen as an instigator. Fear has an acronym. That is “Fuck Everything and Run”. Don’t run from these mockeries, these con artists, these plastic shamans. Face your fear and do what your ancestors would have done, expect TRUTH from the people and keep in mind that EARNING a place in the community does not come from lying, stealing and misrepresenting.

Lateral violence is NOT a term to use to escape criticism.

I moved to Ottawa in August 2013. One of the first things I noticed were people who would walk around with signs supporting their cause, on the bus to boot! This really inspired me because I always wanted to be involved in raising awareness regarding issues that Indigenous people face such as addictions, poverty and suicide. Coming from the small city, I wasn’t exposed to much activism but at the same time, I wasn’t in any shape to “help people” as I was lost in my own personal struggles.

Ottawa is a city that felt as if new opportunities awaited and I could really try to make a difference by being supportive to the Native community here. What a great “fresh start!” I remember attending a March for Justice where a man had walked across Canada with the Indian Act tied to his ankle as a symbol of oppression and control. This was really significant to me because as a status Indian, I was unaware at the time of the lack of equality and injustices outlined in the Indian Act, but it inspired me to want to educate myself. Sooner or later, Idle No More arose and I marched alongside thousands of Natives on a blizzardy, freezing cold December day a couple days before Christmas. What an experience! It was a phenomenal sight and such a profound time of enlightenment and awakening for me.

Now where I’m going with this is that Ottawa seems to be such an “open” and “unknowing” place. I say open because many people will automatically be open to ANYONE who looks, says so, or resembles a small Indigenous trait (black hair, dark eyes, wearing a buck skin jacket). I say “unknowing” because there are never really any questions surrounding where exactly you come from or who your family is. If you tell people here that you’re family was “Chief Joe Blow” from “Spirit Lake” you will rarely get questioned or doubted. Something compelled me to inform people about this unquestionable topic. In all honesty, it’s not fair to the people with actual Indigenous roots to have their identities robbed and misconstrued by some lookalikes and wannabes.

As an Anishnabae-kwe, I noticed some women in and around the community who seemed like they were in the same boat as me. Wanted to support, wanted to gather positively, wanted to grow spiritually. Then there were some who were only out for themselves. Some who needed the attention of the media, some who ensured that they controlled drum circles, events and fundraisers. If any other woman questioned their actions and asked why these women were constantly power tripping over who coordinated what event and why, we were accused of lateral violence. We were the bullies, we were the mean spirited, jealous and spiteful “haters”.

Lateral violence is something that happens between people where “acts of bullying take place by someone who is of higher authority and takes place over a prolonged period. The acts can be covert or overt acts of verbal or non-verbal aggression.” Now if I we take a little trip down time travel avenue, I will tell you right now that Indigenous people ALWAYS called their own people out when they were acting egotistical, self-absorbed or anything that is not humble. I don’t have to be an elder to tell you that we do not condone self-righteousness and self-absorbed behavior. When I started to feel like I should distance myself from my own cultural celebrations, I knew there was a problem.

So, when I began questioning these motives and agendas of certain women in the community, the lateral violence card came to play. This term should not be thrown around lightly and most importantly, it cannot be used to pretend that disapproval among Native people does not exist. If we don’t like you, you will know it. You’ll feel it, and most of us are not good at faking when it comes to relationships.  native-womenGossip exists because it was most likely a survival conversation of who the heck to STAY AWAY from and who is tolerable within communities. It is time that responsibility is taken by the ones who question themselves and are always wondering why people “hate on” them. It’s is not because of “hate” it is because of “love” of our communities and what little ties we have to our heritage.

Peaceful demonstration leaves us uninvited

With the recent suicides occurring in Attawapiskat recently, Indigenous people are mobilizing, we are connecting, we are harmonizing. Last night we had a beautiful, commemorating vigil to recognize the lives that were taken all too early. A children’s life should not be burdened with the thought of how best or quickly they could end it. Our group of nearly 100 people of Indigenous & non-Indigenous descent gathered in a matter of less than 12 hours to stand in strength and support for these individuals. Although it was a sad event, we need to keep in mind the importance of the issue of suicide and its effect it has on our people. Why are our people in such despair? Why do they feel as if their lives and minds are like jail cells which they cannot escape? Why are kids as young as 7 learning that no longer taking a human form on Earth is the best solution to their problems?

THIS IS A PANDEMIC!

This morning a rally was organized to peacefully march the the Indigenous and Northern Affairs of Canada (INAC) building with hopes of exemplifying solidarity with Attawapiskat. We want to show the citizens of Ottawa, the people on reserves and the government officials that losing 11 lives in the matter of one weekend is serious. When our women and children start to lose faith in the future, and start to lose faith in existing, we realize this issue was created for us, not by us. Since first contact, it has been the government’s plan to forbid language, to abolish culture and to destroy lives. Plain and simple. Were their intentions to “assimilate” the Indian positive? No. Were there plans for us to overcome the atrocities and tragedies bestowed upon us? No. They expected us to slowly deteriorate on these reserves as we lost our skills to communicate, hunt, travel and subsist.

These are hard truths to face, but the resiliency and power of the spirit continued to rise on and live within most Indigenous people. This spirit is what led me to organize the vigil, and to show up to the rally this morning. We arrived at Parliament to gather the women who would sing an honor song and a welcoming of the ancestors song. Our plan was to open the day with positive spirits and in a welcoming, nurturing way. On this cool, brisk morning we sang with our drums as we walked down Wellington Street to make our way to the government buildings falling within Quebec’s jurisdiction.

downloadTalk about feeling a sense of disconnection and inequality. As we arrived into the foyer of 10 Wellington, Gatineau, QC, at the building of “Indigenous and Northern Affairs” we were met with roughly 8-10+ police officers who stood legs hip width apart wearing bright florescent vests. This was extremely intimidating and nerve-racking. The foyer was immediately filled with emotions such as fear and anxiety. I felt as if I was a stranger on my own land. I felt lost. I felt as if I was “in the way”. I felt as if the place who “takes care” of matters pertaining to Indigenous people wanted nothing to do with us. What a way to start a morning!! Unable to use the washroom, I walked to a local Subway where I felt obligated to buy a few items just to use the restroom. As I returned, one older man from Saskatchewan had been pleading to use the facilities.

The anxiety and fear was still as strong if not stronger when I returned from Subway. I made an announcement asking “Why is it that I feel fear when I walk in to this foyer? We need to calm this energy and we need to switch this fear with faith. Let’s start over, let’s not be two opposing forces”. The energy calmed down a bit and I told the people to use the washroom at the local Nando’s across the street. It is illegal for any public outlet to deny anyone access to a washroom facility. I ended up buying the man from Saskatchewan lunch because he didn’t seem to have enough for a can of Fresca. I mean, come on, we just spent the morning walking 2.4 kilometers while singing.

All this to say that I have never felt as unwelcome or as lost as I felt this morning. It’s no wonder why Indigenous people who come to “big cities” from the reserve don’t end up staying. We are not expected to stay. It’s as if we should accept the control of being “locked out” or “kept away” from institutions that hold “power”. This never ending cycle of “rationing” and “restricting” the Indigenous people from accessing anything from previous documents involving residential schools, proper education, and even washrooms is the most despicable use of power I have ever witnessed. This is not a sob story or a pity story. This is a story about a student, a friend, a sister, an aunt, who believes she should enjoy the same treatments other students, friends, sisters and aunts who live in this “free” and “democratic” society called Canada do.