stories

How to Survive the Night: Excerpts

                  

Her hair reminds me of a warm, safe place
Where as a child I’d hide
And pray for the thunder and the rain to quietly pass me b
y

Guns N Roses

Saskatoon, 2019

I think about Neil Stonechild and his jean jacket a lot, especially when I’m wearing mine. Tonight, I am dressed in that jean jacket, black jeans and a camo hoodie, with black vans in stark contrast to the dirty snow. I am not dressed for the weather. It’s the second day of spring in Saskatchewan, and it’s freezing. I try to call for a ride home, but my phone battery lost its charge in the cold, and besides, it’s probably out of minutes.

At least it’s not -50 like a few weeks ago. Tonight, I was walking the streets on my own, crying and upset. But I did have glitter gel on my cheekbones, having spent the afternoon applying my makeup slowly, listening to music and sitting up in bed, instructing my body: this is what you love, remember? You used to take so much pleasure in the feeling of making art, making beauty, making music. Living life in the small pleasures, despite the unrelenting colonial violence of this place.

I asked the downtown Macs cashier if I could use their phone because I needed to call for a ride home. The man said “no, store policy”, and redirected me to a payphone down the street at the 7-11. It cost 50 cents, and I had no change. I went into the sev and they didn’t let me use their phone either. I got quarters somehow. Somehow is how these things usually happen around here.

The payphone is full of static, standing fully exposed to the elements, hanging out on the street corner of 2nd Avenue and 25th Street. A couple blocks away, the massive new police station with a bronze statue of a fancy shawl pow wow dancer that they commissioned to commemorate missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls. A bronze statue of a fancy dancer: some mornings, it is covered in graffiti, pointing out the hypocrisy of the police in killing us while commemorating us in an unmoving medium that cannot speak back. Some mornings it is covered in flowers. I admire both forms of resistance and especially the courage to wheatpaste a sign of protest right in the front of the cop HQ. Just as grief and joy coexist in our lives, many things can be true at once.

I am a brown-skinned, long-black-haired Cree femme in a camo hoodie, a jean jacket and black jeans. In this country and in this city, I am unmistakably Native. I grew up in the aftermath of the Starlight Tours, one of many realities which left yet another generation of prairie Native youth without the luxury of childhood. I grew up in a city where Native women were murdered by a serial killer in my youth, some used as actual bait by the RCMP in their investigations.

It is because of all these things and more that I believe in abolition.

Since I was 10, I have known how the way I look is registered by others. I know fetishization and what it means to be gazed upon with hatred and desire in the same moment. I’ve been called “pretty for an Indian” enough times to know this does not exempt me from violence, and in fact, often precipitates it. (With regard to fashion, NDNs literally invented the “Canadian” tuxedo (jean-on-jean), while we benefit the least from its popularity.)

Progressive white Canadians like to watch us dance in regalia – from a safe distance – at canada day celebrations, or watch us speak articulately in blazers at reconciliation events. They like to hear about us overcoming and sobering up and finding our culture in safe ways that don’t require land back (and what, then, is culture without land, or without body?).

There’s something about the jean jacket that remains a symbol of refusing all that respectability. Also, let’s be real, winter jackets and winter boots are expensive. I wrap my thrift store special around me tighter against the wind and I feel safe, despite the odds. Many nights, I’ve found, a feeling is enough to get by.

When I am home, I light a joint and take a moment to mourn all the Indigenous folks on the prairies, in this damn city, who have ever been denied the use of a telephone, a bathroom, a glass of water, condoms, tampons, a meal, a ride, shelter, a warm jacket, or any small form of safety, accessibility, refuge and dignity that makes a life-or-death difference. A moment of celebration for those who survive anyway.

tenille k. campbell, sweetmoon photography