And to think that I saw it on 20th Street

I walked home down 20th street, toward a small brown-skinned Indigenous girl, maybe five years old, standing on the sidewalk. She was wearing a pink raincoat, rubber boots, and carrying a big gold foil balloon in the shape of a star, but overfilled with helium so it puffed up like a marshmallow. I waved at her and she waved back, at the same time letting go of the ribbon wrapped around her little mitten. The balloon escaped into the sky. She didn’t cry or scream, which surprised me, instead we just stood there for a minute and watched it ascend.

Moments of beautiful sparkling life, the significance of which will never be known to people who hit the lock button and speed by the inner city on their daily drive from the suburbs to downtown or the east side and back.

marshmallow star

Illustration by Fatin Chowdhury: “Marshmallow star on 20th street”.
Originally recounted as a social media update, because why not?

Feeding the Heart of the City: A Love Letter at the Closing of Our Grocery Store

One of my earliest memories as a child is of sour fruit juice staining my face at my Y gym class.

juice.jpg

You may think this face was evidence of civil disobedience to come, but I swear, it was the bitter juice.

A lot of my memories of growing up, like most people, I imagine, are about food and eating.

I remember having smoked salmon jerky in White Rock, BC with my Maori grandfather. I swam in the cold ocean with my mom and we laughed as we watched grandpa on the beach, picking clams out of their shell and sliding them into his mouth, raw.

I remember, later that day at dinner, sitting at the immaculately-set table of my grandfather’s new girlfriend. She had privately asked me to call her “grandma” even though I had just met her. I was nervous and tried to sit still and eat properly, but my hands shook and I spilled my juice all over and ran away from the table crying. Being near the starchy, sterile things in her house made me lose my appetite.

She gave me a bag of castoffs; well-worn clothing that her own precious grandchildren had outgrown. I tried to act grateful while she showed off pink shirts covered in glittery silkscreened horses (her grandchildren did equestrian, because of course they did). I remember Grandpa made a joke (???) about how horses were just “good eatin’”, to make me smile.

As we packed up to catch the Greyhound back to Saskatchewan, I heard him quietly ask how Mary (or Nana, as I knew her) was doing these days.

My mom told me on the way home how he had never really gotten over her.

grandpa.jpg

(Nana gave me my first donut behind my mom’s back, because that’s what nanas do.)

donut.jpg

I remember beef soup at elementary school feasts, and learning to serve elders first; but surreptitiously wondering with a rumbly belly, how old I had to be before I was an elder too. I remember KFC boxes containing our special monthly “hot lunch” of choice. We took a class trip to The Hague, SK, where we brought bannock and the Mennonites served us dark red beet borscht.

My mom worked in the kitchen of my school, so I went in with her early every morning to prepare breakfast and bagged lunches for the low-income lunch program. She worked as a cook until I was born, is still a great cook, and likely harbours secret shame from that time I tried to heat a frozen pizza and forgot to take the cardboard off the bottom.

We were relatively stable at times, so I would share the peanut butter and saltine sandwiches my mom would pack, along with containers of olives, which a lot of kids in the lunchroom had never seen before. (A boy I liked then teased me that I stunk like the olives, but I decided I liked the olives more, anyway.)

I remember a teacher telling me, “your mom always packs the nicest lunches for you, she must love you very much”, not understanding how that must’ve felt for the kids beside me. The ability of parents to pack homemade lunches was not about how much they loved their children, but the legacy of governments who have never wanted Indigenous children fed.

I remember our trips to the food bank because the kitchen job wasn’t enough. I remember what the distribution room smelled like, and spending a lot of time watching the floor as we waited in line. I remember waiting at the door and making my mom carry our hamper and the bag of apples or oranges on her own, because I felt ashamed. A few things stick out in my mind from the hampers: sometimes suspect cans, a litre of milk, and these bright yellow packages of ramen noodles with a colourful monster on the front that I’ve never seen for sale outside of this part of town. I know then, just as now, volunteers do the best they can with little funding and few donations.

yum.JPG

“Noodle Snack”: the meal equivalent of malk.

I remember, one year, being “adopted” by a wealthy white family through a Saskatoon holiday program. They came to our house on Christmas day and gave us more groceries than I’d ever seen all at once, and toys for me (a brand name Barbie!). I remember this idyllic family of 4 – a mom, dad, a daughter, and a son – all blond with giant toothy smiles, standing inside our doorway in their snow boots, while we thanked them profusely for their generosity.

I remember growing up and being referred to as “less fortunate” and “at-risk”.

I remember last week in Montreal, finding myself at $75 business dinner I couldn’t afford on my own, but was too afraid to say otherwise. As a consequence, I spent most of the time thinking about the roots of food insecurity on this land.

The Inner City, The North, and Food Insecurity in Kisiskâciwan (Saskatchewan)

Inner city misâskwatôminihk (Saskatoon) is known locally as “The Heart of the City”, or it was, until the gentrification process kicked into full swing and “Riversdale Revitalization” took over. The area of the city where I live, Pleasant Hill, is on the edge of gentrification, and the poorest area of the city. It is predominantly Indigenous, with a particularly high Métis population.

There are some great people in the city who have already critiqued discourses of gentrification disguised as revitalization: from the desire to “introduce culture” to a place where settlers see no culture or history of worth, to the hipster callousness of a cafe on 20th street whose wifi password was/is probably still “ItsAllGoodInTheHood”.

The Good Food Junction

On January 27th, the only grocery store that sold fresh produce within a 10 block radius in either direction of my house was closed after 3 years of operation.

The Good Food Junction was a hard-won co-op project at Station 20 West, the same building where we held the first Idle No More teach-in.

Before the Good Food Junction went in, I remember the pilgrimages of people in our neighbourhood who would walk down the busy, treeless stretch of concrete, 20th street, in the hot sun or the freezing winter. 30 minutes to the Extra Foods and 30 minutes back, this time, carrying groceries to hopefully last for the week.

Opening the doors of the Good Food Junction was a struggle. The NDP government had dedicated 8 million dollars that would’ve funded the store, but Brad Wall’s Sask Party government withdrew the funding as soon as they took office. The community managed to raise it, anyway, but it took much longer.

Yes, this is the same Brad Wall who recently responded to prison hunger strikes in Saskatchewan by saying, “if you really don’t like the prison food, there’s one way to avoid it and that’s don’t go to prison.” This, in a province where 16% of the population is First Nations, but constitute 80-90% of the prison population.

It is not a coincidence that areas with high Indigenous populations are the areas deprived of access to food and health care. At its core, this is an issue of maintaining the dispossession of Indigenous people and the legitimacy of Canadian control; an attempt to destroy the nations and legal orders that we hold in our blood, our muscles, our stomaches, our minds, our mouths.

Driving up to the north in January, I talked with my friend Mylan about how kisiskâciwan is considered terra nullius by so many Canadian settlers who do not understand that these lands feed & house millions of people – from crops, to meat, to the logs taken from clearcutting and shipped around the world – and yet, on these lands of our ancestors, we are starved.

My response to Brad: if you don’t want us to stick our sassy tongues out at you, stop contributing to Canada’s history of starving Indigenous people while you dine on stolen land and resources.

tongue.png

Gloria Anzaldúa wrote, “Wild tongues can’t be tamed, they can only be cut out.”

Media coverage of the Good Food Junction has been ahistorical. Headlines refer to the closure (if they refer to it at all) as a store failing because of its high prices. If the paper was progressive, it might mention that the prices were high only because the small, independent grocery store could not afford to keep up with massive discount retailers in the vicinity like Giant Tiger (owned by The North West Company) and No Frills (owned by Loblaw’s). The North West Company also owns North Mart, notorious for price gouging northern residents, largely Inuit.

price gouge.png

I’m not interested in narratives of “neglect” as the cause of poor health in the North, which are everywhere following the shooting in La Loche; at least not without digging deeper. Negligence, yes. Broken legal obligations, yes. But this was only a problem once poverty, violence, and food insecurity were created not as a consequence of Canadian neglect, but rather, by colonial theft and the willful destruction of ways of life that sustained us for centuries. Being left alone in the first place is one of the best things that could’ve happened for Indigenous people and for this land.

saskatoonbison.png

“Bison skulls awaiting shipment east via train”. Saskatoon, 1886. Source: Saskatoon Public Library History Room. Via Paul Seesequasis.

I remember Conservative MP Leona Aglukkaq’s comments that Indigenous people don’t need food security because we can go out and hunt. (My tastes aren’t as adventurous as my grandpa, so I’m not super into the idea of hunting pigeons on 20th street). She made these comments while Indigenous people around the country spoke about the irreversible pollution of clean water streams that could be scooped from hands to mouths a mere decade ago; the appearance of cancerous sores on once delicious and plentiful fish; the difficulty of trapping and hunting as winters disappear and migration patterns shift.

ka âhkameyihtamihk: persevere

The closing of the Good Food Junction is a loss in misâskwatôminihk, but it is not the end.

There is a community garden a few streets from my house.

There are revival projects to teach about Indigenous foods.

There are people brave enough to refuse to eat in protest of unsuitable food because they know they deserve better.

This is my love letter to all the wild-tongued dreamers in kisiskâciwan; those who built the Good Food Junction, those who are fighting for inner cities, and the North, and on traplines, and in prisons, and on any land where others are growing rich on our hunger.

When it feels impossible, remember: there is nothing more radical and threatening to their greed than the dream of our communities well-fed, healthy, and strong.

see ya soon.jpg

“Indigenizing the Academy” without Indigenous people: who can teach our stories?

“The Indigenous person engages in philosophy by thoughtfully examining the world. The outsider examines Indigenous philosophy by thoughtfully interacting with the Indigenous philosopher.”

— Thurman Lee Hester Jr. and Dennis McPherson, “The Euro-American Philosophical Tradition and its Ability to Examine Indigenous Philosophy”1

With the release of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Report on residential schools in June 2015, “Indigenizing the Academy” is a hot topic in Canadian universities. As institutions explore the introduction of Indigenous content, we have to question what is defined as Indigenous content, who this content serves, and how the pursuit of “indigenizing the academy” can easily become exploitative.

In 2013, I helped put together a new syllabus for an Indigenous Philosophy class at my university. The philosophy department wouldn’t consider allowing someone without a PhD in philosophy teach this course, but pairing an Indigenous undergrad with a white philosophy professor was, apparently, acceptable. (Oh, the power dynamics.) Aware of the limitations of our knowledge, we created a course that was largely guest speakers: a roster of amazing Indigenous scholars and elders. This couldn’t have been done, practically or ethically, without immense support from the Indigenous Studies faculty.

Many canonical European philosophers – Hegel, Kant, Locke, to name a few – saw Indigenous peoples as lacking agency, and incapable of intellectual thought. This is the history that the discipline of philosophy inherits, but far from being a legacy, philosophy is still used as a way to signify whose knowledges are legitimate and whose are invalid.

The portrayal of Indigenous thought as simplistic, primitive, and unarticulated is key in the erasure and justification of genocide.

Photograph of a collage of Rene Descartes, juxtaposed with an image of a black man with a machete, so it appears that Descartes is about to be attacked. Text reads: “modern philosophy is largely a reaction to Descartes”

This picture was taped to the door of a professor in the philosophy department at my university.

(a photograph of a collage of Rene Descartes, juxtaposed with an image of a black man with a machete, so it appears that Descartes is about to be attacked. Text reads: “modern philosophy is largely a reaction to Descartes”)

A Case Study in Classroom Colonialism

Originally, “Indigenous Philosophy 115” was registered as a course by a white professor in the philosophy department. Multiple Indigenous scholars on campus were curious about this class and contacted the philosophy department, but attempts for clarification regarding his experience or qualifications to teach Indigenous content proved unsatisfactory.

This September, I decided to sit in on the class with a few friends, and I took notes on the experience. (A bit of ethnography, if you will.)

Field Notes: Indigenous Fauxlosophy

Day One: September 4, 2015

1. The professor starts the class, “Philosophy is not so much about learning about history, I want to know what you think and feel about the issues”. A statement like this wouldn’t fly in any other philosophy class, of course. While universities may have just “discovered” Indigenous philosophy, these knowledges are vast, complex, unique to nations, and well-understood by community knowledge keepers.

2. “I like going into a class where I can make my own views. Not just memorize this, memorize this. Well, what about ME?” The hard, selfless life of a white guy in philosophy. Never hearing your history, having your knowledges mutilated by outsiders. Wait, what?

3. “In philosophy we study pros & cons, different views. In my ethics class I taught about homosexuality from both pro & con perspectives.” Some students shift uncomfortably in their desks. In philosophy, so often, the lives of marginalized people are reduced to thought experiments. (I wrote about this here.)

4. “The United States didn’t give any title to Natives. They have reservations, that’s it.” A fundamental misunderstanding of the nature of Indigenous sovereignty.

5. We begin the reading. He reduces the story to how the Penobscot author is lacking self-esteem as a Native in a “new place”. All the vast, beautiful, endless worlds of Indigenous knowledge to choose from & he starts the entire class with how Native women apparently “lack self-esteem”.

6. “Eunice was from Maine, Penobscot, an group that has been there – well, since contact […] which is impressive because not many Natives were there. How many Natives are in Manhattan now? Washington D.C.? None!” False.

7. The professor’s explanation of Indigenous governance: “It was like university, faculty get together with Robert’s Rules of Order, everyone had input.” False. Bonus points: I know a lot of faculty who would disagree with that assessment of democratic university governance.

8. The last note I wrote down: while discussing the benefits of an authoritarian model of government: “People feel valued when someone takes charge […] there’s less bumbling around, things get done, houses get built”. (If you’re interested in substantial discussions of how First Nations are confronting lack of safe housing as a real problem rooted in systematic underfunding, check out the One House, Many Nations project.)

Day Two: September 9, 2015

We discuss capitalism. A back-and-forth interaction:

A student raises the issue of the Oka Crisis. The professor’s response: “Well the issue there was a golf course. That was local.”

Student replies: “The issue was colonization.”

The professor replies: “Colonization and a golf course. […] those are very particular disputes. Like New Calendonia. That’s a little area of land that the people of Six Nations want, but the people in that area don’t want to give up.”

“I don’t think the author is thinking just of Indigenous people as suffering. There’s all sorts of people who are suffering.”

Student replies: “Isn’t this an issue of white supremacy?”

The professor says: “Why would you say white supremacy? […] Global capitalism now is racially neutral. […] Capitalism goes beyond issues of colonialism or race.”

Day Three: September 11, 2015

We spend the entire class studying the new-agey, super questionable course text and the words of a woman who claims to be Seneca. A quick Google search finds little content other than discussion of plastic shamans. I raise this issue at the end of the class; the professor’s response is “well, she says she’s Seneca!” I wish I had Kim TallBear or Joanne Barker here beside me, right now. 

[[Update, Nov 10: A woman who is part of the author’s community contacted me to vouch for her. Unfortunately, it appears that some facilitators are carrying out “Native American” teachings in her name (in workshops that cost hundreds of euros) now that she is passed. As a non-Seneca, it’s not my role to name the author here.]]

Day Four:

Research discontinued for the sake of my wellbeing and the value of my time.


The Histories of Erasing & Co-Opting Indigenous Knowledge

There is nothing new about white academics being paid to teach about Indigenous people. As Choctaw historian Devon Mihesuah writes, “The greatest body of acceptable telling of the Indian story is still in the hands of non-natives”.2  While some departments may develop Indigenous content courses based on genuine desire for social justice, there are many benefits and rewards for white settlers who decide they want to teach “Indigenous content”. Suddenly, these settlers become the resident “Indigenous experts”, consultants for all things Indigenous. They are asked to sit on committees. The departments receive funding increases and accolades for their efforts. All of this, done, conveniently, without the need for actual Indigenous perspectives.

Moreover, I wonder how the pursuit to integrate “Indigenous content” into all classrooms is rooted in a desire to undercut the growing strength of Indigenous Studies programs, still the home of most Indigenous faculty on campuses. For me, Indigenous Studies is a space where like-minded people can come together to learn, plan, rest, and build strength. (Which is exactly why our gatherings have always been cause for settler concern.)

Finally, the desire of Canadian universities to play a role in “reconciliation” by incorporating Indigenous content and appealing to Indigenous students is driven by corporatization and investments in extractive industry. If they give us some programming, the logic goes, perhaps we will stop complaining about their storage of nuclear waste in our communities

Indigenous Philosophers are accountable to their communities

Indigenous faculty and students are challenging the way this course is presently taught, but little has been done. The justification that forms a fortress around ignorance is “academic freedom”.

In the case of perpetuating incorrect history about Indigenous peoples, understand that your academic freedom has a body count.

We heard comments that this professor’s class was helpful to the cause of Indigenous Philosophy; that we should be grateful anyone was showing interest. This was followed by a suggestion that the way forward was for Indigenous professors to “work” with philosophy professors. A Nehiyaw professor objected, “Why would we spend our time teaching other people how to teach our subjects? And for free?”

As Vine Deloria, Jr. writes,

The researcher has the luxury of studying the community as an object of science, whereas the young Indian, who knows the nuances of tribal life, receives nothing in the way of compensation or recognition for his knowledge, and instead must continue to do jobs, often manual labor, that have considerably less prestige. If knowledge of the Indian community is so valuable, how can non-Indians receive so much compensation for their small knowledge and Indians receive so little for their extensive knowledge?

— Vine Deloria, Jr., “Research, Redskins, and Reality”3


To paraphrase another Indigenous faculty member, “If I walked in and decided I wanted to teach physics, they would laugh me out of the office. So why is it that this university is allowing someone to teach Indigenous content without the proper qualification?”

The Maintenance of White Supremacy

To quote philosopher Dr. Nathaniel Adam Tobias Coleman, “the effect of #whitecurriculum = we have imbued white male writers with the power & authority to speak for everyone.”

It is white supremacy to believe that non-Indigenous people are automatically more capable and qualified to articulate Indigenous histories, worldviews, and stories.

White supremacy is a white professor deciding, one day, that he’d like to teach Indigenous Philosophy. He is allowed to teach the class and given multiple platforms, including an upcoming departmental colloquium (colloquiums are mandatory for grad students).

Now, wouldn’t it be something to invite one of the many brilliant, accomplished, world-renowned Indigenous scholars on our campus to speak to this mandatory-attendance event? (Obviously, compensation would need to be provided. It is never the responsibility of invited Indigenous scholars to share knowledge to outsiders for free.)

Here’s the thing: even if Indigenous people were to spend our entire lives trying to explain our philosophies to settlers (this would be a great plot line for a horror movie set in Nehiyaw hell, by the way), they still might not get it.

Not only was the classroom content I described above inaccurate, but silly, as well, demonstrating a basic lack of understanding regarding the ways our communities operate. As Thurman Lee Hester Jr. and Dennis McPherson write in “The Euro-American Philosophical Tradition and its Ability to Examine Indigenous Philosophy”, “…to operate within the paradigm of Euro-American philosophy would mean that you are necessarily cut off from any real understanding of Indigenous thought.”4

This is the worst accusation of all for a white male philosopher: the suggestion that he cannot know something, and further, to point out that others have knowledge he might never be able to have. Not as a result of biology (!!!), but as the result of a redefinition of knowledge, giving weight to embodied experience; a recognition of Indigenous epistemic privilege.

Fundamentally, an unwillingness to acknowledge the expertise of Indigenous intellectuals is an unwillingness to concede space, privilege, and authority.

We are our own best wisdomkeepers

ayaangwaamizin

I want to give credit to Thurman Lee Hester Jr. and Dennis McPherson, whose work in Ayaangwaamizin: the International Journal for Indigenous Philosophy perfectly articulates why we are right to be uncomfortable if the “best person for the job” always happens to be a white man:

Even if workable research methodologies can be developed, there are still serious problems that make Euro-American examination of Indigenous traditions harmful.

The most serious is the potential for a scholastic “conquest” of Indigenous philosophy. Any academic book or university class carries with it the imprimatur of authority.

To the extent that these books are authored by Euro-Americans and these classes are taught by Euro-Americans, there is the potential for them to be perceived as the authorities on Indigenous philosophy. This tragic irony is already well underway. Many Indigenous people are reading these books and attending these classes, seeking to understand themselves and their histories. Though some do so quite critically, many assume that these books and classes would not be offered if they were not authoritative.

The damage done to people who believe this is difficult to describe, but can be devastating.

To believe that your own people are not their own wisdom keepers is horrific.5

My aim in writing this isn’t to provide lessons for white educators and administrators to become better at teaching Indigenous content, or to defend the total erasure of Indigenous content by excuse of ignorance. The centering of Indigenous knowledges in universities is important, and it must be done right. If the foundations of the settler colonial state are not challenged, the incorporation of so-called “Indigenous content” into classrooms is a method of continuous recolonization; furthering claims of ownership and authority over Indigenous knowledges and Indigenous lands.

As Jeff Corntassel writes, “Being a warrior of the truth is not […] about mediating between worldviews as much as challenging the dominant colonial discourse.  It is about raising awareness of Indigenous histories and place-based existences as part of a continuing struggle against shape-shifting colonial powers.”

At the same time, respect that Indigenous students are regularly burdened with the task of “being a warrior” as we navigate through colonial institutions that force our disappearance through racist curriculum, only to hear “but we gave you Indigenous content, what more could you want from us?”

It’s important to remember that colonial educational institutions have never been the main method of preserving our knowledge (though we deserve to be safe in these spaces if we choose to be in them, nonetheless).

Our ancestors were imprisoned and even killed for practicing our knowledges, and yet, they persist.

This summer, I heard stories of how the land overlooking kisiskâciwani-sîpiy, where the University of Saskatchewan currently stands, was a gathering place for centuries.

Strange, then, how much it upsets folks when we burn sage and sweetgrass in offices and classrooms.

I heard stories from elders of how Métis and Nehiyaw mothers would construct improvised sweat lodge ceremonies using rocks heated in a frying pan, with blankets thrown over tables. The trick was that it needed to be swiftly dismantled if the Indian Agent were to come to the door.

Kinisitohten?

Now, do you understand?


1. Thurman Lee Hester Jr. and Dennis McPherson, “The Euro-American Philosophical Tradition and its Ability to Examine Indigenous Philosophy” in Ayaangwaamizin, Vol. 1, No. 1, 1997. p 6.

2. Natives and Academics: Researching and Writing about American Indians. Ed. Devon A. Mihesuah. University of Nebraska Press (1998). p. 13

3. Mihesuah, p. 9.

4. Hester and McPherson, p. 6

5. Ibid.

Thanks to Dr. Rob Innes for helping with last-minute edits (and keeping me accountable)

An Open Letter to Mastodon regarding your Thanksgiving t-shirts [[Updated With Band Response]]

Dear Troy, Brent, Bill and Brann,

A year ago, I finally had the chance to see Mastodon play with Ghost and Opeth in Saskatoon. I was front row center, pressed against the gates for the first two sets. It was easily one of the best lineups I’ve seen, and an amazing night – made even cooler when Bill tossed me his pick.Bill's Pick

Which is why my heart sank when I saw the new Mastodon “Thanksgiving” shirts.

2

Metal and hard rock music are still viewed as the domain of straight white men – I’ll assume you don’t need proof of this beyond the sausagefest crowd at an average metal show. But there’s plenty of us who don’t fit that category and still want to feel at home in your music. This shirt does the opposite of that for me as an Indigenous woman.

I want to believe that the shirt was designed with the intent of trying to disrupt the lie of American Thanksgiving; a holiday based on the story of Pilgrims and Indians coming together and sharing a nice meal, when in reality what occurred was genocide. And of course, a critical element of “conquering” Indigenous people used in the United States and Canada is the rape and enslavement of Native women.

I want to believe that you knew all of that when you approved this shirt.

But there are better ways to make political statements than printing t-shirts with disturbing imagery that reinforces racist myths rather than challenging them. Indigenous women are not (and never have been) subservient, silent, compliant, helpless on our knees, always ready and willing in buckskin bikinis – but that is how we are viewed, and this image contributes to an already bursting repository of that crap.

If the band’s/the t-shirt artist’s intention was to challenge historical injustices, the reaction that is already coming from the Native American community should be an indicator that it was misguided. 3

There is nothing subversive or edgy about a scantily clad Native American woman on her knees serving a white man who is pointing a gun in her face.

To the contrary in fact, the image reminds me of the 1982 Atari 2600 game “Custer’s Revenge”, where you play as Custer and the end goal and “reward” is raping a Native woman tied to a pole.

So if I see a typical metal fan wearing the Mastodon Thanksgiving shirt (who quite possibly bought it just because it “looks cool” and there’s a sexy lady) I’m not going to think of how great your music is. I’m going to think of the stat that one in three Native American women will be raped in her lifetime, higher than any other group, overwhelmingly by non-Native men, the majority of whom are never prosecuted and how pictures like this throughout history have contributed to that. I’m going to think about all of the times I’ve been grabbed and groped even as an underaged girl while in the pit at a concert.

As Jordan at ChartAttack mentions,

…the shirt is more about empowering the person who wears it, than the oppressed people it depicts. If you’re unconnected with that heritage, wearing it imbues you with the self-important air of “knowing some controversial shit and expressing it in a controversial manner.” The ones actually affected by these issues aren’t the point…

Regardless of the intention, the shirt has your name on it, you’ve made money from it, and now it’s up to you to decide how to react.

As a fan, I want to see the shirts taken off the site and a statement from the band. There is an opportunity here to make a real stand, because your words and actions are powerful in circles where racism/sexism are rarely discussed. I think that would be pretty metal of you.

Much love,
Erica

***********update***********

A few hours later, a response was posted on Mastodon’s Facebook page. It’s disappointing to say the least.

Obviously, none of the points that Jordan or I raised in our articles were addressed. Whoever wrote the update claims that people who are offended are ignoring the truth; essentially, they wrote a Straw Man statement against arguments that no one objecting to the shirt was actually making.

The only thing that the statement accomplished was providing bait and a forum for more racist, sexist comments toward Native Americans.

“All I know is that I’m thankful for smallpox blankets lol”

“Fuck em, they all just drunks anyways”

“No the Indians gave us the land… And now they want it back… Indian givers… Who cares it’s a shirt u don’t like the shirt, use it for a diaper u cry ass cry babies”

“I’m sorry some of my ancestors were smarter, more industrious and slightly more ruthless than the peoples they found when they got here.”

“Grow up and quit be bitches. If the Indians wanted to land,they should of fought harder. Fuck em”

“Rock and roll mother fuckers, man the fuck up! Dude has a gun pointing it a hot Indian with big tits!”

These are the people who are wearing your shirt, Mastodon. So rebellious, so ironic, so alternative.

One comment in particular caught my eye because someone on the Mastodon account actually liked it.

israel

Hilaaaarious! Shock me shock me shock me, with that deviant behavior.

Of course, there were plenty of thoughtful responses as well. Kudos to the commenters willing to brave the shitfest:

“Not a shirt I would wear. Try sporting this shirt on a reservation and see how many people appreciate the satire. You guys are better than this.”

“So Mastodon, how much of the $22 you’re charging for this shirt will go to Native American organisations or charities? If none, then you too are profiting off the genocide of a people.”

“…in AZ Native Americans make up a good part of the metal crowd around here and frequently appear in the pit. This is the last thing I want to be wearing at a show.”

“If you were truly concerned about the plight of Native Americans, you would do something about it the other 364 days of the year, instead of exploiting this holiday to sell a tasteless shirt and make more money for yourself.”

“Mastodon, I’m a huge fan, but you say it’s “chilling to celebrate in the face of this atrocity.” Yet, you choose to sell a shirt for your profits? Do what you want, but some of this outcry is warranted, IMO. Do the right thing, don’t sell the shirt.“

And my fave:

“Protip: if you have to publicly come out and say “I’m not being racist!” you probably are.“
***********update 2***********
It’s Thanksgiving 2015 and this shirt is still archived on Mastodon’s site, though no longer available for purchase.

After this incident, I received support from Keidra Chaney (go read “Sister Outsider Headbanger: On Being A Black Feminist Metalhead” and follow her on Twitter @kdc) and Laina Dawes (author of “What Are You Doing Here? A Black Woman’s Life and Liberation in Heavy Metal).

And then, the manager for one of my all-time favorite metal bands, In Solitude, contacted me to tell me he’d read my article and supported me.

This article was originally published on my Tumblr in November, 2013.

That deadly academic silence: outspoken Indigenous students & unsettling the Canadian university

A letter to myself, 2025 (2030?!): if you become a professor, don’t sell out Native students.

If a Native student comes to your office in tears about an encounter with institutional racism, don’t tell her “Oh, that’s too bad. But just stick it out, you’re almost done.”

If microaggressions occur in your classroom, don’t ignore them and assume students haven’t noted this complicity as consent.

If microaggressions occur in an institutional setting (say, a departmental gathering) and your students are present, challenge it. They are watching.

Precarity in academia is a hot topic, but sometimes in a way that upholds academic hierarchies and dishonestly represent the privileged as powerless.

As a professor, you have so much power. 
Even when you think you don’t. Even as an Indigenous professor, woman, or professor of color. (tenured white male profs: your level of privilege & power is off the charts here, FYI). You are the front lines of defense for marginalized undergraduate students, particularly young Indigenous women and LGBTQ students, who desperately need your support. Even when you think it’s not enough. Even when you’re afraid.

There is a growing discussion about the exploitation of graduate students, but little that I’ve seen examining the position of Indigenous undergraduates in the Canadian universities. As a result of great organizing, there is now a graduate students union at my university. Undergraduate students, even those of us who TA/RA, aren’t covered. Undergrads are still viewed as the “kids” of the university, assumed to be entirely uninterested in and unaffected by the systematic workings of the space around us. Matter-of-fact, casual comments about undergraduates as the ‘cash cow’ of the university abound, even in progressive circles.

But, the worlds of Indigenous undergrad students are much more complex than that.

Since we are still relatively so few in number, many of us end up taking on institutional roles as undergraduates in addition to our degree requirements. We are immersed in institutional politics, often as a matter of survival.

Survival. Native students who have made it to their undergraduate years in Canada are the most brilliant, sensitive, resilient people you will ever meet. We face barriers in classrooms from day one. (This is not a claim that those of us who make it to university are “better” than those who don’t, but a finger pointed at the relentless colonialism that grips Indigenous lives at the root and threatens to pull us out at any minute.)

When I say “we”, ie. “those of us in the academy”, characterizing myself as an “academic” or “scholar”, it belies the fact that my position as an undergraduate student, regardless of my accomplishments or intellect, of the spaces I occupy and the relationships I cultivate, I still exist in a sort of academic limbo. I’m still not a professional academic, nor is there any 100% guarantee at this point that I will 1) complete my undergrad, 2) be accepted into a graduate program, 3) complete the program, 4) be accepted into a doctoral program, 5) complete the program, 6) get a job. The academic respectability temptation of tenure is not even a consideration at this point.

To put it bluntly, as a Native undergrad, I’m a barnacle clinging to the side of the Titanic.

Yet, we are not entirely powerless.

During my undergraduate degree, I have been what Sara Ahmed characterizes as a “problem student”. Because of survival, but also because of willfulness.

My power is this: as an undergrad, I can raise a considerable amount of hell about institutional discrimination, and I don’t have to worry about my department head or dean reprimanding me; at least not in the sense of worrying about losing my job and income source.

An example of this is my ongoing dissent to an Indigenous philosophy course at my university taught by a white professor with no background in the topic.

My tweets about the issue caught the attention of university admin in a way that we had tried to, through formal institutional procedure, for months. A prof joked, “Funny that undergrad tweets made more of an immediate impact than our formal complaints. Good, but funny.”

There are still very tangible risks in being an outspoken Indigenous undergraduate student.

  • After confronting institutional racism, I still have to return to classrooms. They mark my work. They monitor me and have the discretionary power to decide whether or not they think I’m a “contributing” member of the classroom. Especially in fields like philosophy and political studies, this is never objective.
  • When I walk into a classroom on the first day, professors in my department know my name and usually demonstrate awareness of my reputation on campus. At the very least, they can see that I am a brown-skinned young woman.
  • Professors often make it clear to me that they are aware of my activism (and that they agree or disagree); that they have read my writing or a news story about me. This is often done by subtle or not-so-subtle comments in classrooms, at department events, through word of mouth.
  • Academia is a small world, disciplines even smaller. The professors teaching in my discipline now may be administrators when it is time for me to apply for doctoral programs and jobs.
  • My writing and social media presence as an activist will be examined when it is time for me to apply for doctoral programs and jobs.
  • I do not have an advisor. No one is responsible for me. I do not have professors to advocate for me except for those who choose to do it out of kindness, friendship, or sense of duty.
  • It goes beyond the university: our activism is monitored by the Canadian government.

While I value the experiences I’ve had with the inner workings of academia, I am also frustrated that I was never afforded the undergraduate experience of my non-Native peers. One does not simply focus on writing an essay while trying to challenge the professor on the racist essay topic.

Canadian educational institutions are, naturally, invested in the propagation of Canadian colonialism and imperialism. As Sarah Ahmed writes, the success or failure of the university’s ideological project is “located in the bodies of students”. Students who dissent are punished swiftly, usually via marking us as disobedient, which leads to our “disappearance” (I’ll come back to this). We’re left to hope that apathetic settler profs or overworked Native profs will have time to advocate for us when we challenge the violence of the classroom.

Being an undergraduate (and, therefore, considered “not quite” an academic), the power of my words is restricted by academic hierarchies and binaries. One of these is a binary of good, respectable Native academic/bad community activist, applicable to any Indigenous person operating in an academic institution:

“Given the token space granted (to) critical work in general, institutional hierarchies end up generating a fighting-for-crumbs syndrome. Institutions tend to see people of colour paradigmatically, as a series of substitutable others, indirectly disallowing a wider constellation of historical perspectives. Thus some selected academic speakers of poststructuralist-postcolonial discourses – even at times in spite of their radical politics – are seen as less threatening to university administrators than academics who are perceived as potentially linked to angry militant U.S. communities.”

— Ella Shohat, “Gendered Cartographies of Knowledge”, p.5

In fundamentally conservative institutions, Shohat writes, we need to “reflect on the ways in which intellectuals, under the sign of ‘diversity’, might be positioned as the ‘good academics’ (much as the media construct “good ethnics”), as opposed to those ‘vulgar militants’, so as to recreate subtle stratifications and hierarchies, even on the margins.”

While feeling split apart by these structures, something that gives me a bit of safety is my ability to write and tweet, and scream until I get some form of justice, to create my own record of events. In the grand scheme of things, my blog and my twitter aren’t much – but it’s one of the most effective self-determined modes of resistance I can reliably access. That, and the support and guidance of scholars who have “made it” to where I hope to be.

And so, it breaks my heart every time I deal with an administrator or professor who seems more invested in protecting their tenure or position than protecting Native students from violent institutions.

To paraphrase a mentor, Kyle: What can the settler academy do to us as Indigenous academics? Where can they put us that is any worse, any more oppressive than the places most of us have been at some point in our lives?


I spent the ages of 10-12 in a Saskatoon elementary school program for advanced students, where I was the only Indigenous student and faced daily exclusion and racism. In Grade 7, this culminated in the white male principal taking me out of class and bringing me into an art supply closet, alone, to interrogate me about the “real” reason for my unhappiness in the classroom. He asked if my mother was abusing or manipulating me. (My mother was the one constantly pushing the school on how I was treated as the only Native student in the program.)

At that moment, the door burst open. It was the Grade 8 teacher. He said “Oh. Sorry. I didn’t know anyone was in here.” It took me a few years to realize that yes, of course, he had seen the principal take me into that supply closet. And he chose to intervene.

Shortly after this incident, I walked out and never went back to that school. They never called to see if I would return. I wonder, for how many Native students, at one point or another in our education, this is the case. I wonder how much worse it might’ve been if the teacher hadn’t made a split-second decision to act.

(That principal is now a school board superintendent in Saskatchewan.)


The disappearance of Indigenous students from classrooms, much like the disappearance of Indigenous communities from the land, is not only convenient, but necessary for the maintenance of settler colonial states like Canada. And much like the latter, the former is explained away as a product of the inherent inferiority of Indigenous minds, bodies, and cultures, rather than the result of a colonial system that violently displaces us.

What’s the solution to this? It can no longer be an attempt to “indigenize” institutional schooling based on colonial hierarchies. No more trying to fit Indigenous students into these spaces to the detriment of our learning and wellbeing.

As disheartened as I am when those I view as colleagues and mentors fail to speak up, there are many examples of times when senior academics (or at least those more senior than me) have shown me that professional scholarship is not achieved only at the price of conformity and complicity.

Professors who dare to speak out – some prominent examples being Steven Salaita with the University of Illinois, and currently at UBC, Jennifer Berdahl – are example cases of the vitriol faced by professors for taking their fields of study seriously and living their work as critical words, action, policy. However, they are also examples of the type of public support that can be mobilized when a professor speaks out about institutional injustice.

I had a chance to hear Steven Salaita speak at Socialism 2015 this summer, and although I knew his story, it was so refreshing to hear such a well-known academic call tenured professors out on their complacency within the system.

After the talk, I asked Steven if quoting him on Twitter was okay, he laughed and said “Oh, of course!”, echoing the “what else are they going to do to me?” sentiment.

salaita
chillin’ with Steve & Caro at Socialism 2015, feeling validated in my hellraising.

As my friend and mentor, Zoe (a newly minted Métis professor) said, “I shout to stay alive”.

As a Native feminist student in the historically white, historically male discipline of philosophy, there is little protection in place for me when I choose to take on institutional discrimination. Formal complaints filed with an academic institution are just as effective as internally-run investigations into police brutality. It is precisely in my shouting that I have any power and influence.

Our silence will never, ever protect us.

But more than that, our silence will never liberate us. The colonial academic industrial complex will never dismantle itself, and it will never change if scholars are afraid to challenge it.

It will continue to tokenize and reward the complicit while exploiting Indigenous scholars, starting with the most vulnerable – students.

“…the machine will try and grind you into dust anyway, whether or not we speak. We can sit in our corners mute forever while our sisters and our selves are wasted, while our children are distorted, while our earth is poisoned; we can sit in our safe corners as mute as bottles, and we will still be no less afraid.”

— Audre Lorde, “The Transformation of Silence into Language and Action”

But we won’t all go down without a fight.

After all, what more can they do to us?

————-

Sara Ahmed. “Against Students” http://feministkilljoys.com/2015/06/25/against-students/

Audre Lorde. “The Transformation of Silence into Language and Action.” Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches by Audre Lorde.

Ella Shohat. “Gendered Cartographies of Knowledge.” Taboo Memories, Diasporic Voices. (Thanks to Punam for introducing me to Ella’s work, and for being another hellraiser role model)

Cover photo: last page of Audre Lorde’s “Transformation of Silence into Language and Action”

No, Andrea Smith is not the “Native American Rachel Dolezal”

No, Andrea Smith is not the “Native American Rachel Dolezal”. Rachel Dolezal is the Native American Rachel Dolezal – she also claimed Native ancestry, something that is so common as to be boring in light of the overall ridiculousness of the situation. She even went so far as to say that she was born in a tipi.

But anyway, that was just my sensational title to get you hooked. If the Daily Beast can do it, then heck, so can I. Now to the real story.

headdres

Well, she’s not really “hailed for her Cherokee heritage” as much as for her work. But thanks for getting the sensationalism & oversimplification going right off the bat. (What is “HEAD DRESS”?)

——-

Last fall, I met Andrea Smith at a conference. I don’t think I have ever been quite as nervous to talk to an academic. Why? Because Andrea Smith is not just any academic, she is the academic that many young Indigenous women now in our twenties grew up with. “Conquest” was released in 2005 when I was 15, and it was the first book I had access to that explicitly addressed the framework of colonial gender violence for Indigenous women. As I grew into a young Indigenous feminist writer, Andrea’s work continually informed my writing, my activism, and my everyday life. Andrea’s work introduced me to the world of Indigenous feminism, and even as I discovered new writers, I returned to her work over and over again.

This is why it is particularly surreal for me to see the revival (and progression) of campaigns to discredit Andrea Smith’s identity, but this time, in a much more personal and hostile manner, taken to the public sphere and picked up by whitestream media interested in the spectacle.

To be clear, these are issues that were already being talked about in Indigenous communities for years. After I discovered “Conquest”, I started to hear the rumors that she might not actually be Cherokee.

The Daily Beast published an article yesterday where a genealogist “confirms” that Andrea has no Cherokee ancestry. Anyone who has spent time in Indigenous communities knows that real belonging is a lot more complex than government ID, status, blood quantum, skin color, or a DNA test can delineate. Anyone who has studied the history of Indigenous communities knows the devastating impact of colonial membership policies imposed on tribes from the outside.

Yes, if it is true that Andrea’s claims to heritage were entirely made up, it is a betrayal. Pretending to be Indigenous is not okay, regardless of your intentions. Accepting the astounding number of public engagements she has done over the years (and payments for these events) on the basis that one is a Cherokee scholar is unthinkably harmful and displaces countless Indigenous women scholars. For this reason I support the many Indigenous scholars I know that have worked to bring this particular case to light and demanded accountability; many of them important, senior women scholars who make spaces in the academy for young Indigenous women like me.

Anger and betrayal in cases of white settlers who pretend to be Indigenous (affectionately labeled “pretendians”) is a result of the frustration of already being underrepresented, misrepresented, and having so few opportunities to make space for Indigenous voices, and then seeing yet another white person take up what little space should have been ours.

Some folks have compared Andrea Smith to the recent Rachel Dolezal scandal, but there are a few key differences; the most glaring of which is that Andrea Smith’s work is inextricably foundational to Indigenous Studies, Indigenous activism, and Indigenous feminisms. If you have read anything written in the past decade about Indigenous women, it can likely be tied back to the work of Andrea Smith.

And so, when I saw that Andrea’s integrity was once again, being questioned my panicked reaction was, “oh great, another excuse for everyone to discredit Indigenous feminism.” After reflection, I realized this was an overreaction, because there are numerous Indigenous women & Two-Spirits whose work stands on its own, and deserves to come out from behind the shadow cast by any single rockstar scholar. Just off the top of my head:

Making Space for Indigenous Feminism – Ed., Joyce Green

Feminism for Real – Ed. Jessica Danforth

ANYTHING and EVERYTHING by Lee Maracle, Kim Tallbear, Mishuana Goeman, Audra Simpson, Leanne Simpson, Cherrie Moraga, Gloria Anzaldua, Verna St. Denis, Alexandria Wilson, the Native Youth Sexual Health Network, Chelsea Vowel, Patricia Monture, Naomi Sayers, Adrienne Keene.

There is a whole lot of unaddressed identity terrain that Indigenous communities are just starting to explore. For example, many, many white settler scholars who write on Indigenous issues, who get hired to speak or teach on Indigenous issues, who get tenure and make exorbitant sums of cash for their work on communities that aren’t theirs. There are many white-passing Indigenous scholars who get hired to speak or teach on Indigenous issues, and do not bother to acknowledge their position or the extreme differences in lived experience between passing and non-passing Indigenous people. There are many Native men who are invited to speak on behalf of Native women and Two-Spirits, as if we are incapable of speaking to our own lives. When a person declares their Indigeneity, why do we still assume a universal lived experience (or universal burden) among those who claim that identity? What things are truly universal (if any) about Indigenous people or our lived experiences?

If there is a point of consensus at all on what it means to “be Indigenous”, it’s acceptance by an Indigenous community, rather than simply naming oneself a member. Will Andrea Smith be claimed by an Indigenous community (in whatever form that takes) in the days or years to come? Would it even make a difference now?

From what I’ve seen already, there are a lot of Indigenous women questioning the motives behind this sudden public “outing”, particularly the personal hostility behind it. As far as I knew, Andrea had stepped back from the spotlight quite a bit in the past couple of years. This doesn’t mean letting “pretendians” off the hook for the harm they do, but being aware of how often “identity” has been used as a tool of colonialism, namely, colonial gender violence.

Moving forward, how do we best deal with this situation?

  • Rather than tearing down any one woman, support the already-existing immense body of work of Indigenous scholars, particularly, that of Indigenous feminists and Indigenous women. Support the work of Indigenous feminists whose work is useful for our communities.
  • Support the work of diverse voices on Indigenous experience, and realize that there isn’t any one rockstar scholar who can speak for all of us.
  • Open more spaces for Indigenous scholars, writers, artists, et al. to flourish, rather than demanding we fight for scraps.
  • Allow Indigenous women to lead, guide, and decide when to have discussions about Indigenous women’s identity.* Allow Two-Spirits to lead, guide, and decide when to have discussions about Two-Spirit identity.* Allow Indigenous people to lead, guide, and decide when to have discussions about Indigenous identity.* (* – if you are not privy to said discussions, or just because said discussions are not all over your Twitter feed, don’t assume they’re not happening.

And finally:

  • If you are 1) a reporter who has never bothered to do a story on Indigenous issues until today, 2) a white settler, 2) a white scholar of Indigenous studies, or 3) an Indigenous male scholar who has rarely/never engaged with Indigenous feminism except to crap on it, I implore you to go away and do something productive, rather than throwing tomatoes at a woman whose work has likely made more impact in the lives of Indigenous women than yours ever will.

“Skirting the Issue”: a response & call to action

I submitted a shorter version of this op-ed to the Winnipeg Free Press on June 17, 2015, in response to Professor Joanne Boucher’s opinion piece entitled “Dress-code message at U of W sexist”.

After this, the WFP published a response, “Pipe ceremony dress code uncalled for”, where Prof. Boucher was quoted once more, along with four men (any one of whom could’ve redirected media attention to an Indigenous woman). The voices of Indigenous women and Two-Spirits excluded on an issue that at its core impacts our bodies and our lives. We are the ones who face the consequences of these discussions, along with the backlash.

Finally, rather than choosing to publish anything submitted by Indigenous women (or any of the many Indigenous women academics who speak publicly on ceremony and protocol), the Winnipeg Free Press published an editorial calling the whole thing a result of “identity politics”. The issue of protocol in ceremonies is not about “identity politics”, but about the right of Indigenous women to exercise self-determination.

The title of my blog, “skirting the issue”, is attributed to Dr. Alex Wilson.

woman with travois and child

“Going Mobile: Cree woman with travois and child, around Saskatoon, C. 1900). Photo originally posted by Paul Seesequasis.

—————————————-

In the context of Indigenous women, girls, and Two-Spirits facing staggering colonial violence, it’s crucial to challenge sexism in patriarchy in all of our communities – white and Indigenous.

My objections to Professor Boucher’s argument are not to deny that ceremonial protocol forcing women to wear skirts is unacceptable (because it is) – it’s the claim that she was the first and only one to notice and speak up about it, and the attempt to remove ceremony from campus on the grounds that it is “religious”.

As a Cree student at the University of Saskatchewan, I have been one of many Indigenous feminists across Canada involved in speaking up for ceremonial spaces that are inclusive for all genders and sexualities. I’ve felt empowered to speak out thanks to many strong Indigenous feminists around me, whose work is often erased, or dismissed as “non-traditional”. Indigenous women are still assumed to be passive and in need of “saving” from an archaic culture, and this is not at all the case. Indigenous communities are not a monolithic group.

Many Indigenous women in the prairies choose to wear skirts to ceremony, and many do not. One of the lead organizers of Idle No More, Sylvia McAdam, joked that she tried to wear a long skirt while walking around in the thick Saskatchewan bush, and found it ridiculous rather than romantic.

Last year, there was a similar opinion to Professor Boucher’s published in the University of Saskatchewan newspaper. Once again, it was by a non-Indigenous professor who had not visibly engaged with the on-campus Indigenous community, and once again, the person claimed that they were the only one to challenge the protocol.

It’s frustrating to speak to a white audience about my activism, and the only questions directed at me are “Isn’t there a lot of sexism in Native communities?” or “What about lateral violence?” My response is usually, “Of course are talking about these things in our communities. What are you doing about sexism in your own community? What are you doing about the men from your community, who dump our bodies into ditches and rivers?” Well-meaning folks who intend to “save” us from our ceremonies should situate themselves in the history of white Canadian settlers, missionaries, and residential schools that pushed the belief that Indigenous women’s bodies were dangerous, dirty, evocative, and needed to be covered. The attempted discipline of our bodies continues today, in many forms, as does the negation of colonial violence inflicted upon us. A notable example of this is murdered and missing Indigenous women, girls and Two-Spirits the and lack of action or concern on the part of Canadians. (I write about this in more depth here: https://moontimewarrior.com/2015/04/02/for-cindy-for-ourselves-healing-in-the-context-of-colonial-gender-violence/)

To call for the removal of Indigenous ceremonies from campus on the grounds that they are “religious” does not acknowledge the nature of ceremony or the ongoing history of attempts by Canada to eliminate Indigenous cultures and people. In an era where we are finally admitting that at least “cultural genocide” is a reality, it is nice to have the option as Indigenous students (even those of us who are agnostic/atheist) to take part in ceremonies in institutions where we still face daily racism and under-representation, especially for those of us in urban centers with few other spaces to access ceremony. Of course, ceremonies cannot be used in place of meaningful anti-racist curricular and policy change at educational institutions. Across Canada, pow wows and pipe ceremonies are tokenized, used in lieu of systematic change. Feathers are painted on school walls, as if this will counteract the hostility of facing classes, curriculum, peers, and teachers that stereotype and erase us.

After discussions at the University of Saskatchewan campus led by Indigenous women and Two-Spirits, and particularly work on the part of Dr. Alex Wilson from Opaskwayak Cree Nation (who has written extensively on the issue of sexism in our communities), a groundbreaking anti-discrimination policy for inclusive ceremonies on campus was enacted. I hope that the University of Winnipeg will look into this and follow suit, because protocol is not “voluntary” when one is handed a skirt the moment they walk in the door, and shamed or cast out if they fail to comply.

This issue is one of bodily self-determination and ending violence against Indigenous women and Two-Spirits. Ultimately, Professor Boucher and I agree that women should have the right to choose freely what to do with their bodies and clothing. For me, bodily self-determination also includes the right to participate in ceremonies that were stripped from my women ancestors (if I so choose), and to feel safe, not shamed while doing it.

I acknowledge that Professor Boucher’s article inspired me to complete an article on this issue, and I hope that she, in turn, recognizes the privilege in her commentary on Indigenous women as an outsider being published Canada-wide, while Indigenous feminists have never had that platform. This is not a command for non-Indigenous women to be silent on violence against Indigenous women – in fact, we need you to stand with us, not in front of us, challenging colonial violence.

I’m asking that those who want to be real allies to Indigenous women recognize the intersections of race, colonialism, and gender we face, and do not claim to speak for us. I am also against the backlash that women face for daring to speak out against patriarchal “tradition” based on values that colonial missionaries imposed on our cultures. This means implementation of policy, curriculum, governance, and ceremony that respects the bodily sovereignty of Indigenous women & Two-Spirits, while honoring the struggles of Indigenous women who bravely reject sexism today and the histories of Indigenous women fighting sexism since time immemorial.