I wrote this prose in one day. I was in a workshop called “PVX” which was an acronym for Pacific Voices Xchange. This project brings together youth whose ancestry hails from Pacific Peoples. All people whose ancestors would have lived on the pacific ocean. If you come to understand how much time Coastal peoples actually spent on their canoes and in the water, you’ll understand that when I say, “lived on,” I really mean they were living on the water in terms of how they spent their day. However, of course, their homes were situated on the land, very often close to the beach, in the case of my Coast Salish ancestors. I was participating in two workshops actually, PVX, and a Native Plant workshop in Songhees Nation. I had to run between the two – I’d go to one in the morning, and one in the afternoon. So, I believe on the day I wrote this poem, I ran from Songhees to UVIC – where PVX was being held – and I was like, “Ok, cool what are we doing? Writing? Ok!” I put on my “Deep Focus” playlist from Spotify, and I just started writing.
I was typing and typing and typing. On the very laptop I’m typing this email out on right now. I didn’t stop, and my fellow workshop participants and the Facilitator – Janet Rogers – all noticed that I just was in flow when writing this prose.
Some messages that I hope get across.
Indigenous people have many negative stereotypes. Very often we are classified alcoholics, and as all being on welfare. It’s important to understand the systemic oppression that creates not just the stereotype but also the lived experience of alcoholism and welfare. First, I haven’t met a Canadian who isn’t a proud alcoholic. I’m serious. Be it the wine one consumes, or the beers one consumes, usually at a hockey game. But, really, it’s seen as an expectation for people to have everyday of their lives. “Open Bars” at weddings. An evening glass of wine. When I was in high school, and I was 15 years old, that was the first time I had alcohol, and there was plenty of – mostly white – students who were like, “Wow, good for you for waiting that long. I started when I was 13.” I thought it bizarre to hear that from another teenager. All that being said, the difference for me as an Indigenous person vs. those who would call my people, “Chugs” or “Welfare bums” is that they likely would drink a lot more. I didn’t have alcohol in my house, but so much western media is based on the concept that young white children have their first sip of alcohol because they snuck into their parents’ liquor cabinet. Who owns a liquor cabinet?!? Who owns furniture specifically for liquor?!
It makes you ask a lot of questions. To me, what this stereotype of Indigenous people is a projection of the mainstream society of the embedded shame of colonial culture and drinking. It feels better for the racist to project a hatred for alcoholism onto Native people rather than look at oneself and one’s drinking habits.
Also, what often comes with alcohol consumption?
Violence. Violence against who? Usually women, or children. And statistically, Indigenous women and girls.
So, for people holding onto this shame and creation of alcohol as evil or the consumption of alcohol a sign of weakness, it’s really a mask, and using Indigenous people as a scapegoat, for all the violence that alcohol creates in our society. Consider the riots that have come from hockey games, or football games. Consider the violence that proliferates after hockey games being watched in pubs across a city. Imagine how many more rapes happen because of alcohol. Imagine how many men do violent things they wouldn’t do while sober, but find out they’ve done something terrible while drunk. It’s too hard for people to look at – though #MeToo is forcing this conversation to happen as of late.
Violence also presents itself in the form of domestic violence, or through “man camps.” “Man Camps” are places that are created with industry. Usually in the oil fields, but also with things like the shipping industry. Indigenous women and girls are often sought after as prostitutes. They’re considered easy pray. This is because of poverty.
This prose wants to show that indeed Indigenous women are STILL being killed, just as they have been since the beginning of colonization – which I hope the imagery shows.
However, I do want people to remember that Indigenous women survive and thrive.
Even those that many consider to be struggling.
How many people can say they’ve survived the worst violences known to mankind? Unfortunately, many Indigenous women have. And many Indigenous women manage to be kind through it. And they manage to help others. And they manage to help bring visibility to those who our society tries to erase. And they have children, and raise them. They have creative careers and grow as artists. They become academics and acquire their masters. And they do this, so often, with a prayer in their hearts, minds, and wombs. Especially the womb, because that is the place that colonialism tried so hard to damage through rape, forced sterilizations, and the shaming of feminine qualities. However, there’s a softness within many Indigenous women, that helps them find success in their lives. Some may struggle their whole life, or for a portion of their life, with some sort of so-called shameful history with addiction or otherwise. But, I’ve had the fortune to see many, many powerful Indigenous women. And, yes, some may even die before their time, and it’s truly a loss to our communities. But, I still admire them for being so kind and loving or even having hope to grow and change considering all the violence we’ve experienced, or fear to experience in our lifetimes.
Our society wants Indigenous women to be ashamed, and afraid for our lives. So, I acknowledge all the powerful moments of Indigenous women. How they’ve brought people together through art, marches, dinners, feasts, ceremony, family, and I’m sure much more. I admire them for every second of self-love they allow themselves to have. I also acknowledge how much many – not all – of us still value men, despite how much responsibility men have for our trauma. I know that I personally just want our men to feel it’s possible to heal. I want to feel safe among them. When I was a kid, my experience is that we all played together. It was rare that girls ONLY played with girls, or that boys ONLY played with boys. Often, things split up because of interests, but at least half of our playtime was about all genders coming together to play. Our Coast Salish youth soccer tournaments are always co-ed. And, girls are seen as strong as, and if it is the case, stronger than the boys. Gender is less of an issue in the way we raise our children and youth. And, I see the comradery still today with some friendship groups. So, of course we still love and value men. They’re our brothers. Our cousins. Our best friends. We played soccer, or basketball with them. And they treated us like a friend/cousin.
We need to change the narrative that colonialism created, which is that the Indians were disappearing. They tried so hard to nail that message into everyones’ heads, but really we are doing so much good in the world. Many Indigenous women are leaders of movements long before you even knew it was a movement. They were lone women standing on a mountaintop leading the way, with a prayer in their heart. Your politics and spiritual movements are all things Indigenous people, usually women, were fighting for as a lone voice. So, I acknowledge that strength and perservance as well. And, I like to think that even though often those women felt like their words fell on deaf ears, the ancestors were listening. They carried her voice in the wind and some stranger heard it and decided to do something about it. She planted a seed, and a someone came and saw the flower that bloomed 7 years later and received the message. A relative, or maybe a settler.
So, I hope that people will start to see that wisdom and magic in Indigenous women. All Indigenous women. The richest and the poorest. For eeeeeevery Indigenous women I’ve ever met has had a prayer in her heart for a better world. A safer world. A more loving world. And I’ve had the good fortunate to receive that prayer and message from at least a few, and I just hope I carry it in a good way for them.
If you want to learn more, research “man camps”
I was inspired to explore this whole thing in writing because of:
If you want to make change, dig deep, go down the violence against Indigenous women rabbit hole, and then emerge with a new understanding of Colonialism.
Look for a “Stolen Sisters Memorial March,” or an #MMIW event, or other Indigenous rally near you. See that power of the women and other genders who usually organize these things. And, also find Indigenous artists. Look for your inner healing. We all have ancestral healing that needs to take place.
Hold space within yourself for darkness and light. Bliss and pain. Ask for how you can help. Ask how you can make the world better. You will receive answers. You will start meeting people with the answers.
Learn communication skills, learn empathy skills. Teach yourself to question if things you’re doing seem normal, and why? From the food you eat, to the way people are treated. How are people deemed less than human based on gender, race, or social class? And, how can you unpack that for yourself? How can you learn to be more accepting of people and not deem them as inferior for certain behaviour? How can you understand them, but also hold them accountable for their actions?