Tuesday, 4 March 2014

"Frozen-In-Time" Indigeneity: When the Attack Comes from Within

“Traitor,” “Sell-Out,” “Assimilated,”  “White-Washed,” “Apart of the problem,” “causing your ancestors to roll over in their graves,” and lastly, “doing the Master’s bidding.” These are just some of the comments people have lobbed at me. Not just any people, but by those, not all, who purport to be traditional – whether Nehiyaw, Haudenosaunee, or other Indigenous nations like the Anishinaabeg.

I, like others,’ have had such comments thrown at me because I have opted to utilize the Canadian political process as an additional avenue to push for change to the Canadian/Indigenous relations. I, like others, also opted to take a seat in the Western Education system alongside my growing understanding of Anishinaabeg traditions. For some – this is not allowed. We are not supposed to do this – instead we are to ‘decolonize’ ourselves and return to the era of pre-contact. Instead, we are to, like them, stick our nose up at those who are from the ‘settler’ society, those they specifically have a personal vendetta against, a soured relationship with, to look down at those of us who are intermixed, or don't date and marry 'the same race' (which in itself is a colonial mentality). To them, people like myself are "traitors who have a secret agenda to further destroy our Indigenous nationhoods and integrities."

For those of you who know me, and others like me, this is not the case. Far from it. Do I have ‘a foot in both canoes’ that are going down the river? Yes I do. I am a mixture of both. I was taught to honour my ancestors and I do when it comes to how we can take steps forward on Indigenous/Canadian relations. Do some exist as tokens? Do some happily carry that token membership in order to make personal gain at the expense of our collective well-being and proper understanding of the Indigenous/Canadian treaties? Of Course – Patrick Brazeau being one such example.

However, do those who attack Indigenous peoples with a foot in both canoes not see the damage that they do to our different nations? I personally see the attacks from these people to equate the damage Brazeau does, and has done. Do they themselves not see that what they purport can be almost as ignorant as Tom Flanagan, Manny Jules, or Rod Bruinooge?

Lets do a comparison – People like Flanagan argue that Indigenous peoples lost, must be assimilated, that their culture can only be recognized pre-contact must follow one way of life or remove themselves. They must integrate or be lost – they deserve no recognition. Now lets consider comments from the other side that are just as narrow-minded – we must follow one way and the right Indigenous way is prior to contact, we should not work or recognize the other 34 million people who live here – going against what they say means you are a traitor and they are better and stronger-willed then those of us who do not sit at their level.  To me, this is no different – they are just at the opposite sides of the ignorant spectrum on Indigenous/Canadian understandings.

This has always left me with questions. Who are they to tell 'Indigenous peoples' how we are to specifically act, what we can do, what we can participate in? Who are they to speak out on other Indigenous/Canadian relations? Since when did being Indigenous become a specific way? When did culture become frozen for Indigenous peoples in a pre-1492 fashion? This runs awry of what I have learned and what I continue to learn as I, and others I know, continue to relearn the Anishinaabeg ways, such as mini bimaadziwin.

I grew up being taught that to be 'Indigenous' is not something stuck in a specific time. That to obtain mino bimaadiziwin does not mean one has to do it in a strict form – that causes indoctrination and pitting peoples against one another. I was taught that the creator gave us all gifts and that is a major reason why Indigenous societies were accepting of two-spirited peoples, those not blood related, and so on. Furthermore, I was taught that one cannot speak for all Indigenous nations (I will admit this last one is a tricky one but when I do I express that my understanding comes from an Anishinaabeg community in a pre-confederation treaty).

I’ve debated and discussed the different types of treaties that exist. I don’t agree with all processes but I do not accost another Indigenous nation for how it chooses to move forward in its relationship with Canada (such as those in the modern treaty process). The end result being: It is their choice how they opt to move forward, alongside, or backwards when considering nationhood and the Canadian relationship to their respective nations. I just know for where I come from, it would not mesh well with what we originally agreed to.

Thus, one has to ask these individuals how they can claim such action? How can they accost others when one served in the American Marines, has short hair, drinks alcohol, teaches in a western institution; another who has been involved in Canadian politics for a period, who complains about things like the White Paper of 1969 and when the Indigenous Wing of the LPC listens he then refers to the entire executive as kids and launches into new attacks; When some use the Canadian Judiciary to 're-establish' recognition (to highlight a few examples)?

Therefore I find it interesting, especially as some of us are using our gifts to help bring change from inside the Canadian establishment (like Elijah Harper, whom Id never equate as similar to Brazeau or an assimilationist) and others reteach our people our governance structures, our clans, our languages, the importance of the earth, communal integration, our citizenship codes and so on, these people can act Pius, hypocritical and attackish. Is it not better to have many different 'fronts' that we can push back on when it comes to decolonizing our nations?

Now, I am no fool - I do not assume that all Indigenous peoples will utilize Canadians political systems. I know some wont and I will not push on them to do so.  Do I understand why they don’t? Yes – they believe it is honouring the treaty relationship, etc. Do I see the full reasoning for it when the Canadian government has manipulated and tried controlling our day-to-day lives? No I don’t. But I still respect them for it.

What I don’t respect? Individuals who help to instigate divisions amongst Indigenous peoples. We are not all the same, we do not all think the same. Many of us no longer, nor can we, live in a pre-1492 context. Many of us have friends and family who are ‘non-Indigenous.’ Thus working with the various tools we have, learned, or mimic is better then continuing down our own internal path of divide and conquer (or isolate). In some cases, we can utilize the 'Master's tools' to bring change.

What I want to see? Future generations feeling they can belong and bridge both peoples who live here on Turtle Island today, rather then the continued persistence of anger and hatred towards each other. I don't equate this to mean assimilation or the degradation of Indigenous nations ... tearing apart ourselves because we refuse to realize we are not the same causes that. In other words, those who attack those of us who are bridging both sides to help with healing and understanding causes more ignorance, destruction and damage then rebuilding or healing.

In Closing, I leave you all with an exert from Chief Dan George:

“Oh God! Like the thunderbird of old I shall rise again out of the sea; I shall grab the instruments of the white man's success-his education, his skills- and with these new tools I shall build my race into the proudest segment of your society.
Before I follow the great chiefs who have gone before us, Oh Canada, I shall see these things come to pass. I shall see our young braves and our chiefs sitting in the houses of law and government, ruling and being ruled by the knowledge and freedoms of our great land.

So shall we shatter the barriers of our isolation. So shall the next hundred years be the greatest in the proud history of our tribes and nations.” (Chief Dan George, July 1, 1967)

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