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Observations on Laurentian and the University of Sudbury from an Academic Aunty’s “Indigenous Perspective”

We found out our Department was being dissolved on our last day of classes. I couldn’t hold back the tears. A few days later, the Indigenous Student Association gifted me the title of “Academic Aunty” presenting me with a ribbon skirt and a hoodie. I was so deeply honoured by the gesture.

I am (or was) an Assistant Professor in the Department of Indigenous Studies at the University of Sudbury. I am of mixed nêhiyaw, Scottish-Metis, and Bajan ancestry from the Treaty 6 territories of Saskatchewan. I have a BA high honours in English and Indigenous Studies from the University of Saskatchewan, an MA with distinction in Indigenous Studies and Canadian Studies from Trent and I am just finishing up my PhD in Indigenous Studies also at Trent after a leave of absence. My training as a Water Walker was done under the guidance of the late Josephine-ba Mandamin, Dr. Shirley Williams, Edna Manitowabi, and Liz Osawamick in addition to other Grandmothers and Aunties from Minweyweywigaan Midewiwin Lodge out of Roseau River First Nations and Wiikwemkoong where my training continues as a second level Mide-Kwe. I live what I teach. I have been in Indigenous education for 30 years, but never in a permanent position with the exception of my time at Fleming College.

I decided on the U of Sudbury because of the rich history it represented within the context of Indigenous Elders, and surrounding Indigenous community members whom I loved and respected. Wiikwemkoong had become a “home away from home;” my Midewiwin Lodge is located there and my partner is from there. If I couldn’t be in my own Cree and Metis territories of Saskatchewan, Northern Ontario was the next best place. I imagined re-energizing and adding to the Department of Indigenous Studies with my scholarship. I thought it was going to be a place where I could continue to build upon, following the footsteps of the Indigenous brilliant minds and hearts and non-Indigenous allies who were seminal in the creation of the discipline: Dr. Edna Manitowabi, Dr. Jim Dumont, Dr. Emily Fairies, Dr. Art-Ba Soloman, ally Dr. Newberry and so many others who had come through the doors.

There has been a great deal of commentary about “wages” and the “sunshine list.” Unlike our fellow faculty at Laurentian, the University of Sudbury faculty received a very low wage, among the lowest in the country, in fact. I took a $30,000 drop in pay when I took the Tenure Track position in Indigenous Studies. If I had been employed at Laurentian for doing exactly the same thing, my wage would have increased quite dramatically. I didn’t come to Sudbury for the money that is for certain. I came for the people and the chance to teach Indigenous students. One of the things Universities do is train people to critically engage with issues through research and reading. I invite people to think about how professors and faculty actually contribute to the wider shared society by reading this letter to the Editor.

When I began at the University of Sudbury, I was excited to find out there was a new President joining at the same time as I was. I was also a bit cautious when I found out he was an active Jesuit minister. Many Elders and family members whom I loved had been horrifically harmed and hurt through the residential school system. There were issues at the campus, for certain. A definitive flavour of anti-Indigenousness was present in pockets; from racism I am sure, but also from simply miseducation and ignorance. None-the-less, we were committed to creating and building a tri-cultural institution so said the new President. He also said he was committed to the TRC Recommendations and Indigenous education, speaking (pre-Covid) about how they were going to create an Elder’s space, a smudging area (we were forced to go outside if any students needed a smudge or if we wanted to), and a new larger Indigenous student’s gathering area.

Fast forward to a month ago and I, along with my peers at the University of Sudbury, were completely blindsided with the news that is a familiar story to many now. Suddenly, my tenure-track was not going to be a permanent position; instead, it was going to be completely de-railed with the dissolution of our Department along with the Federation. What about Indigenous education? What about the massive amount of students we were teaching? What about the TRC? As the days unfolded, each strike was a blow. The sudden death of a colleague who had given so much to the University of Sudbury and to Laurentian by default, and who received literally nothing from them except a termination notice, brought it all into a horrific light. I am still reeling, but I am also continuing to peer through the critical lens of the Indigenous discipline and Indigenous community based knowledge structures I am trained in and actively still learning from.

The most glaring observation I have made in this latest media blitz with the news the University of Sudbury did not win their battle against Laurentian is how both institutions and others completely write Indigenous Studies and Indigenous students out of their current narratives (as colonizers often do unless it’s convenient for them to use us). Their press releases and gatherings focus on Women and Gender Studies and Francophone Education, but not Indigenous education despite the knowledge both universities are situated upon Anishinaabeg traditional lands and the North is home to many, many Indigenous Nations who have people wanting to attend post-secondary institutions close to home.  

The University of Sudbury Board’s public communique dated April 20 reaffirms their commitment to becoming a 100% Francophone institution with no mention of Indigenous education. They are quick to forget that the Department of Indigenous Studies financially carried the university with the increase in students in our program over the last number of years. Laurentian also benefitted from our labour, making Indigenous Studies mandatory without giving actual support to our minimal department.

The University of Sudbury never matched the increase of students with additional assistance for those of us on the front line. We had only 3 faculty members and a handful of sessionals for a student body numbering in the 1000s and no administrative assistant after our long time core person retired. We had the exponential jump in students, in part, because of our popularity and, in part, because of Laurentian’s new requirement. On the surface, it looked like a bid to follow the mandate of the Truth and Reconciliation Recommendations. However, this move wasn’t necessarily out of a commitment to Indigenous education as the lack of support for our Department indicated; instead, it enabled them to capitalize on a federal funding source. We can look back in retrospect and see how they were mishandling the finances. Imagine for a second if those were Indigenous people in the positions of Haché and other Laurentian administrators: we would be imprisoned by now and hung by the public.

Currently, Laurentian states they have the capacity to deliver the education students need, citing its ability to “Indigenize” programming. However, again, Indigenization by Laurentian’s own rules is simply making course content 50% “Indigenous” – it doesn’t necessarily matter who teaches it as my colleague Dr. Mary Ann Corbiere points out. This loophole conveniently allows them to access those Indigenous education dollars without ensuring the education is culturally appropriate emerging from an Indigenous disciplinary study with inherent checks and balances because there are actual Indigenous people who have been trained to teach and research inside of it, and who are also from and claimed by Indigenous communities and Nations. Indigenous identity is also a hot ticket item these days, particularly in academia where substantial research grants and jobs are on the market with little proof to show actual Indigenous generational ancestry and community connections. There is a privilege to claiming that identity without actually living it. Dr. Darryl Leroux, amongst others, have researched this new form of theft and appropriation in what is being coined as “Self-Indigenization.”

With the sudden public backlash of leaving 140 students without an Indigenous Studies program in light of an initial restructuring plan without so much of a hint of ensuring those students were cared for, the two institutions made a behind the scenes deal to ensure students could graduate by offering six Department of Indigenous Studies courses at Laurentian. All of us in the Department wanted our students supported, especially those who needed courses to graduate (although we were never told ahead of time or even consulted). What they didn’t advertise was the fact Indigenous Studies sessionals/faculty were not a part of the deal. Some of the students further indicated the courses offered were not even courses they actually needed to graduate.

Laurentian also conveniently left our names up in the roster making it look like we were going to be teaching the courses, enticing students. In reality, they went through a hiring process that left us at the bottom of the barrel even though we were the ones who had designed the courses and taught them for many years. Laurentian first offered the courses to existing Laurentian faculty, then sessionals, then fired faculty, fired sessionals, and, finally, they asked the University of Sudbury faculty after determining NO ONE at LU wanted to teach the courses, nor did anyone who did, have the qualifications.  We encouraged the Indigenous Studies sessionals to take the courses because we recognized their precarious positions without any source of income even in the form of compensation as the faculty will receive. As a Tenure Track, or should I say former Tenure Track, I am actually in the same position, but my wage in the last month is higher than theirs and, in our Indigenous pedagogies, we look after each other first, not ourselves (as the institutional administrators clearly have done).

One of the most brilliant minds in Indigenous country is Onaubinisay aka Dr. Jim Dumont. I called him, upset and in tears, as soon as I found out about the dissolution of the Department he and others had worked so hard to create. He said to me:

“The first thing you have to do is reconcile yourself with the fact that non-Indigenous institutions ‘own’ Indigenous Studies. It isn’t ours – it is actually theirs.”

His words continue to echo in my mind.

As noted earlier, our long time colleague recently passed away. Neither of these non-Indigenous institutions do justice to his commitment, energy, and dedication as an Anishinaabe educator. Onaubinisay’s words, again, come into my consciousness. These institutions are not invested in people, let alone Indigenous people. It is a business – and they deal in transactions – and because they “own” the discipline, they can do whatever they want including tossing us to the wayside. When you critically begin to engage the discourse and the events, ironically one of the methods taught by Indigenous Studies and Indigenous pedagogies (methods that colonial agents actually don’t want us to use), age old patterns in colonization begin to emerge.

The Jesuits, who have a stake in the University of Sudbury, have made no formal statement whatsoever. They are also a part of the denomination who never apologized in relation to the residential schools. They have never been the most ethical of the churches as history has repeatedly shown us. Laurentian is also invested in resource extraction. Two former faculty members, Dr. Celeste Pedri Smith and Dr. Brock Pitawanakwat, comment more about those ties in this podcast by Media Indigena hosted by Rick Harp. The Church and the State once again protecting their own interests. One only needs to go down history lane to see how that collusion has worked out for Indigenous Nations previously: oh wait, you would need Indigenous Studies to take that trip. How convenient that they dismantle the discipline that can provide a balance and a critique of harmful colonial actions.

Indigenous education, Nations, and people have not gone away despite all the concentrated efforts to destroy us and we continue to “stand in the way” of the colonial project. We are not going to go away; we are still invested in the wellbeing of our children, the earth, the waters, and our future generations; thus, another form of colonization has to emerge and it is linked to the attempted colonization of our knowledges and our intellectual legacies and/or the silencing of them.

However, as Mr. Jim O’Chiese, son of the late renowned Anishinaabe teacher, Peter-ba O’Chiese recently shared with me, as Indigenous Nations we have “structures”: educational, political, spiritual, cultural, and more. In every sense of the word, our respective Indigenous structures are still very much sheltering our people as are the Ancestors, our respective Lands and Waters, and the Spirits inside them.  Colonialism is not a thing of the past. It is still an active force that is fast bringing about the collapse of more than just a University.

True non-Indigenous allies have a role to play as well inside this ongoing colonial system: hold your own people and systems accountable; give primacy to Indigenous voices; and sit down instead of taking up the small amount of space that is supposed to be for Indigenous people inside those institutions; promote Indigenous control of Indigenous education; and give our land back and/or insist that corporations/institutions/governments/ give our land back.

As Indigenous Nations, we have nothing to worry about as long as we continue to carry the bundles and the gifts our respective Ancestors have left for us. I encourage Indigenous students to turn to our own Institutes of Higher Learning: our respective Lodges like the Midewiwin, Sundance, Wabano, Raindance, and Longhouses or those educational places that emerge from our own Nations such as those ones who comprise the Indigenous Institutes Consortium. Use your collective power inside those colonial spaces. Support the institutions that support us. Vote for the government that supports us somewhat (I think they all have a particular agenda, but promote the best choice for now). Walk away and don’t give a dime or breath to the ones that do not.

Finally, don’t believe the colonizer who still thinks they know our people, histories, cultures, and spiritualities better than we do and who thinks we are somehow deficient. We aren’t. We are more powerful than they can ever imagine. Our continued existence is proof of this fact. Remember who your Ancestors are and remember the babies and the future generations are counting on you. What kind of Ancestor will you be? I know you are going to be incredible, brilliant, amazing, strong, beautiful, courageous and so much more. I will always believe in you. kinanskomitinawaw/gchi’miigwech/nia:wen for being exactly who you are. No matter what kind of obstacles are thrown in your way, keep moving: you have all of Creation at your back.

Much respect and love,

from your “Academic Aunty.”

Sparking Change from the Colonial Crisis of the Laurentian Insolvency Debacle: Let Them Burn their Own Houses Down….A Call for An Inter-Indigenous Nation to Nation University

 “The rush on Indigenous knowledge systems, teachings, and heritage by outsiders is an effort to access, to know, and to assert control over these resources…As Indigenous knowledge and heritage becomes more intensely attractive commercially, the cognitive heritage that gives Indigenous peoples their identity is under assault from those who would gather it up, strip away its honored meanings, convert it to a product, and sell it.” 

(Battiste, M & Youngblood, J. (2000) Protecting Indigenous Knowledge and Heritage
A Global Challenge).
Poster Image by Tannis Nielsen

On April 19, 2021, we “called in” a number of esteemed Indigenous scholars and grassroots activators to respond to multiple inquiries about Indigenous thought in relation to Indigenous education in light of Laurentian University’s declaration of bankruptcy, the subsequent CCAA proceedings, and the dissolution of the Indigenous Studies Department housed in the University of Sudbury, which is a Jesuit denomination institution and one of Laurentian’s now former federated partners.

Representing different Indigenous Nations, ages, genders, and lived experiences we came together for a “zoom” conversation. Waasekom and, myself, Tasha Beeds, hosted the event with contributions by Edna Manitowabi, Ionawiienhawi Sargent, Celeste Pedri-Spade, Brock Pitawanakwat, Patrick Corbiere, Kahtéraks Quinney-Goodleaf, Quinn Meawasige, Christi Belcourt, Julia Pegahmagabow, Beendigaygizhig Deleary, Abitoonse Giisis, Erica Violet Lee, Waaseyaa’sin Christine Sy, and Tannis Nielsen. We were supported by the Ontario Confederation of University Faculty Associations (OCUFA) Save Our Sudbury collective, and Idle No More. The following is a piece I wrote informed by the discussions and conversations with the above mentioned people and through the panel, itself.

Through Laurentian University’s restructuring process and the dissolution of the Federation, one of the two founding Indigenous Studies Programs in Turtle Island is being cut through unilateral processes dismantling a 50 year old legacy created by some of our most esteemed Indigenous Elders, knowledge holders, scholars, community leaders and non-Indigenous allies.

In lieu of an Indigenous Studies Department, Laurentian University’s President states they intend “to honour and affirm [their] tri-cultural mandate” by committing “to an Indigenous Perspectives program,” effectively watering down and appropriating Indigenous spirit, thought, curriculum, languages, and labour.  Such an action is problematic because it sets a precedence for other non-Indigenous institutions during times of financial crisis and restructuring. These types of realities may become the norm in a post-pandemic world, leaving universities vulnerable to the heavy hand of corporations and resource extractive industries. Indigenous Studies Departments, emerging from Indigenous communities and Nations, help hold a critical lens towards the current actions of colonialism including that of big corporations, business, and governments who are not invested in the well-being of Indigenous people, let alone our sovereignty and relationship with our ancestral lands and waters.

Indigenous peoples, and our allies, must loudly signal that Indigenous people’s intellectual legacies, knowledge bundles, and cultural inheritances are not items to be traded by the highest bidder and neither is Indigenous Studies, inherently connected to Indigenous Nationhood and sovereignty, disposable. Every corporation and institution on Turtle Island aka North America is built upon Indigenous peoples’ Ancestral lands and waters as is every settler city, cottage, and home. Generations of wealth built on the backs of Indigenous Ancestors while our youth still experience the highest rates of suicide, our people still don’t have access to clean water or food sovereignty, in addition to experiencing death and disease related to colonialism at exponential rates. The pandemic we find ourselves in only exasperates many of our social ills inexplicably connected to the colonial desire to maintain control.

It was because of these social issues and historical injustices that some of the most brilliant and spirit filled Indigenous minds and hearts joined together under the cry of “Indigenous control of Indigenous education” in the 60s and 70s. We remember what they sacrificed for us to get to where we are now while looking ahead for our collective future generations, rallying the truths of reconciliation. 

Indigenous Studies is a rich and complex discipline with a rigorous and robust program of study rooted in Indigenous Nationhood and accountable to Indigenous communities. The destruction of the program at the University of Sudbury and the replacement of it with a program that as my colleague Mary Ann Corbiere states: “…simply needs to have 50 per cent Indigenous content to have that designation. It does not matter whether the professor is Indigenous or has specialized in Indigenous Studies,” is a direct assault on our Indigenous intellectual inheritance, our sovereignty, the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and the Truth and Reconciliation Calls to Action.

Indigenous students and non-Indigenous students will leave Laurentian – are leaving Laurentian. They have multiple options and Laurentian has seriously underestimated the power of youth and their methods of communication through such avenues like social media. Indigenous Studies *as a discipline* helps prepare all students for the reality of a future where Indigenous Nations are among the fastest growing population in our own lands. We are also prosperous *in our own ways of knowing* with those intellectual legacies holding the keys to some of the global issues facing humanity.

Other non-Indigenous institutions are recognizing the value of Indigenous scholarship and supporting it. Furthermore, Indigenous Nations are moving to full control of their own educational structures at all levels of education, including post-secondary. Shingwauk, Kenjgewin Teg, and Six Nations Polytechnic are some of the existing choices for students with more Indigenous controlled educational institutions emerging. The existing Indigenous Studies Departments across Turtle Island have increased enrolments as well in part due to student demand, but also because of the legal and ethical obligations brought to light by our previous generations to have our histories, cultures, and intellectual legacies represented accurately while bringing truth and reconciliation to the forefront.

Pragmatically, as an employer, if you have a choice between a student who has a degree or even a minor in Indigenous Studies versus a certificate in “Indigenous Perspectives” (which is what LU indicates it is going to build), the minor or degree in Indigenous Studies is much more attractive because it indicates a level of academic quality rooted in a long-standing and respected discipline connected to Indigenous communities, people, and Nations. Employers know students who have Indigenous Studies degrees and minors have been given an education within paradigms emerging from our respective Indigenous cultures and taught by Indigenous academics and allies trained in the discipline.

I was told by my union that I would receive my termination letter at the end of this month. I am an Indigenous woman of colour actively connected to Indigenous communities and the promotion of sovereignty and care of the lands and waters as a Midewiwin Kwe and as a Water Walker. I have a BA High Honours in Indigenous Studies and English, an MA with distinction in Indigenous Studies and Canadian Studies, and I am just finishing up my PhD in Indigenous Studies after a leave of absence. I have received prestigious SSHRC Grants for both of my graduate degrees and had another in process as a research affiliated with the U of Sudbury/Laurentian (note: they are keeping my research dollars as part of their insolvency). I have taught for 30 years in the discipline and I am being dismissed in light of Laurentian’s restructuring. My other colleagues, one of whom is Indigenous at the faculty level and others who are Indigenous sessionals and non-Indigenous allies have an equivalent level of education in the discipline with Indigenous community connections and they are being dismissed.

What does our collective dismissal and dissolution of the Indigenous Studies Department tell you about the state of Indigenous education at Laurentian? It tells you we need to re-assert Indigenous control of Indigenous education supporting Indigenous community based education incentives and building their capacity.

In response to Laurentian’s actions, the University of Sudbury indicated it has a charter they would like to provide to Indigenous people in the same way they have provided one for the Francophone people according to the university’s tri-cultural mandate. The media release provided by the University of Sudbury states the Francophones established an ad-hoc committee.

I propose that an ad-hoc committee be established for the Indigenous based charter currently being offered by the University of Sudbury. This committee could be comprised of representatives from Indigenous political, educational, and grassroots organizations who have a vested interest in the continued well being of our respective Indigenous Nations within the context of our own defined parameters in addition to having ancestral connections to the lands Laurentian and the University of Sudbury are situated upon. This committee would decide on movement forward with the Indigenous charter. It could be made up of representatives from the following: Anishinaabek Nation, Kenjgewin Teg, Shingwauk Kinoomaage Gamig, Three Fires Midewiwin Lodge, Minweyweywigaan Midewiwin Lodge, Akinoomoshin, and Niwiijiiwok Doodemak.

Once we have the charter in place, we could open an Inter-Indigenous Nation to Nation University where we would offer Studies from an Indigenous sovereign and spiritual based foundation as is the dream of our Elders like Gmaa Onaubinisay, Dr. Jim Dumont. For instance, we could have Haudenosaunee people teaching Haudenosaunee Studies; Anishinaabe people teaching Anishinaabe Studies; nêhiyaw and Dene people teaching their own Studies; and so forth. We could focus on our own ways of knowing through the lens of our respective spiritual and cultural understandings; we could offer land and water based learning; oral histories and stories; languages and literatures, and the list could go on. We would attract Indigenous students who are interested in learning from each other within our own distinctive Nation to Nation understandings and educational structures vs a competitive, ego-centred, stress filled framework.

In addition, we could have a school of Indigenous and non-Indigenous relations where we could teach non-Indigenous people from our own structures and pedagogies invoking active decolonization processes. Federal funding dollars allocated to non-Indigenous institutions could come to our own people, instead, and non-Indigenous students would pay us tuition dollars.

Indigenous control of Indigenous education could look like Indigenous people coming together supporting one another and sharing strengths, ultimately investing in each other, in our respective obligations and responsibilities to the Earth, Waters, and Creation and to our future generations. Our Old Ones from our respective Nations adapted, shifted, and changed, all the while carrying and protecting our bundles of knowledge and spirituality for us. We have to do the same. We already are in the ways our Ancestors have shown us. This manifestation of our own inter-Indigenous Nation to Nation University would be an extension of the work already being done by our respective peoples because we know, just as our Ancestors did, our collective current children, and our future grandchildren are depending upon us.

Tasha Beeds

nêhiyaw iskwêw/Midekwe/Water Walker/Sweetgrass Roots Activist;
Ron Ianni Scholar/Indigenous Legal Orders Institute, Faculty of Law, Windsor University, Attawandaron, Anishinaabeg, and Haudenosaunee Aki; (soon to be former) Assistant Professor/ Department of Indigenous Studies,Atikameksheng & Wahnapitae Anishinaabeg Aki, University of Sudbury.

Aging Indigenous & Black: Fitting Into My Self

I will be 48 in September. I am grateful to reach this age. I’ve shifted in the last couple of months with COVID-19 in addition to a few cancer worries over the years, the latest being breast cancer. I thought I was cleared, but now they are calling me back for a third time. I haven’t gone yet. The universe was tugging at my spirit once again when I was waiting for the results of that second test. I swear I am part Bizhiw dodaim with the amount of lives I have been gifted.

In 2017, I joined the late Josephine-Ba Mandamin on the For the Earth and Water Walk. I had a dream where Nibi told me she would help me, so when Jo-ba called and asked if I would go on the Walk, I immediately said yes.

Our Head Water Walker Coordinator Joanne Robertson designed our 2017 Logo: from L to R Edward George aka Waasekom (who was canoeing in the Great Lakes alongside us), the late Josephine-ba, her husband Andrew Mandamin, myself and a young boy and girl representing all the youth.

One particularly tough day, I began to experience this weird sensation in my chest that quickly caused concern. Sprawled out on the hotel bed in severe pain by the evening, I was reluctant to go to the hospital because we were State side and I was worried about the expense. One of my co-Water-Walkers, Sharon with blunt love finally said to me: ” Tasha, do you want to pay for your funeral or an emergency bill”? Lol. I promptly went to a hospital in Baraga, Michigan.

When you pay for medical care, doctors take a very different approach no matter what your colour is. I ended up having full coverage through work, so they ran every test possible. After the heart tests were normal, they gave me an MRI because it was clear from my blood pressure that I was still experiencing pain. The Doctor came back in the room and told me I had something called a “thymic carcinoma.” I think I was in shock. I just refused the diagnosis and stayed on the walk until I could no more.

Myself and my little Water Brother, Warren Sturgeon, the other canoeist

When we walked through Chi Genebek Ziibing Anishinabek, I had my friends Christi and Isaac ceremonially hand poke tattoos of water lines on each side of my eye, so I could see the reflection of life Nibi gifted me.

Water Lines overlaid on my self portrait by Tannis Neilson & one of Isaac Murdoch’s doodle inspired by my story of how I became a Water Walker

I also wanted to be reminded daily because I have lost many loved ones to cancer. So many. I think the last count was 14 in my Mama’s family. It has appeared in multiple forms: lung, ovarian, kidney, throat, thyroid, skin, colorectal. I am sure it is environmental. My father, too, lost his life to colon cancer. I visited my loved ones, sitting with some of them through chemo, massaging their backs and feet, listening to stories, laughing with them at memories, consoling them, and wiping tears away. I watched as they faded away, becoming thinner and thinner. I wished I could just take the cancer out of them.

My nêhiyaw and nêhiyaw Metis family and territories.

mancôsa î-môwikot is how nêhiyawak, the Plains Cree, describe cancer, which translates to “he/she is being eaten by bugs,” my nehiyaw friend and relative Robin Mcleod says. Cancer is new to us as Indigenous people in relation to the dispossession of our territories and our correlating oppression and subjugation.

How I envision that cannibal one that cancer evokes. I don’t know the original artist of this image.

In Brown and Black bodies, cancer like diabetes, high blood pressure, and many others is a disease that is symptomatic of colonialism and capitalism. The collective trauma of the land and waters manifests itself inside our cells. Our Old Ones tell us, “We are the land and we are the Waters. If they are sick, so are we.” When I first started to lose loved ones, I was so afraid of cancer. I watched them suffer from the inequities and racism present in the health care system, which leads to lack of access, misdiagnosis or even no diagnosis. Over and over again, I watched the people I love die preventable deaths. It’s why Covid19 is such a threat to us as Indigenous and Black people. We know we do not get the same type of health care as White people. It is a documented, simple fact.

I don’t fear Covid19, nor do I fear cancer anymore; I do, however, respect both in relation to their power to take life. Fearing something gives it energy and I don’t want to give the disease or virus that kind of food.

When they told me they had found something from the mammogram, I smudged, took my asemaa, and went to the Water again. I sat quietly, shed a few tears, and asked the môwikot, that Cancer, what it was here to tell me or show me.

I never knew how to use my asemaa, nor did I know that I could enter into a relationship with the Water or Creation. Water Walking and the Midewiwin Society taught me about both.

I remembered the first time the doctors told me something was wrong. I was in my early 20s and something had settled in my womb after my son was born. It appeared again in my 30s and early 40s. The centre of my being that carried this beautiful, little boy was also carrying a life-time of intimate and sexual hurt. I lost baby after baby to miscarriage. I would have had 5 children today instead of just one. Cancer danced into my cervix, my uterus, my endometrial lining and my colon on its’ tiptoes. “Have a hysterectomy,” they said after my 3rd surgery. I told them, “No, I don’t want to. I will find my own ways to heal.”

A Cancer Cell.

Creator’s greatest gift is that of free will.

We can choose what is best for us. My very best friend fought breast cancer by combining chemo and Indigenous medicines. My adopted father diagnosed with lung cancer fought it with chemo, laughter, resiliency, and sheer stubbornness.

Another time, the nurse practitioner called me because of a number of growths in my neck. We need to take biopsies for throat and thyroid cancer, they said. “Your voice,” those lumps whispered to me as I shrunk inside a domestically violent relationship, “You need to ‘find your talk’ and start speaking your truths – and his – no matter how uncomfortable, no matter how much back lash, no matter how scary it might be.” So, I did, and the lumps were right. It was hard in all of the above ways, but my voice became so strong it even began to sing.

A few weeks ago as the possibility of cancer spidered out of my breast, I remembered a lump found 3 or 4 years ago. Now, there were two: one in each. I remembered looking in the mirror just a few months ago critiquing them and finding them lacking in relation to some subconscious ideal related to growing older.

When I saw the ultrasound, I thought there’s a mistatim in my breast…

Sitting beside Nibi, I could hear the whisper: “growing old is a privilege.” As a Black Indigenous woman, I beat the colonial odds; odds like the Stats Can one that warns me I am 6 times more likely to die a violent death by simply existing, never mind the numbers that tell me I am more likely to get one of the colonial diseases and die from them.

I fought aging for a long time, falling prey to that same colonial machine that tried to eradicate one set of Ancestors/Ancestresses and enslave the other. The same machine that repeatedly tried to tell me I was never good enough, never thin enough, never white enough, and never young enough. It told me I could buy youth or take the risk by using cancer causing products.

Capitalism and colonialism morph into a killing machine.

Even now, despite the risks to lives, it is more important to “open” up the economy and to lull people into complacency and willful ignorance. Don’t focus on the death of your child, your mom, your dad, your partner or loved one, the Earth, the Water, all of Creation….go shopping, instead! Covid19 hasn’t happened to you, so is it even real – you need to have access to “stuff” – the wealth of the 1% depends on you. Quick! Take all the toilet paper because we need to be sure we can wipe our asses.

Creation is kind as is Creator. We are given chance after chance to look at ourselves and our actions. We can shift our behaviours at any given moment. We can stand in our own truths. We can see how we are, as a whole body, mind, heart, and spirit, a reflection of Creation, itself. After this last whisper from Cancer, I stopped looking so critically at my grey hair, my wrinkles, my aging. Instead, now I see a life lived that wasn’t always easy. I am wearing the wrinkles and grey like war lines and shades of survival.

I carry them with pride now as a Grandmother to 2 little girls and a Aunty to many others. I think of them as kôhkom/Aunty badges. Ironically, so many people comment on how “young” I look or they can’t believe I am a Grandmother; the construct of what a Grandmother should look like is so engrained in their heads.

“kohkom’s Girl” Aurora
“kohkom’s Baby Girl” Harper and Lily, my “grand-pup”

I now consciously celebrate the lines in my face as beautiful rivers like the ones that cross okâwîmâwaskiy/ Shkagamik Kwe and the silver in my hair makes me think of that beautiful Mide Spirit.

I am going to actively age Indigenous style, decolonizing it as I go through the process, so the young ones coming behind me will question the constructs from outside of our culture; and instead of trying to contort into a mould that isn’t ours, they will celebrate and embrace who we truly are as beautiful Black and Brown people of all ages.

From L to R: Marion Bourgeois, Alicia Rose, Autumn Peltier, myself, Florence Osawamick, Ciara Peltier and Stephanie Peltier at the All Nations Water Gathering in Elora (April 2018).

Re-Creating Kinship: Waynaboozhoo Style

All my mom’s sisters have passed away…and there is only a few Aunties left in our family. The ache I feel for their physical presence in my life, for their unparalleled, unconditional love is so tangible, I can feel the pain, sometimes. My son, my mama, my grand-babies are all so far away.

All of this emptiness and loneliness is quickly filled up, though, with others who have also become my family.

I have the gift of non-biological Lodge Aunties whom I didn’t get the honour of growing up with, but who have taken me under their wing – they give me the same kind of love – it is like a beautiful, warm familiar blanket.

I also have sisters and brothers who are truly my siblings in every sense of the word. I have Uncles and even another Father who adopted me, and because I am his Dawnis, I have others who are my family through him. I have countless nieces and nephews and now even grand-nieces and nephews whose little voices sound Aunty and even Nohkomis alongside my own little granddaughters’ voices. I have three additional families: my Water Walk family, my Lodge family, and my Clan.

Over and over, the echo of “you are never alone” fills up the empty spaces that sometimes appear, even now, as far along on my own walk that I am.

It is this relationality that ensures our collective Indigenous survival in every sense of the word. The isolation is what kills us as Indigenous people; the isolation and feelings of loneliness lead us to suicide ideations and/or addictions and other self-destructive behaviours.

That colonial energy wants us to feel divided, alone, without our kinship web because that web is what catches us and keeps us alive.

Agents of colonialism tried to destroy, and still try to break apart, our family units and take away our children. The destruction of this kinship web is why they encourage us to break our relationships with each other, our families, with the Waters, Lands, our Clans, and the rest of Creation, with all our Relations.

The threat of knowing we belong inside a complex web of all our Relations is why they want us to forget our own ways of knowing and being in the world. It is why they outlawed our Spirituality and continue to try to assert dominance over it. It is why they try to keep us in jail cells. It is why they clap in celebration when we destroy each other through lateral and outright violence.

That colonial energy wants us completely isolated, broken down, without hope: without kinship.

We never are alone, however, and this simple fact is what has allowed our people to survive brutality, oppression and racism over and over again, in every kind of traumatic situation you can ever imagine being in. As Indigenous people, we create and recreate our kinship webs, Waynaboozhoo style, through new and innovative ways, but also by returning to our Ancestral understandings.

This simple fact of relationality is why you see so many people standing up on colonial legislative steps, in front of trains and pipelines: for each other, for the Lands, Waters, for our future generations, and for our non-human relatives.

The bundle of relationality is one of our greatest respective Indigenous Ancestral gifts left to us. It is really easy to pick up, too. Anyone can: just go to Nibi/nipiy, the Water’s edge, to askiy/Aki, the land, find a Lodge, Midewiwin, Sundance, Wabano, Rain or another respective Indigenous spiritual tradition, create a community, urban/rez/land; find a sister, father, brother, become an Aunty, an Uncle, a kohkom or mosom. Start stitching your web together with healthy, loving, kind people and with the medicines of the Water and Lands and the rest of Creation. Your spirit will know when you tap into this beautiful, powerful energy. It will become a part of you.

This life-giving relational energy will catch you when you fall and then you, in turn, will catch others ❤ instead of pushing them off the edge colonial style.  As our kinship webs grow stronger, our families, our Clans, our Lodges, and our Nations grow stronger. With this strength of collectivity, no matter what that colonial energy tries to do, it simply can’t break us.

“We Are the Story…”

My primary work is for the people, lands, and waters, for the other entities of Creation, and for our future generations, so I use some of my time and energy to help my own people – Indigenous grassroots people – raise money to sustain what we do inside our own Indigenous spaces, in addition to helping some Indigenous families who might be in need. See @Indigenous Sweetgrass Roots FB Auction Group to join.

As I close our mini-auction with our little Indigenous Sweetgrass Roots raised dollars of almost 7 grand, I can’t help but think of the 40 billion dollar investments into LNG.
I can’t help but think of all the businesses and academics applying for hundreds of thousands of dollars in the name of “Indigenization,” under the guise of “Truth and Reconciliation” with many non-Indigenous people laying claim to our intellectual, spiritual, and even physical bundles to build their careers and line their pockets.

I think of SON, the Saugeen Anishinaabeg Nation whose youth rallied to amplify G’ganoonigonaa Zaagigan, @lakeisspeaking, the voice of the Water, turning down 150 million dollars and saying “No” to the plan to bury nuclear waste beside the world’s largest fresh water source.

I think of the Wet’suwet’en Grandmothers, Mothers and Aunties giving up their time, their security, their safety with their men supporting them to protect their traditional un-ceded territories to help the Earth and Waters for all our collective future generations against the government/business muscle using the guise of a police force designed to protect, not our people, but their money.

I think of our late Grandmother/Aunty Jo-Ba telling us be careful where you pick up money from, there is an energy attached to it. It is why she refused government funding/oil money for the Water Walks. It is why she moved with NO money at all, relying on the kindness of strangers, only taking enough to feed the people as did other Water Walkers like Nibi Emosaawadamajig, never taking more than they needed, like the Grandmothers and Aunties before them.

Some people will argue we drive, we use phones, we use… and it is true, we are all a part of this consumptive system; every single one of us are. No matter who you are, you are a part of this consumptive process. The story of us all being an equal part of this system, however, as Adichie states is an “incomplete truth.”

The rest of the truth is that many are benefitting from the system and some are much more greedier than others. The rich keep getting richer and the poor, poorer – except the number of people facing poverty is increasing while the number who are wealthy stays relatively the same. The wealthy look out for their own – not us and not you -unless you sell out, of course, then they might throw you a relative crumb….

Then, there are those who acknowledge we are a part of the system, but we are *actively* trying to change it, protecting and returning to our own Indigenous systems of knowing while creating and sustaining our ancestral relationships with the Lands, Waters and Creation… checking ourselves continuously to make sure we don’t transform into those greedy insatiable monster Ones.

I see us all standing…with our beautiful varying shades of Indigeneity, even some who are not from within us, non-Indigenous people who see and hear us genuinely, becoming helpers, not takers.

I see us with our feet rooted into Mother Earth with the Water wrapping around us and the Nations of Creation joining us connecting to the energy lines of the Thunderbirds, Sabe, MishiiBiziw, and all the other natural forces we know are a part of this world, standing collectively against the greenback line of wihtiko/windigo greed and consumption.

As the Earth and Waters – all of Creation – begins to respond to the continual genocide against them wrought by humans, and as environmental instability becomes the norm, more people will suffer: food will become even more scarce, water far more precious than gold, fires will rage, floods will rain down, hurricanes and tornadoes will swirl.

However, these Spirits who exist along-side us will differentiate between those using them for gain and those of us trying to stand up for them. This knowledge is in our respective Indigenous Nations’ stories, it is there for you to learn from and, as my brother Isaac Murdoch states: “…a story is happening right now. We are the story. The question is what role are you playing? What kind of Ancestor/stress are you going to be? What are the future generations going to speak about when your name is mentioned?”

We are the story for our future generations. We are the difference between their life sustaining world or a dead one. Each of us has a role, no matter how big, no matter how small; we have the power to determine what our role in the story will be and what kind of world we leave for them, for our babies, our children, our grandchildren, and future generations. 7 times 7 generations, our late Grandmother/Aunty Water Walker used to say, 7 x 7 is how far we are to look ahead and how far behind our Grandmothers and Grandfathers looked ahead for us.

There is a different way of being in the world – Indigenous people hold the keys to this understanding, like we always have. Come and be a part of our story, at least look inside of it. We promise, it will have a much better ending.

A Responsive Letter…

 

In the past two weeks, I have watched many people step out and speak up against all forms of violence and assault, asserting such acts, especially repeated ones, should not be the norm, nor should they be celebrated.

Some of the women and two spirit voices spoke out at great risk to themselves, their careers, and their lives. I know this risk because I have paid the price of speaking out in multiple ways, like many of them have already, as well.

I, personally, was not connected to the voicing, but elements of a story I found myself in were and, as some of you know, it is a story of domestic violence. I have only shared bits and pieces of my experiences in that story, never in their entirety.  The sharing of them fully is for another time and place.

Some information came through my feed, some was sent to me by friends and family;  I read many posts and comments by people who both knew and did not know me or my perspective of the story. It was a surreal experience – at times intensely painful – people will say very different things when you are not sitting in front of them. However, the only key elements from my vantage point in the story that I will comment on, at this time, is that of responsibility, remorse, and amends.

Taking responsibility, expressing remorse, and making amends for violent behaviour, entails more than writing down words in whatever format. It requires a mirror to be held up. Inside that mirror is the abuser’s reflection, but also the reflections of the ones who have been hurt. If there are multiple people who have been hurt either through directly experiencing that violence  – physically, mentally, financially, emotionally, and spiritually – or indirectly experiencing that violence, the mirror becomes heavier and harder to look at, but the key point is that it is not just the abuser’s reflection. If it is just the abuser’s reflection and not all the people who have been harmed, then it becomes an act of narcissism without the genuine remorsefulness required to make reparations.

While a perpetrator can take responsibility for causing harm or be forced to take responsibility due to evidence and witnesses, the action of making amends is something to be determined by the person who was hurt. As soon as violence is done, the perpetrator gives up the right to define how the person they have hurt will be healed. The only person who can define what healing/amends/reparation might look like is the person who was harmed (and by extension the other people/community members who were also directly/indirectly harmed) but if, and only if, the one who has been hurt chooses to engage with the abuser. And when that violence is a repeated pattern of behaviour over many years, healing/amends/reparation become even more difficult to make and much longer to occur.

It takes more than a letter, more than a publishing press and more than people’s opinions to determine if amends have been made and what healing is in terms of my part in the story. The only person that can do so is me – that power is mine – it comes, sadly, with being harmed, and I can tell you, no amends or movements towards amends have ever been attempted; no reparations have ever been made.

I did not deserve to be hurt.

 

êkosi

kinanâskomitinawaw for your time and energy

Tasha

Post-script: Some of the messages I have received from people close to Neal show how the form of “healing” undertaken is not one that extends to genuine remorse. Through their content, they indicate a level of dysfunction and continued verbal violence that indicates much more work is needed, particularly as they appear to be “speaking” for him or at least within the context of conversations with him. Sadly, these messages affirm my position. (I refuse to publish them here within the scope of my response – perhaps in another context at another time.)

On a more positive note, kinanâskomitinawaw for those of you who reached out with love and support. It was a difficult decision for me to post this publicly; I have held your responses close to my heart in light of the ones mentioned above.