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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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 justthe abuser’s reflection and not allthe 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.
kinanâskomitinawaw for your time and energy
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.