2020 Reflections: Opening the Universe

Opening the Universe: One Rebirth at a A Time

As a woman of nêhiyaw (Cree), Scottish-Metis, and Barbadian ancestry, I have overcome many obstacles such as poverty, racism, and violence. I will never forget where I come from. The skills, determination, passion and empathy I have developed emerge from my family, my communities, and the lands, and waters. I grew up in the territories of my mother’s nêhiyaw and Scottish-Metis family in Saskatchewan. Like many other Indigenous communities in Canada, mine was an impoverished one and my family struggled on a day-to-day basis. When I was 14 years old, my high school principal – steeped in stereotypes and racist ideas of who I was as an Indigenous Black young girl – in addition to other teachers and adult figures told me I would never amount to anything and that I should just “give up.” Defiant and ashamed, I quit school. I struggled with addictions to both drugs and alcohol and then found myself alone and pregnant.  

After working at minimum wage for five years, I was determined to move out of poverty for my child, and I wanted to create change in my life and in my community. My family and community also encouraged me to lead the way for the next generations. I entered university as a mature student and a single mother.  I was determined my son, and others, would benefit from my choices and see me as a role model. Despite the financial and emotional difficulties of being a single mother, I earned my B.A. with Double High Honours in English and Indigenous Studies and went on to become a university lecturer teaching many of my own people at the Saskatchewan Indian Federated College which would eventually become the First Nations University of Canada.

My classroom became one of the places where I flourished and where I felt I could make a genuine difference for others. The many Indigenous students who took my courses taught me as much as I taught them. They, combined with Indigenous scholars and community members, supported and guided me through my own educational journey. Without them, I would not be where I am today. They inspired me to enter graduate studies. I had the goals of becoming a tenured faculty member committed to highlighting Indigenous knowledges and thought processes and finding solutions to our contemporary social issues including violence against Indigenous women and girls and MMIWGT2S. One of the reasons I was so dedicated was because I, too, had experienced violence all my life – from strangers and from intimate partners. I was in two domestically violent relationships that spanned 14 years of my life ( I am still reconciling the damage I did in my son’s life because of the choices I made). I found my way out, however, by finding myself. I am still a mama, but now, I am also a kôhkom, a Water Walker, a Midekwe, a poet, creative writer, social media activist, and a Professor, but most importantly, I am not ashamed of who I am or where I have come from.

I share my story because I want people to understand I had to rebirth myself again and again, so I might make it to this moment of this page and that you can, too. I did not die. I was not murdered. I did not end up on the streets. I did not end up in a bed of addiction. I did not commit suicide. These sentences might sound dramatic, but the truth isn’t. Growing up in Saskatchewan and existing as a brown woman of Indigenous and Barbadian ancestry, my experiences of violence are the statistics you might read or study about. They are the ones which describe how I am six times more likely to die a violent death, three times more likely to experience sexual assault and three times more likely to experience domestic violence[1]. These statistics are reflected in my lived experiences. I could have very easily ended up in a far different story than the one I find myself in. The narrative I am in now, the one that allows me to write these words, is a privileged one. However, I have not, and will never forget, where I come from and how, as a visible Indigenous woman of color, I fought to simply exist and still do. Our existence as Indigenous people, as people of color, is an ongoing battle no matter whether we are in positions of privilege or not. Colonialism is an active process and not a remnant of the past. It affects us all. We are still inside a war: the continual deaths of our people show us we are still inside a colonial war.

Despite our collective struggles, our dysfunctions, our trauma, and all the odds stacked against us, my Ancestral, family, and community narratives speak of a resiliency and agency parallel to the very lands and waters they are intrinsically connected with. Their strength to keep going and their ability to find humor and strength in the lining of the darkest and most tragic of circumstances one could imagine, speaks of a power inherent inside them as Indigenous people.

Although those colonial processes tried to ensure ties were cut and access was limited, my people never gave up their relationship with their territories. Their bones rest under the prairie grass and their voices whisper with the wind on the waves of the lakes and through the poplars, jack pines, and maples. As a child, I heard the echoes of my Ancestors and Ancestresses when I picked blueberries, saskatoons, and chokecherries with my aunties and mother, and when I rode in the back of the truck with the relatives through marriage, the ones I was privileged to call nôhkom and nimosôm,[2] Francis and Ada Ledoux, as we made our way to different reserves for feasts, ceremonies, and celebrations. nôhkom, with her handkerchief around her head, blanket around her shoulders, and little gum rubbers followed by beautiful moccasins that met the hem of her cotton dress, showed all children what unconditional love felt like. nimosôm with his cap, plaid shirt, grey pants and suspenders was quiet, kind, and strong. These nêhiyaw kêhtêyak wrapped their stories and love around us children giving us protective barriers from the very real colonial hatred we faced for simply existing.

I felt our Ancestors and Ancestresses as I followed my uncles and cousins through the bush hunting deer (although I was told I was way too chatty to be a good hunter) and when we gathered at the lake to fish.  I heard our Ancestors and Ancestresses when my Grandfather and I sat back to back under the trees and he told me the stories of kistêsinâw/wîsahkêcâhk,[3] of the mêmêkwêsisak,[4] and of that cannibal one. I can feel our Ancestors and Ancestresses when our babies enter the world and when our people leave it. I call upon them when I struggle and thank them when I succeed. Our Ancestors and Ancestresses ground me and I carry them with me always. My very being is tied to them through the threads of wâhkôtowin or the ways we are connected to each other and the rest of Creation. Their existence marked my path even before I knew where I was going and their voices called to me piercing through the colonial blanket that had me believing I was alone, damaged, worthless.

This simple-truth has provided me strength over, and over again: as Indigenous people inside our territories, we are never alone, we are beautiful, and we are worthy.  Our Ancestors and Ancestresses are all around us and we can call on them whenever we need to. They are literally inside the lands and waters and they have been here for 1000s of years, for generations and generations. Our respective Indigenous people, our lands, our waters, our stories, our knowledges, and intellectual legacies are maskihky, medicine: they are the antidote to colonialism and its hangovers.

We also have many beautiful ways of knowing that other people who are not from our traditional territories can learn from and, like all our Old Ones before us, we continually extend our hands in friendship and love to the very people who were and, in some cases, still are, determined to destroy us and the Creation many of us have come to know and remember again.

As a non-Indigenous person, your Ancestors and Ancestresses made a spiritual commitment to honor the ways of the territories and the waters you were invited into. You have stories, too and they speak to the truth of your Ancestors and Ancestresses thoughts and desires. Some of those truths are reflected in the genocidal policies designed to eradicate us – residential schools, assimilation, the 60s scoop, the foster care system, forced sterilization and other deeply inequitable, racist, oppressive actions.

The ideology that drives this oppression is still alive; it has simply shifted shape because, as Indigenous people, some of us are still standing up for Creation. As such, our existence is inherently in conflict with the resource extraction and destruction.   The very premise of what many of us Indigenous people know as “Turtle Island” and what colonization constructed as the USA or Canada or North America rests on the negation of who we are as Indigenous Nations. For countries to recognize who we are as sovereign Indigenous Nations, they would have to be dismantled and radically redefined.

There are non-Indigenous people, however, as there has always been, who remember or who are learning who they are in relation to the rest of Creation. There are stories of friendship and love; of non-Indigenous people who entered into relationship with our Ancestors and Ancestresses; who entered into a caring relationship with the Lands and Waters, with the Beings of our places, with us – in a good way. Remembering and creating those stories of change can shift the future trajectory for our collective future generations, for the Lands, the Waters, and for all of Creation.

Once you know who you are as a nêhiyaw person, a Dene person, a Haudenosaunee person, Anishinaabe person, any other Indigenous Nation and who you are as a non-Indigenous person, once you know who you truly are and when you stand in your truth, no one can take this knowledge away from you, no matter what and even if you don’t know who you are, yet, your Ancestors and Ancestresses know you and you can enter into a relationship with the other living entities of our worlds: the Lands, the Waters, the Plants, the Trees, the Animals, all of Creation. You can even enter into a relationship with our respective Indigenous languages, for they are living entities, too

Once you know who you are, the Universe opens and you can – literally – overcome it all and do anything you can imagine. As an Indigenous person, you carry the stories of our shared and respective Ancestors and Ancestresses and the stories of the Lands and Waters they are inherently a part of inside you. As a non-Indigenous person, you also have gifts to offer.

Collectively, we are at the turning point our respective Indigenous prophecies speak about. The Earth and the Waters, all of Creation is trying to get our attention; Creation is suffering, bleeding, and, in some instances, dying. It is up to each of us to decide how we are going to rebirth ourselves this time, remembering who we are, but also looking ahead to our future children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren – our babies – who, in turn, will carry all our thoughts, choices, and actions, the way we have carried our Old Ones.

kinanâskomitinawaw/gchi’miigwech for this opportunity to share these words with you.


[1] see Statistics Canada for more detailed reporting. Statistics retrieved from their site: https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/pub/85-002-x/2011001/article/11439-eng.htm and also http://fede.qc.ca/sites/default/files/upload/documents/publications/wsc_by_the_numbers_vaw.pdf.

[2] my grandmother and my grandfather

[3] Elder Brother – where I come from people do not say his real name “wîsahkêcâhk” unless there is snow on the ground, so in my text I also provide the nêhiyaw word for Elder Brother, “kistêsinâw,” out of respect.

[4] the Little People

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