tewahtatowi: We Carry Ourselves

December 14, 2015

by — Posted in Peer Edited Submissions

Another young Indigenous woman was recently murdered in Manitoba. Did you hear about it? As I search for the news article on her death, my heart starts to sink as I endlessly scroll through the newspaper archives to access it. The death of Krystal Andrews, mother to two children, has already become inconsequential. I wonder how this is possible because my heart is still aching from the insulting, and inhumane murder and trial of Cindy Gladue, mother of three. From the carelessly wrapped-in-plastic and dumped into the Red River, murder of Tina Fontaine, 15 years old. From the kidnapped, murdered, stuffed into a duffel bag and ditched on the side of a highway, body of Loretta Saunders, university student. And from the violent, unimaginable sexual assault of 16 year old Rinelle Harper, who was left for dead. How have these violences become so normalized that the stories of these Indigenous women and girls are reduced to nothing more than another buried newspaper title on the Internet?

It might seem strange to open this blog post for a journal in Child and Youth Care (CYC), with the rapes, kidnappings, and murders of just five of the reported 1,224 Indigenous women and girls in this country who have been subjected to colonial gender-based violence. However, these are five of many stories that weigh heavily on my mind. Everyday I carry around the weight of the violence inflicted on their bodies, and as a learning-how-to-become-radical Kanien’keha:ka woman, I worry that I’m next. As a CYC student, researcher, and practitioner – I beg to ask, how are these stories seemingly absent from every day CYC practice, and the broader field surrounding me?

Since arriving in CYC, I have found that I embody a different understanding of ethics, one rooted in my Haudenosaunee and Anishinaabe teachings. Since Child and Youth Care is built on and embedded in, the ongoing legacies of settler colonialism in this country, the dominant individualizing ethics within this field continue to reproduce the colonialities that silence, erase and marginalize the stories of Indigenous peoples. However, as an Indigenous person in CYC, it is my responsibility to re-centre my relational ways of knowing, doing and being, to re-assert my sovereignty, my rights, and my voice in this place. Being Indigenous means that I will be actively engaging in decolonizing and resurgent practices. Yet I have found that these differing sets of ethics have started to clash, compete, and complicate my Haudenosaunee-self in a CYC-world, as my Indigenous presence tends to prompt settler anxieties, perhaps as a reminder of how CYC remains complicit in the ongoing project of settler colonialism. I never anticipated the marginalization and silencing that I, myself, would experience as I began to trouble, resist and reimagine my Indigeneity in CYC spaces.

My Haudenosaunee ethics tell me to walk in a good way, to move forward with an ethic of decolonial love – but at what point do I give these ethics up because they don’t align with the colonial CYC ethics in which I work? What if moving forward in a good way, involves threatening the sovereignty of settlers? How do I find a compromise between engaging with my Haudenosaunee ethics of decolonization and resistance, and the readily-available, professional CYC ones? As my Haudenosaunee ethics are embodied, shared in stories and songs, and not widely known, how do I justify, rationalize or explain my decisions in tense, ethical moments in practice? Do I dare ask when it is appropriate to engage with my own ethics?

What do I do when my ethics are not shared by the people and organizations I work with? How do we exercise cultural safety and respect in these messy, power-laden ethical standoffs? How am I able to be a genuine practitioner if I cannot engage with my own ethics? If my ethics are taken up by colonial organizations and settler people, are they at risk of being appropriated? Yet, how does systemic change occur without adopting other views, or Other-ed ethics? How do I bring my Indigeneity to colonial spaces without constantly being responsible to educate settlers? How do I encourage ethical relationships when I am being marginalized? How do I address these issues when my truths are not always valued, heard, or accepted? How do I respond to the ongoing silencing of Indigenous women and girls within a field that is fully implicated in their silencing?

In response to these ethical dilemmas, I must also ask whether “decolonization” has become a buzzword in CYC. I hear this word tripping easily off of tongues, flying around offices, and settling heavily in the air of our schools. Does tacking the word “decolonial” onto websites and into our repertoire of theoretical language serve as a quick solution to conciliate Indigenous peoples and ease settler anxieties? As Alaska Native scholar Eve Tuck, and her co-author, Wayne Yang (2012) explain, “[w]hen metaphor invades decolonization, it kills the very possibility of decolonization; it recenters whiteness, it resettles theory, it extends innocence to the settler, it entertains a settler future” (p. 3). If we are taking these words seriously, then how does decolonization fit into the work of CYC practitioners? Because, after all, if decolonization is not settler-friendly, how does this translate into practice with children, youth and families?

Within CYC, if we are truly making a commitment to decolonization, do settlers know what they’re in for? Because decolonization is so much more than acknowledging the presence of settler colonialism or whose territories we continue to occupy. Among many things, it means attending to the violence towards Indigenous women and girls. It means taking seriously the ongoing practices of erasure in this country – the fact that Indigenous women and girls are physically being erased. Indigenous peoples are being removed from the land, are quickly forgotten in the media archives, and their stories are being swallowed up in the depths of our schools. Decolonization means not just understanding, but unravelling how this erasure continues to benefit settlers. As an Indigenous person, I want to be careful to not worry myself with settler anxieties, but how is that possible? I am not excluded from the ethics, codes of conduct and expectations of professionalism in CYC. So, I often find myself thinking about decolonization from within a settler context and it does seem like an impossibly daunting task – unsettling, threatening, unfriendly. Is true decolonization incommensurable with the field of CYC?

When I think about what decolonization means for me, without diminishing the necessary difficult, painful and uncomfortable qualities of undertaking this project, the very idea lights a passionate fire inside my Spirit that motivates me to keep going. The presence of my female Indigenous body is inherently threatening and decolonization has become my source of hope. When asked what I want, I will undoubtedly respond with “I want my land back,” but this is not an answer full of wistfulness and despair. Decolonization is a project full of love, laughter, generosity, power, presence, and gentleness. Decolonization means picking up my Drum and singing my traditional songs. Decolonization is the sheer joy that fills my body as I learn a new word in Kanien’keha. Decolonization is returning to my homelands, connecting to community, and relishing in the resistance that my ancestors fought for, so that I could be here today.

As Nishnaabeg scholar Leanne Simpson (2011) explains, “[w]e must act to create [decolonial] spaces – be they cognitive or spatial, temporal or spiritual – even if those spaces only exist for fragments of time” (p. 52), and I know that this is my responsibility. I have begun to wonder how settlers can take this up, whether they can take this up at all? Does this mean that decolonization is solely an Indigenous project? And if decolonization is not a settler project, how do Indigenous peoples hold settlers responsible? Ensure they’re accountable? What role do settlers play in these complex decolonial dynamics? Are settlers giving up their positions of power? Are they making sure to check their privilege? Are they remembering to attend to the violence they may be reproducing as they remain situated within CYC?

I must admit that I’m angry. I’m angry because these stories of colonial gender-based violence aren’t being talked about. I’m angry because we continue to talk about decolonization, yet conveniently tiptoe around the violence that is happening to Indigenous bodies. I’m angry because we continue to talk about decolonization as if it isn’t attached to bodies. Bodies that are being marginalized. Bodies that are being raped. Bodies that keep going missing. Bodies that are being murdered. In the time since I began writing this blog, another Indigenous woman’s body has been found. After five long years, Karina Wolfe’s family finally gets to stop looking, finally gets to grieve. In the face of the recent launch of an inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls in Canada, I need to remind my readers that this is not something to celebrate, that this is a profoundly heartbreaking moment in Canadian history. This inquiry cannot become another move to innocence which “relieve[s] the settler of feelings of guilt or responsibility without giving up land or power or privilege, without having to change much at all” (Tuck & Yang, 2012, p. 10). We cannot continue to silence these stories because this violence is ongoing.

So, to the broader field of Child and Youth Care, and to the readers who happen to stumble across this blog, I hope you’ll take some time to seriously think about these stories of violence and the realities of decolonization. If we are truly making a commitment to decolonization in CYC, are we attending to the stories of those Indigenous women and girls who have been raped, kidnapped and murdered? What do these stories mean if we do not learn from them? What does it mean to remain unchanged in the face of such pervasive violence? However, I must also caution the importance of carrying these stories without feeding into a settler consumption of Indigenous pain. I will not contribute to the glamorization or normalization of violence against Indigenous peoples. We must remain accountable to the Indigenous women and girls who are still living. Those who continue to live within this violence everyday. Are our actions telling Indigenous women and girls that they matter? That they are more than dehumanized, and rapeable objects? That they are not disposable? Are we encouraging them to take up space, to be present, to keep resisting? Are we creating safe spaces for them to do so? Are we holding Indigenous women and girls up? Reminding them that they are important and worthwhile before they go missing?

As for me? I know that I am going to keep carrying these stories around, reminding those who have forgotten, informing those who never knew. Because all I have to do is think about Karina, Loretta, Rinelle, Tina, Cindy, Krystal, and all the fierce Indigenous women and girls continuing to resist through these violences, and I remember who I’m fighting for. As my friend Angela Scott says, I remember the stories that we should never leave behind.

 

References

Simpson, L. (2011). Dancing on our turtle’s back: Stories of Nishnaabeg re-creation, resurgence and a new emergence. Winnipeg, Manitoba: Arbeiter Ring Publishing.

Tuck, E., & Yang, W. K. (2011). Decolonization is not a metaphor. Decolonization: Indigeniety, Education & Society, 1(1), 1-40.


 

This article was peer-edited by Fikile Nxumalo

About Emily Coon

Emily Coon is Kanien'keha:ka from Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory in Ontario. She is currently a Master's student in the School of Child and Youth Care at the University of Victoria. As a traditional singer and drum carrier, Emily is interested in bringing Drum into the places she shares with young children. Her work aims to explore the possibilities that arise when children are in relation with Drum, such as the interruption of colonial (re)productions in early childhood education. Emily also strives to bring attention to erased Indigenous land relations and silenced ontologies that exist in our (un)common worlds.
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2 thoughts on “tewahtatowi: We Carry Ourselves

  1. This article really touched me on a fundamental level, I am Indigenous as well and I am always so hurt by how the media and society portray Indigenous women and men. I avoid the comments section in most cases because to see the negative comments on news articles of the death of anyone just breaks my heart, we are people too.

  2. WOW! This article touched my HEART deeply, with tears streaming down my cheeks I feel for what Emily is struggling with here. From a young woman whom truly has expanded her horizon into the soul searching of her Indigenous peoples background to her future life works. I do hope other individuals can read and understand what this article that Emily has written is saying to us all. We all have a female in our lives that means the world to us and how we would feel if she went missing or was murdered. Thank you for asking for a reply

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