National Indigenous Peoples Day

June 21 in Canada is National Indigenous Peoples Day. At school we celebrate and recognize the day by having the students participate in activities that reflect our cultures. It was a great day at our school, I only wish we had more time in the day.

I think we’ve come a long way in terms of attitudes towards National Indigenous Peoples Day. I remember one year a member of the administration team stated “today we’re celebrating everyone because I’m sick and tired of the phone calls I get from parents about the day.” This statement made me mad but it was reflective of the attitudes and beliefs in the area (which are still evident).

In today’s day and age we need to be cognizant of what we say and what we do. The “subtle” negative reactions of the administrator were noticed by other Indigenous staff. The rolling of the eyes, the abrupt reaction to anything Indigenous did not go unnoticed. I’m just happy to say that individual is no longer there.

I’ve witnessed a change and though the change has taken awhile it’s nice to see.

Sit, Listen, and Learn With Us

Recently a friend posted on social media about an ongoing issue we see a lot of in the world today: cultural appropriation. Instead of folks looking at things in a different way some people chose to misinterpret her intentions and she paid the price by having people lash out at her and post about her on their personal pages for the whole world to see.

There was a fiddle competition where a non-Indigenous person competed and won. This fiddle competition was in conjunction with a pow wow. Nowhere in the advertising did it state that it was open to all people nor did it state it was for Indigenous individuals. That being said it was advertised with the pow wow and could lead one to believe it was an Indigenous event. Lack of details on the poster lead to assumptions. I think it’s important to be clear with expectations so it is outlined for everyone.

The issue I have with my friend’s situation is the retaliation of some individuals on social media. I think it’s disgusting how adults use social media to gather support and put others down. I believe what she experienced was lateral violence. And from my own personal experience with lateral violence I know how deeply it can hurt.

Perhaps what I have the biggest issue with is the dismissal of an Indigenous woman bringing up cultural appropriation. This woman is big on decolonization, social justice, and many other pro-Indigenous topics. She is a warrior. One of the people posting online said that the post made was “directed at a kid because another kid didn’t win”. When Indigenous Peoples speak of cultural appropriation and other topics it isn’t because we want to get our way. It is because for many years the general public hasn’t listened to our concerns and we want to bring them forth. Instead of hastily responding to your feelings of discomfort sit, listen, and hear what we have to say. You might actually learn something…

Amplify Authentic Indigenous Voices

It is important that authentic Indigenous voices are heard and amplified especially when speaking of Indigenous topics. It saddens me to see filtered content. I joined a Facebook group (Métis/Indigenous Book Club) which I thought would amplify our voices, and while it does to a certain degree, the filtering is disheartening and disgusting.
*And on a side note, my Métis friend was kicked out of it for raising awareness.

A few members raised concerned over a “Métis” author (David Bouchard) and his authenticity and how he is telling stories that are not his own. Fair enough. I know when using Indigenous authors I stay away from that particular author. Someone brought up Joseph Boyden the other day and how he deceived the public by saying he was Indigenous when he is not. That post was deleted. It actually was a good post with many speaking to raising authentic Indigenous voices and how using people who are not Indigenous harm us.

Amplify and support authors who have lived experiences. Read their stories. Learn from us…with us.

Racism is Alive and Well…

Racism in Canada is still alive and well. There are many forms both subtle and not so subtle. While shopping yesterday I was proudly wearing a shirt from maskawitehew. It is a purple shirt with an Indigenous woman on it and it says “resilient”. It’s one of my favourite T-shirts. I walked into a store with my mom, she was looking for some pants for my dad. One of the employees immediately came to me and asked if I needed any help. I told him that I didn’t need any but my mom was looking for some pants. He stood near me and then pretended to fix some clothes in a rack. He did not offer my mom any help. Finally, he said “well I’ll just be over there if you need any help”. He slowly moved away from me. He continued to “fix” racks of clothes nearby. I walked over to my mom and told her about the incident and how I felt uncomfortable. I also told her that I was going to a different part of the store. In the back of my head I knew if he followed me further I would ask him why he was following me. He didn’t follow me. I didn’t stay too much longer in the store as my experience with him made me feel uncomfortable.

It’s instances like these which anger me but also indicates to me that we have a long way to go. Will we ever have reconciliation in this country?

I was followed in a different store a couple of years ago. I remember telling my friend, who is also Indigenous, about my experience. Her reaction made me sad. She said “I don’t go looking for things like that.” Well, neither do I but I am cognizant that is it happening. When we sweep things like racism under the carpet we are enabling the behaviour. We ALL need to do better and be better.

Covid and Death

My first experience with death was when I was in grade 8. My grandfather died of a massive heart attack. I took it pretty hard as I was “grandpa’s Angel”. In our culture we always have a wake and a funeral. I saw his body for the first time at the wake. I cried. It hurt so much to see him laying motionless in the coffin. Everyone knew I needed my time with him. I spent about 30 minutes with my grandpa uninterrupted. Someone even brought me a chair so I could sit with him. It was healing even though I was in so much pain. I find being able to spend time with our loved ones after they pass is very helpful in the grieving process. It allows for closure.

My husband’s parents both passed away. His mom passed away first and his dad a few years later. For me, the funeral was different. I didn’t feel a sense of closure. In fact his dad did not have a funeral. There was no wake or no viewing of the bodies. I had to grieve in a different way than I was used to. To this day I still feel there was no real closure, but I know not everyone handles death in the same manner.

Covid had brought on different ways in which we handle deaths. For Indigenous Peoples this is very difficult. There is a limited amount of people allowed at the funeral. At wakes we cannot spend as much time with the person who passed away. Our grieving process is interrupted.

Recently a friend passed away. I find myself grieving in a different way. I feel a lump in my throat and my heart feels heavy. I could not attend the wake as I was isolating. The day of my friend’s funeral I was done isolating, but due to restrictions his funeral was for immediate family.

In the midst of the pandemic we need to think about other ways to grieve, unfortunately. My dad says our “church” is the bush and he’s absolutely right. Being in the bush and connecting with the land is where I find my peace. Yesterday I spent some time making an offering. It lightened my heart a bit.

Holding Space

Growing up I always knew my cultural background and I have always been proud of who I am and where I come from. I know that not all Indigenous Peoples have the same experience due to colonial effects. Some learn about their culture later in life and some never learn. And then there are some people who claim to be Indigenous and are not or they may have Indigenous ancestors from centuries ago and no connection to the culture.

In the more recent years I’ve noticed more people claiming to be Indigenous. They do this to get jobs, grants, awards, etc. In the past I know some people would even claim Indigenous ancestry for their child to play Native Provincial hockey. To me, this is very bothersome. There is no lived experience. Lived experience to me not only includes our culture and values but also includes the negative aspects as well. We, as Indigenous Peoples, have experienced the negative side of human nature in terms of racism, stereotypes, and prejudices. It hurts. It hurts to the core. It hurts your spirit. There are many factors which contribute to our lived experience both positive and negative and those people taking up space claiming to be Indigenous often push out the people whose stories reflect our realities as Indigenous Peoples.

People like Michelle Latimer, Joseph Boyden, and David Bouchard take up space. Perhaps they do have Indigenous ancestry, but that does not make them Indigenous; it makes them someone with an ancestor who was Indigenous. In my lifetime I have met people like them. They claim to be Indigenous and some even go as far as researching so their story sounds believable. The sad part is our society believes these people to be true and authentic. How do we get beyond that? How do we get grassroots Indigenous Peoples in positions making headway?

We need grassroots Indigenous Peoples in positions of power and decision making. We need Indigenous Peoples involved in the hiring process. We need Indigenous Peoples to be thought of as equal. We need space for grassroots Indigenous Peoples.

Some Deep Thoughts…

How can we get beyond the effects of colonialism when we do not have authentic grassroots Indigenous people representing us in decision making positions or positions of power? Often I find there are jobs created to fill mandates in companies, education systems, government, etc., however when filling these positions the people interviewing lack proper knowledge. Many times the people interviewing are non Indigenous and have little to no experience with grassroots Indigenous people. They tend to choose people who fit their “idea” of who should fill the role. Jobs are often given to people who claim to have Indigenous ancestry but have no roots in our history or culture. Or they choose a non Indigenous person to fill the role.

Lateral Violence in the Workplace

In my first post I stated, “Trauma and Indigenous people. This is something that has affected us in different ways throughout the course of our life time. This blog is a recollection of my experiences and experiences of my family. For me it’s a way to speak my truth and release the negative experiences that sometimes have a way of lingering in one’s mind. It’s time to acknowledge the past and move forward.” Writing is therapeutic for me and allows me to release the negative and move forward.

For the last two years my job involved me working in a different capacity and not in the classroom as a teacher. It was a secondment which was only two years and within those two years I learned a lot more than just my job. The first year was fabulous. I was constantly learning and I had the most amazing supervisor who allowed me to flourish. She believed in me. She empowered me. She was compassionate. She was diplomatic. Unfortunately due to restructuring I was assigned a different supervisor for the second year. My gut instinct told me that it wouldn’t be the same; I didn’t get a good feeling. My gut feeling was correct.

During the summer before starting work again I was asked to speak at the university and discuss my experience as an Indigenous woman in the school system and in the workplace. I was honoured. I made arrangements with my then supervisor and the head of the department. Both said I could go and did not say I had to take a personal day off to attend. That all changed as my new supervisor called a meeting with the rest of the supervisors. Apparently it was a long meeting discussing me going to speak at the university. This occurred after I went to speak at the university, not before. I had told my new supervisor about the engagement prior to going and nothing was said. After my speaking engagement she came into my cubicle and was very adamant and her tone of voice was condescending. I felt like a little girl getting scolded when she told me I had to take a personal day for going to the university. I was gone from work for a total of 2 hours yet I had to take a personal day. I told her I’d take a half a day but the two hours I was gone didn’t even add up to a half a day so I was owed time. I also mentioned that nothing was said prior. I did cry because all of this was done behind my back and the way she was talking to me was rude and uncalled for. I was told the other workers around me actually left and went for coffee because of the way she was talking to me. It made them feel uncomfortable with her raising her voice at me and with me crying.

My supervisor had brought me a bag of goodies because she felt bad for how she treated me. I didn’t see it as a good genuine gesture, I saw it as a way for her to make herself feel better. Kind of like when an abusive spouse buys his/her spouse gifts after abusing them. I was leery of her.

I found throughout the work year she only came to my cubicle when I was “in trouble”. I had my guard up and was suspicious of her whenever she approached me. In my head I was always thinking what did I do wrong now?

One of my colleagues told me how she would divulge private information about me to others. This happened on a few occasions and it really made me angry. As my supervisor she had no right to talk about my personal issues. I knew I had to talk to her about it but it was extremely hard for me. My heart was pounding. My palms were sweaty. I really didn’t want to go into her office to tell her she needed to stop. I did eventually go and my voice was shaky. And I did end up crying.

My final straw with her was when she commented on my Performance Agreement. Most of her comments were good but I found them to be regurgitated from the year before. It was like she didn’t even know what I was capable of doing work wise. She commented that I should take PD on how to receive constructive criticism. First off, there is no such PD, only on how to give constructive criticism. I knew prior to reading her comments on my Performance Agreement there would be a negative one. I found she had become predicable. She didn’t discuss her comment with me prior to writing on it which should have occurred. I wouldn’t sign the document because I didn’t agree with that one comment and she ended up emailing me but carbon copying her supervisor and the director. I saw how she was trying to throw me under the bus and didn’t appreciate it. In the end the director was told how badly this affected me and that I was thinking of calling our union as the way I was treated throughout the year was uncalled for. It was lateral violence. My supervisor was told that was the end of the Performance Agreement. Afterwards she left me alone and didn’t even check in on me and I didn’t mind. To me she was someone who should have never been a supervisor and obviously had issues.

My supervisor was big on “decolonizing” yet she was backwards in how she approached matters. Her approach was anything but an Indigenous way of handling things. It was very colonial which is kind of funny because she would tell another coworker not to throw her “colonial papers” aka degrees in her face.

One belief I have is that when people treat others in a bad or disrespect way karma has a way of coming around. It may not show up in her lifetime, it could show up in her kids or grandchildren. Even though the lateral violence I received was wrong I still feel sorry for her. She seems like a lost individual who needs help. I’m glad I have a great support system to help me in times of need.

Lateral violence is real. It does happen more often than we think. I have learned that I need to be strong and I need to deal with issues head on.

Here’s a good video on lateral violence from Bear Paw Media and Education. Published on April 28, 2014. https://youtu.be/neWtt3sAqMM

Personal Narratives

Our personal narratives are ones which are near and dear to our hearts. I find a lot of times when minorities tell their stories people who hear them often downplay the experiences by saying they experience the same thing or they come up with “research” to disprove the person. To me this type of behaviour is negative and doesn’t help hearing other people’s experiences and learning from it. In Canada we are supposed to be in a time of reconciliation, but how can we be when there is a lack of empathy?

Recently an Indigenous woman posted on Facebook a situation where she was called a “squaw”. The way she handled the situation was not the best (and could have been handled better), but the fact that she was called a derogatory word was downplayed by many on social media. Many people came to the defence of the man who spewed this offensive word. One lady even said the place where the situation occurred (car wash) that she’s always been treated well there. For starters the woman who said that is a white woman. Huge difference! As Indigenous people we typically know who is and isn’t racist. To me it’s just innate. The whole situation blew up and people started to say that the lady called the man a “tugeye” and that was just as bad as being called a “squaw”. Ummmm, excuse me? That’s just as bad? No!! There is no comparison. If empathy was present in this situation it would have been acknowledged that the term used towards the woman was uncalled for and it also would have been acknowledged that the whole situation was not handled well by either party.

When we start to listen to minorities and hear their experiences we can start to build empathy and gain ground in terms of reconciliation. Until then we will continue on this path of racial separation. It is the stories and experiences of Indigenous people which need to be told as we are walking on land which has a story beyond the “settlement of this country”.

Instead of downplaying racist incidents allow the speaker to tell their story. You might learn something new. Just because you’ve been treated well somewhere doesn’t mean everyone has the same experience. Personal narratives need to be told and not filtered in order to make others feel more comfortable.

Lateral Violence

Lateral violence happens and it has the ability to crush people. I have experienced it a few times throughout the course of my life. The most recent one was from a supervisor. I know that my supervisor wouldn’t admit it, but it happened. No relationship was formed. I constantly felt like I was under the microscope.

I got to a point where my supervisor would contact me and I would think “what did I do wrong now?”. It was an unpleasant thought and very unnerving. I felt I couldn’t approach her as she spoke over me and when I did speak up she never fully heard or understood me. I loved my job; I disliked feeling put down. There were times when she would raise her voice at me and intimidate me in front of others.

My supervisor was a promoter of decolonizing, but how can you decolonize when you treat others with disrespect and lead through fear?

It was an unpleasant working condition and I’m glad to be in a different place and away from the negativity. In order to move forward we need to recognize these negative experiences and learn from them. I know I shut down due to how I was treated, but I know how to handle myself better in a situation like that again. Speak up even when others don’t hear you. And if they don’t hear you, someone else will.