Friday, January 29, 2016

Integrity Buffalo

Spirit of Gentle Strength
"Spirit of Gentle Strength" by Barbara Cote
Was trying to post a picture of the integrity buffalo that I drew but my phone isn't working right.  Sometimes when I am in a meeting one word gets caught in my head and twined up with my drawing.  Anyway, integrity buffalo makes sense as buffalo is respect in the seven teachings.
I am doing a job interview today and that always makes me kind of anxious waiting.  On the good side, after a horrible evening of children the night before last, everyone was calm and nice last night, so I got to have some wind down time and get mellow.  This is my first out interview as a declared Metis person.  I have my tobacco to lay down and wore all my best gear, my Tammy Beauvais dress, my silver humming bird ring, a lovely blue sealskin bracelet and some great beaded turtle earrings.  I feel like I have my armor on.

Made an order from the Silver Moccasin and was enjoying poking around their shop.  They also seem to have free shipping and they are Canadian.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Storytelling Realness

Started "Without Reserve" by Lynda Shorten yesterday.  I  liked that she clearly identified where she was coming from in doing this project and her awareness of her own potential bias as a non-Indian person.  It set the book off on a good tone.  She describes it as being the stories of urban Indians who wanted to tell their stories.  She makes no promises of representativeness.  If people wanted to tell their stories she listened.  However from the first story  it is clear that she was genuinely engaged in the telling of these stories and in that particular case, developed a friendship with the man.  The story is a hard one to read.  It is the story of abuse, foster homes and the street, but I found it really good to hear the story in the words of the person living that experience and to get the sense of what he was thinking of.  He self described himself as scary and it was interesting to peer past the outside layers of that person.  I live a block from the homeless shelter and this type of guy is our neighbor, I felt like I got a little bit better understanding of all the conflicting influences behind the stereotype.

"Following the Wind - Bird, Dog and Geese" - Gigi Mills
I am also reading "Buffalo People - Prehistoric Archeology on the Canadian Plains" by Liz Bryan.  This book is kind of the antithesis of Without Reserve.  The personhood of the prehistoric people is totally lost as is the connection of the writer and the reason why they care about this subject.  This is a well written and interesting book, but it is clinical.  I find this strange for two reasons 1. We love Time Team and in an hour, with three days of digging they can usually tell a pretty fulsome story about the people they were investigating, to not be able to do that with a whole book and years of data seems strange.  There must be some stories, some peoples that capture the imagination. 2. This book is late enough (1991) that casually mentioning a museum stealing a medicine wheel off somebodies land or the fabulous find of a graveyard where a whole bunch of prehistoric people could be dug up, should elicit some kind of negative reaction.  The first story is totally glossed over, the land owner complained and the museum returned it.  The second story is just gleeful about the find as it allows us to know about burial practices.  I want to learn like the next gal but these were real people who were put into mother earth by their families to be part of all our relations.  To disturb them just for knowledge is not right.  While I am learning a lot about the history of this part of Turtle Island from reading this book, it is starting to feel like that knowledge is a little tainted.  At this point, I would read this one with caution.  I'll let you know if it gets worse.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Inspirations and a financially prudent turtle

Last night the girls and I read "Ancient Thunder" by Leo Yerxa.  This book won the Governor General's Award and is by the same author as the "Last Leaf First Snow to Fall" that I reviewed earlier. Ancient Thunder is a beautiful book with horses displayed across the background of traditional clothing.  However unlike the Last Leaf book, there was not that much to talk about from the story, so I feel like it did not really engage the children.  We talked a bit about the animals and why certain shapes might have been used in the drawings but that was about it.  There was one Ojibwa word on the first page, but that was a one off.  If you want pretty pictures, this is a great book, if you want to have a discussion around a book this one may not inspire.
Financially prudent turtle
If you are looking for some inspiration how about this little girl who is collecting books with main characters that look like her or Dahkota Kicking Bear Brown who is 16 and working to address systematic racism and encourage native education?  Or how about you let researchers tell you what you already knew that animals, and in this case bison who it turns out are pretty egalitarian? Or maybe you want to engage in the ongoing discussion about white privilege?  Might as well, it is always timely.  If so you might enjoy the new Mackelmore song of the same name.  So very excited about this new album.  What are you going to do to inspire yourself today?

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

God in Ikea and ancient astronauts

God Is RedStarted Vine Deloria Jr's "God is Red".  When I was going to write this post yesterday I was planning to speak to my initial prejudices about this book and my expectation that it would be a kind of hippie, loose analysis out of step with modern reality.  I found myself wrong as the first few chapters that set out a very effective overview of the history of the American Indian Movement and the greater political context as well as a good chapter examining the fundamental difference between religions which are time based (historically focused) and Indian ideas of sacredness (the equivalent) which are space based and timeless.  He provides some good examples of how this all played out through the colonial process and the text is interesting and easy to read.  Not what I was expecting. 

Then he starts to expand in this idea that if religion is based on time, then events in holy books had to occur if the timeline was to stand.  So he asks what could we find to support these events and why upon this support being put forward did these groups not embrace this evidence?  This  evidence gets into some sketchy science and history stuff and leads to the possibility of ancient astronauts from another galaxy interfering in human events or perhaps even creating humans.  This brought me back to my original prejudice.

I am half way through this book and I don't regret reading it, but I am a little uncomfortable.  Is this the point of these sections?  To push us out of the comfort zone, to play with the idea that if it all stories, what is another story to add to the mix?  Why not astronauts?  Who am I to judge another person's/religions' story?  I am not really sure where he is going with this analysis and it is making these sections hard to read. 

It is timely I guess, as Runa asked at the Ikea, (where one has all one's  deep religions conversations) if I believe in god.  This book provided a good articulation of the idea of believing in something mysterious and not me and part of the all.  I could relate to this.  My first question for Runa was what do you mean by god?  I still think old white guy worrying about who puts what body part in whom. She didn't seem sure, just asking.  Maybe Ikea is her sacred space.  Do you keep reading in situations like this or let the book go?

Friday, January 22, 2016

"Not really indian"

I read an excellent paper yesterday exploring the intersection of the constructed Indian by the white observer and the European/capitalist ideas of time.  The paper is called "Why [,] These Children Are Not Really Indians" by Cheryl A Wells.  First off, this piece was very readable.  She effectively used examples and clearly set our her argument.  She also situates this specific question within the wider context of the time and hints at the similar processes that were going on for other "non-dominant groups".  Overall, the questions of identity formation are of interest to me right now, but more specifically, I really clearly remember a conversation with my dad about the purpose of schools as being in large part to get us used to following the clock in order to turn us into good little workers.  This is one of the few conversations I remember with him.  Not sure why it stuck.
'ish watch' - because in India, time is not Science but an ART. And we know that art can never be rushed.:
The other "Indian time"

Wells starts us out in the post-civil war US, where there was a search for a modern identity and the corollary, "authentic historical identity" both for themselves and others, in order to address the anxieties related to emerging modernization, capitalism and industrialization.  She argues that "having already "defined their own states as inauthentic," Americans "located authenticity" in the figure of the American Indian, who served to reflect Other.  They came to increasingly measure Indian authenticity in opposition to the symbols and processes of modernity." (here she is referencing Deloria's "Playing Indian")  So that there came to be an obsession to construct the Indian as untouched by the currents of modernization.  One of the symbols of this purity was the lack of relationship to the clock, so that those Indians who embraced the clock were denied their indigenousness. Here she references the labeling of the Cherokee, who embraced the clock, as "negative Others" and not authentic Indians.  Pure Indians were ignorant of the clock and thus timeless and real.

However this construction is based on privileging European ideas of time over indigenous ideas of time.  She argues that this, "marriage between authenticity and temporality has its roots in European colonization."  That the very process of immigration - time on the boat, as well as the differing time cultures of the new immigrants, culminated in a desire to recreate the European ideas of time, often expressed by the tolling of the church bell and its related focus on task orientation.  One bell to wake up, next bell to eat and on and on through the day and week.  Given this history, the colonizers failed to recognize the time structures of the Indians based on the sun and moon or to understand that these two ideas of time could exist together.  Indians could understand the clock and use it as required, but they did not necessarily see it as the only time that mattered.  She gives a couple of examples of workers who were punctual most of the year- until it was hunting season or salmon run when those cyclical time cues dominated. She notes an Edward Curtis photograph where he erased the clock in the home of an Indian couple as it was, "not authentic."

She provides some interesting examples of some of the cyclical and linear time systems used by different Indian groups and notes that in places where there indigenous time systems were obvious to the colonizer they were destroyed as uncivilized.  Think of the Latin American indigenous calendars.  She also describes the use of sun dials by the priests as an intermediary time system for the Indian, with the tasks shown pictorially, so that the Indian would know exactly what to do at what time.  This was all new information for me, so I found this section quite tantalizing.  She also explains the use of the clock in the school (often residential) where disobedience to the clock could mean going hungry or facing violence.  "Death often resulted from resistance to European - imposed temporal systems" and she shares some examples that are disturbing.  I never thought about that aspect of the schools.  But how important are the bells in school even now?  Just yesterday, there was a message about how being late to school hurts your child and their classmates.  Not to say a strict note is like a beating, but times late are still tracked and judged.  Why would church people so fear lateness that it was better for the person to die than be late?  Being late was a greater sin than murder.  That is so insane. 

The clock she argues, was a weapon of deculturation and assimilation, as the clock was seen as the path to civilization as it was conceptually closely related to virtues such as "work, money and progress."  Why would you listen to your body and eat when you need to and sleep when you are tired or hunt when it is the season, when you can do these things in an institutionalized manner that is more convenient for administrators?  But at the same time, the lack of the clock became an indicator of authenticity.  She cites a case where a mixed breed man, went to court to have his children places in the white school due to the fact that he was a clock repairer and thus lived a civilized life. 

SciFi and Fantasy Art Steampunk Dream-catcher by Kathleen Hardy - This is so neat! Love the steampunk flair...:
Steampunk and Indian and
fantasy and Si-fi
She also explores this juxtaposition using the example of the Indian villages at the 1904 St Louise World's Fair where the example homes of the "authentic Indians" had no clocks or "modern items", even while the Indians who worked in these displays were on the clock, on duty at specific times of the day.  The sample Indian school in this display was fitted with multiple clocks and the children were in European clothes doing proper chores as guided by theses clock.  On seeing this part of the display, tourists were noted to exclaim "Why [,] these children are not really Indians." (Ida Little Pifer "World's Fair US Indian Exhibit") 

To be authentic, you had to be without time, while in reality those without this time or resisting this time were being harmed and harassed.  There was really no good answer, dammed if you do and damned if you don't.  She finishes by looking briefly at modern spaces where Indians reject these colonial ideas of time i.e., the idea of Indian time.  She notes that this connection between time and authenticity continues in the modern environment.  I think that this observation leaves lots of interesting spaces to explore how time works in the urban indigenous context and how it affects modern constructions of indigenaity.  This was a really well written article with lots of examples and a good context.  The author seems to be a civil war historian interested in issues of race.  The piece is from just last year, but it will be interesting to see what else she works on.

I personally love the clock.  During my first labor, the mid -wife tried to take the clock away as she thought it was distracting me.  I found it calming to see that time was actually passing and resisted her.  On the other hand, having anxiety, being late would tip me into panic.  The first time I knew that the medication could help me was when I was late for work and not panicking.  I could let the clock go.  How do you think about time?  How does it feed into your ideas of self?  Have you read anything else on this subject?  If so leave the name in the contacts.  I want to do some more exploring.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Non Discretionary Moose

Due to my learning disabilities, I function best in meetings with something to draw on.  At a recent meeting I produced "Non discretionary moose".  I like to think about these pieces as a little homage to the ledger drawings.  I am still playing with Ojibwa style art this week. 
I am finding it hard to write the past few days.  A little depressed maybe?  Or maybe just readjusting to normal after the intensity of Sophie's feelings the past few months.  We now have a prescription for a higher dose of meds for her and she has decided to go goth and seems to be finding lots to identify with in that culture and the discussions of death and loss.  She showed me "Mama" by "My Chemical Romance" specifically.  She really enjoyed this course.  Runa found it hard to dance to and was thus annoyed.

Mama, we all go to hell
Mama, we all go to hell
I'm writing this letter and wishing you well
Mama, we all go to hell

Read more: My Chemical Romance - Mama Lyrics | MetroLyrics

I feel a bit slow, I have lots of things to write about but I am not getting them in order and pulled together.  I am in a place of just gathering more and more articles and ideas.  I am trying not to judge too hard and see this mood in it's place in my circle.  Sometimes I gather and sometimes I share.  It is all ok. I am listening to Cris Derkson's "Collapse" over and over again as well.  We just gotta trust the circle eh? 

I will leave you with some Louie C.K. realness.  He is a really thoughtful comedian.  This quote makes me think of a book I am starting about Cree identity formation and the three circles of the self, the self in the community and the self  connecting to all it's relations.  I was also reading a bit about trauma and came across a poem about the hole in the sidewalk of your healing.  I thought was a great metaphor.

When he explained life:

Monday, January 18, 2016

Books and goals

Wild Berries
I had been greatly looking forward to reading the novel "Broken but not Dead" by Joylene Nowell Butler.  Not only is this novel set in Prince George with the main character a former Professor of the university I went to, but she is also Metis.  I made it through five chapters and the writing is fine, but I found that the abusive mother was triggering me and I had to stop reading.  So if you don't have mother issues, this might be a good book for you.  I found the sadistic stuff a bit much but it was really the mother that did me in.

We also read "Wild Berries" by Julie Flett.  This is a children's book and the pictures are nice.  The text is short but there is enough to talk about on each page that this is not a problem and I liked the inclusion of a relevant Cree word on each page.  The story is about a little boy going out with his kokum to gather berries.  It speaks to the animals they see and provides and example of how to say thank you for the abundance of the land.  I think it would have been nice to have the Cree words also in Syllabics, but otherwise this book was a nice compact discussion to remember our relationship to everything.

This reminds me, that a few week ago, I found a Wikipedia page where students had put up short articles in Syllabics.  These are very short articles about common things (like dogs) but this seems like such a potentially awesome way to share language resources and teachings.  I am going to try to add to this once my Cree is a little better.  What are you working towards right now?

Friday, January 15, 2016

What are you going to name yourself?

After getting massively excited on the Library reserve system - they can get things for you so you don't wander lonely as a crazed dyslexic trying to figure out the numbering system and alphabet ending in tears - I carted home my 29 on hold books.  A couple of the books were about archeology on Turtle Island.  Last night I started reading "Ontario Prehistory: An Eleven Thousand Year Archaeological Outline" by James V Wright published by the Museum of Man in 1977.  As I have written here before about how our family really enjoys watching the television program "Time Team" where the archeologists work together to explore a particular area.  I particularly enjoy the episodes where they find things from the pre-Roman periods.  I really like learning about the religious and cultural practices of these periods.  Did you know that there is one area where everyone was buried with exceptionally nice buckets?  The connections to ancestors in these societies and their understandings of our relatedness and the fibers of time, brought me to a place of confluence with the metis/indigenous ideas on these things.  So these books were choosen to further my knowledge in this area. 

In addition, over the holidays I read an article called "Beyond Racism: Some Opinions about Racialism and American Archaeology" which brought a whole other set of questions to light for me.
The article describes itself as wanting to engage in a dialogue about racialism in modern archeology.  It is positioned as a blend of narrative text and dialogue quoted from a on-line group the two authors participate in.  They raise the issue that while the idea of race is now known not to biologically supportable, there is a continued support for racialism and the related mental constructs that harm the search for a more unbiased understanding of how the past shapes our current realities.   Racialism, is described as a belief in and acceptance of race and racial groupings.  So that the ideas of "American Indian" or Indian Studies would be racialist. They note that while these groupings are commonly used, once they are used to rank or segregate people then there is a move into racism. However, racialism is pretty wide spread, but racism is generally bad, so there is tension inherent in the very production of the categories.  Categories that are intended to help those in a particular group may themselves be a precursor to racism and the dehumanization of those included in the grouping, undermining the very good that is being attempted.

The authors note that this tension shows up in cases like the Kennewick Man or debates about whether Indians were here first or if it was some other group and if it was another group then does this pardon the colonization? Europeans only treated the Indians like the Indians treated the ones before them - that just good Darwinian sense right? So that rather than a robust conversation on  the lingering effects of colonization, indigenous groups are drawn into a defensive posture to uphold some unchanging status quo.  We have always been just this way.  It leaves Indians/ness to be  affirmed by the colonizers gaze - essentialized like we are stuck in an Edward Curtis picture.  This construct, they argue, eliminates space to address the ongoing effects of our particular history and hinders the process of re-imagination in the modern (often urban) context.

They then come back to the issue of archaeology in the Turtle Island context, which they argue is colonial in its roots, starting with Thomas Jefferson exploring burial mounds on his property.  The authors explore how this early work led to the construction of a difference between the post contact indigenous peoples and these earlier "modernized" peoples (they could build mounds).  These earlier peoples were hypothesized to be "white" given the sophistication of their culture and the authors argue that this white washing was used to support a prior white ownership to the land which ultimately came to be expressed through the rhetoric of Manifest Destiny.

In the later parts of the paper, they explore the sore point of their discussion.  They see the potential that the articulation of a Pan-Indian identity and the social action that came out of it are a risk as they propagate an acceptance of racialism and walk a fine line with racism.  They encapsulate this conversation with the following, "Writing about "the history of Indians" seems qualitatively very different from preparing scholarship on the "history of adherents to racial Indianhood."  The later of which strikes me as being the solution aimed for within the Métis community.  It is the life that matters, not if you look/name yourself a certain way.  The solution they propose, beyond lots of dialogue of course, is that we should work to deracialize academic study.  For example focusing on considerations of historical process rather than racial definition as the basis for assigning identity. 

I personally like this option to focus on historical experience and the remaining impacts of these experiences as a source of identity and shared support.  I have a friend who was born in Africa and I am continually surprised by the similarities of experience of growing up in colonized societies and living with the lingering impacts.  I think this whole questions comes back to the richness of experience when we can focus beyond the specifics of the situation we are in and work/share together.  We are better together and the language we use to describe ourselves can bring us closer to or farther away from others.  I don't have the academic background to critique this piece or to see all the sub-text it contains, but I do think it raises some interesting questions which I am going to carry with me as I read about the archeology on Turtle Island.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Indian Play and Pray

Continuing on my Indian Play theme from last post below are the animals I was inspired to draw.  Turtle and moose are playing poker, buffalo is knitting and beaver and loon are having a game of pool. 
Yesterday Sophie and I got to Kumik.  A little late and a lot frazzled so it was disorientating to walk in from a packed day of work  into the calm.  The Elder was Bob Seven Crows and his partner Joanne Parent. 

Often they will share a theme and ask people to pass the feather and share their thoughts on it.  Sometimes I find this really frustrating.  I want to hear the Elder share their wisdom not some random person who might take too long to talk and might be boring... but what a lesson there is in that frustration.  I can share a joy or a sorrow with someone.  I can learn a totally new way of thinking about an issue or gain the comfort of shared experience.  I can have the calm to be in a space where everyone is respected.  I can remember that it is not all about me.

The theme was the smudge and the teaching was about intention.  We all smudge differently and that is ok.  It is the intent that we bring to the act that matters.  I really appreciated this assurance, that I was not missing out on some "right way" to smudge.  They also spoke about making due.  As they work in the prisons tobacco is not allowed and matches regulated, so they use cedar and count matches.  This story was a good reminder to appreciate that we do have access to these things.

They also spoke to the four sacred plants and the role of each of them; cedar and sage to purify;  Sweet grass to carry prayer; and tobacco to carry intentions.  They spoke to the offering of tobacco to the Elder as a means to carry the intentions for the discussion to be had. I had read about each of these, but hearing it again was really good.  It has made me think about that offering of tobacco differently.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Indian Play

First off, I just loved the title of this article "Indian Play: Students, Wordplay, and Ideologies of Indianness at a School for Native Americans" by Lisa K. Neuman in the American Indian Quarterly.  Indian Play sounds awesome and imagine having tea parties with buffalo or engaging in silly wordplay with a beaver? Actually, Tea Parties with Buffalos is going to be the name of my punk band.  Neuman defines Indian play as "...a creative process through which educated and highly articulate students negotiated the meanings of Indianess and produced new Indian identities."  I'd like to think we are doing some Indian play right here on this blog.

Giclee Canvas Print, Bison on Mustard Paprika, 8x10, American Buffalo, Southwest Colors, Bison Art, Buffalo Art:
Strangely I could find no pictures of Buffalo's
going to a tea party.  But I will make sure that
one is created.  The world needs it.
This article brought forward a number of new to me facts and ideas.   Firstly the author is interested in an American school called Bacone College.  She notes that it was established in 1880 by a Baptist minister who wanted to train Indian students to be teachers and preachers and that the school highlighted the "Indian" nature of the school as a positive factor when raising funds.  As part of this focus they also hired Indian staff and provided curriculum and activities in "Indian arts, histories, and cultures" so that the students, for the time, had an unusual ability to "publically engage ideas about what it meant to be Indian and educated." 

In the article she explores the history of the school through the words of the students gathered either from the student paper or through interviews with former students.  She is particularly interested in their use of wordplay and humor as a means to explore this issue of identity.  This space for Indian play was complimented by a collegial environment, which was reportedly free of violence and where students were not isolated from other adult Indians or surrounding Indian communities.

She mentions that some students were fearful that, "if they were educated they might no longer be considered "Indian" by their communities" and that some faced teasing when returning to their home communities.  The students played with these themes through two long running fictitious newspaper characters, one the stereotyped ignorant Indian who couldn't understand why anyone would want an education and the other "educated" Indian who defied the stereotypes of that role (and was stupid).

Neuman is careful to note that this Indian play does not imply agency or resistance on the part of the students.  She sees that their dialogue was primarily an internal discussion on the changing status of the students themselves, but at the same time she notes that in some cases, cultural persistence can also be read as resistance.  We are still here.

Given the nature of the school, it also brought together students from different tribes and was thus  unintentionally a space to explore early-pan Indian identity, with students sharing cultural information with each other as well as exploring similar challenges through the Indian play.

I  also personally found this article interesting, as the family history was that James Brady Jr  (Jim Brady) was accepted into Oxford and choose not to go as he felt it would make it difficult for him to maintain a connection with the people.  It makes me think about how difficult it must have been for someone like him to go away into that very Europeanized space and what that would require that person to give up in terms of identities.

What is your Indian Play today?

Monday, January 11, 2016

Moose teeth all the way

This drawing is inspired heavily from the book "Ojibway Animals" by Jason Adair that I picked up at the Art gallery.  While Ojibway is probably the most prevalent of our various types of indigenous background, I hadn't done much exploring there for some reason.  This book inspired me to think about that part of our culture a bit more.  I was struck to by the similarities of this art style to the west coast styles of animals.  I really like the pictures in this book and the colors were very inspiring. It is a baby book and would be fun to share with a little person as well.  I think I will try to create a fabric piece using this inspiration.  I guess I just got caught up in plains styles.  Moose teeth all the way.

Have been reading lately and find myself a bit surprised by the mix of celebrity gossip and moments of thoughtfulness.  I wanted to share this article on body positive/feminist social media personalities to follow.  I liked this one where plus sized women shared their most body positive picture of the year. I was thinking of this article as I was at the pool in my bikini not feeling too bad about myself. I also enjoyed this article talking about plus size privilege.  Always gotta check the privilege.  I have also found a number of new to me plus sized stores through browsing their articles.  I guess there is a teaching there.  We are all made up of moments of the sublime in between gossip and everyday worries.

Friday, January 8, 2016

Who made this body?

Spirit Wrestler Gallery: Art Exhibition: Celebrating 45 Years Cape Dorset Print Collection:
Spirit Wrestler Gallery: Art Exhibition:
Celebrating 45 Years Cape Dorset Print Collection
In my reading and thinking over the break I came to the realization that even if I cannot wholy understand why I am the way I am regarding my body, that I can still acknowledge and own the reality of what it is right now.  I don't know why, but I am broken in some very specific ways. I was thinking this through and it seemed like a poem to me.

Who made this body?

Who made this body?
I remember no catastrophic moments
where dismembered bits
were gathered together
and roughly rejoined
yet it is broken

Who made this body?
maybe a 1000 tiny fragilities
and one insignificant incident
that set the whole thing to fracture?
patched enough to keep going
yet it is broken

Who made this body?
memories I carry in my blood?
the abuse and sorrows of a people?
betrayal of their gods?
the deaths of mothers and fathers?
gaping wounds held together by symbols and alcohol
yet it is broken

Who made this body?
with its revulsion for touch
fears of intimacy
and ballooning shell
a broken system?
a mother?
an inborn weakness?
medicated enough
talked enough
to keep a person shape
yet it is broken

Who made this body?
fairy tales that were lies?
truths that were hidden?
words unspoken?
but I speak and try for truth
yet it is broken

How can I not know
The thing that dominates so much?
What am I missing?
Can I ever fix what I don’t understand?
the kookums game to the eyes to see the question
give me the courage to look for answers
remind me to give this time.
and while I may be broken
I don’t have to journey alone

Thursday, January 7, 2016

In defence of things that don't need defence

I think it is probably a left over idea about protestant work ethic but sometimes I get down on myself for the amount of time I spent playing clicky computer games and in thinking about this, I was struck by all the teachings that can come out of these simple activities which may appear useless on the surface. 

In particular, I have lately been re-obsessed with Bejeweled Poker where you try to get hands of matching colors.  While simple, these is a certain amount of strategy in planning how things falls.  More than that I learnt a lot.
  • Sometimes the board looks awesome and doesn't deliver.  Sometimes it looks awful and does.  Looks can be deceiving and worrying about it either way doesn't do any good.
  • Sometimes you have a very clear plan and the fall of new shapes destroys it.  You can strategize, but you also need to have a back up plan.
  • Sometimes you can have runs of amazing luck and it is tempting to get sloppy cause you are that awesome.  Sloppy play can ruin even good luck.
  • Sometimes if I play when I am very tired the game becomes very hard.  Sometimes you need to go to bed and come back to your tasks when you are more rested.
  • Often I play better when I let my intuition guide me.  Listen to those little inside voices.
  • Often I play to distract myself from other things that are worrying me.  Sometimes the answers come when I don't look at them and give them space.
  • Sometimes a game is just a game and that is ok. 
So what is your guilty pleasure?

I also had some links I wanted to share.

The first is a piece about appropriation of culture by a fashion house and commoditization of indigenaity.

A piece about Native Max an indigenous fashion magazine.  I have been meaning to investigate this one for a while.

This coverage of the addition of a trigger warning to the government web sight for the inquiry into missing and murdered women.

Share what you are discovering and enjoy your guilty please today.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Myth making and keeping

Over the break I read "Re-Constructing the Colonizer: Self-representation by First Nations Artists" by Shandra Spears.  This piece inspired me so much that I took time from reading and created a picture to respond to the Canadian colonial gaze she describes. I tried to represent the stereotypes, both good and bad, of indigenous peoples, and the reality of a modernized people/culture who are alive and changing.
In this article she begins by examining the tensions of producing humor that balances the "laughing with" and "laughing at" where laughter can be a tool that reminds the other that we (indigenous peoples) are still here and thriving, but where these moments can also be co-opted or perceives as performative caricature.  She speaks to the dueling nature of art as educator, healer, politician or just  a thing in itself that is beautiful or humorous.  Does art/humor without meaning betray the indigenous people?  Does the indigenous artist/comic need to represent a pan-Indian experience or can they personalize their creation and connect to the wider indigenous experience as a colonized and oppressed person?  She also poses the question as to what comes first, the artist or the indigenous person and she raises some really interesting questions as she covers this ground.

She expands the discussion to addresses the same questions from the perspective of an indigenous feminist.  She explores how you can tell stories of victimization, while not creating victims.  "Some stories can erase us and make us fell invisible... Some stories can hurt us or limit our sense of what is possible.  Some stories can make injustices visible that have been ignored or forgotten.  Stories can set us up to reach for an imagined Native identity or female standard of beauty.  Stories can also elevate us."  Clearly how we tell our stories matters and it is all stories right?

The middle part of the paper gets into the construction of the mythology that has shaped the lives of indigenous people called "colonization".  She says that "This mythology is so strong that a colonizer can walk past thirty Native people on the street, and only the see the one who is passed out on the sidewalk, because that one Native person confirms the colonial myth system." She concedes that if they came by in a canoe and buckskin they might also be recognized.  I think about that sometimes as I walk. 

She describes how the colonial gaze is similar to the male gaze in "its assumption of maturity and superiority and in the way that it objectifies and eroticizes that which it captures."  She notes that we can get caught in seeing ourselves in this gaze and then reproducing these same ideas of worth or beauty.  We can get caught up in judging other indigenous people's with that lens or trying to refute it in our own lives by working extra hard to show the colonizer that we don't fit a certain stereotype.  This passage really struck me given my response to the Winter Gathering a few weeks ago as well as my own struggle in claiming my culture as I was "not passed out on the street corner" or "living off the land" and was thus not a real indigenous person.

She translates this self gaze problem back into the creation of art, "we have a strong cultural traditional or humor, yet we want to avoid trigger colonial myth-systems.  Our artistic work is created around an obstacle course of colonial misunderstandings, cultural protocol, ethical concerns, community lateral violence and funding categories which sometimes attempt to determine the "Aboriginalness" or the work."  What a great articulation of a complex issue. 

From this discussion she segways into a more academic discussion around the creation of meaning systems which is interesting.  She then comes back to focus on the "Canadian Colonial Gaze" which inspired my drawing.  She outlines the multitude of role an indigenous person might be ascribed too in any moment and the interconnectedness of these stereotypes to the modern constructions of racism in Canada which are rooted in the deep mythologies that allowed for the killing and dispossession of millions of people as they were seen by the colonizing gaze as less than human.  At the core, these ideas continue to exist in the modern questions about who is "Indian" and who is not.  She covers how this myth was strengthened through early photograph of indigenous peoples and then moves back into the academic constructions of myth and the "safe other" (thanks bell hooks)
Christmas day outing to the park
In concluding the article she returns to the question of creating art/humor and how the very creation of these things situates the maker in a particular historical context, raises questions of identity, and may ultimately empower the creator to challenge these perceptions and historical creations.  There was a lot packed into this article and the contrast between the more personal chatty sections and the more traditionally academic text worked well.  The author situated themselves well within the discussion through the use of a few personal details.  This was a smart, challenging paper that touched on a lot of issues I have been exploring slowly here and also proposed some useful ideas and frameworks for continuing the conversation. 

As I was creating my picture Runa asked me what I was drawing and from my answer she understood that I was creating a story with pictures.  She later asked me to "read" it to her.  We talked about the words and symbols I had used.  When I mentioned that the turtle on the bottom left hand corner represented our brother and sister animals and moved on to the next item, she directed me back "Mom, remember that turtle is special cause he made our land."  These moments, when I know it is getting through to her, warm my heart and give me the energy to keep going.  The myths matter.  How we tell the story matters.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Weeping woman

^Weeping Volcano Woman by Norman Tait, Nisga'a artist:
Weeping Volcano Woman by Norman Tait, Nisga'a artist
Welcome back to regular life. I forget sometimes, that even "good" stimulation can be too much for Sophie.  We had a great Christmas eve morning visiting my office and walk home in the +17 weather.  We survived dinner and gift opening - sometimes a pressure point, when she accidentally broke her gift for Runa.  This left Runa in tears, which led to Sophie lying under the trampoline crying and screaming that she would be better off dead and that she is a terrible person.  It sort of took the merry away.  Even after we got her calmed down, it stays with everyone.  She refused to leave the house for a couple of days and we ended up doing things without her which further upsets Runa.

That said, we went to the park on Christmas day, shot each other with nerf darts and played outside.  We made a magnificent snow fort and played a lot of card games.  We visited the art gallery a couple of times and made up our lego kits.  I made a collaged buffalo and a gingerbread house.  We painted and decorated both of the girl's rooms.  So there is always the good in between the moments of sad.  Getting back into school again has been hard for Sophie but she has her Physiatrist appointment this week which hopefully will help her adjust her meds and we are setting up a whole bunch of other supports to will see what helps her. I am taking her to see some Elders next week and get their views as well.  Their previous assessment was that maybe the blood memory is strong in her and she carries extra because of that.

I am trying to reach out to my Kookums who have walked on for support.  Neither of our parents care at all.  Joel's did not even phone this Christmas.  It still hurts me how little they care.  But the ancestors are always there and I appreciate having access to this resource now.  It is comforting to know all the experience they have and can bring to my current situation.  More so, as their perspective on time is so different it helps me align things for myself with a wider lens. 

We had our circle times as a family, talking about the sacredness of our bodies, for Sophie this was a discussion about growing up that made her very uncomfortable, and more broadly we talked about what better habits we wanted to focus on in the next few months.  I used passages from the Kim Anderson book "A Recognition of Being" to guide these conversations.  I read a lot and have a number of interesting articles to share in the next few days.  I hope that there was some good for you in this holiday.