As an Indigenous woman I have been exposed to the atrocities of genocide through sex-discrimination and through the denial of land and resources. I continue to live with these genocidal policies and laws today and I work on the issues daily in the work I do with my section 15 Charter challenge and the work I do regarding the Algonquin land claims and self-government process. This work is never ending and is incredibly exhausting and depressing. In doing this work I reap no financial gain to pay my bills. Regardless, I do it because the alternative, ignoring what Canada has done, has no meaning for me.
As an advocate of change, many Indigenous women have shared their stories with me such as the loss of a mother, auntie, sister, or daughter due to the sexual violence of rape and murder, and the suicide of a father, uncle, brother, or son due to the lack of ability to provide safety for the women in their lives that they love so much. Indigenous people, not just me, find themselves in these unfortunate situations of experiencing and sharing this on a daily basis. Thanks to Canada, this is the tough and emotional terrain that we have to tread through. As we share with one another and do our best to become human again due to issues such as a scarcity of resources, internalized oppression, and sometimes false consciousness — a consciousness manufactured by the nation state no less — there are many negative dynamics permeating our process of recovery and survival such as the jealously and horrors of lateral violence. As a result, sometimes we are unable to support one another as we so desperately want to do. Yet we tread on.
As Indigenous people struggle to deal with these atrocities and struggle to overcome what colonization has done to us, our families, and our nations, we are also placed in a situation of having to deal with the incredible ignorance of Canadian people. Through the theft of our land and resources Canada has been very successful at manufacturing a national mindset in the people not Indigenous to Turtle Island. Through manufacturing this mindset of “Canada the good and benevolent nation” many Canadians have an inability to understand what really happened to Indigenous people. Many Canadians actually think Indigenous people are lazy and are too stupid to get their act together. These same Canadians lack the ability to see behind the current national economic paradigm and its limitations for all people. Worse yet, they assume Indigenous people need help climbing aboard this sinking stinking ship of climate change, water pollution, and refuse production. Still further, many Canadians are unable to grasp the idea that the land and resources that Indigenous people seek to protect for all people and the natural world are indeed our land and resources, not Canada’s to destroy. These manufactured mindsets are also unable to grasp the reality that Indigenous nations are indeed capable of managing our own land and resources in a way that we are not dependant on a hand out from a colonial government that ultimately seeks to destroy us and for that matter eventually all people and the natural world.
Come on Canadians, wake up and taste the maple syrup. We are not backwards and we are not your enemy … Canada is.
Unfortunately what happens in the context of these manufactured Canadian mindsets is that Indigenous people are placed in the situation of having to navigate the most incredibly ignorant statements and questions. Some of these questions are, What happened to you and your family? And, What is wrong with Indigenous people, why can’t they get it together? Other questions are, Who are the Indigenous people of this area? and, How can we as Canadians get Canada to give you more land and money to live better?
Canadians really need to stop asking Indigenous people such pitiful and hurtful questions and begin to do their own work. Canadians must stop thinking that it is the Indigenous people’s responsibility to be their educator. We already have so much to deal with. Recently, I heard that former Prime Minister Paul Martin said to a gathering of Indigenous and non-Indigenous people in Peterborough Ontario that Indigenous people need to start telling their story — it is our responsibility to do this he suggested. My first thought when I heard this was “What an after-the-fact cowardly thing to say — to admit there is an issue, and further to unload the responsibility on us.” My next thought was, “Is he for real? Canada holds all the land and resources necessary to manufacture the Canadian mindset against us. How the heck can we be expected to counter this?” Lord knows what Paul Martin was thinking to make such a hurtful and pitiful statement.
Canadians need to know that the knowledge of poverty, hunger, rape, murder, suicide, and genocide sits in the hearts of Indigenous people. Sometimes this knowledge is only in our hearts. When Canadians, rooted in the ignorant mindset that Canada’s nationalism has manufactured, ask pitiful questions and repeat them over and over again, expect that heart knowledge will animate our responses. Often times, within this animation of the heart, the listener who asked the ignorant question is shocked by the painful response and may actually begin to become emotional and cry. Their heart is animated. Sometimes they cry because they are embarrassed to have been placed in such a situation of ignorance and learning. Still further, sometimes they cry because they take our emotions personally. Other less enlightened Canadians actually ascribe the meaning of racism to the heart knowledge and emotions that their question manifested. In this way they colonize further. Occasionally, other people decide to retaliate in hurtful ways against the Indigenous person who has been forced to teach them over and over again the hard lesson of their incredible and arrogant ignorance. In their act of retaliation, as many bullies do, they seek out non-knowing Indigenous and non-Indigenous people to be complicit, thus causing even further harm. In retaliating in this way these people are both selfish and even more ignorant.
Canadians, it is not the Indigenous people’s responsibility to be your teacher of Canada’s colonial history. Through Canada’s control of the school curriculum it is Canada that has let you down. Regardless, there are many printed resources out there that you can access. Contrary to what Paul Martin thinks, this learning process is your responsibility, not ours. Indigenous people are already burdened enough dealing with so much loss and hurt as well as in our effort to create a better life in the context of few resources. As you read these printed resources, though, understand that text is not knowledge not an ultimate truth. Rather, text in the form of books and readings is merely an artifact of the real knowledge that resides in the hearts, minds, and lives of Indigenous people. Just because you have read a book or maybe even a lot of books does not mean you know it all nor that you know the truth.
Indigenous people need allies who will let us define the help we need. If you want to be an ally to Indigenous people, don’t do so from a location of selfishness such as your need for economic benefit, your need to be educated, your need for healing, your need for spirituality, or your need to be retaliatory to an Indigenous person already burdened. That is not the help we need.
Dr. Lynn Gehl is an Algonquin Anishinaabe-kwe from the Ottawa River Valley. She has a section 15 Charter challenge regarding the continued sex discrimination in The Indian Act, is an outspoken critic of the Ontario Algonquin land claims and self-government process, and recently published a book titled Anishinaabeg Stories: Featuring Petroglyphs, Petrographs, and Wampum Belts. You can reach her at [email protected] and see more of her work at www.lynngehl.com.