Sunday, March 31, 2019

Indian Headdress? Gift or Commodity?

Two years ago the leadership of national First Nation lobby group, the Assembly of First Nations gifted an Eagle Staff to a white man, the Canadian Ambassador to the United Nations. It seems the Eagle Staff was asked for by the Canadian Ambassador. AFN says he followed proper protocols when the request was made and accepted. The Gift was met with some controversy. It seems people don't take too kindly when they feel something is not right.  There seems to be a lot of "not right" things going on lately.

Folks of the Blood Tribe have decided to bestow a Headdress and a Traditional Spirit name to the Premier of Alberta Rachel Notley  A number of First Nation people were not comfortable with this gesture.  One of the things to understand non of the contempt should be on the shoulders of Notley. What was she suppose to say, "No, that's okay, I don't need a headdress or name?" In this case, not like the Canadian Ambassador situation, Notley did not ask for the gift. Instead some in the Tribe wanted to honour her.  I guess I understand the need and the want to honour. But why a Headdress and a Name?

The Headdress is a significant topic because of the way it is now viewed. Regardless of the Headdress origin and which Nation carried the Headdress, the Headdress is now a symbol for almost all Indigenous leadership. When the Canadian government was championing  the move to change the Constitution, the Indian Leadership of the time took up a fight to the changes. They did not want to be Constitutional changed out of their Rights. Rights through ancestry and through Treaty and Unceded Territory. So the Headdress was front and centre with their fight. They went to meet with the Colonial powers of England to ensure they were not cheated (again and again). They showed the world the image of the Headdress and Leadership. Of course this is not the only instance where the Headdress has shown up in a situation when Indians were standing up against oppression of some kind.

When you see a Headdress you immediately think of the Indian Leadership, regardless of which Nation in the United States and Canada. However, the Headdress has also become a commodity. White Women specifically have taken the Headdress and are using it as cosmetic accessary. Even have gone as far as to sexualize the Headdress in their utilization of it. Do a search on the internet with the heading Indian Headdress and the images which show up are those of White Women wearing all sorts of Headdresses. Many people claim ignorance of the appropriation of Indigenous wear and customs.  They are woefully ignorant or purposefully callous. Either way, the result is disrespectful actions and attitudes towards the people where the Headdress comes from.  That disrespect is of their own doing.

When we start selling our "gifts" which many of our people consider sacred, then what are we doing? We disrespecting our own and that is on us. In the case of the giving the Eagle Staff, the Headdress and the Names are not isolated incidents. They will occur over and over and in many ways and with many different gifts. In my past I have gifted Sacred items as well to non-Indians. Some of those times I deeply regret and some I still feel fine with. Still it did not mean it was the right thing to do, regardless of how I feel or rationalize it. Some gifts are meant exclusively for Indian folk. I just don't know which ones they are.

The Sweat Lodge is a gift many White people enjoy. Should they have been given the right to perform Sweat Lodge Ceremonies? I personally feel no but who knows? Or the Pipe; the Redstone from Pipestone Minnesota? The Kanyahte" Ka nowa, the Turtle Rattle? The Button Blanket? The Ceremonial West Coast Mask? The Bundles of the Navajo? The Water Drum and Gourd?  Where do we stop with the commodifying of Gifts?

Did we invite the mistreatment of our Sacred Gifts ourselves? Was our generosity the cause of all this appropriation of our Gifts? That is one of weaknesses but also what is great about our People, our generous way of life. We welcome so much and so many. Look at Turtle Island, and the amount of new comers, settlers living a good life here on our home.

There are many people out there fighting to stop the appropriation of our Gifts and our Sacred. Still there are many giving out our Gifts and our Sacred. Each are right in their position.

I think it is just who we are. We are Gift Givers.                   

To a fault.

Monday, February 25, 2019

MMIW Walk: It's Not Like I Got To Go Home

February 14 is the date selected for buying of goods in the name of love (for stuff).  For many folk, Indigenous and other, it is about remembering their loved one. Loved ones who have either disappeared or were murdered.

So there are groups of Women and supporters who walk to make sure the public realizes what has and is happening.

This year I went to see them Walk. I recognized many who have been on this Walk before and other events which bring awareness to the Murdered Missing Indigenous Women.

 The amount of people who showed up was impressive. The Winnipeg weather, extremely cold was not a deterrent to the people.

Mom's and Dad's, Kookum's and even Babies braved the cold.

The Walk went from the University of Winnipeg and over onto the well used street of Portage Avenue.

As I muddled around I couldn't help to hear some comments of non-participants of the Walk. This one fellow was waiting at a Bus stop and remarked, "it's not like I have to get home or anything."  Another couple ran across the group of Walkers and made disparaging remarks as they ran.

But a number of Indigenous Women who were a local eatery came running out without their coats and cheered on the group of Walkers.

I marvel at the dedication of the Walkers who go out and remind the public of what is happening and to also honour the families.

There's the truth about the whole thing, those Women will not be able to go home. While the regular person has no clue, no idea of what it means to all those who have lost someone and to the many who are going to lose someone. It is the reality of society, there is a heartless segment. Those who don't care, those who are ignorant and those who couldn't care less about the Missing and the Murdered.

This is not limited to Canada. It is happening in the United States and South America. The common theme seems to be Indigenous Women are being targeted.

No one ever wants their loved ones forgotten.

Saturday, February 2, 2019

The Success of Toxic People

There is a good chance you are going to have toxic people involved in someway throughout your life.

We meet many individuals throughout our lives; some are cool while others are arseholes. It is the Arsehole encounters which we remember long after. Normally interactions with an arsehole is just a rather ugly experience and it is over.  The good thing about arseholes, we can usually recognize them and deal with it. The toxic person is another category. The toxic person can be an arsehole, a prick, a witch, a beauty, a cutie, an Elder, a Leader. The toxic person spreads venom, poison and can get you sick. The aresehole, the bastard on the other hand can be dealt with accordingly. You can just not go to their place of business, their space or you can bannock slap them. (Bannock slap used to be an Indian thing before folks started running to the cops)

The toxic person is dangerous. You can be in the gun sights of a toxic person and not even realize it. At the work place the toxic person can be the sensitive woman, the angry man, the cool person, the older colleague, the young upstart, and the respected. Everything you do is offensive to them and they will use their power to own you. There could the Elder who uses the disguise of being Traditional Spiritual person. They are accorded respect and ranking over regular folk but they could use their standing as a weapon. Words from a Spiritual person is generally adhered to. So an Elder could be mean spirited and hurt you. Gender could be used as a weapon as well by the toxic person. There could be the co-worker who is incompetent but uses toxicity to hide it. The toxic person will use other's to hurt you. The toxic person is cunning. They are dangerous because there is no remorse or empathy towards you. The real poison is that they may actual believe they are not the bad person in the situation. Most of the time a toxic person will beat you. The reason is, you can't fight toxicity. How can you? Toxic tactics are hard to combat. Information is often distorted. Cliques are used as weapons against you. Emotional manipulation and emotional blackmail are often utilized in absence of common sense and facts. Out right lying is part of their arsenal of weapons.

Toxic people have success in hurting others. They climb to positions of power over others. The strength they have is in their dishonesty. They have no qualms of blaming others for all things bad. How do you deal with toxicity? Try to recognize the toxic and how they are different from the regular arsehole.

I was laughing with my daughter the other day about how I am a jerk. Of course I believe I am a very good guy (but still). So when my girl said "Yeah there are lots of  people who don't like you." I was like "What? How come? I'm a good guy?"  It's funny, we like being jerks but don't like the consequences which come with being a jerk.

I have an old friend who is one of the cruelest people I have ever met in my life. I don't think he knows he is cruel. Of course he is like many of us, capable of doing good things,  and being a jerk some time or another.  It is like my brother and I in conversation about a sad incident in the Reserve. A cousin of ours had a very tragic thing happen just recently. Her husband was allegedly stealing copper from  an old abandoned building in the nearby town from our reserve. Seems the guy (this guy was just a good guy, absolutely nothing arsehole about him) got electrocuted while in the act. His burnt up body was found by local Firefighters.  I was on the phone with my brother and told him about the incident. "Wow that is shocking." said my brother. Heck we had a big of a laugh at the expense of this poor man. It makes me think about a friend who said to me "Hey Steve are  there any good Courchene's?"  He made me laugh because of course there must be. At least  I think there are?

That people is the jerk and don't never get it confused with the toxic person.

"He (God) Himself has said, "I will never leave you nor forsake you." - Hebrews 13:5
This is great because I am a jerk. - Steve

Friday, January 11, 2019

Heck With You and Anyone Who Looks Like You

Yeah, we laugh at shit.

At the Southbeach Casino in Brokenhead First Nation my cousins were playing the machines. An elderly lady fell down. So one of my cousins, went to give aide (most likely he was being nosy). As he was bending over to ask how the woman was doing, another cousin walked by and poked him in the arse. He screamed, fell backwards, flaying his arms all over the place and rolled around a little bit. He is kind of a big guy so he couldn't jump up and recover like a Ninja. Another cousin was sitting at a machine and witnessed the commotion. He did not tell the cousin on the floor who had poked his arse. The elderly lady was fine and same with my cousin who rolled around by the slot machines.

When my Dad started getting forgetful and on his way to having Alzheimer's, my brother Don and my brother-in-smiley visited him quite often. They also used to tease him. Dad was living alone after Mom had died. They would be sitting in the kitchen having tea with Dad. Some how my name would come up, with Don and Smiley saying "Steve's going to put you in the home".  Our Reserve has an old folks home, otherwise known as a Care Home. Dad would be asking "what for?"

My Dad was very much against using the same Funeral Home who did my Mom's services. He said Giesbrecht Funeral was a "rip-off." My Dad also didn't want to be buried with a casket. My brother Don and Smiley would tell my Dad, "Steve's going to use Giesbrecht for your service".  My Dad would get wild and swear about Giesbrecht and the funeral industry. "It's a scam. Big money for a box. If you put me in there I'll fucking kick myself out of that casket."  Dad was adamant about Geisbrecht being a crook. Turns out he was right. A few years later Geisbrecht was busted for defrauding dying people. We didn't end up using a casket for Dad and we didn't hire Geisbrecht.

My brother Pancho had a brain aneurysm. So he was rushed to the City hospital by ambulance. My brother and I met our sister-in-law Jeannie at the hospital. The doctor came and spoke to us and he was pretty grim about the whole picture. I tried to ask questions and Jeannie didn't say anything. So my brother told the Doctor to operate and give him a chance to live. We went to the waiting room after the discussion. We looked at our sister Jeannie and told her "geez, your already kicking dirt on his grave and he's not dead yet", as we laughed about the whole situation. Jeannie denied she was throwing mud on Pancho. She married into this family so she knows the price. So the teasing is constant. Pancho never did recover, he did end up dying.

The Vancouver Winter Olympics of 2010 was a mixed bag for the First Nation community; some welcomed the party while others resisted. In Manitoba there was a rally to bring a spotlight on the Indian situation in Canada. The Olympic flame was being driven through Manitoba. A few stops were scheduled on the route to give some locals the chance to carry the Olympic Torch. The Town of Richer was one of the stops. So a group of Indians, with their horses, a bus load from our Reserve and a number of individuals in their own vehicles drove up to the Trans Canada Highway. There at the cross roads near the town of Hadashville. Hadashville is on the Trans Canada Highway, (known as Number One Highway) and is 40 kilometers east of the town of Richer. So there are these Indians on their horses, a few Chiefs with their Headdresses, and some Indians with Eagle staffs, and some with signs.  I am there with my camera. The day was cold and windy. We stood at the side of the road. We waited for the Olympic Torch.  Finally, we were rewarded for our wait as a cascade of black SUV's drove by. You could see little Canada flags hooked onto windows. We all stood there.  We watched the cars carrying the Olympic flag drive by.   We wondered "Hey didn't they see us?" Nothing happened, they didn't stop, wave at us or even slow down?  So the Indians on horse back had nothing to do so they went up the road for a little ride, I took pictures. The people laughed and teased each other. They loaded up the horse trailers and the buses, and we got in our car and went back home. It was a good day.

I was a bar with some of my cousins. This was at least 39 or more years ago. My cousin and I were playing pool against his older brothers. We won the game, surprisingly because one of the brothers was a skilled pool player.  We won a buck each. So we teased and we teased the older cousins. The oldest cousin, didn't like to lose. He took out the dollar bill and wiped his arse with it. We let him have the dollar. I look at this as a teaching moment. I see people kissing money.

At a Band meeting (public meeting held with  the community and Chief and Council of our Reserve) the people were talking about what offices would be open during the holiday season. There were a number of old people there. My Dad said out loud "hey for those of us who don't work, do we get a holiday too?"  An old man who was known to never work said "Yeah, what about us?"

"Heck with you and anyone who looks like you. Never did like you anyway."  Words of endearment from the reserve. 

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Eve of Destruction

What do you think, are we experiencing an era of destruction?

We are so plugged into the world via the internet and other media that we see lots and lots of ugly. The ugly is right there for us to digest. Natural disasters becoming more frequently and in intensity.

Just looking on Twitter and we see two young girls in North Dakota age 11 killed themselves. How isolated or crushed must they have felt to do this. How ugly the world must have looked to them. Eleven years old can you imagine? Get this, a woman who has been in a coma for 14 years just gave birth. It's a page out of the Pulp Fiction movie; "My name is Buck and I'm here to fuck, hehehehe". How sick is that?

The amount of ugly is just coming into our homes. People are experiencing ugly in all sorts of situations. Politicians are appealing to the ugliness in society so they can get elected. People are using the rise of bigoted politicians as permission to openly attack ethnics, and minorities. Politicians are actively promoting fear as the driving force of their punishing and cruel policies. Governments are turning blind eyes to when an oppressive regime murders and chops up individuals. The divide between people making a living and the rich is beyond belief.  Politicians are using police forces as their enforcers rather than looking out for the safety of the public. Police Forces have transformed into military forces. Ultra Racists are being elected in to power.

In Canada the anger over oil Pipelines has the government using police to remove Indians from their home lands. The Canadian government is rolling out new changes which will undermine the Treaty promises. The RCMP are treating their own Female members with abuse and continue to abuse Indigenous people throughout the country. With the RCMP linked to deep seated racism.

The Middle East is still engaged in killing each other. Yemen's Children are caught in a war and are starving to death.  In China they are jailing Canadians due to the arrest of a Chinese business Woman. Russian is attacking the Ukraine territory and undermining it's sovereignty. While critics of Putin seem to end dying of radiation poisoning; other regimes like Israel are getting more and more ruthless. The Palestinians are systematically killed and forced out of their homes. In the United States, the government has separated children, infants toddlers from their parents and jailed the children. The people of South America are dying to get out of harms way. The amount of displaced and refugee people is in the millions.

The ugly the world is experiencing rises and subsides like a tsunami. Although it does subside, it is never to the same depths.

Although we see the rise ugly in the political realm  it is also in our homes, our schools, our police, our hospitals and in the streets. The tidal wave of ugly hurtful events seems to be the norm these days. There is the problem, we are believing the ugly to be normal. There my friends is where we come to the eve of destruction. When the ugly is just everyday part of living, we are truly fucked.

I rather walk in a garden where you are refreshed with the goodness of society rather than steamed over, crushed by the wave of ugly.

So my friends don't accept the ugly. Speak out against the man who is attacking a woman. Speak out to the teacher who is cutting hair of a student. Speak out against the ugly racism disguised as fear of your safety. Speak out against ugly even if it is uncomfortable.

* By the way many artists, writers have all seen this coming. Just see the books, movies, television shows. We all know how it ends with the government capitalizing on a made up fear and seizing absolute power.

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Stick With Your Own

There is a beautiful song by Van Morrison called Irish Heartbeat. I listen to it but think Indian Heartbeat.  The song makes me think of our people, the Anishinaabe, the Indigenous relatives all over.

You see I have a love for many many people, all kinds of people. I hurt for those we see on the news, dying and starving. I laugh with those we see laughing, teasing and living a good life. At the same time I feel really bad.  I have many friends who are not Native and family who are not Native. They are very good people. Still I see the pain the majority of non-ethnic people do and cause. Is it not my friends fault their people cause and inflict so much damage. I don't need to outline the damage, we see it play out every single day.

It pains me but I have known this realization for a long time. We as Anishinaabe folk have to stay with our own ones.  I have a good friend  who is Portuguese. He told me sometime ago about how people stick together. We have a mutual friend who is Italian, a very good guy. My Portuguese friend told me that no matter what, we can marry an Italian but we will never be Italian. Meaning our Italian friend will always view as other than Italian. This is how the world is. We see people not like us but as  Others. Others can be good, special and all of that but we are never going to be them. Same with us as Indians, we have great Others but they will never be us. It is not wrong to be us. It is not wrong for Others to be themselves as well.

A friend of mine, Indian friend, had a White girlfriend. They were good together. It was like they fit like a hand and glove. She called his Mom, her Mom and his siblings her siblings. After many years they had a child together. They broke up. She stopped being his friend, and stopped being sibling and daughter to his family. Never reached out to his family.

My wife had these friends. One she treated like a sister. Even had her as the God-mother to our girl. The friend just stopped being a friend. Not a break up or anything. Just stopped. My wife used to reach out and try to maintain communication. The friend only reached out when she wanted to sell something.  Needless to say God-mother is no longer in our lives. Another friend of my Wife's was a younger girl. The younger girl did not have a good relationship with her own mother.  My wife took her as a daughter and when she had a child, we took him as our grandson. As time went on the young woman stopped being part of the family. No real reason. We went visit her when she had another son. The young woman showed us some family photo albums. I noticed of all the photos, there none of my wife and our daughter. Absent in family photos, but there were many of her mother. My wife didn't seem to notice. I noticed.  I know sometimes friendships just run their course and it's not bad or wrong. Still I have seen many other situations where Others have stopped being part.

I see this quite a bit in the Ceremony community. Others come in and become part of the community and then they stop.

The point is we are who we are. We can have many friends who are Other but they will never be us. Not wrong but it tells us to remember who to stick with. Just remember we are different and we should celebrate and embrace those differences or better yet, love the sameness we have.

Monday, December 17, 2018

Decolonizing Christmas?

The month of December is a good month where many faith based celebrations take place. Just before December is to begin a few celebrations and actions take place: Mawlid el-Nabi, the celebration the Prophets birthday.  Advent Fast also starts a couple days before December. In December we have Saint Nicholas Day, the Fiesta of Our Lady Guadalupe, S. Lucia Day, Hanukkah, Christmas Day, Three Kings Day, Kwanzaa, Omisoka, Yule, Saturanalia, Solstice,

For many December, specifically the holiday celebrations bring mixed feelings and in some cases dread. For many Indigenous folk around the world it is an acknowledgement their Belief system was attacked, was changed and no longer part of their life. So December brings out some heartache. It is either a day of a reminder of suppression of your beliefs and people or it is a struggle to buy things you can't afford.

I see many of the Indigenous folk who really despise the "Christmas season" in all its flashing lights and candy canes. They have every reason to not want to celebrate Christmas. What the hell for? Its like celebrating Columbus Day: remembering a raving madman monster.

Me, I have conflicted feelings about the whole Christmas celebrations. I mean I know what it is suppose to represent but I also realize its a commercial holiday tied to an institution which has caused so much horror throughout the world. So no I won't be raising a glass of wine to the New Born Son come this December 25th. Instead it is about a day to see the kids smile, be happy and have a meal with family. Still there is a nostalgia which I can't help ut think about this time of year. It reminds me of being a little kid, growing up with bunch of brothers and sisters with Mom and Dad. Mom would use lunch bags and fill them with Japanese Oranges (that is what we knew them as kids), with hard candies, a few chocolates. Each bag would have our names written on them in my Moms beautiful handwriting. We would go to mid-night mass at the church because it was you did. Our home was Catholic. We all have the Church imprint on us. It is about the feeling I had for my family in  those young years.

Today the notion of Christmas in our household is about the family and nothing more. Still the underlining reasons for Christmas will always be there. And until we finally stop the celebrating it in our home, the imprint will be there. Wrong but there it is. Its like many things rooted in colonial acts, we do them but the foundations of what was wrong is still there.

I read this Christian Pastor who does not celebrate Christmas and he says it for the reason that it is not about Christ. He says no where in the Book does it say anything about Christmas.

For me I'm not Christian and no longer Catholic (is hard to get rid of the indoctrination from Fort Alexander Boarding School and  the Reserve) so Christmas is the buying gifts day. I have always really like the act of giving. Give-Aways are part of  our life. We celebrate, we remember, and the Give-Away Ceremony is a means to doing that. The gifting of presents is how I reconcile the December holiday. It works for me.