Friday, December 30, 2016

Joseph Boyden: Identity a Sore Point

I will say it again, the greatest issue facing Indigenous folk is Identity.

I once put this statement on Twitter. Immediately I was challenged that its not identity; try to think about identity when you are without food. Meaning there are more immediate and tangible issues that are more pressing.  I understand the argument. Still I say identity is the most compelling the most dire of consequence to affect Indigenous people. Right there we start it off. With what do we call ourselves? Yeah I know, I'm Anishinaabe and other Tribes (see there again tribes?)or Bands call themselves by their original language title. Growing up I was Indian and also Saulteaux Indian. Now we are Ojibwe and Anishinaabe, Indigenous and First Natioins.  For a while we were Aboriginal. I never liked the term but used it to be in the correct at the time. I was so used to the term Indian that it didn't matter about its history and all that goes with it. The labeling of who we are is so important and it becomes an emotional debate. We are invested in making sure we know who we are and who our people are. Wouldn't you be if your whole existence was bombarded with Main stream social norms, customs, laws, polices, education system, intended to wipe you out?

Societies all over the world are fierce in protecting who they are and make sure pride is embedded in who they are. When individuals threaten to usurp who you are of course you are going to protect and fight the threat. While others attack with venom because they don't like your identity. Some of the ugliest wars and genocides have been because of the views against another's identity.  So please have some understanding when we question the validity of an identity. It maybe wrong to judge but its a survival mechanism.

When speaking about Joseph Boyden and his crisis of identity we should have a little context as to why it is and issue to begin with. Our identity is vital. It defines a great deal of who we are and what experiences we share. It bonds us. I look at my ancestors and think about what they endured just for being who they were/are. Joseph Boyden has both critics and protectors regarding his identity.

I am not too quick to side with Boyden. I think about  the ordeals of our ancestors and what the Government, police and Church did to try and erase their identity. I think about my Mishoom - Grandpa. My Mishoom was a big man both in stature and standing. He was a bushman and contractor. He had men working for him and they in turn fed their families. He was a respected man. Yet this man was not considered a man in the eyes of  society. He could not walk into a licensed establishment and buy himself a drink.  He had to wait outside the pub and be at the mercy of a young white man to buy liquor for him. A thing we take for granted. The point is not about the buying of beer (as many would jump on as a bad thing) but rather where you are put in a position of embarrassment and subservient to others. Even when he was held in high regard in his own community, but outside the Reserve, he and his fellow Indians were not considered men or adults. My Granddad is an example of what our ancestors endured. This is just one small example of how it was different for Indigenous people. They endured so much; community displacement, enfranchisement, residential school, community pass system, "kill the Indian in the child" policies/laws, registration of status, racism-structural and societal, spiritual extinguish, language prohibition as well as child apprehension.

 The things our Ancestors and relatives went through is not just a piece of folk lore or just historical stories. But really it is recent and even today that our relatives face the hardships of being who they are.

It does anger me when we have pretend Indians. Ward Churchill was a big piece of ugly identity theft. The thing that bothers us is because of the way we receive people; we take them at their word. That is who we are. Like when we took Treaty brokers at their word. So when we find out it is not true, we see they have broken a trust. So of course we are going to be hurt, upset and perhaps a little angry. Wouldn't you be angry if someone took advantage of your trust?

I know I have told this story before but it is significant and encapsulates the identity issue and in some cases crisis. While attending University I frequented the Native Student Lounge. I did go there to hang out and visit with other Neechies (slang for other Indians and friends). This one day a young man was there. So I started a conversation with him. One of the first things I asked was "where you from?" He replied with "Winnipeg".  This of course was not what I expected after all he was Indigenous. So I gave him a lecture. "I don't like that. We are all from somewhere. I mean where are your people, your parents are from. Its where to start if we have something or someone in common. So where's your parents from?" He said "I don't know... I was adopted." Bang! In my face! But he didn't say it like that. He was contrite, apologetic, and felt very sad looking. This experience humbled me. My arrogance of growing up in the community surrounded by a large family - immediate and extended. So it is a slap in my face for being a pious jerk. The identity relationships we enjoy are not privilege to all of our relatives. Many of our people are just trying to find their own home.  I remember the big controversy with Shania Twain. She identified as being Ojibway and good for her. She was raised from childhood by an Ojibway Dad and has Ojibway family members. So why couldn't she identify as Ojibway? Was it the DNA connection? I have a sister-in-law who is a registered Status Indian of Canada. She has no Indigenous Ancestry but is recognized as an Indian by the government of Canada.

Our identity has been attacked for many many years and in many many ways. So there are those out there that are now on a path to find and connect. We should all have a home to go back to.

Identity is who we are. So if your identity has been savaged for an extended period of time, what do you expect to happen? Confusion? Safe guarding and paranoia? Exclusion and confirmation? Exploration?

The one thing we do as Indigenous folk, we celebrate our heroes. We look for them. Look at the professional sports leagues; we search out our relatives. For example ask any Canadian who Stan Jonathon is and they will know right off. Maybe not the kids anymore but the kids will tell you who the best goalie in the NHL is. That's right the best goalie right now in all of the world is a Neechie, Carey Price. So it's not like we are looking to knock people of their stools, it's quite the opposite. But we have no patience for the pretender, the liar.

There are so many categories and sub-categories to who we are. The identity of who our people are is one of the first items we identify with and perhaps family being first. The whole identity of our people can be complex as well. We are Indigenous but we are also Ojibway, Cree, Sioux but more so we are Anishinaabe, Nêhiyawi-, Lakota, Innu, and so on. Not only do we have so much labels but we have others putting their stamp on who we are or should be. In our own communities we have differences of opinions as to who we are.   The Metis for example are fighting hard about who they are and who should identify, who is Metis or just "mixed blood". A bit crazy.  My wife and her family have so much Indian blood and are Metis but don't rely on a quazi-political organization to identify who they are. They just live knowing who they are. At the end of the day we still know who our people are and for those looking for their people, we are willing to help.

So if someone wants to claim Indigenous heritage with no context (family community) we may be forgiven if we want to look closer.

As my wife says it must be good to have a whole country to go to. Where a whole country speaks your tongue like Germany, England Russia China France Romania and just about every country in the world. The countries where colonial rule has made them the majority are the exceptions; Mexico Brazil New Zealand Canada United States Australia. These are the countries where the Indigenous people are no longer the majority speakers. Its very important to us to know where are home is. We are like any other Nation, we want a home to always be able to go back to.

There are many links in this post highlighted in blue which can further examine the nature of Indigenous identity and many of the issues related. Just click on the links if you are interested. Miigwetch.


Sunday, December 25, 2016

Christian Indian, A Contradiction.

Jesus answered, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me."
This statement by the late Jesus Christ has always bothered me. It's strange, Jesus wants us to go to Heaven and meet his Dad but puts up road blocks? There's no regard for the character or actions of anyone. He says it's me or nothing. So what happens to those good living folks? There were many who had no knowledge Jesus even existed. So now what? Those folks are not allowed into the Garden? Seems kind of cruel if you ask me. 

If I was a skeptic I would say it was a marketing ploy - Having only one way into Heaven. You know like those upscale bars or clubs who have line ups to get in. Regardless of how many people are in the premise, there are people to stop you at the entrance to give the appearance that many are waiting to get in. Like it's exclusive and if you want in you have to wait. So getting into Heaven or the club is an exclusive thing.

It is interesting the conversion process which has taken place all over the globe. The proponents of Christianity are not known for their compassion and acceptance when it comes to people of colour. Yet they are willing to go all over the world making them kneel and pray to their Lord when they are active in killing them?  Seems like it's a waste. Why spend time, energy getting to see how good your God is when it's your intention to lay waste to them? Undeniable the Christian rule has been bloody  and ugly.   Still with all the horror that has taken place in the name of Christianity people are still lining up at the door. Strange even more so, many of the people lining up are People-of Colour. Now that is weird.

Still some of my best relatives are Christian. A friend is also a Road Chief with Native American Church. You know Indians, how they can turn anything around and own it.  Having a Bible on the alter as they Pray with Peyote. 

We do it all the time with other things, like French words becoming Indigenous words. Like owning the wool blanket. Like owning the Bannock bread. Like owning the Gun and many other New-Comer stuff. 

It seems kind of crazy when you think of all the history and baggage Christianity carries when it comes to attacking Indigenous people. So why would they willing join the Church?  It seems as crazy as the Jewish person joining the Nazi party or Black person joining the Ku Klux Klan.  
The sad thing is many of the Indian Christian's behave like they are in a cult or something, obsessed. It is like a drug as well, and there is no other way but theirs? 

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Young Indigenous With No Sense of Humour

I was sitting with a few Indigenous folk the other day. Some young and some old. The oldest guy was 72 and the youngest girl was 35. One of the great things sitting with Indigenous  folk, no matter the setting, is there will be some laughter.

The thing is not everyone has the same type of humour. We speak about Indian humour as though it is homogeneous, but it is not the case.  Like all people, even us Indian folk have different takes on what is funny.
From the Kewa Train Station - the site of Larry McNeil's 1977 photograph "Real Indians" as seen in 2010. Photo by the Author.

The topic of residential school is a touchy subject. Many people have suffered from those days of boarding schools and Indian Affairs run schools. Still for many the subject is a segue into a joke or two. There is a infamous Priest who was at our Indian Residential School and his name was Father Plamondon. Now this guy is well known in the community. Anyway he is the muse for many a joke.  You see Father Plamondon was well known for his cleanliness. He liked to wash the boys and say to them "you got bad thoughts?" Lot of the older men would say that to each other in the Reserve and laugh at each other. After the Indian Residential School abuse became public to Canada with lawsuits and payments for abuse, new jokes arose.

The 72 year old guy (Dave)  I visited with likes to laugh and tease as well. Father Plamondon came up and so Dave told us he was never bothered by Plamondon. He said his friend told him "you were too ugly for Father".  Made me think of my cousin who received some compensation for his experience at the school. He came walking into the restaurant and said "look at the truck Father Plamondon bought me." Another joke around the Reserve happens when you have a pooget (fart). If someone has a loud fart, the person who heard it or even farted will say "ho wah, Richard will fix that".  A reference about a serial rapist who buggers men when they are passed out.

We have some common experiences as Indigenous folk. Those experiences provide us with commonalities and those common experiences are reflected in our lives, our speak and even our humour. That is why many of us will not cringe at the horrid, at the insensitive subject, at the joke many will find tasteless. It has become a part of our being. We laugh and tease about the absurd, the painful and the horrible. We have appropriated many things and take ownership of them. Like how we have taken ownership of the blanket. Once used as a tool of colonial tactic, in trade of inferior products and in (although there is discrepancy) some cases used as tool of war.  The Blanket is now significant in most, if not all Indigenous groups. We have the Blanket Ceremony, Blanket Dances, Star Blankets, Button Blankets, and used prominently in the Give-Away Ceremony.  There are many instances where Indigenous groups have taken over ownership of past hurts or weapons and have woven them into their lives. The same with Humour. They have taken ownership of the ugliness in some past hurts and today's hurts and turned in on its head by laughing at the absurdity. They laugh at it because they know it is wrong, stupid, ugly and not who they are. So they laugh at society. They know how wrong society has been to them.

Still there are some individuals who do not share the same type of  humour many Indigenous folk have. These individuals, mainly young warriors, are in a new frame of mind and life. They are taking societies misdeeds and ugliness and fighting it. They are not doing with irony and humour but with "in your face" action. This action includes fighting their own. They can't understand the humour from their people. You can't blame them. They see only hardship that our Ancestors endured. So they have no room for humour like that of their relatives. They are fed up with the way society has benefited and how Indigenous have suffered over the rule of colonial power. The youth seem to take things literally. They are not going to laugh at themselves or at their people.

So when a young person gets upset over your teasing and your jokes, just know they are taking about the battle in their own way. Its not they are humourless after all everyone loves a good pun or joke. Its just they have a different frame of context to what is humour.

So there will be those of us who still laugh and tease about the absurd, the wrong, laugh with irony and laugh in the face of society.

Monday, December 5, 2016

Certification for Indigenous Elders

The term Elder is used all over the world. It is a term of description, but Elder is also used as a term for a position. In the Indigenous community the Elder (capital E) is a designate for a person who is held in high esteem.  Generally elder is used to describe a person who is old, elderly and experienced in life. For Indigenous folk it represents a person of knowledge, particularly Indigenous knowledge linked to Spirituality and is a person recognized among their community. Recognition is important. Elder is not invoking a title just to bestowed on yourself. Calling yourself and Elder doesn't necessarily make it true.

There is no governing body where Indigenous Elders are given the title. The talk of a "certification" for Elders is a discussion which takes place whenever an individual "Elder" does something wrong. Once in a while an individual will do bad things to people in the role of being Elder. When this happens the whole Elder community is judged. This is when you have people demanding a test for the role. They call for a regulation on who should be an Elder.

The thing is, how do you regulate honour? The thing about Elders is you are going on honour. You honour their status and they honour their role. So how do you regulate trust and honour? The role of an Elder is not a quantifiable position. Like measuring their age, their experience, their knowledge, their commitment, their integrity?

Its a difficult situation to start to regulate; determining who is an Elder and what they should have in terms of credentials. What is the base line for measurement? Age? Education? Up bringing history?

Some say there needs to be a base line for determining an Elder and qualifications?  There is the argument where there is a need for some type of verification of whether or not they are in fact qualified to be an Elder. Perhaps a governing body to oversee who can be called an Elder?

Me, I think there is a body already. It is informal and it is comprised of Elders and community folk. The community knows and recognizes who is an Elder. Elders generally recognize other Elders. The role of Elder can be complex and simple at the same time. Some Elders will be recognized for their knowledge of Spiritual Teachings while some will be recognized as Healers. Some Elders are recognized as lower Elders in standing to other Elders. These "lower" standing Elders will willingly yield to a more "higher" standing Elder. This is not a written rule or vocalized but it is practice common among Traditional Elders. The 'higher" Elder may not be older than the "lower" standing Elder.

The certification of Elders is not a viable action. Elders being Elders is a privilege and time honoured tradition and role among the Traditional Indigenous community. It is something recognized by the community. The standing of an Elder is not universal in our communities. An Elder that is highly visible and very active may not have the recognition of the Indigenous community but is well known outside the community circle; such as government agencies, academic institutions. Or it may be the individuals choice not to accept a certain individual as having Elder status. There are some Elders who everyone knows and recognizes as an Elder of honour.  Still there are people  who give themselves the title Elder and keep selling it. They use the title so many times and in so many public places the label sticks. The label of Elder sticks with people outside of the community. So we see many an Elder who is old yes, but has not earned the Right to be an Elder in the Traditional sense; of a Teacher, mentor and Keeper of knowledge. We see some Elders who have been actively engaged in not only Christian lifestyle but even are naysayers to Traditional Teachings. There are a number of "well known" Elders in Winnipeg city that have not had the background of Teachings but now are touted as Elders.

For Traditional Elders to be regulated and tested or thought through an educational institution would be wrong and just plain stupid.  There are examples in the Western world where time honoured traditions and practices have been made into certificate courses and training. Acupuncture is a Chinese ancient medicine practice of 4,500 years. It is now a course and certificate. Take a 300 hour course and you are now certified to do Acupuncture. You can push in the needles without having the understanding or Teachings behind the practice. Western culture has embraced Acupuncture but not the Teachings it is based on. The "scientific community" will look for things they understand and discount the Teachings as "a pre-scientific superstition": Acupuncture is based upon the Eastern philosophy of chi (also spelled qi), which is the Chinese term for the supposed life force or vital energy that animates living things. In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) chi flows through pathways in the body known as meridians. 

The arrogance of main stream culture and values is active in discounting the Traditions and history of anything and anyone not modern. This is the route they have taken with ancient Chinese Traditions and Teachings.  

Elder Don Cardinal 
You already see non-Indigenous people giving Teachings on the Pipe, the Sweat Lodge, the Sundance and many other Ceremonies. With an Elder Certification process you can see it would not be a leap to include non-Indigenous as certified Elders. The process is not so far off. We have many consultants and professional positions where Indigenous knowledge - Traditional knowledge is part of their bag of tools/experience/education, whether or not the individual has been part of the Traditional Indigenous world and community recognition. In some of the cases the non-Indigenous expert reports to know more than the local Elder or Indigenous persons. 

Sagkeeng Elder John Kent
I hope the roles of Elders remains in the Traditions of the community and their people. 
Sure change is a great thing but some things should remain as part of the foundation of who they are. Elders recognizing Elders and community recognizing Elders. 

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Locker Room Talk Degrades Women.

Holy Heck can you believe Donald Trump? He is quite the individual. Anyway he is now going to be the leader of the so called "free world". The funny thing about him is his ability to say anything and not care of the after math. Still he has done one good thing and it is to bring awareness to how men are pigs. Men have become so accustomed to the locker room talk about Women. Locker room talk being a metonymy for sexiest demeaning speak.

As a young man (very young and stupid) I admit I also  did some bragging, exaggeration and out right fabrication of some sexual exploits. Not a good thing. Still there are things that stick in your memory of some talk. I was in my mid twenties and was very lucky and happy to receive trip to Maui. My friend was a frequent traveler and he was rewarded a trip on defunct Airline Canadian Pacific. I think the whole plane was part of group of frequent fliers. Anyway these "professional" looking young White men would talk a lot. They were rude and arrogant. Making Gay jokes about me. I was very friendly and excited to be on the trip. I talked with everyone and many Locals - Native Hawaiians. Anyway I became a friendly acquaintance with the servers at one pub. I remember sitting next table to the White guys and they were commenting on the waitress and her looks. She was a young blonde White Woman. Their comments ended with the smell of  her vagina after being on her feet all day and working in the heat. I remember it because it upset me. I didn't intervene in their conversation.

Later in the evening I ran into both the Hawaiian bar tender and the blonde server in another pub. We shook hands laughed and visited. The White men were there and I didn't say anything to the Woman or the bar tender guy. I felt bad for her, the server and ashamed for myself as to what I heard.

It is demeaning and degrading to speak of Women this way. Its ugly.

Yet it seems like sexiest speak is normal. We have normalized it in our lives.
Its wrong.

We are ignoring the importance in all of life what the feminine means. We need to see and to normalize how Women are life.

If life depended on Women would we degrade it? Would we traumatize them? Would we hurt maim and destroy them? Life depends  on Women yet we act like they don't matter.

So if we let "locker room talk" go unchallenged (as I did) we are also guilty of hurting them as well.

I say I am truly sorry for saying ugly repugnant things on Women.

We need to be more active in listening to Women. Understanding what they truly stand for. Relish in their beauty, kindness and goodness.

Cherokee Fiddle, cause Good Whiskey Never Let Him Lose His Place

 Urban Cowboy is a 1980 movie with a soundtrack steeped in western songs that had great Redneck lines like, "single bars and good time ...