Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Anishinabe Scattergories

The first time I realized that the answer to a question didn't have to be obvious was in grade two. My teacher, Freeda, asked: "What is your favourite season?"

Each student had the chance to answer and a chorus of "Summer!" rang through the classroom. One of the kids responded, "Winter" and was met with looks of horror or disgust.

"My favourite part of the year is the change in seasons," said Freeda. "I love it when the first snow falls and then thaws to reveal fresh plants and flowers. It's a beautiful cycle and we get to witness it again and again."

Intrigued by how the answer stood outside of the standard responses us seven-year-olds could think up, I tried to employ this new technique later in Algonquin language class. We were playing a handmade board game, basically an Anishinabe version of Scattergories.

The teacher read from a list of categories and we had to silently write down our responses on a piece of paper, hoping that no other student would have the same answer and leave us both pointless.

Of course, we all knew there were four colours in the medicine wheel: white, yellow, red and black. But I remembered my grandmother explaining to me why she always hung a purple ribbon on her medicine wheels: "Purple is a very sacred, spiritual colour," she explained.

When the time came to read our responses and count up the points for each unique answer, I proudly responded, "Purple!" to the medicine wheel question, convinced that I had bested them all.

"There's no purple in the medicine wheel," said my teacher. "Wrong." I began to protest, but she was already moving on to the next kid.

Much to my dismay, my constant companion and competitor in class was the only student to answer white and received one point.

Monday, December 14, 2015

The Privilege of Being a Rez Bookworm

The highlight of my life as a ten year old was when the Scholastic Book Fair came to town the rez. I can still remember the anticipation of its arrival (second only to the anticipation of receiving a Scholastic Book Order), begging my parents for as much shopping money as they would give, and seeing the poster boards up around the school, the date written in black permanent marker.

When the Book Fair arrived, our teacher lined us up and paraded us over to the high school section of the school where the fair was set up. I pored over the books for as long as they let us browse--not nearly long enough, as far as I was concerned. I loved the swaths of books of all genres set up in tidy piles across numerous tables. The books were colourful, shiny, and new. Just waiting to be devoured on the couch that Saturday. I would purchase one book from a favourite series like Sweet Valley High or Goosebumps, and save the rest of my money for when I could return at lunch and recess and browse without the pressure of returning to class. In this uninterrupted time I would carefully consider and select however many books I could afford, sure to spend any spare change on a bookmark or two.

I would move through the rest of the day thinking of nothing but the books in my bag, finding any opportunity I could to set them out and just look at them or swap titles with my fellow book nerd BFF.

My love of books was enshrined.


A few weeks ago, I returned to my old school on the rez, the one with the book fairs. I was attending an event in the school library and I was hit with a dose of nostalgia seeing a poster for an upcoming Scholastic Book Fair in the hallway.

I walked into the library and it felt so small. It was set up exactly the same as it had been when I was a kid: a magazine corner next to the check out counter; a couple of computers along the wall; and four short stacks of books at the back, with a children's section at the far end.

Granted, I was small the last time I had spent any significant time in this library. And before I'd had the chance to grow up, come-of-age, and maybe explore those library stacks beyond the children's section, I moved. To the city.

And that's when I realized I'd been living in a Book Desert.

It was when my mom took me to the Chapters bookstore in downtown Ottawa. I'd heard about it from one of my new teachers in junior high (a novelty to me, since no junior high existed on the rez but I'd seen it "glamourized" on Degrassi), who told us of this massive bookstore that had two floors! And sure enough right in the middle of the store was an escalator that moved me up to the children's and teen sections where I could spend hours.

How had I gone so long without knowing a place like this existed?

Did these city people realize how lucky they were to be able to buy any book they wanted just outside their front door?

Mom, when can we come here again?


On the reserve today, there is still hardly a place to browse and shop for books. In fact, I can't think of one.

My boyfriend's reserve is next to a slightly larger town than mine, so kids and people there could buy books at Wal-Mart. But have you seen a Wal-Mart book section? Sure, it has some bestsellers and, arguably, a true book nerd would make it work--but how can you inspire a love of reading in children with such limited book resources?

Although I've taken to public libraries this year, to this day one of my favourite hobbies is still browsing in bookstores, both small independent ones and massive chains (I have no shame).

The truth of the matter is that to be a bookworm on the reserve is a true privilege.

Monday, July 1, 2013

A Canada Worth Celebrating

Kanata by Greg Hill

Tomorrow I'm meeting with people from a university in England and I have the pleasure of explaining to them why my office (an Aboriginal resource centre at a university) exists. Today being Canada Day and all, I got to thinking: What would be a Canada worth celebrating?

Some obvious things come to mind: honour the treaties, stop the Keystone XL pipeline (and other environmentally violent projects), treat Indigenous women with respect, recognize our nationhood.

Tomorrow, I will tell the Brits about why our office exists. It is because colonization is a fact in this country. I will use the example of residential schools as one of its most violent forms (but I won't fail to mention the theft of land, and the destruction of the role of women and governance traditions). And I will explain the way this assault on Indigenous peoples has created a plethora of socioeconomic issues that plague our beautiful women, men, children, elders, and communities.

Will it be a lot for them to learn in 5 minutes? Probably. Will they understand it upon reflection? I hope so. Will it shatter what they think they know about "Indians"? That's certainly what I'm going for.

On Friday I was talking to other activists about hope - Indigenous rights advocates, feminists, and proponents of diversity. We wondered, like all activists do at some point, if the work we are doing is any different than it was 30, 40 years ago. More importantly, is the world better off?

"Should we lower our expectations?" questioned a woman who's been in the field for over 30 years.

To me, the answer is obvious: No. I have absolutely high expectations of Canadians, and the role they must play in decolonization and reconciliation. And I don't plan on lowering them one bit. I also have hope that it's possible, because the majority of Canadians are loving and compassionate people.

This is why my office at the university exists: it is a responsibility. Canada wanted to eliminate so much of what makes our nations great through the residential school system. Apparently, 5 years ago, Canada realized what they did was wrong and issued an apology. Today, all school systems in this country have the responsibility to make space for Indigenous ways of knowing to be reclaimed and to grow and flourish.

When Canadians take the time to understand this history, to assume their responsibility, to respect our nationhood alongside their own, and to take tangible action to decolonize Canada, I will stand with you and say:

Happy Canada Day.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

An Activist Nap

A tiny glimpse into my personal life: I am a napper. Last night, after work, I napped from 5-7 p.m. (Could have something to do with the fact that I'm an on-and-off anemic, but that's besides the point.) After a nap like this, I wake up feeling one of two ways: 1) refreshed and ready to be productive for the final few evening hours, or 2) "WHAT?!? It's 7! How am I going to cook, clean, watch my favourite show, work out, and get to bed at a decent hour? Why do I do this to myself!!!" (Luckily, last night was the former.)

Since late March/early April, I've been napping.

I stopped listing to CBC Radio in the mornings and tuned into Hot 89.9.

I finished reading "X-Marks" by Scott Richard Lyons, then picked up "Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?" by Mindy Kaling.

I took a time-out from twitter in favour of constantly trolling my never-ending Facebook Newsfeed.

I fell behind reading some of my favourite blogs, like Native Appropriations and mediaINDIGENA, but read back posts on blogs like Suri's Burn Book and Young House Love.

Notice a trend here? I took, what I'll call, an "Activist Nap."

I'm not going to apologize for any of it. I'll still listen to Hot 89.9 when I'm in my car, and Young House Love is on my daily reading list. But this girl's nap is over.

I had an absolutely wild fall season. It was the busiest and most amazing time of my life, as I took on my biggest challenge yet of teaching a college class of 30 awesome Native students.

And after my class wrapped up on Tuesday afternoons? I hit the road to recruit more students to come to post-secondary education!

I expected the winter to be more quiet and a time to regroup, but instead I published my MA research paper, did a juice cleanse, and travelled more for work.

During one of said travels, I was having a conversation with a couple of Native colleagues. We were talking about the work we do in our 9-5's and our activism and community engagements on evenings and weekends.

"It's exhausting being Indigenous sometimes," one bemused.

We got onto the topic of books. After flexing our academic muscles and talking about what books we were reading by Native authors, the conversation quickly turned to "fun" books as we got talking about everything from sci-fi to Jodi Picoult.

"Sometimes you just have to take a time out and read a fun book."

I took her advice. I didn't completely tune out the news, but I allowed myself the luxury of reading for fun, skipping out on a rally or two, and I let myself off the hook for not being the first to know of each major development in First Nations rights and crises.

I napped. But, rather than it being an hour-long after work nap, it was a 2-month long post-activist nap. I was a Naptivist, if you will. I woke up from this one, not kicking myself for falling so far behind, but feeling refreshed, clear and ready to get back on track.

Monday, February 4, 2013

One-Minute Book Review: The Inconvenient Indian

My blog's been quiet lately, and one of the reasons for it is that I was teaching a class at Algonquin College. If I had the opportunity to teach the class again, I would use Thomas King's The Inconvenient Indian: A Curious Account of Native People in North America as the textbook.

King has been working on this book throughout the majority of his career, and he takes readers with him on select journeys. We begin at home with him and his wife, Helen, and their difference of opinions on where the book begins. We go back in time with King to his job as a administrator in a Native American student centre at a university (what I do now!). Later, we're with him in the spirit world as he waits to find out whether the Musqueam Nation will renew the Shaugnessey Golf Course's lease in 2064.

It seems cliche to write a book review admiring King's prowess as a storyteller, but to ignore the way King tells spells out the history of post-contact, colonial relations on Turtle Island would be an injustice. He does it through stories. Imagine that! He, of course, doesn't give a dry outline of the nation-to-nation relationship, and how it went wrong, by essentially listing government acts, court cases and other material we usually read in textbooks. He tells the stories of the people who's land has been stolen, how its affect them, and what they've done about it.

While King certainly brings the book to a close in a powerful way (and I couldn't help tweeting about it--sorry for the spoiler!), what sold me is the epigraph.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Feelings on December 5, 2012

I'm feeling something. The only word I can think to describe these feelings is "overcome." I don't mean for overcome to be accompanied by the negative connotation that usually goes along with it (though generally I don't like to describe things as positive vs. negative because I think it simplifies things a little too much). I feel overcome, emotional, and, most importantly, like Kije Manido is speaking to me and that my spirit is being sent in another direction away from where I am right now.

I was doing  my best to explain this to R.J. over the phone. At this point in my life, he's the only person I feel comfortable talking to about these feelings while I work them out. I'm worried that trying to explain these feelings to even some of my closest family and friends might come out sounding a little kooky. Yet, blogging about it for the world to see is okay. Go figure.

Anyway, R.J.'s advice was to spend time with the land. Go for a walk. See nature. Do something. I remember making a promise to myself when I was travelling this fall that when I got back to the office I would walk down to the river (I can see it from my flippin window!) every day and put tobacco in the water. Like Nanny recommends. But I never did it, not once - until today.

I plowed through the bush. Was careful not to step on pooh (or mud--that goes to show how much time I spend in "the bush"). When I got there, there were four ducks in the water (two couples, I think). A crow flying overhead. Geese honking at a distance. Squirrels climbing trees. If I would've turned around I would've seen the university. But for a moment, I felt better. And the ducks! They almost brought tears to my eyes. (That's along the lines of what I mean when I say I feel overcome and emotional.)

Still working things out. But my spirit is stirring.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012


Change is in the air.

My tiny corner of the Internet (or locker, maybe?) has been quiet lately. Between my full-time university job, teaching a college course, and trying to maintain some semblance of a personal life, I haven't had time to think about much other than the immediate tasks at hand.

I think maybe this is the framework that has allowed this new idea to grow.

What's the idea? It's radical. Dare I say, crazy. Really, really... really out there.

I want to go home (ni-endayang).

There is sort of a perfect storm of events that have recently occurred that have made space in my mind and my life for this idea to form:

  1. My Chief's Talk: A couple of weeks ago, my Chief, Gilbert Whiteduck, was speaking at a conference I was at. One of the things he talked about is how people have always told him throughout his career: "Baby steps. Stepping stones are important. We'll get there." While no one would deny that all of these small changes connect to one another to formulate something great, Gilbert says: "What we need now are leaps and bounds. Our people are in too dire of a state for baby steps." And I couldn't agree more. I love the work I do and I believe in it. But it's not a leap or a bound. On a more cerebral level (and I'm not sure how well this will translate to a blog), he described an experience returning our ancestors to the land and what it means to just be in the community; and, all throughout his talk, the words that kept running through my mind were: "I have to go home. I have to go home. I have to go home."
  2. Red Man Laughing: I just finished listening to the Red Man Laughing podcast featured chat with Mskwaankwad Rice, who talks about his decision to leave behind his life in Ottawa and move back home to his community, sit with his grandmother, and learn his language. The simple facts of his story got me excited; if he could make this decision and move from Ottawa (the same city I'm in now!), maybe I could, too? Just maybe? They had a really thought-provoking discussion about our generation and how we're basically writing our own rules. We're in a unique position as Anishinabe youth/young people living in the world today and, in some sense, no one has written the guidebook on or beaten the path that determines how to live as Anishinabeg youth in the wake of the acts of genocide committed directly against our grandparents' generation and the impacts its had on our parents' generation.
  3. My Career Path:  While I cannot overstate how much I care about the work I'm doing right now in the university, I know that this work is not my final stop on my career path. My career goal is to become a professor and contribute to the growth of the field of Indigenous Studies. But, over the past week something has become crystal clear to me: My education is imbalanced. I've learned a lot about the history of colonization in this country, critical perspectives of Canada, and the impacts its had on our people. That's important, but after teaching these perspectives to my college class this fall, I've realized that it's only one side of the story. What I'm missing in my "repertoire" (a career-focused way to say self-actualization) is the knowledge and education that exists only in my family, my community and amongst the Anishinabeg: our family stories, our language, our ceremonies, our community history, our ways of knowing the world. I can't be the kind of professor I want to be or make the changes I want to make without this education from my own family and people.
Something has happened within me and it's happened quickly. That's not to say I'm going to be quitting my job and making a Musky-esk change tomorrow. But I'm closer than ever to believing I could do it.

I've always had this goal to learn my language before I have children so I can pass it on. What have I been doing about it? Not much. I've been "talking the talk." I need to, in the words of Ryan McMahon, "walk the talk." I've always thought I wanted to give my future children the opportunity to grow up on a reserve because, although it comes with all of its complexities, it brings with it a love that no Anishinabe child should be denied of. No matter these goals, I was always immediately struck down with stress afterward, wondering, How? How do I make this happen? After having lived in the city for so long, gotten my degrees, secured a good job, and started a life with an amazing partner, the possibility of going home seemed to move further and further away until it was nearly insurmountable.

I can't explain the change in me, but on Saturday morning it was suddenly like all of these barriers had been lifted for a moment. And, luckily, I am still in that moment. So maybe it's not "a moment" after all? I suddenly realized (and this is a deliberate pun, since I'm watching the US presidential election as I type) that yes. I. can. I can leave my amazing job if I want to. I can give up my apartment if I want to. I can go home if I want to.

And guess what? I want to.