Monday, November 29, 2010

To End a Perfect Sunday, or My Turn to Organic

Yesterday my day ended with some - how shall I put this? - trauma.

Let me preface this by saying I had a wonderful Sunday. One of those Sundays that is so relaxing you wish you could have another on Monday. My Sunday included waking up to my boyfriend, R.J.'s, omellete with green peppers, mushrooms, onions, ham and mozzarella cheese; doing my nails in sparkly hot pink while catching bits of Micheal Moore's 'Capitalism: A Love Story' and flipping through People magazine; a run on my treadmill; and dinner at my parents'.

When I returned home to my apartment after a rez-style dinner (hamburger la sauce padakan), I read the first 15 pages of a new book (Love in the Time of Cholera) and chatted with my friend, Katie, whose wedding reception I'll be attending in the Dominican Republic next week (eeek!!!). As it neared 10 o'clock, I wondered, should I go to bed and continue to read or see if anything is on T.V.? Not surprisingly, the television won. (Sidenote: one of the resolves I made this weekend was to temper my horrible T.V. habit - and I mean horrible as I count myself among those addicted to reality garbage - with more reading, music and doing things with my hands.)

Just check the usual stations and go to bed if nothing's on, I told myself. I flipped through the first few channels and found that 'Food, Inc.', a documentary I knew to be abuzz, was on CBC's 'The Passionate Eye.'

Perfect, I thought, pleased that my T.V. time this Sunday evening promised to be educational.

Then came the trauma.

For anyone who hasn't heard of 'Food, Inc.', it's an Academy Award-nominated documentary about the fast food and supermarket industries and what they have done to farming in the U.S. It combines things like state conspiracy, a tragic story of a two-year-old who died from e-coli and stomach-turning slaughterhouse scenes.

Not necessarily the kind of way you want to end a perfect Sunday.

Nonetheless, I am so glad I watched it. It was truly an eye opener for me. Sure, I knew the statement "grass-fed beef is good for you" to be true, but I never really understood the meaning behind it. (In other words, I had no clue whether cows were supposed to be eating grass, corn or hay!) I had heard others reference how sickly and poorly kept KFC chickens are, but I'd never seen any video or read any article for myself.

Now I am concerned about the food I eat and, simply enough, I want to know what goes into it. I am concerned for my heath and R.J.'s, the health of the family we will someday have and the state of the western world's reliance on corporate meat. A viel has been lifted and I can't go on eating whatever food is quick, easy and time-saving (as I learned when I found myself picking pieces of chicken out of my microwavable BBQ chicken and rice "meal").

I am going to start (and this is a huge leap for me) by not eating beef unless it's grass-fed or chicken unless it's grain-fed. I am also going to buy more organic and check out Ottawa's Organic Farmer's Market, open year-round on Saturdays. And, possibly most importantly, I am going to have to stop being lazy and get cooking!

As Anishinabekwe, I am hoping that our ancestors' connection to the food we ate will have a stronger pull than the inevitable supermarket/fast food attempts to win back my loyalty.

Stay tuned...

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

"As Algonquin people, it's our time"

There is a traffic slow down today in my community, Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg, to raise awareness about First Nations education, particularly our right to post-secondary student support.

Did anyone know that? My guess is no.

My community is doing such amazing things these days, including being behind the First Nations Education Week & Rally in September, but I didn't see or hear much about the slow down in national or local news outlets. The closest I came to seeing exposure for K.Z.'s slow down was in an article about the slow down on the highway 17 near Garden River First Nation (the other kitchi sibi, funnily enough)/Sault Ste. Marie. I was happy to see that there was an article in the Toronto Sun, but slightly depressed to read the last line: "The Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg First Nation in Quebec is also planning a slowdown Tuesday on the same issues."

My Dad is attending this slow down. When I went to my parents' house (in the city) for Sunday dinner and he mentioned it, I asked, "Did they issue a media advisory for it? What's the point in doing something to raise awareness if you don't get the word out?" (Obviously, I made an assumption between the first and second questions.)

"I don't know," my Dad replied, each word its own sentence. "Last year they contracted a white guy to do that stuff."

I do my best to stay out of rez politics. Of course, like anyone else, I enjoy hearing the latest goss, particularly around election time. But I don't find the need to scrutinize every decision that comes out of the band office.

As I returned home to my apartment after dinner, I found myself drifting off into a fantasy about doing freelance communications work for my band. It wouldn't be that difficult to put together a contact list of local media persons who have interest in these things and throw together a media advisory for distribution. Hell, my friend Howard is doing archival research for his band for free.

I have to do more. Something is compelling me to. I may not be good at a lot of things, but with a B.A. in communications, certainly I can help in this little way? I want the world to know about my cousin Bee's thoughts and what it means for it to be our time as Algonquin people. I want them to know that in our community it is a big deal that we unveiled this awesome billboard shaming the government. I want them to know what it means when we say we have a right to education.

I WANT TO SHOUT IT OFF ROOFTOPS! And, unfortunately, my blog just isn't quite loud enough.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

The Plastics

I've never been an Elder's Helper.

Two Elders, Sally Webster and Thomas Louttit, made opening statements and prayers at the opening of a new annual lectureship, featuring the amazing Inuk leader Mary Simon, at the university where I work. I happily accepted the (last minute) request to be an Elder's Helper for Sally at this event.

I'd brought a bottle of water for each of the Elders - just in case. Sally arrived with a young Inuk communications officer named Melissa, and both of them were parched. I admit, I felt pleased with myself that I'd made this call - so far, I was receiving a passing grade as an Elder's Helper.

Not too long afterward, Thomas Louttit arrived with his Elder's Helper (a university student). After a couple of minutes had passed and Thomas seemed to garner that I was at the event in some sort of official capacity, he asked if we had any water. I immediately became flustered - I'd just given the only two bottles away! Luckily (or so I thought), my office was only a floor below and I ran down to grab a bottle of water from the case I had leftover from our pow wow a couple of weeks earlier.

I approached Thomas with the bottle. He took it, looked at it, and asked, "What do you think of these?" Before I could respond - and maybe this was where my luck played a part, because I had no idea how to reply - the event organizer approached with glass of water. "Ah, I'll take this," he said with a smile, putting the unopened water bottle down on table behind him. He was quickly engaged in another conversation, so I returned to Sally. (Elder's Helper fail.)

"Are you the official organization photographer?" I ask Melissa, the communications officer who arrived with Sally, in my usual semi-awkward way.

"Photographer-in-training," she answers with 'smeyes' (yes, I just quoted Tyra Banks). "This was my first assignment," she says and shows me a photo of a plastic spoon on the tiny digital camera screen.

She then proceeded to tell me this beautiful story, which I will do my best to re-tell:

An Inuk storyteller tells about his first encounter with southerners. When he was a young boy, he and his friend spotted some white men who had set up a camp. They were too shy to approach them, so day after day they watched them from afar. When the men had finally packed up and left, the two boys went to their camp to see what they could find. There were empty tin cans and other stuff laying around. The boy picked up a plastic spoon and brought it home. When his mother saw it, she made him clean it and take care of it well. Finally, one day it broke and his mother got so mad! Now, whenever he travels he always packs a plastic spoon in his suitcase.

The three of us laughed at the story and proceeded to wonder what it could mean. Melissa thought the spoon would remind him of his mother. I thought it was interesting how he took such good care of his spoon, yet today in the 'south' plastic utensils are made for one time use.

After the lecture I headed over to the opening of "Haida: Life. Spirit. Art." at the Museum of Civilization.

The exhibit was great - no plastic, but wood, bent box, mountain goat horn, stone and other natural materials. Many of them date back to the 17th century. What made this evening truly amazing was the chance to hear from and be in the presence of Haida power couple Robert Davidson (living legend artist and carver) and Terri-Lynn Williams-Davidson (lawyer on the Haida title case). I hit up the gift shop afterward and in my own attempt to be less wasteful, I bought this awesome hummingbird mug:

Thomas Louttit's question, the story Sally shared, and the Haida experience together worked to remind me, as much as I love pop culture, not to turn into... (and this pains me a little to say because I love Tina Fey so)... The Plastics!

Monday, September 27, 2010

My Treadmill & Me

About a month ago, my boyfriend R.J. convinced me that we should buy a treadmill. I was hesitant; I've heard too many stories of treadmills becoming clothes hangers (not to mention that there always seems to be a treadmill on any episode/clip of Hoarders).

Nearly three weeks had passed and neither of us had touched it. R.J.'s grandmother put us to serious shame, logging in a total of 15 minutes during her two week stay with us in August. The cold, plastic-y smell of its new material taunted me upon my return home from work each day. Although it stood in the furthest corner of our apartment, I knew it was there: a lonely, unused treadmill.

A couple of weeks later, my guilt was replaced by apathy. I can say that I kind of forgot it was there, but really, I just didn't care that I wasn't using it. Then - I decided to weigh myself.

Baaaaad decision. Weighing myself often makes me feel horrible, as I'm sure it does for many other women (and men - but let's face it, women "have" higher standards to live up to). I know when I'm gaining weight (my clothes feel tighter) and why (I'm neither exercising nor eating healthy). So why do I do it? Why do I step onto the fancy scale R.J. bought, which uses our heights and ages to determine our body fat percentage and all kinds of other stuff? Maybe my subconscious, who isn't quite as apathetic as my conscience, nudged me on.

I won't provide a number, because numbers don't say much. I am probably still within my BMI, but the fact is I feel like crap. And that has to change now! Yes, we can!

So, I am starting a running program. I broke my treadmill in last Thursday and have been on it twice since then. Granted, I am walking for six minutes and running for one (eventually working my way up to a half hour run), but still.

Wish me luck!

Friday, September 17, 2010

These are my... jeggings

I bought a pair of Mavi jeggings yesterday at the Rideau Centre:

And, whether I'd like to admit it or not, they're all I can seem to focus on today. I've suddenly become consumed (no pun intended) by my want for things to go with my jeggings... Manitobah Mukluks, over-the-knee riding boots, long sweaters, long necklaces and long scarves all top my list.

I've had my ups and downs with fashion. It all started after graduating high school when I discovered...

Holt Renfrew. The bags weren't hot pink back then, but the store was just as nice.

My first purchase at Holt Renfrew was a black and white pop-art Burberry purse with a hot pink lining and patent leather strap. It was one of those itty bitty purses, which were 'in' back then. I felt so good as the cashier (who probably had some fancy title like 'Sales Associate') placed it gently into a shoe bag, wrapped it in tissue and, finally, handed me the bag... until I got home and realized I'd spent $400 on a purse. Immediately, an unbearable buyer's remorse began to set in.

I wore it for about two weeks, but every time I felt the weight of it wearing me down. Desperate, I brought it to Hillary's dry cleaners and asked if they could clean the ever-so-slight graying on the white material. "No can do," the woman at the counter responded. "We can't dry clean it because the strap would ruin." The patent leather strap that delighted me days before was suddenly the bane of my existence.

My mom, who would go to any length at even the slightest sign of her children's distress, scrubbed the thing with dish soap and I headed back to the department store with the purse in its shoe bag and my breath in my throat.

The cashier glanced at it quickly, processed the return with a stoic - borderline bored - look and dismissed me within minutes.

Walking out of the store I felt a mix of relief and shame. I wondered, what did the cashier think of me?

Her outfit didn't match this purse. She's not good enough for Burberry.

She probably had to choose between Burberry and food. Food
obviously won out.


I've fluctuated back and forth between focusing on and neglecting my style. As I entered grad school, I didn't care so much about what I wore, if only for the fact that I didn't have time to care. I still bought some new boots and sweaters for fall, but also wore *all* of my Christmas present clothing (my undergrad self would have gasped!). I cared a lot in my undergrad, since something about the University of Ottawa's downtown campus seemed to turn hallways into runways. I had subsequent - more pleasurable - Holt Renfew experiences with Juicy Couture and Marc by Marc Jacobs, Gucci, Prada and even a return to Burberry.

Funny, how one pair of jeggings can bring me right back there.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

One-Minute Book Review: All That We Say Is Ours

All That We Say Is Ours: Guujaaw and the Reawakening of the Haida Nation (Ian Gill)

This book was constantly pulling me in two directions: one, where I enjoyed the format and the content, and another where I couldn't wait to be through with it.

For all intents and purposes, I totally judged this book by its cover. I *loved* its name. It is so simple and powerful, and reflects the title naming process that I (try to) emulate in my essay writing. What I understood to be the format - a mix of oral history, interviews, the author's reflections, legal history, media of the time, and so on - intrigued me as well.

I didn't so much appreciate the writing style. When the (non-Native) author took the text in his own direction, it was so clearly not the voice of the people that I found myself reading in a British accent in my head. He used western idioms and quoted mostly non-Native scholars.

Of course, he has the right to - it's his book and I, as a reader, have chosen to give it a chance. And that is where I started to kick myself in the butt. While reading this book I also picked up Through Black Spruce by Joseph Boyden and This is an Honour Song edited by Leanne Simpson and Kiera Ladner. Particularly as I reached the last couple of chapters I kept thinking, Life is simply too short and there are too many talented Native writers for me to be spending my time on a book like this.

Now, this review could quickly turn into a post about my idea of non-Native people writing about Native peoples. So I will turn to one thing (of a few) I liked. The book ends with (spoiler alert - d'uh) a speech given by Guujaaw (the subject of the book) about the late Bill Reid. The last line of his speech epitomizes a feeling I get that is so hard to describe. It feels like I was born to be Anishinabe, and that that fact is somehow incredible to me.

Final thought: This book might be interesting for Canadians looking to learn a bit more about Haida culture and worldviews, environmentalism and First Nations' experiences in Canadian courts, but it's always better to hear a story told by the people who live(d) it.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Not the Real Thing

I am a huge fan of Adrienne K's blog, Native Appropriations. At times I have to stop myself from treating her website as a basket for all things offensive to us as Native peoples. For example, earlier this week I read about Lady Gaga saying, in regards to Arizona's SB1070, something along the lines of: "If it weren't for all you immigrants, this country wouldn't have shit." (Oooh, I can say shit on the Interweb! Not accustomed to that.) While I'm all for attempts at anti-racist sentiments, you can't throw other nations and cultures under the bus - c'mon now, Gaga.

Anyway, my first instinct was to e-mail this tip to Adrienne K. Then I realized: this has nothing to do with appropriation. It is just downright offensive to me and I want to send it to someone who will put Lady Gaga on blast for it.

Actually, this has nothing to do with the original thought I had to post, but I would like to give kudos to Native Appropriations - it's an awesome blog.

I have many memories of my move, at twelve years old, from my reservation to "the city" for the start of junior high, like being painstakingly behind in math and French class; passing a white girl in the halls and thinking she was the definition of beauty; and being chuckled at and corrected on my rez accent ("It's three, not tree!"). But one memory sticks out like a sore thumb and I've been thinking about it quite a bit since being hooked onto 'Native Appropriations.'

I was flipping through YM magazine with my friend Lisa (the same friend who, I suppose, I can thank for my proper pronunciation today) when we came across a 'trendy' pair of Native-style earrings. I can't remember whether they were feathers, beads or both, but they were very distinct. My immediate reaction was shock and outrage:

"They are stealing from our style!" I exclaimed.

"They're not stealing," Lisa said, matter-of-factly. "You should take it as a compliment that they like your style."

Always a people-pleaser and confrontation-avoider, I shrugged and flipped the page. But I still felt a fire lit under me. I knew something about this was not right.

A couple of weeks later I was back home, having a sleepover with two of my equally girly cousins. We too were flipping through a magazine admiring the latest fashions and laughing at the more "edgy" ones. And then we too stumbled across a page that featured Native-style earrings. The two of them reacted with some level of shock and disgust.

Suddenly, without much consideration, I found myself adopting Lisa's mantra and, as a result, a certain brand of "white knows best" philosophy.

"Relax," I reassured them, my nose a few millimeters closer to the sky than it had been a moment earlier. "We should be taking it as a compliment."

They didn't buy that reasoning. One of my cousins in particular shot it down, steadfast in her beliefs that it was "just copying" and "not the real thing."

Now I can look back on that time and dissect this cultural appropriation, a white response to it and my own embodiment of the dominant discourse. While not standing my ground - and worse, attempting some degree of lateral oppression - is not my finest moment, I will forgive my twelve-year-old self. After all, I never claimed to be a warrior or an activist or even outspoken at that age.

All I can do now is do my part to right (write) those wrongs.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Struggle to Publish

So, I have come to an interesting point in my journey as a scholar: the end.

Well, that might be a little dramatic. As I said in my previous post, "Life lived like a story", I love learning and, more specifically, being a student and would love to someday go back to grad school for a PhD.

I've finished my M.A. and, for the first time in my life, I am not a student. Gasp! Needless to say as a lifelong nerd, I feel a slight void (but luckily that feeling has been tempered by the new job at a university I began almost immediately upon graduation). But I still find myself stealing moments away from my day to browse PhD programs, google scholars and scan journals. I think it is clearly where my heart is.

In order to satiate the nerd within me, I have settled on applying for 2011's Graduate Horizons so that I can explore whether it's possible for me to go to school in the U.S. Well, anything is possible, I guess exploring whether it is do-able is more accurate. (Or is that the same thing?)

Between now and then I am going to concentrate on making myself more PhD-ready. I've already had the amazing opportunity to co-author a chapter for a book with a professor and a Harvard-educated PhD candidate, both of whom I admire.

Now I come to my current dilemma: my struggle to publish. I was very proud of my MA research essay. And, I was happy that my three graders seemed to feel the same way. I knew that I wanted to share my essay with others, having only shared it with my family at this point, and my graders encouraged doing so in their marking scheme...

But I can't start!

Up until now I've blamed my new job. It's been an adjustment and existing within a learning curve can be tiring. So, I'm not going to apologize for that. But every night this week I've wanted to start looking at my essay again, start sending it to friends who've been asking to read it, start e-mailing it to some of the professors who've helped me along the way to ask for advice.

I couldn't understand what was going on. It wasn't my normal procrastination, which usually only happens when I really don't want to do something. I want badly to get rolling, revise and submit my essay. (Whether to submit it to my "dream" journal, SAIL, or a lesser known journal - so much lesser that I don't even have one to name - is yet another untied end.) But I just couldn't.

Then I met with one of my graders who, until that moment, had been 'blind.' Our conversation inevitably turned to my essay and the possibility of publishing. After coming clean about my recent struggles, I was delighted to learn that I wasn't alone. As a newly 'crowned' (haha) PhD she had several publishers knocking on her door, but she's been sitting on her dissertation for two years.

Suddenly three months doesn't seem so bad. I just hope it doesn't turn into three years.

Monday, July 12, 2010

"Life lived like a story."

"Well, I've tried to live my life right, just like a story."

-Angela Sidney

I've always loved this quote. It is from one of the three Elders whose life stories are told in this book, through "author" Julie Cruikshank (my thoughts - although not necessarily fully formed - on non-Native people doing research "about" Native peoples is an entirely separate post, which I have no immediate plans to compose).

Angela Sidney's quote speaks to the power stories have for our people. Our stories and our storytellers are our greatest teachers in life; this is not something that is new to our people. (Yet, it seems that writing academically about our stories is a burgeoning field - how did that happen?)

I want to dedicate my life to stories. Listening to them, learning from them, picking them apart, putting them back together. And, maybe even someday, telling them to grandchildren of my own. My research for my master's was about stories. My essay looked at the theoretical/ethical/methodological considerations put forth by Native writers, and was punctuated by my grandfather's oral history and my self-reflexivity. Off the record, I called my essay "a story about stories."

It was well received by my readers. They called it "innovative" and "an excellent contribution." (All of these things, I am not going to lie, went straight to my head.) What's ironic about this is that my essay was the complete opposite of innovative; I was writing about some of our oldest traditions in their modern manifestations. We've always known that stories have power to decolonize, that stories and their tellers have responsibilities, that stories tell us where our home is, and allow our nations and cultures to survive. This is old news!

Now that I've graduated and am working at a job I love, I should feel fulfilled. But I feel like something is missing. It is no longer my main task, as it was when I was a student, to listen to my grandfather's story, to think about my own, and to read the stories, and stories about stories, that other Native writers tell. How can I get back to that place and still make a decent living for myself? One route surfaces as an option: PhD.

And, in strolls irony/trickster, once again, to laugh at me.

In the western world, the modern age, 2010 Canada, in order to "return" to a life lived like a story, I must complete what is commonly accepted as one of the most gruelling career paths out there (not to mention be a broke student for yet another five years of my life). To live and breathe stories, something that was embedded into community life in our "less colonized" days, and still pay my rent, I have to rise to the top of this academic game.

Oh irony/trickster, you've got me again!

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

The Day the Earth Shook

There was an earthquake today.

Having lived in the uneventful (weather-wise) regions of eastern Ontario/western Quebec all my life, I discovered today that a person can learn so much about herself during an earthquake. Will you be brave or will you scream and cry? Will your life flash before your eyes or will you draw a blank? And (funnily enough), will you even know an earthquake is what is causing the shake?

On day two of my new job, I sat at my in my borrowed office - while mine was being built - doing the usual first week reading and familiarizing. I am enthusiastic and energetic and everything seems right with the world. That is when the earth began to shake.

I knew immediately that it was an earthquake, incredulous as it was. Almost as some sort of coping mechanism, my brain tried to convince me that it was being caused by construction workers, possibly doing some kind of drilling. But I knew better. Sure enough, I stepped into the hallway where the other women in my office had gathered in doorways, their faces mirroring the shock and confusion I felt.

I realized that I am braver than I think (as are the women I work with, although I cannot speak to their self-perceptions of bravery or cowardice). Unlike the construction workers who bolted down the stairwell ("Run! Go as fast as you can!"), we took deep breaths and looked into one another's eyes and rode it out. Laughing at the end.

My boyfriend, R.J., had a different experience. In a much taller building than mine, he recounts seriously thinking that the building was going to come crumbling down and that this was the end. Which makes me think. Even though my experience was more calm, it still made me appreciate my loved ones. I was happy to hear their voices on the phone afterward, delighted to see their beautiful faces. Happy to arrive at my home, sit on my own couch, speak to a cousin/friend on the phone, and watch 'The City.' It's the small things that make life worth living.

What I discovered, and I'm sure many others did as well, is that at that moment I was not in control of my life. A force greater than me was. Call it the Creator, Mother Earth, God, whatever you will. Maybe it was a warning or maybe we were saved. Maybe it was just an earthquake. In any event, I am just glad to have my feet planted firmly on the ground.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Change is in the air

In our culture, spring is a time of renewal. As spring nears its end for 2010, this couldn't be closer to the truth for me right now.

1. "Call me Mal Wabashishib, MA"

I am proud to announce that I have officially mastered the arts. Haha! That's actually quite laughable considering I couldn't draw or paint to save my life. However, I would venture to state something like, "I know a thing or two about Indigenous peoples, particularly as it relates to my family's and community's oral history and the larger Native critical literary theory regarding why we write our stories." That's more like it.

It seems that I blinked and three years (that's right, three) had passed. Well, if you had asked me about time at the end of two years, I might have responded, "What? It's not 2020?" But, now it seems to have passed a little too quickly. The past three years of my life were filled with wonderful new (and old) friends, intensely intriguing conversations, triumphs I had never before experienced, and challenges I didn't know if I would overcome. But, today I proudly declare that I am edu-ma-cated.

2. "Bye bye sirens, hello crickets - or is that a bat?"

I moved last weekend! I said goodbye to R.J.'s and my apartment in the heart of Little Italy and hello to a quiet condo across the bridge. It felt so good to breathe the fresh, cool air courtesy of, gasp!, great trees! Living down the street from a fire station for a year made it difficult to sleep the first night without the "street sounds," but this is definitely something I can get used to.

3. "Did I hear you right? You're paying me now??"

... and I got a new job. I have spent the past two years working full-time as a researcher for a Native organization. I loved the work that I did and feel that I truly made a difference in the lives of some real people (imagine that!) and helped to make a change (however small) in the discourse on a specific issue. Perhaps I'll touch more upon that someday, but not today.

I will soon be employed at a university, working in a field I would classify as education (duh), communications, and community relations. I can't wait!!! More to come on this, you can be sure.


So basically, most areas of my life have been renewed - and it feels good. One comfortable constant is, of course, my love, R.J. Unfortunately for me, but fortunately for him, there is potential for some change there, but I won't count my duck eggs before they hatch.

And, hopefully, my blogging habits will change to be more frequent. (Yes, I am putting the onus on them to change themselves.)

Tuesday, May 18, 2010


One of the main things that toasts my goats (statement borrowed from my boyfriend, R.J.) are the things that affect me as Anishinabekwe - and believe me, there are many. That theme is generally the subject of this blog and, hopefully, I will be able to infuse it with some of my own personal flair.

But, this blog is still in its beginning stages and it is necessary at this time to define my terms of reference (does that make it starkly obvious that I work for a board-governed organization? Non-profit is all I will say). Although Turtle Island was comprised of many different nations, upon the "discovery" of the nations (arghhh...) the Europeans needed to erase these distinctions in order to begin the process of colonization/genocide/assimilation (pick your term of choice). It is also important to recognize that while these terms may have had negative impacts on our societies, today, there is solidarity found in terms that bind us together as a collective people. I call these the Terminators.

Indian: Oh my, where to begin. I almost feel silly explaining why this term is problematic because I feel it is (or should be) a well known fact, but perhaps I am wrong. This name has stuck to our people more so than any other - in terms of both the name others call us, as well as the name we call ourselves. But, sadly, the origin of this name dates back to a white man's stupid mistake. Upon Columbus's arrival on Turtle Island, he originally thought he had hit India; hence the name "Indians." The term and imagery of Indians has been used most notably by sports teams.

Cleveland Indians (baseball team)

Admittedly, this is a term commonly used amongst my family and community. Some might suggest that that is evidence of how deep the roots of colonization or assimilation have set, but I wouldn't be so quick to deny the agency of the people. So, I like to believe that there is some subversion of the term "Indian" when used by our people, but that is an entire post in its own right.

Indigenous: This term is also quite popular. I am reminded most of Taiaiake Alfred's use of the term in his works (or Indigenous manifestos). For me, this term has power in its ability to connect Indigenous nations across imposed borders and boundaries. When I think of myself as an Indigenous person, I see myself as part of the group with the greatest number of members; there are Indigenous peoples in countries known today as Canada, the U.S., Mexico, New Zeland, Australia, and more. I learned most about myself as an Indigenous person in 2006 when I had the opportunity to attend the Healing Our Spirit Worldwide gathering in Edmonton, Alberta. If only I could attend this year... It's in Hawai'i!

Aboriginal: This is a popularized term in Canada, as is the derivative "Aboriginie" in Australia. According to the Canadian Constitution, Aboriginal refers to First Nations, Metis, and Inuit people in Canada. It is in my nature to resist, so I am most hostile towards this term simply by virtue that I *detest* the government's desire/need/power/ability to tell me who I am and what I should call myself. Although, in the city I live in (Ottawa) you almost need to use the word to be taken seriously. Sigh.

Native: This term is ambiguous. Although I have an affinity toward it in that I feel it refers to me, that feeling is erased from time-to-time when I hear a settler referring to him- or herself as, for example, "native Manitoban." In that sense, anyone can be "native" with a small 'n.' However, I would adopt this term in an instant if it ever came down to Native vs. Aboriginal. But only in my world would such a showdown take place.

First Nations: This term has heavy political connotations. More than the name of peoples, this term is a statement that we are the first people to walk this land and we are nations - not vulnerable, racialized people in need of government paternalism. I think that this stance must be taken and, more importantly, it is a term that we chose ourselves. Although it is a bit wordy for my liking, I use it when necessary.

Anishinabe: Ding, ding, ding! We have a winner! I use this term whenever possible in my writing and in my everyday language. It is a long process of reclaiming and it is difficult, with many of our people being English speakers, to use our language amidst the prevailing one. My understanding is that before contact, "Anishinabe" meant "the people." After contact, suddenly there were "new people." So, "Anishinabe" came to mean "our people" and a new word was created in my language for white people.But, more than anything, I am Anishinabe.

Finally, before I sign off on what has become a very long post, I want to draw attention to my use of the first person plural words, like "our" and "we." While my intent is not to exclude non-Anishinabe or non-Native (I went there) readership of my blog, I speak first and foremost to those who understand where I come from. I think seemingly small endeavours, such as personal blogs like mine, have the power to empower our people and that is important to me.

In the words of Gloria Bird (in regards to Native literary critical theory): "And here I must interject that, yes, I am saying that specifically Native writers and Native academics need to take control of the dialogue, to define their literary traditions in the same manner that other nationalist literary movements have done."

Saturday, May 8, 2010

So soon?

I have just barely reached my third post and already it is time for a confession: I have had a blog before. More than one, actually. I am not bold enough to assume that I have any readership yet, so I will go ahead and point out what potential future readers may notice -I began my blog in April 2010, but I have been a member of Blogger since November 2007.

Yet, somehow my blogs always seemed to fall through the cracks. I began two blogs, most recently, during the past 2+ years spent in grad school. One was called "Musings of a Native Grad Student" and I had a good 4-5 posts. I can't even remember the name of the other blog, which never saw the light of day, but I remember it played with the overused "brown eyed girl" theme.

But nothing felt right until now. The title, theme, and ideas I have for posts are far different from my previous attempts to enter the blogosphere (is that term still relevant? Or is it the equivalent to web vs. 'net?). Hence, this unrelenting guilt I feel for going so long between posts. And double hence, this unplanned, spontaneous post about blogging.

One of the first things I did after handing in my master's research essay was to begin this blog. "I'll have all the time in the world!" I thought. But no. A self-proclaimed and shameless nerd, I canceled a Friday night date with a friend to go to the opening of a new bar to stay home and co-author part of a research paper. Tomorrow I am heading back to my reserve to visit my grandmother, and Sunday I have Mother's Day brunch and a date with a friend home from B.C. And in between all of this, completing this chapter!

Long (convoluted) story short, this post it my attempt to alleviate blogger guilt.

Migwetch for listening.

Monday, May 3, 2010

It's complicated

My first post was punctuated by an unanticipated separation from my Macbook – well, more importantly, its connection to the internet.

I just returned from a long weekend spent in my boyfriend’s community, Bkejwanong (Walpole Island First Nation). The trip was too short, as it always is, but was certainly worth the approximate eight hour drive (one way). Whether or not we can term these visits as ‘vacations’ is an ongoing debate between me and my boyfriend (for now, I will call him ‘R.J.’). Although relaxation isn’t always on the agenda, other essential criteria are met, such as being away from home and, the big one, having fun.

As usual, it was a great trip. Some highlights included my customary trip across the (artificial and imposed) border* for shopping and eats; attending my first toonie auction, where I bid on a BBQ and a patio set for my new apartment (but unfortunately didn’t win); renting It’s Complicated, which I totally loved, the old-fashioned way at the video store; and, last but certainly not least, capturing photos of the swans who live on the river.

Actually, I think I will show, rather than just tell, you what I did this weekend and some of the things I love about these vacations/trips/visits/term-TBD:

1. Poncho's

Poncho's delicious and cheap menu

Taco (my fave!) and tostada


I am convinced that this is one of the best kept secrets on Turtle Island. We eat there on every trip. Located in New Baltimore, Michigan, Poncho's is a family owned and operated Mexican restaurant. They make their own tortillas and serve everything straight out of the oven. For $9 I got Combination #2, which included nachos smothered in cheese, a taco and a tostada, and enchiladas, beans, and rice (the entree). And the margaritas aren't so bad either.

2. R.J.’s family

Without a doubt, R.J.’s family are the most kind-hearted people I have met (barring my own family, of course!). I have always been somewhat shy, so it takes a lot for me to bond with those outside of my immediate circle. But, from the time I met them almost two years ago, R.J.’s family has treated me with kindness, love, and respect. They are what make the 16-hour trip bearable.

3. The land

Willow Beach

Swans on the St. Clair River

Teeny tiny turtles

The land upon which Bkejwanong sits is breath-taking. On my first visit, I was absolutely stunned by how gorgeous the water is. Up until that point, I thought only the ocean could be so blue. A lot of the land is marsh and swamp (so they don’t have basements – I used to find that weird!), which could be why they have so many diverse types of trees and plants, including weeping willows. Quite a change from the pines and maples down in my neck of the woods.


Disclaimer time: I don’t want to glorify or glamourize life on the reserve. It’s hard. As R.J. and I were curled up on recliners at his parents’ house watching It’s Complicated, we heard a loud noise. It sounded to me like firecrackers. Soon after, the phone rang. As it turned out, R.J.’s uncle’s was shot at with an automatic weapon. R.J.’s uncle described the shooter, his neighbour, as a “good kid” with whom he’d always gotten along. And now this good kid being criminally charged.

Empty shells

The issues in our communities are complex and inextricable. But I choose to focus on the good times and memories of R.J.’s community this weekend, my own community, and our communities across Turtle Island. The strength, dignity, and resilience of our peoples is immense. Sharing laughs and good conversation over a cup of coffee on the front porch is much more powerful than a shot in the dark.

*Note: I use my 'expired' Indian status card as a tiny form of resistance. Did I stop being an Indian in February 2009? Although even having the card opens up an entirely separate debate I will save for another day.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

These are my moccasins.

When I was sixteen years old, I asked my grandmother to make me a pair of moccasins. My grandmother is a talented craftswoman who owned a Native arts and crafts shop, and had made me moccasins as a child (and ribbon dresses, and shawls, and Halloween costumes, and beaded barrettes, and skirts for dances, and the list goes on). But this request was different. I felt grown up – after all, I was banking my first pay check as a summer day camp counsellor on the reserve – and I wanted a pair of moccasins for a specific purpose: I wanted boot-style moccasins, as opposed to slippers, that I could wear outside.

On Christmas Eve a year and a half later, I opened my present from my grandparents to find my moccasins (and a pair of PJs). They were lace up boots, made with durable hide rather than thoroughly softened leather, and had a fuzzy lining inside. Most stunningly, their faces were entirely beaded and their bodies were a beautiful bright red. They were perfect.

Fast forward five years. I was in my third year of university majoring in communications and I registered for a course in public speaking. The course consisted of a series of different types of speeches and the first assignment was to introduce ourselves in a speech about an object. I wondered, what makes me unique? How am I different from the lululemon-and-Ugg-wearing blondes around campus? (Although I must admit, I had and still have a pretty hefty collection of lululemon yoga gear.) The answer was, of course, my moccasins. More importantly, the culture, history, traditions, and heritage that my moccasins embody.

So, I wrote my speech. When my name was called, I walked to the front of the room in my moccasins, and began: “These are my moccasins.” And that’s when it started. I could feel my throat starting to constrict, my palms beginning to sweat, and my voice shaking with every word I managed to squeak out. I stared at the faces in the crowd. Every colour in the medicine wheel was represented; one black, two yellow, one red (me), and, all the rest, white. I realized I wasn’t getting ‘stage fright.’ I was nervous because in this speech I wasn’t simply introducing myself as the assignment called for; I was confronting these people with my identity, my ‘ethnicity,’ my indigeneity, my pride of being Anishinabekwe.

Now here I am. It has been almost ten years since I asked my grandmother to make my moccasins. They are still in excellent shape, unlike those sold in stores, and I wear them all the time. At work. On the city bus. Around the house. Walking through 'bo-bo' (hipster) neighbourhoods. What feels like a lifetime ago, I offered fellow university students the opportunity to get to know me and my moccasins. And today, I make that offering to you.

These are my moccasins.