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.