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.