Saturday, November 19, 2011

Only a tuft
of black curly hair
is seen
from the other side
of the counter

And a small hand
holding a bag of Nibs
and exactly
one dollar in change
"No tax."

[Insert here
any settler comment
about stealing
from the taxpayer
ducking responsibility
or not playing fair]

I live on this place
named off-reserve
walking on
hollow apologies
empty declarations
and many, many
broken promises

The elders told us,
"We are at home
wherever we are."
And I know this much
is true.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

An Anishinabe Review of Haida Song

"New Journeys" Terri-Lynn

I don't know how music reviewers do it. Just last week I excitedly downloaded the latest album of my favourite artist, but I couldn't really "get into it" at first listen. Instead, I had to listen to it beginning to end at least four times before I could truly have a relationship with the music.

With Terri-Lynn's "New Journeys," it took mere minutes to forge a relationship with her songs.

I popped the CD in on one of the first cool days this fall. R.J. and I had just returned home after an afternoon of hiking (and filming! We're throwing around the idea of starting a vlog together) in the Gatineau Park. He read in the bedroom, and I started dinner by chopping vegetables in the kitchen.

New Journeys was the perfect soundtrack for cooking. Terri-Lynn's soft, yet haunting, voice and the rhythmic ebb and flow of the music guided my blade as it sliced through fall root vegetables. When we sat down to eat, with New Journeys on repeat, R.J. agreed that the music we listened to created a calm and quietly chipper kitchen environment. In this way, we both had a relationship with Terri-Lynn's music.

Haida art, particularly during the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver, has become one of the primary ways Canadians and people around the world essentialize and understand First Nations. New Journeys confuses what Canadians think they know about the Haida nation by combining some traditional sounds with a contemporary spin.

In addition to reading All That We Say Is Ours and visiting the Haida: Life. Spirit. Art. exhibit by Robert Davidson (also the site where I spotted the tall, gorgeous Terri-Lynn from afar!), New Journeys adds to this Anishinabekwe's education about the rich history and amazing artistry of Haida people.

And I look forward to continuing this learning journey (pun totally intended) to Terri-Lynn's soundtrack.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Pocahontas & Pendletons

Like most little girls in my generation, and the ones growing up today, I loved Disney princesses. And while I enjoyed films starring the classic princesses - like Snow White and Cinderella - I was absolutely enchanted by the late 80s/early 90s Disney princess trifecta: The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast and Aladdin.
I adored every Disney princess... Except for one.


As a ten year old girl growing up on the rez who had Jasmin and Belle Barbies (although I didn't like them as much as my other Barbies because they were larger; I'll save
that for another post), you think I would have been delighted that a new movie was coming out that featured a princess who was like me, right? Wrong!

To this day, I have never watched Pocahontas. In fact, the most I've seen of the movie are the scenes that make up the background of this feminist, spoken word poem, Once Tongue Tied*:

To be honest, from what I can remember of being that age, none of the other girls at school on the rez were that interested in Pocahontas either. I think there were one of two reasons for this lack of interest in Pocahontas:
  1. Pocahontas didn't actually reflect me or the girls my age. Yes, we had brown skin and long, dark hair; but, no, we didn't sing to the raccoons and wear teeny tiny buckskin dresses. While other little girls around the world might think Pocahontas a beautiful, exotic princess...
  2. We were more interested in the pale-skinned and blonde-haired princesses. The ones who far outnumber the two brown princesses in the photo above. From what we were taught by Disney and other media, they were the real beauties - not the princess who was supposed to represent us.
It's only been in recent years - I'd say since when I started grad school in 2007 - that I've begun to interrogate how this "Pocahontas complex" and other childhood images of Indians have affected me.

There seemed to be no end to my life on the rez in sight, until my mom got a job in the city and we moved. Although I would never go as far as to say I was "ashamed" of being one of only a handful of Anishinabekwe attending my high school in the Ottawa area, I also wasn't wearing my moccasins to class or a Native Pride cap. It felt that the easiest way to make it through high school was to go status quo, which for me meant being simply "Canadian" (whatever that is).

I noticed this unsettling ambivalence creep into my life again last year when I was asked, along with my fellow Word Warriors, to present Gerald Vizenor with a Pendleton blanket.

(Don't ask about my face.)
I was so excited to meet Vizenor and honoured to be honouring him, but I couldn't get as excited about the blanket itself as the audience who ooh-ed and ahh-ed.

My parents had a Pendleton blanket when I was growing up. I remember the day my parents brought my baby brother home from the hospital; we were in the midst of a heat wave and O.J. Simpson was running from the cops. My parents were lying on a bed in the basement, my eight pound brother between them. The Pendleton blanket they lay on was wrinkly so tried to fluff it out.

"Don't!" my parents both yelled, raising their arms to protect the baby.

"You can knock the air out of him," my dad warned. Oops.

And that's one of the memories that came to me the day I saw Gerald Vizenor's Pendleton blanket.

When you grow up Native, Pocahontas and Pendletons aren't just princesses and blankets. They carry memories, insecurities, familiarity and _______.

*I first heard of Once Tongue Tied on Sociological Images. When searching the site today, there was another interesting piece on masculinity and gender in Disney, check it out.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Weight Loss Challenge

This is week 1 of the Odawa Native Friendship Centre's Weight Loss Challenge!

My Skinny Nish program hasn't exactly been going perfectly. But, rather than waste my breath (or finger strength?) providing a litany of excuses, I'm going to focus on how I've found new motivation.

I got an email from Odawa's Healthy Living Coordinator a few weeks ago about their Weight Loss Challenge. The rules are simple: pay $30, weigh in (body fat % and muscle %), and after 10 weeks the females and males who've lost the most body fat and gained the most muscle win the big bucks.

I forwarded the email to R.J. and added: "This sounds perfect! We can get motivated to eat better and exercise, and get more involved in the community--two things we want to do." He agreed, and days later we stepped onto some fancy scale at the friendship centre.

So, as I said, this week is 1/10. My progress? I've returned to my Skinny Nish principles: 1) follow Christine Avanti's Skinny Chicks program; 2) run; and 3) yoga. (Well, so far I've done one run and have been eating the Skinny Chicks way.)

As an added challenge, I'm going to be on the road talking to First Nations students about their post-secondary options for 5-6 weeks in October and November. I won't have the opportunity to prepare meals at home and it might be hard to find time to exercise travelling between hotels. But, right hand on my Skinny Chicks cookbook, I solemnly swear to do my best!

And, if all goes well, I'll be pounds lighter and dollars richer by Christmas.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Two-Minute Book Review: Life Stages and Native Women

Life Stages and Native Women: Memory, Teachings, and Story Medicine (Kim Anderson)

So, you're supposed to read the entire book before you write a review, right? Well, I have a confession: I've only read the foreword and introduction.

In my defense, I'm a firm believer that the introduction is the most important part of the book. (Ask R.J.--I was aghast to learn that he skipped the introductions to his books and, needless to say, he doesn't do that anymore.) Why? The textbook answer is that "it sets the tone." As an aspiring writer and scholar, I am interested in the story of the person writing the book: why they chose this topic, what their processes were, how they feel now that they've finished it. The introduction is where you listen to that story.

I got my book in the mail the day after attending Kim Anderson's book launch here in Ottawa at the Wabano Centre for Aboriginal Health. A shame that I couldn't get her to sign it, but they say everything happens for a reason. I was half an hour late for the launch (working at a university in September, it's impossible to leave by 5) and Kim was well into her reading. The room reminded me of gatherings at the community hall back home. Hectic. A baby was crying, couches and chairs all spoken for, a girl lying on the ground in the fetal position. (Okay, maybe that last one didn't remind me of home.) But, Kim's voice rose above the bustle, as she spoke from the heart about the tradition of finding a tree at whose trunk to lay an infant's umbilical cord; the role of old ladies in cleaning/preparing dead bodies and feeling "death without loss" (thanks Kat); and her love for Maria Campbell.

Kim describes her intimate relationship with Maria Campbell. She talks about how, dejected and discouraged at not being able to get an interview for the book, Maria took her by the wrist and pronounced, "We'll do it together!" (I can picture Maria, now an elder, just as energetic as she was in the youth/adulthood she describes in Halfbreed, determined to get everything from her family's stories to political clout to an escape from the streets.)

In reading texts like these, I look for opportunities to identify a relationship with the seven sacred Grandmother/Grandfather teachings: wisdom, love, humility, courage, honesty, respect, truth. Writing with an honest voice, Kim's introduction is both courageous and humble. In the margins of my copy of the book I've scribbled "honest" as Kim references her anxieties in the introduction's opening paragraph, and "humble" next to where she writes:

I have not lived long enough nor have I done all of the work that is necessary to carry this knowledge.

Perhaps that's why I've found it easy to refer to her as "Kim" in this (slightly longer than) one-minute review rather than "Dr. Anderson" or, *shudder,* the detached "Anderson."

But, the most important pencil scribblings I've made in the margins are these: ask Nanny this question; Mal & R.J. to do this; where does Grandpa fit in these categories?

Kim's book, although adapted from her dissertation, is not an academic text. Sure, a student can reference it in their papers and no professors will think twice about it because she "is" a PhD. It caused me, as I'm sure it will others, to situate myself and my partner and my grandparents and my family in the text. It isn't written in some distant academic jargon; Kim promises teachings about pregnancy and vision quests and how to deal when you're "stuck" in one life stage. Her book will for me act as a "guide" (for lack of a better word) to understand myself and reconstruct my spirituality and relationships with those around me.

This book is so much more than just a book for us as Native women, families, communities, nations.

It is us.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Twist of TIFF

A few weeks ago, R.J. and I were sitting around at home. He checked the "tink tink" of his cell phone, then blurted out, "J wants to know if we want to go to TIFF."

My response?

"Hell yes! That's where all the celebrities go!!"


Star gazing aside, R.J. and I are serious movie junkies. In our heydey, we'd be at the theatre at least once a week. We knew--as much as we might have hemmed and hawed over logistics--that we'd be there in a flash. And thanks to R.J.'s friend J lining up at 6 a.m. for feature film tickets, we were on our way to the Toronto International Film Festival.

The work week flew by, and before I knew it the sunny Saturday morning rolled around. I whipped up some Skinny Chicks berry delish oatmeal, and R.J. and I hit the open road.

We arrived with just enough time for me to shower and curl my hair, then it was off to the TTC.

It was hard to find anything in my giant purse, especially with a pair of gold sparkly peeptoe platforms stuffed inside.

Our first movie was Hick. It starred Blake Lively and the young actress from Kickass. A festival organizer introduced the film's director, who told the audience to stick around for an audience Q&A with the cast after the film. The cast? A surge of excitement cut through the air.

It's been a while since I've cringed, cried, sat on the edge of my seat, laughed and covered my eyes all in the span of an hour and a half. Hick, a very colourful film in acting and cinematography, took me on that kind of emotional roller coaster.

And, sure enough, once the credits were rolling, the director, writer and two cast members graced the stage. The audience was invited to raise their hands and ask questions, as they would in a classroom setting.

After Hick there was a short break. Apparently I was thinking more about fashion than practicality, because it was getting dark and I was getting cold. I stole a few moments to grab a jacket at Urban Outfitters and made it back just as the line for The Oranges was beginning to move inside.

Entering the theatre, we walked passed the roped off area where the stars were being interviewed.

"I saw B!" R.J. exclaims. (Yes, I watch Gossip Girl and yes, R.J. knows who B and S are.)

At the request of dedicated volunteers, we hurried through the hall to the theatre. By some stroke of fate, we got seats in the first row. Now, normally, who'd want to sit in the front row of a theatre and crane their necks to see the screen? Only at TIFF...

The Oranges was AMAZING. I don't know if I was on a starstruck high, but I feel like it is the funniest movie I've seen in a long time. The comedic timing was perfect, and there was a real synergy between the ensemble cast. Two suburban families are thrown for a twist, but after a disturbing series of events the characters still manage to come off as people you'd want to befriend.

Needless to say, having front row seats to the Q&A session was awesome.

The first two seasons of Gossip Girl are my guilty pleasure around Christmas time, so I've got to admit that Leighton Meester being feet away was cool.

We capped off the night with dinner at Milestones and a midnight madness showing of the gory, blood-fest, You're Next (not my fave).

Still, R.J., J and I were all happy campers.

See you next year, TIFF!

Monday, September 5, 2011

Labour Day: Reflections on My Education

Working at a university and living across the street from a high school, I am acutely aware of the back-to-school excitement ringing through the air this September. Forever a student/learner at heart, I'll satisfy my yearning to truly return to school by reflecting on my academic career thus far.

I've graduated a total of seven times: kindergarten, elementary, junior high, high school, college, university (b.a.) and university (m.a.). My brother constantly jokes about how many graduations I've had - that he's, of course, had to attend.

I was in the "smart," a.k.a. maths/sciences, stream in high school until I started flunking out of the advanced classes in grade 10. This led to two reasonable pre-university programs at my local college: liberal arts vs. social science.

I was drawn to liberal arts by their seemingly close knit community and (I'm not going to lie) sense of elitism that came from studying "great books."

I even got a taste of Native history in college through the mandatory "ethics" offering--but I'm ashamed to admit my grade in that class probably fell somewhere around the middle.

By the time it came to apply to university, I was aching for something different. I wanted to study what was happening and what affected me now, not Plato, the Industrial Age and Chaucer. So I enrolled into a bachelor's of communications. I was so excited for my very first university class, Popular Culture, and was only slightly jaded to find that the course was more about reading Bordieux than watching the Simpsons.

Sometime over the course of that three year degree, I became more concerned with my eventual career and began taking what I deemed to be more serious courses than the ones that actually interested me. So, by the end of my time at that university, I had a b.a. honours in communications, I think with some emphasis or other on organizations.

But, I'd been taking as many Native-type courses as I could throughout my b.a. and decided that I wasn't finished yet. I wanted to look further, through an academic lens, into the ways of my people and our history. So I applied and was thankfully accepted into an m.a. in Canadian studies. I went into Canadian studies only because it housed the Native studies stream, and instead I received the added bonus of exposure to "critical thinking."

My m.a. program successfully (I hope) educated me on all the "isms": racism, sexism, classism, ablism, etc. I was happy to learn about these things because they made so much sense. Suddenly I had concepts and theories to go along with phenomena I'd seen my whole life. But another part of me was angry--angry that I had to reach the graduate level before even a mild exposure to these critical areas.

After that, I must admit, I scorned the disciplines I'd learned in my college and undergrad. Wished I'd gone into sociology or women's studies or some other area that was more critical.

Until recently.

After beginning this blog, joining twitter, publicizing the events we put on at work--I realize I genuinely like communicating messages. I've come back to valuing my diverse education, and even crediting my undergraduate experiences with allowing me to have a truly interdisciplinary way of structuring my graduate work.

So, I guess you can say, I've come full circle. Where to next?

Friday, August 26, 2011

I Want: PhD & Creativity

About once a month, I find myself obsessing over PhD programs. I furiously jump from university website to website, looking for the most interesting interdisciplinary programs and progressive English departments. Some people stalk their exes on Facebook or celebrities on Twitter - I stalk my academic idols' profiles on university websites. Young and brilliant scholars like Lisa Brooks, Daniel Heath Justice, Christopher Teuton, and Taiaiake Alfred make my heart go ba-boom, ba-boom. (Okay, that might be pushing it a little).

As a Native academic/writer/education advocate myself, I am looking for a PhD program that allows me to marry creative writing and pursuits with Indigenous academic thought and theory. Some programs I've come across combine a PhD in English with an M.F.A. This could be the one, I thought. BUT - in my university career I've never taken a creative writing course. So I might as well see if I like to study the art of writing, right?

So, I enrolled in a summer fiction writing workshop at the university where I work.

The course wrapped up 2 weeks ago, and I didn't get a magical answer to the question of whether I want to study creative writing. It did get my creative juices flowing. I got some nice compliments from the instructor on my work. It reminded me of the things I love about creating a fictional world. It provided some touching moments, like when two students expressed their appreciation for my writing. It challenged me, as one student read his Tom King-esque trickster turned philosophy piece.

While I was looking to this workshop for some kind of revelation, I think I always knew at heart that I love to write and it's something I want to pursue. What the workshop really provided me is a renewed love of writing fiction, some tools to keep with it and the confidence to share my work with others (look out for some pieces on the blog in the future!). For this, I am grateful.

And, in the end, I am still a wannabe writer and academic.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

What means "political"?

I can't tell you exactly when it started to piss me off.

I considered myself someone who was proud to be political. Many of our respected leaders in Native communities are political people, Chiefs, though they didn't necessarily always think of themselves that way - and maybe some still don't. But lately, I've been wondering: what exactly does it mean to "be political"? And why, more and more increasingly, am I becoming annoyed when people use that term in relation to Native-ness?

A well-respected Elder from my community, Grandfather William Commanda (as well as other Elders), has said: "All First Nations people are born into politics." And I understand what he means. Our history of colonization, being born as a status or non-status Indian, being born a land beneficiary or treaty signatory, etc. are all examples of how an Anishinabe baby "is political."

But lately, I find myself wanting to respond: "Take your 'political' and shove it!"(And, for anyone who knows me IRL, I really am not that vulgar!)

A few examples...

Number one. I am taking a fiction writing workshop this summer at the university where I studied and work. It's great, tonnes of fun. I cannot make this statement with full certainty, but based on voluntary self-identification, I seem to be the only non-white person in my class. A lot of my writing could be classified as "Native literature."

We all take turns bringing stories or chapters of novels in for the class to critique. The story I brought was about a brother and sister who move to the city from the rez, play bingo, and deal with issues like poverty, racism and homelessness.

"A lot of well-known Native writers, like Sherman Alexie and Tomson Highway, have political undertones in their work," begins the writing workshop instructor in his introduction to my piece. "Mallory, what is your story about?"

Politics, apparently. "Ummm... I guess it's about siblings... A brother and sister who want to make something of themselves, and move off the rez and encounter, uh, barriers." I totally stumble all over my words.

The message to the class: Indian stories are political.

Number two. I'm watching my boyfriend R.J.'s baseball game Monday night. There's a bigger fan section than on most evenings, and it includes a player's father. It's a nice night, we're both in a good mood, and we begin making chitchat.

"Where are you from?" I ask.

"Out east, Newfoundland," he responds. "This is my first time visiting my son in Ottawa."

"That must be nice," I say flatly, unsure of where to go from here.

"Are you from Ottawa? Where do you work?"

"I'm from the Ottawa area. I grew up about an hour and a half outside of the city. I work at the university."

"Oh." He sounds impressed. "And what do you do there?"

"I work in the Aboriginal Centre."

A freighter truck passes on the road next to the baseball diamond and muffles his words. But I hear most of them: "...most universities have that... political thing, I guess."

His understanding of essential programs and services for Native students: political.

I'm beginning to get the sense that being called "political" isn't such a great thing after all.

If "Native problems"--poverty, transitions, land claims, missing and murdered women, languages--are deemed political rather than, say, human rights issues, then your average Canadian doesn't need to worry, right? Not really, because it's a political issue to be dealt with by the politicians. It's not a human right that humans need to be concerned about and that should be immediately resolved.

I was at the Indigenous Feminisms Rock! talk show/concert a few weeks ago hosted by Jessica Yee and something she said really struck me: "I don't debate human rights, I just defend them." Isn't that what we should all be doing? As soon as an issue that relates to Indigenous peoples comes up, the "political" label is slapped onto it and it becomes a topic for debate. It's not a human rights issue, where there exists an absolute right or wrong, but a political issue where there is a lot of grey area.

Nowadays, whenever anyone says anything to me along the lines of "you are political," I cringe. Soon, after I work through this, I'll respond.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Wannabe Writer

Both on Twitter and this blog, I've marketed myself as a "wannabe writer." And it's true. Maybe someday I'll feel confident enough to drop the "wannabe" and say, simply, "I am a writer." I don't know exactly what I am a writer of, and without a content-designated niche, I'm having trouble taking that step.

I felt like more of a writer between the ages of 10 and 16 than I do now, to be honest.

As a kid, about 10 years old, I used to write plays and have my friends act them out (I'd often have the lead role, of course). While I loved showing off the finished product to my family, my favourite part was sitting alone in my room, thinking of a basic storyline, then allowing my imagination to do the rest of the work. I'd draw a picture in the background of my title page, bind the three holes in the left margin together with tiny bits of yarn, then get on the phone to start casting.

When I reached high school age, I had a new obsession: The Moffatts. Still, when I wasn't busy recording their every television appearance or lining up in the wee hours of the morning for concert tickets, I was writing. I had a "Moffic" website, my own little corner of the web where I published a novel (probably more of a novella) and short stories featuring the four (or one of the four) Moffatt brothers.

And in case you were wondering, yes, I was a nerd.

Nowadays I feel a lot less focused. And I'm not surprised. I believe that youth, in general, have a lot of strength and talent. In some ways my creativity has been slowly chipped away by the organizations I've sold my life to and the academic institutions that got me there.

I'm trying to get it back.

I blog: Apparently. Though I'm not as prolific as I'd like to be, this blog is much more successful than my last one (Musings of a Native Grad Student, which had, I think, one musing). And I enjoy blogging about whatever suits my fancy - a contentious issue that I feel affects me as Anishinabe/racialized/woman/"colonized"/etc. or about my weight loss journey (which hasn't been going all that well lately, by the way). I don't feel like a blogger - just a girl who blogs.

I write poems: This might be the medium I'm closest to these days. Though I would never deign to call myself a poet! It's just that sometimes things come to me in poems. After hearing a cute story about my boyfriend R.J.'s five-year old understanding of being an Indian, I wrote a poem about it. After my grandmother opened up to me for the first time about her experience in residential school, I wrote a poem about it. I have no idea if they're any good. But they're there.

I write fiction: I have this longing to return to fiction - and a dream to someday write a novel. My Dad is convinced it'll be my one-way ticket to fame and fortune. (Actually, he wants to be the creative force behind a novel or movie script that I'll write so *we* can make millions. Most of his stories are about dogs. I love my Dad.) To test whether I was still interested and able to write fiction, I've enrolled in a fiction writing workshop over the summer. I struggled through some pieces and breezed through others, but I'm still waiting for that "aha" moment. That moment when I decide that I can do this and want to pursue it full-steam ahead. I don't know if it will come.

I write "smartly": I have the most confidence in my academic writing, and I'm still trying to figure out if that has anything to do with those couple of letters behind my name. I got some really nice comments from my reviewers, so that may have contributed to this little confidence boost. I'd like to revise and submit my essay for publication in a journal - maybe then I'll be able to say I am a writer? ...If when I'm googled something related to writing that's been acknowledged by someone else pops up??

All of this to say... I'm still an Anishinabekwe wannabe writer.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

A Response to Prof. Doomsday & Where are the Sheep?

Don't you just hate it when you put your heart and soul into writing something, only to have your computer crash before it saves or to have Blogger tell you it cannot complete your request and when you hit the 'Back' button it's gone?

Yeah, me too.

I was just reading the blog post 'The Mythological Indian' over on Where are the Sheep?, and it was totally provoking my thoughts. I started typing my comment, and I entered into one of those writing modes where the words just flow out of you and appear perfect on the page (you know, those ones that are impossible to recreate?).

Rather than slamming my head on the desk and declaring myself done for the day, I decided to pull up my socks and write my own blog post in response to Robert's.

One particular paragraph in 'The Mythological Indian' ignited a small fire within me:
It is true that the stripping away of language and culture has had a devastating effect on Aboriginal peoples that will continue to have repercussions for generations to come. It has had a negative effect on my family; I do not speak the language or practice much of the cultural traditions. I do not consider myself to be less than another Aboriginal person however. I know who I am, where I come from and I am still learning what I am capable of and where I might be able to take it, were I permitted the space and trust to do so.
I'll never forget the words of an Irish anthropology professor I had in my undergrad who was teaching a course on 'Aboriginal History in Canada' (or some variant of it). The day's lesson was on language, with an apocalyptic focus on Indigenous languages and their demise.

"It's a well-known fact and proven in history," he began (and you know professors always tell the truth), "that when a language dies, the culture and the people follow."

Never in my life had a single statement instilled so much fear in me!

Of course, me being maybe 21 at the time and him being a professor, I took his words as absolute fact (and, to top it off, he prefaced his statement by citing it as fact).

But these days, I'm beginning to wonder...

I understand the importance of our language. I am faced with it oftentimes when I ask my grandmother the meaning of a word in Algonquin and she pauses, squints her eyes closed for a strained moment, then answers me in a paragraph in English. There are so many cultural nuances contained in our languages that only the Elders understand. My grandmother speaks the old Algonquin, always the second term in the English-Algonquin dictionary, not the new one which I suspect is influenced by Ojibway.

I am fortunate enough to have opportunities to learn my language, if only I make the time to take advantage of them. But what if I don't? And what if my children don't? And my children's children? And then my community? Does that mean we will cease to exist as Algonquin, as Anishinabe?

I hope NOT!

If we acknowledge that our people and our cultures are not static and capable of "death"; if we understand that our people and our cultures will grow, transform and flourish; if we use the English (or French or other) language in our own ways; if we take so-called "western" concepts and traditions, and meld them with our own to form something new...

...if we do all of that, then we will always be here.

Monday, May 2, 2011

We laughed

I knew all along I was going to vote.

Since turning 18 I've voted in two federal elections, making this my third.

I understand that there are two camps of First Nations thinking when it comes to voting in Canadian federal elections: pro-vote vs. anti-vote.

But after reading Martha Troian's post at Media Indigena, which contains an interview with Taiaiake Alfred, a highly respected Mohawk scholar (at least in my purview), on why Indigenous nations shouldn't vote, and after seeing well made videos espousing why we should vote, I am left with more questions than answers.

Is it possible to change a colonial institution from the inside?

Does it mean that "I am Canadian" if I vote in a federal election?

Would not voting improve anything for our people?

If I don't vote, what should I do instead to be heard by the country that, for better or worse, currently makes decisions that affect me as an Anishinabekwe?

On a theoretical plane, I totally understand the many reasons not to vote. If we want to be in a nation-to-nation relationship with Canada, we should not vote for their leader. Their leader should neither represent us nor make any of our decisions. But regardless of the fact that I've never really considered the Prime Minister to represent me, that he makes fiscal and ideological decisions that affect me is an inescapable fact.

What's more, a part of me wants to ignore the vote simply out of spite. Did you know that First Nations (or "Status Indians") were the last racialized group to "receive the right" to vote (that's my sarcastic tone, FYI) in Canada? We "got" the vote in 1960.

In 2010 I was working at a national Aboriginal organization. I was sitting at my desk one day, when my director--cheerful, intelligent, feisty, and non-Native--popped her head into my office and requested a mini-meeting. The six of us "subordinates" dragged our chairs into her large office, not knowing what to expect, but accustomed to these mini-meetings.

"So this year, our organization is being invited to speak in parliament to celebrate 50 years since the First Nations right to vote," she says, slightly upbeat, but not overly excited. "Does anyone have ideas for speaking points?"

We asked about some of the details of the event, brainstormed a few points, then one of my co-workers, blunt and hilarious, spoke up.

"Can I make a request?" she asked, and everyone knew there was no denying her. "Can we not celebrate the fact that the colonial institution which denied us the vote finally 'granted' it in the '60s?" (Okay, so maybe those weren't her exact words--hers were actually much more poignant.)

And the room roared with laughter. It's so true!

Many Canadians don't know that First Nations couldn't vote until 1960 without giving up their identity as Native peoples. Instead, they read headlines like 'Elections Canada marks 50 years of voting rights for all First Nations members', and think this is a reason for First Nations and Canadians to jump for joy.

I hate to break it to you, Canada: it's not.

- - -

I am writing the second half of this post on May 3rd, 2011. I have an emotional, electoral hangover.

Quebec amazed the country by completely reversing power within left wing. Both of my ridings (and yes, I have two) saw huge gains for the NDP. Back home in my community, Kitigan Zibi, a relative unknown karate teacher ousted the former Foreign Affairs Minister; and in my current residence across from the Odawa River, the NDP broke through the 100+ year Liberal stronghold. But, of course, it's difficult to celebrate these victories when many First Nations' worst nightmare has come to light.

So, what can I do to keep myself from falling into a deep, dark place, worried about the treatment of my people by the feds over the next four years? Well, my first instinct is to hole up on my couch with a pint of ice cream (forget Skinny Chicks!) and pop in a '30 Rock' DVD. Then the next one. And the one after that...

But then I remember our very Native response to the idea of "celebrating" our right to vote.

We laughed.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Skinny Nish

We're starting to see the first signs of spring in the Odawa area. The snow has melted, the grass is greening, and I can hear bullfrogs mating outside of my window (lovely, I know). When R.J. and I wake up every morning we greet the family of shishib (ducks) living in the pond in the backyard of our condo complex.

Medicine wheel teachings tell us that spring--represented by the east, the colour yellow and many other manifestations--is a time of birth or rebirth. As a self-professed "starter" (I have a bag full of beads and vehemently refuse to concede that I may not be crafty) it's one of my favourite times of year. I love the hope that fills me when I set goals, look for opportunities and imagine the future.

Inevitably, one of the areas I want to rejuvenate this spring is my physical health.

I started working out at the gym when I was about 17. My peak of physical fitness (thus far!) happened when I was about 21 and I ran 10k for the Terry Fox run - my first and only run, race, whatever you want to call it. About two years later it all started to go downhill when I began grad school and effectively had no time to do anything but read and write.

And to cut a long story short, I haven't been able to climb back on the horse since then. There was a gym in our last apartment building, and I had mild success there. We bought a treadmill last summer, and I tried the barefoot running fad recommended by a colleague who's a runner, but only ended up betraying my ankles with lack of support.

Worst of all, over the past 6 months I've been stuffing my mouth with wild abandon, not caring where it ends up in the end. I'm talking all-you-can-eat wings at Kelsey's and three plates of pad Thai in a week. Enough said.

So now, I am releasing into the universe...

3 Steps to a Healthy Mal

1. Skinny Chicks
I am presently on day 6 of the Skinny Chicks Kick Start meal plan. What's this, you might ask? Well, it is the one and only meal plan/diet/eating lifestyle I have ever been on and I love it.

I honestly think this book found me. I was just browsing through Chapters, not looking to make any huge changes to my eating habits at that time, when I came across it. I gave it a quick scan, and everything just seemed to make sense. The basic premise is to keep your blood sugar levels steady. It's not restrictive--all meals contain healthy portions of protein, carbs and fat--and it's designed for real women living in the real world. Today is day 6 and I feel AWESOME.

2. Running
Of course, I have to return to my one tried and true cardio workout. I have all the equipment I need--sneakers, the fact that I live on a road and a treadmill--so there really is no excuse. Although it might be a little steep, my goal is to participate in the Terry Fox run again this September. That leaves me...4 months. Better get a move on!

3. Yoga

Yoga is the one practice that has stuck in the face of bad eating habits and cardio falling to the wayside. And I think there's something to that. Could it be the fact that I truly enjoy it? What a novel idea! I first encountered yoga in Goodlife's "BodyFlow" class, which mixed yoga, tai chi and pilates. I now practice weekly for free at the Odawa Native Friendship Centre and I plan to keep going - maybe even increase my visits!

So, that's my commitment to my health. Now to think of a rewards system...

Sunday, April 17, 2011

One-Minute Book Review: The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (Junot Diaz)

'The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao' would have been perfect for my now defunct book club. As soon as I finished it, I found myself wishing I had a friend with whom to discuss it. I didn't, so I resorted to the next best thing: Googling New York Times book reviews and book club questions.

Always one to root for the underdog, I wanted to discuss what I hoped would be a mutual affection for Oscar, the deeply flawed protagonist who turned stereotypes of Dominican men on their heads with his superbly nerdy vocabulary and hopeless romanticism.

As an aspiring writer, I often turn to other writers' "Top 5" or "Top 10" writing tips. One that sticks with me is to read the works of non-English authors. This was a tip I struggled with because probably 75% of my library these days is filled with Native fiction and non-fiction written in English. Although the majority of Junot Diaz's writing is in English, he integrated Spanish (sans translation or italics) and, at times, his use of Dominican-Jersey slang read a world away.

And lastly, this book is worth a read if only for its strong female characters. Although Oscar and the novel's narrator are male, at times their stories fall to the wayside as we meet Oscar's sister, mother, and great-aunt, whose equally powerful characters are what make Oscar, Oscar.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Moccasins, meet iPad

So, I got an iPad. iPad 2, to be precise.

But let me tell you, it was no easy feat.

It started just over a week ago. My parents returned from their trip to Las Vegas and my mom told me she bought me a present while they were there. So I showed up at my parents house, expected to be met with the usual: a t-shirt, maybe some jewelry. You can imagine my surprise when I opened the bag to find an iPad! And yes, also a conference t-shirt.

"Why did you get me this?" I couldn't help but ask. My parents always got me great gifts... for my birthday, Christmas and graduation. I didn't often get such an amazing gift unattached to any occasion.

"Because you're such a great daughter," my mom said, huge smile on her face. [Insert awww here.]

The iPad (first generation) also came with a gift certificate so that I could exchange and upgrade to the iPad 2.

I waited for iPad release day (Friday, March 25, 2011) with baited breath. I left work at 3 p.m. to get in line for the 5 p.m. release time.

The line up won't be so bad, I told myself. After all, this is Ottawa, not New York City or L.A.

And, of course, I was wrong. The line up stretched down the hall, through a long corridor that lead to a ramp - outdoors. But I was so excited I didn't mind. I tried to pass the time by reading my book, "The Brief Wonderous Life of Oscar Wao," and catching up on phone calls.

Eventually I made some line-up friends. A guy buying two iPads for himself and his wife; a woman with an e-book reader looking to upgrade her technology; and a lovey-dovey university couple getting matching iPads. The line continued to grow and the male half of the couple was interviewed by the local Ottawa news station. As soon as the line started to compress and we made it inside, the excitement begun. The Apple staff hyped up the crowd at around 4:50 by running to the back of the line, shouting and clapping in t-shirts, then running back into the store.

At around 5:45 I made it to the front of the line. A guy was giving out tickets to reserve the iPads and I got a ticket for exactly the one I wanted: a 16GB white iPad with Wi-Fi + 3G. I was met at the front door and matched with my salesman, and in the span of a few seconds he had my iPad in hand and I'd picked out my baby blue Smart Cover and SIM card.

"I'm tax exempt," I declared, and I could see the brief annoyance cross his face. I hesitated, "And I have to do an exchange. And to make things more complicated, it was purchased in the U.S."

"You can't exchange it in Canada," he said quickly.

I felt the air knocked out of me. As dramatic as it might sound, it felt as if my world was crashing down on me. The anticipation had been building all week, and increased four-fold as I waited in line. I left the Apple store completely dejected. My mom met me for pad Thai (ironically) as a consolation, and I felt horrible being so depressed about her wonderful gift.

"I have a confession," she said suddenly. "I didn't buy the iPad. I won it at a conference."

And we laughed. Laughed until tears stung our eyes.

This still didn't change the fact that I wanted an iPad 2! After hours (literally) deliberating with my mom over how to exchange the iPad within the two week exchange period, my boyfriend, R.J., said to me, "Let's just hop in the car and drive to Syracuse." That's why I love him.

Cut to 2:30 a.m. Saturday, March 26.

We wake up, groggy but slightly excited. Stop at my mom's to pick up a thermos of coffee and scrambled egg sandwiches. Stop to pick up R.J.'s younger brother, Fur, who decided to accompany us on this spontaneous road trip. And we were on our way to upstate New York.

After a Dunkin Donuts pitstop and a few early morning laughs, we arrived at the Apple store in Syracuse's Carosel Mall. As we'd been warned by the salesman my mom spoke to on the phone the previous night, there was already a lineup at 6:30 a.m. I was tenth in line. I knew I had good chance, but that there was no guarantee.

9 a.m. rolled around and out came the ticket man. My heart rate sped up a little, recalling the experience only hours earlier.

When the ticket man came to me he said, "We only have 64GBs left." My heart sunk. I knew it was much more expensive and that I had to make a quick decision.

"I'll take it!" I said. What the heck? I'd waited in two line ups for a total of over 5 hours and was making a 6 hour roundtrip. Surely nearly 12 hours of my life is worth an extra 48GBs? (I bet none of our ancestors in moccasins thought we'd ever be using such a measurement.)

So I left the store with my black 64GB Wi-Fi + 3G (la creme de la creme), baby blue Smart Cover and Apple Care. And I haven't looked back.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

One-Minute Book Review: The Moon of Letting Go

The Moon of Letting Go and other stories (Richard Van Camp)

This book was given to me as a gift by a professor who requested that I speak to her Native Lit class about my master's research. A pretty awesome gift, especially considering that I read and loved Van Camp's coming-of-age novel, The Lesser Blessed.

These short stories are divided into four sections: Healing, Medicine, Teachings and Love. While the stories don't shy away from the grit and grind of rez and urban Indian life, many of the stories have happy endings (or maybe just endings I've interpreted as happy) and show that there can be a good outcome for someone who might typically be called "the bad guy."

Being the hopeless romantic that I am, I loved the three stories in the last section, 'Love.' But, I was particularly struck by the title story, "The Moon of Letting Go" (from 'Medicine'). It's the story of a mother and son, estranged from the other members of their family--an ex-husband and two sons--who get "accosted" by the last medicine man in their community, known and feared for practicing black magic. The line between black and white, good and evil is blurred as the mother and son spend time with the mysterious medicine man, moving forward with a weary trust and belief.

It reminded me of this one time I personally came into contact with some black magic, but I'll save that story for another time.... (Ellipses are so Van Camp.)

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

40 Days & 40 Nights

I don't consider myself religious per se, but I am spiritual. Add to that the facts that my parents are semi-practicing Catholics (my mom goes to church every Sunday and my dad on Easter... sometimes) and my grandmother is traditional, and you get me! A veritable mishmash of religious and spiritual practice.

One thing my family has always happily practiced is Mardi Gras, a.k.a. Fat Tuesday.

For those of you non-Catholics (or non-Christians?), this means stuffing your face, particularly with pancake feasts in my experience, and being completely indulgent before beginning Lent: giving something up for 40 days and 40 nights. And sure enough, 2011 proves no different. I stopped in at my parents on my way home from work last night and enjoyed three pancakes topped with blueberries, strawberries, bananas and fresh whipped cream. Yum!

My weakness (and subsequently, my waistline's) is sweets. I love ice cream, birthday cake, apple pie, Rice Krispie squares, you name it! So, I figure this so-called Lent is a good opportunity for me to give up sweets, in some way, shape or form, with a little extra motivation/guilt attached to it.

So this morning I decided to give up "cake- and pie-type" desserts. Only then I stopped by Starbucks after lunch and saw this:

Cute, delicious cake on a stick.

So is it a cake or a lollipop? I wonder, as I let two people go ahead of me in line as I contemplate my decision. It hasn't even been 24 hours! You're stronger than that.

"I'll have a Skinny London Fog," I order, with only a slight grumble in my voice.

I've made it too easy on myself. A slice of key lime pie could qualify as something more tarte-like and what the heck is tiramisu, anyway? And oh, the Cake Pops!

I needed a bigger challenge, so here it is...

For 40 days and 40 nights I will not touch a drop of chocolate.

No chocolate bars, no mocha lattes, no Fudgesicles, no chocolate chip cookies. (Unless the cocoa content is 70% or higher because then it's heart-healthy, right?)

Wish me luck. I will need it.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Outfit Fit for a Chief

I've always loved fashion, but never been one to fret over what I wore.

When I was a girl living on the rez, I would walk to the K.Z. Store to get the latest Seventeen or YM magazines and plow through them, entranced by the glossy pages that featured beautiful girls, interesting makeup that I longed to touch and, above all, fashion. In fact, I was so into the industry back then that in sixth grade I am quoted in the yearbook saying that my greatest goal in life was to shop at the world's biggest mall: the Edmonton Mall. (Which I've achieved, in case you're wondering, twice-over. Guess I'll have to find a new purpose for life.)

That being said, I never worried too much about clothes. I have confidence in my fashion sense (stick with the classics with a sprinkling of trends is my motto) and I've always seemed to have enough luck at being neither under- nor over-dressed.

But, I have a big day at work next week and... I don't know what to wear!

I am proud to say that I've been liaising between members of my community and the university where I work to form and foster a tangible, mutually-beneficial partnership. On Tuesday, our Chief and Director of Education are coming to the university for three meetings and a lunch, and I will be there throughout the day.

So I've narrowed it my outfit choices down to four options:

1. The Suit

You can never go wrong with a classic black suit, right? Not necessarily. Our Chief dresses well, but I can't remember ever seeing him in a full suit and tie. He's more of the ribbon shirt and vest type.

Although I think dressing to the nines to show that a Chief commands that level of respect is important, a suit might also give the impression that the university is a stuffy, pretentious kind of place, so it's not my #1 choice.

2. The Tailored Dress

This dress is only ever-so-slightly less casual than the suit because it's equally structured. But it seems to convey a much less... stuffy, for lack of a new word, message. I'm liking this option, partially because it's my lucky interview dress! And I have a hot pink skinny belt that I can wear with it to add a little flair.

3. The Cardigan

Now we're moving into the more casual options. This outfit - black pants and a gray cardigan - is something I would wear to work any day of the week. I consider it one of those outfits where you can't go wrong. It looks professional enough for a last minute meeting, but it's not so serious that I couldn't still relate to students. But, for this purpose, I'm a little lukewarm on the cardigan.

4. The Wild Card

Although this type of outfit might be a little too laid back, I keep gravitating toward it for some reason. It's a fitted blazer that's made of gray jersey (sweatshirt-like) material. I don't think I could wear it with anything other than jeans, and I don't think denim would be appropriate. So, maybe I shouldn't be considering it, but I can't help it! This cardigan is fun, friendly and fresh.

I'm so glad that I have the weekend examine these four options more carefully before I make this very important decision!

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Role Models, Part II

We arrived in Boston late night on a Wednesday after some trials and tribulations, including one speeding ticket - before we even left home - and an iPad that wouldn't turn on. My voice was hoarse because in the absence of our e-book (Malcolm Gladwell's Blink, which was on the iPad), I decided to e-read my research essay, '"But it's our story. Read it": Stories My Grandfather Told Me and Writing for Continuance,' to R.J.

We stayed at the John Hancock Hotel, which I'd recommend to anyone who wants to stay in Back Bay on a budget (but be warned, it's a little *ahem* rustic). We settled in and went straight to bed, excited for what the next day would bring.

The alarm rang at 7 a.m. and I woke with a start. Normally, I'd hit snooze least three times, especially on vacation. But not this day! We got ready and headed to the Starbucks on our hotel's block, but I didn't need the caffeine. Already, my heart was pumping and my legs were shaking.

Although I did my best to hide it with a smile.

We boarded the T (Boston subway system that R.J. takes great pride in navigating) and got to Harvard University an hour early. Just enough time to take a stroll around Harvard Square and try - fruitlessly, I might add - to calm my nerves.

By the time 11:25 a.m. (t-minus five minutes) rolled around I could barely catch my breath.

What if I'm not smart enough? I wondered. What if I can't hold a conversation about her book? What if there are awkward lulls in the conversation? R.J. reassured me that things would be all right, but I was about to meet my academic role model - what if things didn't go perfectly?

By the time we walked into the Faculty of Arts & Sciences building and turned the corner toward her office, my heart had officially entered my throat. But as I passed her nameplate and knocked on her office door - knowing I couldn't turn back now - a wave of calm washed over me. Upon seeing her face, her height (tall) and her birchbark canoe earrings I could tell immediately that she wasn't the type of Harvard Professor I'd worked her up to be. Above all else, she was Native. And a woman. And an academic. A Native woman academic - kind of like me!

From that moment on our conversation flowed freely. Our first stop on the Lisa Brooks tour of Harvard was the plaque that comemmorated the original building that was Harvard College, its first Native graduates and its mandate (recorded in their Charter) for the education of Indians:

We had lunch with the Harvard University Native American Program's (HUNAP) Liaison & Recruiter, Jason, then headed up for a tour of HUNAP. Although I didn't view myself as a prospective student, they treated me in that way, which was very kind and flattering. We spent the afternoon chatting with a great mix of staff, students (grad and undergrad) and alumni. Of course R.J. and I couldn't leave without one cheesy tourist photo:

We stopped at the gift shop, the Coop, where I bought a couple of baby things for a friend who's expecting. No pressure or anything, unborn child. Then we said goodbye to Harvard.

R.J. and I celebrated the amazing day with Thai, wine and dessert to go (our guilty pleasure!).

The next day, Friday, we went for dinner at Lisa's home outside of the city. That part of the trip was so amazing, I believe that neither my words nor photos could do it justice.

But I'll say this much: we had a great kitchen table conversation.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Role Models

Forget American Idol (although I am somewhat following it!), today I want to talk "Academic Idol"!

Yes, I'm a nerd. I spent two days last week at a workshop for Native youth (all women and girls) on "Values and Ethics in the Aboriginal Workplace." In addition to the usual where you're from, what you study, where you work, etc. in our round of introductions we were asked to name someone we look to as a role model.

Many mothers, grandmothers and great-grandmothers we named, as were Elijah Harper, Metis artist Jaime Koebel, and even a few politicians (no one from within the workplace, ironically).

When the line rolled around to me, I could feel my breath start to shorten a little. It seems no matter how many times I speak in front of a crowd, I always have at least a tinge of anxiety.

"My name is Mallory Whiteduck, I'm from Kitigan Zibi and I work at the university," I started, "and I'm having a hard time narrowing it down to just one role model. I guess I should consider myself lucky in that way."

I went on to explain how I admired my younger brother as someone who has strong values and a solid ethical foundation. But in reality, I have so many role models. I draw from numerous different people as I try to live a good life. My mom, my grandmothers and grandfathers, R.J., cousins, friends, my director, co-workers...!

But in the world of Native American literary theory (told you I was a nerd) and the scholarly Native world in general, Lisa Brooks is my academic idol.

[Rewind to Christmas Eve]

R.J. and I sit in his car after leaving my aunt's house, and he hands me a poorly wrapped present. I smile. I wasn't expecting much considering he's taken a year to return to academia. I excitedly tear it open to reveal Lisa Brooks's The Common Pot: The Recovery of Native Space in the Northeast.

Inside the book was a note that said he had emailed Lisa Brooks to invite her to a lunch with me in Boston (she's at Harvard) paid by him. I grinned form ear to ear at the thoughtfulness of the gift.

"She hasn't emailed back yet," he went on to explain. "But I only sent it a few days ago."

The holidays crept by without any updates. I was almost afraid to ask for any because I knew the answer would be no, she hasn't yet responded.

She's a Harvard professor, I rationalized, entering into self-preservation mode. I'm sure she doesn't have time for a lunch with some random "fan."

But after we came back home, got back to work and returned to some semblance of post-holiday reality, a message popped up in my inbox with the subject line "FWD: Inspirational Student for Christmas." R.J. had forwarded a response from Lisa Brooks where she not only happily accepted the invitation to lunch, but offered to set up a tour of Harvard's Native American Program and even invited us to share a meal with her husband and daughter at their home outside of Boston.

We returned from the trip on February 20 (my birthday!) and I'm still reeling with energy, excitement and inspiration.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Colonization. There, I said it.

Colonization is probably one of the most loaded words in Canada.

I think it makes Canadians uncomfortable. Actually - let me try that again. It makes Canadians who who understand the true history of this country uncomfortable. Which, arguably, is probably a smaller percentage of Canadians. Most think colonization is a thing of the past, reinforced by "post-colonial theory" and lack of use of the term in popular culture.

But, Canada's history of colonization makes some Canadians uncomfortable because it demands that they come to terms with the genocide and various other levels of atrocities wrought against our people by their Canadian/European ancestors. And people can get pretty fired up about their ancestors. I remember two friends in high school whose friendship quickly ended after an argument over what "her ancestors did to my ancestors" - and they were both of European descent.

But wait - what about those Canadians who don't connect with their ancestors? In other words, the Canadians who don't realize that they may have had the same values and beliefs that necessitate(d) colonization that their ancestors did, and instead distance themselves from family who didn't walk to earth in their lifetime. I would venture to guess that those Canadians think this comic is racist towards Canadians:

(I got this here)

And yes, those Canadians are out there.

But of course, I can't leave out the number of Canadians who would find this comic hilarious. Those Canadians are the allies. The ones who understand Canada's history of colonization, but it doesn't make them uncomfortable. Rather, they feel the the impulse to attend rallies for Indigenous rights, major in "Aboriginal Studies" and sometimes even dedicate their lives to educating their fellow Canadians about colonization.


I didn't begin this post to try classify Canadians into various groups related to how they feel about colonization. But I believe that everything happens for a reason, so there you have it.

I meant to talk about my feelings about colonization. (For now at least, because it changes, and I think that's a good thing.)

I never gave much thought to colonization until, well, around 2007 when I started my M.A. I mean, before that I knew about the devastating impacts that residential schools have had on our people and I witnessed some of those effects first hand, but I never named it as 'colonization' or thought about the intersectionality of all of the issues in our communities.

After I was able to put the term 'colonization' to all of this, I felt *so* empowered. I threw the term around in essays and in speaking to friends at pubs. (I didn't so much throw it in the face of Canadians - despite my above 'manifesto' on Canadians and colonization, I actually have a pretty non-confrontational nature and it takes a lot for me to tell people things I know they don't want to hear.)

But then something changed.

Yesterday, on my drive to work, I tuned in to CBC Radio in the middle of an interview with someone who works in security for the City of Ottawa. It sounded as though he was travelling to a "third world" country to do "humanitarian" aid.

"How do you think you'll experience culture shock?" the interviewer asked.

"Well, due to the effects of colonialism," the dude began, ''the people have become very formal. They address each other using 'Mr.' and 'Mrs.' and wear full suits to work."

In my experience, the purpose of discussing colonization is to provide context. But with little to no context in his statement, I found the evocation of colonization to remove the self-determination of the people - whoever they were he spoke of.

So, my question is: when does a so-called effect of colonization, in this example the dress or fashion of a people, belong to the people?

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Just do it.

I am going to take a moment and gush unapologetically about my amazing boyfriend, best friend and partner in crime, R.J.

He is great for so many reasons, but one of the things I love most about him, and about our relationship, is his ability to hold a conversation. Actually, the word "hold" is a bit lackluster. He respects, engages and challenges me in our conversations.

Our beliefs are relatively different. He hangs out a little left of centre, meanwhile I'm so far left I can almost touch the edge. (Although assuming there is a cliff at the end is kind of inferring that it's not good, but I'm digressing.) Regardless of our differences of opinion on issues like, say, capitalism, one thing we can always agree on is that we both see a better future for our people (he is Ojibway/Potiwatomi/Chippawa).

We work at the same location (and live together, and no, it's not too much) and some of our best conversations are had on our drives to and from work. While some I would rather forget - one in particular about the Oksana Grigorieva/Mel Gibson nightmare - others leave me with a feeling of absolute bliss.

Cut to today.

We were talking about projects. We shot back and forth about his school work and volunteering, and my work and potential opportunities. I work in Native student recruitment and we often muse about what Aboriginal youth "need" to be able to see themselves at a post-secondary institution.

"We should start a project," R.J. proclaimed.

I felt my heart immediately start to race. I wasn't quite sure where this was going, but I knew I liked it.

"We talk so often about what needs to be done," he continued, "so why don't we actually make something happen?"

What resulted was three or four ideas thrown back and forth about what we could do (until we settled on one), what it would be called and what the objective would be. We're not nearly ready to go public with anything yet, and in actuality our conversation probably totaled about 30 minutes over the evening, but I can't help but feel like we're on the precipice of something big.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

One-Minute Book Review: Through Black Spruce

Through Black Spruce (Joseph Boyden)

There were a number of times I picked up and read the back cover of this book at Chapters, only to place it back on the shelves. While I always enjoy a story that I can relate to, I also appreciate certain degree of escapism and distance between myself and a novel's content. In this book the two main characters' story lines hit close to home: Will Bird, the former bush pilot, reminded me of ni-awema (my brother) who got his wings last summer, and Annie Bird's sister, Suzanne, who is missing, recalled the work I did as a researcher for an initiative that related to missing and murdered Native women and girls.

At a buy three, get one free sale at Chapters, I could no longer find reasons not to buy it. After reading the first chapter, I could no longer understand why I waited so long. I missed the Bird family, whom I'd first met in Three Day Road, and all of their habits and insights.

I was particularly drawn to the story of Annie's search for her sister, Suzanne, and her travels 'through black spruce' to the cityscapes of Toronto and New York City, and back home again. I could relate to her perspective as a girl from the rez who became intoxicated by life in the city and all of the cheap thrills it has to offer.

It goes without saying for anyone who's read Boyden or even heard of him that the writing in this book is beautiful. I've already purchased my copy of his third book, Louis Riel and Gabriel Dumont, which is part of Penguin's Extraordinary Canadians Series.