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.