Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Feelings on December 5, 2012

I'm feeling something. The only word I can think to describe these feelings is "overcome." I don't mean for overcome to be accompanied by the negative connotation that usually goes along with it (though generally I don't like to describe things as positive vs. negative because I think it simplifies things a little too much). I feel overcome, emotional, and, most importantly, like Kije Manido is speaking to me and that my spirit is being sent in another direction away from where I am right now.

I was doing  my best to explain this to R.J. over the phone. At this point in my life, he's the only person I feel comfortable talking to about these feelings while I work them out. I'm worried that trying to explain these feelings to even some of my closest family and friends might come out sounding a little kooky. Yet, blogging about it for the world to see is okay. Go figure.

Anyway, R.J.'s advice was to spend time with the land. Go for a walk. See nature. Do something. I remember making a promise to myself when I was travelling this fall that when I got back to the office I would walk down to the river (I can see it from my flippin window!) every day and put tobacco in the water. Like Nanny recommends. But I never did it, not once - until today.

I plowed through the bush. Was careful not to step on pooh (or mud--that goes to show how much time I spend in "the bush"). When I got there, there were four ducks in the water (two couples, I think). A crow flying overhead. Geese honking at a distance. Squirrels climbing trees. If I would've turned around I would've seen the university. But for a moment, I felt better. And the ducks! They almost brought tears to my eyes. (That's along the lines of what I mean when I say I feel overcome and emotional.)

Still working things out. But my spirit is stirring.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012


Change is in the air.

My tiny corner of the Internet (or locker, maybe?) has been quiet lately. Between my full-time university job, teaching a college course, and trying to maintain some semblance of a personal life, I haven't had time to think about much other than the immediate tasks at hand.

I think maybe this is the framework that has allowed this new idea to grow.

What's the idea? It's radical. Dare I say, crazy. Really, really... really out there.

I want to go home (ni-endayang).

There is sort of a perfect storm of events that have recently occurred that have made space in my mind and my life for this idea to form:

  1. My Chief's Talk: A couple of weeks ago, my Chief, Gilbert Whiteduck, was speaking at a conference I was at. One of the things he talked about is how people have always told him throughout his career: "Baby steps. Stepping stones are important. We'll get there." While no one would deny that all of these small changes connect to one another to formulate something great, Gilbert says: "What we need now are leaps and bounds. Our people are in too dire of a state for baby steps." And I couldn't agree more. I love the work I do and I believe in it. But it's not a leap or a bound. On a more cerebral level (and I'm not sure how well this will translate to a blog), he described an experience returning our ancestors to the land and what it means to just be in the community; and, all throughout his talk, the words that kept running through my mind were: "I have to go home. I have to go home. I have to go home."
  2. Red Man Laughing: I just finished listening to the Red Man Laughing podcast featured chat with Mskwaankwad Rice, who talks about his decision to leave behind his life in Ottawa and move back home to his community, sit with his grandmother, and learn his language. The simple facts of his story got me excited; if he could make this decision and move from Ottawa (the same city I'm in now!), maybe I could, too? Just maybe? They had a really thought-provoking discussion about our generation and how we're basically writing our own rules. We're in a unique position as Anishinabe youth/young people living in the world today and, in some sense, no one has written the guidebook on or beaten the path that determines how to live as Anishinabeg youth in the wake of the acts of genocide committed directly against our grandparents' generation and the impacts its had on our parents' generation.
  3. My Career Path:  While I cannot overstate how much I care about the work I'm doing right now in the university, I know that this work is not my final stop on my career path. My career goal is to become a professor and contribute to the growth of the field of Indigenous Studies. But, over the past week something has become crystal clear to me: My education is imbalanced. I've learned a lot about the history of colonization in this country, critical perspectives of Canada, and the impacts its had on our people. That's important, but after teaching these perspectives to my college class this fall, I've realized that it's only one side of the story. What I'm missing in my "repertoire" (a career-focused way to say self-actualization) is the knowledge and education that exists only in my family, my community and amongst the Anishinabeg: our family stories, our language, our ceremonies, our community history, our ways of knowing the world. I can't be the kind of professor I want to be or make the changes I want to make without this education from my own family and people.
Something has happened within me and it's happened quickly. That's not to say I'm going to be quitting my job and making a Musky-esk change tomorrow. But I'm closer than ever to believing I could do it.

I've always had this goal to learn my language before I have children so I can pass it on. What have I been doing about it? Not much. I've been "talking the talk." I need to, in the words of Ryan McMahon, "walk the talk." I've always thought I wanted to give my future children the opportunity to grow up on a reserve because, although it comes with all of its complexities, it brings with it a love that no Anishinabe child should be denied of. No matter these goals, I was always immediately struck down with stress afterward, wondering, How? How do I make this happen? After having lived in the city for so long, gotten my degrees, secured a good job, and started a life with an amazing partner, the possibility of going home seemed to move further and further away until it was nearly insurmountable.

I can't explain the change in me, but on Saturday morning it was suddenly like all of these barriers had been lifted for a moment. And, luckily, I am still in that moment. So maybe it's not "a moment" after all? I suddenly realized (and this is a deliberate pun, since I'm watching the US presidential election as I type) that yes. I. can. I can leave my amazing job if I want to. I can give up my apartment if I want to. I can go home if I want to.

And guess what? I want to.

Friday, September 7, 2012

1 Girl, 3 Jobs & a Splash of TIFF

Summer has come and gone, every year quicker than the last.

As someone who's never left the education system--securing a full-time job at a university post-graduation--September will always be the new year for me.

I had a bit of a case of the summer blahs. Although I seriously have nothing to complain about with a sweet apartment, a trip to Rome (hello!), an amazing man, friends, family, job, etc. etc. etc. I couldn't help but feel like something was missing. Like there was something more I needed to be doing.

Then one summer night, getting eaten by mosquitos under the yellow night time glare of the baseball diamond lights, I ran into my friend, VV.

"I'm starting a part-time job at the college here," she informs me, her face just slightly aglow. "Program Coordinator for Aboriginal Studies."

"That's awesome!" I respond. "If you're ever looking for anyone to teach..." (Though I try to be humble, sometimes you have to entertain a little shameless self-promotion.)

[Skipping over: Conversations with the Dean and my Director/hemming and hawing/prodding by R.J./tiny bursts of tentative excitement]

Now I'm teaching a college class.

I'm also finishing a contract with a national organization.

And working my full-time job at the university.

Earlier this summer I heard someone talking about this western culture of busyness:

Sally: "Hey, John! Long time no see. How've you been?"
John: "Oh, great! Just so busy."
Sally: "Tell me about it! I just came back from spinning class, now I have to head Montreal for a meeting..."
John: "Sorry Sally, gotta run!"

Is that not a conversation you've had before?

Rather than venting about how much I have to do, I'm working hard then taking some "me time": As I write, I'm Toronto-bound via rail for TIFF, interspersed with a mani-pedi at Sweetgrass Spa and hopefully some shopping for professor-ly clothes.

More importantly, I don't need to rattle on about how busy I am because I've found what was missing. I'm exactly where I need to be.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Top 6 Moments @ Graduate Horizons

When I sat down to write this post I wondered, Where do I start? The amazing lunch lecture that inspired a standing ovation? The Harvard Law School dorm experience? Meeting someone from the blog world whom I've admired for years?

Well, why not just dive right in? Presenting...

My Top 6 Grad Horizons Moments

6. Meeting Adrienne K.
While I was super excited for GH, I was also SCARED: A) Because as a "Canadian" (I see the border as a construct) I knew there would be a learning curve for me to understand the U.S. college system, and B) there was certainly something intimidating (and thrilling) to be at Harvard University.

One comforting fact was that I knew I was going to meet Adrienne K. of Native Appropriations, who was on the tiny, powerhouse GH organizing committee. Just as in her writing, Adrienne was smart, witty, and ambitious in person. I got to hear about her amazing research, talk blogs, and she sent the GHers home with an honest, enlightening talk on what it's like to be the only Native doctoral student at Harvard Graduate School of Education.

Late night working on personal statement (me) and journal article reviews (Adrienne)

5. Fleshing out my research idea
Although she isn't in my field AT ALL, Dr. Sheila Thomas really pushed me to define and articulate my research interests, which is key when applying to PhD programs. Each night when the day's programming wrapped up around 8-9, GH students and faculty would take over the couches and tables in the lobby and pour over drafts (after drafts, after drafts...) of personal statements, CVs, letters, and just converse. It was one of these conversations that allowed me to expand the boundaries of my potential research subject!

4. "Justice is what love looks like in public." -Phil Lee
The event was chock full of speakers who shared their stories, inspired us to achieve greatness, and empowered us to build our nations. One of the most powerful speakers was Phil Lee, a lawyer and HGSE doctoral candidate (alongside Adrienne!). His talk was about moments that precipitated change, the Griswald 9, and how student agency, voice, and motivation can make a difference.

He said that beyond typical reasons involving money and power, love is the strongest motivation to have to go to grad school. I think this resonated for a lot of us because that's one of--if not the--main reasons we're applying to these schools: for the love of our people and the determination to contribute to change.

3. An "AHA" moment at 30,000 feet
On the plane to and from Boston, I was reading X-Marks: Native Signatures of Assent by Scott Richard Lyons (which I'm loving).

On the way to Boston for GH, I was struggling to conceptualize x-marks as Lyons presented them: signatures of assent, although made under conditions of duress and coercion, that intended towards a new and brighter future. I couldn't get past the poor conditions that these x-marks have us in today and the seeming lack of respect for our people at the times of signing.

On the way back home, it hit me: I am my parents' x-mark. I got it. I am proud to have been raised by parents who, although they never completed post-secondary education, have been so successful. And I think, as self-centered as this might sound (who am I kidding? How many times have I dropped "Harvard" in this post? Ha!), my brother (who got his first pilot license at 16!) and I are their greatest accomplishments. In making certain sacrifices as a young family (to work rather than finish college, to move away from their families to the city, etc.), they assented to a life where my brother and I would have space to reach our dreams.

2. Indigenizing the veritas

Photo courtesy of Jason at HUNAP

As Adrienne tweeted: "Definitely the most Indians in one place at Harvard in a looong time. I'm so proud!"


1. Speaking from the heart
This list wasn't in any particular order, but one of the greatest things I took home was something I couldn't see or touch.

Some of the most inspiring people at the event spoke from their hearts. Rather than speaking from their heads (trying to sound smart, caring too much about how you're being perceived... both of which I'm guilty of), leaders like Carmen, Phil, Adrienne, and Jason spoke directly from the heart. They told us about how one small student action had giant effects years later, about their families, and about their own struggles. I am so grateful for the warm, trusting, and healthy environment that was nurtured at GH and the stories that were shared. These memories I will carry with me.

Kichi migwech.


And my life wouldn't be, well, my life without some less-than-stellar moments...

6 a.m. mornings!
'nuff said.

Racism on campus
One student was called "Pocahontas" and when we walked to Harvard Yard to take the above photo, someone overheard a stander-by comment along the lines of, "Oops, I forgot to wear my feathers and bare feet today." But we didn't let these things get us down; rather, we'll use them as fuel to propel us toward our goals and as reminders about why we're here.

I've never lived or stayed in residence and I have to admit, I was excited to see what it was all about. It looked pretty good in Felicity and with my first dorm experience being at Harvard, it had to be pretty sweet, right? Wrong. I couldn't get into bed if my desk chair was pulled out and the thin, scratchy sheets and blankets were saran-wrapped on the bed, prison-style! Yes, even at Harvard.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Do Indians have heirlooms?

I've always been jealous of my non-Native friends.

How cool, I'd think when I'd imagine my Jagnash (white) friends sneaking into their mom's jewellery chest and pulling out some rusty comb with a ruby on it or a tarnished silver spoon.

Where are my family artifacts? Why haven't I seen anything belonging to family members beyond my great-grandparents (four of whom were and are still living in my lifetime)? Oh, right: museums. Most recently, my community is engaging in a process with the the National Museum of the American Indian to repatriate some items. I guess this is where our artifacts (potential heirlooms?) are.

Or are they closer than I think?

I was visiting my Mama (grandmother on my mom's side) before Christmas. My mom, always proud of her beautiful Christmas tree, asked my Mama if she could use some of the ornaments they had when she was a child. My grandmother disappeared into the basement for a few minutes, then came back up with some boxes, one of which held these mittens and a pair of (what she called) mukluks:

Simple white leather mittens with white wolf fur trim. My late Papa, Allan, "commissioned" a woman from our community to make them for my Mama as a gift.

"I don't wear them anymore," my Mama remarked. "I hardly ever wore the mittens. But I wore the mukluks outside lots. For walks in the bush. Anyway. I don't wear them anymore, so you can have them."

Maybe it's as simple as that: we use things. Or, if we're not using them anymore, we give them to someone who will.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Take Me Home Tonight

I fly to Boston on Saturday morning to attend Graduate Horizons. Since it's a workshop that focuses on applying to graduate school, naturally it has me thinking about an eventual academic career.

I know I want to do a PhD someday and I would love to be a professor. As a huge nerd, reading and writing is my dream career. (Don't hate!) I haven't done teaching in the literal sense, but I do enjoy sharing the knowledge I have with others when they ask (and sometimes when they don't) and engaging in respectful debate.

(And, I choose to ignore anyone who tells me there are no jobs, I'll have no money and no life. Ha!)

But there are some questions that tug at me...

What will it be like to potentially be the only Anishinabekwe in my grad program?

Do my reasons for wanting to do a PhD differ from those of settlers?

How can I involve my family/community/nation in the application or research processes?

How might having a PhD affect how I am perceived within Indian Country?

To be honest, I sometimes feel very gloomy and Eeyore-esque about it all.

Already, I live and work away from my community and it can be hard to stay/feel truly connected when I'm not there in my day-to-day life. I worry that a feeling of disconnection might worsen if I move even further away to pursue another degree.

But, yesterday I started to read Indigenizing the Academy by Devon Abbott Mihesuah and Angela Cavender Wilson and it was like a lightbulb went off in my head.

What if doing a PhD can bring me closer to home--literally and figuratively?

Doing research for my MA *did* bring me home. How could I have forgotten? I remember driving to Kitigan Zibi on frigid, sunny winter days, my grandfather greeting me as he took his old Indian showshoes off his feet, and us sitting by the fire with tea, cookies, and stories. (There was a tape recorder involved--sorry if that spoils the image.)

My family has so many stories to tell. Stories that aren't written in history books, but told to grandchildren who are willing to listen. Stories begging to be memorized or recorded and told to future generations. PhD dissertations require original research topics, right? Well, it doesn't get realer than this.

Maybe grad school can take me home.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Graduate Horizons

I've written about how I want to do a PhD and about my trip to Boston to meet my academic idol. This weekend that dream is coming closer into reach (or, should I say, appearing on the horizon?) because I will be attending...

Graduate Horizons is a 4 day workshop for Native students who want to apply to graduate/law/med/etc. school. I applied in the winter and heard in the spring that I'd been accepted as part of this year's cohort! Graduate Horizons takes place every other year at various host institutions--this year it happens to be at Harvard University. I'll be staying in the Harvard Law School dormitories (my first dorm experience!) and be coached by faculty from some of the best universities in the U.S.

I feel excited, but nervous... but more excited than nervous! You know that feeling? It has been so long since I've felt this way--probably since I walked into my first M.A. seminar or delivered my first conference presentation. I'm nervous because I'm venturing into new territory, but excited because I know it will be an amazing experience.

Applying to graduate school can be a mystifying process. I work at a university, yet I can't even imagine what an admissions committee looks like, what they look for, what they talk about, and, basically, what they do! So how am I supposed to get them to select my application out of hundreds for one of only a handful of spots?

I do know that a lot of the time your chances of getting in come down to your statement of intent. I know some people who hate talking about themselves, and while I don't necessarily feel the same way, I struggle with questions like: What makes you special? How are you unique from other PhD applicants? Apart from being Native, how are you different?

Graduate Horizons... Help!

P.S. It's been ages since I've updated my work wardrobe and with Graduate Horizons having a business casual dress code, it was the perfect opportunity for a couple of new pieces:

Light wool navy blazer... on sale!

Lace top

P.P.S. I'm super excited to meet Adrienne of Native Appropriations!

Thursday, April 5, 2012


I've blogged about exercising and weight loss, about watching Food, Inc., and even coined my own health plan, Skinny Nish. But I've never felt as passionate about my health as I have over the past couple of weeks.

It started when I purchased the follow up to the only nutrition book I've read, Skinny Chicks Eat Real Food (the first book was called Skinny Chicks Don't Eat Salads... you can see why the title might appeal!). The first part of the book exposes the factory food industry and what it's doing to people's waistlines, energy levels, and even life expectancy.

I was obsessed. I couldn't put the book down and finished it in 3 days flat.

I heard about a lot of stuff the author, Christine Avanti, writes about when I watched Food Inc. Like most who have seen the film (it's on Netflix for anyone who hasn't watched it), I was disgusted. I swore off factory farmed beef, poultry, pork, soy and dairy... for about a week until I realized how hard to find and expensive it is.

Watching Food, Inc. helped me to realize that I wanted to stop eating factory food, but I still didn't have the tools to figure out how to do that. Enter: Skinny Chicks Eat Real Food. It provided a how-to (e.g. what foods to eat, what not to eat, and why) and meal plans. There were also profiles of real foodies whose blogs I've been reading for inspiration:

Now I have enough to go on to be able to truly implement a lot of these changes into my food lifestyle.

I made/ate some awesome real food recipes last week, including asparagus quiche on sweet potato crust, chickpea salad on quinoa with lemon caper dressing, and elk burgers with organic mac'n'cheese (thanks to my boyfriend, R.J.). No word of a lie, after eating this way for a week I dropped 5lbs! (But, I'm still not convinced that my scale didn't go wonky.)

As I embark on this real food journey, you might be reading a little bit more about something we all know and love: MIDJIM!

Saturday, March 3, 2012

My First Vlog (alternately, New Sun Conference on Aboriginal Arts or Reflections on Creativity)

(And, with just my luck, I look like that in the screen cap.)

KC Adams


Cyborg Hybrid Niki (visual artist, performance artist & videographer), 2006, digital print

Taken from KC Adams's website


Here is Creeasian's DJ &B-boying:

And here's an example of Baker Lake Throatboxing:


A link to her website, TimeTraveller:

Friday, February 17, 2012

My Moccasins, Me & NYC

My boyfriend and I have taken a liking to exploring cities on Turtle Island. We are saving for a bigger trip - we're thinking a Euro-holiday - but we needed something to get us through the winter months. Last week, we toyed with the idea of going to New York on Monday, booked on Thursday, and were on a train through the Adirondacks on Friday.

We settled into our hotel (the Hilton in the Financial District), which had a view of the re-building of the World Trade Centre.

We knew we only had 2 days, and I don't think we could have squeezed more into our first day if we tried: breakfast in Time Square; a three hour jaunt through the Met (which, as it turns out, wasn't enough); dessert for lunch on 5th Avenue; Columbia University; shopping in SoHo; and pizza for dinner at Lombardi's, one of five spots vying for the best pizza in NYC.

We got to the hotel by 9, plopped down on the luxe bed, and couldn't get up.

The next day we, once again, were on the train to Time Square. We saw a hockey game in the legendary Madison Square Garden. Then, we figured we would fit in one more museum. Can you guess which one? The National Museum of the American Indian.

Although their main exhibit, Infinity of Nations, was cool (above), I preferred the modern art works of Carl Beam. So much so that I excitedly skipped over to the next room when I saw a sneak peek, inadvertently skipping the Woodlands--which, apparently, means me--section. And, as long as I'm being honest, I held a bit of a grudge after not finding "Algonquin" amongst the names of tribes surrounding the Infinity of Nations sign. An afternoon at Century 21, resulting in a DVF sweater and Tory Burch blouse, capped off a great day.

(I'll now skip over the part where we ended up at TGI Friday's for dinner, eating crappy expensive food, and getting depressed while adding up all the money we'd spent. Ooops, there it is.)

While NYC was a lot of fun (I can't wait to go to MoMA and back to Century 21), of all the cities we've visited, our hearts are still in Boston...

Monday, February 6, 2012

One-Minute Book Review: The Hunger Games

The Hunger Games Trilogy (Suzanne Collins)

Confession time: I love me a good magical world. When I was younger, I devoured
Harry Potter, eagerly awaiting each new release, and Lord of the Rings. Over the past year, I've fallen in love with authors who tell a seemingly real life story and inject it with a hint of mysticism: Junot Diaz's The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, Salman Rushdie's Midnight's Children, and Gabriel Garcia Marquez's Love in the Time of Cholera.

The Hunger Games trilogy, while not quite magic, was definitely out of this world. The back cover reviews from Stephen King and Stephanie Meyer piqued my interest. Although I've never read the Twilight Saga, the movies are, admittedly, a guilty pleasure of mine.

Imagine my surprise when I crack the cover of
The Hunger Games to find that it is more a story about our people than Twilight ever was, even with its depiction of the Quileute nation (or, more accurately, in spite of...). Skin colour is scarcely mentioned in the novels, except in reference to the crazy Capitol-ites who dye their skin green and blue. Instead, the Hunger Games is a story of oppression, bravery, love, war, innocence, healing, and hunting.

I fervently flipped through the pages, gasping every now and again as R.J. demanded, "What did Katniss do now?" I suggest you pick up the books and learn for yourself!

Now, as with so many great books, I can only hope the filmmakers get it right...

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Fame at 5 Years Old

One of my most vivid memories of being 5 years old involves Ovide Mercredi.

The whole school was called to the gym. I was standing around on the bleachers doing things kids do, when word floated around that they were picking one of us to be on T.V.

I turned to see a boy, arm outstretched, pointing his finger silently at me.
What? my look asked. "Pick her," he responded. "Her mom works at the band office!" Childhood logic. I playfully swatted his arm away, hoping to divert the unwanted attention, but like a slingshot it swung gently back around.

A series of events followed--probably involving my navy and green plaid dress with white tights--and the next thing I knew, I was seated next to Ovide at a table fighting boredom for what seemed like hours. An equally vivid memory was returning from the event in the gym to find my class on recess and having to drink my juice and eat my sandwich alone inside.

I now know I played some teeny tiny (literally) role in the parallel process to the RCAP proceedings.

Now, over 20 years later, my path crossed Ovide's again when he delivered a lecture at the university where I work. I debated whether or not to attend. My head was saying no; I was tired, missed my boyfriend, had been spending lots of time on campus. But my heart said yes. I had always felt a connection to Ovide for providing me with 15 minutes of 5 year old fame, and I liked what he had to say at the Crown-First Nations Gathering earlier this week.

So, I went. And am I ever glad I did.

Ovide is an eloquent and humble speaker. He didn't lecture with key points, nor in a linear fashion, nor by presenting any sort of expertise (all of the "qualities" we're used to in the academy). Instead, he told stories about his spirituality and how it manifested in his political career and rise to National Chief.

"You can't lead your people just because you're educated," he stated. "You need more. From your own people." This is something I'm always curious about. How can scholars affect real change? How do we "live in both worlds"? How can we stay grounded in our communities and traditions while balancing the rigor required by academia?

But the point he made that had the most profound effect on me was related to the difference between his generation and mine. "My generation was labeled the 'grievance generation.' Indians became known as problem people, not people with problems," Ovide said. "But your generation is different. Your generation knows the solution. Your generation will make the change."

Whether knowing it or not, Ovide challenged me to rise to the occasion for our people when I was 5 years old. And tonight, two decades later, he has challenged me again.