Monday, July 1, 2013

A Canada Worth Celebrating

Kanata by Greg Hill

Tomorrow I'm meeting with people from a university in England and I have the pleasure of explaining to them why my office (an Aboriginal resource centre at a university) exists. Today being Canada Day and all, I got to thinking: What would be a Canada worth celebrating?

Some obvious things come to mind: honour the treaties, stop the Keystone XL pipeline (and other environmentally violent projects), treat Indigenous women with respect, recognize our nationhood.

Tomorrow, I will tell the Brits about why our office exists. It is because colonization is a fact in this country. I will use the example of residential schools as one of its most violent forms (but I won't fail to mention the theft of land, and the destruction of the role of women and governance traditions). And I will explain the way this assault on Indigenous peoples has created a plethora of socioeconomic issues that plague our beautiful women, men, children, elders, and communities.

Will it be a lot for them to learn in 5 minutes? Probably. Will they understand it upon reflection? I hope so. Will it shatter what they think they know about "Indians"? That's certainly what I'm going for.

On Friday I was talking to other activists about hope - Indigenous rights advocates, feminists, and proponents of diversity. We wondered, like all activists do at some point, if the work we are doing is any different than it was 30, 40 years ago. More importantly, is the world better off?

"Should we lower our expectations?" questioned a woman who's been in the field for over 30 years.

To me, the answer is obvious: No. I have absolutely high expectations of Canadians, and the role they must play in decolonization and reconciliation. And I don't plan on lowering them one bit. I also have hope that it's possible, because the majority of Canadians are loving and compassionate people.

This is why my office at the university exists: it is a responsibility. Canada wanted to eliminate so much of what makes our nations great through the residential school system. Apparently, 5 years ago, Canada realized what they did was wrong and issued an apology. Today, all school systems in this country have the responsibility to make space for Indigenous ways of knowing to be reclaimed and to grow and flourish.

When Canadians take the time to understand this history, to assume their responsibility, to respect our nationhood alongside their own, and to take tangible action to decolonize Canada, I will stand with you and say:

Happy Canada Day.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

An Activist Nap

A tiny glimpse into my personal life: I am a napper. Last night, after work, I napped from 5-7 p.m. (Could have something to do with the fact that I'm an on-and-off anemic, but that's besides the point.) After a nap like this, I wake up feeling one of two ways: 1) refreshed and ready to be productive for the final few evening hours, or 2) "WHAT?!? It's 7! How am I going to cook, clean, watch my favourite show, work out, and get to bed at a decent hour? Why do I do this to myself!!!" (Luckily, last night was the former.)

Since late March/early April, I've been napping.

I stopped listing to CBC Radio in the mornings and tuned into Hot 89.9.

I finished reading "X-Marks" by Scott Richard Lyons, then picked up "Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?" by Mindy Kaling.

I took a time-out from twitter in favour of constantly trolling my never-ending Facebook Newsfeed.

I fell behind reading some of my favourite blogs, like Native Appropriations and mediaINDIGENA, but read back posts on blogs like Suri's Burn Book and Young House Love.

Notice a trend here? I took, what I'll call, an "Activist Nap."

I'm not going to apologize for any of it. I'll still listen to Hot 89.9 when I'm in my car, and Young House Love is on my daily reading list. But this girl's nap is over.

I had an absolutely wild fall season. It was the busiest and most amazing time of my life, as I took on my biggest challenge yet of teaching a college class of 30 awesome Native students.

And after my class wrapped up on Tuesday afternoons? I hit the road to recruit more students to come to post-secondary education!

I expected the winter to be more quiet and a time to regroup, but instead I published my MA research paper, did a juice cleanse, and travelled more for work.

During one of said travels, I was having a conversation with a couple of Native colleagues. We were talking about the work we do in our 9-5's and our activism and community engagements on evenings and weekends.

"It's exhausting being Indigenous sometimes," one bemused.

We got onto the topic of books. After flexing our academic muscles and talking about what books we were reading by Native authors, the conversation quickly turned to "fun" books as we got talking about everything from sci-fi to Jodi Picoult.

"Sometimes you just have to take a time out and read a fun book."

I took her advice. I didn't completely tune out the news, but I allowed myself the luxury of reading for fun, skipping out on a rally or two, and I let myself off the hook for not being the first to know of each major development in First Nations rights and crises.

I napped. But, rather than it being an hour-long after work nap, it was a 2-month long post-activist nap. I was a Naptivist, if you will. I woke up from this one, not kicking myself for falling so far behind, but feeling refreshed, clear and ready to get back on track.

Monday, February 4, 2013

One-Minute Book Review: The Inconvenient Indian

My blog's been quiet lately, and one of the reasons for it is that I was teaching a class at Algonquin College. If I had the opportunity to teach the class again, I would use Thomas King's The Inconvenient Indian: A Curious Account of Native People in North America as the textbook.

King has been working on this book throughout the majority of his career, and he takes readers with him on select journeys. We begin at home with him and his wife, Helen, and their difference of opinions on where the book begins. We go back in time with King to his job as a administrator in a Native American student centre at a university (what I do now!). Later, we're with him in the spirit world as he waits to find out whether the Musqueam Nation will renew the Shaugnessey Golf Course's lease in 2064.

It seems cliche to write a book review admiring King's prowess as a storyteller, but to ignore the way King tells spells out the history of post-contact, colonial relations on Turtle Island would be an injustice. He does it through stories. Imagine that! He, of course, doesn't give a dry outline of the nation-to-nation relationship, and how it went wrong, by essentially listing government acts, court cases and other material we usually read in textbooks. He tells the stories of the people who's land has been stolen, how its affect them, and what they've done about it.

While King certainly brings the book to a close in a powerful way (and I couldn't help tweeting about it--sorry for the spoiler!), what sold me is the epigraph.