Thursday, October 1, 2015

New Film - Reindeer in My Saami Heart



Inghilda Tapio is one of the last generation of indigenous children born into a nomadic Saami reindeer herding family in the Arctic Circle, and is now an inspirational poet and performer.

Born into a nomadic Saami reindeer herding family after WWII, Inghilda is a member of Sweden's own 'stolen generation,' forced by the Swedish government to attend residential boarding schools in the early 1950s. At the age of seven, Inghilda was removed from her teepee home, reindeer herds and Saami parents for months at a time, isolated and confused by the difficult Swedish language, intimidated by the unfamiliar school environment and foreign customs.

Despite these challenges, Inghilda continued on to university to become a poet, performer, teacher and international representative for Saami writers. She lives most of the year in Karesuando, on the border between Sweden and Finland, over two hundred kilometres north of the Arctic Circle. Her extended family members continue their herding traditions in Saapmi, which is their preferred name for the northern regions of Sweden, Norway, Sweden and Russia, previously referred to as Lapland.

Inghilda's Saami community has survived centuries of attempted cultural assimilation and Christian indoctrination by the Swedes, and now faces new threats posed by mining, forestry and hydroelectric development, as the reindeer's ancient migratory routes are disrupted, and traditional cultural practices threatened.

One of Europe's last indigenous cultures, and an ethnic minority in Sweden numbering less than 20,000 people, the Saami are regaining their voice to fight for independence for their culture and traditional lands.

This innovative documentary by award-winning director Janet Merewether blends English and Northern Saami languages to present the life of a woman who is passionate about preserving her Northern Saami language and culture for future generations.

Please see Reindeer in My Saami Heart for more information.  The film is in the last stages of production and will be released soon!  Because of vimeo's privacy settings the video can't be embedded but here is a link to the trailer.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Poem: Ode to Community Workers Oppressed by the Oppressed

We lost our sister in the fight,
She was silenced when she spoke out against injustice,
Pushed aside and denied traditional leadership roles,
A heart without a home,

We lost our brother in the fight,
No one knew he was in the dark corner of generational trauma,
Name badge for work torn and shirt on the floor,
It is heavy and that stench,

We lost our Two-Spirit brother/sister or sister/brother in the fight,
Cast aside,
Gifts ignored,
These assumptions alienate,
Instead of gifts being acknowledged these individuals are misunderstood,

Community workers walking up and down Woodward Avenue asking for coins,
This is all the majority culture will give them is a few coins,

Community workers listening to those in recovery,
Helping to choose another way,
Who just do the work without little recognition,
Because we keep meeting those who need us at the table,
Because "environmental justice" includes recovery of the soul,

Community work is not accumulating "followers,"
Feeding your ego because so called "fame" is more important than the gripping statistics that we can't seem to break,
To look at the underbelly of "community" or lack thereof requires looking inside your own soul,
When right now a Native youth in Nunavut is on the verge of suicide because they are caught between worlds where there are no resources for them,
Community work is honoring the work of of those who broke down the walls to help that youth live,
Self promotion and narcissism didn't help that youth but maybe one who lived to tell,

Community workers walk miles to reach a community member,
In the way up north parts of Anishinaabe Aki,
They are carrying prayers and dreams,
They are carrying messages and medicines,

Community workers have scars from this work,
Community workers have called crisis lines dozens of times,
Community workers have sat on street corners with brown paper bags folded and torn,
Community workers made decisions to survive and so they rise,
Community workers lived to tell these stories in poetry,
Community workers survival is resistance in the persistence of a racist culture,

Reworking is decolonization not in an industrialized sense,
Reworking is remembering and allowing blood memory to percolate,
Reworking is honoring the cast-away and ostracized,
In order to do the work while understanding the multitude of layers of generational trauma,
The trauma still continues from the oppressed to the oppressed,
We can no longer just name it but work on it,

If you say you are giving voice to the voiceless,
Then why ignore the injustice committed by our own people to our own people?
There comes a time when labeling things as "lateral violence" must come to an end,
It is fear that the voice of those oppressed by the oppressed will break down patriarchal control,
Will break down the disgusting and intoxicating infusion of Christianization,
We don't believe it for a minute that these harsh gender roles are traditional,
Or that "leadership" represents the "community,"

When are we going to choose to return to the circle?

Saturday, September 5, 2015

The Manoomin Harvest as a Matriarchal Operation

Manoominike Giizis - The Good Berry/Wild Rice Making Moon

The proof is in the ancestors.  The proof is on the land.  The proof is on the water.  The proof is in the stories.  In Anishinaabe Aki we have a lot of work to do in terms of decolonization.  We have work to do in terms of decolonizing Christian and majority culture imposed gender roles.  Men, women, and Two-Spirits can internalize what is not traditional.  You can be patriarchal if you are man, woman, or even Two-Spirit.  In the Native American community we say that men can only do certain things and woman can do only certain things  such wear skirts at ceremonies.  Men also traditionally wore some kind of skirt so it is important to challenge these Christian and majority culture imposed notions of what is deemed traditional.  In our everyday lives we are always faced with a man/woman dichotomy and we never include Two-Spirited people who may be identifying as Two-Spirit based on their sexual orientation alone, gender identity alone, or sexual orientation and gender identity in combination.  There is a whole spectrum of identities that our communities had.  I can only speak for the Ojibway as this is my culture and heritage.  Two-Spirit identity varies from tribe to tribe across Turtle Island.

We need to check who is doing what and who is oppressing another in the process.  A patriarchal woman can oppress a matriarchal woman.  A patriarchal Two-Spirited person can oppress a matriarchal Two-Spirit.  A patriarchal man can think he is doing decolonization work and "doing good work," for "his" community when he leads the wild rice harvest.  There is nothing good about claiming and sharing knowledge to a process that has been matriarchal for a very long time.

I haven't come across many people who are willing do to the very difficult work of decolonizing gender roles.  I am probably one of the very very few that has made a commitment to this work.  Instead men benefit from male privilege when they follow and implement the majority culture imposed man/woman dichotomy.  Patriarchal women will benefit from this by "standing by their man."  These types of gender roles can play out in Two-Spirit relationships as well.  Then as we move from our personal lives to community (or non-community) lives and this plays out in everyday interactions from ceremonies, community meetings, talking circles, and our already patriarchal tribal government structures.

This time of year across Anishinaabe Aki many Anishinaabe will be gearing up for harvesting the good berry or what is known as wild rice.  The harvest will have a lot of patriarchy leading knowledge, teachings, and sharing stories that erase women and matriarchal traditions.  I know that my matriarchal ancestors whether male identified, female identified, or Two-Spirited of various identities held down the traditions of matriarchal leadership in an old time and traditional sense as they participated in the harvest. 

Photo: An amazing book by Brenda J. Child.  A must read!

"The wild rice harvest was the most visible expression of women's autonomy in Ojibwe society.  Binding rice was an important economic activity for female workers, who within their communities expressed prior claims to rice and a legal right to use wild rice beds in rivers and lakes through this practice.  Ojibwe ideas about property were not invested in patriarchy, as in European legal traditions.  Therefore, when early travelers and settlers observed Indigenous women working, it would have involved a paradigm shift for them to appreciate that for the Ojibwe, water was a gendered space where women's ceremonial responsibility for water derives from these related legal traditions and economic practices."  p. 25

 "Collectives of women controlled the entire social organization of the harvest, deciding on the rules and locations of campsites.  Harvesting wild rice was labor-intensive and involved many stages of cooperation." p. 25-26

"One September in the ate nineteenth century, Joseph Gilfillan, an Episcopal missionary in Minnesota, observed an estimated six hundred Ojibwe women gathered for harvest at White Earth but no men."  p. 101

 "Nearly all photographs and documents about Ojibwe wild-ricing before the publication of the WPA guide and the federal work camps of the same era represent a female harvest.  Some years before. the Minnesota ethnologist Frances Densmore had noted straightforwardly that "rice was harvested by women." p. 102

Photo: Manoomin in August 2015.

Monday, August 31, 2015

Poem: Accents in the Seventh Generation

What is frightening is the dehumanizing effect of judgement,
What is scary is the assumption that an accent means one thing,

This is an ode to busting stereotypes and being proud of roots/identity/culture,

Phase 1

Land claims,
Re-routing lines to connect/communicate,

Phase 2

Loud voices,
Uncomfortable in my shoes,

Phase 3

My friends laugh at my Dad's accent,
It was how I was raised,

Phase 4

He couldn't read,
And didn't know until he was 40 years old how to do so,

Phase 5

I am crying my eyes out,
Because my Dad can hardly read his 40th birthday card,

Phase 6

Years later he walks a sober road,
He loves reading the Bible,
He loves reading the dictionary,
This is better than reading a 40,

Phase 7

Seven generations later,
We walk a sober road,

Surmounting challenges,
Hurdles tripped over,
We cry as we rise,

This is the seventh generation,

This is the seventh generation,
"I grewed up in Highland Park,"
Makes me smile,

I love the Highland Park/Detroit/Inner City Blues Make Me Wanna Holler Accent,
I love the urban/street survived accent,
I love the rising above addiction but still maintain my street smarts accent,

We keep it real,
We know who we is,
We are so much in this together,

Accents in the seventh generation show resilience and pride!