Poem: Pasta

I’ve been trying to ease the pain of generational trauma,
Through prevention,
As I stand on my track in 48067 in 1997,
I gaze at the clouds,
The trains in the distance fill my soul with a fire,
To run and fly,

I am destined to be great,
But generational trauma takes a toll at age 20,

I’ve towed the line with some of the best,
My bourgeoisie White track friends let me not shave my legs,
They honor my heritage,

But what they don’t see is the pain or sorrow,
Yet to percolate to the surface,
In the suburbs everything appears to be alright,
With do gooder white liberalism,
Supporting my dreams,

But down in the dorm in Oshkosh, Wisconsin,
I am feeling the sorrow of Chief Oshkosh,
The looming darkness envelopes me,
I am in my darkest days,

Once the picture perfect role model,
I am now surveying the darkness of my soul,
Haunts of old,
Demons surround,
I don’t know what self-care means,

I am towing the line of self-mutilation,
Internalized grief eats away at my body,
Which gets funneled into running when I was supposed to be done,
With those competitive days of glory chasing my Timex dreams,

I am running on the land of a sorrowful place,
A sign of suicide awareness in the community,
Beauty has left my face,
I am physically gray,

From 2002-2006 I struggle to maintain my equilibrium,
I wanted to run away but where?

Pasta and perfection,
Measuring cups of Allure magazine direction,
Plastic beauty that I never wanted,

As a Two-Spirit my soul is torn,
Paint your nails,
Go out on the town,
Breathe the fumes of environmental racism of the sorrow of smoke,
Numb the pain in a bar off Cass Avenue before gentrification,

The Androgynous Man in Brown Pants,
Yes he is me,

I am the worker from my past lifetimes,
Holding onto that bread that is stifling my soul,
I’ve released that bread to the sea,
From the top of the Tower Bridge in my dreams,

This time in 2018 I finally heal and I can eat pasta again,
No longer do plastic measuring cups define my existence,
No longer does the dorm room eating disorder smell haunt my existence,
No longer does the current of unknown generational grief haunt me with every turn I make,
No longer does the perfection of athleticism and “stars of track and field” win,

My soul is more free and so are we,
The relations,
Ancestors,
Community,

It may take 12 years to crumple up that trauma and toss into the fire,
The smoke cleanses out and out and out,

They were listening to our prayers.

Poem: Sobriety Creates Beauty

Floral designs extend from my fingers,
To circle around mitig,
To mitigong,
Up to migizi,
And back to nigig,

Floral designs from my feet,
Rooted like mitig into the Earth,
Pause,
Breath,
Zaagidewin,
Zaagidewin,
Zaagidewin,

Otter carries floral designs,
With the medicines,
Across the water,
To Anishinaabe,

The message,
In the teaching,
In the prophecy,
In the healing of our people,

The floral designs,
Travel between worlds,
To the ancestors,
To the ones to come,
Debwewin,
Debwewin,
Debwewin,

Anung,
Our spirits as big as the night sky,
With all that wisdom,
In your body,
My body,
The Anishinaabe body,

Empathy,
As the nibish that nigig feels,
Delicate,
Cleansing,
Fresh,
Sometimes,
You cry for others who can't feel,

Floral designs,
On baskets,
On clothes,
In dreams,

Recovery has created,
This beauty.

- - - - - - - - - -

Translations

Anung = Star
Debwewin = Truth
Migizi - Eagle
Mitig = Tree
Mitigong = Trees/Forest
Nibish = Water
Nigig = Otter
Zaagidewin = Love

Traverse City: The Dangerous Intersection of Bourgeoisie White Liberalism and Colonial “Land Conservation”

Traverse City, Michigan is a dangerous place.  White liberalism is dangerous.  White liberalism is colonization and therefore Traverse City, Michigan is full of the bourgeoisie colonial White liberals.  If the folks in Traverse City want to poke fun at Manistee, Michigan then at least the folks in the sticks down by the river are outright racist rather than pretending they are “do gooder White liberals.”  If there is a hierarchy in racism – pretending you are not racist is far worse.

The disease of colonization has White liberals believing that their hands aren’t dirty.  Go to Africa and bring colonial help instead of empowering Native folks right in your own backyard.  Open a co-op in a so called working class neighborhood in lily White Traverse City and please don’t feel good about yourself.  Do bike lanes make you feel even better?  Too bad your liberal city is the most sprawled out in Northern Michigan.  Conservatives pretty much run Grand Traverse County so liberals really don’t have power. 

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Bourgeoisie White Liberalism

Liberalism wants to not identify with conservatism.  If you are talking about the majority culture colonial politics in the United States then these are two sides to the same coin.  Good luck challenging the system by believing in the system.  Therefore, bourgeoisie White liberalism is colonialism and believes in the current system.  

Shut down Line 5?  What about help others choose recovery in your own backyard as environmental justice?  Or bringing a migrant farm worker family some clothes or decent housing that isn’t filled with mold?  If you drive a car then there is no reason to fight big oil?  Have plastic in your home?  Then get rid of everything that is associated with oil.  A partial list of products made from oil.  I am pro-industry but I believe the patriarchal industry needs to change.  I am pro-industry for the working class people.  I am pro-industry for the workers and the bread on the table.  I am from a working class family with UAW and CWA roots.  We need to change our ways but change and transformation takes time.  This downplaying of the poor and working class (who are mostly Native and People of Color) degrades the wealth and time of labour.  I am akin to the worker because it is in my blood and soul.  The sweat and tears for family and community instills a pride in labour.  Bourgeoisie White liberalism wants to end this labour without many solutions and doesn’t take into consideration colonial resource extraction in Indigenous communities to make their so called “environmental friendly,” Prius.

“Eco-consciousness” and “green living” are centrepieces of product branding for the Toyota Prius. But that feel-good packaging has rapidly worn thin for members of the Algonquin Nation and residents of Kipawa, Quebec, who are now fighting to protect traditional Algonquin territory from devastation in the name of hybrid car battery production.
In 2011, after nearly two years of negotiations, Matamec Explorations, a Quebec-based junior mining exploration company, signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Toyotsu Rare Earth Canada (TRECan), a Canadian subsidiary of Japan-based Toyota Tsusho Corporation. The memorandum confirmed Matamec’s intention to become “one of the first heavy rare earths producers outside of China.” In pursuit of this role, the company plans to build an open-pit Heavy Rare Earth Elements (HREE) mine directly next to Kipawa Lake, the geographical, ecological, and cultural centre of Kipawa.” - Toyota Prius Not So Green After All

Water is life but that sounds like pro-life.  How about water is love?  Water is healing?  Water is scary!  Have you ever seen 15 foot waves on Gitchee Gumee (Lake Superior) in November?  That is life but it is also death.  See story on the Edmund Fitzgerald

Colonial Land Conservation

There are White environmental groups who plague the city.  This money is funneled from White conservation foundations who grant to White environmental organizations to save the bay or save the bike lane.  There is an outright discrimination in philanthropy towards Native led groups as well.

“Over the past decade, U.S. foundation support benefiting Native Americans declined from 0.5 percent to 0.3 percent of total foundation giving. According to Foundation Funding for Native American Issues and Peoples, total grant dollars targeting Native Americans dropped 30.8 percent in the latest year, compared to a 14.1 percent overall downturn in foundation giving. This report was prepared by the Foundation Center with Native Americans in Philanthropy.” – Report: Foundation Funding for Native American Issues and Peoples, by Native Americans in Philanthropy & the Foundation Center (2011)

You don’t see White environmental groups prioritizing Indigenous communities or talking about that colonization is still taking place through their work.  They just tokenize Indigenous people and usually Indigenous men to maintain the stereotype of the strong Indian man warrior.  Because warriors aren’t women or Two-Spirits, right? 

Summer Tourism

The worst place to go in the summer is Traverse City swimming with a sea of tourists from Midwestern cities fleeing their colonial suburban homes. They want their taste of northern Michigan with easy access to overpriced shops and food snobbery.  What you get is people who want easy access to consumption tourism.  They don’t want to be where there is nobody or no sound – that’s too frightening.   

Take Off the Mask

You might as well take off the mask Traverse City.  Your true colors don’t have much color.  You look a little peeked, pale, and famished.  You have a problem and that is your provincial bubble of so called “liberalism.” But you are surrounding by red as a beet conservatism in Grand Traverse County. 

The attitude from Traverse City to Manistee or any place else is arrogance.  Just because the White road of success was laid out so you can have a cozy White life doesn’t mean you bash the folks who were born in dire poverty down by the river in Manistee.  Your bourgeoisie Whiteness makes you a racist asshole.  Many of those folks born down by the river happen to be Odawa Native American.   

Racial Justice

White liberals in Traverse City don’t care about addressing racism.  Having a “Human Rights Commission,” doesn’t mean much when there is discrimination in housing, work, and other areas in your city.  Nothing to pat yourself on the back about.  You have a lot of work to do.  Tokenizing minorities in the workplace is racism. 

Bad Medicine in Traverse City

I am pointing the finger at you and your nasty city.  Most every person I have ever met from Traverse City with the exception of a very few has bad medicine.  Every meeting I have gone there from work has turned to shit because the people are shit.  I’ve heard “Manistee-tucky,” and “we are better than Manistee,” from mostly White hillbillies who think they are somehow above the realness of Manistee.  I was there one time for work on my car and a White guy said, “you don’t look Native American, you look Pakistani.”  Do you get out much from your White town?  Then he went on to say, “the Native people around here are fat.  They are lazy.  They don’t live the culture.”   The town is so full of racism that my list could go on and on. 

From my point of view, the excessive amount of money (i.e. – Old Mission Colonial Peninsula) taints the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians.  Members of this tribe are influenced by the gentry and bourgeoisie White liberalism that taints the land.  The culture is not strong nor is it intact.  The patriarchal Christian White influence has infiltrated the tribe.  Money is driving the band and if you have money before culture you lose the people.  My tribe is very poor but the culture is intact.  There are many many many sober community members who do the work and help other community members heal across Anishinaabe Aki.  This bad medicine in Traverse City has tainted any sort of centering Anishinaabe people in the region.  I will not do work in Traverse City and avoid that place like the plague.  If we have a meeting you can meet me in real salt of the Earth places such as Manistee or the anywhere in the UP! 

Defending Manistee

Not revealing too much about who we are one thing I can know is Manistee is real.  Manistee is far more diverse being inside the Little River Band of Ottawa Indians reservation.  My friend visited from Detroit and was happy to see Black and mixed families in Manistee.  We are real and not fake.  Manistee is not without problems.  Conservatives in Manistee here have encouraged my work on racial justice.  They are acquaintances at the park and friends.  When I first moved to Manistee I was impressed with Odawa kids playing with mixed race and Polish kids.  There is racism here too and White liberals who deny there is a problem.  Some have gone to Africa to paternalistically “help.”  Some who say they are Christians when they find the biggest sand dune and bury their head in it when racism is in their own backyard.  Manistee is working class and real.  Thank you Manistee for creating allies with conservatives and doing community work with people that is truly inclusive.

Centering Native People in Racial Justice

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“Settler states in the Americas are founded on, and maintained through, policies of direct extermination, displacement, or assimilation. The premise of each is to ensure that Indigenous peoples ultimately disappear as peoples, so that settler nations can seamlessly take their place. Because of the intensity of genocidal policies that Indigenous people have faced and continue to face, a common error on the part of antiracist and postcolonial theorists is to assume that genocide has been virtually complete, that Indigenous peoples, however unfortunately, have been 'consigned to the dustbin of history' (Spivak, 1994) and no longer need to be taken into account. Yet such assumptions are scarcely different from settler nation-building myths, whereby “Indians” become unreal figures, rooted in the nation’s prehistory, who died out and no longer need to be taken seriously.” – Decolonizing Antiracism by Bonita Lawrence and Enakshi Dua

Decolonial Community Work

Anishinaabe Aki is our home territory as Anishinaabe people.  Anishinaabe includes Ojibway, Odawa, and Potawatomi peoples. However it also includes Oji-Cree, Mississauga, and Nipissing peoples.  Our home territory is colonially known as Michigan, Northern Wisconsin, Minnesota, Ontario, parts of North Dakota and parts of Manitoba. Through colonization and the fur trade we have an additional unique identity in our territory.  Métis people are a group of Indigenous people who are federally recognized in Canada but not the United States. This identity is unique to the Great Lakes because of the French and Anishinaabe relationships.  My ancestry is Ojibway, Métis, Nippising and Huron.  Our Métis ancestry has been mixing since the late 1700’s on Mooniingwanekaaning-minis (Madeline Island, Wisconsin).

Not everyone can identify as Métis as it is unique to the Great Lakes and other settlements such as Red River in Manitoba.  Understanding Métis ancestry is key to understanding and moving forward with centering Native people in racial justice work.  Doing racial justice work in Anishinaabe Aki is acknowledging Métis ancestry and how colonization has impacted our people for a very long time. 

This is what decolonial community work is about.  It is more than looking at race through a Black and White lens.  So often in racial justice work First Nations, Native and Métis people are left at the margins. You are either Black or White.  This is a colonial concept that is racist in itself towards our people who span every skin tone, eye color, and hair color.  There is no one look to Native people.  When you are mixed race you are no longer one race.  Blood quantum is a tool of genocide however Tribal governments adhere to strict blood quantum standards that were set up by the US government.  These standards are not the way of our people.  It is about family and community not what a colonial structure dictates.   

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Moving Beyond the Black and White Racial Binary

 “As I shall discuss, because the Black/White binary paradigm is so widely accepted, other racialized groups like Latinos/as, Asian Americans, and Native Americans are often marginalized or ignored altogether.  As Kuhn writes, "those that will not fit the box are often not seen at all.“ – The Black/White Binary Paradigm of Race: The Normal Science of American Racial Thought by Juan F. Perea

The Black and White racial binary defines only Blacks and Whites as key players in the pursuit for racial justice.  This binary produces and promotes the exclusion of Native American and Métis people.  This narrative is harmful for the healing of our people across Turtle Island.  It is important to move beyond the great harm of the Black and White racial binary in racial justice work.  In my work to bring racial justice work to Northern Michigan and to our Anishinaabe communities I have been disappointed.  In the eyes of everyone is the United States we are made to be hyper invisible and when we bring up the harsh realities we face we are ignored, discredited, or silenced.  It doesn’t help that in racial justice work we are made to be even more invisible.  We can use the term “invisible minority,” to describe this harsh reality.  If racial justice work fails to address colonization then this maintains settler colonialism and violent occupation and therefore maintains the racial binary.  

Additionally, this paradigm defines as well as limits the set of problems when talking about race and racism.  The United States is obsessed with this binary to maintain settler colonialism.  Ignoring the lives and voices of Native people is purposeful erasure and invisibilization.  This erasure comes in the form of statistical genocide in documents like reports, media, academia, and doctor forms.

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Colonization Never Ended

What you won’t hear in mainstream or alternative news is that colonization never ended.  If it ended we could properly address historical and generational trauma in our individual lives, families, and communities.  Instead we deal with racism, mascots, stereotypes, and discrimination from the majority culture in addition to the issues within our own communities.  Because of generational trauma these issues include: health disparities, youth suicide, abuse in all forms, and addiction plague our communities.  We have experienced incredible land and culture loss that doesn’t get validated by the majority culture.  We are supposed to be thankful for the little bit of land we now have called reservations.  Empowering our people and healing our communities in the face of these great injustices is critical.  However strengthening our communities is not enough when structural racism and oppression exist.

“To get a clearer picture, Mike Males, senior researcher at the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice, looked at data the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) collected from medical examiners in 47 states between 1999 and 2011. When compared to their percentage of the U.S. population, Natives were more likely to be killed by police than any other group, including African Americans. By age, Natives 20-24, 25-34 and 35–44 were three of the five groups most likely to be killed by police. (The other two groups were African Americans 20-24 and 25-34.) Males’ analysis of CDC data from 1999 to 2014 shows that Native Americans are 3.1 times more likely to be killed by police than white Americans.” –  The Police Killings No One Is Talking About by Stephanie Woodard

Statistics are faulty and not 100 percent accurate because of many Native people may identify or be misidentified as Hispanic, Latino or White.  The latter misidentification is “Other,” which is racist in itself. 

Centering Our People & Strengthening Our Communities

Colonization never ended on our lands, lives, bodies, and communities. It is beyond time to change the narrative around racial justice and the work that needs to be done. Decolonization is more than a hashtag – it is work. To make deep, meaningful, and lasting change the burden shouldn’t be on the shoulders of Native people alone to address racism. We need to address racial justice with the support of settlers and settlers of color. If our people are centered in this work then our lives and communities are strengthened. The movement for racial justice has always been.  All daily actions are critical in the face on this tremendous burden we have to bear as Native people. The frontlines are our lives. Our existence is resistance. When we heal, when we choose sobriety, when we speak, when we rise – we are resisting.  This is how we reclaim what was rightfully ours and build the beauty of our culture back into our lives. 

--Cecelia Rose LaPointe (Ojibway/Métis), MA is owner of Red Circle Consulting and Waub Ajijaak Press. She is an author, poet and writer and her work can be read here: www.anishinaabekwe.com

Further Reading: 

The Black/White Binary Paradigm of Race: The Normal Science of American Racial Thought by Juan F. Perea. 

Decolonizing Antiracism, by Bonita Lawrence and Enakshi Dua.

The Police Killings No One Is Talking About by Stephanie Woodard. 

Appeared in - Cultural Survival and Native News Online

Poem: Ode to the Conservative Woman Who Helped to Heal Me

The dim lights behind the curtain near the factories,
You are closer to the low hum and rumbles,
Closer to working class struggle of sounds that snuff out your dreams,
Sounds that silence your screams,
Sounds that perpetuate division,
Across the small town – rez town,

The door opened,
I greeted her and sat down,
She said she should couldn’t stop crying,
She showed me the book that she was reading,
The Verbally Abusive Relationship,
Expanded Third Edition,
How to recognize it and how to respond,

The dim light,
Curtains drawn,
Low hum working class sounds,
Mold and mildew smells,
How to respond? 

I too was frozen

She cried in her bedroom,
She said she couldn’t stop crying,
The love she felt,
It never went away,

I too was frozen

How to respond?
But to close the door,
To listen to the low hum,
Watch the steam rise from the factories at night,
The food bank corn,
The Kmart shoes,
The tears soiling sheets, 

She too was frozen

The conservative woman in Manistee, Michigan,
Aninshinaabe Aki,
Was this woman,
Was me,

The book I emphasized as resources to others,
I sat gazing out the window,
Crunched up in a ball,
Sipping tea,
Laying my asema on the snow,
Dim lights flickering,
Bad wiring for the working poor,
The factory smoke,
The low hum on the land, 

The door I shut numerous times,
The pinnacle of this moment,
I couldn’t stop crying,
She couldn’t stop crying,                                                

I was frozen,
She was frozen,
We were frozen,
But we were healing together.