Poem: 11 Mile Road

Indigenous identity,
Is much more than a white man,
Trying to be street, 

My Ojibway Father is street,
From the HP,
All the way up to KBIC,
Don’t know these abbreviations,
Too bad,
You’re not street or rez enough to know,

But 40 years for the phone company is keepin’ it real,
For the family,
For his pride,
NDN man not seen in 48067,

1993 brought railroad tracks and pain,
White teachers and class mates misunderstand,
The connection of the heart to Anishinaabe Aki, 

Racist classmates and racist teachers,
The liberal white town is not so kind to mixed race Indian kids,

 Racist Lewis Cass said,
“this is truly a Royal Oak,”
At the time not gentrified,
But becoming yuppified,
White-collar-ified,

We fought against gentrification,
Of the colonial pulse of my land,
My territory,
My street,
My parking lot,
My parking garage,
With the fat white man shouting from the Washington Square building.
My city,

The neighborhood,
Village,
Was like a small town,
In a spiraling Megalopolis,
There was a sense of safety,
In a small radius,

Oooo how I longed for trees!
Trees and trees!
Dirt roads,
Water,
Land of my ancestors,
Anishinaabe Aki,

Instead as a youth,
Making prank calls from payphones on Lafayette and uptown,
My shoes wore out by the end of summer time,
Embracing the Sagittarius fire of rebellion,
Making conservative Catholics nervous,
When I tore down posters in their school,
Because your on our land and in my hood,
I don’t like your chimes,
I don’t like that you were dismissive of my Mom’s heart, 

My energy to infinity,
With an olde school rotary phone in hand,
I make phone calls to friends so we can stand on the sewer caps,
Recite poetry or dance out some Motown on the steel,
My best friend grew up in Crane (AJIJAAK) Avenue,
I grew up near the once dead and dying downtown before,
It’s actual death when the colonization of gentrification occurred,

 With petitions in hand I held my Momma’s hand and fought against,
“this is truly a Royal Oak,” 

I attended my first city commission meeting at 12 years old,
Mayor Dennis Coward said,
“the girl in the orange shirt,”
I rose from my seat,
Spoke against the city,
I learned that day that the city gentry doesn’t care about the proletariat,

The building and closing of real shops,
Baa maa pii Hobby Attic,
Baa maa pii real cheap book store,
Baa maa pii vacuum cleaner store,
Baa maa pii alcohol free working class family diners, 

We no longer could walk downtown,
Because we were no longer welcome,
Mom said numerous times in her Kmart shoes,
“this town is going to hell in a hand basket…”

11 Mile Road,
Where I was more afraid of the White man,
Than the Black man,
As brainwashed by WXYZ Channel 7 Detroit,
They brainwashed White Metro Detroit,
To be afraid of the Black man,

The viaduct,
I wasn’t going to be afraid,
Nor let the Black and White racial binary be carved into my skin,
But the city did do damage,

I am not a white man rapper,
I am a Two-Spirit Ojibway/ Métis matriarch,
I am the little boy who thought bad thoughts,
On the railroad tracks in Maxwell Park,

Or I found places to hide,
Was naturally hidden by the racial binary in the Metro,
Which drew out pain,
Which drew out generational trauma,
To discover the Androgynous Man in Brown Pants,
Who’s ancestry spirals and rolls on the waves of Gitchee Gumee,
Following the migration story to our ancestral homeland,
With Ajijaak dodem migration storied leadership,
Ascending,
Descending,
To rise again and fly,
The silence of Ajijaak could erase the pain of streaky palms on a school desk,
When I was made invisible by colonial school books, 

We stayed south of 11 Mile road,
Although our south side was safer than most south sides,
But was it safe for mixed race Indian kids? 

What does safety mean when you have racist class mates?
Racist teachers,
That dress themselves as do gooder white liberals,
Cosmopolitan city folk who adopt Indigenous children from Peru,

11 mile road,
I run across it,
Running,
I run south,
I run north,
I’m free.

Poem: The Copper Mine to the Copper Mind

The Origins of Suburban Crisis

If you didn’t feel comfortable in your body,
When your sweaty palms made streaks on the desk at school,
When homogenization tactics left you alone,
Your voice is vibrating between this powerline and the one 500 miles away,

You had become a fierce warrior at twelve,
When the junior high principal ostracized you,
Injustice was nothing new,
Instead of your concerns being taken seriously,
You cut your arms all alone,

Chi Miigwech Mother Love Bone/Green River/Andy Wood/original non-corporate grunge,

While grunge understood you there was no way to process this energy,
They give you the “at-risk,” label,
Toss out nets of prevention but never deal with the root cause,

Rocks on the railroad tracks,
There were no cultural teachings,
Just a plastic Indian doll from China picked up at a tourist destination in Saint Ignace,
A gift and small gesture,
The culture was still far away as the ancestors sorrow yet to be healed,

I do love these plastic feathers,
They are all I have in suburbia,
The spiraling of building and construction,
Destruction and land loss,
My culture became this liberal utopia prior to gentrification,
The Dandelion Antique Shop,
Vintage Noir,
Going Once Going Twice,
Art and telephone wires,
They spiral into my heart to fill the soul sadness unexplainable in 1992,

Telephone

The telephone was plastic,
I push these buttons hard,
The sound spirals down the wires,
I hope sound vibrates through the wires in the sky and way up north to the ancestors,

They looked at you as the other,
The police came twice,
The table was flipped,
Generational trauma was swept out the front door,

Youth Indian Catholic Worker

Your heart aligned with the speeding train,
There was the “guy with the green hat,”
And I knew that I knew him,
Or maybe I was him?

I loved the speeding train,
The wind through my soul,
My hair strands catch a breeze,
To the train south,

The ancestors on da Soo line,
Riding out this copper mine,
To the copper mind,
Of decolonization,
In a cedar lodge of healing in Kchiwiikwedong,

Constellation Hearts Desire

An oak leaf was peace,
Most of those in suburban crisis could not see this peace,
Colorful telephone wires in a corner of a basement,
Connect to Ojibwe constellations,
The night sky without sounds,
To the sound of my heart,
The fingernails on my neck,
I will touch my neck in a loving way,
We are healing now.

Article: Two-Spirit People, Body Sovereignty, and Gender Self-Determination

As Cree people we understand that the nature of the cosmos is to be in balance and that when balance is disturbed, it must and will return. 

Restoring balance

Two-spirit identity is one way in which balance is being restored to our communities. Throughout the colonial history of the Americas, aggressive assimilation policies have attempted to displace our own understandings, practices and teachings around sexuality, gender and positive relationships and replace them with those of Judeo Christianity. To recognize ourselves as two-spirit is to declare our connection to the traditions of our own people.  

As a self-identifier, two-spirit acknowledges and affirms our identity as Indigenous peoples, our connection to the land, and values in our ancient cultures that recognize and accept gender and sexual diversity. 

The recognition and acceptance of gender and sexual diversity is reflected in our languages, spirituality and cultures. Our Cree dialect does not include gender-distinct pronouns. Rather, our language is ‘gendered’ on the basis of whether or not something is animate (that is, whether or not it has a spiritual purpose and energy). 

Cultural disruption and “Skirt Shaming”

Today some of our Elders and spiritual teachers have adopted and introduced understandings and practices and understandings that were not necessarily part of their own cultures prior to colonization and the imposition of Christianity. For example, a recent celebration in a community included a sweat lodge ceremony. When two-spirit and other participants arrived to take part in the ceremony, the person leading the ceremony demanded that some in the group change their clothing to conform with what he perceived their gender to be and added the warning that if he suspected that they had dressed inappropriate to their perceived gender, they would be required to prove their gender identity to him. In the face of this direct assault on their body sovereignty and gender self-determination, some people left the ceremony..  The role of Elders in our communities includes the sharing traditional teachings with youth that will help them understand their own experiences, including their expressions of gender identity and sexuality. However, in most of our Indigenous cultures where gender and sexual diversity were once accepted and valued, our traditional teachings, ways of being, spirituality, and languages were disrupted and displaced through the processes of colonization, Christianization and assimilation. The result (as the incident described above demonstrates) is that some of our own present-day cultural teachings and practices extend the continuum of violence that two-spirit people have been subject to since colonization began. “Skirt-shaming”, excluding, policing or shaming trans, two-spirit people and women because they are not wearing long dresses in ceremonial settings, is increasingly common and is a continuation of the continuum of violence.  

Two-spirit people are frequently subject to interconnected homophobia, transphobia and misogyny, and in the larger society they are additionally subject to structural and individual racism and classism. This has had devastating impacts on the two-spirit community. The suicide rate for LGBTQ Indigenous youth is ten times higher than that of any other group. Thirty-nine percent of two-spirit women and 21% of two-spirit men have attempted suicide. In a recent study of transgendered and gender non-conforming Indigenous people, nearly one-quarter lived in extreme poverty, elevated rates of HIV were found, and more than half of respondents (56%) had attempted suicide .   It is imperative that Elders and others consult with or rely on Two-Spirit leaders for teachings and direction regarding gender and sexual diversity. 

Coming in

There is much work to be done, then, to undo the work that has been done upon us. When we call ourselves two-spirit people, we are proclaiming sovereignty over our bodies, gender expressions and sexualities. “Coming in” does not centre on the declaration of independence that characterizes ‘coming out’ in mainstream depictions of the lives of LGBTQI people. Rather, coming in is an act of returning, fully present in our selves, to resume our place as a valued part of our families, cultures, communities, and lands, in connection with all our relations. 

Indigenous sovereignty over our lands is inseparable from sovereignty over our bodies, sexuality and gender self-expression.

Dr. Alex Wilson (Opaskwayak Cree Nation) is an Associate Professor and the Academic Director of the Aboriginal Education Research Centre at the University of Saskatchewan www.twospiritmanitoba.ca

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Original post - Red Rising Magazine

Poem: Indian Trail in 48073

The divided up blood quantum,
Between divided up treaty territories,
Between divided up hearts,
Separated souls,
Dispersed between colonial county and state lines,

Christianity on the land,
In our governments,
Blessed the ink to sign the document,
Sign the treaty,
Sign away a culture,
A people,

As a kid I followed the remnants of this,
In a suburban town where there was an “Indian Trail,”
My Mom took me there after going to Meijer's one day,
We turned off Crooks Road in 48073,
Near the old “historic” farm houses,
Park on the side street,
And got out of the car,
We walked up the very small hill,
Between a few suburban trees,
Planted in 1964,
While the suburbs were booming and building,
Gas station and church,
Prayer and work,
Fuel and sinning,
This small spot was left for our people,
My Mom told me about this spot,
It was a small corner of a suburban lot,
There was a rock with a sign,
This was a trail of my ancestors,
On a summer day,
My Mom shares a little bit of Anishinaabe lore and legend,
We walk down that lil’ hill and back into the car,

The memory sticks with me to this day,
I thought of major roads leading out of the mega metropolis heading north to my home,
I never considered the big city of Detroit my home,
The land seemed hurt and sad,
Eager I always followed every trail I could in Southeast Michigan,
Was it an “Indian Trail,”
My peoples trail,

Then I followed that trail to the train tracks like so many of my ancestors did before,
The train tracks as a refuge,
13 year old boy-girl-tomboy-she-he-her-queer,
I knew all the viaducts,
My hands scathed the surface,
I crumble particles of paint attempting to cover graffiti from my hands,
Then hyperactively picking up and chucking a rock,
To an unknown location,
The fuse of anger,
Almost got me in trouble,
So I leap into the bushes,
Kneel down and hide,   

Like many Indian kids,
Like many Indian adults,
We ended up on a modern "Indian trail" we often called the railroad tracks,
A place to vent,
A place to connect with industrial disconnection,
A place to smoke-drink-drug,
A place to cast dreams as pennies,

When I grew up I wanted to be a train engineer,
Just like the "guy in the green hat,"
A wayfaring stranger,
An unknown,
Or was this feeling in my blood?
Because Great-Grandpa was a train engineer on the Soo Lines in the UP, 

The sunsets were beautiful,
Especially when it was time to head home,
The night birds swooping,
Bats flying about,
The train light off in the distance,
A light,
A metaphor,
To resist temptation,
To resist what so many Indian's couldn't,
To walk away and rise above,
To resist beautifully.

Poem: Grieving Mother

I was the woman with a child born grieving,
I was the child feeling this grieving,
I was the child who grew into grieving-running,
I was the child who wounded self and others,
I was the child who was tumultuous,
I was the child who was labeled "at-risk,"
I was the woman with the child who said no to the "at-risk" label,

Fire and light have catapulted us across time,
In a celebration of beautiful refrains,
Sang near bright candles in red glass candle holders,
Red pebbles,
Red berries,
Red cloth,
Red birds,
Reborn,
Reborn,
Reborn,

This light,
The child has left the corridor.