Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Merry Christmas and Solstice (Miyo Manito Kisikaw)

We had a small Solstice celebration yesterday playing games and reading together.  As both Joel and I are sick we kept it low key.  We read "Mouse Celebrates the Winter Solstice" by Terri Mack.  The story is simple, but speaks to why we feast at mid-winter and the pictures are a blend of cartoon and west coast style backgrounds.  I quite liked the combination.  It balances nicely the modern and traditional.  We also read "A Coyote Solstice Tale" by Thomas King which is a quick read taking on the cost of consumerism to our spirits and it's impact on our ability to focus on what is really important in this time. 

Tonight I want to keep it simple.  I like to have a conversation with the girls each year  about people who may not celebrate Christmas or who may not find Christmas is a happy time.  It might also be a good time to watch the Charlie Brown Christmas video.  The sound track to this program is one of my favorite for the holidays, not including Bing Crosby of course.  Where else can you get both Irish and Hawaiian Christmas songs together?

Given the mild weather I am going to try and get my silhouettes of the winter stories set up outside and to tell the whole story out there.  It has been too cold the past few years for this.  I want to get them set up each with a candle behind them so that we can walk through the story.  I still need to prepare replacement lambs as they have gotten lost.  Otherwise we are aiming for simple.  We are planning for an indigenous meal with wild rice, salmon and berries.

Thinking ahead to the new year, I am going to try and decolonize our food.  This one scares me a lot but I think it is time.  I have written previously about my fear of starvation and my inner Witigo and all the resources I have found to support this reclaiming of food.  I need to do this for me and my family but food is comfort and changing ideas about comfort will be challenging.  Have you undertaken this task?  What have you learned?

Monday, December 21, 2015

Poverty of spirit and of body

I will preface this posting, that I will cover a sensitive subject and I don't have any intent to offend.

pepsi baby  mixed media on canvas, by Christian Chapman, Ojibwe:
pepsi baby , by Christian Chapman, Ojibwe
In recent weeks we have been too several events that we attended with the expectation of cultural engagement.  We went for drums and smudging.  We went to share songs and to find strength in a shared culture.  While these things were part of these events, there were also many attendees from the LSE (lower socio-economic status).  These people seemed to be at these events for the supports that were offered.  That is a good thing.  There were getting supports that they needed.  But meeting their needs interfered with the other reasons for these gathering.  The kokum was ignored as she gave her prayers and offered the sage.  The women drumming were not listened to.  The song for the missing sisters was drowned out by people talking who were not paying attention to what was going on around them (but who could be quiet when the raffle numbers were drawn).

Who am I to judge?  I grew up poor and some of my discomfort is the guilty relief that I got out.  Some of it is a deep fear of knowing how easy it can be to go from one to the other and wanting to ignore that knowledge.  Some of it is lingering colonization and related ideas around behavior and organization.  Some of it is deep cultural beliefs around the poor and distinctions of the "deserving" and "not-deserving" that the collections of societal level data following the French revolution allowed us to construct and perpetrate.  Some of it is being sheltered from how some people live.  I know that many indigenous people live in poverty and I know that there is no shame in that state when it is the result of a systematic practice to take away the tools and resources indigenous people needed to succeed.

Are these events being run like church where people come for the food and they hope you leave with the cultural/religious practice?  How do you bridge these two realities?  Am I just naïve sitting here writing about theory and voice and abstract ideas?  Am I really part of something or just wanting "indigenaity" as a handy consumable? (see previous articles here and here)  Is any of my writing useful?  Or is it part of creating another space which moved beyond the stereotypes of indigenous people?  What do you think?

Friday, December 18, 2015

Kittens and Tattoos

This would be great Art to hang in a room. I am not into Tattoos, although this one is minimal and that's not so bad. Lovely Cat Tattoo:
From Pinterist
I have been in a funk all week obsessing about kittens and tattoos.  It is taking a lot out of me to navigate life with Sophie rights now.  It doesn't help that Joel has been sick all fall and really sick this last week.  I also have a harder time this week of Christmas.  There are so many triggers and memories that come up.  But I have been trying to keep close with the Kookums and draw from their strength.  I also worked on learning "I am grateful" (ᓂᑕᑕᒥᓇᐣ nitataminan) in Cree to practice the words even if I don't feel them right now. 
We will be celebrating Solstice and Yule over the next few days and I enjoy these times as they are traditions that were new to me and have happy (aside from the Sophie screaming) memories.  I liked this article from Bustle about other winter traditions - I need to add a giant cat to our traditions.  We usually mash a couple of them together, like feeding the Chinese solstice rice balls to the Yule Lads.  We also go outside and try to coax the Japanese Sun Goddess to come out of her cave with a mirror and the girls particularly like Saturnalia where we give them some time to be in charge to reflect the role reversal of this holiday.  I started my research on Wikipedia and grew things from there over the past few year.  For Christmas Eve I tell the story I wrote that tries to weave all of these different things, cultures and times together to bring out the meta themes of community and light.  I also try to take one night to talk about people who may not be celebrating right now, or who might not have good memories about this time.  It seems like a lot when I set it out here, but I hope it comes together and gives the girls good memories.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Deer heads

Reflecting on the last post I think that toilet ice fishing could really be a great Canadian sport.  Getting together with your buddies around the frozen outhouse hole...  maybe with some ice wine... shooting the shit....
We have been watching Face Off again.  This is a show where makeup artists are given challenges and compete for a prize.  The makeups are pretty interesting and I have learned about breaking up color and using shadows when drawing and painting, so I will share with you the deer head that I painted for our Solstice decorations.  It is good to keep learning things.  I also really like this show as it provides a good opportunity to talk about the soft skills that matter in life. There are some people who are amazing artists but who just can't work with others or get things done on time.  Sometimes the artists get depressed or defeated and we see those who deal with these issues effectively and those who don't.  Runa will comment on how they worked with these problems - "she just kept trying".  It is a good reminder for life.  Talent alone is not enough and you need to invest in those skills that help you maneuver the difficult spots.  We watch on Aluc a file sharing site. 

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Ice Fishing in the Toilet

In December the dolls and animals like to play tricks.  Last night they went ice fishing in the toilet.  Runa was pretty put out with them.  Earlier this month they had a garage sale and tried to sell the other toys (very meta) and once they got stuck outside while coming back from a field trip.  It is great to see her reactions to things like that.  Sometimes they bring a little gift or candy and she thought she had figured out the algorithm and was quite please with herself so she got mad at me when I changed it.  Last night we were told to take Sophie into the hospital for a phyc consult after her Dr appointment, so that kind of overshadowed our plans for a calm evening.  I am hoping to find some of the calm tonight if I can in the midst of all these bad dollies.

Read "The Ultimate Betrayal: Claiming and Re-Claiming Cultural Identity" by Tamara Kulsic today.
The statistics she shares on the number of indigenous children taken into care, both historically and now is pretty disturbing. In particular, the large number of these placements that were far away from the original community would really make reclaiming identity even harder.  There is one sentence that is really uncomfortable, " In 1982 the Manitoba government imposed a moratorium on the export of Aboriginal children out of the province."  Placed in the terms of trade, the whole exercise of moving children around becomes quite gruesome.  This whole piece really reinforces the simple pleasure of just being with your child which was denied to so many indigenous people. 

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Indigenous Feminist Relational Sovereignty

I recently finished a paper by Carol Lynne D'Arcangelis "Indigenous Feminist Relational Sovereignty: Feminist Conversation, Non-colonizing Solidarities, Inclusive Nations" which is really quite a mouthful.  In this essay D'Arcangelis aims to "consider the theoretical and practical possibilities for fostering non-colonizing solidarities between indigenous women and allies."  The argument she puts forward in the paper themselves are written in acedmeese but basically she seems to want to use the ideas of two feminist scholars to build linkages between the dominant "feminist" discourse (primarially white) and indigenous women who may not identify with feminism because of the historical lack of representation.

This argument did little for me, but I found that she brought together a number of new to me ideas and references that were interesting.  The first was the idea of "retraditionalization" and the related construct of a tradition/modernity binary and the related implicit value statements of tradition as old fashion, savage and lacking rigor, and modernity as current, civilized and science based.  This "Enlightenment-inspired... tradition/modernity dualism" and related assumptions can hinder our ability to progress with a modern indigenous reality that bridges these two worlds (or progresses beyond them?). | Alt Art Gallery: The Dark Fashion Photography of Stefan Gesell: | Alt Art Gallery:
The Dark Fashion Photography of Stefan Gesell
While a return to tradition can be a means of subverting colonization, it is an incomplete exercise if it is not accompanied by a decolonization of the values attached to these terms.  Furthermore there is a risk of "returning" to something that is neither currently tenable or true to the spirit of the tradition, which in older times was something fluid and changing. The return in itself can become another layer of colonization, where one can play Indian as long as it occurs under very precise terms of "authenticity" as defined by white society.  D'Arcangelis supports her comments on this issue with reference to Kim Anderson and a paper by Foro Internacional de Mujeres Indigenas. 

She argues that if we let white society determine "traditional authenticity" then there is the possibility of "reinforcing a belief in their (our) eventual disappearance."  Food and festival is fun for everyone, but "real life" calls modern skills and the process of translation can be labeled as "false" if it is not understood within the wider process of colonization and reinterpretation into a modern context.  What we had is gone.  What we have is missing something.  Here I think the pieces I wrote on voice earlier provide a good example.  There are traditional indigenous protocols for sharing information.  These were protocols for face to face communication, but this does not mean that these protocols are useless for modern communication, rather is it the process of careful translation that allows us to retain what is important in indigenous ways of transmitting knowledge while using new forms of communication like email.

D'Arcangelis raises a couple of other ideas which I found quite interesting.  She mentions in passing the need to re-explore ideas of family and home as the current interpretations tend to be based in modernist ideology and not indigenous tradition.  I know that my Christianized background certainly influenced my ideas of these terms, but her comment brings to mind the wider usage of the family and ideas of home to influence political decisions and economic realities during industrialization.  This is something I would like to read and think more about.

She also introduces an interesting idea by B. Lawrence of imagining non-linear conceptions of time as a palimpsest, where the past is there, but written over with the new. D'Arcangelis notes the similarity between this view and the indigenous ideas about time.  I thought this was a great example particularly in the wider context of this piece and modernization.  Plus, we had an obsession with the palimpsest of Archimedes for a while at my house so I feel like it is family.  I even went as that Archimedes palimpsest for Halloween that year.  So while I did not like this paper, it gave me lots to think about, so maybe it was a good paper after all?

Last night we read an interpretation of Loki killing Baldur from "The Return of the Light: Twelve Tales from Around the World for the Winter Solstice."  While I quite like this book, this version of the Loki story is weird and some of the phrasing strange.  However it did seem to have enough WTFs that the children followed along even as they jumped on the trampoline and beat each other.  So depending on what you are looking for our of your stories you might like this one.  I want to read my favorite about the sun cow tonight.  Stealing the sun cow is bad.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Week Three of Waiting - animals (pisiskiwak)

Raven is the protector of the home. His cloak is decorated with Native American symbols and designs, by Misha.:
Raven sculpture by Misha
I think we did too much last week.  There was not enough quiet time and it felt rushed.  On the other hand it is nice that we can do more - sometimes I get caught up in managing everyone's disabilities and don't push us to try new things.  I hope this coming week we can rebalance and spend some more time together reading and singing and just being.  We celebrated the last night of Hanukah with St Lucia Day. 

We went to the Irish pancake breakfast and listened to the live band play Celtic and Christmas music.  Sophie kept her headphones on and made it through despite the noise.  I really enjoyed watching all the little people enjoy the music and Santa.  Having spent the last year digging up medicines on the Metis side I feel able to reconnect through the Celtic side and enjoy the songs and stories I have known for years.  It feels like the process of decolonizing is creating a space to capture those stories from the other ancestors as well.  It feels complete and right. 

Friday, December 11, 2015

Authentic Voices - does it matter?

art quilt by Nicole Dunn.   I love black and white photos. This quilt is gorgeous.:
art quilt by Nicole Dunn
I want to return to a post I wrote last week about an article on authentic voice as an indigenous person in academia ("Metis Wisdom: Learning and Teaching Across the Cultures" by Carole Leclair).  The author of this piece did a good job of situating herself in a balanced space that maneuvered between indigenous ways of knowing and relationships, and the tone required for an academic paper.  The next day I read two other pieces that I thought provided great contrast to this piece.

The first is by Julie Nagam "Transforming and Grappling with Concepts of Activism and Feminism with Indigenous Women artists".  She introduces herself as, "situated in multiple locations of community, race, class and identity." Given the subject of the article I am tempted to read in that she is in part indigenous but that could be any of us really.  The combination of this description, the use of language in the article and the lack of story makes this a sterile piece despite the source materials referencing personal interviews.  At the end of the article I was left frustrated and lacking connection to what is ultimately an important and emotive issue.  By using the "academic voice" this article was not able to succeed in what it was trying to do.

The second piece "Making Connections: The Uses and Meanings of Needle Arts in The Color Purple and the Mountain and the Valley" by Sheila Davis interested me as it seems to walk the exact middle between the articles by Leclair and Nagam.  While there is no biography of the author, a voice comes through very clearly and at times the author shares her own experiences on the subject.  While Davis is speaking to similar themes regarding the oppression of women and the situation of women's work within the larger economy and society, she is writing in smart, but conversational tone.  She is not an academic looking at this issue for unknown reasons, but someone who engages in needle work herself and is now thinking of these experiences from an academic lens. 

From the first paragraph I am drawn in as she contrasts situations where needle work has been oppressive to women with those where it has had emancipatory effects.  I had never thought of needle work in these terms but she quickly bring us along on her journey to show how these tropes are used and more broadly, for me at least, brings forward a whole language of symbolism in the needle arts that I had not considered.  In both books rags from cast off clothing are used to make rugs - the cast off item is redeemed.  The braiding of these rugs becomes a metaphor of the relationships between the people whose clothes these once were.  While the opportunity to work with the cloth of those who have walked on can become an opportunity to visit again with these people.

Davis refers to Patricia Hill Collins, in her book "Black Feminist Thought: Knowledge, Consciousness, and the Politics of Empowerment" who likens the traditional African American quilt patterns to African American society, weaving together individuality and community.  This got me thinking about what Métis beadwork symbolizes about the community.  I have seem very summary descriptions that it is the Indian style of beading with European themes, but this article makes me want to explore this issue more deeply and look at what it might be saying about the people and community more broadly. 

I feel more sensitive about this issue of voice as I am walking the good red path.  How can you trust someone you don't know?  How can you share information about sensitive things without the wider context of that person and the communities they belong too?  How do we share knowledge and relationships through the written word?  I am heartened to see those who are doing well at this task. 

Wednesday, December 9, 2015


Poke around your yard to find the perfect present topper. | 13 Beautifully Easy Gift Wrapping Ideas:
From Buzzfeed
Why is receiving so hard?  Both at the drum circle and dinner we went to last night there were gifts.  This made me very uncomfortable.  The dinner brought up a lot of memories from times when we were very poor and my mother was pretty strict about accepting things.  You might be poor but you didn't want people to know it. 

Maybe it is the lost of power?  When giving, the power is mine and I am in control.  Perhaps I see receiving as passive and powerless?  Maybe it is the surprise of it?  We had gone to these events not expecting anything.  How different it is for Runa who expects things to come to her and is happy about it. I am also wondering if there is some cultural residue there.  For many indigenous peoples giving away is good thing.  In "white" dominant culture is the idea about giving different?

Even when it is not things but a kind ear or someone's time, those very precious things.  I never feel worthy of this care.  But maybe I am afraid to fully embed myself in the circle?  Maybe I need to receive, not only for myself, but so that others can give and the taking is not greedy or denying someone else, but my part of the currents of the circle.  Do you have trouble taking?  Why do you think this is hard for us? 

Second week of waiting