Saturday, January 31, 2015

I was "perfect" once

As a child I was performativly the "perfect person".  I had white blond hair, a few curls - but not too many, blue eyes and white skin.  I was perfect. I was valued for that and I knew it.  People gave me things, took me places, let me do things that I knew were the result of how I looked and nothing else.  I was stopped so that people could pet my hair or take my picture.  I was not given a chance to say no to these interactions.  I was an object for the appreciation of others.  I needed to be a "good girl" and was dressed in ways that supported that. My body was for the enjoyment of others and they would give me stuff for that.

The reality of my status as object became very clear as I became older, my hair darkened and I was not as pale skinned.  As a teenager begining to push out against the bounds of how I was supposed to dress, as I cut my hair and my body changed I lost that perfectness and the privalage that went with that. (Not to say I was not still very privalaged as a cis het white woman.)

As an adult, that experience really made it clear to me how fickle that outside appearance is and yet how much it really impacts how we live our lives and affects how people are responding to us. 

I think you see this too in the piece I came accross in the Native Appropriations blog where she was part of a piece on the NRP about the feeling indians might have upon entering higher education.   This is a great piece and I will speak to it in another post.  This article had a picture and apparently she did not look "Indian" enought to be able to speak to the issues that were raised.  In her blog she responds to this issue quite eloquently.  How we look, and a lot of that is out of our control, is being judged and disected by those around us and we are doing the same thing to others.    Kim Anderson in her book "A Recognition of Being" addresses this issue of being "indian" enough and describes it as being another kind of assimilationist practice, to make native people dissapear so that natives no longer exist and.....the indian problem is solved.  She speaks to the inciduousness of this, as it is protective liberals who are policing these self identifications.

I had a conversation with a collegue who on my mentioning that I have learning disabilities told me "not to limit myself" and you know what, I do have limits.  That doesn't mean I can't "dream big" and "succeed" but his telling me not to have limits didn't do nothing to make them go away and really was trying to take away my space to share my reality as a person with disabilities.

Don't let anyone make you dissapear.  Don't let them shut down the conversation.  Your reality, your voice is important.  Not to say that we don't benefit from listning to wise people who can see us in ways we cannot, but if the conversation is about stealing your space, as an indian, a woman, or a anything, don't trust them. 

Friday, January 30, 2015

On the Proclivities and Fashion of Dogs

Saskatchewan: Metis and Dene dog blankets and bells    Great Mount!I was one to mock dogs wearing coats, hearing the words of my grandfather about city people pampering their animals.  But it gets cold enought here that our dog needs one sometimes.  It is blue with trim.  We thought he looked like a failed high school jock in it.  Or failed at obedience school anyway.

We were surprized to get comments about how this colour of his jacket suggested that he was supporting one hockey team over another.  After several types of these comments and given that he appeared to be supporting the team from another city we knew we needed to do something.

Around the same time I was reading about different aboriginal groups, including the Metis, who would make elaborate coats for their dogs and horses.  I thought this solution would allow me to 1. Connect to my culture 2. Ensure my dog was not supporting a sports team and getting us into conversations about it 3. Let out my gaudy side!

So I made him a coat which includes beaded fringe at the front, an applique with a moose on it sewn in with crystal beads in pink and yellow and a felt applique of flowers and leaves, with more beads.
Most of the comments the dog would get were when Joel and the dog walked me to work so the first day Snowey wore his "new" coat he gots lots of comments.  Mostly people were laughing or enjoying the gaudyness and happy little beagle.  We also walked by an couple of Innuit folks.  They were behind us for some time and the woman could not stop laughing, cause while the Innuit also make coats for dogs, they are usually for huskies.  The sight of such a small dog in that kind of coat was hillarious to her.  Without ever speaking I felt like we made a connection.  So all you urban Metis, let's bring back fabulous dog coats and make winter mornings a little more amusing.

Music Friday

My suggestions for this cold Friday is to listen to Samian.  His album Enfant De La Terre is haunting and raw.  What are you listning to right now?

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Back to fat

Eeh-nis-kim.  Drawing 1832
I really like a certain type of order.  I went through the library catologue recently and made a list of all the books related to first nations people that I wanted to read.  I am now working my way throught this list and it has given me a lot to think about.  In particular, I am working through "A Recognition of Being" by Kim Anderson which has blown my mind and I will writeabout it once I have thought it through.  It is kind of overwhelming at the moment.
Picture of an Upper Thompson worman with Child. 1913
Note the photographer is  named, but the woman and child are not.
Yestersday I flipped through "Trade Ornament Usage Among the Native Peoples of Canada" by Karlis Karklins.  While this book is only from 1992 it seems really old fashion.  While the writer(s) is aware that indians are not all savages there is some ambiguity about them - they are not quite real people.  While that may be a quirk of anthropology it makes the book a little bit uncomfortable in some places especially where they are trying to describe some of the adornments that the writer(s) find a bit much for their "refined" tastes.
Ju-ah-kis-gaw, a Chippewa woman. 
1835 Painting
There is also an early note in the introduction section that "some sources are more reliable than others.  Observations made by experienced anthropoligist are obviously more reliable than those made by the average traveller."  Cause obviously the white male anthropologist would be completely unbiased and have no motivation to set the indian in a larger narrative of progress or redemption or anything.  They are just pretty great.  That said, the book has a lot of full colour pictures and close ups of clothing details that are interesting as inspiration when viewed with a bit of sceptisism.
What really struck me about this book though was how it challenged my steriotypes.  I guess I still have Pochahontas stuck in there deep cause I kinda thought these women would be reedy and slender.  Weren't all the Indians starving and barely getting by in their traditional lifestyles?  Wasn't that why the government and the church needed to "save" them?  As I looked through these pictures, there was a range of body types and recognizing that women who were painted may have diproportionately been "better off" or choosen as subject for other reasons, there were a noticible number of sturdy women.  It also struck me how these women look like my aunties.  It also provided me with another picture of beauty outside of the skinny white girls.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015


My daughter R always gives me something to think about.  The other night she wanted to know if the ancestors and spirits could smell our farts.  Getting dressed this morning reminded me of her response to this pin.  She looked at it and asked "why does that fish have a bear on his bum?"

It is all perspective eh?  Asking the questions from a lot of points and really not just paying attention to the big bear but the little fish too.

Breaking News: Rocks are hard!

I have been thinking about rocks of late.  As I explore my relationships to the natural world through the Metis lens I am comfortable with animals and plants as brothers and sisters.  We live in the same seasons and our coexistance is clear.  We all feel the impact of winter and the growth of summer.  Our spans of life are understandable.  We feel pain and suffer death, but rocks....

I have thought on this a lot and the discomfort it brought me.  A european/christianized hang up related to the order of things with man on top?  A misguided love of felines?  A fear to "lower" myself to the level of a rock?  During this time of thinking we read an anthology of stories that included one where the uncared for boy, who is shunned in his village learns stories from the rock which allows him to find his place in the community.

Maybe this story influenced the answer I came to around rocks.  While the animals and plants align to my phsical life, the rocks align to my spirit life where the timelines are much longer and things have more permanance.  Rocks come and go and are broken down into new things, but a lot of that is on a scale I don't see, responding to forces that I can't influence.  Rock tools are one of the earliest human creations they find.  Rocks live out their lives at a whole different pace.

Rocks are the echos of those stories handed down from long ago, the blood memory, the tradition.  Parts of our live need to be dynamic and changing to what influences we encounter.  Like how do we adapt to being urban metis?  But some part of life are deeper and change can be slow - should be slow.  The stories the rocks tell us can be pretty important to listen to.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015


I am fat.  I should not be cause I am an educated proffessional and I should know better.  I feel the shame of that fat and I have done a lot of thinking about why I am fat and I understand a lot of the factors.
  • Body shaming from growing up in a church where women's bodies were sinful and evil.
  • A Survival mechanism to retreat into the mind which has left me very disconected to my body.
  • Hyperemisis in pregnancy combined with a difficult baby to care for.  Eating was gone and when it came back it was the only good thing some days.
  • Safety - fat keeps me safe from sex and hides me.  People see that and not me.
  • Growing up without healthy eating models.  Eat to be happy.  Eat to be sad.  Eat until you feel sick to punish yourself and because it is something you control, even if it hurts you.
  • A fear of starving left over from being poor as a child.
  • A rebellion from being a "tiny perfect blue eyed, blond haired child" who was supposed to stay that way forever and be enjoyed for my outsides.
  • Being quite short it is my way to project into the world.
  • Having an office job and then having reading as a hobby.
I know there are layers to this onion that I still have to unwrap and knowing why something is, still isn't the same as healing.  After punishing myself a lot for not sucessfully addressing this issue I have tried to step back and be kind to myself.

That is really hard.  There are so many layers of hating in my background in the church that liking myself - even saying the words and not meaning them - is really really hard.  Taking care of myself and looking good, even if I am not skinny can be hard.  Eating what nourishes is hard.  Having lived so long in crisis mode makes it challenging to switch gears.

I am working on it. But I find it striking how deep this all goes, like as I watch Project Runway All Stars and viserally react to host being so big (She is pregnant and lovely).  She shouldn't be on TV.  The same with this Buzzfeed article about the biggest plus size model to get a contract.  She is beautiful and sexy and that is a bit scary for me.

Ray McSwain Bear Painting

I was pretty grouchy yesterday.  A bit too much people early on in the day left me tired and anxious.  Worst thing is that the interaction was nice, but just too much, so I was so very happy to come home and find my painting had arrived.  This is a piece by Ray McSwain

I came accross his work on pinterest a couple of months ago and when I saw it again I had that feeling that later on I would be disapointed if I did not buy it.  I really like the juxstaposition of the plain colours of the animals against the lilac and the multitudes within the one. 

Monday, January 26, 2015

Building a sense of place and taking time

While Joel's ADD slowness can sometime make me crazy, it also prepared me for parenthood.  Tl learn how to live with people who had a lack of attention and ability to get really absorbed in something.  This makes Joel a really good dad and reminds me to slow down.

We spent many of the past years walking the same city block as a full experience. Sometimes taking 30 minutes or more.  While we aren't in the woods, we can take the time to recognize the living things and space around us.  We can enjoy the rocks, the tree that usually has birds on it, the old man who smokes his pipe, the puddles.  We took this time to seep the children in the nuances of their space and tried to teach them to enjoy it because it is our street.

This led to chilly walks to look at grandmother moon while balancing on rocks, sizzling nights people watching and a lot of picking up little bit of things to be treasured in pockets.

We wanted our children to have calm lives and to give them space to explore.  There are times when the walk is a rush, but whenever we can, we make it something more.  To take the time to point out the changing life of the rose, to see the people come and go, to enjoy the cats lounging in the sun.  To enjoy the stairs because they are nice.  To find beauty in what is around.  To see the meditation in ordinary life.  To jump on the leave pile and see the colour contrast between the porch they have fallen on and the leaves themselves.

We did this for our own reasons after watching so many people rush through everything and I wouldn't have stayed married to Joel if I could not slow down, but this was also good, because as slow as we went, it was still too much for S to process.  As familiar as her spaces were to her, she was still scared.  I wonder how much worse that would have been if we had been more busy?

I also find now a remembered pleasure in those slow days.  Each part of that street has a memory.  Each stop a homage to an earlier time.  I really wish I could give the girls a wild natural outside.  I miss that for me and them, but that connection to place, to even know that is something you can do, they have that and maybe one day they can find themselves a wild place to practice these things.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

After the Appology...

After the residential school appology and absorbing the things I learnt that day, I thought a lot about being Metis.  We did a full family tree and after significant pushing got my mother to submit her paperwork to register in the Metis nation.  She is diffident about the whole thing but with enought poking she did it.  It was pretty amazing the see how far back we could track people.

We also started identifying our girls on their school forms, but each year when the form came back for us to confirmm the information in the self identification section was empty again.  I guess the girls did not look metis enought to get to self identify.  Then two years ago the province did a more rigorous self identification exercise.  Suprise.  First Nations, Metis and Inuit children are still not being well served by the school system.  So we filled out that form.

And....we got a lot more calls from the social worker that year.  Maybe I am just overly sensitive but it seemed to matter a lot more what my children were wearing or looked like.  We were offered money for snow suits and to take courses.  I grew up proud poor and we never took nothing.  It was hard not to have that instinctive anger that they thought we were poor and to be more thankful that they were trying to help -  but the way it comes out seemed very unhelpful.

And every year it seems to be a similar story with the teachers.  It seems to require a trip to the school wearing a suit and a government employee badge before my children's issues are seen to be legitimate and not just the result of bad parenting.  I am probably being oversensitive about this stuff but I still wonder.

After my mother got her acceptance in the "nation", and I know there are a lot of politics there, I felt a little bit more legitimate.  I had claimed my Metisness for my family and then for my children, but not yet for me.  I do not "look metis" and i do not have a relationship with a metis community, but I have deep metis roots and I wanted to claim them.  Our family was proud to be Metis when it would have been easier to just assimilate.  I feel a reponsibility there.  One of the things I was also considering was "self declaring".

In the government there are four groups, women, people with disabilities, visible minorities and indians of all flavours who are encouraged to self declare in order to support the government in it's goal of being representative of the labour representation of these groups.  This is a highly problamatic definition in a lot of ways and overall representativeness has mostly given way to issues of actual representativeness, i.e., these people are not only represented in low level entry jobs.  In my category of Policy Analysts there is not good representation and in the Executive class it is even less.

I thought alot about self declaration as a person with disabilities but decided not to declare as my issues are mostly pretty easy for my employer to address and I worried that I would be taking away an opportunity from someone else.  This was really my thinking on the issue of self declaring as a metis as well.

Then about a year ago the department I work for brought in an Elder to talk about how the department could be more welcoming to First Nations peoples.  She gave a very thoughtful talk - none of her ideas have been persued.  At the end there was a space for questions and I raised this issue of self identification and explained how I didn't want to take away opportunities from someone else.  She looked right at me and said that when I think like that I am living out the very steriotypes that continue to hurt aboriginals.

I think that broke something in me.  I was colonalizing myself.  I was playing out the steriotype of the drunk indian on the street and since that wasn't me, I had to be white.  Thus began the year of reclaiming.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Music Friday

Listning to Kristi Lane Sinclair's album "The Sea Alone".  Her voice is nice and raspy.  Glad to have another woman to add to the play list.

Making waves or at least small ripples

Aaron Paquette  also has a blog and a YA adult novel that is very good
Yesterday I was looking at Aaron Paquette's art online (each piece also has a wonderful explanation with it so click through to each piece).  I want to buy some of the prints soon but was also wishing I had enought money to buy an original.  I said this as we were making dinner and R looked at me like I was crazy.  She said "I want to be famous." 

I know there has been a lot written about fame and the relationship of the younger generation to that concept.  Her comment kind of took me off gaurd as her current goal is to be a scientist and you don't usually go into science for the fame, but it also aligned to something I have been thinking about - living up to your "potential".

I feel very concious of my potential.  Maybe because I started out with none being labelled as retarded?  If I can write, do I need to?  Is a blog good enough or does it have to be a book? How much should I volutneer and where?  How do I give back to community?  Should I take the higher level and "more important" jobs?  I have many privalages and I want to give back and I want to live up to my potential, but I am also an intervert with anxiety disorder and too much people hurts me.  I am also a mother of smaller children, sole family wage earner and house carer.  How do I find the balance in these responsibilities?  Do I deney my potential as a women for my children or does it hurt them not the see me flourish as a person?  How do I model healthy femininity?

I have been thinking about this issue for a long time, even predating claiming my Metis culture, but strangely the anwer came from an Elder that a collegue brought me along to see over lunch one day (some government departments have lodges where they bring in Elders to speak).  I don't remember his name but his story says with me.

He spoke about a young native man who wanted to be someone - to accomplish great things and who was restless in spirit.  He was a guide for european men who needed help travelling through the still "wild" america.  He was ever frustrated that he did not acheive his greateness. 

However, one of the men he guided and spoke with was Henry David Thoreau and while the native man did not know it he deeply influenced Thoreau's thinking and writing for the rest of the authour's life.  Thoreau wrote books that have been widely read and discussed for over 150 years.

That story really resonated with me as a young parent.  I tried to worry less about making a big splash and to appreciate the everyday acts of parenting as part of a larger narative.  Even if I never "live up to my potential" in traditional ways, I am trying to raise children who will be positive influences in the communities they live in and who will positively affect someone else who will affect someone else and the ripples will widen and while it is not quite so obvious all the time about the value I am giving bac,k I hope when I stand back later I won't see a lost potential but a series of little acts that made a difference.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Giving Names

Rought-Faced Girl
Last night we read the Rought-Faced Girl, the Algonquin Cinderella tale.  The girls really liked this story and the pictures were inspiring.  I really liked how the character was self sufficient and looked after herself and the comparison of the importance of internal beauty compared to external beauty.  It was a great book and I would highly reccomend it.  My girls, in the modern world of sequels, wanted to know what happend after the story so we agreed to write one this weekend.  I will try and post the pictures.  This book really inspired them. 

It also lead to a good dicussion about why that would be a girl's name and the idea of name giving in indian communities.  S wanted to know what name we would give her.  I will admit that the first thing that came to mind was something like "squirrel mind".  With her anxiety it seems like her thoughts just run wild from thing to thing.  But I thought about it some more and the need to recognize that she is a lot more that just her worries.  This morning I said I would call her "Deep Water" because while water can run wild over everything it can also form landscapes and carry heavy burdens from one place to another.  We also need the deep thinkers.  They see things that others do not.  I also told her of the strong connection her grandfather had to the water.  She still thought it was stupid.

For R I said I would call her "Strong Wind".  She has very strong feelings.  When she is happy she is so happy and when she is mad it is very clear to all.  She is like the wind that can be gentle and bring a Chinook or melt snows in the spring, but she can also be like the windchill  that makes an already cold day seem unbearable.  She is also my wind child, like me she loves to feel the wind on her skin.  She is also like the wind in that while you can't see it work directly you can see the results.  She is a bit like that.  I find little puddles around the house.  Bits of expiriments.  You can see her thoughts and actions clearly played out accross our home.  She moves heavy furniture and gets into hight things.  She finds a way to get into everything.  R liked that name a lot.  She is quite physically strong for her age so she liked the strong part too.

They gave me the name "Strong mother stone".  I had said I am thinking about rocks right now (I will do a seperate post on that) and R choose the strong and S the mother stone.  We had to run for the bus then, but I want to ask them why they choose that name.  It fascinates me to see how they think.

So for all my personal sadness about being the one who has to keep carrying on in the family, picking up that book, even though I was tired, and it was hard to get the computer off and focused was worth it.  We had a good moment of connection to our culture and as a family.  Those little steps matter.  Keep picking up the books and reading the blogs.  Keep looking at the art and listning.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Can't write so good

I am a dyslexic.  You probably noticed already.  I was told I was retarded by the school system.  I left the regular class to go for reading help in the ro
om with the mentally delayed.  Everyone knew that.

Today I have a Master Degree in Economics and it was not until I was working as a Senior Consultant writing and analyzing documents for Cabinet that I ever felt smart.

I write for a living now and I am really blessed by spell check.  However I also feel frustrated sometimes with the lack of real flow when I write and every line has a red mark.

I re-read these posts for you before I post, but I am not spell checking.  This is me without the filter.  When the filter is on all the time I forget who I am.  I forget how close to the edge I live.  I get into my safe middle class life where I don't have to think about things to hard.

I get yanked out of it whenever I take the wrong bus because it had the same number in it as the right bus.  Everytime I go to a library and try to find something I really want only to find I am in the wrong section all together.  When I go to wait in line with a number and miss my turn because I read the number wrong.

These things scare me.  But they push me to remember how lucky I am and not to get too arrogant about where I am, the line between my being able to get through school and have a good job and somebody else who never got that chance because they did not have the support they needed or because they were seen as just stupid and not someone who should be helped. 

While I ask "why me?" a lot, I am trying to ask "why not me?" more often and just be really greatful for what I do have.

Unexpected moments of beauty

R fell asleep after school which left some unexpected time to spend with S.  We sat down in the dark listning to Chris Derksen and lit some sage for a smuge.  We spent some time in silence, a rare gift with S and I rubbed her back while we thought about her first moon time dress as inspired by the "Identity by Design" book I reviewed in the last post.  I don't like touch and S has always been a challenge for me.  I work to reach out to her but it is not always natural.  Her anxiety is so costly a lost of times that touch is just too much.  I had always thought that dislike of touch was just an uptight european hang up but as I read more about the family systems of residential school survivors I can also see the roots in that.  So, the opportunity for natural touch with S was special.

It was good to talk.  As much as I feel like we talk about the first moon time quite a bit she wants more information.  I wrote a book for her with all the information I had found about women's life cycles especially for Metis woman and we take Red Tipi time each month to look at the book and talk.  This is an area where it feels really important to work on decolonializing.  I want her body to be hers and for her to have a healthy relationship with it.  I want to give her the tools she needs to be able to enter into authentic relationships and to have the skills to leave unhealthy ones.  I realized that was something I was never taught.

I wish there were grandmothers I could turn to about these topics of emerging womanhood, but it is very much a secret for the women in my family.  You might bleed every month but is certainly not something you would ever talk about.  I remember trying to talk to my nana about it now knowing how far the Alzhiemers had her.  I was so saddened by her silence.  That silence felt like the end of my childhood.  I was greatful to augment that silence with one that was gentle and nurturing.  I am so thankful to all those women who are talking and sharing what they know.

Identity by Design - book review

Identity By Design: Tradition, Change, and Celebration in Native Women's Dresses
I have always sewed and the connection between clothes an identity has always fascinate me.  As RuePaul says "you're born naked and everything else is drag."  I found Identity by Design to be a great source of inspiration and a thoughtful commentary on the very act of sewing.  The large and high scale picture of the garments themselves and discussion of the evolution of the dress over time, provided a lot of information that I did not know. 

As S gets closer to her first moon time, I have always been thinking a lot about how we will mark this time for her.  I will write another post about that soon, however this book also provided some good context concerning the connextion of moon time and the sacred as expressed through the creation of clothing.

I has also been struggling as R wanted a jingle dress after seeing the woman and girls at the Pow Wow last year.  While I have really enjoyed this Making Regalia series, I felt that something was missing for me.  This books seems to make that connection to the sacredness of the act of creating a garment.  Even in my regular sewing I felt something lacking, I would work hard on something but not really care about it after.  I was always thinking about the next project.  I think this book spoke to the need to slow down and dwell in the act of creation.  While sewing clothes might be less consumerist, I still felt that I was stuck in that mode of always wanting more and new and different.

The essays in this book, especially the later ones, spoke to the spiritual connection in dressmaking as the explicit expression of family relationships and life transitions.  I was inspired to see the work of so many women and learn why traditional dresses have certain characteristics.  I was really taken when I learnt that indians were using european beads long before columbus and were also using dyes and coins for China to decorate their clothing. 

There is a picture of a little girl's dress where you can see she just had everything shiny sewed onto it and it was a lovely parallel to the lives of my little girls.  You could just see that continuity of spirit accross time.  In this section there was also a good discussion around the enjoyment of colour and embellishment by indians and the staged nature of some of the pictures from this time where people were told to dress down.  It reminded me of this piece in Muskrat Magazine by Zainab Amadahy speaking to the colonialization of dress and colour with bright colour being seen as savage and unsophisticated.  I like to wear bright colours and fascinators so I get a lot of comments about them.  That article made me think about those comments in another light. 

Overall, I found the discussion in this book about striving to create something meaningul and good as opposed to perfect, as a reminder that perfection is not the goal and it is ok that my beadwork does not line up exactly.  After reading this book, I want to sit with S and do a smudge and think about making her two dresses for her first moon time.  I want to engage with the sacredness of the creation of such garments and take that time to spend together with her.

Even if you don't sew I think there was alot of good informaiton in this book that many people could enjoy.  Click here for the online version of the show

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Why do I have to do the hard work?

Designer Profile | Derek Jagodzinsky
Derek Jagodzinsky
I was feeling sorry for myself walking home after work yesterday.  Even as my heart knew a happiness with the lengthening days and the joy that I could walk home in the light I got into a grump as I thought about all I wanted to accomplish at home.  I had a list.  And no one else would care about what was on that list.  Not now anyway.

I feel my role of culture preserver in the house.  It seems heavy somedays.  I have that connection through my grandfather. I remember his eyes. If I do not reweave those traditions into our lives they are lost for our children.  Their connection is too far.  It would be over.  I need to bring the stories and language.  I need to remember to lay the tobacco and to make time for our family circle and learning.  If I do not do it, it does not happen.

Sometimes it feels like a lot.  Sometimes it feels like a lot of time was already lost.  I made sure my kids know about culture but looking backward we taught them about European culture.  They know the greek myths and the roman stories.  And I feel angry about that lost time.  Why weren't my eyes open sooner?  Why didn't I start teaching them earlier?

I also try to balance that sorrow with thankfulness of the richess I have in this journey.  All the wonderful writing and thinking by other bloggers, writers and musicians.  The pictures that I can carry in my heart.  The ability to listen to the stories of elders anytime I want from my computer and while this is not the same as the relationship of a community, it is better than nothing.  All those who share their knowledge and stories and their personal thought on their journies.  These inspire me that I am not alone on this path.  That we each add our little bit and it will build to something wonderful.

Monday, January 19, 2015

The importance of Circles

Last night S was very sad about our cats that died in the summer.  She finds all change extreamly hard with her anxiety disorder, so losing our little boys was a real challenge for her.  It comes out sometime at unexpected moments.  Often late at night when I don't want to think about dead cats or sad children and I am really wanting to be done parenting.  But I also feel the power of the circle in those times.  The value of the everyday changes we have made.  In the last year I have been getting into the habit of laying down tobbacco every day, trying to smudge everyday and having a circle every week as a family which we open up to the ancestors.

While sometimes these things do not seem to mean much to the children, I see the power of all those little steps in these late nights.  S told me "I will never stop loving them." in a kind of defiant way and we could talk about how she did not ever need to stop loving them, that they were with the ancestors in the spirit world and while their bodies were gone they were still with us - like the sage that had physical form and then is changed, so it is with them.  We have their collars as part of our circle quilt and we wrote their names on the inside of the quilt (there is a hole in the middle for this purpose) so we remember them whenever we come together as a circle.  I also talked about how in smudging every day and giving the tobbacco we are remembering our ancestors and those in the spirit world and thanking the mother for all the love we have had from these beings and remembering how they continue to influence us everyday.

I felt lot better having that conversation with her that the christian one where you were told your pet was just dead - they had no soul saved by jesus or that they would see you in heaven - waiting for death to see fluffly seemed wrong to me.  It felt good having an answer to her feelings.  It felt good to see those everyday reminders to take the tobbacco build into something a little bit more.  It felt good to draw on the wisdom of the ancestors and the old ways.  It felt like a little step on the good red road.  EM

Friday, January 16, 2015

The Residential Schools Appology - waking up slowly

The day of the Residential Schools apology Joel and I had hope.  We thought this would be the start of a new relationship between aboriginals and newer Canadians.  It was going to be historic.  We wanted Sophie to watch, she was still three, but it was going to be history.  It seems pretty naieve in retrospect.

That day was slow at work so I decided to look up my family and figure out a bit more about them.  It seemed like a good day to do it.  I was a proud Canadian.  We were going to make peace with our past and redraw our relationship with aboriginal peoples.  It was going to get better.

I didn't know that Metis people went to residential school too.  I didn't know that one of those people was my grandfather.  I didn't know how much the intergenerational scars of family dysfunction, destruction and substance abuse were also my story.  As I read more, pieces of information that never quite made sense fit into the narrative.  The cold remote father my mother knew.  The lack of ties to the Metis community.  The alchoholism and despair.

I wish I could give a dramatic narrative that my life changed after that.  I didn't, but it was the start of a journey.  From that day on my family was Metis.  I was not metis, but it was there a real part of my world.  It was all realer.  My great great grandfather was arrested with Louie Reil.  My Great grandmother was the first Metis nurse in Alberta.  I was proud of these things. 

I thought of my grandfather, who was sent, by his father to the orphanage.  Who had just lost his mother, was pulled away from his father, siblings and community thrust into the care of nuns.  He was three.  Who was there to teach him to be a proud metis?  Who was there to take care of him and hug him?  S was three.  I could not imagine sending her away.  It haunted me that small sad child from so long ago.

I left work in a daze and went home to talk about things with Joel and S.  S spent the next few days worrying that Stephen Harper would come in through the cat door to take her away like they took kids away to residential school and while a part of me felt harsh bringing that fear into her world, it was also vital.  That is our past.  That is the map of our history.  That was harsh.  It is harsh and we need to look at it face on if we are going to heal.

Thinks didn't change for country that day but I did slowely start to change.  To pay attention a bit more.  To read a bit more.  To be aware of those ancestors who shaped my world.  To wonder a bit more often if I had some responsibilities I was not looking after.

Best King Ever - sometimes you get lucky decolonializing

When S was three, she became obsessed with King Tut after seeing this picture in a magazine.  For months, she would cry herself to sleep because he was dead and had been the "best king ever."  We read every book about Egypt, we learned about mummies and pyramids and all the gods and godesses.  We drew pictures of Egypt and made life size sarcophoguses.  One of these we still get out at winter solstice and hang on the door with a Santa hat. 

We made death masks - I still remember Joel telling S that she could not put the death mask of king tut on her sister and very confused and unhappy baby.  We played barbies who went to the afterworld to ask for their souls back and ask hard questions of Anubis about who they were letting into the afterworld (I will do a post later about how we gave in on barbie with some shame.)

We made a barbie sized temple of osiris and dolls of the gods.  The temple even got a washing machine and barbie made osiris do the laundry telling worshipers that "he can't come out and listen to your prayers right now.  Osiris needs to finish his chores."  The temple is awesome and we still use it as our shrine for the ancestor pictures for the solstices.

At the time it was just a weird interest, but unintentially it was a powerful support when we came to moving our family towards a more metis/aboriginal way of life and thinking about the world.  It also helped with decolonialization.  S learned about Ancient Egypt long before she learned about Christianity.  When she did learn those ideas and stories she was positioning them in a world view that started from pre-christian times and could appreciate the stories for how they fit into a much longer time scale and drew from much older themes.

I learned that the bible was true.  Those stories were true.  That nothing else was true.  It never stuck me as weird that you ate the body of christ and drank his blood. That a world dominated by men, where women were shameful and carriers of sin was the norm. She saw them as another story of blood sacrifice and symbolism from a patriarchal period.  While some people were quite worried about how this child would grow up not knowing about the bible she seems to have done quite fine.  She gets some of those stories as part of the stories that proceeded them and linked into the larger collective myths of redemption and creation.

When we wanted to come together in a circle as a family, talking about our ancestors and learning from the collective wisdom of our people, that was all natural to her.  By supporting her interests we never meant to position our child as a follower of Osiris, but by leaving her early world open to her she got a chance we never had, to see the world a little bit more clearly without the lens of christianity. I learned not to be afraid to leave things open and see where they lead you us.

Music Friday

I was earlier lamenting a lack of connection to what the female artists I heard were producing.  Today I came acrross cris derksen and felt a connection from the first notes.  Her albums are connected from the top of the page.  What are you listning to that moves your spirit?

Thursday, January 15, 2015

My hamster might be dead and I have pink hair

I have pink hair right now.  I feel like a teenager. 

Am I rebelling or expressing my authentic self? 
Am I having a mid-life crisis? 
Am I just bored in a corporate job? 
Am I kissing ass as I know that the much higher up bosses like that kind of difference? 
Am I decolonizing from a strict childhood in a church where wearing makeup made you a whore?
Am I putting off aging and hiding the emerging white? 
Am I using my privilege or looking white and knowing that I can break rules and not have unbearable consequences?
Am I inspired by all the fabulous drag queens who inspire me to live life a bit larger?
Am I trying to walk the walk for my children and show that it is ok to be who you are? 
Is it all those things?

And what is authentic identity anyway?  What constructions of identity are healthy and what are lies we tell ourselves to get by, to fit in and not rock the boat?  I feel these question keenly as I try to walk the red road.  Should I dress a certain way?  Do I need to performatively exist differently as  Metis? 

I really like the philosopher  Slavoj Zizek.  He tells a story about a man whos wife dies and the man does not appear to be sad, but then his hamster dies and the guy loses it.  He challenges the reader to think about what our hamster is?  What keeps us hanging on and what can't we lose?

How much of that outer life and pink hair is part of my hamster?

The 1918 flu

We were all sick with the flu after  Christmas.  It has been a bad year here for sickness.  And as we were focused on that so centrally for over a week I thought about a couple of things.

First, my Great-Grandmother Archange Garneau died of the flu in 1918 (she is the woman in the back of the picture). She was a nurse.  My grandfather was two and she has another younger child as well.  I thought of how she might have felt, that sort of weariness when you are getting sick and you have children you have to look after and you see the hard hazy days ahead.  That point when you are so sick you don't care abut anything else.  Did she hold her little children as she lay in bed?  Did she know she was dying?


Agatha Garneau, Archange Garneau, Charlotte Garneau, and Placide Poirier, Strathcona, Alberta, Canada,1900 or 1901
I thought about how lucky I am to have help so close if things got worse.  I thought about how much her death affected the family - how the community failed at that point.  My great grandfather turned the alchol.  The younger kids went to the orphanage and grew up without a mother.  There is story I read that great grandfather spent the day she died going around town and keeping fires lit.  There was so many sick people that bare life and not freezing was the goal.

I thought about how my family survived all those other rounds of disease brought from Europe only to loose the fight then.

I was also thankful to have those times with the children.  There was so much I meant to get done over the holidays, but being sick forced me to bare life.  To enjoy lying beside my family, to share a tea together.  It was also a time of learning, phrased not so elequently in "I am sicker than you so do for yourself"  mostly with my little one to remind her that she needed to give back into the family community once she was feeling better.

I only know what I have read about Archange, but I so feel for her as a mother.  I feel her loss as echos through our family.  With her death we lost our Metisness and turned to bare life for many years.

The 5% child - parenting when you didn't know any better

We called our first baby the 5% child.  If something happened to 5% of children it happened to her.  I have only one working falopian tube so even making her took longer, I had hyperemisis (lots of vomiting the whole pregnancy), she was born without a suck reflex and on and on.  It was mostly crazy caos, with a very peaceful home birth in the middle with  little cats keeping me company.  We hoped that was the end of the 5%, but it wasn't.

Joel at that point was diognosed with chronic depression (later ADD and chronic fatigue).  I have anxiety and learning disabilities.  We hoped to have a child with none of our problems, or at least just a few.  From the time she was tiny, S was very unhappy and had a hard time sleeping.  We now know that she had anxiety and sensory processing disorder so that the world was a pretty scary place for her - even when we were "connection parenting."  Maybe from the time she was eight months she would cry and cry until we could figure out what upset her and name it and then she would go to sleep "are you worried about the dog we saw today?"  Over and over.

We made a decision, that having children would not just be an add on to our lives, but that we would focus on parenting and building a connection.  We didn't know how much this approach was in line with traditional aboriginal ways of childrearing.  It just felt right.  While it hurt a lot at the time, I remember days where the only good thing I could think of what how nice the hot water of my bath felt, I don't regret it. 

I think about how lonley and scared S was, even with a parent there all the time and a very calm life and think about how much worse things could have been for her.  We weren't perfect parents but I feel like I gave as much as I could and I have no regrets.  While I wish I had read things like Leah Dorion's Thesis on raising Cree and Metis children or Maria Anderson's book about life stages of native woman, because we tried to be concious about the choices we made as parents and we listened to our intuition and child in what she needed I don't feel shame.

I try to remember that for the whole of this journey to walk the good red road.  You did the best you could and now you know better and there is no shame in who you were.

Do the best you can until you know better, then when you know better do better. -Maya Angelou

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Winnipeg Boys and Bandage Coloured Skin

I always thought I would grow up and stop listning to angsty music about how the system left me out.  I mean, I am the system now, working for the government, with a Masters Degree in Economics (can you get more system?) with a good income, a house, a husband and kids, worrying about filling out school forms and finding matching socks so my kids can performatively looked cared for.  But In the past few years I find the 20 year old chav boyz talk to me.

I will admit a sort of shame that so many of these are white guys.  Why so few women?  I am trying to streach out but keep coming back to the men.

Lately I am listning to the Winnipeg Boys as I write at work.  I am feeling their lyrics and the loss of place.  I feel the struggle to find and perserve a healthy identity and community.  I feel the struggle.  My first tattoo, and the fall element in my medicine wheel is the word "struggle".  It was originally from the Colson Whitehead's novel "Apex Hides the Hurt" an awesome "post multiculturalism/racial" novel.

Partly, being a person with "bandage" coloured skin always sort of horrified me.  What an ugly commercial colour.  But I also had to wonder if the fact that it hit my hurts so well make up for that?  I could hide things.  This novel really spoke to me as it about a person who need to name the first multicultural bandages - ones that match every skin tone.  I was also working on anti-racism policy at the time and so caught in thoughts about "race" and how the government defined race and the implications for policy and international conversations.  This book seemed like a ray of hope from the future.

I think about these things while I write.  I listen to my chav boys.  How do I tell my children to be who they really are when I know that is often penalized?  How do i stay true to myself?  I am really good at my job, but are there other place I would add more to the community?  As the Winnipeg Boys say "On a one lane road.  Two lane life."

Monday, January 12, 2015

Translating Predjudice

Two incidents this week left me thinking about language and the continued translation of predjudice.  We were talking at the dinner table about how Russia was going to take away drivers liscences from gay and transgendered people.  Joel made the joke that maybe Putin was worried that the gays couldn't even drive straight.  To which R, our six year old, asked why it was unreasonable to not allow people who could not drive straight to drive.  This led to a conversations about what straight meant in comparison to gay.

It struck me that we do this kind of translation a lot with our children.  S was doing homework converting inches to centimeteres.  I remember when she was little she was horrified that we called people with dark skin black, when they are obviously brown skinned.  This all got me thinking about how much predudice we keep around in our language as translation of older ideas and that makes it a lot harder to sweep the deck of lingering steriotypes and harmful ideas.  Will my children spend their lives coming back to me having to translate cause I am still  using old fashion(innaproproate)  language?  Or can we make a special effort to move our language along in order to let those ideas die a little faster?

Even that fact that she did not know what straight was, when they definately know what gay is was a reminder of how easy it is to slip into default mode of white, cis, male, straight, middle class.  That world that does not even need labels.

And again I am reminded that just because I am the teacher most of the time, sometimes the best lessons come when the children use what we taught them, even when it is embarassing.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Walking Out of "Sorry"Day - civilizing is the highest good

I got a job in Ottawa and we moved and wanted to find friends and supports so we looked for a church.  We were a little divided at this point, frankly the churches inability to just stop being horrible to gay people or deal with their role in the residential schools was untenable and the fact that most Sundays we can home angry and annoyed meant we were not totally committed and for me, I was done, but since I met Joel and church I felt like it would hurt our relationship to stop going.

So after about two years of trying things, we settled on a church with a woman pastor, one that seemed progressive and all.  Maybe six months we went, and they announced a day to say sorry to aboriginal peoples and recognize the churches role in the residential schools and since they might lose their building in the settlements, the service would be outside, to show that the church was more than the building.  Joel and I were very happy to hear this.  It was a small step, but movement at least (although no aboriginal peoples were there.)

We showed up that Sunday and there was a light drizzle, so they moved the whole service inside - no inconvenience could happen to church people - not like bad stuff happened to the kids in the residential schools.  Then the pastor started to tell us about how not only bad things had happened in the schools and that we should remember the good things too, the "civilizing" that went on and all the kids that weren't abused..... we walked out and have never gone back to church.

I didn't know much about being Métis at that point, but I am an economist and the numbers spoke pretty clearly -  just cause you did not abuse 100% of the kids and some people learned to read and write (in English) who might not have otherwise, don't make all the wrong that went down right.  Failing to abuse someone is not a good.  Just taking children out of their homes, there alone a huge damage was done to Indian people who lost their right to grow up with their parents. I didn't think this had much to do with me personally, but I was still pretty mad.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

I had demons - asking questions and feminism

I think two things were key in positioning my thinking about who I was and how I fit into the world when I was a teen.  The first was trips to Scotland.  We travelled there a couple of times and that was the first time I had a sense of identity.  How my heart loved the bagpipes and the misty greens.  You could be something more that just "white" and have a history.  That was cool.

The second was books.  Being an only child and an introvert I read a lot.  Whatever was there I read it.  I read Plato and Women Who Run with Wolves and Dosteyovesky.  This world in books amazed me.  My real world was pretty small.  We were strict Christians and the outside world was sinful and wrong but even knowing that I needed what was in those books.  I need to escape and to know more.  I stole the Dosteyovesky from the library because I could not even fathom how else I could have such an amazing book.  I needed to possess this.  I sort of lived this parallel life of good girl and reader and at some point those started to clash.

Usually it was little things and questions that got people annoyed with me.  Sometimes it was more serious, why was I always on display?  Why were people not as nice to me after I stopped being blond?  Why would I be raped for showing my bra strap?  (Maybe guys should just look at porn and leave me alone?)  But as I went to university, started dating and reading even more, the world I grew up in started to collapse.  When I asked questions about how women were being held to a higher moral standard, I was thrown out of my university Christian Group.  I was shunned.  After that experience I read even more and hung out with feminists and thought about my body as a place of discourse and listned to Ani Defranco - song by Alana Davis and realized that I wanted to live all of the 32 flavours.

"Squint your eyes and look closer
I'm not between you and your ambition
I am a poster girl with no poster, I am 32 flavors and then some
And I'm beyond your peripheral vision so you might want to turn your head
'Cause someday you're going to get hungry and eat all of the words that you just said
I am what I am, I am 32 flavors and then some
God help you if you are an ugly girl
Course too pretty is also your doom
'Cause everyone harbors a secret hatred for the prettiest girl in the room
God help you if you are a phoenix and you dare to rise up from ash
A thousand eyes will smolder with jealousy while you are just flying past"

I also spent a summer in Russia, which really focused me on what I believed and what I believed becasuse other people were watching.  I realized that I did not believe much of what the church said, but that I still believed in god but not all the rules and that it was all a lot more nuanced that I had been told.  I started Grad school and went to the closest Church.  It was Lutheran and it was different.  I also met Joel and we talked a lot about god and church and life and feminism and identity.  I liked talking to Joel so much I married him and we kept talking about those things and it was exciting that there was somebody out there thinking about this stuff and ready to push me to be braver in standing up for myself and not worry that being a strong woman would get me in trouble and someone who helped me in my journey to find a word for my demons of worry.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Being Indian is like Greek or Italian right?

I want to start from the beginning with this blog.  As a child, I knew that my grandfather was Indian/ Métis.  He was really brown and not like the rest of the family.  I interpreted this as meaning that he was probably Greek or Italian, the most brown people I could think of as a child.  There was no pride in being Métis.  It was not something we talked about.  Strange in a way, given the family my Grandfather came from, with one brother Jim Brady a Métis leader and another sister an honarary Chief.  As far as I understood we were white - the blank slate- the unknowing privalaged.

I wore my mucklucks and didn't think much about where they came from and what that all meant.  I had no sense of the broader conversations going on about First Nations People and repatriation of the constitution.  Even thought I was following politics from the 1984 election.  I had no language or traditions or history.

From Jumaka

I knew my mother felt her father a harsh man, prone to substance abuse and unwilling to work despite a great skill with machines.  There was no explanation for any of that and the man I knew was patient with me and not a drinker, if strange at times - prone to dark moments.  I knew he kept a buffalo head in his basement in a giant crate, and he got it by spending all the grocery money once long ago.  I knew the buffalo must be important to be kept so many years.  The head was named Willy.

In retrospect there were so many hints that we were not just white, that this man had a complicated past.  These were people who did not go to church, even when most people still did in the 1950s.  These were people that had no issue with their daughter dating a Chinese guy in the 1960s or being divorced in the 1970s.  These were warm outgoing people who never had many friends. There was a wall of silence around everything.  You did not talk about the past.  (I didn't even know that my parents had been married for five years until I was 25.)   I didn't know that I was anything but the "default" colour and culture.

Decolonalizing is hard, take a friend

There is a certain point in the evening when I stop parenting effectively.  About 10:30, I find myself resorting to ignoring the children in the hopes that they will get bored and go to bed.  This is usually after several hours of dicussion about their day, their worries and weird body activities (one child is very fascinated by pressure marks).

In an attempt to be really boring, I usually stop watching videos and read.  The other night I was on Buzz Feed.  I read the front page and open all the articles that look interesting before reading through them.  This usually results in a collage of "cute kittens wearing hats", "DIY - make your cat a great hat", "Cool pictures of XX", "kittens making grumping comments about the world" excetera. I know Buzz Feed is probably not good for me.  I can read the latest headlines about the world and feel like I am keeping up, but not waste any valuable kitten analysis time.

The other night, ignoring the older child (S) who would not go to bed (or more correctly went to bed and got up repeatedly), I read kittens and then a piece about pictures of an Ethiopian Tribe and then more kittens.  S said words to stop any good liberal parent's heart "I don't like looking at pictures of black people."  As I could not in good concience continue to ignore her at this point, I asked for more information.  She told me that it made her sad, as these people were so poor they did not even have pants and we should not be looking at them just to amuse ourself.

While I did stop myself from getting into a discussion on colonialization, the gaze of the other and the commoditization of poverty - those are really a being awake kind of conversation - I was pretty proud of my girl for raising a really good point.  I had been consuming those pictures with no different a lens than I had for the kitten article before.  I had not sat back to think about the greater context of those pictures or to question whos lens we were seeing these pictures through.  How would I have reacted if these were First Nations People in equivalent dress?  Was it better that the photographer was non-white, that as the article said "he lived with them for a week"?

Not that I need to answer all those questions, but I like to think of myself as the kind of person that asks those questions and as a "good" parent it is tempting to want to do all the teaching and never make any mistakes, but as I thought about this some more, I was really proud of my daughter and glad to have another companion to push me to keep asking questions, even when I forget to.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

The first post - Niwimohtan miyo mihkwaw mêskanaw.

I was going to call this blog Urban Indian, but after a google search and coming across this post by the writer Richard Wagamese, on the use of labels in general for Aboriginal people and the historical connotations of urbaness and indianess I decided instead to pay homage to Métis in Space.

I want to blog about my current preoccupations of reclaiming my indigenaity and of parenting, both of these experienced in the urban context. I see the threads of these conversations happening in so much of the great indigenous media being produced right now.  How do you walk a good red road, built so much on the relationship with the the natural world and lived community, in an urban environment that can be pretty hostile at times?

I want to track my path and remember how far I have already come for those days when I get focused on how far I haven't come.

I want to be part of all those conversations about what a good red road can look like reimagined.

Niwimohtan miyo mihkwaw mêskanaw. (I wish/want to walk the good red road)