Friday, February 27, 2015


Modern Men Meditations

I wanted to share this video with Sergei Polunin dancing to hozier "take me to church".

Stong man.  Powerful man.  Pulsing depths man.

I don't usually like ballet, but this guy is pretty amazing and I like the song.  In looking up this link I decided to watch the original video and it left me confused.  It was not what I expected from this video.

Angry men.  Secret men.  Lost men.

So I followed a link to this interview with the artist where he talks about the video as meditation on the church and free speech for GLBT people in Russia.

Thinking men.  Enslaved men. Found but lost men.

And the video really reminded me of "No Church in the Wild" by Jay-Z and Kanye West

Angry men.  Lost men.  Destructive men.

And the continuing themes of these songs/videos of gay rights/manhood and the church reminded me of another song by one of my favourite chav boys Cosmo Jarvis with "Love This" with a lot of free wiggling penis.

Playful men.  Thoughtful men.  Questioning men.

This all brought me back to Ken Monkman.  This painting is the size of a wall.  Click on the link - what looks like a kind of typical 19th century battle scene between "savages" and "civilizers" is frenzied frolic of indians and soldiers waggeling their privates.

Lusty men.  Playing men. Men transgressing boundaries.

Kent Monkman - The Triumph of Mischief, 2008

So that was my meditation on modern manhood last night.  They whole lot of  us seem to be a bit lost and we can choose how we respond to those feelings.  We can get poetic and powerful or angry, hurtful and lost.  Traditionally constructed versions of manhood had little space for emotions that are not anger.  It excites me to see men who are offering alternative visions of manlyness where strength does not mean dominance over others but can be a nuanced interplay of space and time and relationships. 

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Consuming Identities

So a few weeks ago we got some bell hooks on consuming/eating the other  and we have Judith Butler who gives us the ideas of performative gender, you have your sex (body/mind) and then gender (how you present yourself) both of which are not binary.  You do not have to be male or female or perform as man or woman but can exist in the in between spaces (if you are not harassed and  killed for doing that).  As RuPaul says "you are born naked and the rest is drag."

Sonny Assu | Interdisciplinary ArtistSo identity is a construction, from the basis of how we adorn/feel/imagine ourselves and can be a consumed as bell hooks showed us, we can purchase some safe blackness to spice up our lives, try on the ideas of another culture, and eat their food.  The other night Joel raised the question about wether I am consuming indianess and how does consumption of the "other" balance with genuine attempts to claim an identity, especially when we are in an emerging contruction of pan-indianess?

Even writing those paragraphs took a while and there is a lot I want to weave into this post.  Let's start with the assuption that we are talking about a genuine claim to identity.  We are metis, we are aboriginals out of "that world" trying to understand how we can get back in and is it worth bothering with this questions at all?

A common theme that emerges in this process ofr claiming is that the claimee doesn't "look indian".  That you could pass.  You have blue eyes.  That you have not had "some kind of quintessential "Native Experience"".  Kim Anderson speaks about this as "part of a (concious or unconcious) continuum of assilationsist practice aimed at making Natives dissapear... once we are "only half", on once we become urbanized or non-language speakers, many non-Native people feel inclined to tell us that we no longer exist.  We are not longer Natives."  This was deliberate.  See the poster to the right which is a quote by the head of indian affairs in the early 1900s.  The poster is by Sonny Assu and comes in a variety of fun colours just like us.

So is it worth bothering?  I think it is or ultimately the policy of all those earlier governments was successfull and the government's responsibilty to aboriginal people gets lost because their voice is small.  Together we are stronger.  I think it is worth reclaiming because if we don't claim it in these generations then it is lost forever.  And so eloquently, again from Anderson "What is my native experiences?  My first, more basic realization was that all people of Native ancestry have "native experiences", because unfortunately, part of our experiences as native peoples includes being relocated, dispossesed of our ways of life, adopted into white faimilies, and so on.  All Native peoples have experiences loss to one degree or another because of these policies and as a result we hae to work at making sense of our identity.  For many of us, part of being Native is feeling like we aren't!"

But how do you get back in?  There is a temptation to make this a consumer exercise.  This is the default for our society at the moment.  I will buy the right indian things, the right books, the right everything and I will show these to other people.  Then I will be indian/metis.  That was where I started.  It is hard as an introvert to get out and talk to people and have experiences and ask the hard questionsr required to move beyond that stage.  It comes with returning to the languages, returning to ceremony (however you do that), it comes with recasting all the circles in your life with a new lens.  That takes time and negotiation.

Drum - "Pan-Indianism, Cultural Distinction" lessLIE (Coast Salish), 2010. Artist statement: "This circular Coast Salish drum is simultaneously a reflection of the cultural phenomenon of pan-Indianism and a visual deconstruction of it, acknowledging the political importance of such indigenous unity. With utmost respect for First Nations culture, which believe in medicine wheels, this design utilizes the Coast Salish iconography of salmon in the design to make it distinctly Coast Salish."Negotiation in that we are not rejoining cultures that were stagnant.  Cultures that were never stagnant and cultures that are in the proccess of growth.  Where do I fit myself in?  As a Metis, Lakota, Cree, Ojibway?  All of them?  I choose to learn Cree because the resources exist and it is linked to Mischeif.  For each circle of life do I make that valuation?  In this context is pan-indianess a cop out, a smart solution or a quick path to a consumable indian culture?

I found this drum last night and the artist's description is far cleverer that I could ever be "Drum - "Pan-Indianism, Cultural Distinction" lessLIE (Coast Salish), 2010. Artist statement: "This circular Coast Salish drum is simultaneously a reflection of the cultural phenomenon of pan-Indianism and a visual deconstruction of it, acknowledging the political importance of such indigenous unity. With utmost respect for First Nations culture, which believe in medicine wheels, this design utilizes the Coast Salish iconography of salmon in the design to make it distinctly Coast Salish."  Maybe there is hope to a pan-indianess that is not just a consumer short hand.

Kent Monkman - Dance to Miss Chief, 2010 - Image tirée d'une monobande vidéo - Avec l'aimable permission de l'artiste (Groupe CNW/Musée d'art contemporain de Montréal)Last night I was looking for a Kent Monkman picture and came across this piece he did as " Miss Cheif" (best drag name ever).  It stuck me that maybe drag has all the answers.  We put on indianess/metisness/otherness and we consume it conciously, putting on a show - if we want too, but we never forget that it is a show and that the real stuff is deeper.  I am going to try to not feel guilty about the show and enjoy it when that is the space I am in, but to also carefully gaurd those other spaces we are carving out in our family.  Those are the things that really matter in this journey of reclaiming.  The rest is just drag.  What matter is that we are still here.  We were not absorbed.  We are changed and we are changing.  We are and can be fabulous.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Making things Wednesday

This weekend we started work on some moccasins.  We started with felt to make the pattern making easier this first time.  I got one beeded and the beeding went quite quickly on the felt.  I used the pattern suggested by Joquin Lonelodge in this video and freehanded the beeding.  The girls are going to do their own beeding.

I liked the symbolism of this activity, creating our own foot coverings, those things that connect us to the earth.  It was nice to beed something small and have that immediate feedback of a quick project.

Recently I had the opportunity to hear a presentation by a curator at the Museum of Civilization, who spoke about the symbolism of indian/metis clothing in the context of the residential schools and the coming of the church.

I had heard previously that the flower motifs were taken up as the metis were impressed with the european style, however the presenter spoke to the pressures by the priest to use "civilized" motifs.  He spoke to how you could see where many of the traditional patterns and symbols had been worked into the flowers so that an outside observer would just see a pretty flower while the integrity of the symbolism was maintained.

He spoke of the many residential school survivers who mention losing their moccasins when they got to the schools.  He outlined how indian clothing was designed with protections in the symbols and in the very proccesses of creating the items.  So not only were the children losing their clothes and a link to home, they were also losing the very protections families had built into the clothes. 

And I like making things.  I like to teach the girls that they can make stuff and they don't have to buy it all the time.  I like to think of all the layers of ancestors sewing their moccasins before us and about how we are adding another link in that chain.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

More Stolen Sisters

I want to talk about stolen sisters today.

I am a cis woman.  According to Wikipedia "Cisgender and cissexual (often abbreviated to simply cis) describe related types of gender identity where individuals' experiences of their own gender match the sex they were assigned at birth."  I was lucky.  My brain matches my body.  Our trans-sisters were not so lucky.  Our trans-sisters experience abuse and harm as they fight to express who they are with a sixth trans woman of colour was murdered in this past month.  Trans-teens are at high risk for suicide and abuse.

I think it hurts us all when we allow this abuse.  From a purely selfish perspective, I have two cis girls and I want them to be able to be who they are.  Whatever spectrum of sexuality and gender performativity they are, I love them and I don't want them to be endangered by those realities.  I know that I am a more concious woman because of my trans-sisters and what I have learnt about their lives.  This has served as a reminder to me to appreciate being a woman.

I also appreciate that my one daughter could say to me "mom, I think I like boys" because she knew that I did not assume any way.  I appreciate that she feels ok to shop in the boys section and not get into makeup.  Even with this small difference she is coming home every night talking about how she is getting teased for playing with the boys and not being "girly" enough.  I hope that we can create a better and safer world for our trans brothers and sisters and all the girls and boys that don't perfectly fit into their performative gender roles. 

I liked this short video by a trans activist on the need for gender neutral bathrooms and this presentation some parents made to support their trans child.  I am also working on "Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie and I really appreciated the description of the grandmother was that she was tolerant and that she maintained the old ways where people with excentricities and gay people were celebrated.  "Gay people could do anything.  They were like Swiss Army Knives."  Kim Anderson very closely echos these statements in "A Recognition of Being".  This is another thing I am appreciating about going native.  There is more space to be.

Tommorow is pink shirt anti- bullying day.  The shirt above was from the campaign last year and I really loved the homage to Robert Davidson and that powerful metaphor, that if we are all not rowing together we are not going to get anywear.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Taking care of yourself

I finished the Gabor Maté book "When the Body Says No" it is worth  read and if you don't have a lot of time I would focus on the first and last chapters.  I found a lot of good stuff in the last chapter where he looked at how you would respond if you followed his argument around the relationship between the body and the mind.

I really appreciated this book and the discussion around how our bodies wear our histories.  It raised a lot of interesting questions.

Here are a couple of quotes that I really liked

"Do I live life according to my own deepest truthes or in order to fulfull someone else's expectations?"

"If you face a choice between guild and resentment, choose guilt every time."  He says that resentment is suicide.

"Being hard with yourself uses up a lot of energy."

" Emotional competence is the capacity that enables us to stand in a responsible non-victimized relationship with our environment."

"Negatuve thinking is the ability to ask what is not working?  What is not in balance? What is my body is saying no to?  Not posing the questions themselves is a source of stress."

"What I really believe in is the power of thinking.  When you qualify the word thinking with the word positive we exclude those parts of thinking that strike us as negative.  Genuine positive thinking begins with including all reality.  It is guided by the confidence that we can trust ouraelves to face the full truth what ever that truth might be."

In particular that last two quotes struck me.  I find myself sometimes in situations where I am seen as too negative, and Barbara Erieghnright wrote a great essay about the pitfalls of positive thinking.

Just think and positive or negative let the thoughts flow.  That will let you move forward.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Activity Wednesday - Circle Stuff

We have made a number of crafts that we use as part of our weekly circle time.  The children like to set out the circle things and we  talk about the items to remember why they are there. 

The first thing we made was a circle quilt.  It has wedges in different colour using fabrics that were special to family members.  On top of these we did some embroidery and beeding.  The very centre of the circle is open and inside we wrote the names of all the ancestors who have walked on. This symbol proved helpful when the cats died and we could add their names there.

We also made a centre tray using a square canvass which the girls painted for the four directions.  We use this to place the candle, shells and tobbacco.  I also keep a bag of other small items that can be arranged as desired.  These are mostly rock and shells, but also includes batman and a lego squirrel (we are doing our best as urban metis).  Last week we made moon and sun figures from clay for the circle.  We add little bits to this collection as we are inspired.

The other thing I made was a talking stick which had the four directions on it.  This was quickely used and broken, but I would like to make another one.

I have also printed a book of metis songs that we us and a couple of binders with resources printed resources. I keep a small library with the circle things and pull a book to discuss.  Two books that I always use are books of the moons.  I try to start our discussion by placing us in the moon calendar and thinking what that means for us.

Friday, February 20, 2015


So you know realness?  We first came across this term watching RuPaul where the Drag Queens would compete for realness in various categories of womanlyness - things like Executive, Red Carpet, Mall Girl.  It is the step beyond weaing the physical manifestation of a woman but that performative nature that is true to the desired concept.  R likes the term and will describe things as "giving good realness".  Often said of tv babies.

So I was thinking about my musical pick for this week and I wanted to bring you some realness - Mackelmore - The Heist.  I love this albumn, because it is a story. 

I love Mackelmore because he writes songs about the profound and profane and enjoys the play of it and the lovely slipperyness of language.  I love this albumn because it describes my life and because it led to the best music video ever - one that is such a perfect cinematic journey to a place of hope it still gives me shivers.  I love how he works with young artists and talks about hard things.  I love that he is proud of his city and being Irish.  I love that he is candid about his drug abuse and his ongoing struggles with it.  I love that he worries about corporatism, working for the man, gay marriage and his role as a white rapper.

I love that he balances these realities and personal struggles with a spirit of hope.  I appreciate his authentic voice.

"Here we go back, this is the moment
Tonight is the night, we’ll fight till it’s over
So we put our hands up like the ceiling can’t hold us"

So don't let the ceiling hold you. 
The picture is my turtle on S's first moon time dress.   

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Questioning Language and Understanding

Joel and I have a reaccuring conversation about this blog.  He says that my not spell checking is disrespect to the reader and interferes with my ability to communicate my message.  However I counter that I am trying to express myself authentically without the constant stare of the spell checker.  I am also trying to play with some of the themes around decolonializing language that I have seen some other writers playing with. 

Maybe I can't do that well between my learning disabilities and lack of formal knowledge in the areas of language but as much of the current conversation on indigenaity is happening is english, we are stuck with these building blocks to share our ideas while also recognizing that this is the language of the colonializer and that the ideas and history of this language can make it problematic/non neutral.

What do you think?  Joel challenged me that I am using the lack of spell checking like I use the fat to keep me safe from real diologue.  I thinkt it is a legitimate question but I don't think that I agree with him.  I think this in my authentic voice and it is not the same as someone elses.  Do you think that is just a cop out?  He said that cause I know better I gotta do better. 

Who is listning to what the Scallops say?

This is going to be a long post because I want to start at the begining of this journery.

I never thought a lot about scallops.  They did not seem a likely place for intellectual discourse.  I did not appreciate what I could learn from scallops. 

Several years ago, I was working on a project where we were trying to rethink how certain government benefits were given out.  I was asked to review the international literature and it became clear that more than learning about best practices what was obvious was that the different systems in each country were actually a decision about where to be on a scale of subjectivity to objectivity.

Subjective - we talk to you, understand your world and circumstances and an expert makes a determination based on this data and their knowledge


Objective - we have certain criteria that you meet or do not meet

So I went deeper.  How do you construct subjective or objective systems?  What does that mean in practice?  So I started reading.  And I learned a lot.

I read Lauren Datson on how the introduction of cameras changed the development of medical atlases.  Where previously experts choose the examples to be included in the books afterwards the camera was seen to introduce absolute objectivity...until people figured out that the camera could lie.

I read a piece from 1898 about the introduction of the x-ray and it's role in legal proceedings arguing that an w-ray was not a perfect reproduction and could be taken or interpreted in ways that made it subjective even thought it was a picture. 

I real a lot about accounting and it's history.  How come we see accounting as an objective discipline?  What happened that gave it that status?  How does that sheen of objectivity remain even when it was a discipline of white men?

This all lead me to Actor Network Theory (ANT) by Bruno Latour.  Latour argues that we cannot just be objective overseers of systems, but that by observing the systems we are changing them we are making choices about what to observe and what to ignore.  He argues that we are making choices about where we observe from and if we will privalage certain voices over others or if we give things, systems, ideas a voice as well.

In the last 30 years, this theory has provided a powerful tool for many disciplines to understand the connections between the actors, to highlight power relationships and to shine a light on things they might have been overlooking in their analysis.  Things like scallops.

One paper refferenced over and over again was "Some elements of a sociology of translation: domestication of the scalloeps and the Fishermen of St Briex Bay" by M Callon 1986.  In this paper Callon shows how a project to get fishermen working by bringing in scallops to reseed the bay failed.  He traces all of the actors, including the scallops and shows where connections broke down or where actors were ignored.  For a key example, no one checked with the scallops if they would grow on a large scale in the same way that they did in Japan, where they came from.

Since then I have read a lot of pieces that use Actor Network Theory to show where things/projects worked or did not work.  It is a really powerful theory that applies well in a number of circumstances and allows us to introduce numeracy to analysis even when their is no clear data set in the traditional sense.  This was a really powerful breakthrough for me to be able to bring economic analysis to places where I felt limited before.

This stuff really fascinated me for some time and I read a lot in the area and applied it where I could, but then a few weeks ago I was sitting in a meeting where the other party was clearly not listning and it struck me that they were not seeing our side as an enrolled partner in the network.  In ANT everyone has a voice.  But then it struck me that ANT was really just the indian way.  Everyone has a voice.  Interconnections matter.  It seems so obvious now.  ANT was an acedmic way to say what indigenous people already knew.

So this weekend I was reading Gabor Mate "When the Body Says No" and Ralston Saul's "The Comeback" both writen by older white guys but it struck me that Mate has "got it" whether from the white philosopher side or the indian side or someplace else, he understands that we need to be real people with each other.  He sees that we can't share "pure knowledge" and that we share ideas steeped in where we come from/where they come from.  He uses the I in his writing and writes about his experiences while mixing these with the acedmic liturature he has read.  It makes an easy to read book that has depth.

In contract was Saul.  While he is writing about aboriginal people and he seems to be sypathetic (wyatever that means), he is the outside observer.  A good acedemic.  I don't know why he is writing this book or why he cares about this issue.  He never tells me and there is no I.  I can speculate, coming from Idle No More that there was money to made on such a book or maybe he really cares, but all it can be is speculation.  I have to say that this leaves me cold in reading his book.  After reading more aboriginal writers, starting from the point where the I was uncomfortable with the personal vioce, I now really see the lack of this in Saul's work.  As I read, I can't connect to Saul as a writer.  He is an old white guy telling me stuff.  I am not sure I have a lot of trust there.

I know that the translation of the oral tradition of indeginaity into written form has been a struggle required by space and the heavy demands on our Elders, but these two pieces made me think about how well some writers are bridging this challenge.  While not the same as building a personal relationship with someone, the thoughtful personal introductions and prayers create another space of diologue that is not there when an "authourity" is writing.  I am excited to see how this space is contructed as more indians join the diologues and as we all get better at listning to the scallops.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Paper Indians

A Culture of Loss - the Mourning Period of Paper Indians by April Gladue  I had to read this article first from my new pile of articles with such a great name.  Gladue is interesting to me in that she is also a government employee and while she explores the themes so many of us are struggling with around identity she does so from the other side.  Gladue has her papers and is a "real" indian government recognized indian, but she do not have a connection to that title or lived experience behind it.
In this short piece she explores her sense of loss as a result of not knowing her indian side.  She speaks about the challenges of a national reconcilliation exercise when so many indigenous people do not know who they are or who have still open wounds from the results of government practices.  She speaks about how she feels a freedown to construct her identity on paper but recognizes how much of her exercise of reclaiming identity comes from books - so that she has created an intellectual response to issues and pan- aboriginalsstuff, but that she lacks the relationshional aspects and connections to the anscestors.        
She talks about what she wants to reclaim for herself and family, but how she feels challenged when it comes to moving beyond the paper indians and into a real life.  This resonates for me as a person of the papers.  This is where I am most comfortable.  But I need to makes sure to challenge myself to sometimes move beyond this space and connect with others directly.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Kissing Fish

 We made it to the art gallery this weekend.  We sat with R for some time as she made art.  I made "Kissing Fish"  I think that making art with children is really important.  It is an opportunity for me to try new things and have a diolgue in a space where we are equals.

The Art gallery has long been a part of our mental space.  I was a great place when the children were learning to walk with lots of space to explore.  While they rarely interact with the art directly, some of the pieces have been happily explored.  In particular, they had a Ron Meuck giant baby head that was akin to seeing god for the babies.

But what is up with the gallery?  The Innuit art is in the basement at the end of a dark stairwell.  Symbolism fail.  Especially in a gallery that is otherwise flooded with light.  They have a room of really ancient indigenous rock work which is breathtaking but is followed by a room of 17th century Quebec church brick brack.  Once again the symbolism is bad to my eye.  There are some indian works in the modern art gallery, but most of the gallery is made up of paintings by old dead white dudes or ancient sumarians.  This isn't Canada.  Where are all the awsome indigenous artists?  Why are the major exibits all european masters?  Who cares.
Meet The Trans Sex Worker Who Transformed A Gang-Controlled Prison I liked this article as it reminds us what one person with a vision can accomplish.  It also put that "why me?" voice in persepective.  That voice needs that a lot.

The Boy who lived with Bears Has a number of stories that are a nice length for a bed time read.  I really liked the title story and the art in this book with lots of interesting details and inspiration for further drawings.  The bear story garnered some good conversations about which animal we would choose to live with.


Monday, February 16, 2015

What if Socrates was a bear?

I have this cartoon up on my wall this week.  I felt a need to share it with you.   As I read more indigenous thinking, I am also doing some thinking about the western canon of old white dead guys.  While I am adding women to that reading list (Arant, Berlant, Butler), this cartoon struck me.  From the perspective of the western cannon, the question is clearly a joke, but from an indigenous world view perhaps the bear would have something wise to say and we should take time to listen.
From Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal

Saturday, February 14, 2015

The frozen indian

WHY?  Walking home the other night I came accross this snow indian, majestically riding his snow horse through the urban streets.  It seems racist somehow, the magestic lone man in glistening white lit up for your viewing pleasure.  And this isn't even the right sort of indian for Ottawa.  What do you think?  Can we let it go as art?

You're Probably Cleaning Your Vagina Wrong
This is a classic Buzzfeed article with pictures and short text for our tired minds, but I kinda love these.  I read these with the girls to normalize vaginas and breasts.  To show that people talk about these things.  That is ok to talk about them.  Learn how to take good care of yours.  Then look at cute kitties.

Gender Biases in Education
This article takes a data set about teachers and shows the differences between male and female proffessors.  It is pretty striking.  Data is fun.

Ottawa Public Library - was pleasantly suprised with my visit to the Library to find readers for aboriginal and metis kids.  R was very happy to see them and it is nice to have something to read that is relivant and not involving to terrible purple dinosaurs from the 1970s. 

Friday, February 13, 2015

Music Friday

After reading this article INDIGENOUS SOUNDTRACK FOR THE FRONTLINES it made me think of some of the older music I have enjoyed.  My pick for today is Joni Mitchell "From Both Sides Now" which I worried about liking as I thought it was satanic but liked anyway as it was dreamy and haunting.  You might want to check out 10 INDIGENOUS MUSIC PICKS FOR YOUR SUMMER PLAYLIST.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Activity Wednesday - Connecting to Plans

Medicines CoverInitially the idea of learning about plants seemed like a low priority in terms of bringing a Metis/ aboriginal lens to our lives but I bought this book and took it along on one of our walks.  Between this resource and what we already knew we were able to find over 20 plants in one block that we could eat or use as medicines.  I enjoyed this walk with the girls and it made us think about our little part of the urban landscape a little bit differently. 
 During similar walk in the past we would take little notes books and make pictures of the plants or take small samples to put in our books.  This could also be a good opportunity to practice thankfulness for what the plants have given us and lay down some tobbacco.  Before the first frost we also went out to our little yard and gathered in some the mint.  I used this as an opportunity to talk about how our ancestors would prepare for the winter.
Just because you are surrounded by an urban landscape doesn't mean you can't find those moments of connection to the earth.  Just remember to take them.  I also found that the library had a number of books on edible or medicinal plants that could also be a good resource.  I did enjoy the Metis lens in this book.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Cruel Optimism - talking about fat again

I want to talk about fat again.  This wasn't what I meant to talk about in this blog but as I fought the urge to write this post I see that perhaps fat and questions of identity and otherness go together.  I even see the analogy in the out of control appetites, the steriotype of the drunk indian and the fat person who won't stop eating.  Both know the path is not a good one.  Both make small choices day after day that build up over time.
I having been reading "The Tapping Solution for Weight Loss & Body Confidence - A Woman's Guide to Stressing Less, Weighing Less, and Loving More" by Jessica Ortner and it reminds me of a book I read a few years ago by Lauren Berlant called "Cruel Optimism"   where she explores "... the question of how people  maintain their binding to modes of life that threaten their well-being, and to do this it recasts the object of desire not as a thing (or even a relation) but as  a cluster of promises magnetized by a thing that appears as an object but is really a scene in the psychoanalytic sense."

Both these books are really exploring why we hurt ourselves and stay in broken relationships (with people, things, ideas or systems).  Or why do you stay with the abusive partner?  I see this reflected in my relationship to my weight and in the larger indigenous questions about the systems we stay close to even when they hurt us.  By staying attached, staying in relationship we maintain an optimism that we cannot keep once that link is broken.

"I realised that I was not broken.  I just had layers of belief that made it feel unbearable if I could not turn to food for comfort." Ortner speaks to the cycle of optimism and disappointment that we enter into when we have an unhealthy relationship with food "When the world does not live up to our expectations we rebel against its unfairness by turning to food. It is like we are giving the middle finger back to a society that is pressuring us to live up to its expectations and those in our lives that make us feel like we will not be loved until we are a certain weight."

While Berlant is examining these themes on a more global level she also recognizes that these stuggles are often played out on our bodies, through a wearing down of our own physical capitol in order to maintain our relationship to the larger capitolist question. "People are worn out by the activity of life-building, especially the poor and the  nonnormative."   She sees this playing out as injury, addiction or even fat.  The body is the one place of power where there can be "mini-vacation" from self will and we can take small pleasures while navitgating life's dangers.

That control is the same that Ortner raises as through unhealthy eating "we are giving ourselves the love other denied us and we are taking back our power."  Both too speak to the fractures that burden, for Ortner, the stress of current life or unresolved past issues and for Berlant widened to include the social fabric and economy.  We signed on to the "good life" and this is what we work towards and sacrifice our bodies too.  She notes that "under capitalism sickness is defined as the inability to work" if you are not working in this system you are outside it, but being inside it and maintaining that relationship is in it's self breaking us down and leading to our eventual rejection from the system.

Berlant takes this  into the space of race and the fears around morbid obesity in the US which are often raised as a spectre of colour "African Americans as a population already saturated by death and available for mourning, compelled by appetites rather than by strategies of sovereign agency toward class mobility."  Where the narrative of failure is widened to include personal failure in not overcoming your race, class, education advantages.  While she does not explicity address natives in this text, the ongoing government concerns about diabetes fits neatly into this narrative.  The indian litterally eating its own.  We are left with personal failing with no narrative connecting the larger societal stories and histories to the personal realities.  "Fat, the congealed form of history that hurts".  These groups are wearing their histories and the ongoing losses those histories imply.
I also find Berlant's discussion of the retreat to family interesting.  This is a personal choice I made in my life, not to focus on moving forward at work but to turn that energy into the home.  But as I read more I realize that I am not making this choice in a vacumn.  Are those others reading the same signs I am and making the same decisions or are we being sold a story and I have just signed on without reading the small print?  I wanted to ask the Elder that last week.  I think the capitolist system is turning us towards home as a new place of consumption and as a means to distract us from other bad stuff that is happening (economically, socially, globally) but from an indigenous world view family is a core concern.  How do we balance those two pushes?  How do we pass something healthy on to our children our of this whole mess?

With our current relationships to work, there is little time for normal family life.  Establishing a faimily life takes over much of the remaining time and the children see this according to Berlant.  They see this stress and "kids learn to try to take up as little space as possible. They grow up feeling guilty about taking up space, seeing their parents as doing their best, but being powerless as well."  I worry about this in our home where so much of normal life is hard.  Just leaving the house can take two hours some days.  Just getting food into someone can be a major effort.  How do I provide a healthy picture to my children that life is not just about a tenuous existance?   How do I manage my desire to retreat into the mini vacations of the will when those are what gets me through some days?

Both these books raise some interesting questions about our relationships to those things that sustain us be they food, ideas, relationships or the lies that we tell ourselves.  I like that both these books are woman focused and raise those challenges of womanhood and family relationships together.  Berlant was not an easy read for me but it was worth the effort and she connects back into a lot of other interesting writers like Judith Butler, Georgio Agamben and Phillip Adams.  She is a literary critic but her writing crosses so many acedmic disciplines that it is please to watch it all come together.

So where does that leave us? (as I eat a bag of strawberry marshmellows asserting my control).  We can go straight to the worst case senario, which for me is struggle.  You keep going and examining those relationships and interactions and through living the questions we may become a little wiser. 

Or more optimistically, I think these kinds of larger conversations and the living out of the questions on a wide scale can bring hope by reminding us that we are not alone.  Also by further combining the wisdom of our communities, and reaching accross boundaries, personal or acedemic or racial we can work together to find more coherent solutions.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Education - Decolonilizing the Larger Narrative

In our current culture education is seen as an unmitigated good and education here really means university.  Education is sold as a route out of poverty and a ticket to the middle class/good life.  A path to knowledge and acceptance.

I can be that, but it can also be a path into debt for some, or marginal employment for others.  I was lucky and economists have a magic allure around them, but for other disciplines this economy is not very good and the promises were lies.

So I really appreciated these pieces by Adrianne K at  and NPR where she explains some of the the feelings indians might have upon entering higher education. She raises a number of really good points that i had never thought about as being impediments in the acheivement of higher education for native peoples.

I had primarially thought that the barrier to education for indians would be socio-economic status, theirability to access funds or ability to get through high school to be in a position to  think about higher education.   Further barriers coming from the remoteness of a lot of the Candian indigenous communities, making going away to school an even larger burden and then all magnified by the cultural changes that many of us face when going to university anyway. 

But Adrianne raises some really important points around of feelings of entitelement or disentitlement regarding education as well as the relationship to the broader context of school.  School may be a loaded concept for some, especially where your histories around school involved being taken away from home and community, where it meant losing you language and your culture, and where the learning is steeped in the history of the male colonializer and a canon that is very dismissive of the experiences of the "other" women, aboriginals, gays excetera. 

I really appreciate those people who are sharing their perspectives.  It helps to open my eyes and re-interpret my world in new ways. 

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Round up of interesting ideas

I feel like I am always a little behind on this blog.  I have read some great stuff this week, so rather that saving it and trying to pull together a piece of stunning integrated analysis I will share it now and analyze it all later if the muse comes to me.

I came accross this following my reading of bell hooks.  This is an older article but I appreciated his attempts at "reader respons-a bility" as described by Maria Anderson in "Recognition of Being" by claiming his white maleness as he reads hooks.  I like how he plays with his comfort/discomfort dichotomy as he reads as he moves from hope to loss and back again. 
I was taken with this quote " Sometimes I'm also afraid; there's always the chance that she's going to name one more prejudice I'm carrying around with me.  Confronting and sorting out these conflicting feelings about race is hard work. Not having to do this work until now, in my late-thirties, says a lot about what it means to be a white male."   So much hard work.  So much ignorance to be brought to light in my life.  But how far have we come.  Keep the hope.
I like that he does not go through this essay with the goal finding a solution to the issues of race, class and sex, but that he grapples with the problems that are introduced by even starting these conversation.  In talking you might say something wrong and look stupid and that is scary.  I feel this a lot as we talked about race alot working in anti-racism.  But one piece of research I read struck me.  The researchers argued that race is like sex and if children don't learn about this at home then they learn at school on the play ground, so that nice liberal parents who act "colour blind" may be actually doing more harm than having the hard conversations as they signal that race is something so bad you cannot speak about it.

" Wrestling with the issues that hooks raises for white readers will propel us toward ways of responding to black authors that are not racist; ways of responding that move between criticism and self-criticism in an effort to expose, not bury, the problematic nature of reading and writing in black and white."

My Body, The Unwelcome Relative by

This article made me kind of uncomfortable.  The lack of resolution in her story.  I had a viseral reaction.  I recognized parts of her story.  I wanted to know more.

Transgender Latina Woman Killed In San Francisco

The ongoing violence towards aboriginal women and trans women is numbing.  Cis or Trans we are sisters.  Taja Gabrielle DeJesus was our sister.


I liked these articles as they play on the popular list format of a lot of sites like Buzzfeed "providing X easy solutions to boost your Y".  Ms Amadahy adds an indigenous persepective that is a very good antidote to the quick and easy solutions to get rich/thin/smart fast.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Where my Privalage got too?

I don't want to write this post.  It is too raw still.  Even thought some of it happened a long time ago.  As I was getting ready to write, it pulled out the Winnepeg Boyz. and rather that my usual page I came to a differnt one and a new song "So Far" which says it so eloquently "life ain't fair.  hey we all been there. I don't care if you a thug or gansta or a square.  a crooked system is a broken society."

This week was report cards and it brings up a lot for me as I have to go in and defend my parenting.  That's how it feels really.  I am laying a lot of other stuff on those interactions, years of bad school experiences myself, years of talks about S and calls from the social workers about if we need money for stuff, that my kid is dirty..... but it is deeper now.  Now I worry about having my children taken away from me.  I know that is some deep neurosis on my part, but it is also blood memory.  This is my secret fear.

I can hardly write this, this is my deep shame, but a few years ago, this week in fact, we got a letter... due to a stolen credit card number and a bill that didn't get moved over to the new card number we missed paying the bill for two months, this lead to a visit by the insurance company who pulled our house insurance.  This lead to a very hard year trying to understand what happened and how we could fix it.  A lot of fear for me.  Deep anxiety.
This expereince broke something in me permamently.  I thought my education, high income level, whiteness, hetness, "normalness" should have protected me.  It did not.  I cannot trust institutions the same way anymore.  I was lucky I realize, compared to a lot of people.  Poor me, not having to deal with that reality until I was almost fourty.

I am tired after having to defend myself and my parenting for years.  We first took S to a phyciatrist when she was three.  It was clear she was not right.  The phyciatrist told us that she was like that because Joel had depression and I had anxiety.  We were bad parents! (the same Dr later wrote a letter that this obviously bright child was clearly suffering from Anxiety.)  All the teachers that told us she did not like school cause we were not postive enought or supporting her enought.  We were told we were just imagining her challenges. 

As I have learned more about indigenous history, my family history, all those people trying to work with the government in good faith to have those petitions go missing.  To have efforts to organize government be seen as terrorism.  To have the church and land agent working to bring people in and settling them on your land.  To fight in the courts for years to get land back and to get nothing.  To be dehumanized, to have your culture raped.   Reading things like "Half Breed" by Maria Campbell about how the land agent controlled peoples lives, cut women off from their property and rights and took away the children.  I am still privalaged but it is something I am less willing to sink into.  It doesn't give me the comfort it used to.

I always dress for those school interviews.  It is interesting how the suit pulls rank.  I could be a horrible person, but I get treated better when I wear it.  This time with my suit I wore my muklucks.  I spent so long trying to be normal hoping that would keep me safe, hoping that it would keep me under the radar, but it doesn't work, so I am working on being less afraid.  I am working on understanding my truth and enjoying the voices of those who are sharing their truth.  So go listen to Mary Lambert now you know my secret too.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Finding a middle path - the story of the jingle dress

I wish there were more Elders I could access, but geography and circumstances sometimes limit me.  I really appreciate those Elders and others who are sharing their voices through books and blogs and youtube.  The past few nights we have been watching Making Regalia by Juaquin Lonelodge on youtube.  
After going to powwow last year Runa wanted a jingle dress and I wanted to learn more about how to do this.  Some sources were very stern on the proper way of doing this and making sure that this was something done with great reverance and ceremony.  I was surprised watching the videos by Mr Lonelodge how casual he was.  I also really like that he is making things for someone specific and not just as examples for the show.  It struck me that this is really the perfect moment of tension between "traditional" indiginaity and the modern lives of indians and metis.
I was waiting to learn the "right way" to do this.  I wanted some kind of unchanging indian 10 commandments brought back from on high.  I am an economist and I love to find the right way, the most efficient way.  That is very pleasing to me.  In practice this experience of thinking about the dress helped me forge a sort of middle path that keeps the mindfulness in our activities - if they are indigneous activities or not, but also balances that with the everyday realities.  Before we started S's moon time dress we did a smudge and spent some time together quietly to think about what we were going to do and why, but as we sew I am watching tv.
I like this youtube series and reccomend it if you are looking to take up beading or regalia making.  While the presenter is a little slow in parts to my taste,  he is very thourough about each step and he clearly explain why.  I like how he constrasts traditional techniques with modern ones (with appologies to his grandma - R loved that) and I appreciate his perspective on taking your time and remembering that these items can be passed on so that it is worth putting in good work now.  The youtube channel this show is on also has some other things that look interesting in particular one around drum making.  Don't be afraid to make stuff and make mistakes.

Negotiating Difference Through a Youtube lens

 Last night I tried to engage the girls by retelling one of the other stories the Elders shared.  I asked them what they thought it meant.  Runa said she thought it meant you should not trust people with poisen bread.  Seems like a fair life lesson if a less nueanced view than the story seems to suggest.
R was given a book about paralympians at school and she makes us read it often.  I have a phobia about amputations and try to be cool about it, but it really made a mark on her.  The last two nights she made us look up some of the sports on Youtube and watch people playing them and while I have my hangups, she has a world where injury is not the end of movement and difference is a part of live.  That is way healthier that my hang ups.
I feel this role to not translate my predjudices onward very strongly sometimes.  In some things I am pretty aware of my predjudices and can be active about this process but in others....and how many others?  I really value that part of having children and their push back on how I see the world.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Activity Wednesday - The Rought Faced Girl

Last weekend we finished our follow up to the Rought Faced Girl story.  I think this was a great family activity as it involved negotiation of working styles and ideas for the story.  It was hard at first for the girls not to just tell the disney follow up story and pushing them outside of that narrative was good.

I appreciated that we got to think about the original story some more and to talk about what the characters would do next based on what we already knew of them.  It gave us an opportunity to compare and discuss our different drawing styles and abilities.  Beside is my tipi heavily influenced by the original drawings in the story which I really liked.  R enjoyed drawing the nauty sisters.

S drew the inside of the tipi "sky palace" and was concerned as she drew a very modern interior with a dishwasher and tv.  That led to a good talk about how indians aren't only in the past.

I would reccomend this activity.  Take a book your family likes and make the follow up.  We have now had the pleasure of reading this new story together and R was very proud that we made a book together.  I also like that we have a new piece of family lore that we can enjoy over the years.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Stories come together

I went to the Kumik today for the teaching and to meet with the Elders.  The teaching was on the story of the Rough Faced Girl.  I like the version today even better than the one we read and I reviewed here.  In the story today it is the sister of the invisible man that brings the younger sister back to her unscarred form.  I like the caring of the sister more than the salvation of the invisible man.  It speaks to the power of woman and does not put Rought Faced Girl in an unequal power relationship with invisible man as the other story could.  I geuss I need to ponder rought faced girl some more over the next days.
I appreciated the Elder who took the time to point out the details in the story and to help us learn to interpret and listen.  Even that part of story telling has been very comprimised.  They shared some other stories that require more thinking before I write here.
The girls and I wrote a follow up story to Rought Faced Girl where the jealous sisters use majic to transform the Rought Faced girl into a frog so that she will miss her wedding to invisible man.  The sister of invisible man helps to turn Rought Faced Girld back and turns the bad sisters to stone.  It was hard to get them out of the disney interpretation of the follow up story.  I think it was a good exercise for us to work together and interpret a new story.  I will put up some of the pages soon.  We all did drawings for the book.
I was also very blessed to have time to sit with the Elders today.  I worry that I talk too much most of the time, but I especially felt like I should have listened more today.  Finding wise ears seems so rare.  Why do I talk so much?  I appreciated their thoughtful questions and insights.  There is a lot to work through in their words and I will think on them for a long time to come.  It is also good to just share about the challenges of reclaiming a culture and finding a good path through life.  I think a lot of my work to come will be around how to help S navigate the next couple of years and how to not get complacent about her teachings in this area.  I need to sit with her regularly and work through the book I created for her.  I have started creating her dresses for her first moon time and we even did a smudge and prayer before starting - S stood on her head most of the time.
While it sometimes feels like only a little gets through to her as she hangs upside down while we do circle time or read, that other day she was given the job to learn something new on her day off school and she watched a video of a guy that did not like cats and thought they should all be neutered.  It really upset her, but she turned to me a couple of times during the evening and asked "How can this guy be an Elder?  He is not very thoughtful."  It is good to see those little glimpses that things get through and she is applying the teachings.
While I can get caught in all the things that are wrong in my life, those moments, the teachings and the stories that other share are so important in maintaining a healthy place for myself.  They are reminders to find the right balance between pushing myself when I need it and nurturing myself when that it what is best.  There is a lot that is good in my life and our daily dinner practice of sharing these moments has been really important in getting into a mindset of gratitude.  It is the same with the laying down of tobbacco in the morning and taking that moment to remember who we are connected to and to draw those voices around us as we move through out day.
We were reminded that tonight is full moon and that we should put out a plate for Grandmother moon.  What are you greatful for today?

The Post On Posts

After S was born I took a job working on "Canada's Action Plan Against Racism" because I wanted my work to be something meaningful so that I could explain to my little person why I left every morning.  I really enjoyed the intellectual challenge of this file as we tried to work through how to report and measure racism. 
During this time I read a lot and a trio of novels expressed the optimism of that period for me.
Product Details 
Nation by Terry Pratchett which explores the relationship between an island boy and a victorian girl both cut off from the worlds they knew as they both realize what they may have held as truths were not as clear cut as they thought.
Product DetailsApex Hides the Hurt by Colson Whitehead where a nomiclature specialist is brought in to rename a town and must struggle between it's past as a haven for free slaves or it's "future" as the next technology city.  While the main character's inability to see himself almost leads to his death.
Product DetailsSlave to Sensation (Psy-Changelings, Book 1) (Psy/Changeling) Nalini Singh In this series she explores a world made up of humans totally focused on their minds and shape shifters who are the embodied "other" with "animal" passions.  She uses this construct as a means to explore multiculturalism and the negotiation of difference.


These novels impressed me with their attempt to outline a post multi-cultural world that moved on to the negotiation of other kinds of differences.  I found these narratives fascinating as we tried to take intersectionality into account as we did policy and reported on progress.
Yesterday I read bell hooks' essay "Eating the Other: Desire and Resistance", where she speaks to the comoditization of "otherness", where we consume other cultures to provide spice to our unrelenting white culture and that this consumption allows people to feel that they have moved beyond race (aren't racist) while not actually mutually and meaningfully engaging the other.  This also reminded me of some of the work I have read on the magic black person where the black character is only there to provide support to the white character and allow the white person to fufill themselves.
In both these cases the "other" is comoditized into something safely and easily consumed by the white viewer and may even be a nostalgia for the "pure" representation of the "other" prior to colonialization.  She notes that while this may allow the voice of the non-white "other" to be consumed by a larger audience overall it also denies voice to a specific person(s).  "Booty" was brought back by a white girl and white rappers bring the grit to us.  We can have the black culture without giving anything back into it or actually enaging with it.  bell hooks suggests that until we move beyond the comodification of the "other"  we cannot have healthy diologue as a society.  We need to get to post - comoditization.
It struck me that each of these three books could be easily read within this context rather than/or as well as being post-multicultural, in that they could be seen as post-comoditization allegories as well.  Is it this post -comoditization that makes these works feel post multicultural?  Which one comes first?  In Nation, there is literally no market as there is almost no on left alive.  In Apex Hides the Hurt, comoditization is so open and ludicrous that it a parody of itself and no longer a real thing.  In the Nalini Singh books there is a contrast between the shape shifters who are focused on family and protection of a way of life (wild and free from environmental degredation) where there is enagement in the market with the aims of supporting these outcomes vs the humans who create their children in labs and will quite literally sacrifice these children for the greater good or market outcomes.
This narrative struck me as also applying to the larger question of claiming indigenaity.  Indian are definitally a consumable "other" and have been since contact (savage dark beauty, indian princess, strong warrior).  What is our role to support healthy mutual exchange with the dominant group and how do we reclaim power when the interaction are clearly comoditization?  How do we stop them?  And more personally, where in my life am I "consuming the other"?