I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness | Austin Channing Brown

I'm Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for WhitenessI’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness by Austin Channing Brown
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

It’s always difficult to rate an autobiography, as it seems ludicrous to assign a star rating to someone’s lived experiences. Add in the racial tensions and the heavy content and I feel reluctant to assign anything below 5 stars.

I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness by Austin Channing Brown is a collection of the author’s lived experiences, a description of life for a black woman within a system created by white people with for the express purpose of promoting the white person’s interests.

The most compelling part of this book is the description of Channing Brown’s childhood and the experience of growing up in a world so far removed from my own. It was heart-breaking to learn of the mindfulness that people of colour in America are forced to live with, such as her father instructing her to be aware of her behaviour in a store:

“Even if you put it back on the shelf, Austin, you can’t touch store products and then put your hands in your pockets…”

Channing Brown recollects her life from elementary school through to post-secondary, focusing on specific experiences directly related to her skin colour which either caused her to experience discomfort or a sense of feeling understood. (Spoiler alert: the former occurs much more than the latter.) As she enters in the professional working world, she then once again meets racism and prejudice within her workplace, as both a black person and a female.

In some shared experiences, I feel that Channing Brown shares situations that she feels she experienced as a person of colour, but which one could argue are examples of patriarchal misogyny that every woman in North America faces. Furthermore, although Channing Brown doubles down on whiteness stereotyping her due to skin colour, she conversely does the same for white people. Do all white people sail, ski, or wash their hair every day? More importantly, do a majority of white people do so? In reading this book, I had to remind myself that Channing Brown can only describe the attributes of white people she had been exposed to. She seemed to lack basic understanding of life for a white person growing up in poverty and completely ignores the prejudice of classism that people of any skin colour face.

Continuing on, Channing Brown writes a chapter about valuing all black lives (brought to forefront of people’s minds due to the Black Lives Matter movement), including those of black criminals – her own cousin. This chapter was perhaps the most confusing of all in terms of logic. She describes her cousin Dalin who she states is a known drug dealer, but also a multi-faceted persona.
Due to the mandatory minimum sentences introduced by Bill Clinton, Channing Brown explores her cousin’s third-strike-you’re-out ten year prison sentence, and is left in anguish and rage when he dies needlessly due to poor care provided by the prison system. Unfortunately, Channing Brown conflates judgment of someone’s criminal activities (“drug dealer”) with a white person’s desire to hinge the criminal activity on one’s colour of skin.

“We don’t even talk about white murderers this way. Somehow we manage to think of them as people first, who just happened to do something bad.”

Who is “we” and where is this assumption birthed? For myself, I have never viewed murderers as “people first who happened to do something bad”. People, regardless of skin colour, make evil hurtful choices; it has nothing to do with “happening to do something bad” – it is a decisive choice made. Perhaps once again this a case of the quality of whiteness surrounding Channing Brown, but I know few white people who excuse away a notorious white murderer and attempt to humanize them due to the colour of their skin.

I believe this autobiography has an important message for it’s readers, regardless of skin colour. The experiences that Channing Brown shares and ordeals she has suffered through due to skin colour is wrong. What I struggled with the most reading this book was the generalized rhetoric that pervaded some sentences:

Even when the world doesn’t believe that Black bodies are capable of love.

Perhaps written to spur us forward into being allies to people of colour, I struggled with a book that offered no practical insight on how to be an ally. In fact, one of the sentiments expressed was that black people are tired and exhausted trying to explain to whiteness how to treat them. Yet, without knowing how to change and ways to help, it leaves one wondering what the aim of these essays are.

I suppose I am left extrapolating that this is a book for the author to rightfully rage in – to rage against the racial divide and stereotyping that people of colour in America face today. To rage again mistreatment, and to connect with others who have lived those same experiences.

For us, the white people – what we must do is listen. Listen to the stories, listen to the heart-break and pain, and to remind ourselves that these stories and books aren’t about us.

Barring my conflicting feelings about the general purpose of this book, I will add that I found there was a lack of cohesiveness to the writing quality and the outline of the book. An example would be the subject of Channing Brown’s cousin Dalin and the ensuing outcome of his life and lasting effects on those around him. Channing Brown spreads this lesson over a course of three chapters that feel disjointed, when it may have been wiser to have written a longer chapter, compacting the subject into a stronger piece of work rather than diluting it over the chapters. In some ways the autobiography feels like a stream of consciousness that Channing Brown has written, rather than an organized reflection; she touches on many subjects, but does not delve deeply, which leaves the reader wanting more.

Finally, Channing Brown leans strongly into the role of people of colour in American churches. Even though she touts Christian philosophy, Channing Brown implies that white people should give their power to people who have been marginalized, and uses the story of Jesus’ life as an example to support her stance. However, it is important to note that Jesus, who lived as a marginalized Jew during Roman occupation, did not urge any of his followers to demand power from the Romans as a wronged and marginalized people group. To be clear, I am not advocating that systemic racism and prejudice be allowed to continue unchecked and unquestioned – but I believe that using Jesus as a example for a transference of power in the American church is theologically incorrect.

It is disheartening to read of pervasive prejudice and racism within the American church. Channing Brown challenges the notion of “reconciliation” in the church, condemning halfhearted attempts to create racial equality, while failing to birth any tangible and lasting change. Once again though, there remains few practical pointers on how a Christian can be an ally within the church to people of colour.

As a person with a practical mindset, I enjoy reading non-fiction books that cause the reader to help exact the change needed and wanted by the writer. Unfortunately, this book left me flummoxed. Reiterating what I stated above – I came to the conclusion that this book was cathartic for the writer (which is, of course, important), and not meant to be a compass pointing us to practical steps and action one can take.

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At the Water’s Edge | Sara Gruen

At the Water's EdgeAt the Water’s Edge by Sara Gruen
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I wanted to love At the Water’s Edge by Sara Gruen, simply based on book Water for Elephants which I very much enjoyed. Unfortunately, this book was what I would describe as a “hot mess”. Keep reading but be warned – I’m going to post some fairly detailed spoilers.

The book opens promisingly enough: 1940 something, a woman suffers the loss of her newborn child, while also receiving news that her husband has been killed in action. Naturally she is heartbroken and wanders into a loch intentionally.

Flash-forward a year or two, it’s 1945, the war is almost over. We meet Maddie our protagonist, married to a wealthy socialite (not personally wealthy, his money comes from his parents) who is carsick while speeding through the hills on Scotland. ‘How did I end up here?’ Flashback! She’s celebrating New Years Eve with said husband and husband’s best friend. They decide to chase the myth of the Loch monster and definitively prove that it’s real.

Thing just get pointlessly complex. They cross the ocean despite it being full of German u-boats. Make it there without being killed. End up at an old inn and realize that they must endure “hardships” as Scotland, such as food rationing, black outs, hiding in bomb shelters, etc. Basically not nearly as bad as anything the rest of Europe has endured, but they are shocked by all of this due to America having been so removed from the war.

The inn owner/bartender is this salty man. Not much description is given of him. He wears an old sweater. Maddie’s husband starts to disintegrate as their attempts to film the monster prove more and more futile. His father had claimed to have found the monster, but his alleged photographic evidence was proven to be fake – so this is his son’s attempt to clear his name while making a name for himself.

Husband and friend start drinking more and more. Maddie’s eyes are opening to her husband’s misbehaviour. Suddenly she begins to experience feeling for the previously vague presence of the inn keeper. Could it be? Is he the missing soldier whose wife killed herself at the beginning of the story? (Homer Simpson’s voice: d’oh!)

Basically everything is this book is hella predictable and flat. The one attempt at a sex scene is tepid at best. The pacing is off – suddenly Maddie is deeply in love with the inn keeper and she breathes this to him two days after they decide they like each other.

As far as general plot ideas go, this novel really isn’t the worst, which is why I give it 2/5 stars. However, execution is lacking severely. Why the novel had to linger so much on secondary characters while barely winking at major love relationship is beyond me. Just pass it by.

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Quiverfull: Inside the Christian Patriarchy Movement | Kathryn Joyce

Quiverfull: Inside the Christian Patriarchy MovementQuiverfull: Inside the Christian Patriarchy Movement by Kathryn Joyce
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Quiverfull: Inside the Christian Patriarchy Movement by Kathryn Joyce is essentially an expose of the Christian fundamentalist movements which propagate the concept that patriarchy, cloaked in the more user friendly term “complementarianism”, is God-ordained and all else is sinful, witchcraft, and rebellion – no exaggeration, all those terms are used ad verbatim by fundamentalist believers.

Joyce covers many topics and sects in this book, perhaps a bit more than can properly be discussed in depth. At times I wished that leaders of the movement that she examines were more fully expounded on, but the choice to restrict the topics is understandable as there is much to investigate.

Having a childhood steeped in this theology and movement, I recognized many names and terms Joyce expounds on. To me this book represents an awakening: I had no idea that so many writers and leaders that I grew up being taught to respect and follow disseminated such toxic views of women. The name “Mary Pride” evinced in my mind’s eye the cover of her well-thumbed book All the Way Home: Power for Your Family to Be Its Best that was frequently read in my home growing up. Imagine my consternation learning that Pride ascribed to this bizarre notion of having sex only for procreation reasons – recreational sex is not to be tolerated.

On top of that, add in the Pearls (who have surprisingly not yet been sued for the part their book To Train Up a Child has played in the confirmed homicide of three children) with their abusive ideas of “discipline”, and Bill Gothard, founder of Basic Life Principles, an ideology supporting the systemic stripping of the individual rights of women, who was charged with sexual interference and sexual abuse. Finally, Doug Phillips, founder of Vision Forum, an ultra-conservative think-tank concerning themselves in movements such as barring female access to birth control, who admitted to an extra-marital affair.

All of these organizations, leaders, and movements have sought solidarity for one reason: to ensure that women are aware of their rightful place which is, *drum roll* under men. It doesn’t matter that the men are leading hypocritical lives which victimize said women. All it matters is that women know their rightful place and in living in subservience find “true freedom”.

The actual term “Quiverfull” applies to a movement being propagated mainly in America that encourages Christian families to have any many children as possible (preferably over 5) in order to add to the ranks of Christian soldiers. Quiverfull is also closely tied in to the homeschooling and agrarian movements. Add in some Christian reconstructionism and theonomy ideals and you have a movement that is slowly growing and potentially shaping the future of America, while encouraging a distrust of government and public education. With an emphasis on arranged marriages (Daddy knows best for his little girl), Quiverfull has found support from many conservative think-tanks, and several high level American politicians have endorsed the movement and conservative theology surrounding said movement.

As with any fundamentalist movement, Joyce focuses on the interviews and stories that provide what one might crudely describe as the most “shock value”, but Joyce’s voice is surprisingly absent in the book. Careful to avoid being accused of reader bias, this book is full of directly quoted interviews and fastidiously accrued statistics. In fact, the minor frustration I experienced while reading this novel was due to the fact that there seemed to be no horrified personal opinion inserted into this book when I felt it was most deserved.

If you want to expand your world view and knowledge of the fundamentalist Christian patriarchal movements, this is a must-read. On that note, I must add that there are Christians who do not subscribe to these concepts and who believe in mutual respect in heteronormative relationships.

4.5/5 for an excellent examination of this issue. Thank you Kathryn, for bringing these practices that are so hidden to light.

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The Outsider | Stephen King

The OutsiderThe Outsider by Stephen King
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

After finishing The Outsider, I went on a complaining rant to my sister on how overrated Stephen King is and how his books are almost childishly written. However, a few days after finishing it and mulling it over, I have decided that The Outsider is actually one of his better books as of late – don’t get me started on the trainwreck that was Under the Dome.

The thing that King does well is build characters and community. He fleshes each person out delightfully (and probably refers to their idiosyncrasies a little more often than he needs to eg Samuels constantly smoothing down his Alfalfa cow-lick, yeah we get it) and the reader becomes very familiar and even fond of certain characters. I have to applaud this gift of King’s, as I find that some authors fail to create well-rounded fleshed out characters.

However, that being said, I am not sure whether it’s because every horror or supernatural concept has been written about to death, or if there’s simply no new way to present supernatural characters but…the tension leading up to the inevitable face-off of The Outsider was palpable, but the actual moment was…meh.

When the mysterious circumstances surrounding a creature are more horrifying and creepy than the creature itself, we have to ask ourselves, has the writing failed? Or is it just unavoidable in a day and age with gratuitously violent horror and slasher flicks?

Regardless, I linger between giving The Outsider a 3.5 – 4 star rating. I think it settles somewhere solidly in between at 3.75. As far as King novels go, this one was much better than Under the Dome, but not as solid as his greatest hits.

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Métis Identity: Past, Present, and Future

by Marcia Veldman
Athabasca University

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A Métis York boat brigade at Cumberland House, Sask., 1912. (Photo: Library and Archives Canada, PA-017395)

The Métis ethnogenesis was born from a confluence of identities both assigned by Indigenous nations and Euro-Canadian fur traders, as well as self-identified by the Métis community themselves.  The diaspora of the Métis across North America did not diminish the strong will of the Métis to collectively self-identify as a community, an identity that grew within the new generations of Métis as they continued to live on ancestral lands, practice their culture, and speak Michif when possible.

The act of Métissage (racial mixing) began when European immigrants established contact with the indigenous inhabitants of both the north and south Americas.  As France established settlements in the New World, they attempted to assimilate the indigenous people to the European life by “trying to use racial intermixing as an instrument of the empire”;  the attempt to create a French New World by producing offspring of French settlers failed as the generations began to self-identify as a New Nation: Métis.  However, the Métis were not restricted to being solely of French heritage: the European backgrounds were varied between French, Scottish, and English, and marriages to native women would occur among English fur traders and settlers on Hudson Bay as native women proved invaluable with their knowledge and skills navigating the local terrain.  Perhaps even more confusing was the fact that not all offspring of those in interracial relationships considered themselves Métis – some simply self-identified as “Half-breeds” or “country born Indians”.  It seems impossible to define the Métis identity as being comprised strictly of one component or another.

Geographically the strongest presence of Métis identity is observed in the Prairie provinces; although the identity of the Métis may be diminished in the Eastern provinces, Jacques Rousseau claimed that “forty percent of French Canadians could find at least one Amerindian in their family trees” and one can extrapolate that the supposed absence of Métis in these province may be due to the century old denial of historians of the existence of the Métis .  Despite Samuel de Champlain’s statement to the Indians: “Our young men will marry your daughters, and we shall be one people” , European settlers were reluctant to accept the existence of interracial offspring due to their post-Renaissance ideals of pure bloodlines.

While the Métis identity may not have flourished in Eastern provinces, the community continued to grow in the interior provinces and prairies.  The male Métis offspring became proficient as hunters, trappers, or canoemen, while the females learned traditional skills from their mothers such as constructing shelters and preparing food.  Many Métis men worked as agents for the Hudson Bay Company or North West Company, and they could be identified by their “blue capote (coat), beaded pipe bag and bright red L’Assomption sash”, creating a type of cultural uniform.  The Métis clothing would become a combination of European embroidery and utilitarian materials, creating a clothing conducive to life in the wilderness .  From within this community grew a fierce sense of independence, characterized in the Cree name given to them: Otipemisiwak, meaning, “the people who command themselves” or “the free people” .  As the Métis began to self-identify culturally as a distinct community, the Indigenous people and European immigrants acknowledged the Métis existence by assigning names and definitions of the Métis as a cohesive and singular group of people.

The identity of the Métis deepened as Michif, a language formed from the mixing of French and Cree linguistics and said to be “a unique outcome of Métis mixed ancestry and creativity” , became the primary language of the Métis.  Michif itself is likely to have begun upon initial contact between the French settlers and Indians, although there is little historical record regarding the evolution of the language .  Despite the undeniable existence of this language, Michif continues to be ignored, and attempts to introduce Michif as a language officially taught or spoken within reservations has been met with opposition as some believe Ojibwa and Cree should be taught in their pre-European state without reflecting the influence of European languages .

In 1814, Miles Macdonnell, Governor of Assiniboia, issued a proclamation prohibiting the Métis from selling goods to fur trade companies .  Other punitive proclamations would follow, causing tensions between the Métis and Upper Canada, and ultimately leading to a military skirmish in 1816.  Following this uprising, the Métis flag was flown for the first time, an infinity symbol representing the eternal synthesis of two cultures.  Despite the Métis having been recognized by as a distinct community by other Indigenous nations, Euro-Canadians, Europeans, and colonial United Kingdom, they remained ineligible for land grants and were excluded from the treaty systems .  Disagreements over the attempts to dispossess Métis from their land created a catalyst leading to further military action under the leadership of Louis Riel.

Despite facing systemic prejudice and racism, like their ancestors before, the Métis have survived hardships to emerge as a community with a stronger identity and a clear voice that demands to be heard.  Though their language is ignored, their history denied, and their existence diminished, the Métis continue to evolve and share their culture for those of us who need to hear their story.  The identity of the Métis does not rely on being of certain mixed heritage, but rather exists as a result of Métis ancestors making the conscious decision to self-identify as a singular nation and community of people rather than identifying as a mixed-race nation.  Today, the Crown- Métis Nation Summits have been a significant step in reconciliation between the Government of Canada and the Métis Nation.  The Canadian government has pledged to listen to concerns raised by the Métis Nation and work together toward reconciliation and a better understanding of what it means to identify as Métis in modern day Canada.

 

 

 

​Three Approaches: The Interpretation of the Numbered Treaties

by Marcia Veldman
Athabasca University

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This is an original photograph of the conclusion of negotiations for Treaty No. 3 at the North West Angle. It was taken by Wright Bros. Photographers of Rat Portage, now Kenora, Ontario. The photo shows a gathering of First Nations Treaty negotiators. In the front row are four men, three of whom are wearing medals that represent Canada’s Treaty promises. Two of the men hold pipes with long pipe stems of the type used to invoke the Creator as witness to verify First Nations‘ and the Crown’s commitments to the terms of the Treaty.

From 1871 to 1921, a series of eleven treaties were signed between the Indigenous peoples of Canada and the Crown, agreements describing exchanges of ancestral lands for varied payments in return.  Although the treaties inscribed on paper are preserved for examination in our current time, the oral promises exchanged between the Chiefs and Commissioners have attenuated and diminished with the passing of time.  In recent years, cases have been brought to the Supreme Court of Canada to examine whether the federal government has fulfilled its treaty promises to the Indigenous peoples, thus demonstrating how the addressed treaties are legally interpreted by Canadian courts.  There are three primary way wherein the treaties may be interpreted:  through the literal approach of studying physical documents, through the “spirit and intent” approach focusing on the Indian understanding and oral accounts of the treaties, and through the legal interpretations from Canadian and International courts.   

When considering the literal documents which were signed by both Indigenous Chiefs and Commissioners of the Crown, it is important to note the differences between the Euro-Canadian and Indigenous cultures Although the European settlers had used paper and coin currency as a means for payment for several hundred years, the Indians did not possess an understanding of the value of banknotes due to the recent introduction of it into their societies, therefore rendering the promises of financial annuities meaningless for many.  As stated in an interview with John Yellowhorn, “…no one explained to the Indian what this paper money was for.  They were told it was for trading, but they did not know its value…They did not know how to count it, what it was worth. .  Not only were the concepts presented by the Crown foreign to the Indigenous people—the treaties being written, and promises being spoken in English created another barrier to clear communication.  Interpreters were present at the signing of the treaties, yet not every dialect was represented, and the fairness of the interpreters was questionableIn 1877, the Cree brought Metis interpreter Peter Eramus to the signing of Treaty Seven to clarify the terms of the treaty.  Eramus later stated, “‘…my sympathies transferred to the Governor’s side.  From that point onward, Eramus was the main conduit through which information was passed from the Commission to the Indians” .  Finally, the Crown and each person involved with writing the treaties demonstrated a culture built from occidental philosophy, which included the concept of property ownership.  The British subscribed to the concept of private ownership, but the Indians cyclical philosophy led them to believe that land ownership was impossible as the lands belong to the Creator themselves. The Indians did not believe they could truly relinquish the property outlined in the treaties because “they were never given such unconditional ownership by their grantor (the Creator)…” . 

With the concepts presented in the written treaties lacking clarity, and the language used inaccessible for the Indians, the second approach to interpreting the treaties is invaluable to understanding how the spirit of the treaties was interpreted by the Indigenous peoples.  The Crown and Euro-Ccanadian settlers valued the power of written contracts and agreements but failed to understand that the Indians viewed oral promises in the same light:  as legal contracts andwhen oral communication takes place, it is understood that men are literally bound by their words” .  Logically, if the bands valued oral promises as strongly as written contracts, it would prove difficult for the Commissioners and agents to create an understanding that only written documents bore any legal weight with the signing of each treaty.  Though they attempted to clarify the contents and significance of the treaties, “there are serious doubts that the Commission was ever successful in explaining this concept to the Indians.  It was a constant problem associated with the negotiation of every Indian treaty” Intertwined with the importance of oral contracts was the spirituality wherein the Indians approached the treaty ceremonies:  the smoking of the peace pipe was a ritual of seeking guidance from the Great Spirit .  The Commissioners and agents, however, did not grasp the spiritual significance of these ceremonies to the Indigenous people; the spirit with which the Indians approached the treaties and the cultural philosophies they celebrated were significant to themselves but were not understood by other parties present.  These cultural differences are the fundamental reason why the spirit and intent with which the Indigenous people interpreted and participated in the treaty signings should be accounted for when considering the legality and content of the treaties. 

Finally, the third approach to interpreting the treaties is through international and Canadian laws, which differ significantly.  Though the Royal Proclamation of 1763 confirmed aboriginal rights and recognized “Indian title to land as having its source in Indian ownership from time immemorial” , the numbered treaties initiated by the Crown with Indigenous nations belied this proclamation.  The treaties were based upon the European doctrine of discovery, which held that the first European country to land on unexplored land held rights over the property , and they sought to nullify all Indian right to the land.  Today the Supreme Court of Canada does not recognize the Indigenous people as a sovereign nation and continues to hold land as Crown land even though the treaties were signed between two nations.  The proprietary approach that the Crown has exhibited towards all Indigenous nations is rooted in the English law system and does not adhere to the standards of international law .   

On reflection of the three approaches to interpreting the treaties, it is difficult to definitively state which approach is the most accurate.  The treaties were written by a party with a philosophy and culture that was dissimilar from those of the signing parties, creating an inherent cognitive dissonance.  Each approach is vital to interpreting the treaties, and therefore the written and oral contracts should be considered when examining the history and standing legalities of these treaties. 


References

 

 

 

 

Silenced Voices: The Systemic Suppression of Canadian Indigenous Women

by Marcia Veldman
Athabasca University

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Life on the reserves was difficult for Canada’s indigenous peoples such as these Cree women and children near Maskwacis (formerly known as Hobbema), ca. 1890s. They tried to adopt an agricultural lifestyle on land that they did not own or control—land that often was not suited for agriculture. Poverty was common throughout the reserves. Source: Glenbow Archives, NA-682-3

 

The cessation of Indian status for indigenous women who “married out” of Indian society or into other bands has caused exceeding socioeconomic, cultural, and personal harm, to both the affected women and those around them.  Although many laws, treaties, and acts laid basis for the paternalistic treatment of Indians and the discrimination against Indian women in particular, The Gradual Enfranchisement Act of 1869, which defined status Indians for the first time , and the Indian Act passed by federal parliament in 1876 were highly restrictive in the daily regulations of Indian lives and communities.  In 1985, Bill C-31 (Bill to Amend the Indian Act) was passed into legislation, legally entitling Indian women to gender equality as laid out in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.  While Bill C-31 was created to empower individual bands to become self-governing and autonomous, the power structures that remain intact today do not reflect the structures of band society that existed prior to colonization, specifically with regards to the status of Indian women.

To truly understand the negative effects the Indian Act and previous treaties had on Indian women, one must consider the sociological history of the various indigenous tribes and bands.  Despite the current Euro-Canadian patriarchal culture that Canadian society functions within, the indigenous societies were unique in often being matriarchal of nature: Indian women, specifically senior matrons, were both highly valued and carried vast responsibilities and authority within their bands, as the male members, known as hunters and gatherers, were frequently physically absent for long periods of time .  While the men followed the migratory patterns of buffalo, caribou, and other types of resources across vast spaces of land on hunting expeditions, the bands were managed by the women who remained behind with the elderly and young children.  Many First Nations were also matrilineal:  a family’s descent and inheritance were traced through the female for generations and senior matrons were empowered to elect chiefs and depose them when so desired .  Although certain bands may not have been solely matriarchal, traditional roles would have been egalitarian in these bands , and women would have been recognized as equal in status to male band members.  When considering all the roles that Indian women assumed within their families and bands, it is clear that they were valued as an integral piece of their indigenous communities, even as the maternal being was honoured in indigenous spiritual beliefs.

However, as the number of European settlers multiplied at a steady rate, European ideals and practices became the normative basis of life in Canada, which included the ideology of women being viewed as property of their male counterparts .  Victorian culture promulgated the notion that women were fragile gentle creatures, not built for physical labour or leadership; with these ideals, European settlers would have found any farming or various labour tasks Indigenous women performed vulgar and inappropriate.  The independence of Indian women economically, politically, and even sexually, did not reflect domestic Euro-centric ideals .  As the nineteenth century government of Canada became intent on “civilizing” the indigenous peoples, the true intentions of the Canadian government and the Canadian Indian Department would be exhibited and imbedded within legislation:  assimilation.  To successfully assimilate, the government introduced the concept of enfranchisement in the Gradual Enfranchisement Act of 1869 to male Indians, which involved terminating one’s Indian status and receiving full Canadian citizenship, thus ending any fiscal benefits an Indian may have received, as well as their cultural identities .  Although the concept of enfranchisement may have seemed feasible to the Canadian government, the notion of abandoning one’s community and identity was rejected by most male Indians, much to the government’s consternation and surprise.  Notably, married Indian women not offered sole enfranchisement without the permission of their husbands , and with that action the government arbitrarily relegated Indian women to a lesser status beneath their male equals and built a foundation of how Indian women would be treated and viewed for decades to come.

Indian women could no longer choose freely who they wanted to marry without the potential threat of being ejected from their community; those who did opt to “marry out” of their bands were displaced and disallowed from returning to live with their families on the reserves .  Any Indian women who married into another band were forced to sever ties with the bands they were born into, automatically relegated into their partner’s current band.  Section 6 of the 1869 Act, which reaffirmed the Victorian ideal that Indian women were to be submissive to their husbands while recognizing that their offspring would legally be his ,  would eventually become the cornerstone of Section 12.1.b of the Indian Act passed in 1951.

Despite 82 years passing between the Gradual Enfranchisement Act of 1869 and the Indian Act of 1951, the status of Indian women did not improve on the passing of the 1951 act.  The membership status of Indians became more complex, and the subsequent changes to the status of Indian women were deleterious. Prior to the 1951 Act, Indian women were discouraged from marrying outside of their societies with the threat of being removed from their communities; however, if they chose to marry outside of their society or into another band, they would still maintain Indian status and receive their lawful annuities.  With the passing of Section 12.1.b, Indian women who married a non-Indian would lose their status, band rights, treaty and health benefits, the right to live on their reserve and inherit property, and finally, the right to be buried with their ancestors . Section 12.1.b effectively removed any autonomy or legal rights of Indian women, placing them under the guidance and care of their husbands in a paternalistic act.  Although the 1951 amended oppressive sections regarding cultural Indian practices such as potlatch and wearing ceremonial dress, Indian women continued to be discriminated against even as the world was evolving and civil rights movements were gaining interest and popularity among the Canadian public .

After years of fighting for recognizable status, Bill C-31 passed in 1985 with three goals:  to address discrimination against Indian women within the Indian Act, to restore Indian status to those had lost their status due to discriminatory enfranchisement, and to create autonomy within bands regarding band memberships .  Bill C-31 amended the discriminatory legislation of Section 12.1.b from the 1951 Indian Act, but despite the changes to legislation and law, the decades of injustice perpetuated against indigenous women have caused grave social and psychological consequences that are impossible to measure definitively.  Decades of injustice and institutionalized mistreatment of Indian women has permeated native identity and communities with band governments failing to make the wellbeing of their women a priority .  A 2009 General Social Survey performed by Statistics Canada revealed that Aboriginal women were almost three times more likely to be a victim of violent crime than a non-Aboriginal woman .

There is no doubt that Aboriginal women have faced egregious harm since the beginning of Euro-Canadian colonization in Canada, having been stripped of their legal rights, identity, and independence for decades.  Although the Government of Canada has attempted to make reparations for racist and misogynist legislation that shaped the view of Indigenous women for decades, they continue to face discrimination, violence, and prejudice within their own communities and Canadian society.  As awareness continues to be raised regarding the history of Indigenous women, there remains hope that education and empathy will lend to building respect for the culture and identity of all aboriginal women, along with an empowerment and ability to raise their voices and finally be heard.

 

References

Chinook Multimedia. (2018). 1985 – Bill C-31. Retrieved from Canadian History: The Many Histories of Canada: https://canadianhistory.ca/natives/timeline/1980s/1985-bill-c-31

Crey, K. (2009). Enfranchisement. Retrieved from Indigenous Foundations: https://indigenousfoundations.arts.ubc.ca/enfranchisement/

FemNorthNet. (2016). How Colonialism Affects Women. Retrieved from Feminist Northen Network: http://fnn.criaw-icref.ca/images/userfiles/files/LWM4_ColonialismWomen.pdf

First Nations Studies Program. (2009). Bill C-31. Retrieved from Indigenous Foundations: https://indigenousfoundations.arts.ubc.ca/bill_c-31/

Hanson, E. (2009). Marginalization of Aboriginal Women. Retrieved from Indigenous Foundations: https://indigenousfoundations.arts.ubc.ca/marginalization_of_aboriginal_women/

Hanson, E. (2009). The Indian Act. Retrieved from Indigenous Foundations: https://indigenousfoundations.arts.ubc.ca/the_indian_act/

Harry, K. (2009). The Indian Act & Aboriginal Women’s Empowerment: What Front Line Workers Need to Know. Retrieved from Battered Women’s Support Services: http://bwss.org/wp-content/uploads/2010/06/theindianactaboriginalwomensempowerment.pdf

Jamieson, K. (1986). Sex Discrimination and The Indian Act. In J. Ponting, Arduous Journey: Canadian Indians and Decolonization (p. 113). Toronto: McClelland and Stewart.

Sayers, J. F., & MacDonald, K. A. (2001). A Strong and Meaningful Role for First Nations Women in Governance. Ottawa: Status of Women Canada.

Statistics Canada. (2009). Violent Victimization of Aboriginal Women in the Canadian Provinces. Statistics Canada.

 

 

 

Sea Prayer | Khaled Hosseini

Sea PrayerSea Prayer by Khaled Hosseini
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I have loved all of Khaled Hosseini’s previous works, specifically The Kite Runner. Even though Sea Prayer is a short book with 48 pages that only hold a few sentences, I did not find myself disappointed yet again. As I read to the last page, I was somewhat surprised to find such a short little book, perhaps even more aptly described as a poem or prayer, would overwhelm me with so much emotion. Again, I was surprised to wipe some tears out of my eyes.

My husband asked me if it was an appropriate book to read to our 3 year old and I didn’t know how to respond. The illustrations are stunning and the book raises global awareness. Though there are heavier nuances to it, can the raising of awareness to the plight of those around us ever be wrong? I have not read it to him yet and I probably would not read it ad verbatim as some of the language might be scary or overwhelming, but this is a stunning book that should be instituted in schools.

I hope those who complain about the cost of the book compared to the size of it’s content are aware of two things. One, the book is being sold to raise money for a charitable cause. Two, the quantity of a book does not measure it’s quality and vice versa.

Sea Prayer is the first novel I read in 2019 and I believe it will set a good tone for the rest of the reading I do this year. Please buy this book to support UNICEF and to enjoy something beautiful and moving.

View all my reviews

A Season of Grief

For a few weeks I have been struggling through something I finally feel ready to share with you, my friends.

At the end of November I found out I was unexpectedly pregnant. A pregnancy had not been planned, it wasn’t in my life schedule. I had lists and calendars–pregnancy wasn’t on it. My instinctive reaction wasn’t welcoming. How could I cope with pregnancy and a baby on top of the whirlwind known as Des, work and pursuing post secondary studies?

Over the next few days, I grew excited. Babies are a gift, a blessing. It wasn’t easy for me to conceive, so this was a good thing. We would make it work. I began to envision the baby–would he or she look like Des? What would they be like? I found myself thinking about tiny baby clothes, the little socks that fit on your finger like a glove. Des played with his cousin and I imagined him doing the same with a sibling. Life was so bright.

Through the awakening excitement, I also became aware that something didn’t feel quite right about my pregnancy. I couldn’t articulate it well. I reached out to my family physician to express my concerns and I was dismissed, told that “every pregnancy is different” and “your body is just changing”. I waited three weeks for my first ultrasound, moving from excitement to fear. The day of the ultrasound I let myself hope that maybe everything was alright, even though in my heart I was still inexplicably and deeply worried.

At the ultrasound there was no fetal pole in my uterus. I felt almost a sigh of relief at knowing I wasn’t crazy. There was something off, but it didn’t end there. There was no viable embryo in my uterus, but there was a mass outside my uterus, near my tube.

The doctors were confused. What was the mass? From there I descended into a whirlwind of invasive exams and blood poking. I felt that I was accepting of what happened, but in retrospect, I was numb. After multiple ultrasounds, margins still weren’t clear, but the pain I had been feeling pointed to an ectopic pregnancy, heterogenic due to the second egg in my uterus which wasn’t viable.

The day the doctors became decided on my diagnosis, I was rushed into surgery a couple hours later. The operating team gave me such compassionate care, rubbing my arms, holding my hands and telling me they were so sorry about the final diagnosis. “It’s okay, these things happen,” I replied, trying to convince myself with my calm responses. Post operatively the surgeon told me the egg had implanted in my ovary (which is rare) and it could have been fatal if I had continued on without surgery. I had a D&C to remove the second empty egg as well. I went home two hours later, early morning on December 17th and I carefully lay down on the couch and stared at the Christmas tree lights.

Christmas passed by in a whirlwind. My coworkers knew what had happened and sent me the kindest messages. Other friends who were aware of everything kept checking in on me and showed me their love and compassion. My family supported me from the distance with gifts to make up for missed work shifts. We had a quiet Christmas with a few siblings, but Desmond’s elation at learning how to open gifts filled my heart up. I was okay. I was moving on. On December 26 I went back to work for a short shift.

But grief is funny. Suddenly in this past week, especially the past two days, I changed. My hormone levels dropping probably have affected me, but I began snapping at my husband, who has only supported and helped me through it all. Flashes of anger I couldn’t control came over me. Tuesday night I had a panic attack in a grocery store and had to walk out, shaking and trembling, deeply afraid for no reason. Last night I sat on the couch with tears rolling down my cheeks, unable to control myself. I fell asleep crying. This morning Des knocked my coffee over and I exploded on Matt without reason.

What am I mourning? Something that was never meant to be? Am I truly grieving, or are my hormonal changes affecting my emotional state? Can I feel sad about something I never truly had? Is the mourning for what might have been, the hope I had cherished? Or am I indulging in self-pity?

Therein lies the mystery and conundrum of being a woman, being a mother, being pregnant for even only 7 weeks. Everything is speculation. Specialists say women who suffer a miscarriage/loss can experience moderate to severe symptoms of anxiety after loss, even to the point of being diagnosed with PTSD. There hasn’t been much research done, because when you have your D&C and your levels return to normal, your medical care ends and you are often left to seek treatment for your emotional stability on your own. Or not.

I’m not sure why I’m writing this, except maybe to share my experience with you, which you may be able to identify with if you have gone through loss yourself. Maybe this is another way I grieve. Maybe I needed to write this to work it out in my head and heart. Maybe I need you to tell me I’m not alone and slowly it will hurt less. Maybe I’m hoping to open up dialogue about miscarriage and loss, normalize it so it’s not something we whisper awkwardly about, unsure of what to say. Maybe I’m over-sharing and this will make you feel awkward.

But if you’re quietly going through this alone, I’m there with you. I walk beside you on the same path. I feel your hopelessness and grief. Who knows where we’ll end up with our hearts. All my heart knows right now is fear and sadness, but life carries on and time heals along with love–the neverending love from my husband and son which has held me up. I pray we will one day be healed, or even just more whole.

❤️

“PURPOSE” — Lent, Day 20

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Life.
One of the greatest gifts I have been blessed with is the birth and life of my son.

Like most parents, I want the best for him. I want him to be happy, I want him to be full of joy.
I realize how blessed I am to have been given this little life to teach and to bring to adulthood and then send out into the world.

As I have seen his needs met from infancy (food, milk, water, clothes, a home), I have witnessed him grow into a new toddler. My husband and I often ponder what he will “be like” as he ages.

We can already see the character he is developing: strong, independent, curious.

At this moment in time we are meeting his physical needs but also his emotional needs: we shower him with love and relationships.

When I think of the future though, I realize that my desire is for him to find his calling in life. So many people are deeply unhappy. I see it manifested on their Facebook statuses, in their conversations, through their general demeanor. We all have moments of unhappiness and discontent, but so many people I know seem so deeply empty and unhappy.

I want my son to know, to believe there is more in life. To believe there is a reason for his existence, for his dreams, for his destination.

I want him to know that life is not futile, that we are more than bodies seeking reason and fulfillment from materials around us. I deeply long for my son to have PURPOSE in his life.

Reflecting on how I want him to have purpose, I am only forced to ask myself the very same question.

What has my purpose in life been?
Is this truly my deepest purpose?
What is my passion?
How does my passion and purpose align?

We are never too old to ask ourselves these questions. We are never too old to evaluate where we are in life.

Is the life we are living the one HE meant for us to live?

 

And we know that is all things GOD works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.
Rom.8:28

 

 

DAILY PRAYER: LORD, make your purpose for my life clear to me, no matter how surprising or unexpected it may be. Give me strength to examine who and what I am living my life for. Amen.