sôhkitêhêwin, courage.

“…from the government’s perspective, the land surrender was absolutely non-negotiable … in my opinion, the Cree leadership was aware of this and accepted it going into treaty, hence the lack of protracted discussion on this topic…” para 509

“I also agree with Dr. von Gernet’s opinion that the Cree were not indigenous to central Alberta, and were not present there until sometime after European contact, primarily due to their involvement in the European fur trade.” para 576

Teitelbaum J. in Samson Indian Nation and Band v. Canada, [2005] 2 C.N.L.R. 358; 2005 FC 136.

“First Nations need to join the 21st century, Their ancestral way of life is no longer viable due to demand on land and resources.” – comment on cbc.ca story, “First Nations groups protest pipeline proposal”.

“The reserves need to start paying taxes if they want better service.” – comment on cbc.ca story, “Water Access ‘a disaster’ on northern Man. reserves”.

“…I’m ready to say treaties be damned. This siphoning of money should have stopped a long time ago.” – comment on cbc.ca story, “First Nation offered $17M settlement“.

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I could fill volumes with comments like those above…were volumes not already full of such sentiments.

The case law is flush with pronouncements like those made by Justice Teitelbaum.  Legal findings of ‘fact’ in regards to the history, culture, traditions and realities of aboriginal peoples in Canada.  ‘Facts’ which have direct consequences on native people and communities, whether the consequence is to deny them justice, or merely deny them altogether.

Historical texts and ‘experts’ inform these judicial opinions. They most certainly also influence the attitudes we see reflected in the comments made on any story dealing with native issues.  The comments I chose were among the mildest, but their refrain is familiar.

It is hard to avoid the negativity.  Whether you are native yourself or work on native issues, you’ve likely faced a host of prejudices, stereotypes, bizarre historical interpretations and the like.

There is poison in these words. maci-maskihkiy, and I mean that strongly. And man, can it get you down.  I mean, really down.

Wiser people than me have all sorts of things to say about anti-racism discourse and action.  Much has been said too about well-meaning liberals and their anti-oppression rhetoric which oft times promotes assimilation under the banner of liberal notions of equality.  Discussing decolonisation and anti-racism and anti-oppression is good, and worth engaging in…but sometimes we need to step away from theory and take care of ourselves.

That is the purpose of this post.  sôhkitêhêwin.  sôhkitêhêtân!

It takes courage to stop internalising all the horrible things people say and believe about you.  It takes bravery to face those things without becoming bitter and angry.  It takes strength to keep going… and we need to give ourselves some credit.  We are still here.  These things still hurt because we are still here.

It’s not about developing a thicker skin.  That just happens.  I do think it is about knowing when to engage, and when to save your energy.  It is about acknowledging what you have accomplished without expecting that you can fix it all.  It’s about letting joy into your life despite the externally imposed injustice and the horizontal violence.

sôhkitêhêwin.  To me it goes beyond the word ‘courage’…to me it means being rooted.  It means intertwining my roots with the roots of others.  It isn’t about standing alone.

I feel that our communities are the reason we are still a thorn in the side of Canada.  Our communities have prevented us from being blown away like ashes.  They root us.  Disease, violence, Residential schools, the 60s sweep, poverty, injustice after injustice…we are still here…sôhkitêhêtân!

Even those of us now living urban, we can make community happen.  Jeez, it doesn’t even matter if your urban community is made up of an assortment of Mohawk, Innu, Mi’gmaq, Cree and some Pacific Islanders…ha, suddenly you’re all pointing with your lips and scarfing down bannock and tea…

I need that.  I really do.  Maybe you do too.  Maybe you have it.  If you don’t, I hope you seek it out.

I find more strength, more sôhkitêhêwin, in the joking and chatting than I ever have in working on Aboriginal litigation or negotiation settlements.  I don’t think I could do the work I do without a community.  It would wear me down…it would make me quit.

I tell my daughters that sometimes, you have to ignore it when people tell lies about you, or offer ‘solutions’ that don’t make sense.  I tell them this in the context of their school and their interactions with others in school, but I think it’s a good lesson for me too. I can’t stop people from saying and thinking bad things.  I can’t single-handedly reform the Canadian approach to aboriginal peoples.  I can’t fix everything that needs fixing.

But I can raise my head, and my voice, and I can intertwine my roots with those of my ancestors, and my children, and together we will have sôhkitêhêwin.

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Categories: Alienation, Culture, Injustice, Representation of natives, Urban Aboriginal

0 Responses to sôhkitêhêwin, courage.


  1. Are you aware of the account of the treaty signing given by Jim Kâ-nîpitêhtêw of Onion Lake? He was the son of one of the signers of Treaty 6, and he gave a series of kakêskîhkêmowina that he wanted recorded for posterity. In one of them, he recounts his father’s account of the negotiations for Treaty 6. It’s the only documented account of the Cree side of that debate. Of course, it’s been largely ignored because it’s in Cree.

    My supervisor H.C. Wolfart collected and published it along with Freda Ahenakew. Published by UManitoba Press back in 1998. If you have not read it, PLEASE READ IT. It’s probably the single most important Cree document in existence. H.C. Wolfart has done a fair bit of thinking and talking about it. I myself know these texts just about by heart – kâ-pimwêwêhahk (his preferred Cree name) was one of the greatest speakers of any language ever, in my opinion. And I cut my teeth on Demosthenes and Plato in Greek.

    That first quote up there is just flat-out not true. The Cree did not understand what ‘surrendering land’ meant. There was no sense in which askiy meant that anyway. The negotiations did not proceed that way anyway. But nobody cares.

    The second quote is a massive distortion of a bunch of off-hand comments in an old explorer’s journal. But nobody cares.

    The rest of it is just typical garbage internet trolling. You’d be better off not reading it – it’ll just shorten your life and raise your blood pressure! 🙂

  2. Have you ever read much of what was done/said about the Irish in the 17th-19th century? Might help you get a broader perspective on this awfulness – for me, at least, that generally helped.

    I came to this backwards from you, maybe? – I started thinking about what happened to my Irish family and how we got where we are now (understatement: the 20th century has not been good), and then I had a forehead slapping moment where I realized “AWW &^$%&^$%&! THE INDIANS WENT THROUGH SIMILAR JUNK!” When I read accounts of aboriginal issues, I would ask myself what these same people would say about the Irish experience. Lo and behold, they would say much of the same stuff. It helped me sort out a lot. Personally, at least.

    Of course, in our case, we AREN’T still here. I think you should feel very encouraged that you ARE. Our Irishness is basically dead. The last person in my family who spoke the language threw himself in front of a train about 1911. My daughter will have no connection at all. We’re all ‘white’ now. Which means we’re really *%^ed up and have no idea why, basically.

    • I suppose the distinction I’d point out is that the Irish of Canada, assimilated or not, continue to have a homeland where their culture can still be found and reconnected with if that’s what you want to do. Whereas for aboriginal peoples, this IS our homeland. If we lose connection with our culture, there is nowhere else to go to revive it.

      A lot gets said about there being a lack of a ‘Canadian’ culture, but I think it’s a load of shit, honestly. It’s hard to know what your culture IS when you are totally immersed in it and it is the norm. I think a lot of people get a better sense of their own culture when they are forced out of their cultural context and into another. That is when you start to realise you do indeed have certain shared values and expectations…generally these epiphanies occur when you’ve just transgressed in some way in another context or when someone has done a thing you find incredibly rude (but which is perfectly fine to them).

      I think Canadians need to learn more about their own history as well, as newcomers to this land, and what that took through the various stages of the growth of this nation. That’s not me being patriotic and impressed with Canada, but the history is pretty amazing actually, and I think that Canadians are pretty unaware of that fact. Of course Canadian history includes our history, and I think that Canadians in general would benefit culturally from being more aware of how their stories intertwined with ours. Do they know, for example, that Cree (and various forms of Michif) were the lingua franca for many, many years? Heck…I just read an article recently about Chinese troops who were forcibly shipped off to dig trenches during WWI, shipped all away across the country from the West coast without most people being aware of it. Canada is full of forgotten histories that I think could go a long way to helping Canadians develop a sense of their own identies regardless of where their people originated from.

      Anyway, the point is not to figure out who got screwed worse. The point is to figure out how to build a new relationship. We can’t do that if we don’t know ourselves, or those we share these lands with, and that’s true regardless of whether you’re a settler or not.

  3. Decadence says:

    pointing with your lips?

  4. Lol, you’d have to see it to understand it. Pinoys do it a lot too, I notice.

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