It has been a wonderful year in many ways ... i have had opportunities to travel, to grow, to learn and much more. One of the things i have been learning more about is not so wonderful - it is lateral violence. That creeping, ugly thing that arises out of our oppression and feelings of insecurity which causes us to be unkind to one another, to gossip, backstab and otherwise cut down friends, family and members of our community. It can take many forms - some subtle, some not so much and can even escalate to physical violence.
In the Indigenous community the form that it often takes may include attacks on someone's right to their heritage - this is sometimes referred to as "bloodism" or arguments over degree of Indigeneity. People who do not have status under the Indian Act in Canada are particularly vulnerable to these sorts of attacks due to a lack of 'proof' of Indigenous ancestry. There are some who argue that an individual loses all right to claim Indigenous identity if removed from the 'pure' blood strain more than four (4) generations. This is a purely arbitrary decision in many respects. I have been told... and found through research that there was no such practice as this in our communities prior to contact with the colonisers. As if there is any 'purity' to any bloodline!
My heritage is Ashkwakie/Meshkwakie & Tsalagi (Sauk/Fox & Cherokee) - i was told that from a very early age. I grew up in a place where it was not possible for me to connect with my culture because it was not where my people could be found (in Newfoundland the Beothuk were
eradicated and the Micmac had to fight the government for recognition, so i had no teachers from any Indigenous culture). Due to the process of colonisation, my father was unable to share anything about our culture with me. I was however, imbued with a sense of pride of who my ancestors are. I also experienced the impacts of racism despite my white privilege (Irish skin!) because my father 'looks like' an Indigenous person. (yes, they called me squaw).
In 1992 i moved to Ottawa, Creator found a way to connect me with the Indigenous community and i began to learn about many Indigenous cultures. This changed my life - a true blessing as i was embraced as a drum carrier, an Indigenous veteran and Helper in the community. Often over the last 20+ years i struggled myself with whether i had the right to all this... was i Indigenous enough? What is Indigenous enough? I was lucky to have great teachers put on my path who have helped me to find peace with this. They helped me to understand that i needed to accept the teachers Creator sent to me... that if Creator chose to send Anishinaabe teachers, that is who i was to learn from and those are the teachings i carry. I always acknowledge and thank the Anishinaabe people for their generosity. After all, the Anishinaabe are my cousins through my Meshkwakie and Ashkwakie ancestors
The other thing that has added to my peace with this is learning from Elders who have shared powerful teachings with me about how things were in some First Nations prior to colonisation. People would come to our community through war or adoption and would spend years with our community - after a certain point, they were simply members of the community - no longer thought of as 'other'. There is a sad irony that now we are doing the work of the coloniser, 'othering' one another and have lost this beautiful tradition!
Those of us who don't speak our ancestors language or who didn't have the benefit of growing up in full knowledge of our culture are now being judged as 'unworthy' of our Indigenous identity. We are being tagged as 'posers' or 'wannabes' simply because we are victims of colonisation - just as are our 'accusers'... although some of them do have the benefit of speaking their ancestors language. We are being judged by the colour of our skin - as if the essence of being Indigenous rests in the amount of melanin you carry! My Elders have taught me that the essence of being Indigenous lies in our heart and our spirit - how we put down our footsteps and how we move through our community.
Those who are acting out of this lateral violence are doing it with a sort of 'righteous' tone and justification that the are 'protecting' the integrity of the teachings of our ancestors. They fail to see how complicit they are in continuing the process of colonisation - because in one sense or another, we are ALL complicit. To experience this questioning in the form of these attacks, to see friends, good people attacked in the same way is exhausting, disheartening and sad. It could trigger in me that old insecurity of whether i am Indigenous 'enough' or whether i have the right to my heritage.
Luckily i am stronger than that now - NO ONE gets to take my identity away - i know who i am! I am Animikii Mukwa, i am Bear Clan and i am Tsalagi, Meshkwakie, Ashkwakie and i will stand strong for all those who are threatened by this divisive, colonising trick. Lateral violence must end - we must all take steps to end it - not by silencing anyone - but through open dialogue. We are all part of the circle.