By Tara Williamson. Voices Rising on February 28th, 2014
This week we learned that Loretta Saunders, an Inuk student from Labrador, has been murdered. In her death, our sister joins a long and growing list of Indigenous women and girls who have been, and continue to be, killed or disappeared across Turtle Island. Our hearts are heavy, filled with both grief and outrage at this unrelenting colonial violence against our people. And we have to draw the line. The violence must stop. In this spirit, we will be running a series of posts, from a range of voices, that address this crisis and declare: #ItEndsHere. We are committed to eliminating all forms of violence within Indigenous communities, including violence based on gender and sexual identity (sexual orientation). And we cannot allow this to continue. Please join us in making this commitment and in working through how we can respond as a community to bring justice to those who have been taken from us, and to hold those who perpetrate violence against us accountable. In peace, friendship and solidarity.
I got tricked. Normally when I hear about an Indigenous woman gone missing, my first instinct is the one articulated by Darryl Leroux (in his candid piece about Loretta Saunders): She’ll “show up in a ditch like so many indigenous women before her.” Crass? Yes. True? Sadly, yes.
But, this time, for some reason, when I heard Loretta had gone missing, I had this glimmer of hope, this notion that, for some reason, maybe this time it would be different. I don’t know why. I struggle with the possibility that I let myself be hopeful because she was an urbanized grad student or because she could pass as white. Oh, I know that’s problematic and I struggle with this as the potential cause of my usually-scarce sentiment of hope because it reminds me that I’ve swallowed the pill. Despite all my talk, all my activism, all my ‘decolonizing’ work, I swallowed the pill. If this is the fountainhead of my hope, it means that somewhere deep inside of me I believe that being educated, urban, and light-skinned will protect us. Will protect her. Will protect me.
I got tricked.
And, the truth is, we’ve all been tricked. Tricked into thinking there is something we (as individuals and communities) can do to stop this. Tricked into being alarmed every time this happens. Tricked into thinking an Inquiry will fix it.
The violence that is perpetrated against Indigenous women is the same violence that is perpetrated against the land in the tar sands is the same violence that sexually assaulted our parents and grandparents in residential school and is the same violence that displaced and tortured our nations during the first invasions. It’s all colonization. It’s all about power.
Oh, they’ll tell you different. They’ll try to trick you. The individuals who will be tried for Loretta’s death will be cast as misfits whose behaviour is so outside the norm that they can’t be seen to reflect Canadian values. Or, they’ll make you wonder if the tar sands aren’t such a bad idea if they’re done “sustainably” with resource revenue sharing agreements with local First Nations. They’ll apologize for residential schools and throw money at you while they dismantle treaty rights. They’ll include a chapter in their history books about smallpox and remind you that we’ve come a long way since then.
I’ve decided I don’t want to be tricked anymore. None of us should be.
• If you are an Indigenous woman, don’t be tricked into thinking you are any more safe than any of our other sisters out there. You’re not. The system and most Canadians don’t give a shit about you, how strong and talented you are, how hard you’ve worked, or where you live. If you are an Indigenous woman, you are a prime target for colonial violence.
• Men, don’t be tricked into thinking that this issue is about Indigenous women. It’s not at all. It happens to be visited upon Indigenous women, but, most violence against us is perpetrated by men who have been given more power by the colonial structure. Speak up on this issue, challenge brothers who disrespect women, teach your sons well. I can’t express to you enough how you have so much more power to change this than we do.
• Don’t be tricked by media. Mainstream media is run by conglomerates and needs to make money. They are in the business of selling stories and advertising NOT in the business of telling the truth. Seek out alternative media, talk to people directly about issues, and do your own research.
• Don’t be tricked into thinking that the only way to address issues is with pacifism. I’m not trying to incite armed conflict here, but, I’m saying that they will try to trick and shame you into believing that direct action and self-defense are crude methods that don’t accomplish anything. But, all evidence to the contrary. Violence and direct action both accomplish quite a bit –that’s why they use them.
• Don’t be tricked into thinking that wearing a ribbon for a day, or signing a petition, or composing a tweet, or writing an article is going to change anything on its own. Independent acts of activism are useless when they are not grounded in community and contextualized by a broader goal of dismantling colonial state power. And, don’t be tricked into believing that anything less than that goal (like changes in political parties or policy reforms) is going to fundamentally change anything.
• Finally, don’t be tricked into thinking someone else will do this work. You are that “someone else.” Loretta knew this. That’s why she was working so hard on uncovering the truth about murdered and missing women.
Honour Loretta. Don’t be tricked.
Tara Williamson is an Anishinaabekwe/Nehayowak musician, writer, and college professor with roots in Gaabishkigamaag, Swan Lake, MB; Opaskwayak Cree Nation; and Beardy’s Okemasis. Follow her on Twitter: @WilliamsonTara