Our guest blogger this week, Emilio Wawatie, is Anishnabe from Kitiganik (Lac Barrier) and Kitigan Zibi. He grew up in Maniwaki, Parc de la Vérendrye and in Val D’Or, Quebec. Throughout his childhood into his early adolescent years, he was raised by his Kokom and Choum in the bush. Emilio is currently a 3rd year Music Major student in Concordia’s Music Program and previously lived and attended college in Sudbury, Ontario.
Life – Pimatisiwin
In this post I’d like to touch base with some of the issues surrounding Indigenous identity that have been sweeping across Turtle Island; all its complexities and its absurdities. I was inspired by Basil Johnston, an Anishaabe scholar and knowledge carrier, to focus on the key words provided above that represent the important aspects needed for a family, community and nation to be balanced and to thrive. The title I’ve chosen for this piece, Tipatcimoon, roughly translates to “a testimony,” but it also refers to stories that share or express one’s personal experiences and the realizations that come from said experiences. This is my Tipatcimoon.
Throughout my life I’ve encountered racism in all its forms. I remember being called a Savage and a Kawish at the park with my cousins. I was six years old. From that point on, throughout my life, it became something that I encountered frequently, whether it was from a teacher at school, a hockey teammate, opponent or even my own coach. While I’ve experienced prejudice from other First Nations, be it from my own people or another nation, the discrimination between nations never really stung or hurt as much as the hate-fueled racism I’ve experienced from settlers. While living in Abitibi, I played competitive hockey and the racism became worse. Near the end of my Midget years of hockey, I quit, had fallen into drugs, and had dropped out of school. Problems at home and on the ice, being called a Savage, an esti de kawish, players going “Woo! Woo! Woo! Woo!” over their mouths, the head shots, concussions and hospital visits were all contributors to me losing interest in something that had brought me joy and freedom. The trauma of my grandfather dying in my and my cousin’s arms troubled me and affected me in ways that are hard to describe. People would ask me what happened and why I quit. I would make up excuses because I just couldn’t stand it any more—I had a hard time understanding the effects of this constant and unjustified hatred. I was angry at everything and life wasn’t going anywhere for me in Val d’Or. It was like this dark hole that would suck people in; so, I left. It was after leaving I realized that I needed to reconnect with my culture, something I had briefly disconnected from when my Choum (Grandfather) passed away.
While this is my own experience, it’s not far off from other Indigenous people’s experiences growing up in places like Val D’Or and other urban settings. Experiences varied between me and my Indigenous friends growing up. We all came from various nations and communities. Some of us had two Indigenous parents and were fairly dark-skinned, and some were mixed. Of those, we had the “visibly” Indigenous and the “white-passing” Indigenous people. We were all friends, not necessarily understanding the complexities of Indigenous identities, yet trying to, as teenagers do.
I have some friends whose Kokom (Grandmother) or Moushoum (Grandfather) are their links to their Indigenous identity; some are still very connected, but others grew up more assimilated with a “settler mentality”. In some cases, that created internalized racism. Of course, our identities aren’t something that we could pick and choose whenever and however we wanted. Identity was bestowed onto us and was something that unfortunately dictated our lives in more negative ways at times. It’s a constant struggle if you look too much like an Indian or not enough like an Indian, creating this push and pull movement within our communities and nations; Like it’s sawing away at the tree of Indigenous life, the saw being Eurocentric supremacist ideologies still trying to detach Indigenous peoples from their roots.
In recent years, I found out that I have Scottish ancestry from way back in the day from the Fur Trade Era, some 200 + years ago. It sparked an interest for me because I’ve always wondered where my facial hair comes from in my own lineage and why there’s a mix of some blondish, red hair mixed with my thick dark Indigenous hair. Upon hearing about my European ancestry, I decided that I would honor my Scottish ancestors by reconnecting with my European traditions. I went out and bought a kilt, started going to events where other Scottish people would gather. I’d go to Irish pubs and started playing rugby, eventually started looking into the various family crests and became interested in the history. I’m not completely sure what my ancestors’ name is or where exactly they came from originally, but I swear, I can just feel it in my spirit. See, I really love bagpipes and herding sheep. Eventually I found a close connection to this one family crest in which it said the region my ancestor came from. I concluded that it must be my family’s crest. Nowadays, I help within the local Scottish community, playing bagpipes for ceremonies and social events. I’ve gotten some comments in the last little while, people saying that I don’t really look Scottish or that my claims to relations to my family crest seem ambiguous, questionable. They don’t realize that just because I don’t look Scottish, it doesn’t mean that I don’t feel it in my spirit or that I don’t have some Scottish blood running through my veins.
Guardianship – Kanankeden-dek
Just kidding. Sounds ridiculous, doesn’t it? That’s because it is. This is the mentality that’s been spreading amongst a lot of settlers that have been claiming Indigenous ancestry across Turtle Island. There’s become this really privileged way of thinking amongst settler society in which they believe that just because they have some ancestor from 100 + years ago that it somehow entitles them to claim Indigenous identity, arts, cultures and spaces, without having any living connections for generations, sometimes for multiple generations. Indigenous peoples of Turtle Island have been struggling against the currents of colonization for over 500 years now, so much history has been lost due to the deliberate destruction of Indigenous societies. Throughout colonization our peoples have been funnelled and analyzed through the lens of Eurocentric values and perspectives and deemed less human. Our narratives have been documented by white researchers and historians, who have time and time again infantilized, simplified, generalized and have scrutinized our stories and ceremonies.
There comes a time, it seems ,with every era, where settler societies across the earth have some sort of New Age awakening that somehow bastardizes the knowledge of various non-European cultures and mixes it into this tainted idea of whatever they want to believe. We see it today, with the hypocrisy of vegans trying to tell Northern peoples not to hunt or eat seals, yet Indigenous peoples in the south are being removed from their lands because of new dietary fads that are in demand. We’ve seen this whole scheme of taking ideas from various cultures and creating propaganda and pseudo-historical “facts” that lean towards an agenda in the past, with the Nazis. It’s ironic that so many white supremacists build the foundation of their beliefs on knowledge and ideas stolen from other non-Caucasoid cultures like Indian, Nepalese, or South and North American cultures to name a few.
As Indigenous people in today’s world, we’re witnessing another process of colonization in which we are not just seeing our lands and waters being destroyed, but now our identities and cultures are being gambled, appropriated and stolen. “Divide, distract and conquer” is still playing a major role in government tactics when dealing with Indigenous groups across the continent. For example, land claims have created tensions within and between nations. While many land claims are being carried out by legitimate Indigenous communities, situations like the Algonquins of Ontario have done more damage to the Algonquin nation than the good they think they’re doing. While many of the families that started the Ontario Algonquin Land claims are actually Indigenous, it’s given settlers the opportunity to go many generations back into their ancestry to help build numbers to push the land claim. While there are legitimate Algonquins, there are even more opportunists hopping on the canoe, looking to make money off being an Indian. Oddly, when we’ve had enough and decide to shed light on these faux-Indian opportunists, they play the victims and somehow, we, Indigenous people trying to hold people accountable, are the bad people. So, when and where do we draw the line? We’ve seen many people in the arts and education sectors getting funding and opportunities, but then have their Indigenous identities debunked. Most face no repercussions for their fraudulent activities. There comes a point where enough is enough and we have to stand guard and protect what little we have left of our lands, waters, cultures, languages, stories and arts.
Teaching – Kikamagewin
Not all Indigenous people have the opportunity to grow up in their communities, on their traditional lands/water or even within their cultures. Sometimes even our own Indigenous youth that grow up surrounded by strong cultural ties, kinship and resources can take their Indigenous identity for granted. Or, they may not have had anyone around at all that could teach them the culture because it’s been erased with colonization. It doesn’t take much to lose the language and culture, especially when we’re immersed in western society every day and distracted by the ever-evolving tech world that’s moving so fast we don’t have time to remember things. But, regardless of how distracted we may be by life and technology, there are things that all Indigenous people pick up from their family or their remaining living Indigenous relatives that help build some kind of foundation for their identity. There are protocols that vary from nation to nation and linguistic group to linguistic group, that are explicitly differentiated and understood amongst each nation, between each nation. The cultural, linguistic and historical nuances shared between nations both relate and differentiate the peoples of Turtle Island, with respect.
There are many of these foundational teachings that are missing from these “new found Indian” communities across the map, regardless of what nationhood they claim. For the Algonquins of Ontario, one of the apparent reasons in which there hasn’t been any attempts to connect or contact the Algonquin nation in Quebec is because that we apparently mostly speak French, and that the Algonquins in Ontario don’t speak the language anymore so it would only create a language barrier, which is obviously not true and shows a lack of a lot of effort and courtesy. While many seem to claim that they do not politically agree with the term Algonquin, they tend to refer to historical terms for various Algonquin groups from along the Kitci sipi and its tributaries, which ironically highlights the lack of cultural nuances and understanding that regardless of which tributary or sect of the nation they may be, we are all Anishnabeg. As plain as night and day, it’s easy to pinpoint a fraud that is without any living connection because they use historical terminology and references, mix up Algonquian and Iroquoian ideas, and don’t know any of the cultural or linguistic nuances that are usually passed on by living links to cultures.
For example, one of the old Algonquin groups that a lot of people are claiming lineage from are the Weskarini, who lived in areas ranging from Oka, Montebello and Mont-Tremblant, documented by the Church in the early 1800’s. The name for this group of people in Anishnabemowin is Wawashkeshi’ininiwag and ironically, I can trace back my family’s last name, originally written Wawate, to this group as well, to these same archives which many, many people are making claims from. I understand that not all are illegitimate money-grabbing opportunists, but when will people be held accountable for enabling fraudulent movements and behaviours that threaten our very existence as Indigenous people? How is it that the Algonquins of Ontario are moving forward with a modern-day treaty, without the rest of the Algonquin Nation? Although it may not be completely fraudulent because one federally recognized community legitimizes the agenda, the whole movement is tainted by the colonial stench of divide and conquer. If this had been done with true Anishnabe values, the whole nation would have been included, regardless of colonially established borders.
Healing – Kigeh
In my own life I’ve been working on my healing over the last several years. Life has been hard at times for myself and those around me; a lot of struggles for the people of Turtle Island. Many Indigenous people have been thinking of, or have started, their healing journey; many are still lost trying to find their way back home. We all walk different paths and have our own truths, and things work differently for everyone. Some of us were born into the intergenerational troubles that the residential school systems set up, some were taken and sold by the government into the system, some stayed on reserve, and some moved away to the city and slowly became disconnected from their community, language and cultures. Indigenous people are ready to take on the capitalist beast that threatens to destroy the land, waters and peoples, while they continue to heal and do good work, amidst all the environmental crises and racist climates. It makes it hard to heal when settlers begin to take up our spaces, stories, songs, cultures and histories, then gaslight us for getting mad and speaking up.
Today many Algonquin communities across Quebec are still struggling, some getting a leg up and steadily beginning to get up on their feet. There is still much healing that needs to be done in our communities on the individual level. While we struggle and fight over scraps that the government toss to pacify us every now and then, many remain too distracted to see the bigger picture. We still have communities in poverty running on generators next to dams while Hydro-Québec pumps millions of dollars out from our rivers, playing with the fluctuation of the water levels and causing disruptions in the water life. Mass clear-cuts throughout the territory like someone’s took a buzz cutter and shaved the braids off of the land, mines butchering the landscapes creating the illusion of progress and economic development with miniscule jobs; but no reparation to the people who become sick from these contaminated lands and waters where these industries leave their waste. The animal populations are drastically dropping and becoming more and more sick. Many Anishnabeg have been experiencing signs from the lands, waters and sky calling out to us to fulfill our duties to protect them. The land and the people need healing and are intrinsically intertwined with the Indigenous connection to culture, spirituality, kinship, language and ceremonies. I understand how settlers can be intrigued or amazed by our cultures; they truly are beautiful and always have been a target of romanticization and appropriation. I see this desire to heal within the settler communities, this desire to reconnect with land, their spirits, and understand the ways of their pre-Christian ancestors. After all, Pagan Europeans were very similar to Indigenous peoples of Turtle Island in terms of tribal and cultural ideas. But that does not give them the right to appropriate an identity that isn’t theirs. A great, great… grandparent that was an Indian doesn’t justify this appropriation… just as it wouldn’t makes sense or give me a right to appropriate Scottish culture based on one or two ancestors from 200 years ago.
Leading – Nikani
Settlers want to be Indians when it comes to the idea of “free education, no taxes, land claim benefits, hunting and fishing rights”, but when it comes time to warrior up and fulfill our duties as Indigenous peoples, they seemingly disappear and evaporate back into the camouflage of their privileges. The hard work that comes with maintaining the language, culture, knowledge of the land, waters and skies, arts and ceremonies is what makes the culture and who we are as people, connected to our territories. As members of our nations, we each have a duty to fulfill, whatever that may be when we find our places in life. We need more of our own leaders, masters of ceremonies, traditional knowledge carriers, artists, teachers, wood workers, lawyers, doctors, police, tradespeople, architects and everything else that helps build and maintain a community. We need to encourage our youth to learn their cultures and languages, to give them hope that they can stay or leave the reserve if they want to and still make a difference. They need to know that there is more to life and that we can break free from the intergenerational doubt that’s been instilled in us through the oppression of colonization.
Archival research can be used for malevolent or benevolent reasons, something we’ve been seeing done by both settler and Indigenous researchers, hypocritically as well as truthfully. In reality, when it comes down to it, if your Indigenous identity is built on archival research back to an ancestor 100 + years ago and you haven’t had a living connection in generations, it’s obsolete. You need to sit down, be quiet and stay in your lane as a settler. As Indigenous people, we have always been very welcoming and willing to help; we still are. But when you knowingly and deliberately step on our toes and take up OUR spaces for OUR healing, don’t be surprised when the warriors and the braves go on the warpath. We’ve had enough of colonizers telling us how we should think, feel, behave and react to things like racism, cultural appropriation and Indigenous identity frauds. We are the direct descendants of the Indians the government tried to wipe out seven generations ago, we carry the spirits of our ancestors and we haven’t forgot what was done to our people. It’s through the resistance of our ancestors that we are alive, still here to this day, and it resonates through our spirits when we are at the frontlines of blockades, practicing our culture and languages, helping our Kokoms and Choums when they need it, sitting around the fire telling stories and listening to each other, especially when we work together. We always want to maintain peace; peace is important to us and helps maintain the balance in the natural law and order governed by Mother Earth. But we wouldn’t be here if our ancestors hadn’t fought for their lives, and at some point, peace was not an option. So, no matter how hard they try to assimilate, appropriate or eliminate our existence, be sure to expect our resistance.
Kitci meegwetc, agwamziin.