Category Archives: Indigenous

#ShopIndigenous: Canada

There’s a fine line between cultural appreciation, and cultural appropriation.

In the spirit of appreciation for Indigenous creations, and support for Indigenous artists, here’s a list of places you can shop – and know that you’re looking at authentic Indigenous work.

I’m open to additions or corrections (hit me up in the comments!) I have made my best effort to gather only those shops/artists who clearly and transparently identify as Indigenous.

This list is an updated version of my earlier post, broken into categories. It also captures shops in Canada. I’ll list shops in the US and internationally in a later post.

 

Jewellery

Art from Above: https://www.etsy.com/ca/shop/artfromabove
BANDC Beads: https://www.etsy.com/ca/shop/BANDCBeads
Beadwork by Josie: https://www.etsy.com/ca/shop/BeadworkByJosie
Beadwork by Julie B: https://www.etsy.com/ca/shop/BeadworkByJulieB
Becka Commanda: https://www.etsy.com/ca/shop/BeckaCommanda
Blue Caribou Metis Art: https://www.etsy.com/ca/shop/BlueCaribouMetisArt
Boreal Workshop: https://www.etsy.com/ca/shop/BorealWorkshopCanada
Bush Baby Creations: https://www.etsy.com/ca/shop/BushBabyCreations
Creeations by Tasha: https://www.etsy.com/ca/shop/CreeationsbyTasha
Chelsea’s Beadwork: https://www.etsy.com/ca/shop/chelseasbeadwork
Chinimiwin: https://www.etsy.com/ca/shop/Chinimiwin
Dancing Eagle Designs: https://www.etsy.com/ca/shop/DancingEagleDesigns
Dean Couchie Beadwork: https://www.etsy.com/ca/shop/deancouchie
Ducklet’s Hut: https://www.etsy.com/ca/shop/DuckletsHut
Grant Pauls Designs: https://www.etsy.com/ca/shop/GrantPaulsDesigns
Inuk Barbie: https://www.etsy.com/ca/shop/Inukbarbie
Kasenniyostah: https://www.etsy.com/ca/shop/Kasenniyostah
Lisa Shepherd, Metis Artisan: https://www.facebook.com/MetisArtisan
Marthe’s Metis Corner: https://www.etsy.com/ca/shop/MarthesCorner
Miikana: https://www.etsy.com/ca/shop/Miikana
Mohawk Jewels: https://www.etsy.com/ca/shop/MohawkJewels
Mostly Hatbands: https://www.etsy.com/ca/shop/MostlyHatbands
Native Craft Canada : https://www.etsy.com/ca/shop/NativeCraftCanada
Native West Gallery: https://www.etsy.com/ca/shop/NativeWestGallery
NDN Beads: https://www.etsy.com/ca/shop/Ndnbeads
OOKOmShA: https://www.etsy.com/ca/shop/OOKOmShA
Pahpi: https://www.etsy.com/ca/shop/Pahpi
Spirit Wolf Arts: https://www.etsy.com/ca/shop/SpiritWolfArts
Soothing Native Crafts: https://www.etsy.com/ca/shop/SoothingNativeCrafts
Soul Creation Designs: https://www.etsy.com/ca/shop/SoulCreationDesigns
Sweetgrass Crafts: https://www.etsy.com/ca/shop/SweetgrassCrafts

 

Clothing & Accessories

Beaded Infinity: https://www.etsy.com/ca/shop/BeadedInfinity
Chinimiwin: https://www.etsy.com/ca/shop/Chinimiwin
Crazy NDN Girl: https://www.etsy.com/ca/shop/crazndngrl
Cree Mij Designs: https://www.etsy.com/ca/shop/CreeMijDesigns
Dahlia Drive: https://www.etsy.com/ca/shop/DahliaDrive
Demarcation Lines: https://www.etsy.com/ca/shop/DemarcationLines
Feral Fawn: https://www.etsy.com/ca/shop/FeralFawn
Leather by Dar: https://www.etsy.com/ca/shop/LeatherByDar
Light Feather Creation: https://www.etsy.com/ca/shop/LightFeatherCreation
Lisa Shepherd, Metis Artisan: https://www.facebook.com/MetisArtisan
Love in Everything: https://www.etsy.com/ca/shop/loveineverything
Mostly Hatbands: https://www.etsy.com/ca/shop/MostlyHatbands
Nish Gear: https://www.etsy.com/ca/shop/NishGear
Prairie Metis Works: https://www.etsy.com/ca/shop/PrairieMetisWorks
Red River Moggies: https://www.etsy.com/ca/shop/RedRiverMoggies
SS River Designs: https://www.etsy.com/ca/shop/SSRiverDesigns
Sweetgrass Crafts: https://www.etsy.com/ca/shop/SweetgrassCrafts
Tara-Lee Gardner Design: https://www.etsy.com/ca/shop/TaraLeeGardnerDesign

 

Craft Supplies

Beautiful Star Beads: https://www.etsy.com/ca/shop/BeautifulStarBeads
Light Feather Creation: https://www.etsy.com/ca/shop/LightFeatherCreation

 

Art

Birch Bark Bitings: https://www.etsy.com/ca/shop/BirchBarkBitings
Cedar Coast Carving: https://www.etsy.com/ca/shop/CedarCoastCarving
J.D.M. Indigenous Designs: https://www.etsy.com/ca/shop/JDMIndigenousCanada
Jerry Thistle: https://www.etsy.com/ca/shop/ArtistJerryThistle
Joshua Leclair: https://www.etsy.com/ca/shop/Kiiwedin
Lisa Boivin: https://www.etsy.com/ca/shop/LisaDeneArtist
Michael Bruneau: https://www.etsy.com/ca/shop/ArtbyMichaelBruneau
Native West Gallery: https://www.etsy.com/ca/shop/NativeWestGallery
On the Trail Art Gallery: https://www.etsy.com/ca/shop/OnTheTrailArtGallery
Spyhop Creations: https://www.etsy.com/ca/shop/SpyhopCreations
Nehiyaw Naomi: https://www.etsy.com/ca/shop/NehiyawNaomi

Unsold

Understand when I tell you
that I do not want your fucking money.

Money is a weapon
that white men wield
to feel powerful

and I do not aspire to be a white man.

Look around me;
I am rich.

Count the salmon scales
stuck to my skin
as I prepare the smokehouse,

the little feathers caught in my hair
as I work on geese,

the footsteps of all the dances to come
when the deer that feeds me
also gives me rattles for my apron
and all of the gracefulness contained
in its hooves.

There is no generosity in money.

What you call a resistance movement
is not about resistance at all;

my life is the reiteration
of an act of utter, joyful
submission
to the wisdom of the higher laws
that guide me.

You got the movement part right, though.

Those deer hoof rattles
urge a brown girl to dance.

You’re Not the Indian I Had in Mind

It’s August. I recently wrapped up shoots and interviews with the ninth film crew to visit this season. Don’t get me wrong – I live in a stunning place, I’m blessed to do work that interests the wider world, and there is a value in telling the stories that make this place powerful. But so far, every film crew has been mostly white, mostly men, and they’ve all come crashing into my reality in such problematic ways that I feel compelled to throw down some pointers for y’all.

Disclaimer: I do not speak for all Indigenous peoples. This is not an official memo in my political or non-profit capacities. This is a series of questions and requests from a storyteller who is tired of how these scenarios play out. But there is room for hope and change.

. . .

 

  1. Are you centring Indigenous voices and perspectives?

Indigenous voices are marginalized in society as a whole, and they are also often marginalized within film projects where they occur alongside white voices. For example, a film with an Indigenous focus might be narrated by a white person – which gives the audience a red story through a white lens. If the issue being discussed is multi-faceted, Indigenous views are often insubstantial or tokenized. And even if the primary story is about Indigenous work, many films still bring in “expert” white voices that give the appearance of “legitimizing” Indigenous viewpoints.

Interrogate your own motives about whether and how you include white voices and perspectives in your film. Consider the amount of space Indigenous voices take up on the national or global stage. Consider how much space they take up in the film industry. Recognize that in both instances, the answer is “They are wildly underrepresented.” And then consider centring and amplifying them in your work to help correct the imbalance and honour the power of Indigenous voices – in and of themselves.

  1. Do you expect Indigenous people to stage their culture for you?

I can’t speak for all Indigenous people. We are incredibly diverse and also autonomous. But I can tell you very clearly that it is offensive to me when film crews ask me to play-act my culture to add to their story. Without exception, when I have been asked to stage “traditional activities,” the result is glaringly inauthentic. The counter-argument from film crews is usually “But this is what the audience expects to see!” If that’s the case, wow! You, my friend, are in a position to challenge and shift your audience’s expectations by creatively capturing something real. And that is an exciting opportunity that I hope you appreciate and work hard to maximize.

We know you need good visuals. We know you need to shoot b-roll and have your bases covered before you leave the field. Trust me, for most of us, you’re not our first film crew. But come at your work with respect for the boundaries we communicate around cultural activities and protocols. If we tell you that something is not possible or appropriate, do not push. And know that your behavior in this regard can help to build a relationship of trust that just might get you an invitation to witness and document something truly authentic and special.

  1. Have you done your homework?

There is a principle of social justice education that is so important to reiterate: Do not expect free education or emotional labour from marginalized people.

If you need to get up to speed on the colonial history of this country, on the Potlatch Ban, residential schools, the Sixties Scoop, and all the other traumas that are a backdrop to Indigenous lives – do it before you come. Even if you think the story you want to tell has nothing to do with those things. As Indigenous people, we are the products of our personal and collective histories. You cannot understand who we are without trying to understand our lived experiences. We are (sadly, and without our consent) the victims and products of a long colonial legacy, and many of us are actively working to fight the ongoing colonization of our peoples. That reality cannot be absent from your storytelling even if it is not explicit in your film.

Reconciliation is everyone’s responsibility. Beginning to educate yourself is a key first step. The resources are out there and the journey will be shared with many who are on the same path. But do not expect us, as Indigenous people, to perform the service of educating you; we’re too busy surviving.

  1. Are you clear on ownership and intellectual property?

The system of values and permissions around ownership and transmission of knowledge may not be the same for me as it is for you. Every song, dance, story, name, and ceremony has an owner in my system of law. There is no centralized authority to give permissions. You have to seek them from each of the individual holders of that intellectual property and live with their decisions, which are often based heavily on the level of trust they have in you. You cannot assume your interviewee will do the legwork of getting the permissions for you; you need to own that task yourself and ask for guidance where you need it. Our protocols around intellectual property are sacred.

Sometimes a film crew will ask me for “background music.” They’ll insist they want to use a children’s paddle song in their film when the film is about bears, because they like the way the paddle song sounds more than the bear song. The incongruity matters, to us if not to you, and that is reason enough to amend your approach. Or sometimes interviewers will ask me to recount portions of our oral history, and act like I’m being obtuse when I say I can’t do that without permission of the owners of those stories. There are many potential stumbling blocks of this nature for crews who do not take the time to understand how knowledge is organized and transmitted in the community they’re visiting.

This is a good place to remind people that Western systems of knowledge, thought, laws, and values are typically not the dominant systems for our peoples. Take the time to learn our systems and our protocols, and then respect them – from the outset.

  1. Have you thought critically about compensation and benefits?

What is the tangible benefit to the Indigenous people whose time you are taking? It doesn’t have to be financial, but you should have a clear answer. If you don’t, please ask yourself why you expect them to participate. “For the cause” or “to raise awareness” is not an answer. Trickle-down benefits are not enough. Indigenous people don’t owe you anything.

We have big goals of our own and we are doing hard work for our communities. Often, the work we are doing is beneficial to non-Indigenous communities too. At a bare minimum, hold yourself to the standard that participating in your project should not cost Indigenous people anything. Better yet, challenge yourself to develop a project that is clearly beneficial to Indigenous people and their goals. Develop a relationship that is equal and reciprocal.

Getting down to the finer details, here is a fact: When film crews come into my community, I am often asked to spend my time doing work that looks a lot like writing, producing, and directing, or assisting with logistics like arranging interviews, transportation, and permissions. And I’m expected to do it for free.

Do not expect Indigenous people to do things for free that you would pay a white person to do. Do not expect Indigenous people to do things for free that, in another context, would be paid work for a member of your crew. If you’re going to ask that of us, be up front, have an excellent rationale, get our informed consent, and give us credit where it’s due.

To reiterate a point from section 3, don’t expect marginalized people to do free labour.

  1. Are you building capacity or just extracting resources?

It is important to understand that filmmaking can be understood as an extractive industry. The resource you are extracting – stories, knowledge, images – is intangible, but no less precious than the fish, raw logs, precious metals, and other resources that other industries remove. You are coming into our homelands with the intent of taking something away, and fashioning it into something that benefits you. It is only natural that we would exercise the same prudence and scrutiny when it comes to your project that we exercise with proposals from logging companies or sports fishing operations.

The same principles apply to you that apply to a mining company. You should seek free, prior, and informed consent. The burden of proof is on you to demonstrate that adverse impacts of your project will be mitigated or avoided. The rights and autonomy of the Indigenous communities and individuals you engage should be respected without exception. And you should not derive your profits on the backs of people who are focused on survival.

When you’ve challenged yourself to fully think those things through, ask yourself what you’re leaving behind. We’ve already talked about the importance of being able to clearly demonstrate the benefits for Indigenous people of participating in your project. We’ve already talked about the importance of compensating Indigenous people for their labour if they are taking on work that a white person would be paid to do. So what’s next? Ask yourself whether you can actually leave a positive legacy behind.

Can you spend an extra few days in community teaching kids to make videos? Can you volunteer a little time to film interviews with elders for the local cultural centre? Can you make yourself available to capture footage and stills for a side project that is solely for the community’s benefit? If you can, be at least as generous with what you leave behind as your Indigenous interviewees are generous with their time and energy. Build capacity. Build relationships.

  1. How do you feel about leaving final approvals or ownership of footage with us?

This is a point most film crews balk at. But look at it from our perspective. Unless we have a relationship with you, why would we trust you to tell our stories? What sets you apart from Edward S. Curtis? Why should we be comfortable with our stories and images and words being an asset you benefit from?

There is a long legacy of white people – be they writers, filmmakers, anthropologists, etc. – coming into communities, extracting knowledge and stories, and then interpreting them and deriving benefits from them. Often this has happened with no accountability back to the communities and Indigenous contributors. And often those communities and individuals have not been asked to provide informed consent to the spin that’s been put on what they’ve shared. It’s not enough to ask us to buy into the premise; from our perspective, I hope you can see why it’s important for us to protect ourselves by also asking to approve the resulting product.

It is not an exaggeration to say that Indigenous communities and individuals have been tokenized and harshly exploited by many industries, including the film industry. Know that you’re coming in on the heels of contemporary colleagues or historical industry “pioneers” who broke our trust. You may not feel it’s yours to repair, but the situation you’re walking into is a reality you need to confront – and without blaming Indigenous communities and individuals for our skepticism and the cautions we exercise as a result of our lived experience.

Have these conversations about approvals and ownership at the outset of your project. As I said in section 6, it may be that you can gesture your respect by offering opportunities that dovetail with your work, like running workshops or sharing raw footage to be re-purposed for solely Indigenous goals. Or maybe the level of trust and the anticipated benefits of the project will be enough to make the conversation a simple one – that’s up to the communities and individuals you approach. But do right by your Indigenous collaborators by ensuring that consent and ownership are discussed at the outset, not at the end when the pressure is on to complete your film.

  1. Are you playing up stereotypes or open to authenticity?

The pan-Indigenous myth is cheap and tacky. We are not monolithic. We are distinct and diverse, both across and within our Nations and communities. Our cultures are dynamic and evolving, and that does not invalidate them. Our Indigenous languages, values, spirituality, ceremonies, and identities may have more in common with one another than they do with their Western parallels – but that does not mean Indigenous people can be generalized or conglomerated to simplify your narrative.

I often hear a sentiment from film crews that I will sum up with a phrase borrowed from Thomas King: “You’re not the Indian I had in mind.”

If you’re looking for an Indian maiden with earthy skin and long black braids, gazing at her reflection in still water while woodland creatures nestle against the curves of her buckskin dress – keep looking. It’s not me.

I know filmmaking is a visual medium and it’s hard to challenge your assumptions that our appearance should communicate our identity. But every time someone makes a film about bears, and insists that they need to depict our Indigenous field technicians wearing ceremonial garb – I choke on my coffee. And this sort of thing happens more often than you’d think. We don’t wear button blankets and ermine skin headpieces when we collect samples from our grizzly bear hair snags to send away for genetic analysis. To link it back to section 2, don’t ask us to play-act. Work with what’s in front of you to tell an authentic story, even if it’s not an easy story to visually capture.

You have an opportunity, in challenging yourself to be authentic and creative, to also challenge the assumptions of your audience and shift their attitudes toward Indigenous people. That’s an opportunity worth taking.

 

. . .

 

Do you think all of this sounds unfeasible? Then adjust your timelines, your fundraising goals, and anything else you need to adjust to make it feasible. Do you think you shouldn’t have to think about these things? Then take a big step back, do some heavy reading on white privilege, and read this piece again. If you still don’t get it and you’re called out on your ignorance by Indigenous communities and individuals, have the self-awareness to mark those moments as opportunities to further educate yourself.

Reconciliation isn’t about federal apologies or one-time marches in the street. It’s about re-evaluating how you carry yourself in the world in relation to Indigenous peoples. There’s a great deal of learning (and unlearning) to do and I hope you intuit how important and transformative the journey can be.

 

. . .

 

This is shared with a good heart and high hopes of meaningful, respectful collaborations in the future.

Love, and Bill C-51

Friends,
Recently, I received an email from the Secretary of the House of Commons Committee on National Security and Public Safety. It included an invitation to provide testimony outlining my concerns regarding Bill C-51.

Although I had a thousand changes of heart between initially accepting that invitation and actually delivering my testimony this afternoon, I am grateful to have had such an opportunity. It is so rare for the people on the front lines to have a voice in these processes.

Much of my testimony related to transparency and accountability. For that reason, I’d like to share my speaking notes with you. If you track down the transcript from the committee meeting which includes the cross-examination, you’ll find that somehow, in hearings about terrorism and national security, I found myself talking about love.

Thank you to every single one of you who walks beside me in the work we do on the ground. I believe it is good work done with a good heart. Remembering the strength of the community that surrounds me gave me bravery I didn’t feel in my bones until I thought of all of you.

xo,
Jess

Jessie Housty, Submission to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security
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Why I signed the Let BC Vote pledge

Last week I signed the Let BC Vote pledge. You could say I’m late to the party. More than 200,000 British Columbians signed before me. I’ve been aware of the Dogwood Initiative-led campaign since it launched, and I’ve watched the numbers grow. But I wanted to reason it through before deciding with conviction that it is part of my path forward.

For the last few years I’ve worked in my community and beyond to help build the momentum we need to stop Enbridge Northern Gateway. I’m not trained as a leader or organizer. I came to this work before I felt ready, and I learned on my feet. I’ve made my share of gut decisions in the heat of battle, and learned to be grateful when I have the luxury of examining every angle of a campaign before I commit to it.

Now that the federal government has approved this project, we could be in for a long fight. I believe pipeline opponents have been laying the groundwork for sustained action since day one, but what carries us through will be smart strategies, high levels of organization, and commitment. I may have taken my time, but Let BC Vote has my commitment. Because this is more than a drive to build a list and collect signatures. It’s an opportunity to build capacity, demand accountability, and strengthen alliances – and all of those actions are critical at this stage of the fight.

Two systems of law and governance
Smart organizers invest in a diversity of tactics, and lead with the strongest in any situation. The tactics available to us in this fight are complex, because the communities who are organizing are interacting with two very different systems of law and governance.

Let me explain: I am Indigenous, and I am Heiltsuk. The Heiltsuk have a set of laws and customs that goes back to our First Generation, and that system is the one that primarily guides my actions. Heiltsuk people also maintain an original system of government that organizes how we function as a society. I’m not talking about the federally-imposed system of Indian Act governments; I’m talking about our hereditary chiefs who are groomed from birth to be rights-holders who uphold the ways of our people.

More broadly, Canada has a set of federal and provincial laws and governance that is primary to my Settler allies. I respond to it as well, but for me, it comes second.

Those two systems of law and governance make three sets of tactics available to us. Think of them as two circles. I want to talk about those circles, and the space where they overlap.

In one circle, you have the Indigenous system. This system is what empowers our hereditary chiefs to say no – no, on the basis that this project is inconsistent with our laws and customs. No, on the strength of their authority as chiefs. In the other circle, you have the Settler system. This system includes federal and provincial legislation that is meant to impartially vet and regulate projects like Northern Gateway.

Let’s be frank. My laws and customs as an Indigenous person are my highest truth, but I live in a country that sidesteps the power of that truth. And Canadians are living under a regime – at least federally – that systematically dismantles inconvenient legislation and regulations so projects like Northern Gateway can barrel ahead.

So what is possible where the Indigenous and Settler circles overlap? One clear example is in the courts. As the recent Tsilhqot’in decision reinforced, Indigenous rights and title hold real, tangible power within the Canadian legal system.

This is the battle plan that pipeline opponents have had in their back pocket since day one: Indigenous people fighting and stopping Northern Gateway in Canadian court, on the basis that this project would intrude onto territories to which we hold title, and infringe on our rights. As these cases proceed there is a supportive role for Settler allies to play in areas like fundraising and communications, but with this tactic the burden of leadership rests with Indigenous people.

Where is the burden of leadership for Settler people? A majority of Indigenous groups in British Columbia have rejected Enbridge Northern Gateway under their own systems of law, while a majority of British Columbians reject this plan for their home province too. Based on those two facts, what power can non-Indigenous people seize? I believe the answer lies in the citizens’ initiative.

By organizing in ridings across the province, by stepping up as leaders within their own communities, and by drafting and proposing legislation that fits their values, citizens have a powerful opportunity – available only in British Columbia – to hold their provincial government to account. For as Ottawa acknowledged the day it approved the pipeline, B.C. still has the power to stop it. Without 60 permits from Premier Clark, Enbridge may not proceed.

I don’t want my Settler brothers and sisters to point to the Indigenous legal battle and say “We believe you’re going to win.” I want to hear them say they’re ready to work shoulder-to-shoulder, with each of us seizing the power that best enables us to win together. If diverse tactics are available, let’s be wise enough to consider all of them. Preparing for a citizens’ initiative does not undermine title or rights. Rather, it builds our collective political power.

Final thoughts
For me, the core of this issue is simple: leaders must be accountable to their people, regardless of the scale of leadership. If leaders forget who they represent, then the people need to organize. I know this truth from my own leadership in a community that is not afraid to correct my course if there is a better way for me to carry their interests forward.

Scale that spirit up to the provincial level. Elections are not our only opportunity to remind leaders whose interests they’re meant to represent in office. Trooping to the ballot box every four years is not enough to hold Christy Clark accountable. Let’s use every means available to hold her to the truth that her mandate comes from the people of B.C., and the people of B.C. expect her to join us in stopping Enbridge.

When it comes to being allies, let’s remember we are in this fight together. It is no longer enough to show solidarity. I am humbly asking my Settler allies to be solidary. It’s the difference between a finite action and a way of being. We need to work strategically in the space where our values and power overlap. I am committed to upholding the truth of my laws and stories, to helping my chiefs defend our rights and title in the courts. And I am committed to supporting my Settler brothers and sisters who choose to organize around an action that puts power back in their hands too.

By signing the Let BC Vote pledge, I am gesturing my willingness to be solidary with my Settler brothers and sisters. It’s time for all of us to rise up, build our organizing capacity, and exercise it in actions that advance us toward our goal of stopping this pipeline. I’m with you until we win.

I came into my role as a leader and community organizer because of Enbridge Northern Gateway. My elders taught me that you don’t get to choose the moment when you’re called to leadership; the only thing that’s up to you is courage and conviction. That teaching has guided me through many moments of uncertainty, and it’s the message I’ve most often shared with Indigenous and Settler people alike: respond to what this moment is asking of you. This fight is too big for us to do otherwise.

A Little Surprising

Today, CBC published an article about RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson’s reaction to yesterday’s report – published by the RCMP – about Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women.

In his comments, Paulson said, “We have known for some time that there’s a higher rate of violent victimization within the aboriginal female population, but to see these numbers crystallized as they have was a little surprising.” What’s surprising to Paulson is not surprising to those of us for whom the threat of violence is a lived reality, but what more troubling is that these initial comments about a “higher rate” are not reflected consistently in the article.

From the federal government’s side, Justice Minister Peter MacKay said, “We must continue to take concrete action now, not just continue to study the issue.” This is true. When we relegate this issue to the realm of academic questions, we hold ourselves back from taking urgent actions to protect  indigenous women and girls. But let’s try a little experiment: Raise your hand if you’ve heard this line before with no visible action once the cameras and microphones stop rolling.

Let’s not get lost in the muddy waters of who said what and what responsibility they have. On a superficial level, the statements made by Paulson and MacKay are true. Convenient and obvious, but true. Instead, I want to move beyond the colonial talking points for a minute. Those men only represent two of the institutions that systematize the oppression of indigenous peoples in this country. Let’s take a little time to talk about a third. Let’s take a little time to reflect on how lazy journalism isn’t a neutral action – but an actively oppressive one.

Journalists: who are the voices you present in your story?

Is your article simply about a colonial agency’s report on systemic issues faced by indigenous women, with reactions limited to the non-indigenous man who heads that agency and the non-indigenous man appointed within the federal government to oversee “justice”? If you answered “yes” to all those questions, we have a problem.

I am an indigenous woman. I have agency, and I have a voice, and I am not an anomaly. Where are the voices of the families who are waiting for their missing women and girls to come home? Where are the voices of the families of the victims for whom that hope is extinguished? Where are the voices of survivors who have become spokespersons? Where are the voices of community-based advocates and organizers, the indigenous institutions that are fighting for social justice? I know, journalists. You’re writing to deadline. But in the case of this article, I don’t even see an apologetic “X, Y, and Z couldn’t be reached for comment.” You have agency too; you’re making a choice.

With all due respect, I’d like to state the obvious myself: Commissioner Paulson and Minister MacKay are not marginalized women of colour. Their voices are far from sufficient to populate a meaningful conversation about this issue.

What’s problematic about privileging some voices above others?

A funny thing happens when you end up with a narrative in which nothing is challenged. Namely, there is no room for growth. Again quoting Paulson, CBC provides this reference point: “there were 5,370 non-aboriginal women who were murdered and 1,291 other non-aboriginal women who went missing during the same period.” Paulson also indicates it’s the responsibility of the RCMP to “answer from an informed position and put some context around these numbers.” So where is it?

It’s true: the number of non-indigenous women who are missing and murdered is higher than the number of indigenous women who are missing and murdered. That is a virtually meaningless statement. Where is the “context” (from the RCMP, the Justice Minister, or for that matter, CBC) that this number is not proportional to population size?

Estimates vary, but even at a cautious guess, as an indigenous woman I am four times more likely to experience violence than my non-indigenous sisters. Fully 19% of the cases referenced by Paulson involve indigenous women as victims. But according to Statistics Canada, indigenous women and girls make up only 4% of the total Canadian female population. Let’s reflect on that. Even according to the figures presented by the RCMP, 4% of women are vulnerable to 19% of the violence. Paulson also talks about the “solve rate” for indigenous versus non-indigenous murders: they are similar. But we’re missing the point that the “solve rate” isn’t the only or most important thing.

“Solve rate” vs. Solutions

Injustice isn’t just “murders going unsolved.” Injustice is the substantiated fear and oppression that comes from knowing that as indigenous women, we are four times as likely to face this violence in our lives. Injustice is knowing that colonial institutions and society at large aren’t just ignoring the problem – they’re perpetuating it and benefiting from our subjugation.

Why aren’t journalists investigating the figures instead of dropping them into articles like pointless trivia? There are at least two answers, and neither of them is pretty: either journalistic integrity doesn’t matter, or journalists en masse are intentionally reinforcing and apologizing for the very colonial power structures that create the conditions for this violence to be perpetuated.

In either scenario, journalism is complicit in the problem. It commodifies the violence. It chooses the voices that are privileged. It chooses the data presented and the context given for those data. And in choosing not to be bold or critical or to investigate the facts and figures, journalists enact the oppression they write about when they cover stories like this one.

You might argue it’s not the place of mainstream media to instigate social change. Maybe you’re right. But I refuse to passively accept that mainstream media should submit to being a tool of oppression that reinforces the disproportionate violence that pervades the lives of indigenous women and girls in this country.

So what’s the solution? I believe in a diversity of tactics, but let’s start here: If mainstream media won’t make space for bold, critical investigation, let’s do it ourselves. Challenge the isolated facts and figures. Elevate the journalistic trivia to subjects of serious conversation. Demand journalistic integrity. Speak truth, and seek it in others.

To my indigenous sisters: You are the women who give birth to Nations. For that, you will always be the wellspring of power and hope. And for those non-indigenous people who are solidary with us, let’s continue working together to make a space where meaningful societal change can happen.

A note to my friends in journalism: Be better.

“Everyone does it,” you might argue. “Why single out CBC?”

Because this is an excellent illustrative example. I get that it’s standard to dump in whatever photos you have on hand that seem vaguely topical. I get that the people who author the articles don’t necessarily pick the accessories. But someone is doing this, and they need to stop.

On March 18, CBC posted this article. I am not disputing the content of the article. I think it’s wonderful and frankly well past time that we acknowledge the incredible work Nations are doing to create sustainable industries that make sense in their communities.

But leaving aside the written content, let’s look at the images. First we see Squamish Chief Ian Campbell in regalia at a treaty ceremony. Second, we see Cree and Tsleil-wau-tuth members drumming and smudging. Third, we see Heiltsuk chiefs in regalia at a protest. Fourth, we see an image of indigenous people engaging in what looks to be an Idle No More demonstration at the Peace Arch crossing.

Here’s my question: What does this have to do with tourism?

I’ve seen phenomenal images come out of Spirit Bear Lodge, the ecotourism venture operated by my neighbours to the north at Kitasoo-Xaixais First Nation. It’s just one of several businesses mentioned in this article that are taking on innovative and exciting initiatives – and meeting vibrant success in doing so.

First of all, for the simple sake of accuracy, why isn’t CBC going the extra step of seeking out photos that are actually on topic? It wouldn’t be difficult. The people running these businesses are smart, and I bet many of them would value the opportunity to showcase some of the images coming out of their ventures.

Second of all, CBC and all your competitors – why are you not trying to be better? By including the photos you chose to attach to this article, you are reinforcing negative stereotypes of angry Indians who are just looking for something to protest. This, oddly enough, is totally inconsistent with the spirit of your article, and so I fail to see why you’re playing into this outdated notion.

Further, I am offended by your implication that any instance of First Nations people practicing their culture and customs is fair game for you to generalize as a spectacle. Were those Heiltsuk hereditary chiefs or Idle No More demonstrators protesting as a performance for tourists? I don’t think so. Was Chief Campbell’s attendance at the treaty ceremony intended as a spectacle for visitors? How about the sacred smudging and drumming of our Cree and Tsleil-wau-tuth relatives? I don’t think so.

Do not mistake ceremony for spectacle. Do not mistake ritual for entertainment.

Our Nations are already challenged to draw clear lines in terms of what is and is not appropriate to share with tourists and the public in cultural performances attached to our specific tourism ventures. You are not helping by appropriating images depicting ceremony and deploying them out of context with the implication that they are therefore equal to entertainment.

As a final note, I’d like to recommend the following gesture of respect:

If you are talking about a Nation, an individual, or a name in an indigenous language, check your spelling. Then double check it. Typos can be avoided and names are sacred. I’m not just saying this because it’s my Nation’s name you misspelled. I’m saying this because it is a mistake you can – and must – avoid.

If you won’t change your practices as a gesture of respect, be mercenary. Do it so you look less foolish and outdated.

Gaiasixa.