It takes a community to exploit a native woman. When the exploitation or assault of an indigenous woman is discussed there are comments blaming the woman, or the condition of Indian life, or they say...
Who wants to be caught criticizing another fellow native artist publicly? It's practically forbidden; better we keep to criticizing the millions of non-natives appropriating our work than to engage in the equally taxing effort of questioning ourselves. The vacant work of some native art is so lacking I've felt ashamed for staying quiet.
What about the wonderful women who are discouraged by hatred, by naysaying, by the abusive and unkind people who stand in their way, or by the institutions? They are exceptional, valued, underestimated and maybe "too much" in the best way. I believe they should be told.
The reality, as I know it, is that I feel threatened. I feel a general threat to my life - that when people know I'm native they can judge me based on their limited experience with my people, and men can view me with a lecherousness they believe I deserve and ask for. We must continue to survive, carry these stories, and never be afraid to identify our culprits.
The self as we know it is a Western construct - a white invention. Self-help, self-love and ascribing value to the self couldn't be more white, because it all amps up to the idea that people have quantifiable values and that value is directly related to meaning.
Senator Lynn Beyak, a member of the Canadian senate committee on Aboriginal People, was criticized for saying there were some "good things" about residential schools. It's unconscionable to do that, because it defies logic. The impetus for those schools was evil.
Nobody saw me until I had a degree. Nobody gave a damn about me in foster care, or worse, they tried to save me -- to show me how horrible Indians were, and that I should assimilate into the culture of normalcy, the every day: the middle class default.
There have been family stories about my white roots, something so dark and painful it's hard to articulate the specifics of it. I have a frail, white Victorian era ancestor, which explains my affinity for chaise lounges, large hats, and lethargy. It's a glorious thing to discover yourself in your roots. But it's been hard. There have been a few things I've done to reconnect with my white lineage.
I think part of it is because these men don't believe indigenous women feel pain the way others do, that we can handle pain, and we're not valued as much as others. Because if the government, the police, the media and the majority don't care for indigenous women's lives, why should these men?
Indigenous people are subject to racism, whether they are professors, authors, award winners, self-made or struggling. Our voices won't be silenced. I say: name your culprits and give them the exposure they desire.
There are a lot of kind, educated, empowering and reasonable men in our communities, but sometimes they fail to acknowledge what we deal with. Sometimes there's so few of us working at an organization that we become representative of Native American Women concerning every issue, no matter our personal experiences, or specializations, or politics on representation.
Mom thought my brother could intuit the future. Her assumptions weren't baseless; she was a historian. As Nlaka' pamux, we've been known to see things, like the white man before he came, or Jesus before the text. It's all in the history books, trying to dismantle the Other. He got his name from his dad, Tona. We think it translates to, "a place of hope," but our ways prevent rendering the name. After 32 years of knowing my brother, I had only recently learned the name of his father.
When Boyden said in a recent interview that he should step back and let more deeply-rooted members of the community speak on its behalf -- and that he had become 'a bit too big' of a deal, my immediate reaction was a shrug. His apologies have felt a little flaccid, while criticisms have become strengthened and more expansive concerning ideas and identity.
This conversation might be new to you, but it's always been relevant and ongoing, and it's often a reaction of something your people have caused. It's often complicated by outsider intrusion and historical erasure.
Joseph Boyden, author of The Orenda, is a figurehead in native literature and was recently scrutinized for his lack of proof concerning his native roots. The questions his identity raises are interesting and necessary, but if he's unwilling to have those conversations publicly, he's holding up progress.