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The effect of and continuing colonization of Indigenous peoples can be traced as an underlying force in the development of housing and neighbourhoods that do not meet the unique cultural needs of Indigenous peoples. Permanent housing in Canada has been developed in a largely Eurocentric paradigm based off the needs and desires of the non-indigenous population. This reality is the result of the process of totalization.1 Totalization is the assimilatory process of commodification, objectification and assimilation experienced by Indigenous peoples articulated in the works of Peter Kulchyski. He developed his understanding of totalization through the works of Jean-Paul Sartre and Nicos Poulantzas, among others. Kulchyski defines totalization as a state driven process to bring social groups into the dominant social formation, capitalist production.2 This requires a reshaping of their society both in terms of material change and transformations in consciousness. 3

The present capitalist-industrial economy requires settled life; accumulation beyond subsistence in general requires settled life. This mode of production is based upon sedentary existence. Preceding colonization, the vast majority of Indigenous peoples in the land that became Canada enacted a ceremonial and productive cycle4 that relied upon a non-sedentary form of production. Materially it was the state that generally relocated and settled Indigenous peoples such as the Inuit into homes and locations that were based on a new mode of production. The state-sponsored settlement pattern was chosen and developed to be convenient for the state and its economic priorities and interests. Settlement was based on the values and culture of Euro-Canadians.5 Similarly, it was the state that funded the transformation of consciousness that came from the criminalization of ceremonies and the forced internment in residential schools.6 In the Canadian context, colonization is the process of preparing for and maintaining the necessary context for capitalist accumulation.7 Colonization can be understood in the Marxist terms of primitive accumulation or enclosure,8 both historically based ideas of how capitalist markets are created, although these terms to not express the breadth of the process of colonization.

Capitalist settled life was predicated on a change in household production9 in Indigenous societies from extended kinship networks to nuclear family reproduction transformed through the introduction of European hetero-patriarchy, the domination of men and privileging of heterosexuality. European-derived patriarchy is one of the fundamental bases of the holistic colonization of Indigenous peoples of Turtle Island.10 This process of re-ordering gender-relationships is not to unique to the colonization of the Americas but has also been documented by numerous Maori scholars in their works on Aotearoa.11 When planning housing it is often assumed that all inhabitants will have a household of the European-derived patriarchal model, otherwise known as a hetero-normative family. Much of the literature on Indigenous housing use proves otherwise, that some Indigenous peoples still retain a unique spatial use due to their preferences related to kinship and family structure and its effect on household production. The home and neighbourhood are the site of the family and therefore integral to both colonization and decolonization. If a home is not designed for the needs of Indigenous peoples it spatially supports European-derived lifestyles over that of Indigenous peoples. Simply put it gives the spatial advantage to the maintenance of colonization.

The results of colonization, thus far, have been decisive. Leroy Little Bear describes the results of colonization as follows:

Colonization created a fragmentary worldview among Aboriginal peoples. By force, terror, and educational policy, it attempted to destroy the Aboriginal worldview – but failed. Instead, colonization left a heritage of jagged worldviews among Indigenous peoples. They no longer had an Aboriginal worldview, nor did they adopt a Eurocentric worldview. Their consciousness became a random puzzle, a jigsaw puzzle that each person has to attempt to understand. Many collective views of the world competed for control of their behaviour, and since none was dominant modern Aboriginal people had to make guesses or choices about everything. Aboriginal consciousness became a site of overlapping, contentious, fragmented, competing desires and values.12

Little Bear argues there are fragmentary worldviews where there once was unity. He posits that colonized consciousness competes with Indigenous worldviews when Indigenous people make social decisions. The same can be seen to happen when governments and social agencies make decisions for Indigenous peoples. Little Bear’s comments however seem to suggest colonization is over and the results have been tabulated, rather than colonization being a process that is reaffirmed with every decision that supports European-derived worldviews and institutions. If one understands colonization as an ongoing process, it becomes easier to understand how not developing culturally appropriate housing can be a barrier to Indigenous cultural revitalization. Taiaiake Alfred argues in his book Wasáse, that defaulting or accepting European-derived cultural practices without critically evaluating whether or not they lead to the end result of Indigenous self-determination and cultural revitalization is a form of self-termination of indigenity. He calls this form of self-defeat and acceptance of colonization aboriginalism.13 Both Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples can be aboriginalists when they make choices that consequentially undermine Indigenous peoples, whether through processes or results. Seeing this reality requires the researcher, the civil servant, the community activist, or the citizen to prevent oneself from relying on seeing with their imperial eyes,14 and have empathy for those Indigenous peoples attempting to maintain and revitalize their cultures in an urban context.

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1 Peter Kulchyski and Frank Tester, Tammarniit (Mistakes): Inuit Relocations in the Eastern Arctic 1939-63, Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press, 1994, pg. 4-7.

2 See Peter Kulchyski, Like the Sound of a Drum: Aboriginal Cultural Politics in Denendeh and Nunavut, Winnipeg: University of Manitoba Press, 2005.

3 Peter Kulchyski, “Primitive Subversion: Totalization and Resistance in Native Canadian Politics”, Cultural Critique, 21. Spring 1992, pg. 174-178.

4 Tom Holm, et al., “Peoplehood: a Model for the Extension of Sovereignty in American Indian Studies”, Wicazo Sa Review, 18:1, Spring 2003, Pg. 14

5 Kulchyski and Tester, Tammarniit (Mistakes), pg. 6-9.

6 Katherine Pettipas, Severing the Ties that Bind: Government Repression of Indigenous Ceremonies on the Prairies, Winnipeg: University of Manitoba Press, 1994, pg. 18-20, 46-47.

7 Kulchyski and Tester, Tammarniit (Mistakes), pg. 5.

8 Karl Marx, Capital Vol. 1: a Critical Analysis of Capitalist Production, New York: International Publishers, 1967, pg. 762-763. Peter Linebaugh and Marcus Rediker, The Many-Headed Hydra: Sailors, Slaves, Commoners, and the Hidden History of the Revolutionary Atlantic, Boston: Beacon Press, 2000, pg. 17-20. John S. Milloy, A National Crime: the Canadian Government and the Residential School System, 1879-1986, Winnipeg: University of Manitoba Press, 1999, pg. 13.

9 Household production is the labour and reproduction in the home that allows other modes of the social relations of production to exist. According to Cox all societies are at least the combination (or social formation) of household production and one other mode of the social relations of production. Pre-contact Indigenous societies were according to Cox based on the relationship between household and subsistence production. Changes in this mode of production are perceived as changes in family structure. Robert W. Cox, Production, Power, and World Order: Social Forces in the Making of History, New York: Columbia University Press, 1987, pg. 48-50.

10 Karen Anderson, Chain Her by One Foot: the Subjugation of Women in Seventeenth-Century New France, New York: Routledge,1991. pg. 192-195. Silvia Federici, Caliban and the Witch: Women the Body and Primitive Accumulation, Brooklyn: Autonomedia, 2004, pg. 97-100. Andrea Smith, Conquest: Sexual Violence and the American Indian Genocide, Cambridge, MA: South End Press, 2005, pg. 12-17. Smith Andrea, “Heteropatriarchy and the Three Pillars of White Supremacy: Rethinking Women of Color Organizing”, from Incite! Women of Color Against Violence, Color of Violence: the Incite! Anthology, Cambridge, Mass: South End Press, 2006, pg. 71-73.

11 Makere Stewart-Harawira, “Practicing Indigenous Feminism: Resistance to Imperialism”, in Joyce Green, ed., Making Space for Indigenous Feminism, Winnipeg: Fernwood Publishing, 2007, pg. 124.

12 Leroy Little Bear, “Jagged Worldviews Colliding”, in Marie Battiste, ed., Reclaiming Indigenous Voice and Vision, Toronto: University of British Columbia Press, 2000, pg. 84-85.

13 Taiaiake Alfred, Wasáse: Indigenous Pathways of Action and Freedom, Peterborough, ON: Broadview Press, 2005, pg. 125-127.

14  ‘Imperial eyes’ is a phrased used by Linda Tuhiwai Smith in to describe how western researchers rely on their specific values, customs and prejudices when studying Indigenous peoples. She articulates that the way the west sees Indigenous peoples is developed out of a cultural archived that developed with imperialism and colonization. See Linda Tuhiwai Smith, Decolonizing Methodologies: Research and Indigenous Peoples, New York: Zed Books, 1999, pg. 42-45, 60.

grassyfeature2Rev – a member in exile v1.1

Anyone who has travelled on the prairies knows the meaning of a big sky. It is here that the heavens look  their grandest. It looks like the horizon never ends. It is really interesting to imagine what it would like when there was no hydro lines scattered towards the far off horizon. These Great Plains were the sight of significant historical resistance to capitalist accumulation by oppressed populations. Here is where many Indigenous nations made their stands against imperial domination. Métis, Nehiyaw (Cree), Anishinaabe, Dakota (Sioux) all have a history of resistance here. Maybe it’s the fact the world seems limitless on the plains. Our destination is past the tree lines, amongst the boreal forests. We are going to the community of Grassy Narrows, an Anishinaabe reserve known for one of the longest blockades in Canadian history. This community has fought hard against exploitation of its traditional treaty territory.

Grassroots activists in Grassy Narrows have a strong relationship with members of the Winnipeg activist community. This trip is dedicated to honouring those relations, it is a time of remembering the relationships made and the people returned to the earth. In particular, this trip is to honour Dave Brophy. Brophy was one of the original solidarity activists involved with Friends of Grassy Narrows and a dedicated supporter of Indigenous resistance. Brophy is talked of as a mainstay and his loss in the community is still felt. This trip was to honour his memory, to wipe each others’ tears, but to also renew the relationships between people left behind.

The trip to Grassy took us through the Great Plains and into the Shield which many in the land known as Ontario recognize so well. To many others this land is known as Treaty 3 Territory. We drove through Kenora, Ontario which is known as the Mississippi of the North. Kenora is known for its history and present of racist violence steeped in colonialism. It was here in 1974 the Ojibway Warrior’s Society took over Anicinabe Park. In this small city the Indigenous population is brutalized by racist police and racist residents on a constant basis. A public meeting was held two days earlier to initiate a grassroots response to this consistent trend of brutality and disrespect.

After a short break to catch a bite to eat we begin our trip up the regional highway that starts in Kenora and ends in Grassy. Highway 671 is a driver’s dream: it has sharp turns, lots of rolling hills and beautiful cascading views of fall yellows and deep blue lakes that only the shield can provide to the onlooker. It is like the propaganda paintings of group of seven members, which we use to hide Canada’s ugly realities. At the end of this picture perfect road we are coming to an Indian Reserve. Indian reserves are patches of land all across Canada designated for Indians to live on. They are essentially the remnants of segregated communities produced by the combination of deeply held racism and liberal attitudes of humanitarianism. Indian reservations are often places of extreme poverty and poor health quality. Most reserves in the north of a province are under boil water advisories and have poor sewage systems. They are rural post-colonial ghettos, where people hope for freedom but are marginalized from the slim luxuries of Euro-Canadian industrial civilization.

They are places where racially coded poverty is plain to see for everyone brave enough to come and look. At the same time these are the only places where Indigenous peoples get recognition of ownership of the land by the Canadian government. Reserves exist because our families, our communities and our nations-states stole the land from the Indigenous families and we didn’t give the Indigenous families enough to survive on. The legacy of this treachery and banditry lasts to this day.Treaty3

As we arrive on the reservation we are greeted by comrades and companions who have also travelled to honour Brophy. This is a time when people are open and honest and simply speaking from the heart. It is one of those rare times when conversations are true and there is no awkwardness and people can be in the moment. People share their stories, their ideas and their dreams. It’s painfully funny how it takes this occasion for many people to be real. I am here to honour someone who walked the pathway before me in my newly chosen home. It is a very Indigenous way of thinking to truly honour those who came before you. It is one concept I really have respect since my introduction to Anishinaabe ways of knowing.

There are a lot of things that people are forgetting to honour. I think one very important thing to honour is the treaties signed between Indigenous peoples and the settlers who came to live in this land. Harold Johnson, an Indigenous Lawyer, describes the treaties as the adoption of the European family by the Indigenous peoples. He insists that the right of Canada to exist stems from the treaties signed with Indigenous peoples. Harold Johnson’s explanation stems from his discussions with Nehiyaw elders of Treaty 6.

Johnson insists that the right for the settlers to live and grow on this land, in other words, settler nation’s sovereignty stems from their treaty rights. This was the settler Europeans’ initial acceptance of the supremacy of the Creator’s law. Johnson insists that his family, the Cree people, never accepted the authority of the Canadian government over them because their law does not recognize abstractions, paper, or crowns as holding power. Treaties were about making relations between equal peoples, nations, families. He insists much like the Two Row Wampum, of the Haudenosaunee, that these are treaties of non-interference in each other’s affairs. They are treaties of friendship and cohabitation, they are treaties of companionship.

The meeting of friends and allies at Grassy Narrows to honour Dave Brophy highlights how the treaties intended us as peoples to interact. We have different laws, different customs, different lives but we can be friends and have relations as equals. We can share experiences of loss, of happiness and of healing. We can hold each other tight when we grieve and smile as the pain begins to go away, we can eat from the same cup and share our stories together. We do not need to have the same family structure, same political structure or the same cultures to be equal and have meaningful friendships. This is the meaning of peaceful coexistence. Dave Brophy’s memory lives on and reminds us of how we were intended to live together settlers and Anishinaabe.

As we stand on the edge of the pow-wow grounds, a tree in honour of Dave is being planted where a tee-pee once stood during the blockading days. A tree to symbolize his commitment to the protection of Grassy Narrows, a tree to symbolize his friends and families love of him for all he was, and a symbol of respect. Planting a tree can also symbolize what we as settlers and Indigenous peoples need to begin to do together. Rebuild and renew our connections to the Earth and each other. We need to reclaim the original intent of the treaties and begin to walk in a good way. We need to plant many more trees of friendship and let the roots grow strong.

As activists, anarchists and supporters, we need to do well to honour the treaties that give us our entitlement to exist here on Turtle Island; we need to honour these relations. In our theories and our daily practice we need to develop a practice of anti-colonial organizing. We need to daily think about challenging the government’s authority over Indigenous communities, and still keep our covenants with the other peoples of Turtle Island. When we tear apart the state and end capitalism we still have the treaties and our relationship to the original peoples to deal with. A revolutionary organization based in the settler community still needs to deal with the treaties and displacement of Indigenous peoples. This problem will not disappear with the end of capitalism. This issue of land supersedes any change in state or economic system. As long as we do not reconcile the principles of social equality with prior occupancy of Indigenous peoples there will be the possibility for conflict.grassy narrows

As supporters of Indigenous struggles we need to remember they are in part struggling against communities we are a part of. We need to remember and be mindful of our relations to those who oppress and benefit from the oppression of Indigenous peoples. We need to be conscious of how our lives are related to oppressing Indigenous communities. This means attention to organizing in our community. Supporting Indigenous struggle is directly linked to reform, revolution and change in our community. We need to be able to restrain corporations and government from breaching Indigenous sovereignty. The way to do this is to gain control of our communities and do anti-colonial education to gain support for our collective liberation. Organizing our own communities for resistance is the way we can best conduct true solidarity organizing. This is the pathway of action we must take.

This article was written in the fall of 2008 and kept until now to pay respect to the friends comrades and family of Dave Brophy.

Rev is an exiled member of Common Cause and an anarchist militant involved in organizing against Police Violence in Winnipeg, Manitoba and an organizer in the IWW. From these groups he supports Indigenous Struggles.

Further Reading:

Deborah Simmons, “Farewell to a Comrade” – http://www.newsocialist.org/index.php?id=1314

Harold Johnson, Two Families: Treaties and Government, Saskatoon, SK: Purich Publishing, 2007.

Howard Adams, Prison of Grass: Canada from a Native Point of View, Calgary: Fifth House Publishers, 1989.

Peter Kulchyski, Like the Sound of a Drum: Aboriginal Cultural Politics in Denendeh and Nunavut, Winnipeg: University of Manitoba Press, 2005.

Robert Williams, Linking Arms Together: American Indian Treaty Visions of Law and Peace, 1600-1800, New York: Routledge, 1999.

Taiaiake Alfred, Wasáse: Indigenous Pathways of Action and Freedom, Peterborough, ON: Broadview Press, 2005.

Waziyatawin, What Does Justice Look Like? The Struggle for Liberation in Dakota Homeland, St. Paul: Living Justice Press, 2008.

This is a rewrite of the the article originally published for linchpin, it ties things together better and adds new information that better contextualizes res-schools.

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On June 11th 2008, the Prime Minister of Canada, Stephen Harper, claimed to apolo­gize for residential schools and the govern­ment’s plan to destroy the cultures of In­digenous peoples in Canada. This apology came after a similar apology was given to in­digenous people in Australia. Residential or boarding schools were part of colonial policy in New Zealand, Australia, the United States and Canada. Harper’s apology talked about the abuses and cultural assimilation of Indig­enous peoples in Canada by the Canadian government, especially the forced removal of children from their families. However, there is so much that Harper did not say. What he left out was that the residential schools were just one aspect of colonization.

FontaineHarperOn September 25th 2009, before the G20 meeting in Pittsburgh Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced that Canada had no history of colonialism. According to Harper, this made Canada the envy of the world. So in just over a year Harper has shown that in the eyes of the government residential schools can be viewed as a single event, an abnormality of Canadian history, rather than as an institution that symbolizes the basic policy of Canadian state towards the majority of Indigenous peoples.

Residential schools were run by churches, led by the Department of Indian Af­fairs for most of their existence. They focused on a total approach to assimilation: physical, emotional, spiritual, and intellectual. The In­digenous children stolen from their families were to be made into Canadians by force. The curriculum was created to allow the de­struction of Indigenous ways of living on the land. The idea of “killing the Indian and saving the man,” was really about making way for capitalist ways of liv­ing on the land. In essence, residential schools aimed at handing over Indigenous land to corporations and turning Indigenous people into workers. Since Cana­dian society was based on private property while most Indigenous communities held the land in common, residential schools taught skills for private property ownership and taught the values of a capitalist society to the children. In the mind of the churches and the government, the Indigenous person was to become a settler and worker for the ruling class. But always these workers were expendable if they took jobs from white workers.

The residential schools were first called Manual Labour or Industrial schools and this says a lot about their actual pur­pose. The schools spent a half day teach­ing lessons in the classroom, the other half was spent learning trades or housework. The schools aimed to produce workers that were able to be exploited for wages or for their crops. The students were taught to be hard working and obedient like all good white Christian workers. Or in other words, to re­spect the authority of the church, state and the capitalist bosses. This is the same idea as the workhouse or poorhouse in Europe, to discipline and create the working class. In other words, to develop a mentality that accepts being ordered and is comfortable with submission.

Authority and fear were central to the goals and methods of the residential schools. Indigenous societies were very free and equal. European society on the other hand used discipline and power to control people. Residential schools used power and violence to train Indigenous peoples to sub­mit to settler society and the figures of au­thority in it. Indigenous peoples were taught to behave like white people or face punish­ment, just like all settler children are taught to behave or face punishment. Those who ran residential schools argued that Indigenous parents did not exercise proper authority over their children.

The residential school curriculum tried to destroy Indigenous languages in order to remove the people from the land. This created a cultural barrier between successive generations of speakers and non-speakers which severed the transfer of knowledge in how to live traditionally. The elimination of this knowledge through the teaching of English imposed settler ways of living, because the necessary knowledge to live Indigenous was lost or not transferable. These policies were so successful that language loss is now an experience that is almost universally Indigenous.

Residential Schools also taught sexism and the rule of men over women (patriarchy). Girls were taught to be do­mestic and remain in the home, while very often Indigenous women had more freedom and could do many jobs outside the home. Women were taught that Christian marriage was right rather than be brought up in a clan system where women’s solidarity and col­lective power protected women from male oppression. Women were taught to be infe­rior and this destroyed the backbone of the gender equality in Indigenous societies. This inequality was essential to the development of the working class in all European societ­ies. The production of the Christian nuclear family is the linchpin of capitalist society.

At the same time as being Indigenous children were being put through residential school their families were experiencing the displacement and dislocation of other Indian policies administered by the federal government. Indigenous ceremonies such as the Sundance and potlatch were made punishable because they were very important to the redistributive/prestige economy of particular Indigenous peoples. People would travel great distances to attend ceremonies and often leave their farming responsibilities to participate. The federal government found this behaviour to be a barrier to the civilization of the Indian. The government instituted a pass system which prevent Indigenous people from travelling off their reserves. This served many purposes, including preventing families from visiting children at residential schools, but also to prevent attending ceremonies.

The federal government also continually failed to protect the livelihood of Indigenous people as they attempted to survive in the emerging capitalist economy. They consistently adopted policies which benefited the settler population at the expense of the Indigenous. Whether it was fishing regulations or timber laws, commercial enterprise of the settler was privileged over Indigenous subsistence economies. The federal government through a process of displacement forced Indigenous communities to rely on welfare as they slowly eroded all of the communities’ alternatives and resources to combat poverty independently. The goal was to give Indigenous people two options wage labour or dependency on relief. Residential schools existed as an institution in this overall scheme of destroying the Indigenous societies that used the land before Canadian capitalism.

To wrap up, residential schools were a project to spread capitalism. Residential schools were meant to turn Indigenous peo­ples into settlers and make them workers and peasants for the capitalist system. Harper will never apologize for the real goals of the residential schools. Many Indigenous peo­ples, such as the Assembly of First Nations, are even scared to admit how colonized they remain. Really discussing decolonization will require the unsettling of capitalism. Recog­nizing that colonization and capitalism are the same process shows us that the struggle for Indigenous freedom from the authority of bosses and the government is a natural ally with the anarchist struggle for freedom.

mom and 50

Moving from my father, I consider my mother’s impact on me. My relationship with her was always strained. She spent a lot of time trying to make me into society’s image of what a “good’ole lil’white boy” was supposed to be. My mother was an avid disciplinarian. Her favourite instrument was the wooden spoon. A trade up from her mother’s wooden paint stick. Same use value though. It is funny how parents think this is a way to demonstrate love and good child rearing.

My mother gave her whole being to raising my brother and me. She was always the first one we went to for anything, and the one who always took care of us all. In a certain respect it is hard for me to identify her defining interests, because she gave so much in helping my brother, my father and me to reach our potential. This is what so many mothers do for their families. One thing I do know about my mother is that she loved to paint, and make things. She is the craftiest person I know. She put these types of interests on the back burner to raise us up as men, and for that I can’t be anything but grateful. My mother’s weaknesses came from trying to meet the expectations of white middle class parenthood and sacrificing me to these expectations even if I was ardent they were not for me and if that wasn’t where I came from.

At the same time this was how my mother had learnt to express her desire that I succeed in life. I don’t blame her for this behaviour. You see it in almost every mother who learnt the traditional model of European patriarchal family. Mothers were continually judged by the way they raised and ruled their children. This operates in the unconsciousness of every mother, these expectations.

I know that the majority of my personality was formed in relation to my mother, from my sense of humour to my understanding of a strong person, it comes from her. This is what it means to be a family, seeing truly where you came from, this doesn’t come from blood for me, and it comes from experiences and lasting relationships. It is hard to pick out particular moments or memories when it comes to my mother. She was always there doing the little things that you rarely get credit for. She was always fixing my clothes, making me food, taking care of me when I was sick. She was also the first person to have to deal with the pressure of the schools and the law when I was entrapped by them for misbehaviour. So in the final reflection, I owe every moment of comfort to my mother.

Despite all of this I was never really ever able to open up to her like I am so many other people. I still have a hard time mentioning any detail of my life to her. Not because I don’t want to but there is this distance between me and her, that I identify I imposed by my own dislocated feelings. I envy the closeness some of my friends have with their mothers. Every time I think I might be able to start to do that, I don’t.

moms

Despite all of barriers I seem to have when interacting with her, I know Mom is always there. It has taken me a long time to value her advice and be able to say she was right, but most of the time she knew. One of the moments that came to mind in remembering my mother’s knowledge of me was when I told her I was an anarchist.

Her response was a very simple and concise, “I know, you have always been one, it has been what I have been fighting since we first got you.”

My usual wit responded defensively, “so that is what you have been trying to beat out of me since day one, eh?”

My mother knew because she had watched me grow up and fight against everyone that told me what to do, who imposed on me any type of expectation that I did not agree with. She told me that fighting the battle of the underdog had been something I always gravitated towards and I had just found a label for it.

It feels really weird, but at the same time really good, when your mother is not in the least bit surprised by this type of declaration. I wouldn’t have recognized this about myself without my mother telling me. Now that is not to say she was at all impressed with my choice of political persuasion. If I said I was bringing home an anarchist that would be the end of that person being allowed to stay over. Only because I was her son, was it okay. I still don’t really know what my mother actually thinks an anarchist is, we avoid political discussions at all costs. Generally they start with, well communism failed and end in a really awkward silence that just isn’t worth it.

She might not have given birth to me, but she more than anyone made it clear she chose me and that was more special than anything in the world. My mother and raised me up to be who I am today.

Let’s start with the very beginning, where my blood begins, because it is this mystery that is the root of my identity.

Leah 2

I was born to a poor-woman who was ditched by my biological father before I was born. I know nothing of my biological father. Not even his name. Not a single word about him. For most of my life, until I was 22, I knew next to nothing about my biological mother.

Well, now I know just a little bit about her and her life. I also know a bit about the people I am connected to through her blood. Mary had two children before she had me, Mike and Leah.

Mike grew up in a Jewish family and I haven’t talked much to him. When he was really keen on meeting I wasn’t ready and was creeped out. I didn’t want to meet because I was not comfortable with adding to my family, I felt this pressure because I felt like this is what he wanted. For whatever reason I was disappointed in who my blood relatives were. This was the result of my first meeting with a relative, my sister. The biological relative I know the best is my older sister Leah, she is the only one I have talked to in person. I have talked to Mike, Mary, and my two younger relatives on the phone. I know very little about her, we have only met in person twice and talked on the internet and the phone.

My sister was raised by a Japanese-Canadian who was part of management of British Petroleum and later Petro Canada. Similarly, her adoptive mother was a Newfie who also worked for Petro and BP. She grew up in a fairly upscale portion of southern Ontario. She, herself, looks very brown of some sort, either part native or part Indo-Chinese. I very quickly had trouble relating to the appearance of wealth in their home, even though I did not grow up poor by any standard. There wealth and class based culture was still beyond me. Where we, my older sister and I, found parallels was our anger that stemmed from not knowing exactly what we were, despite having loving parents.

My sister was very keen on becoming real relatives on connecting immediately. Whereas after our first meeting and my discomfort at hoping for people I could instantly connect to, I pulled away and this gave me a negative attitude towards meeting with my older biological brother Mike. For whatever reason I was hoping that they would be different and more into radical politics and be more similar to me. I shied away from putting any effort into building common experiences and memories the very heart of being a family. Do I regret it? Of course I do. I could have been way more mature and way more open. I barely know anything about my relatives. We have 3 different fathers, and 3 different adoptive families, 3 very different lives. I think in a way I set the tone for the whole lack of reunion. I was the only one to have a sibling I grew up with and accordingly was not searching for my first brother or sister, and I destroyed hopes for that type of connection. I recognize this, but can’t really go back on that now.

Mary, my biological mother, has a hard time remembering who our fathers were, from my understanding that period of her life was not exactly one she was completely coherent while living it. In other words, she was dealing with addictions and sleeping around, and at points homeless. I never got to read the information Children’s Aid Society (CAS) gave me about her until I was older and searching for her. I do regret that I never asked my parents for it until I was older, it lead to unfair assumptions about her. For the first 19 years of my life the memory and knowledge of the women who gave me birth was absent from my memory. The only thing that was there was a deep, dislocation from that connection. A lack of connection that has affected every single relationship and friendship I have ever had. I didn’t know it at the time, while I was growing up to become a young man, but this dislocation and detachment from my biological mother made me wary and uncomfortable with others. It gave me an unconscious fear of abandonment and an irrational defense against any close relationships. This was borne out of fear of being torn apart once again from someone that I was supposed to be loved by.

Within the first weeks of my birth I was taken from my mother by Children’s Aid Society and put into foster care with an older couple who raised foster babies. I shared a crib with a boy a month older named Sean, according to the records I looked at. Apparently I learned by imitating him and was ahead of babies my age because I was able to mimic things as he learned them before me. One day when I came across pictures of me while still in foster care, I came across pictures of me and a little black baby with beautiful curly hair ringlets. I looked on the back and the names were “Alex and Sean”. The closest thing I had to a brother, or friend, in my first few months and the person who was with me for the first few formative months and helped me become human was not white.

For most of my childhood and teenage years I thought my mother had abandoned me. I thought she had wanted to get rid of me. I thought I had been easily discarded. I remember when I finally got her mailing address, and went to write her a letter. I would begin to write and begin with cordial greetings and what I had done with my life and how things were turning out to be alright. Eventually though I would always be confronted with the question of why:

“Why Mary did you give me away?”

“Why did you quit on me?”

“Why were you such a fuck up that you couldn’t keep your 3 kids, not even one of them?”

“What the fuck was wrong with you?”

All of my letters lacked sympathy or empathy, I would be boiling with rage, and hurt, but not a single tear would ever come. Cries of sadness have always been something few and far between with me. Just now I am beginning to melt that ice. The ice has begun to melt as I have begun to recognize the truth about the situation my biological mother was forced into by the realities of poverty and patriarchy.

I came to realize that my mother tried to keep me. I understood CAS had taken me away. I recognized my mother tried to visit me every day, she tried to move and find housing to be closer to me. My mother even had a shotgun marriage with a man she barely knew all in an attempt to keep me, and yet I hated her for all these years, a woman I barely knew anything about. I began to squarely put the blame where it belonged on the shoulders of my biological father. The man who left her with child and didn’t seem to look back, he deserved my ire and scorn. A man unwilling to take responsibility for a child he has had a part in creating is to me not a man at all.

I have sat on my bed, my fists clenched and imagined myself arriving at his door, asking the person who answered if they were the right person and then beating the fuck out of him with my metal baseball bat. I have imagined breaking his fucking legs for running out on my mother. This man’s inability to take responsibility for his actions and his sperm has been the source of pain for me and most definitely my biological mother.

My mother has had to fight with the guilt of giving me up and losing the fight to keep me. She has also had to deal with the anxiety of waiting for me to contact her for 18 years, and then wondering if I ever would after 20. I cannot imagine what that pain and waiting feels like. What does it feel like to have your child taken from you and knowing that you will never ever be allowed to see it grow up? What does it feel like know you will have no part in your childs rearing and when it is older it might just come to you, and you will have to deal with the results? What does it feel like to have to choose to accept that your child is gone, that you have had the power over what you have created taken from you by another person? I don’t know the answers to this, but my biological mother does. I dare not ask because I don’t think i am man enough to comfort her for our shared dislocation from each other. That ability to comfort her was stripped from me the first time we were separated.

But this is supposed to be state benevolence, right? We are both supposed to be happy the government stepped in and fixed up our problems for us, right? I guess I am supposed to agree the breaking up of families has done me better. Despite the fact my material conditions have improved by having state sponsored class mobility, I still have an empty feeling inside. I still can be walking alone and feel a sadness I only this year realized was all about dislocation from my roots. Yet this happens to poor and racialized families every single day in this country. Some people have the privilege of never having to face this, others like myself well we have to just deal with it. Who remembers the 60s scoop, the replacement for residential schools, state sponsored identities crisis for a whole people, not just one person like myself.

As an anarchist I look back and don’t know how to feel about this. I was a crown ward, an actual piece of property of the state, this is part of the consciousness that informs my anarchism. A direct resistance to the paternalistic claim the state made that caused my biological mother so much pain ….

My biological mother does not even know I used to hate her, I suspect this is probably a good thing. When I finally talked to her on the phone it was actually great. We did have commonalities, even though I did really feel the class differences between us. I was encouraged to learn I had 2 other siblings, both of them younger, Felicia and Donovan. To my surprise, these one’s she had kept. I was glad for them even if they were poor. I hope they will not experience the dislocation I do, even though they are growing up without a father and will be forced to confront a whole different system of oppression based on class. I keep telling myself I need to step up and become part of their life, but I am scared, and haven’t made that leap.

When I talked to my mother on the phone we had a lot of catching up to do. So many questions and so many feelings were rushing through my mind. One of the things our blood seems to have in common is a wicked temper and sense of self that stands up for what we think is right. Mary explained to me that she thought it was from our Irish and Mohawk blood that comes from her mother’s side. This floored me. When I was waiting for the adoption registry to give me my relatives contact information a few years before my non-identifying information had only said she was Irish and English. I was very sceptical about all of this.

Mary told me in Vancouver she had for a few years been going to Aboriginal events and was starting to go to ceremonies. My sister Leah began to wear Mohawk as a label right beside her “Newfanese”, not as an authentic identity that was enacted, but as an actual label, nothing more.

I was really excited, since anyone who knows me, recognizes I was enthralled and totally oscillating between fascination and romantic images of Indigenous cultures in Canada. I just at this point had emerged, I was in the process of becoming a major supporter of Indigenous struggle in an active way. But for the better this excitement was short lived and my ability to be reflective was operating fully. I was very uncomfortable with ever claiming this as an identity, what did I know about being native?

More importantly, my mother was operating on a personal genealogy that she did herself through pictures and connecting dots. In my estimation, her claims to being native were more about searching for belonging outside of oppressive white culture than it was about any ability to prove a link to nativeness. For that reason I still view this with major scepticism. At the same time, for a woman who has been to the gutter and back, it seems very reasonable to search for connection outside the society which allowed you to live in that gutter.

As I began to learn more throughout my school and relationship building with Indigenous people in Winnipeg, my thoughts on nativeness developed even more strongly against ever claiming to be native. Being indigenous was about a shared history, a relationship to the land, a language and a ceremonial cycle that connected these. It was about growing up in a colonized community and the struggles inherent in that. It was not a label I could ever respectfully attach to myself as some kid who grew up white in the upper working-class suburbs. But despite these rationalizations, an emotional attachment and hope still lingers.

But as I told my sister, there is one way and one simple method for finding out if you are actually native. You ask the spirits of the people you claim to descend from, ceremony and tradition can tell you. If I learned anything this year, it is about how to do things in a good way. If I was Anishinaabe, I would ask the shaking tent…. whatever the equivalent is in Mohawk ways, I told her. Do it, then if you are accepted, then you are native.

For myself, not matter what I will never claim to be native. Even if I was traditionally adopted and part of a clan, I will never be native. I will never have the experience of growing up in a colonized family like Indigenous people do. Out of respect and awareness I know I am separate from that reality and experience.

At the same time, hanging out with Indigenous people has been central to me actually becoming strong in who I am inside. I think because so many Indigenous people are also searching for who they are and reclaiming lost parts of their culture and lives, I find kindred spirits and people I can relate to. In this I feel a strong connection with those people earnestly searching. In this way I know what it means to be building an Identity that struggles against white supremacist hegemonic structures.

dad tongue
Now to understand the type of home I grew up in, one needs to contrast the contradictions of my father. At one end this was a man who took joy in preparing squirrel pelts and at other times what the most rules bound and state indoctrinated person I have ever met. One of the lasting memories I have of my father is it being after lunch in the middle of summer and wondering what my dad is up to. I have been surviving the heat by escaping to the basement and playing video games. I go where I know I will find him, the garage. Now I expect him to be doing some wood working or sorting some tools for plumbing, something typical. Instead my I come out and find him skinning dead squirrels he has found on the side of the road. He has one pelt already laid out on the flat of his table saw, and he is in the middle of the second skinning. Now it might seem odd, but we are not hicks, we live in the suburbs, but he has his green Tilley hat on and he loves every minute of it.

As I come out and go, “why in the hell are you skinning squirrels?”

He gets his typical fighting embarrassment smile, and responds, “for the pelts”.

“Okay, um, why do you want squirrel pelts?”

“To show kids”

No, of course running through my mind is, why not show them a live squirrel or a stuffed one…. but this is my father. A wannabe-hick trapped in suburbia. Asking for a reasonable explanation is just futile.

A second thing one has to know about my father is that he is absolutely connected to water in all of his major loves in life, outside of finding road kill and keeping it to show kids. There was this hawk in our freezer for two years, but that’s a whole other story for a different day. Anyways, back to telling you about Dad and water.

Everything that matters to my dad outside of our family has water. My father is a fire fighter, so he uses water to put out fire. My father’s trade just like his father before him is that of a plumber, so bringing people water. My dad also really loves to canoe and go swimming. Our major moments of coming together that I remember are extended family canoe trips. The major expense at our house is a pool. For a man so in love with water and all things associated with it, of course we need one. My dad loves to grow plants, and anyone familiar with the process knows watering plants is a significant part of the process. Lastly my father has an absolutely love of fish and building aquariums. He has 5 in our basement, and will spend over an hour standing or sitting and watching the fish in his aquariums. So yes, water is quite an important part of his life. I’m not sure if he really realizes it, but I do. When it comes to honouring him as he passes on to the other side, I will definitely have to do something with water for him.

Now my father is also very much a man’s man, he fits the stereotype, but there is warmth there that is not in other people. Though I think this is a product of who he hangs around. He is a firefighter and the men there are quite stereotypical. I actually blame most of my sexism on the men my father was friends with. I blame him for not taking a stand against them. I rarely if ever remember my father being explicitly sexist. However, I do remember particular friends of his doing so, one in particular Greg. I could lay blame on him for definitely educating me in both racism and sexism, even if it was under the guise of being a joke. He used to openly boast about beating up fags on shore leave while in the navy. His sons and I thought this was the coolest thing at the time. If I can blame my father for anything, it is for exposing me to men like that. Men who I at the time thought were great, but now I think are weak and pathetic. It has been a long struggle to come from a sexist, racist, homophobic upbringing to be part of a community that openly defies these false and oppressive mentalities and structures.

dad and mom

One example of Greg’s sexism was that he and his sons were able to openly call their mother 86; this was a nickname referencing her IQ. Everyone just seemed to laugh this off, but as a youth and kid, we took this at face value, what could just have been a joke, it enforced internalized sexist attitudes that stick with me until this day. It wasn’t that my dad ever was this explicit but he let it happen and by allowing this was just as complicit in my learning of patriarchy, racism and homophobia.

My father’s weakness was in his lack of desire to reject these teachings and learnt disrespect.

Despite these inadequacies, my father expressed love and care for me, more than any stereotype of manhood can allow. When I was young, he would kiss me goodnight along with my mother and I felt loved and appreciated as I fell asleep. He rarely, if ever, used or threatened me with physical violence to keep me in line. If anything my father consistently discouraged this type of action on my part. I didn’t need any encouragement to fight, it was a natural state of being for me to bleed and chuck knuckles.

On the other hand, I can credit my father with giving me the base of my value system. My father showed me what it meant to live by a code of honour that was about serving the community. That is what being a good firefighter was about, putting your life on the line for others. It was about self-sacrifice. My father does embody these qualities of a warrior. As a kid I was scared my father wouldn’t come home from work. My dad has never talked about the close calls or the danger, he has a quiet confidence in his abilities and is very humble about his place in society, and he sees it as a duty, not something to brag about. But he is very quietly proud. I admire him for this. We definitely do not agree on what is good for society sometimes, but the dedication with which we approach social life has parallels. He taught me to take ownership of the community I am in. He taught me it was a duty to care for people at any time, even when it was inconvenient for myself.

The lasting memory of this was when we were travelling down the highway in Toronto and we passed a 3 car crash, and there were only police on the scene. My father pulled over to the side of the road, and unlike the 100s of cars that passed by, he got out to help. I watched as he saved these strangers lives. He went to work on people who were dying while our family waited for him to return. We waited as he dedicated over 2 hours of our time to saving their lives. My father was soaked in other people’s blood. He saved a woman’s life that day from death and he didn’t seem to beat an eye. I remember a paramedic coming to our car and saying to us, your dad will be here soon we are just cleaning him up a bit. In the background a helicopter ambulance was landing to pick up the woman he saved. My dad returned to the van and we didn’t really have to say anything, we continued on to my Granny’s house, he sent his message loud and clear to me. You have a duty to care for others, one day I hope to live up to this expectation.

Even inside this value system there are things I did not agree with. My father was a bit too unquestioning and naive in his acceptance of law and government. He shunned me for over a month when I got caught for spray painting on government buildings; to him this was an attack on where part of his source of honour came from, the state. In this my father and I will always disagree.

I Still Love you Dad…..

Tobacco Offering Protocol

This is a guideline for offering tobacco to Indigenous folks developed with Anishinaabeg near the Forks of the Red and the Assiniboine Rivers. It would be best to consult with local people to find out if the particulars are different. But this is a good starting point.

1. (a) Acquire Tobacco – it can be store bought, but actually finding traditional tobacco would be really awesome. But standard offering is no additive rolling tobacco.

(b) Acquire Cloth and Ties – purchase red broad cloth to place the tobacco inside. This can be purchased from an average fabric store. It needs to be a natural material, not synthetic.

2. Cleanse Cloth – the cloth ought to be taken to a sweat lodge ceremony and be brought inside to be cleansed. You need to explicitly ask the elder or performer of the ceremony to bring in the cloth. You normally put it down in front of them on their blanket before you go in.

3. Preparation of Tobacco Ties – the ties only needs to be a 3 inches by 3 inches. They ends are folded and tied together with a organic twine of hemp or whatever else. The ties (with Tobacco) should be prayed with (including holding the tobacco tie) by all members of Copwatch who feel comfortable doing so. The person actually offering Tobacco has to pray with it. You do not need to give someone a full bag of tobacco for one request.

4. Tobacco Offering – Tobacco should be offered when you initially ask someone to do something with you or for you. Not right before you need them to do it. The usual is at least 4 days before a request. This is necessary for those people who wish to smoke the pipe and pray to seek guidance in performing the task you ask them to. When offering tobacco, say: “I am offering you this tobacco for _______”.

5. Gifts – It is still very normal to give a speaker or workshop facilitator a gift for any time they spend with you. Gift giving is a very basic part of Indigenous relationship building. For larger requests for elders or spiritual leaders to perform a specific ceremony it is normal to give them cloth and also sometimes medicines. So we can ask people for Wiike, Sweetgrass and Sage to give to people, for this we will need to offer them a larger amount of tobacco and some cloth.

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