I am an Indigenous woman, and I’m a survivor of genocide.
Reading the results of the National Inquiry into Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women and Girls final report and recommendations hit me like a gut punch. Perhaps it hit me differently than it hit you. One of the hot topics of the report is that it defined what Indigenous people have experienced in Canada, especially women and girls, as genocide. The United Nations Genocide Convention defines “genocide” as “acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group.”
I know how it sounds. Genocide? In Canada? Maybe your first instinct is to deny it.
I challenge you to hear the truth in it. All of my relatives already know this to be true because of what we’ve experienced. We’re intimately aware of the reality that Canada doesn’t want us to exist.
All of the policies that govern our relationships with Canada were created with the goal (intentional or otherwise) to get us out of the way and remove us from the land. When settlers first came here, we shared. Then, we were quickly in the way of progress. Our women were taught that they couldn’t care for life (in our own ways and in our own language). Our babies were taken, and too many of our women became lost. As many of us lost hope, our grip loosened on the land. And that is what Canada wanted all along. Now, in 2019, settlers make most of the decisions about what happens here – to our bodies and on the land.
My mother had to fight for sovereignty over her own body because our grandmothers lost theirs with first contact. Indigenous nations are matriarchal societies. Our bodies are extensions of the land. Our entire ways of knowing and being are informed and translated by women and elders in our communities.
When you remove women from our communities, or disenfranchise them, the seeds of genocide are planted. Unlike a massacre, with genocide you don’t really see the bloodshed. Instead there is just loss, and it’s usually invisible to those committing it – or worse, denied.
Even if you survive genocide, the residue of loss and grief lives inside you. And it’s hard not to feel angry at and gaslit by the rest of society as it moves on, totally unaware of the invisible violence it has perpetuated. The tools of genocide are subtle weapons because they involve eliminating language, culture, spirituality, dignity, health and economic sovereignty. Basically, genocide in our communities is passed on genetically like a silent epidemic.
Last year, I stood in front over a thousand people at TEDxToronto to tell a story about my identity, and I asked the audience to raise their hands if they knew someone who attended residential school. Only a few hands sprung up from a little crop near the front row. They were my family and friends, who came to watch me speak. They, like every Indigenous person in Canada, have the seeds of genocide in their blood.
The reason this report is a gut punch for me is because I’m afraid of what seeds I’ll pass to my future babies.
One day, I’ll sit my daughter down and speak with her about women’s roles and responsibilities in our culture. I will hold her close and tell her stories of my mother, her grandmother and the generations who came before. I will look into her eyes and tell her, in my language, how beautiful it is to be Anishinaabe. I’ll remind her that her very existence is the resistance of genocide.
I will tell her about this time; the time that Canada finally acknowledged the truth about its treatment of Indigenous women. The time Canada finally called it like it is.
I see our young mothers doing this all around me; they are reclaiming their languages, their cultures and their bodies. They are removing the roots of genocide and healing themselves for their babies. Instead of loss, we’re discovering hope again and we’re turning to our teachings fill us up.
So, what is the opposite of genocide? For me, it means doing the equal and opposite of what was done to us. It means rooting ourselves in our cultural knowledge and supporting women as they teach the next generations to do the same. If Canada wants to help us move forward from this, it needs to follow the recommendations of the report and foster the growth of young Indigenous women using the tools that Indigenous cultures have always had to offer.
CONTRIBUTED TO THE GLOBE AND MAIL PUBLISHED JUNE 6, 2019 UPDATED JUNE 14, 2019
Copyright: written by Sarain Fox and Tara Barnes