I never want to be seen as an equal to settler society. March 6, 2019 by indigenousmotherhood
I never want to be seen as an equal to settler society. Nor do I ever want to be seen as an equal in the eyes of the colonizer. And I never want to be seen as “successful” within colonial systems.
It started when I was young. It was lurking in the beginning stages of public speaking, of meeting with ministers, of being groomed in this space of false indigeniety to achieve colonial success. It was intertwined in the statements of “you are going to be the next Prime Minister of Canada!” And the “you are so resilient. This is your line of work!” I would sit there and melt into this feeling of success. These feelings of “I’m gonna do something big with my life.” The feelings of “I am destined for greatness.”
But the greatness I thought I was destined for was only colonial greatness. These colonial systems hand-select indigenous young people and “mentor” them in a way where they perceive success as meaning being front and centre in colonial systems. “Achievement and success in colonial systems as an indigenous person is a strong step in the realm of equality.” What a crazy belief! Because to be equal to the colonizer means to also accept the continued acts of genocide against indigenous peoples. To be equal to the colonizer means to laugh at racism, and to allow and to comply to behaviours that are outright harmful to indigenous peoples and their homelands everyday. It meant laughing uncomfortably at the jokes colonialism makes against your people in meeting rooms. “Oh but not you, you’re different than them.” They will often state that after making a racist joke.
To be equal to the colonizer, in the eyes of the colonizer, as an Indigenous person, is an act of submission. It is submitting generations of resilience and battles completed by the ones who walked before us, all in the name of “fairness” and “acceptance.” It means the only way to be seen as an equal to them is agreeing with statements like “we didn’t commit genocide, most of you are still here.”
Being seen as an “equal” to the colonizer as an Indigenous women means not reporting the rapists to the police because you would rather not cause more trouble and do not want to be seen as the problem in colonial justice systems. It means hanging up the phone after you report domestic violence, and the officer responds to you with “does he have a weapon?” You reply “his fists.” They state “call us back when he has a weapon.” Being seen as an “equal” to the colonizer means not reporting the sexual harassment from the boss in colonial workplaces for fear of being reprimanded and furthermore losing one’s place on the corporate ladder. Because “equality” beats self-worth at the time. And that job is your “dream job.” So stay quiet. Being seen as an “equal” to the colonizer means staying silent in the face of racism, or even laughing to the jokes just so you can maintain the peace at your job and not be seen as a “troublemaker,” because “hey, you’re not like the other Indians we’ve met.” Being seen as an “equal” to the colonizer means dating the white men, even if their existence makes you cringe, because you believe that all Indian men are bad news, and the only way to gain more success in life is to be with a partner who is “good news.” It comes with the belief that Indigenous people can’t work on their traumas so ultimately, white people are the ones who will give you the life you crave. It is these beliefs, values, and norms that are fuelling the colonial fire of success, where indigenous truth and authenticity burns and dissolves into nothing, all in the name of being seen as as “equal” to the colonial dictators that make up one’s ego. Colonial systems attempt to rob the ideas around indigenous livelihoods being fundamental in a person’s life and rather reformulates them into ideas of colonial success being the only route in early childhood. When Indigenous young people are in school, they rarely hear “learn to love the land, to be successful.” Rather it’s “leave the Rez, get a colonial education, and get a colonial job, to be successful!”
Colonial systems also leave out the truth of what it takes for an Indigenous person to be “successful” in colonial systems. They leave out the fact that one must accommodate and advocate for colonialism, even if it means building a pipeline through one’s homelands without consent from one’s nation, if they want to be successful in colonial systems. They leave out the fact that if you are an indigenous women, you will be tokenized and violently sexualized on the daily in your colonially successful job, and you cannot say a word of it or else you will be let go. They leave out the fact that you must turn a blind eye to every suicide crisis, housing crisis, drinking water crisis, and health cruces related to indigenous peoples, caused by that same colonial system. Because if you want to climb the ladders of colonial success, the very same ladders of colonial success that are built from the bones of our ancestors, then silence is your best friend. But hey, at least you’re successful! You will have a great job, with great pay, pension, and benefits. You will be having fancy dinners in fancy hotels. And every day, you will be reminded just how racist colonial systems, and the people who run them, are. And this is where it comes down to making a decision, that life changing decision.
This decision-making process can be taught to our children at young ages. The younger we teach children not to comply and cater to colonial versions of success and equality, the younger our children will untangle themselves from the traps of colonial success and equality. They won’t be undoing knots at the age of 25, like I was doing. Because, as soon as a child enters the doors of a school, it is there they are taught that the only way they will be successful in life is if they get an education and get a career. It is the only way they will make a living and support themselves. “Colonial success is your only route to making a living.” “If you get an education and move off the reserve, you will be set!” Colonial educations systems strive to feed and maintain this narrative.
The belief that living on the land and on the Rez won’t get you anywhere exists so deeply in these systems that Land-based practices are seen as “field trips” and once a year activities. A week long culture camp for students is great, however, it teaches children that there has to be a special time slot put aside for Land-based practices and that learning how to be successful within Indigenous systems is a “special” activity, rather than an every-day norm. So how do we dissolve these ideas?
How do we teach children, and ourselves as adults, to strive to be successful within indigenous systems? How do we teach children, and ourselves as adults, that the only equality we need to strive for is an equality amongst our own people, so we can realign with a non-hierarchical form of indigenous kinship systems? Practice. It’s a practice. It means relearning, and untangling, ideas and practices that our people have done for generations. It means remembering our roles as indigenous peoples amongst the land. It means that rather than being “successful” in the city, we need to strive to remember how to be successful amongst the land. It means raising our children to understand the colonial processes that can take place in their lives that are often disguised as opportunities of “success” and “equality.” It means always, always, always being inclusive of the voices and minds of the child, no matter how young. It means that our relationship with our children, and the children around us, shouldn’t be one based on superiority and inferiority, but one of equality and kinship. It means knowing that change can’t happen within colonial systems, but rather within Indigenous families, within Indigenous kinship systems. It means knowing that Indigenous success and equality within ourselves and our systems strives for truth, authenticity, and an existence of resistance and love. It means never once uttering the words “we need an Indigenous Prime Minister.” Because once we have an Indigenous Prime Minister, then we will have an Indigenous person in charge of the continued colonization and assimilation processes of our people. It means whoever is in that position is one who is striving for that equality with colonialism, and ultimately working towards the continued domestication process of our nations as Indigenous peoples.
An Indigenous Prime Minister is someone who is compliant in our struggle. It is a position, I for one, would never celebrate. I, for one, never want to be seen as an equal in the eyes of the colonizer. Instead, I strive to hold the same values, morals, and beliefs, of those who have existed before me, and those who will exist after me. Standing strong in my Indigenous self-power. Because Indigenous, land-based success is exactly what we need in our communities. And this is exactly what we need to restore what we had as Indigenous families, communities, and nations. And it will never be found in an Indigenous Prime Minister.
Artwork by: Chief Ladybird Ig: @chiefladybird