Talking with Walking with Our Sisters

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Surviving Canada: Indigenous Peoples Celebrate 150 Years of Betrayal


As we look toward upcoming ‘celebrations’ of Canada at 150, we are mindful that for many Indigenous people and their allies, this commemoration has different implications. We recognize that for many, it will be an anniversary of mourning, loss, and continued colonization. Thus, as a counter to the forthcoming ‘celebratory’ publications and events, we have gathered an Indigenous response by means of an edited collection of essays and artistic contributions of scholarly and community-based works.

Our vision is to produce a book that will have general appeal to community and academic audiences. It includes a broad range of topics, representing a diverse group of scholars, activists, artists, youth and community leaders from across Canada (and possibly beyond). As an anti-colonial text, we aim to celebrate our continued existence as Indigenous peoples, challenge the normative discourse concerning the status of the Canadian state, and stimulate discussion regarding the resurgence of our Nations and rebuilding of our communities, both urban and ‘on-reserve’. This represents an opportunity to not only educate settler Canadians about our histories and struggles with the Canadian state, but to also inform and inspire our youth.

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Visiting Scholar Vicki Saunders

Vicki Saunders is a Gunggari woman from Southern Central Queensland.  She is an associate member of the Collaborative Research in Empowerment and Wellbeing (CREW) group in Far North Queensland, a PhD candidate within the School of Nursing, Midwifery and Nutrition, and a Team Investigator within the JCU led Building Indigenous Research Capacity (BIRC) project, School of Public Health Tropical Medicine & Rehabilitation Sciences.  Trained in psychology and public health, she has been involved for over 15 years in a range of research and creative projects with Indigenou
and community based organisations across North Queensland, Australia.  Her research interests are in the areas of creative or arts informed research methodologies, poetic inquiry and Indigenous social emotional wellbeing with a particular focus on empowerment, mental health and recovery.  Her PhD, entitled “If you knew the end of a story would you still want to hear it?”, uses poetic inquiry to explore notions of Recovery in the context of Aboriginal mental health care in North Queensland, Australia.

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Harper’s Inaction leaves Indigenous Women Vulnerable to Violence

Mihskakwan James Harper

Throughout my experience, I have learned that no matter how hard an Indigenous person tries to avoid being affected by violence, it is nearly impossible, and far too often it comes down to a patriarchal and colonial system that still persists with the Harper government.

“I don’t think we should view it as a sociological phenomenon.” “It isn’t really high on our radar, to be honest.”

These words used by Stephen Harper to describe his government’s refusal to call an Inquiry regarding Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG) continue to haunt me, not to mention the more than 1200 affected families.

To the Harper government, the 1200 cases are just numbers on paper. There is no regard for the pain the families have to endure, a pain that is only seared more deeply in the absence of any answers or justice.

To the Harper government, MMIWG is just another inconvenience for Minister Bernard Valcourt and his department. Never mind the hopes and dreams these women and girls had, and the potential for them to make an impact on the world so tragically taken away.

To the Harper government, the cause of MMIWG is ‘obviously’ Indigenous people themselves, namely the men. Never mind the issues of lack of opportunities and poverty Indigenous peoples receive that in many cases lead to little choice but put themselves in more risky situations. And never mind that some of the victims are children.

So how does this all relate to the inevitable violence? Some stories might provide some insight:

Caitlin Tolley, a soon-to-be lawyer, describes her encounters with violence. In her community of KitiganZibiAnishinabeg Nation, a Police officer killed her grandmother when she was just a child. She explains that her family continues to cope, even though there was no justice. Despite Caitlin’s inspirational story of achievement, she still was affected by violence.

Bella Laboucan-McLean, a 25-year-old Cree woman with aspirations to go to Europe and pursue her dream in fashion, died in 2013 when she fell off a balcony in Toronto. Police have deemed her death to be suspicious. Again, despite the ambitious dreams for Bella to make her mark on the world, she too was tragically affected by violence.

Rinelle Harper, a 16-year-old teen from Garden Hill was left for dead near the Assiniboine River last year after being attacked twice. Rinelle had been attending Southeast Collegiate in Winnipeg and despite her endeavours to do her part in increasing the 36% First Nation’s graduation rate, she could not avoid the increased risk of violence just because she was an Indigenous woman.

We must not forget these women or the stories of Helen Betty Osborne, CherisseHoule, Claudette Osborne and the more than 1200 cases for which most have had little justice or remain unsolved.

So how can we not view this as a sociological phenomenon when the very fact that if a person is an Indigenous woman, they are three times more likely to be killed by a stranger than a non-Indigenous woman?

And how can we not have this ‘high on our radar’ when the very lives of so many people in this country are being taken away? We must not forget the more than 440 children who have lost their mothers, the parents who have lost their daughters, or the communities coping with a loss of one of their own. The efforts by Indigenous and non-Indigenous people alike to raise awareness and take action against this epidemic have been extraordinary.

I do know Mr. Harper has compassion, just not for Indigenous women. For instance, he reached out to the family of Rehtaeh Parsons, acknowledging the issue of cyber bullying and offering his condolences publically. Last year, when MalalaYousafzai won the Nobel Peace Prize, Harper responded by stating that “our Government is committed to giving girls a strong foundation to succeed in life by promoting equality, education and good health in a safe, secure environment.” Yet when so many families go out of their way to ask Mr. Harper for a roundtable meeting about the issue and Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, he dismisses them.

It’s this patriarchal lens with which he runs the Canadian government that drives a perpetual cycle of violence against far too many of our most vulnerable women and girls.

The good news is that regardless of Harper’s decision, or any government for that matter, Indigenous peoples are heroes. Our very own existence demonstrates the failure of years of colonial control and for that, we are all victors of colonization. Knowing this along with the help of all Canadians, I am certain that the cycle of violence will end for Indigenous peoples.

Mihskakwan James Harper is a 20-year-old Niheyaw from Sturgeon Lake Cree Nation, pursuing an education in Mechanical Engineering, and serves as Vice President (Youth) for the Aboriginal Peoples’ Commission.

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A Loud Silence

Myra J Tait
LLM Candidate 2015

Many have likened our Treaties to the beginning of a relationship, a new partnership, and even a marriage. However, given the way the Crown historically chose to ignore (at best) and ‘implement’ (at worst) the treaties according to their own values and mandate, I think it is fair to say that this marriage has been a bad one right from the start.

Speakers today at the University of Manitoba Sharing Dialogue on Treaties, with special guest David Suzuki, included Ovide Mercredi, David Courchene, Charlie Nelson, Harry Bone, and Jamie Wilson. All of these outstanding leaders had much to say about our tragic treaty relationship between Aboriginal peoples and the newcomer European settlers, and shared impassioned remarks about the necessity of recognizing the treaties as agreements concerning the on-going relationship with the Crown. Suzuki suggested he had a “difficult time with the treaties”, and described them as having origin in an “alien group with an alien system, working in a foreign language”. I take exception, with respect to Mr Suzuki, to characterizing the notion of treaties as being foreign to Aboriginal peoples. The problem is not that we were duped or were incapable of treating – treating was not a new practice to the First peoples, as Ovide Mercredi explained. The real problem is that our side of the partnership – the Aboriginal side, has been systematically eliminated from consideration. The problem is that traditional practices, including our ways of governance, have been decimated by the Indian Act and other legislation, and was designed to protect (us from ourselves), civilize and assimilate us into the Canadian political and legal landscape. On this point, I wholeheartedly agree.

However, I have a question that I’d like each of these leaders to answer, even Mr Suzuki as one with “Haida relations”, as he puts it. As benefactors of the colonial state’s upheaval of women from Aboriginal governance structures, I think this all-male panel may have something further to share with us. What I would like to know from each of these leaders is, in light of the call for discussion with the Crown about our treaties, what are you personally doing to ensure that we do not simply replicate settler-state forms of governance? I’d like to hear, for the benefit of other Aboriginal men, what is each of today’s panel members doing to ensure that space is made for women to assume their place as leaders, and to restore Indigenous governance structures that put women front and centre? Or are they content to go it alone?

We cannot simply dismiss the absence of women (in today’s panel or in any other representative body) by suggesting although women are invited, none responded, or worse, that no ‘qualified’ women were available. How do ‘we’ fix our broken relationship with the Crown – or as Ovide Mercredi states, fix this major “fault line” in Canada’s landscape, without repairing the relationship within the Aboriginal community, and begin hearing the voices of women?

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Trio inducted into college

UM Today reports on the induction of Dr. Kiera Ladner and others at University of Manitoba into the Royal Society of Canada:

University of Manitoba professors Esyllt Jones, Kiera Ladner and Laura Loewen have been elected to the Royal Society of Canada’s (RSC) College of New Scholars, Artists and Scientists.

The College is Canada’s first national multidisciplinary recognition system, which honours emerging and productive academics for their contributions to society, with an emphasis on those who take interdisciplinary approaches to their research.

Election to the RSC is considered the highest honour an academic can achieve in the arts, humanities and sciences; and the University of Manitoba is proud to have three professors be part of the first cohort to be inducted into the new College.

“These professors have made outstanding contributions to not only the University of Manitoba but also to the broader international community,” said Digvir Jayas, vice-president (research and international) of the University of Manitoba.

Esyllt Jones (history) is an innovative scholar whose groundbreaking research makes new connections between medical history and social history. Her publications, including Influenza 1918, have won numerous awards. Her work opens up new avenues for research into social responses to illness and disease, and shows how history can inform contemporary debates around inequality, epidemics, and public health policy. Jones has a rare ability to connect her scholarship with the wider community, and an exceptional commitment to public engagement, from projects on local and community history to the collaborative People’s Citizenship Guide project.



Kiera Ladner (political studies and Canada Research Chair in Indigenous Politics and Governance) is an established researcher focusing on Indigenous law and politics.  In just 12 years she received over $4.2M in funding from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) to study treaties and Indigenous politics and analyze their relationship to Canada. Two current SSHRC projects include an Indigenous constitutional politics project in New Zealand and Australia, and a community-based digital archive with Shawn Ferris (women’s and gender studies). Her research spans numerous genres, and her ability to present her ideas in a clear and captivating way has brought people together to discuss leadership and visions for Canada’s future.



Laura Loewen (Desautels Faculty of Music) is head of collaborative piano and vocal coach at the Contemporary Opera Lab. She is an extraordinary musician who excels at piano and collaboration with all types of music. She has worked with leading international artists across the world, and performs regularly at universities, festivals and conferences. Loewen is known for her challenging repertoire and careful preparation that have led to multiple prestigious grants and awards.



The inaugural cohort of the College will be officially inducted at the RSC Annual General Meeting November 20-23, 2014, in Quebec City, Quebec.

Founded in 1882, the Royal Society’s mission is to recognize scholarly, research and artistic excellence, to advise governments and organizations, and to promote a culture of knowledge and innovation in Canada and with other national academies around the world.

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Mamawipawin, a unique Indigenous space, offers a new type of classroom — and learning

As UM Today reports:

Kiera Ladner, Canada Research Chair in Indigenous Politics and Governance and associate professor in the department of political studies, has been thinking about a different kind of research lab for a long time.

Rather than a typical science lab, or even a typical classroom, she envisioned a space that “doesn’t look like an institutional space, composed of podium and classroom, a front-of-class versus rest-of-class split.” The new space has been up and running for two years now on the fourth floor of Isbister.

Mamawipawin, a Cree word that roughly means “the space where we gather,” has an architectural design that reflects critical Indigenous teachings about community, individuality, research and life. It also has a ventilation system to support Indigenous research protocols like smudging ceremonies.

The idea for the space was born over seven years ago, and as Ladner reiterated at the official opening on January 18, 2012, it took a lot of work by many people to bring it to realization.

Such a structure, she said, suggests “one source of knowledge, and a deep ‘knower-learner’ split, rather than shared knowledge and opportunity, different gifts and a certain kind of equity.”

Part her search for a different space came from learning, teaching and knowledge philosophies and research protocols that diverge from that usual model. The problem of how to conduct the kind of research and discussion Ladner wanted for herself and her five graduate students was urgent and central to the research itself.

“We wanted to have — and needed — a kind of space that was creative rather than sterile, that reflected culture, values and community, that allowed for building partnerships and capacities with people, between groups,” she said.

Ladner’s research area of Indigenous politics and governance made her problem even clearer. “Bringing an elder into a regular classroom space was extremely problematic,” she said.

“Everything about the way the space is structured contradicts those cultural values, and the kind of values I wanted to bring into and endorse in my research.


Ladner: I wanted to bring research back to the community, creating research and knowledge exchange with community


Kiera Ladner and Jeffery Taylor, dean, Faculty of Arts at the opening of Mamawipawin.


“I also wanted to bring research back to the community, creating research and knowledge exchange with community,” she said.

So it was important to Ladner to have a space into which people could be invited, where they would feel comfortable, and feel that they belonged and that they had something to contribute.

Her efforts are futile, she said, if her research doesn’t make sense to everyday people in the community. An elder usually will begin stories or teachings with a ceremonial smudge, she noted. “In a typical classroom, you have problems of ventilation and other spaces around you.”

The two circular spaces available on campus including that in Migizii Agamik (Aboriginal House), she continued, are great, but as an event rather than a research space. Excellent for what it is being used for, in other words, but not what Ladner needed on a continuous basis.

It is a physical, technological and an intellectual space for discussions about resurgence, resistance and transformation in Indigenous politics, said Ladner. It is intended to promote new thinking about research, generative methodological transformations and ways of doing research with Indigenous peoples around the world.

Ladner conducts community-based research into constitutional reconciliation and decolonization. Her work aims at creating an understanding of competing ideas, both within communities and between Indigenous nations and Canada. Her hope is that her research and the new space will bring communities together — engaging grassroots, traditional leadership and political leaders in discussions about their visions of the future. What do they see as self-government? What is the meaning of Indigenous governance and traditional governance? Can traditional governance be recreated to meet modern needs?

Mamawipawin, or the Indigenous Governance and Community Based Research Space, was built through funding from the Canadian Foundation for Innovation (CFI), the Manitoba Research and Innovation Fund (MRIF), the U of M and with support from Apple.
With files from Sean Moore

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Travelling Again…

So I am traveling again. This time I am out near grand beach spending a week at a cottage with a friend and her son & Q (the amazing 5 year old that I have adopted as my nephew). It’s quiet, as Q has yet to arrive from his time in Saskatchewan and the others are napping. Cottage life! Gotta love it!!!! As I sit listening to the birds and the wind through the trees, I can not stop thinking of this notion of ‘standing on/in our law’ that I blogged about last time. It is something that has followed me across the thousands of kilometers that I have travelled in the past 6 weeks and it continues. Considering this, I guess I should not be surprised that it followed me onto vacation!

Oh to have a job one can walk away from is an academics dream! Perhaps it is just this academic’s dream, and others have mastered the task of leaving their work behind. Sadly, I have not. My brain does not have a shut off switch – except when completely over stimulated (thus my love of Vegas). Thankfully with the help of the boys, Lego therapy, the beach, time with friends and some summer drinks, this will hopefully be the only time I have time for writing and perhaps even thinking!!!!

Standing on law? Whose law? Indigenous laws? Canadian? International? Imperial/colonial? These are pertinent questions that must be asked today – especially in light of the struggles that many nations are confronting due to the ‘development’ of natural resources on their territories or the pipelines and roads that follow such projects. Such questions also need to be asked of those who stand for leadership, be that in communities or for organizations such as the Assembly of First Nations.

A number of years ago, I gave a talk at the University of Saskatchewan entitled ‘When rights are not enough’. I remember it because it’s the same title of my masters thesis which I wrote there years prior – a thesis which in the end was largely (re)written in a few weeks simply to jump through the remaining hoop and get the ‘hell out of dodge’. The talk which I gave there was largely a response to this thesis, and to the political and legal discourses of ‘rights talk’ which have been overtaking ‘Indian country’ post 1982 and the recognition of Aboriginal and treaty rights in section 35 of the Canadian Constitution.

Aboriginal peoples have rights as provided under the constitution. But these are not rights provided by the Canadian government or the Crown – as all other rights are in Canada (be that the rights of governments, corporations, or individuals). As the constitution states, Aboriginal rights are simply recognized and affirmed by the constitution and not created within. This is because such rights are vested in, and created by the legal, spiritual, political, constitutional, economic, territorial and cultural traditions of indigenous nations. Many are derived from the nations’ original covenant(s) and their treaties with other nations (both human and non-human).

As I understand it these are not rights. They are responsibilities. I ask those that speak their language better than I speak Cree to think about this. How do you understand law? How do you understand rights? My understanding of responsibilities is grounded in language and in the teachings of the Elders, friends and family that I have had as my teachers along the way in Nehiyaw, Nitsitapi, Anishinaabe, and Mikmaw territories. Even without language, the stories, songs, ceremonies, philosophies, laws and political systems also teach of the same.

We need leadership that understands this. We need leaders that understand that what the Canadian government or the courts understand as rights are never going to respect Indigenous nationhood, sovereignty and responsibilities. These rights are simply not enough. That’s why so many are still fighting to give voice to Indigenous laws, responsibilities and nationhood in the international realm.

In just over a week Indian Act chiefs across the country will gather in Toronto to select a Grand Chief. While timidly optimistic, I am optimistic nonetheless as we have candidates that have knowledge of their responsibilities and their legal and political traditions and a history of standing for their law within Canada and internationally. While Pam Palmater is a more recent arrival on the political scene, she has already proven that she can stand her ground. Ellen Gabriel proved to the world that even as a young woman 22 years ago she knew her law and would stand up for her nation’s sovereignty and land at any cost. Since then she has been working tirelessly with the Quebec native women’s association and internationally to give voice to Indigenous rights/responsibilities and nationhood and to stand strong in fighting for a better future. This is why I have some optimism, as we need leadership that knows their laws and has the inner power and strength to stand strong against Stephen Harper.

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Drawing Inspiration: From Hawaii to Montana

Kiera L. Ladner

This was started a few weeks back while I was in Hawaii and finished in Basin Montana.

So I am back in Hawaii finishing up a research project and catching up with some of the friends (and created ohana) that I have made along the way. What will come of this project is not what I set out to do (as is the case with most research). I will not be writing a comparative book looking at visions of, and efforts to mobilize, resurgence, resistance, decolonization and reconciliation through sovereignty (movements). Maybe one day. For now, I will write a couple of articles and reflect on the tremendous ways in which this land and so many Kanaka Maoli have inspired my thinking and my work. For this i am forever thankful; thankful for the inspiration and knowledge that has been shared over the last few years.

Few people that visit Hawaii spend their evenings with the very people that work in the hotels that they stay in. I have had this privilege – and i mean privilege! I stay at the Kaanapali Beach Hotel for this very reason – much of the staff are related to the community leaders that I first went to meet with; community leaders that have since become family/ohana largely solidified by a fire. I also admit to staying at the hotel for personal reasons – there is nothing like waking up at kaanapali beach or ending your day with a mango ‘lava flow’ listening to live music. This is KBH. But for me it is so much more than a hotel – it is the people. Over the years we have talked story at the desk, over coffee, meals and drinks. We have attended community meetings and protests, and we have spent canoe nights together. We have talked about land, water and sovereignty and put meaning to those conversations while working with taro on the farm. They are the ohana that will keep me coming back. Back to listen. Back to be inspired. Back to offer what assistance i can with research or writing. Back to write about how community leadership is trying to restore lands and protect the water to ensure that this and future generations can actually live on the land. Back to support their resurgence and to watch with great interest as community leaders work to create a kuleana land council system; using whatever means possible to reassert their authority and their laws. To stand on their law.

I say stand on their law because I have been thinking of those few words for the past few weeks. My thinking of standing on law started when I was driving across the southern prairies – doing what I love most – thinking and singing my way across Cree and Blackfoot territories and the lands to which I belong. While driving down the number 1 highway along the south end of the qu’epelle valley, the song ‘From Little Things Big Things Grow’ [1] began to play as my iPhone shuffled through its some 1700 songs (I admit willingly to loving road trips and traveling too much). This is a song that has inspired much thought and of which I have written about previously.[2] The song (which has recently become a ditty for an Australian bank urging people to invest and save) tells of Vincent Lingarri who led an 8 year long walk-off and struggle against the state, claims of terra nullius and so called land owners over land rights in Australia. The song tells of he message of the struggle and what kept Lingarri and the other station workers holding strong for eight long years: “how power and privilege cannot move a people who know where they stand and they stand in their law.”[3]

It is this line that has me thinking – that always keeps me thinking. It is knowing the land and the laws – Indigenous law, political philosophy, relations with territory and understanding responsibility (not rights) – that will keep the people strong and which will provide a basis upon which to continue the battles begun by the ancestors generations ago. some say

that the only way to confront power is with power. The only way to confront the power of colonialism, the power of the state, the power of the academic industrial complex[4] is with the power that comes from knowing the law – really understanding responsibilities – and standing on it. It is the strength of the ancestors. It is the strength of the land. It is the strength of tradition. It is knowledge. It is power. It is time to pick this up and use the tools that the ancestors (human and non- human) left us.

Just how we do this in a meaningful way will be the point of many discussions to follow. Sometimes people will try to do so using any opportunity available – like the leaders of Maui picking up their kuleana and restoring families on the land and family responsibility through a council system enabling some semblance of shared responsibility with the state. Sometimes its taking up those responsibility and standing in defense of the land as the did in kahnesata:ke. Sometimes its about … Like the Cree language, its all about action, about process, about fluidity – as it is a language without nouns just verbs. Understanding law and the idea of standing on or in the law though language, however, will be the subject of another blog.

[1] “From Little Things, Big Things Grow” (1991) written by Kev Carmody & Paul Kelley
[2] Ladner, Kiera (2010) “From Little Things…” in This Is an Honour Song: Twenty Years since the Blockades by Lader,

Kiera & Simpson, Leanne (eds); Arbeiter Ring: Winnipeg, MB; p.299
[3] “From Little Things, Big Things Grow” (1991) written by Kev Carmody & Paul Kelley

[4] As explored by Andrea Smith. See: Smith, Andrea (2007) “Social-Justice Activism in the Academic Industrial Complex” in Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion; Vol. 23, No. 2; pp.140-145

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Queering Resurgence: Taking on Heteropatriarchy in Indigenous Nation- Building

Leanne Simpson

The statement “we need more Indigenous women involved in nation-building” on the surface, seems like a good thing. Of course we need more women in Indigenous politics….just look at all those men in leadership roles on band councils, territorial organizations and of course the Assembly of First Nations. After all, only about 17 percent of “Aboriginal leaders” are women (meaning 17 percent of Indian Act Chiefs are women) and that’s ridiculously low, even if you compare it to the 25 percent of MPPs that are women in the House of Commons in the current Canadian government[1].

And yet, I find myself feeling irritated when I hear or read something of the sort because first and foremost it erases the fact that Indigenous women are already involved in in all kinds of nation building – from raising and educating children to the front lines of direct action, to professionals using their credentials to undermine and critique colonialism. Far too often, these contributions go unrecognized, unappreciated and uncelebrated. Women have always been resisting and re-building, and the vast majority of this work has been done and is being done outside of the bounds of the Indian Actand Aboriginal organizations. This unrecognized labour, inspiration and unending contribution forms the backbone of our families and communities, and family and community are the backbone of our political systems.

The problem for me then begins when we restrict our view of Indigenous political systems to the Indian Act. It is glaringly obvious that men are over-represented in Chief and Councils across Canada. But remember that this is a colonial systems that has targeted Indigenous women through blood quantum (double mother rule), sexuality (who you marry defines your identity) and gender (you’re a women so you can’t vote or run in election), so to me, this is hardly surprising. The Indian Act is designed to remove women from leadership roles. Are we going to make a dent in colonialism by replacing male Indian Act Chiefs with female ones or Queer ones? What difference does it make which gender holds up the colonial system? Don’t we need individuals, communities and nations that are no longer willing to prop up an unjust system that is designed to destroy the fabric of our nations?

The idea that “we just need more women” also makes the assumption that rather than interrogating biopower as logics of colonial power – race, gender and sexuality, all we need to do to combat evil colonial patriarchy is to add more Indigenous women and stir, and poof problem solved. Yet, we have over-whelming evidence that this kind of Indigenization doesn’t work. We know, or we should know, that we need a new system. As the Winona LaDuke bumber sticker quote says “we don’t want a bigger piece of pie, we want a different pie”.

So what do we need to do to make sure heteropatriarchy is NOT a building block of our resurgence movements or a cornerstone of our Indigenous nation building projects? It is not enough for us to say “patriarchy was not part of our traditions” because the pervasive and insidious nature of heteropatriarchy means that for hundreds of years Indigenous children have been taught to uphold these systems. Thanks to imperialism and conquest, heteropatriarchy is a world- wide phenomenon. It is impossible for Indigenous communities to be completely immune from it.

Like scholars Chris Finley and Andrea Smith, write that biopower – race, sexuality and gender must be interrogated as the “key power arenas of the settler state”, not just to avoid the mistakes of the past but because of the way they disconnect our peoples from the land and from our traditional political systems[2]. I think they are correct, and I think we need to do some collective thinking and analyzing about how the politics of biopower seep into resurgence movements, because without this awareness, we are destined to replicate things we don’t want to replicate.

Discussion around gender are often centred around either violence against women, or gender inequality in the Indian Act – both worthy causes, but they discussion cannot end here. I see the expression of heteropatriarchy in our communities all the time – with the perpetuation of rigid (colonial) gender roles, pressuring women to wear certain articles of clothing to ceremonies, the exclusion of LGBQ2 individuals from communities and ceremonies, the dominance of male-centred narratives regarding Indigenous experience, the lack of recognition for women and LGBQ2’s voices, experiences, contributions and leadership, and narrow interpretations of tradition used to control the contributions of women in ceremony, politics and leadership, to name just a few.

This simply cannot be a part of our nation-building work. This is not resurgence.

The interrogation of heteropatriarchy needs to become part of our decolonizing project. We must decolonize our framing of Indigenous governance and politics so that we can recognize the nation building work of women and the LGQB2 community, in all the forms it takes. We need to examine how the internalized heteropatriarchy of colonialism serves to disconnect some of our most vital people from the land and our knowledge systems, and we need to continue to vision and build strong Indigenous nations based on a celebration of diversity, a fluidity around gender, individual self-determination and the Indigenous philosophies that allowed our Ancestors to do just that.

[1] Joan Black, “Women Chiefs Focus of Academic Study”, available online at There are 76 female MPPs in the House of Commons out of 308 seats.

[2] Chris Finely, Decoloinzing the “Queer Native Body (and Reocvering the Native Bull-Dyke): Bringing “Sexy Back” and Out of Native Studies’ Closet” in Queer Indigenous Studies: Critical Interventions in Theory, Politics, and Literature,edited by Qwo-Li Driskill, Chris Finley, Brian Joseph Gilley, and Scott Lauria Morgensen, Tuscon: Arizona University Press, 13-43 and Andrea Smith, “Queer Theory and Native Studies: The Heteronormativity of Setller Colonialism”, inQueer Indigenous Studies: Critical Interventions in Theory, Politics, and Literature, edited by Qwo-Li Driskill, Chris Finley, Brian Joseph Gilley, and Scott Lauria Morgensen, Tuscon: Arizona University Press, 43-66.

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