Insights from Indigenous Mothers
Brandy-Lee Maxie is a storyteller, entrepreneur, and mother of three children ages 15, 12, and 9 from the White Bear First Nations in Saskatchewan.
Tonight is a hard night to feel like Reconciliation in Canada is a possibility – that concept just got further away from being achievable. Racism just walked away from a murder conviction and yet another Indigenous youth was left murdered, dehumanized and without justice. Another name added to the list of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Men and Women in Canada, go ahead and say his name…Colton Boushie. Today Colton’s killer, Gerald Stanley, was acquitted of all changes and to many people in Saskatchewan, it comes as no surprise. Racism has not changed very much in the prairie provinces and still rings loud and proud for the most part. Indigenous people face the highest rates of violence, poverty, social issues, injustices, and death. As a Mother, I wanted to have this hope for reconciliation within my children’s lifetime, but I don’t feel very hopeful right now. I’m worried now more than ever about my Sons becoming teenage boys in Saskatchewan.
What hurts me the most about all of this is knowing how young Colton was and knowing that my children are not too far from that age. As a Mother with two Assiniboine/Anishnaabe Sons, my heart is broken by how blatantly open and disgusting racism in Saskatchewan is in 2018. Colton Boushie’s murder represents a very real possibility in my Sons futures in rural Saskatchewan. Will they break down one day in an area that only has white farmers who are now armed, dangerous and overly confident that Native lives don’t matter? I’m seeing posts like “Yes finally justice for white farmers… the laws are changing so we can shoot Indians dead if they come on our land” and racism being celebrated so openly tonight. I’m worried to see the outcome for Tina Fontaine and I highly anticipate the same injustices. My beautiful daughter will soon be the age that Tina Fontaine was when she was murdered and it makes my stomach twist up to think that she is now in that demographic of most targeted and at risk for violence in Canada. When will it ever end?
As I decolonize my mind and learn to be Indian again, I also try to teach my children along the way so that they don’t have to be my age trying to figure out their identity. It is quite the process though because they are so consumed with this colonized educational system and we are under this constant threat of Child and Family services making sure that they stay in that forced assimilation cycle. I think education is very important, I just see more value in education that includes Indigenous history, language, culture, Treaties, and teachings. Trying to walk my children through the concept of reconciliation must first start with their understanding of their history and who they are, and that comes with some hard discussions about our harsh collective reality which might bring up some intergenerational trauma. Before we can even get around to talking about how they can walk side by side in peaceful coexistence with Canadians, they need to understand what Treaties and sacrifices were made for that discussion to even exist. But they also need to know what promises were broken and the Canadian blueprint of killing the Indian in the child, a blueprint of genocide that they just keep redesigning to suit the times.
Tonight, I truly believe that reconciliation is nothing more than a hashtag to create this illusion of unity to justify their overpriced Canada 150 parties. There is no reconciliation when you continue to devalue our lives, and there is no reconciliation when systematic genocide and oppression continues to be the basis of Canadian law and politics. Canada has a real dark history and a very shameful present, with racism being the backbone of this “Nation” and until that changes then I see no point in teaching my children false narratives and political lies. Instead, I will teach them things like knowing their rights, surviving an emergency without walking into someone’s yard for help, how to disrupt the systems of their oppression and how to endure a life of being Indigenous.
Shelley Wiart is a proud member of the North Slave Metis Alliance and cofounder of Women Warriors, an Indigenous focused holistic health program aimed at type II diabetes awareness & prevention.
Last visit to Yellowknife my dad told me his parents had not prepared him for the racism that existed down South. He grew up in the Northwest Territories his whole life and left, with his mom (my Grandma Anne), to live in Calgary while she completed her social work degree at the University of Calgary. He told me many stories of the racism he encountered while living in Calgary during the early 80’s, including being jumped and beaten outside a bar by Cowboys.
I message him last week to get his consent to tell our reunion story in the Yellowknifer newspaper.
He text me, “Hi Sweetie: You’re doing noble work whenever and wherever you take a stand against racism and bigotry. History has taught us that one’s silence is one’s condonement of wrongdoing and/or of the status quo. For example, slavery and segregation in the USA didn’t end without blood being spilled nor did the right for women to vote come without the blood of many determined women. Society only changes when the conditions for change are ripe. There has to be a lot of change agents contributing to the change bucket – drop by drop. With that in mind, I don’t have any problem with you telling your adoption story. If you’re comfortable and willing to tell your story to the world, I’m good with it. I’m just happy and proud to have a beautiful daughter out of this whole thing. An injustice was imposed upon us because of the ugliness of racism -that’s the ugly truth.”
Here’s the real distinction that I understand between myself and the participants in my group, Women Warriors. My children are blonde-haired and blue-eyed with skin representative of their Dutch father. I can never and will never know what it is like to raise a visibly Indigenous child in this area of Treaty 6. I do, however, understand the ugliness of racism and the ways that families are torn apart because of it.
When the verdict was delivered last night for the Gerald Stanley trial, my first thought was about the Indigenous women in my group, and how they must feel as Mothers. To feel that their childrens lives are at risk becuase of the colour of their skin, and that justice in Canada is an illusion. I cried and wondered what I can say and do to help the women in this community that I love?
With the advice of my dad ringing in my ears, I refuse to be silent and I’m going to continue contributing to the change bucket. I can’t change the broken justice system, or delete the ugly racist comments that emerged on Lloydminster facebook groups last night. What is within my realm of control is helping my group be strong in the face of adversity.
Women Warriors has obtained funding to run a program in Onion Lake Cree Nation this year. I can help the women in this community by focusing on their mental, physical and spiritual well-being. We need each other more than ever, and we need a place to feel safe to express our fears and worries about our children’s futures. We need the healing energy that comes when a group of women gathers and shares their lives.
Last Thursday I attended the Indigenous women’s leadership series hosted by the Institute for the Advancement of Aboriginal Women in Edmonton. I listened as Muriel Stanley Venne, a highly decorated Indigneous woman and long time advocate for human rights stated, regardless of race, “our pain is all the same.”
I ask the non-Indigenous allies of this newsletter to imagine that Colton Boushie was your child. Advocate like Colton Boushie was your child. Speak up like Colton Boushie was your child. Do not stay silent in the face of this injustice. I will not use the word “reconcilation” anymore. How can we talk about reconcilation without justice?