by Daniella Robinson
Artwork: Lady Liberty by Leigh Brownhill
The impacts of colonization are insurmountable. It is impossible to totally quantify and qualify the damage that brutalizing colonial processes continue to do to Indigenous peoples and communities, both in Canada and around the world. When I close my eyes, I try to imagine what it would feel like to know that Indigenous lives are valued by the Canadian nation…this is a struggle for me.
I am Bigstone Cree and Italian, was raised in an Italian Catholic environment and learned about my Indigenous heritage through work and volunteerism with Indigenous organizations. Prior to beginning my undergraduate degree, I had little knowledge of Indigenous culture. I visited my Cree side of the family in Western Canada yearly, but we never really talked about ‘being Indigenous’ or what this meant. When I started my undergraduate degree, I connected with the Aboriginal Resource Centre on campus and began my journey to learn more about my heritage. I learned about numerous topics: the history of residential school, the 60’s scoop, relationship-building between Indigenous communities and non-Indigenous allies, racism and sexism built into Canada’s Indian Act and its impact on communities, the creation of the reservation system, educational discrepancies between on and off-reserve schools, and Indigenous experiences of poverty, food insecurity and poor housing infrastructure across Canada. I was inundated with information about issues faced by people I was really beginning to think about as kin, and I began to feel a rage and sadness that I wasn’t sure how to navigate. This feeling continued as I got more involved in community-driven work and volunteerism.
How can you possibly be accountable to the First Nations, Métis and Inuit families who were torn apart in the name of ‘progress’? Or to the communities who never saw their children again after the 60’s scoop and residential schools? How do you quantify the effects of linguicide? Cultural genocide? What can we do to protect Mother Earth when we have pipelines being pushed through unceded territories? How can we heal with our communities when we know Indigenous women are overrepresented as victims of sexual violence, human trafficking and homicide?
Still, we persist and we resist.
I am a survivor of sexual violence. I pursued a PhD in Human Sexuality to work through my own experiences of trauma and to hold space for imaginings of a better future. Though I am by no means an expert on healing and recognize that everyone is on their own path, I know that I would be nowhere without my support systems. Even during the darkest parts of my journey, I had safe places to stay, a good education, shoulders to cry on, and friends that lit my cigarettes when I was too shaky to do it myself.
My heart breaks for all the women and girls who have to contend with the awful feelings that come with being violated, abused, and taken advantage of because of their open and trusting hearts. I get angry knowing that when women try to escape this violence, they are often turned away from overcrowded and underfunded shelters that are already full. My heart breaks again when I read about what some of our women have had to do in order to support themselves and their families because the options available are so scarce.
It can be difficult for us to move away from the traumatic narratives we are attached to, but we do. I am inspired by brilliant Indigenous artists who produce beautiful pieces on decolonial love and sexuality (check our RJ Jones. They’re amazing!), producers who spend hundreds of hours creating beautiful messages of affirmation and strength (shout out to Jason Jenkins of Going on Dreams!), and writers who name systems of power and shout them down (The Marrow Thieves by Cherie Dimaline).
I want to end this submission with a quote that speaks to the beauty of gratitude and community. Braiding Sweetgrass is a beautiful book and Robin Wall Kimmerer is a phenomenal storyteller.
“Of all the wise teachers who have come into my life, none are more eloquent than these, who wordlessly in leaf and vine embody the knowledge of relationship. Alone, a bean is just a vine, squash an oversized leaf. Only when standing together with corn does a whole emerge which transcends the individual. The gifts of each are more fully expressed when they are nurtured together than alone. In ripe ears, and swelling fruit, they counsel us that all gifts are multiplied in relationship. This is how the world keeps going” – Robin Wall Kimmerer, Braiding Sweetgrass
I lean into these inspirations in awe and with wonder, as they gently but firmly remind me to be less self-critical and to be the strong kwe I know in my heart that I am.
Daniella Robinson is a Bigstone-Cree and Italian sister, daughter, partner and student. She is completing a PhD in Human Sexuality through the California Institute of Integral Studies, and intends to write an intervention-focused dissertation that centers the needs of Indigenous women. This article is an adaptation of a paper she wrote for her program.
Leigh Brownhill is a writer, editor and teacher who makes and uses art in her scholarly books, journals and articles. Both art and research have in turn deeply informed her lifelong anti-colonial ecofeminist activism.