by Andrea Landry
The stereotypical Indigenous family is a charade continuously seen in a variety of
Where did these stereotypes derive from? They derived from the intimidation tactics that were deployed as soon as those ships arrived on the shore. They became the roots for the relationship between the colonizer and the colonized. The roots of this relationship were primarily based on a concoction of degradation, humiliation, and even fictional stories of who and what an Indigenous person was on these lands. These portrayals of the Indigenous person, and the Indigenous
It began as the savage, the heathen, the dirty Indian, the uncivilized. It later expanded to the alcoholic, the drunk, the abuser, the violent, the unintelligent, the self-loathing, the welfare collector. And the most horrific part of it all is that Indigenous people are re-telling this story in their own stories. Authors are writing about it, over and over and over again. Artists are portraying it in their scripts and films. Indigenous peoples have claimed the role of the colonizer and are now doing their work for them, specifically in the area of reiterating stereotypes in media. The Indigenous family is no longer sacred in this area. The Indigenous family has now become the colonizer’s version of the Indigenous family.
Broken down into roles, the stereotypical Indigenous father is often portrayed as an alcoholic, the Indigenous mother; single and struggling with men or addiction, the children; experimenting with drugs and alcohol, or hiding some kind of abuse from their mother. Their home on the reserve is run down with little to no food in the cupboards, poverty is the backdrop, and violence is the background music. The truth of the matter is, the families in these stories are suffering. They are suffering so ferociously that humour is always interwoven throughout to ease the pain, to lessen the burden, and to significantly reduce the hardship and misery.
Yet, this is where the authentic Indigenous family becomes lost in the stories. Authentic Indigenous families share stories of oppression, they carry colonial wounds that are carved in their lineages, and they bear life memoirs of suicide, murder, abuse, and alcoholism. However, authentic Indigenous families are more than their stories. They are families that are as complex as the land, and as diverse as the seasons. Authentic Indigenous families harbour an intricate entanglement of love, devotion, rage, healing, laughter, and most
Authentic Indigenous families recognize the stories that threaten the colonizer’s version of Indigeneity. The real stories of Indigenous peoples are the ones that are dismantling ideologies and annihilating colonialism one word at a time. It is unravelling their version in such a way whereas the colonizer is doing everything in their power to maintain these dehumanizing characterizations through the discourses of media, in university settings, and through governmental practices.
Herein is the truth. Authentic Indigenous families will no longer abide by the summarization and description of their existence by the colonizer. The normalization of alcoholism, drug-use, gang-violence, sexual violence, and family dysfunction when sharing stories of Indigenous families will no longer be tolerated. Authentic Indigenous families will no longer play by the standards of their assumed roles in a colonially orchestrated society. Authentic Indigenous families will no longer succumb to the mentality of existing as a highly functioning colonial family, yet a very dysfunctional indigenous family.
The truth of the matter is that the revolution of authentic Indigenous families can be seen on the lands. It can be seen in the Indigenous students at universities recognizing that they do not need to reclaim space in order to be seen and heard, they are recognizing that
they can exist in. It is seen in the families that prioritize healing before anything. It is seen in forgiveness. It is seen in truth. It is seen in the mothers and fathers who grieve their children they lost to suicide for as long as they need to. It is seen in the children who grieve their parents or grandparents, as tears fall down their faces and their support systems state “it’s okay to cry.”
It is seen in the young people, as they find their voices and stand up for the cause, for the struggle, for the fight to exist on their homelands and feel safe about doing so.
Authentic Indigenous families recognize the pain, it is not avoided or swept casually under the rug. The stories within the families are made up of the crisis at hand, yet the stories are recognized as just that. Stories. The pain that comes with the stories, the emotion that ties these stories together, comes and goes. It is felt fully the moment it comes, as often as it comes, in prayer, in love, and in truth.
Columbus and colonialism have taught us well in the area of desecration of self. Indigenous family’s worthiness has been dictated so long by colonialism that it was beginning to become a social norm that was allowable. However, Indigenous children being born today are now being raised in environments where boys are proud of their braids, girls are not afraid of their womanhood, fathers teach their sons to show emotions, mothers do not let their colonial rage oppress their daughters, and the Indigenous family knows who they are, where they come from, and most importantly natural law and the law of the land.
Andrea Landry is Anishinaabe from Pays Plat First Nation but currently lives on Treaty 6 territory on Poundmaker Cree Nation. She holds a Masters in Communications and Social Justice from the University of Windsor and teaches for the University of Saskatchewan. She also facilitates workshops and programs in the areas of Grief and Recovery, Healthy Families, Colonialism and Oppression, Crisis Response, Suicide Prevention, and a variety of other topics. She is currently raising her five-month old daughter, River-Jaxsen, alongside her partner as they both continue to battle oppression daily.