Making It Home Alive

By Jarita Greyeyes Posted in - Voices Rising on April 1st, 2014 4 Comments

Loretta Saunders, an Inuit student studying missing and murdered women was found dead one month ago. Before her body was found in a ditch, when I heard she was missing I knew. You don’t want to know but you feel it in your heart. That ache. The same one that always creeps into your heart when you see the news of another one of our women who have gone missing, or been murdered.

Jarita isn’t a very common name. I’m pretty sure I’m the only one in the world named Jarita Greyeyes. Before I was born my mother was living on a reserve in northern Alberta. As her due date approached she was told to go back to the city to have me. Since I was her first child, they were worried the roads would get bad and if she needed help she wouldn’t have been able to get it. But she told many of her friends about me when I was born, and it seemed like someone told someone who liked the name and later they too named their daughter Jarita.

Even though I had heard that story many times, about the other baby girl that I had never met named Jarita, I forgot about it. Until she was murdered when we were both twenty years old. It was 2005 and I was in my second year of university. Jarita was in college too, in a town an hour and a half away from my father’s community. She went out one weekend with her friends and family. At some point in the evening she met someone who would kill her. Jarita had been beaten, strangled to death and her body was left to be discovered by a hotel maid. At the first trial held, a man was found guilty for her murder, but that verdict was overturned on appeal. It is a strange feeling to read the words of her loved ones. The ones who wept for her. The ones who still pray for her. The people who love her children, and cherish them as her last gifts to this world. To see those words “The murder of Jarita.” We are both Cree women, and just as it was her, it could have been me, or even you. No peace and no justice for the family of Jarita. No peace and no justice for any of us.

This is what it means to be an Indigenous woman. To see the latest news report of a missing or murdered woman and know that it could have just as easily been you, even if you don’t share the same name. It was in the shadow of Loretta Saunders’ murder that I travelled to Winnipeg with a group of Indigenous women to promote kimiwan ‘zine and launch our sixth issue. We spoke a lot about safety leading up to the event. With ten Indigenous women making the journey, we knew it was important to watch out for one another. The night was incredible. We succeeded in creating an event that honoured the spirit of issue sixxx which was focused on the regeneration of Indigenous sexual and gender identities. In the City of Winnipeg which has a large Indigenous population, we created space for the expression of those identities. The crowd was hyped when Big Freedia, an artist from New Orleans hit the stage. Freedia is the Queen of Bounce, a gender-bending powerhouse. At some points during her performance she invited audience members onstage to shake it with her.

As the night continued and an Indigenous deejay took over, party-goers continued to try to hop up on stage. But this time they hadn’t been invited to do so. There were plenty of other places to dance, but some women felt they needed to take that space for themselves. To which I shooed them off saying, “No white girls on stage.” Now in hindsight maybe I would have said, “No uninvited guests onstage.” But it is a curious thing, isn’t it? A group of Indigenous women create an event, and reclaim space in a city that was a meeting place for our ancestors, and are faced with resistance from settlers. The girls I shooed off were almost certainly mad. Who was I to tell them anything? This was their place! They can dance where ever they want! This could have been the very first time in their lives in which they had ever experienced even a moment of prejudice. Yet, when both groups left the building we walked out into a system of oppression that places inherent values on their lives, and leaves Indigenous women vulnerable.

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so. There were plenty of other places to dance, but some women felt they needed to take that space for themselves. To which I shooed them off saying, “No white girls on stage.” Now in hindsight maybe I would have said, “No uninvited guests onstage.” But it is a curious thing, isn’t it? A group of Indigenous women create an event, and reclaim space in a city that was a meeting place for our ancestors, and are faced with resistance from settlers. The girls I shooed off were almost certainly mad. Who was I to tell them anything? This was their place! They can dance where ever they want! This could have been the very first time in their lives in which they had ever experienced even a moment of prejudice. Yet, when both groups left the building we walked out into a system of oppression that places inherent values on their lives, and leaves Indigenous women vulnerable.

After that interaction we focused on getting our crew home. No one left alone. We charged up everyone’s cell phones. We made sure we had all cab fare. Throughout the night we had been constantly looking out for one another. We had been watching who was pouring our drinks, and who was chatting us up. We stayed vigilant. We did not rest until we were confident each one of us was back at our hotel and safe, knowing that just one month earlier a friend of ours had been roofied in the same place. We knew that if something were to happen to one of our girls the fact that every single one of us is university educated, and that each of us contributes hugely to our communities wouldn’t matter. We would just be another dead Indian woman. We do not have the privilege of believing that anyone but ourselves will look out for us. We are incredibly lucky, and thankful that we all made it home that night, just as we are every day of our lives.

Isn’t it strange to think we live in a country in which one woman’s greatest injustice may be being asked to leave a stage, while some of us just want to make it home alive?

 

Jarita Greyeyes is nēhiyaw from the Muskeg Lake Cree Nation and the Red Pheasant Cree Nation. A graduate of the University of Victoria’s Indigenous Governance program, Jarita lives in Treaty Six territory where she gardens, teaches, and collaborates on various Indigenous led community-building projects. She is one of four women who produce kimiwan ‘zine. Check them out at www.kimiwan-zine.com or on Instagram or Twitter kimiwanzine. Follow Jarita on Twitter: jahreetah

 

#ItEndsHere #MMIWG decolonization gender violence Indigenous feminism indigenous resurgence Indigenous women kimiwan-zine Loretta Saunders settler colonialism

(4) awesome folk have had something to say...

  • Warren - Reply

    April 1, 2014 at 11:21 am

    Very thought provoking, yet uterlly true facts faced by Indigenous women in Canada. A must read for many young Indigenous girls everywhere.

  • tara - Reply

    April 1, 2014 at 3:52 pm

    A story that truly inspires me to also continue to fight – with vigilance & love… for our survival. Thanks Jarita.

  • Uzoma - Reply

    April 4, 2014 at 3:44 pm

    Great article. A very important message for those who may not understand, or be able to conceptualize the crisis facing Indigenous women.

  • Karen Connelly - Reply

    May 24, 2014 at 10:51 am

    This is such a powerful piece of writing. Thank you. Today I am participating at a Diaspora Dialogues/PEN event in Toronto, as a writer interested in human rights issues, particularly around freedom of expression and freedom of the press. I will read this piece today, acknowledging your name and this site as the source, because to NOT hear these stories, this truth, is also censorship. And I will suggest to the organizers of the event that indigenous writers become part of the conversation at Diaspora Dialogues (an organization that focuses on multicultural writers and subjects.) Thank you again for your work.

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