Refuse to Live Quietly!
“I think you’re holding back. Tell them they’re wrong and tell them why they’re wrong,” he said to me.
“Just like that?!” I asked. My voice exposing discomfort with his suggestion.
“Yeah,” he replied nonchalantly.
“I can’t do that.”
“Because it sounds so confident,” I said without a trace of hesitation in my voice.
“And…why don’t you want to be confident?” he asked, pushing me a little further to where I needed to be, where I needed to get to.
I didn’t know how to answer that question, and so I sat there looking at him, puzzled. My mind was racing. A few uncomfortable seconds passed which, true to the cliché, seemed much longer.
“…Then think of it as your responsibility.”
It was that last question that got to me, that unsettled me. Why don’t I want to be confident?
I open with this personal story because it highlights the impact of settler colonialism on the Indigenous psyche. As much as settler colonialism is about structures of domination and dispossession, it is also about the everyday acts of settler colonial violence. The micro-politics of settler colonialism can slowly erode our self-confidence and self-esteem without realization. These are the everyday acts which work to destroy us. The self-doubt I struggle with is implanted by colonization and is aligned with the structures of domination and dispossession.
Settler colonialism is pervasive and masks itself as normal, as natural. This, though, is an illusion, powerful and gripping, but an illusion nonetheless. It is an illusion that serves to mask the ongoing violence committed against Indigenous peoples across our homelands.
When we believe the illusion, a ‘buying-in’ which is necessary in the maintenance of settler colonialism, we become ‘tricked’, as Tara Williamson writes. We are also tricked when we believe the everyday acts of settler colonial violence are less harmful and somehow isolated from settler colonialism’s structural co-ordinates. As Siku Allooloo highlighted, the colonial construct of what Indigenous women have been reduced to is in stark contrast to the reality. We are strong, powerful, beautiful human beings. Furthermore, we are tricked when we believe the everyday acts of settler colonial violence do not contribute to the obvious and ruthless violence that has stolen so many of our sisters.
Although settler colonial violence occurs on a continuum, the goal is always the same: to erase our Indigenous presence, in part, through silencing our voices, by whatever means necessary.
As so many have mentioned previously in the #ItEndsHere series, settler colonial violence is directed at our women on all fronts and in multiple ways. This violence is so overwhelming that I sometimes wonder where do we go as Indigenous women to escape the violence?!
I am angered at the pathology of normalcy that has developed around violence against Indigenous women. The pathology of normalcy is dependent ideologically in lies, materially in dispossession, and (re)produced through everyday acts of violence. The pathology of normalcy generates and sanctions colonial fallacies such as ‘the violence committed against Indigenous women is not that bad’ or ‘that we deserve it’ or ‘that we are disposable’ or ‘that we do not matter’.
Repeating a lie does not turn it into a truth.
The violence is that bad.
We do not deserve it.
We are not disposable.
Our lives do matter.
And until Canada, Canadians and even our own people confront their colonial mindsets and internalize these truths, society will remain sick and the violence will not stop.
The everyday acts of settler colonial violence that I unpack here are the silencing tactics aimed at pacifying our resistance to the dehumanized existence imposed on us by settler colonialism. The silencing tactics, in their various forms, are not recognized as the violent acts of aggression that they are. Nevertheless, silencing tactics are powerful tools in maintaining settler colonial violence and contributes to the vicious violence that has taken so many of our sisters lives. Silencing tactics have helped (re)produce the pathology of normalcy.
I used to believe that the hostile reactions to calling out settler colonialism could be avoided depending on how the message was delivered. I am no longer ‘tricked’ into believing this. The fact that we are conditioned and made to worry about how to deliver a message that is so intimately connected to our humanity is ludicrous and speaks to the acceptance of settler colonial violence. I am also no longer ‘tricked’ into believing that there is a ‘right time’ to disrupt colonial comfort and complacency. The right time was yesterday. And when it becomes about there being a ‘right time,’ we are off track. The focus is no longer about Indigenous liberation or transcending the pathology of a colonial relationship but rather becomes about giving into fear and centering the feelings of those who benefit most from the colonial status quo.
Does taking care of settler feelings end the violence?
I am tired of the ‘safe’ strategy that focuses on educating settler folks about an ‘Aboriginal experience,’ about ‘Aboriginal people’ and ‘Aboriginal history,’ instead of settler colonialism, white supremacy, and settler colonial violence. I am tired of this safe strategy because it is not safe for me as an Anishinaabe Kwe. It is safe for settlers. This is wrong because this type of educational approach is not only ineffective, it is also harmful. It presents a guise of meaningful work, when the work needed – dismantling settler colonialism and ending settler colonial violence – is not actually being done. This type of educational approach gets the green light because we are told that we have to start somewhere. We are told that this is just a beginning. If we are talking about issues like racism without talking about the structures of white supremacy and settler colonialism, or reconciliation without talking about restitution, then we need to ask ourselves who are we talking for? How meaningful are these discussions? Who are they meaningful for?
When we speak out against settler colonialism and its insidious manifestations, we are met with hostility because it disrupts the illusion of the system being innocuous. The hostility presents itself through the countless silencing and avoidance tactics thrown our way. We are the ones that are accused of being violent, offensive, hostile, confrontational, closed minded, stuck, etc. We are dismissed as the angry, ungrateful Indian. We are accused of not wanting to work towards resolution. We are told that the real world does not work that way. We are told that we have to be patient. We are told that our anger is pathological. This is wrong because these are examples of the ways in which everyday acts of settler colonial violence manifest and reinforce structural violence. They are attempts to shame us into silence and pacify our resistance. We need to be prepared for this and not buy into the shame. We must continue to speak despite the intimidation.
I needed to unpack the ways in which colonial mentalities influenced how I interpreted our Anishinaabeg teachings. Humility does not mean silence. Respect does not mean to not challenge. Love does not mean that feelings will not be hurt. I also needed to challenge the colonial construct of the quiet Indian woman I had internalized that I had never fit into. The irrational self-doubt that plagues self-esteem, when marinated in colonial realities, needed to be purged.
There is space for the ‘righteous resentment’ that Glen Coulthard discusses and for it to co-exist with our Anishinaabeg teachings. The rage I feel about the everyday acts of settler colonial violence which aims to silence me, that tells me to shut up in all these dressed up ways, is a healthy rage rooted in love: self-love; love for the land; love for my family; love for my community; love for my nation. Even to challenge others with their colonial comfort are acts of respect, humility and love because it presents an opportunity to learn and grow together, moving towards liberation, and further humanizing ourselves.
In honour of Loretta Saunders, Reena Fox, Sandra Johnson, and all the other Indigenous women, I will continue to use my voice. I will not be shamed into silence. I will refuse to live quietly. This is my responsibility. This is your responsibility.
Jana-Rae Yerxa is Anishinaabe from Couchiching First Nation and an MA Candidate in Indigenous Governance at the University of Victoria. Follow her on Twitter: @Janaraey