idle no more

Women’s Forum/Forum Des Femmes Morning

MP Niki Ashton at the podium for Women's Forum 2013

MP Niki Ashton kicks off Women’s Forum 2013

by Jarrah Hodge

Women’s Forum des Femmes kicks off in the Government Conference Centre just across from Parliament Hill, with Official Opposition Critic for Status of Women Niki Ashton welcoming us “fellow feminists”.

I can tell it’s going to be an awesome day. The room is full of over a hundred women from diverse backgrounds, but a large portion are young women. Ashton announces most of the people speaking today (like me, later in the afternoon) will be Canadian feminists under 40.

Ashton characterizes the situation facing young women in Canada, saying young women are working hard but losing ground. Especially young indigenous women, says Ashton.

But she also says young women are responding: “Young women are using the arts, scholarship, the blogosphere and their voices to fight back.”

“Idle No More is a clear example of how indigenous young people, and particularly young women are changing Canadian history,” she adds.

She finishes her introduction with an outline of the day’s goal: “to build solidarity and strengthen our connections, and in doing so we will send a message that women across generations, regions, and communities are strong in their demands for justice and equality for all of us.”

Erin Marie Konsmo

Erin Marie Konsmo

The first speaker up to the stage was the amazing Erin Marie Konsmo of the Native Youth Sexual Health Network. Her talk is called Beyond a Triple Bottom Line Approach: Reclaiming for our future generations: Resisting Environmental Violence Through Reproductive Justice.

Konsmo began to elaborate on a theme that will be touched on throughout the day: the interconnectedness of struggles for control of land and control of bodies, particularly women’s bodies. She said the Canadian government and extractive industries have often seen women’s bodies and land as empty things available for laws to be put on.

“Our bodies are not terra nullis [empty land],” Konsmo stated

“I propose a new equation. We must have self-determination of our bodies and also self-determination of our lands,” Konsmo proclaimed.

The interconnectedness of colonial exploitation of land and women’s bodies has a long history, including forced-sterilization of First Nations people and sexual abuse in residential schools. Because indigenous women live with the legacy of colonial violence and appropriation of land, Konsmo says violence prevention and sexual health strategies must include discussions of the land.

To conclude her talk she highlighted some of the unique ways indigenous women and youth are connecting the discussions about liberating the environment and their bodies. NYSHN’s Environmental justice for Metis Women and Youth program, for example, uses sexual health education and the arts to talk about how reproductive violence is connected to the environment.

She also talked about work to support indigenous youth who are two-spirited, queer, trans or gender non-conforming, who face immense amounts of violence, to develop leadership positions in their communities.

“As a young indigenous woman I know that many body contains story of the land…I also know and experience a sexual and gender identity that comes from specific histories of the land and where I come from. These identities are older than the LGBT movement and…were made illegal…your feminisms do affect the land,” she reminds, and adds, “The work you do as a feminist…impacts indigenous people.”

The next panel looked at “Canada’s Inequality Action Plan”, and included moderator Karen Galldin, Shannon Phillips of the Alberta Federation of Labour;  Janice Makokis, a lawyer and Idle No More activist; Denise Hammond of the union AMAPCEO; and Sarah Kennell of Action Canada for Population and Development. Read more

Posted on by Jarrah Hodge in Can-Con, Feminism, Politics 1 Comment

Being an Ally Starts with Speaking Up

by Kirsten Barkved

Sometime in my early twenties, in between my first year of post-secondary education and a part-time job that got me little to no savings, a grim appreciation for the general public and a strong, uncontrollable addition to coffee, I discovered that the world is not as happy and shiny as I had previously chose to believe it.

My manager, a young woman with blonde hair, a pretty diamond engagement ring and a fiancé with a shiny black SUV, upon discovering I lived in Fort Nelson for a stint, and that, in my words, it was a “whole entire universe up there” said:

“Well, what do you expect, it’s all Indians up there, right?”

Well, actually, what the twenty-year-old version of me had been referring to was the snow, the cold and the partying. Shiny bubble popped, I sat in my chair, mouth agape, eyebrows hiding somewhere in my hairline. And while I’d like to say I marched right out of my job, angry at the blatant racism, frustrated at the ignorance and lack of understanding that flooded her words, I sat there. In silence.

And the silence is just as bad as her eleven-word sentence

It’s not that I had been walking around with wide-eyed innocence akin to Cindy Loo Hoo. I just chose to believe that in every person, act or event, there are linings made of silver sweetness that could outweigh the negative. And sometimes this translated into a naïveté that walked dangerously close to white privilege.

As a white woman, residing somewhere in the grey area of lower/middle class, I experience a privilege that others do not. It means that while I can’t really leave my house without receiving some form of sexual objectification based on my gender, I am, however, able to walk out my house without feeling oppressed, discriminated or violently and systematically excluded by my skin colour.

And if you think that racism in Canada is something that is rare, a phenomenon that you excuse once in a blue moon when your Bible thumping grandma comes to visit, you are sadly mistaken.

Racism is abundant. It’s in everything. We live in a patriarchal society that culturally values certain qualities (i.e. white, male, upper class, able-bodied) and trivializes, indeed, marginalizes those who do not possess said social constructions. Having all of these qualities makes you king of the preverbal castle. Having little to none leaves you under a glass ceiling: always seeing what you could possibly have, never actually being able to reach it. We saw this in the housing crisis that First Nations people in Attawapiskat experienced in 2011.

Maybe it’s true that, as a nation, we’ve come a long way from our founding upon assimilationist policies. And peaceful, grassroots movements like Idle no More, with it’s national and international attention, have raised awareness in the last year for Indigenous Sovereignty and Indigenous ways of knowing. Awareness is growing about the ways in which bills, treaties, laws and other Eurocentric ways of knowing have historically and systematically failed a group of people whose way of living has been altered, lost and forgotten along the path of cultural genocide.

Enter the internet: a great, vast “untamed wilderness” for stories like the state of emergency for the Attawapiskat people to be read, shared and commented on. The beauty of the 21st century is that we live in an information age in which stories can be spread faster than melting butter. And that’s a marvelous thing. That we can access people, their lives and their plights across miles, lines on maps and be informed about the happenings of a nation that supposedly prides itself on being a mosaic, a beacon for diversity.

It seems nothing is more readily shared than the suffering of others. Whether as a form of maintaining empathy or recognizing the pain in others as pain we may feel ourselves one day, or have felt once; tragedies are stories in the news that we latch onto because they are reminders to be kind, to be compassionate, helpful, considerate, and above all else, be humane.

I think back to the recent flooding in Alberta, and the status updates that overwhelmed my Facebook news feed for days. A whole city came together to help their neighbors, people they didn’t even know. People from neighboring provinces, even just those caught up in the media, left comments on news articles: messages for hope, support and sympathy for those affected by the natural disaster that left an entire city in a state of emergency.

And then I think to the housing crisis in Attawapiskat. October 11, 2011. The Attawapiskat First Nations leader, Chief Theresa Spence, whose hunger strike drew public attention to the crisis faced by many First Nations, declared a state of emergency, her third in three years. Cold temperatures, inadequate housing conditions, overcrowded shacks and tents, no running water or running electricity, families with little food or supplies, some living just feet away from a poorly cleaned up sewage spill (resulting from a massive flood that in 2009 had the entire reservation evacuated); these were some of the issues that made their way into public media releases.

Responses to the mass flooding and states of emergency in the Attawapiskat region?  Charlie Angus, author of the brilliantly poignant article “Taking on the Trolls: Why the Online Race-Hatred Against First Nations?”  found these gems:

“Just give them some firewater and they will go away until they need their next hit. Has worked for hundreds of years.” Read more

Posted on by Kirsten Barkved in Can-Con, Feminism, Racism 1 Comment

Occupying Love

occupy-love-6by Jarrah Hodge

When B.C. filmmaker Velcrow Ripper started making Occupy Love in 2009, some of his activist friends weren’t sure what to make of his questions. How can the crises we’re facing socially, economically and environmentally become – of all things – a love story?

Occupy Love is the culmination of twelve-years spent filming social movements for his Fierce Love trilogy (it’s the third installment, after Scared Sacred and Fierce Light), but Velcrow Ripper’s involvement with social activism started even before that, growing up in Gibsons, B.C. In high school he got involved with local environmental campaigns protesting the spraying of DDT, and he worked to establish a student-run broadcast cable channel that still exists today. In 1995 he filmed and participated in the environmental protests at Clayoquot Sound and he says the fact that he grew up in a province with such a vibrant environmental movement shapes what he does today. It’s certainly a part of this trilogy.

Despite the initial confusion on the love story question, Ripper continued filming social movements from the Arab Spring to the European Summer, Occupy Wall Street and environmental movements. And he started seeing a shift, with more and more people responding: “Of course it’s a love story.” What that means is that the social movements emerging in response to these crises are becoming a movement of movements, joining in interdependence and interconnectedness.

I asked Velcrow Ripper about the way we see these kinds of movements represented in the mainstream media, about how if you’re not actually involved on the ground you might think some of the movements are no longer active. Ripper replied:

“I think the mainstream media doesn’t understand social movements, they don’t understand the interconnections between movements. They think in terms of news cycles and they only respond to spectacles…They see things in isolation, which is a real problem in Western society in general…it’s only when movements really have this full bloom moment that they get noticed but movements don’t stay in that mode all the time.” Read more

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#IdleNoMore: Indigenous Women Spark a Movement

indigenousrightsrevolution by Jarrah Hodge

When four women from Saskatchewan – Nina Wilson, Sylvia McAdam, Jessica Gordon & Sheelah McLean – came together to oppose Bill C-45 in early October, I’m not sure they predicted how their group would spark a national movement spread through the Twitter hashtag #IdleNoMore. Leading up to December 10, the women organized rallies and teach-ins about C-45, the Conservatives’ omnibus budget bill, which makes significant changes to the Indian Act, the Fisheries Act, and the Navigable Waters Protection Act without First Nations consultation.

“Bill C 45 is not just about a budget, it is a direct attack on First Nations lands and on the bodies of water we all share from across this country,” says Sylvia McAdam, pointing out the reduction of environmental proections, and also that the bill decreases the consent required for the government to make changes to reserve lands.

In Alberta, Tanya Kappo organized an Idle No More event at the Louis Bull Cree Nation. Promoting the event through social media, Kappo drew 150 people to hear her and other organizers speak about the budget bill. Here is Kappo’s introduction from that night:

If you’ve been paying attention to Twitter recently, or if you read independent media like Rabble , you’ll know these gatherings were only the beginning. The hashtag went viral and started being used more broadly on Indigenous rights issues. On Tuesday, December 4 discussion of the hashtag came up at an Ottawa meeting of the Assembly of First Nations and soon National Chief Shawn Atleo called for a march to Parliament, which was voting on the bill. Read more

Posted on by Jarrah Hodge in Can-Con, Politics Leave a comment