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

Alberta’s Oil Sands are a Project of Colonial Violence


by Arij Riahi

In early July I traveled to Fort McMurray, Alberta. The booming oil town– sometimes renamed Fort McMoney– is located 400 kilometres northeast of Edmonton. It is also the very centre of the country’s largest industrial project.

As we drive deep into tar sands territory the trees on each side of Highway 63 get dark and flimsy. Only their skinny trunks are visible; their boreal foliage is blackened. Whatever the cause of their sickliness, the sight was an apt prelude.

I traveled to participate in the Healing Walk, a yearly event organized by the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation and the Keepers of the Athabasca, a group of First Nations, Metis, Inuit, and settler allies working for the protection of land, water, and air along the Athabasca River, which flows through the tar sands. The walk, based in ceremony and led by elders, lasted over six hours. Participants circled the petrochemical facilities of the Canadian oil producer Syncrude and witnessed the destructive impact of tar sands development.

The visuals are overwhelming. The landscape’s desolation scrolls as the environmental destruction speeds up. During the 14 kilometres of the Healing Walk, we must wear masks. Less than an hour after we begin marching, several people complain of headaches. At one moment, I took off my mask to lick my lips. A sulfurous taste greeted my tongue. I felt like I was soaking in the fumes of hydrocarbons. In the distance, a vertical tower spits into the sky smoke so thick and white that it mixes with the clouds to the point where it’s impossible to tell where one ends and the other begins.

The sight is undeniably shocking. However, the fact that indigenous nations are directly bearing the burden of this environmental destruction is downright offensive. Oil sands development has a disproportionate negative impact on First Nations, which are usually located in the vicinity of polluting facilities.

With the movement against tar sands growing and raising concerns about our oil dependence, it is time to open a frank conversation about environmental racism. It is time to talk about how environmental policy in Canada might be resting on colonial premises. Read more

Posted on by Arij Riahi in Can-Con, Racism 1 Comment

Missing Women’s Report Release Pokes at Unhealed Wounds

Cover of yesterday's report. Click to download the full, 1458-page document

Cover of yesterday’s report. Click to download the full, 1458-page document

by Jarrah Hodge

Yesterday’s release of the Missing Women Commission of Inquiry report was an emotional event that did little to guarantee justice for victims.

I haven’t yet been able to do an in-depth reading of the over 1400-page report produced by Commissioner Wally Oppal after over a year of hearings and deliberations, but I can talk about the problems with the process and about what I saw watching the livestream of Oppal’s news conference.

Over the hour, Oppal was interrupted over and over by victims’ families and Indigenous women, shouting down his claim that everyone had had their voice heard during the inquiry, and at one point breaking into a “Women’s Warrior” song and drumming. It was a powerful moment to see Oppal be silenced, even briefly, by the women who had been silenced during this whole process.

In the Spring of this year, several community and advocacy organizations joined in a coalition to boycott the inquiry, calling it a “deeply flawed and illegitimate process” after funding was denied to the 13 groups granted any standing in the inquiry. The groups spoke out over and over again on other major issues with the Inquiry, including the failure to provide lawyers for community groups when lawyers were provided to protect police and government interests, arbitrary timelines, delayed and incomplete disclosure, unwillingness to give enough time to Aboriginal witnesses, marginalization of vulnerable witnesses and lack of witness protection for them. 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

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Johnny Depp as Tonto: I’m still not feeling “honored”

Johnny Depp as Tontoby Adrienne K. Originally posted at her blog, Native Appropriations.

I guess we can put all the talk about Johnny Depp “honoring” Native people to rest now. Cause it’s been over a month since those first horrendous publicity pics of Depp-as-Tonto surfaced, and more information has been trickling out about Depp’s “inspiration” for his lovely costume, and I think we’ll see just how careful, respectful and honoring Mr. Depp was with his “research” for his role.

As background, Depp has said in numerous interviews that wanted to change the role of Tonto, and wanted to “reinvent” the relationship between Indians and Hollywood. He also cited his Native heritage–“Cherokee or maybe Creek”–as part of his reasoning behind taking the role. In this clip from MTV news, Johnny describes his plans for Tonto’s character, which, out of context, actually sound pretty good:

He says in the clip:

“I like the idea of having the opportunity to sort of make fun of the idea of Indian as sidekick…throughout the history of hollywood, the Native American has always been the second class, third class, fourth class, fifth class citizen, and I don’t see Tonto that way at all. So it’s an opportunity for me to salute Native Americans.”

Based on all of these interviews, I was still holding out a shred of hope that there was some major piece of information I was missing, that maybe Johnny had actually done his research, or that maybe he had no control over the actual costuming of Tonto, and that all of this anger and blame should be placed on some wardrobe stylist on set. But Entertainment Weekly published a blog post on Sunday that confirmed what I had been arguing all along. Johnny Depp decided to “honor” Native peoples and “reinvent” our role in Hollywood by relying on the most tired and stereotypical tropes imaginable. Read more

Posted on by Jarrah Hodge in Feminism, Pop Culture, Racism 2 Comments

FFFF: Sh*t Canadians Say to Aboriginal Women

A group of Canadian feminists in a Women’s Studies class put together this addition to the Sh*t People Say meme after watching a documentary by Stolen Sisters.


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

Fighting Sioux Part II: The Science

University of Illinois mascot Chief IlliwinekThis is part II of a post by Adrienne K. of Native Appropriations. Find Part I here. The original version of this post can be found here.

Part II: 
So, still unconvinced after my Part I emotional plea? You can refute my “feelings” all you want. But how about a real, peer-reviewed scientific study? You can’t mess with a one-two punch of emotions AND science, right?

In a 2008 study published in the Journal of Basic and Applied Psychology, Dr. Stephanie Fryburg (Stanford Almuna and one of my professor idols) took the mascot issue head-on. The paper can be read, in full, here.

Her article, “Of Warrior Chiefs and Indian Princesses: The Psychological Consequences of American Indian Mascots”, consisted of 4 studies, using Native youth from an Arizona reservation as her subjects.

Study 1: Students are given images of Pocahontas, Chief Wahoo, and a list of negative stereotypes. Afterward, they are asked to generate a list of word associations. For Pocahontas and Chief Wahoo, ~80% of their word associations were positive. (I know, that’s backwards, right?) for the negative stereotype list, only ~8% were positive (about what you’d expect). But before you get on my case about proving mascots aren’t bad… Read more

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