Today's guest post is by Dr. Dory Nason of UBC's First Nations and Indigenous Studies and the Department of English. Mighty thank you to you, Dory!
In thinking about what I could share in this blog post, I am aware that I hold a tremendous responsibility, as a scholar, as a teacher and as an Indigenous woman, to confront the subject of settler colonial violence, a gendered, racialized and political violence that displaces and dispossesses us all from a better set of relationships. While I struggled to think of something more uplifting to discuss, such as mentorship, my upcoming sabbatical or what it’s like to be Indigenous and a woman in the academy (the good parts!), I couldn’t turn my mind away from what I have been feeling these last few months, indeed these last few years, as a faculty member witnessing story after story of violent acts perpetrated against women on campus, often by fellow students.
For a list of examples, one need only turn to the news stories of assault that has taken place on my campus over the last two years, and its underreported statistics. Or the trouble another young Indigenous student faced in receiving aid after she was the victim of numerous domestic violence assaults while she lived in campus housing. My campus to its credit has worked to address these situations through calling attention to them in press conferences and in convening task forces such as this one: UBC’s task force on Gender-based Violence and Aboriginal Stereotypes, which released its findings in 2014.
You might ask why the addition of Aboriginal stereotypes to this important task force? The answer is, in addition to the “rape chants” exposed in the business school’s Frosh week culture, there were also reports of a “Pocahontas” chant students joyfully sang as spirit building exercises, that when exposed caused an uproar on our campus and others across the country. The Pocahontas chant consisted mainly of the words “white man, steal our land.” While this exercise was meant to bring together incoming business students in a “fun” activity, it served to also remind Indigenous women on this campus how little has changed. It served to underscore that what still holds together settler camaraderie is a culture of gendered violence and dispossession that still hunts us to this day.
But this is only the context of what I want to discuss. My title suggests that I do not wish to dwell on a culture of violence but that I want to live, teach and work with a loving heart that is not overtaken by this darkness. I believe this can only be accomplished by confronting the violence, naming it and setting a path out of this destruction in order to live better and more just relationships.
Not just a better set of relationships but a more loving set of relationships: to our communities, homelands, the land, human and non-human peoples, to ourselves, and, most of all, to a way of being in the world that in Anishinaabeg philosophy is referred to as Mino Bimaadiziwin, or simply the Good Life, or as my great uncle Paul Buffalo has described it, the way you live your life in the service of life. I often turn to his ethnography for inspiration and for memories of a different time and place where my ancestors flourished.
Paul grew up in a place and a time where he could attend to this philosophy in his own language, on Anishinaabe territory, and with a worldview that saw power in all things and required deep knowledge of a specific territory and its beings. He could draw on vast networks of knowledge passed down from elders, and for my Uncle, much of that knowledge came to him from his mother Margaret, my great grandmother on my father’s side. Though I would never meet her, except in the stories my father tells, or that I read in Paul’s words, I think about her often as a woman of great resilience and skills.
Margaret was an herbalist, a mid-wife and apparently an excellent doctor of horses. She lived from sometime before 1880 and died in 1958, a period of time of great change and struggle for her community. She was a religious woman, and told Paul to remember the “Indian way of life,” and to practice it, telling him someday people would come and want to learn it from him and to write it down. This task consumed the last 13 years of his life working with a professor of anthropology to record his teachings.
I end with this story, because it situates me, and yet embedded in it, are all the forms of violence that I spoke of before. Yet at the same time, what I chose to foreground is the steadfast commitment that both Paul and Margaret had to ensure the continuance of cultural practices and a philosophy that valued life and creation over personal power and gain. Resistance in their lifetime was to not allow powerful forces of boarding schools, allotment, or racism to remove them from a way of thinking and a set of life-affirming relationships that constituted an Anishinaabeg world. It is a story of resistance familiar to all Indigenous peoples the world over.
I also think of my mother’s story, a joyful Mexican woman who came from a family of migrant farmworkers and who I remember as always working, laboring in restaurants, factories and retail shops in a small Nebraska town filled with anti-immigrant racism. And yet, she had so much generosity, often bringing home new immigrants who needed a place to stay or a warm meal.
These intersections of immigrant and Indigenous inform who I am. The violence of settler colonialism and anti-immigrant racism converge in ways that for me have always been experienced as gendered violence. This informs the work that I do but not in the ways that dwell at this convergence. In my research and teaching, I have tried to focus on the creative acts of resistance that Indigenous women have made in bringing back into view a better way of relating to the world and to each other. I look to stories and artistic practices that create connections and hold us up. That is not to say, these writers and artists shy away from the violence, in fact they are incredibly incisive in describing its varied forms, permutations, and hegemonic nature.
What I am interested in however is how stories and artistic practices recall and recast Indigenous philosophies that express heart knowledge, a radical love and resistance and offer ideas about decolonization, resurgence and better ways to be in solidarity with each other. With that brief explanation of what I do, I thought I’d close my ramblings with a few words from my Uncle Paul in a passage that comes from his discussion of power. For him real power is accessed through attentiveness to one’s well-being, the well-being of others and one’s understanding of the natural world around her. In this excerpt, he explains the importance of not dwelling in sadness in order to maintain a sense of empowerment. I think this is an important and difficult task for a lot of us who study these important yet difficult things:
Don't cry. If you do cry maybe it will be cloudy again, and that means trouble in your life. You'll cry tears and then you can't see a brightening when it's there. When you don't cry you show appreciation to the sun and the moon that brightens up, gives you light, makes things grow--like vegetation, and the stuff you eat. You have to appreciate what nature's doing for you. The spirits, the Great Spirits, are doing all these things during the rest hours at night. You have to rest too, and if you do then there's no drawback that you can cry over.
You're given life on this earth and it's up to you to go around and appreciate it. By appreciating that life, you have to thank for what you have got. You have to appreciate it by speaking to yourself and your heart saying that you appreciate what has been done in the past. That's what I do. I do that. And the trees are living and birds are singing. Birds sing too, they sing, and talk amongst themselves. If we did hear them talk we couldn't understand them anyhow, but we know they're singing. It's nature, of all things! Oh, this is the world to study! It is the answer to your life. When you practice this with your friends you'll see a good life. (Roufs)
Dory Nason is Anishinaabe and Chicana and a proud member of the Leech Lake Band of the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe. She is a grateful guest on Coast Salish territory where she teaches at UBC in First Nations and Indigenous Studies and the Department of English in the fields of Indigenous methodologies, literature and feminisms. Her research focuses on Indigenous women's creative activism and intellectual history on Turtle Island. She is currently at work on her book, Red Feminist Criticism: Indigenous Women, Activism and Cultural Production and the co-editor of the forthcoming volume Tekahionwake: E. Pauline Johnson’s writing on Native America with Broadview Press.
Roufs, Timothy. “Power, Chapter 28.” When Everybody Called Me Gah-Bay-Binayss, "Forever-Flying-Bird": An Ethnographic Biography of Paul Peter Buffalo. Available at