Portages And Parallels I
a forest ignites Channels misfire
escarpments for you alone
to hike the heights
A topography curling
the mind snakes
A grey tundra awake
Enough to bite
Knew you this much
Lull the brackish
Silence the racket
A weapon to brandish
Sterilizes the Bacchus
Exasperates the axis
First answer the brackets
Cortisol fruits ripen
Warm summer scent
Sick on the breeze
Fight, flight or Freeze
When to halt
skein of Gestalts
I want what you want
Reroute the dam
Par the course
Redress the source
Along the flesh
Synaptic waves crash
Like a language unknown
That were never sewn
The canals route
the lost territory
ancestral words have sharp tongues
Stored memories scream
and gnaw on the root
they know the top of your lungs
neuroplasticity promises repair
reconfigure the landscape
an amygdala that hears
The voices in the land
Their adrenals on overdrive
Teaching the hive
To attack the queen
Starve the hide
Elders in the watch tower
Blood memory circuit veins
Seven generations, nth hour
Healing what remains
Spirit board tingling spines
Grow with creeping vines
Deliver the remedy
Herbs that contain
The self-correcting panopticon
Past Lives And Soul Loss
The sacral chakra is located in the reproductive and cleansing organs. Spleen, kidneys, uterus. It represents a functioning sexuality, and a functioning creativity. When over-active, one tends to self-soothing behaviours, comfort foods, comfort drink, laziness, oral fixation. When under-active, it tends to create a person who does not love, does not trust, does not give, does not relax, does not like sex.
Freud speaks of sublimation. Probably quite a few psychological schools of thought have something to say about this. Sublimation- to place something where it is not intended. Sublimation- to channel one’s sexual urge into creative pursuit. To be creative. To take the survival instinct or reproductive urge and give life to one’s dreams or thoughts. To allow something to manifest. People who study and devote their energy to mastery of a skill or craft. People who draw, paint, sing, dance, move their body. Maybe, more simply, just flow.
Astrology calls this the fifth house. Of passion, children, hobbies and fun.
I wait to flow with ease. But nothing comes of the wait. I just sit here feeling sick. Hoping to feel urged by someone, something, some place, greater than myself. A guide, a teacher, a calling. Someone to tell me it’s okay to trust again. To advance again, to look at the world as though it weren’t a threat.
I wait. I wait to be succumbed into a world that is safe.
Every now and then I take a chance and I’m pushed into a self-expression. Like my body and mind are bursting open, overflowing, congested. Dammed up. When it comes it’s like a concussion or hangover. I question if I’m who I am. If my feelings are right. If they will result in reversals or reprimands. I wonder if my release will result in violence. So I fret about the release, my fists clench and I hold myself in for as long as possible.
I read about Samuel De Champlain and how the French and the Mi’kmaq befriended. I read about how we were the first point of contact. I figure that means we have spent the longest in colonial wounds, which is why it has taken so long to return to the right path. My jaw ceases and tenses, half relieved I have the answer unfold in a way that isn’t convoluted by the obfuscations of the Indian Act and Peace and Friendship Treaties, which are profuse with lies and jargon and damaging stereotypes that fuse into self-hatred. I feel the truth in my bones, I see the Catholic fear-mongering within the modern language structure of Mi’kmaq. We have a wealth of words for the church and their disciples and practices. Some of my ancestors ate that shit up with a spoon. Was it force fed or were we actually hungry for it?
I heard about Gluscap, I heard about moon rites, I heard about tup-ti and root medicines. I heard about the fish we taught the settlers to catch and how to deal with cold winters. I see how our hieroglyph language only exists to paraphrase the Bible but not our stories. I don’t need to hear these stories in a book to feel it, and I don’t need it proven in your history books. I can see it in how my family walks around, I can see it in their fear, I can see it in their eyes, and their trembling angry voices that repress feelings because they have grown so tired of not being heard.
I can see it in how they held me, or forgot to. Or sublimated those urges with more pressing survival concerns. I can see it in my blood quantum. That “friendship”. That concussion. That fear of release. My DNA carries answers but we live in a world where we have to draw blood. We have to put the blood under a microscope and bleed the life out of the living. We need telescopes to prove that the stars exist, instead of listening to the truth. We need to abuse in order to compare it to love. We need to meddle with the ecosystem and remove the pests in order to prove we require weeds and swamps and bears and beasts and mosquitoes and poisons to function. We have to peel the petals off the flowers to understand that they were more beautiful with their blooms intact. We need to extract fossil fuels and minerals to prove they are valuable. We need to rape our children to understand that they need healthy play to thrive. We need to remove a habitat from a culture to eradicate the culture that exists within it. We need to alter the language to know its symbiosis with the environment. We need to thwart knowledge to decide the value of the old knowledge.
My core still remains the same rusty toolbox of jangly junk. When I express myself, I assimilate the old me with the new knowing. The new knowledge will not integrate. The old knowledge is the destructive knowledge and the new is a little wet bean in the soil, reaching towards the sunlight, with no neck, no legs, no spine. The new knowledge knows it will sprout but is looking for the light source from a dark place.
It is the type of thirst that comes from severe dehydration. When you wake up with your hair ruffled and one eye pasted shut, you shuffle to the kitchen scooping water from the tap like you’ve never known or tasted it, filling your vessel like you’d been dead for years and awoke from the ice age, freshly thawed like Encino Man.
So I guess that’s who I am. Some archaic version of myself, lost in the din of loud city noises and threatening stimuli and people whose words and bodies feel like weapons against my armorless flesh. I read about ego-death:
Ego death is a "complete loss of subjective self-identity." The term is used in various intertwined contexts, with related meanings.
In Jungian psychology the synonymous term psychic death is used, which refers to a fundamental transformation of the psyche.
In the death and rebirth mythology, ego death is a phase of self-surrender and transition, as described by Joseph Campbell in his research on the mythology of the Hero's Journey. It is a recurrent theme in world mythology and is also used as a metaphor in some strands of contemporary western thinking.
In (descriptions of) psychedelic experiences, the term is used synonymously with ego-loss, to refer to (temporary) loss of one's sense of self due to the use of psychedelics. The term was used as such by Timothy Leary et al. to describe the (symbolic) death of the ego  in the first phase of a LSD-trip, in which a "complete transcendence" of the self[note 1] and the "game"[note 2] occurs.
The concept is also used in contemporary spirituality and in the modern understanding of eastern religions to describe a permanent loss of "attachment to a separate sense of self"[web 1] and self-centeredness.
I fabricate self-willed exposure therapy assignments for myself. Go out to the corner store and buy a loaf of bread, do the laundry, wash my clothes, wash my body, run a brush over my head or teeth. Fake being human. Go through the motions. Walk outside like a civilian. Pretend I’m not hypervigilantly scanning my environment for threats. Pretend I’m not hearing that clamor of rusty tin bumbling across the road in the wind. Pretend that I’m not thinking of the moment when the person I allow into my bed is going to leave forever and waiting to get away from me and my wounds. Pretend that I enjoy the solitude proferred by numerous charges of betrayal and misspent trust.
Slowly, like honey, I become acquainted with myself. Being inside my body, running that brush over my head. Washing my skin, loving the motions. Letting the water flow over my body. Sitting in lukewarm bathwater with my Louis Riel book with a film of castile soap and dirt until my skin wrinkles show me what it might be like to age this way. Time slips past me, my feet slip over the grips of the tub trying to stand again. Dry my body. Go through the motions. Fill the tub. Empty the tub.
I try to say words to my new friends, and my lover that are optimistic. That show vulnerability and hope that they’ll understand my new body. How it feels to exist when you’re afraid to exist. I try to say words that make me sound strong, like it wouldn’t hurt when they say goodbye and tend to their own running bathwater, their own loaves of bread, their own laundry. I try to let their words skim past me as though they don’t perforate my skin and wound me. I wait to hear the words from their mouths, “You exist in me.”
You exist in me? I need you? I want to be a safe place for you to re-grow skin and let your organs regenerate. What is it that I’m waiting for them to say?
It’s loud in here and I’m banging the pots and pans with a wooden spoon and sliding down the banister with abandon. Who embodies me?
Who is the child waiting to get out?
I look at the child and see duct tape over his mouth. I peel it off and try to listen. When he speaks, my mouth makes a sound. I enter some sort of unnerving feedback loop. Should it be reassuring to meet him? I’m waiting to hear his little story.
He says he’s just been singing songs he heard on the radio. From the 80s. He sings into the spoon and he dances around in his socks. Sliding like a figure skater on the freshly waxed floor. He says the lyrics remind him of something he never knew or experienced, but wished was his life. He says he saw his parents do that, while going through the motions. Washing the clothes, filling the tub, walking outside pretending the world isn’t violent.
It’s hard to find the root of the soul wound. This kid has a lot of excuses and escapist daydreams. He talks of mermaids and ethereal shit. He says he read a story about there being a flower on the moon. He says it was recited in a bedtime story so many times that he knows it by heart.
He says it’s more real than reality. He says that within these stories are the peaceful moments when he can imagine being swaddled in the love of a nuclear family. He says that if he closes his eyes and sticks his head out of his bedroom window, he can smell the sunshine and summer scents of wildflowers and sweetgrass and aspen, maple, fir, cypress and cedar. In those smells, he says he remembers home. He says if he opens his nostrils really wide, he can remember something that happened in his past life.
He says that he had a little basket and his mom let him go out and pick wild raspberries for pie. He says he remembers sitting on his knees catching grasshoppers in the tall grass and he remembers the smell of the dirt catching in the knees of his jeans.
He whispers in my ear that this happened in another life and that it’s okay to wait for it to happen again next time.
i fell in love with you the moment i first saw you, before i knew you. i knew you before i knew you and i needed to love you the moment our eyes introduced each other. you stripped away my clothes, my appendages, my layers, walls and bullshit and tore a piece of me open. you had a full view of everything i am, was or ever will be.
i knew everything about you too. everything that was important. we knew everything that was important about each other, before the bullshit. underneath all the superficial layers, we are star seeds. just souls.
there’s something innate that you just feel. like, when you hug someone for long enough and you are close enough to smell them. your nostrils fill with them.
somewhere in time, as we are on earth and grow from a child to adult, we turn into wolves. we turn into lions and alligators… pretty much anything that has good muscle mass and sharp teeth, i guess is what i’m saying.
the little morsel inside us, our little home, is surrounded by a moat, a drawbridge, and attack dogs. it’s our ‘heart’, perhaps.
souls can be felt.
it’s really easy, we feel it all the time.
ever been in someone’s house too long? or stared into someone’s eyes and tried to imagine their reality? ever been in someone’s bed and fucked them so deeply, that the air in the room is tight and constricted with aromas of you and them? it’s a kiss. a deep throat kiss that makes who they are and what they are much louder than anything else around you. the loudness isn’t an audible thing, though. it’s vibration. it’s some reverberation inside your crunchy bones.
soul isn’t skin or bone or blood. soul isn’t words or sounds or bodies.
sometimes you can feel soul when someone sings deep down from the very bottom of their solar plexus and pushes out from their diaphragm all the earth energy that they have inside. it kind of propels upward from the pits of someone’s feet and travels through the groin, in the gut and out the throat and mouth and out into sound waves, rippling like a rock skipping on water into your ears and all through YOUR body, straight into YOUR gut.
…but it isn’t the sound.
sometimes soul is felt when you’re reading a book. you know the writer; you understand the roots of their words, the way their paragraphs parse and how their experiences formed into such eloquent earthquakes of thought. but it’s not the book. it’s not the words, nor the paper it is written on.
it’s something you feel. i feel it somewhere between my heart and gut. i also feel it in my head and neck, between my eyes and in my hands and feet… but mostly in my gut. it’s somewhere where my food sits but not swimming in that pool at all. and it’s somewhere where my heart sits too, but it isn’t connected to my aorta either.
soul isn’t an echo of a moment you shared with a person. it’s something you feel when you are trying to do a magic eye, you know? like, when you’re crossing your eyes over and not looking directly AT the picture, but the matter AROUND the picture.
soul isn’t something that you feel with your ego when someone flatters you, insults you or validates you through their perception and judgment of you. it is neither when you do these things to yourself by your own affirming or self-destructive-self-talk. you gotta unfocus your eyes just a little fucking bit MORE. just squeeze through that gap.
listen to the things that aren’t said. give yourself an orgasm by sensing the things that are being touched, but aren’t PHYSICALLY BEING TOUCHED. it’s not your clit or your cock or your tit or your mouth or your ass or the embrace you receive, nor is it the way your bodies fit each other like jigsaw pieces or gloves to the hand on a chilly night. it isn’t the cocoa you drink from a mug that envelops your stomach when you’re feeling lack and empty. it’s the little fireplace beyond all that stuff.
it isn’t the way you wear yourself in the earth world. it isn’t the stuff they give you. it isn’t the stuff you give them.
the things love gives you is way bigger than all of that noise.
it’s something that you KNOW inside, when you can trust that you will meet that same someone in the sky, as a hologram, in an astral projection beyond space and time. it’s knowing your soul within a universe so big, yet feeling in this limitless space, we would still find each other exactly how we left each other. it’s an agreement you willingly make, to converge souls and create alinear history together. it’s understanding that space and time is a man-made paradigm that doesn’t even fucking exist.
it’s letting go of the pony-rides, the movie tickets, the dinner plates, the drinks and bitches and drugs and bait and gossip. it’s letting go of the history books, the doctrines, the science, the faith and the nickels and quarters. it’s not even the moment getting cozy on the couch watching game of thrones. it’s not the quest up a mountain in the amazon, either.
it’s a journey far past any of those things.
it’s when your star seed and theirs just exist.
AND you know inside, that you will continue to exist and they will continue to exist.
there’s no fear, there’s no reprimands, there’s no vow or commitment or generation of roles. you’re not a husband, ol’ trusty working man. i’m not a languid and directionless waif, or a devoted cheerleader. i’m not a mother or a father and you’re not a child or a doctor or a lawyer or a convict.
there are no bodies containing us.
it’s not a matter of, ‘she was at the bar and i couldn’t find anyone better, and i was really wasted. i’ll dump her next week and i will just carry on’. we are beyond space-time. we aren’t wearing monkey suits, it’s just that little kernel inside of you.
i’ve tried to make you see, time and time again that we are more. i’ve tried to make you see that i see you beyond the camouflage. i’ve tried to make you conform to the earth rules by forcing you to use words and poetry and romance and dating and dancing in the moonlight. i tried to make you earthly with food and song and art and pseudo-divinity. it’s all a crock of shit.
what it all comes down to, is i want you to be a star kernel in the void with me. i’m stretching my hand out to you.
i’m sending a soul-cry out into the airwaves. we see the magnetism. our synergy is obvious.
but you are charging the other way out of the door in fear. you close your eyes to the visions and the confidence and the knowing. you tinker and hang on to the rational, the practical and things that you can prove. it’s a safe little tool box where you’re able to make machines and robots out of all of these emotional things that freeze you in conversation, that make you black out and speechless. it’s the things you reach for that you are trying to express but know it is something you feel far more than anyone else. that’s why it’s so hard. you feel it more than all the people because you were a soul that never forgot the other dimensions that came before this life. you see and feel each sense. it is easier to derail and diverge because we know that feelings, love and souls are just sinkholes that distract us from ultimate expression when we bring these things out into the material world. you already know. each person is you, and you are them. you squint your eyes and soothe yourself to block it out. the light is far too bright. i know that you know and see more than me.
i’m chasing after you like a super powered magnet, soaring like an angry solar flare in the sky. i’m telling you to blast through your shell. i’m falling, tumbling cautionlessly like a shooting star.
maybe i was dead long before you ever saw me that first time.
but i would never deny the fact that whenever our eyes met, you knew everything about me.
i always feel like a raw piece of flesh, pink and open. every one of your fingers makes a depression on my pith. my capacity to taste the sensate world, erased. each pang of life, creates a tourbillion of urgency to deviate, dismantle, exacerbate, divulge and err on excess. i am porous and each emotional toxin seeps inside; each kiss towers above my existence, every external act- a personal revelation. in war, i am each soldier dying, every gun, each letter sent home, and all victory and defeat sleeps in bed with me.
i’ll never relax. everything must abide my subsistence.
i don’t think i’ve chosen to be a martyr. i feel like a vessel. like i have never had a choice on this plane to be anything but for you. i feel like i was put upon to communicate frailty and humanity for the benefit of others. sufferance inhales me. even pleasure suffocates when it is so fervid that it burns me. joy is confabulated into a sinewless pulp.
art isn’t a choice, it’s how i cope.
i cannot walk down the street without an entire dialogue or story angrily waiting for me to write it. words words words, pounce and bound in my skull like bowling balls. roaring down the unhappy alley of my heart, pounding like a migraine, wherein so little ever actually gets written.
and, in my weakness, i am siphoned into a lover, a friend who harbours the deluge of my toppling tower of imagery, and thoughts.
what a fucking burden. when the desired outlet is barraged, i drown myself instead. when my audience can’t swim, i sink with them.
i bite my tongue constantly trying to withhold the wet words that want to leak out through my eyes, legs and skin. trickling over my flesh, i know that you were a galaxy once all my own. when i think of you, i forget my hopes, my dreams and plans. i am no longer in the world, but in this nebulous fantasy. my cold cell office, stale black coffee and nefarious workload disappears; i am in a surreal playpen. i am five years old skipping on a grassy hill with a basket of dandelions, skipping and singing. i roll on my belly and watch myself land on my back. i stare at the sky and you are all the clouds. i discern your shapes. they are my imaginary friend, my best friend. my favourite cartoon. animated. i am able to forget all the times i have been abandoned and left alone by you in that infinite dark sky. i can’t see the beginning or the end of it. you last light years. all your stars are the exact tally of my tearfall. i forget and you enigmatically freeze in time. you are the cd that skips in the beginning, when we fell in love. all the dazzling moments where i’ve never felt happier in my life repeat in a digital staccato. you are lucky to be remembered at your best. when you made me feel like the most special woman who has lived. i became dead silent within your gaze, a tempest soothed and the winds stilled. just like a puppy hearing the familiar jingle of keys in the door, i was home when you were home. you slowly romanced me into your room of uncertainty. each step syncopated with my anxious heartbeat. the most petulant addiction i’ve ever had was in the vigilance you created in me by withholding enough that i could never be sure if you would return. i was at the very corner of my seat, leaning over hungrily and almost falling out of my chair with my mouth wide open, waiting. yet you always returned and fed my craving. one day you disappeared and decided to never come back. i wandered long, echoing corridors lost in that megacosm you left me in. i returned to work with towers of papers twice as tall as me. my panicked, sweaty, trembling hands scanned every page trying to find a trace of you. you left no paper trail. the first notes of the song play over and over again. i just have to learn to live with only the first verse. i dance forever knowing that if i think on the same beat, i won’t have to get to the next track.
Restoring Indigenous Literacy: Urban Strategies for Immersion
In the last year, I had become acquainted by a group of indigenous student leaders through the Canadian Federation of Students. This organizational body is founded through Canada’s post-secondary student unions. In 2015-2016 I was the equity representative elect at OCAD University. My education at OCAD has led me to indigenous life ways, world views and alternative pedagogies where I could explore my identity in ways I never had access to. I have gratitude for the cultural resurgence that occurs within me through indigenous programming, mentorship and instruction on campus. I also am filled with a certain sort of sobering depression knowing that my cultural identity will forever be a political act of resistance and with this knowledge I am called within to re-assimilate these cultural understandings from their previous state of erasure via forms of activism or expressions of protest against the very structures I have grown to abide.
Last Winter, I was invited to attend the CFS Semi-Annual National General Meeting, a political conference where student delegates across Canada motion for inclusive policy within our educational system and submit calls to action for student rights within the structures of post-secondary institutions, often meeting with government officials and politicians to rally these causes. For quite some time, my role as equity representative seemed daunting and hard to fathom, as an indigenous student, with numerous counts of lived oppression- as a queer, mentally ill, racialized, disabled, female-identifying mature student from a low socioeconomic background, there was virtually no platform to rally within the school and I didn’t see my identities represented in curriculum nor social campaigns. I mention all of this, as I was surprised and shocked to discover what would unfold in that conference. I noticed indigenous student delegates motioning for structural changes and equity in post-secondary education. I had once felt entirely alone, under-represented and overtasked by trying to explain what I now know as cognitive imperialism (Battiste, 2000, p. 198), systemic racism, and an intrinsic understanding for the need of a decolonial, alternative education model to remedy this. What more, was that, in caucus or working groups, these indigenous students would identify themselves first in their indigenous language. I remember observing this and feeling quizzed, enthralled, threatened and curious of the personal empowerment they acquiesced to engage in this bilingualism amongst colonial hegemony of this political, jargon-filled space of formal rhetoric.
This was my first exposure to fluency in an indigenous language within walls of an institution. Something in my perceived identity cracked open, and shattered across the floor, leaving me to deal with reconfiguring these facets and fragments of how I carried myself thereafter. This essay is an attempt to come to terms with this experience and what I have learned from it. I will provide a discourse of personal experiences that lead into some examples of barriers and challenges when thinking of indigenous language restoration due to its fundamental connection to traditional knowledges; I describe how intricately land, pedagogy, family and lifestyle is woven with traditional knowledge and how this ties into the ideology of decolonization. I call for a deeper analysis on the oppressive nature educational institutions and governmental systems have on the act of language restoration.
It may be of note that I began my essay with such a personal narrative, and I believe that this is an efficacious and calculated risk I have chosen to take. I find myself within a paradigm of discomfort within academia, attempting to reclaim pride over anecdotal storytelling, restructuring education and applying it in ways that penetrate these indigenous ways of telling, while still attempting to fit within calculated and rigorous citations, a need for credible proofs and sources. At many junctures, I find the inner conflict of a dual identity causes me to implode with uncertainty for what may seem like a certain fate of reprisal and penalty if I resist these hierarchies of value in formal education in favour of the personal. I have learned of having right relations in traditional teachings, a moral compass of sorts that guides our behaviour that is wary of the environment (social, relational and physical) and is in accord with protecting our people, beings and land with integrity and conscious care.
I return to the conference space scenario, with students representing their nations in Anishnaabemowin, Haudenosaunee, Inuktitut and so on and then translating their introduction to English and sometimes French for the non-speakers in the room. Realistically, 95% of the room of hundreds of delegates were non-speakers, myself included. Western social etiquette confers a politesse to speak the language of the majority, rendering these bilingual introductions quite an act of rebellion, for the potential alienation of the non-speakers in the room and also for the jeopardizing of time and space these introductions take up. Except, in contrast, this precariousness beckons critical inquiry:
First Nations children were removed from their families and forced into confinement, with harsh punishment and isolation by gender and age. [He noted] the pathways to becoming “white” were treacherous, punitive, and traumatic for children. They were being forced into religious prayers and church attendance, forced daily into child labour as ongoing responsibilities in the schools, and punitive measures were meted out for using their ancestral language, including removing connections among siblings and with their families and communities. The creation of full citizenship in Canada was an assimilation plan that not only included their full adoption of an English-speaking white identity but also the loss of their rights to live with their families and communities on lands that were now “reserved” for them. (Battiste, 2013, 53)
This citation is a speculation from an 1895 report from the Commissioner of Indian Affairs at the time (Bock, 1966). I attempt to encapsulate the types of reform and invasion that occurred during the colonization of Canada and its impacts on First Nations communities. To cover this history succinctly mandates we research our past: The British North America Act in 1867, Canadian Confederation in 1867 and the Indian Act that was to replace these earlier legislations. What were known as Treaty Agreements between the First Nations and British settlers that once surmised on friendship, mutual sovereignty and coexistence now deemed moot. Additionally, we review agreements between French colonists that predate British rule. All was replaced by the mission of the Indian Act, which granted the Canadian government over-arching jurisdiction over all sovereign indigenous territories and their right to self-determination. We must then look at the Indian Act holding a trump card over all peaceful agreements and the resulting violent legacy of Indian Day Schools, the Residential School system, child abduction that took form as adoptive families that were tasked to assimilate, civilize and reform the traditional lifeways of the indigenous and replace it with Catholic and Christian religion, and the federal banning of indigenous languages and customary practices. Without this scope, we cannot investigate the power or context behind rogue acts of language restoration.
I re-enter my reaction to these indigenous activists in the conference room and the complexity of emotion that overtook me. Intimidation and fear were some of the feelings I had and this reaction startled me. I was intimidated because I have been so far removed from my cultural history that I had no means of introducing myself in Mi’kmaq as I had no indigenous literacy. My fear came from the sense of disconnection to community and place where my language was spoken, and with this brief understanding of the history of our cultural indoctrination, I began to realize how unfortunate I was and how well the Indian Act succeeded in civilizing me and my family. My extended family had migrated from our Mi’kmaq community in Nianza, Nova Scotia, further and further West in the past half century, for reasons I intuitively feel as an act of the civil refugee, though this was not expressed to me in such words. What we were fleeing, remains to be identified but it is deeply suspect that it had much to do with the intergenerational wounding caused by the violent uprooting of our family from our traditional ways of life. The generational trauma assimilation had on our ancestors, seeped into the family bond and the learned behaviour from these day schools and residential schools became the social conditioning of our family relation. The migration separated us from the immediate abuses that had then poisoned our community. My intimidation stemmed from the feeling of obligation and inadequacy I had for wanting knowledge of my language. “Educational reforms need to redefine literacy to affirm Aboriginal languages and consciousnesses that are connected to place, for it is place where Aboriginal identity resides.” (Battiste, 2013, 147)Jeannette Armstrong comments that the Okanagan word for language translates to “our place on the land”:
The way we survived is to speak the language that the land offered us as its teachings. To know all the plants, animals, seasons, and geography is to construct language for them… We also refer to the land and our bodies with the same root syllable. This means that the flesh that is our body is pieces of the land that came to us through the things that this land is. The soil, the water, the air, and all other life forms contributed parts to be our flesh. We are our land/place. (Armstrong, 2006)
My formal education has elicited in me the need to try harder to restore my own indigenous literacy, wherein, I began peeling the layers of what it means to be an indigenous speaker. By lieu of funding from initiatives of the recent Truth and Reconciliation Commission in Canada, a Mi’kmaq language app was created in part of the recommendations that necessitate language revitalization, called L’nui’suti. I hungrily downloaded the app, with interactive translations from English to Mi’kmaq. I was able to click icons with my fingers and recite pronunciations of Mi’kmaq words from the Listiguj dialect. What troubled me, is that, despite my eagerness to know standalone words for animals, places, commands and arbitrary greetings, my learning fell short of the embedded teachings Armstrong mentions. Candace Kaleimamoowahinekapu Galla writes of technacy, or adapting technological advancements as a tool for empowerment and mobilizing indigenous literacies in her journal Indigenous language revitalization, promotion, and education: function of technology, that all indigenous languages are endangered, “The urgency remains that with each language that disappears, a wealth of knowledge is lost, which may be irrecoverable.”:
The needs of Indigenous language learners are distinct from other language learners such that Indigenous languages are rooted in specific geographic areas (Adley-SantaMaria,1997). For example, Hawaiian is spoken in Hawaii, Maori in New Zealand, and Navajo in the Southwest region of the United States. Although these languages have intermittent speakers scattered across the world, these languages are Native to their land. If Spanish were no longer spoken in the United States, the language would still be viable in areas such as Mexico, Central America, South America, and Spain. In contrast, once a community no longer uses their Indigenous language, the language is determined sleeping. “Until the advent of the Internet, Indigenous people did not have the opportunity to come across their language in a foreign land or digital domain. (Kaleimamoowahinekapu Galla, 2016)
It stands noting that our government remains reluctant to mandate indigenous language courses in urban public and post-secondary schools and most initiatives to do so are vastly underfunded. Increased financial support is needed to apply traditional methods for healing cultural trauma to our knowledge-keepers and elders and socioeconomic improvements and healthy living conditions are required in order to nurture our communities’ capacity to restore, preserve, practice and educate in these formal settings. Sociological problems that engender First Nations communities require redress on all levels. Cardwell reinforces language endangerment in in her 2010 journal The Fight to Revitalize Canada’s Indigenous Languages from the context of Canada’s perspective:
"All of them are endangered," says Lorna Williams, a member of the Lil'wat First Nation and holder of the Canada Research Chair in Indigenous Knowledge and Learning at University of Victoria, where she is an assistant professor in the department of education. "No exceptions. (Cardwell,2010) According to Dr. Williams, several major studies show the dire straits of Canada's indigenous languages. The most recent was a survey in Native communities across British Columbia. Carried out by the First Peoples' Heritage, Language and Culture Council, a provincial agency that provides funding for language and cultural projects (and also advised Quebec's Yawenda project), the survey found that of the 32 indigenous languages in B.C., three have no known living speakers. It also revealed that a meagre five percent of the 100,000 aboriginal people in B.C. are fluent in an ancestral tongue, and most of them are over 65. (Cardwell)
I return now to my resolution for self-taught literacy. Inspired by the indigenous delegates who stirred me enough to try to speak my language in political spaces, I realize my attempts at understanding Mi’kmaq, or any other Indigenous language is limited and deeply requires immersion into a Mi’kma’ki indigenous speaking community. In Marie Battiste’s Decolonizing Education, the inequities of access to indigenous literacy is exasperated through numerous policies in history including the Assembly of First Nations’ (AFN) report Toward Linguistic Justice for First Nations. She explains language initiatives through the perspective of First Nations students in the public school system who are ESL who struggle to integrate or excel in their English studies. She mentions how we think in our first language, and our mental functions exhaust to translate bilingually. To expand from this, she continues to describe how it takes five years of immersion to fully integrate a language, and that it can only be done while fused with culture, activities and a community who speak the same language.
We contend with the nature of difference between Western and Indigenous languages. Primarily, in addition to indigenous languages’ interconnectedness with land and cultural knowledge, it is also true that, structurally, Indigenous languages of various roots- with focus on Algonquian root languages, grammatically and etymologically base themselves in verbs, and not nouns:
Aboriginal languages and the knowledge embedded in them can create the bridge between oral and written traditions and be a valuable complement to the student’s English. Almost all North American Aboriginal languages fundamentally operate from a view of the world as interrelated and in flux, signifying these relations in highly descriptive prefixes and suffixes with the verbs. Some may even say these are verb-based languages, although this is not to say English could not operate without verbs, or that Algonkian languages do not have nouns. This is significant to current public education and first Nations learners because most school curricula and experience is focused on noun-based learning. Names are given to everything and dictionaries expound that every noun has a meaning. Vocabulary development of objects is thus set out very early for children. In many Aboriginal languages, however, the preverbs and suffixes provide a wealth of possibilities, and therefore the names of objects are secondary to knowing how to put multiple combinations together. (Battiste, 2013, 150)
In Neuhaus’ Decolonizing Poetics of Indigenous Literatures, there is an overview of the linguistics of indigenous languages. Holophrases are defined as clauses or word bundles that rely upon cultural knowledge and contextual understandings referencing to land-based knowledge, creation stories, and moral allegories. These holophrases function as a singular word. Holos comes from the Greek word for “whole”, meaning the clause works as a one-word sentence, as exemplified in the Plains Cree word ki-nothe-h-åcimo-stå-tinåwåw, meaning “I want to tell you folks a story”. (1):
Similarly, the relational word bundle is not merely a particular figure of speech; in its embodiment of indigenous notions of community, it also has much larger implications. A figure of speech is essentially a word bundle, as it carries a surplus of meaning… The full significance of any figure of speech always depends on context, however, and depending on how they are used, rhetorical figures may also serve narrative functions: they may help take a large concatenation of words into a text (Neuhaus, 45)
Furthermore, Neuhaus elaborates on other devices within indigenous language structures. Many are deeply saturated in idiomatic expressions, which replace what English speakers know as nouns or names, for example, “He who walks on Water” would be a verb-based idiom that replaces a name. This shows how relation to place or its attributes bears more significance than proprietorship or self-importance. And finally, a Cree story Two Little Girls Lost in the Bush, is analyzed for its complex holophrastic structure and also demonstrates the very epistemological differences in telling and knowing between the languages (28):
This fall, I was asked to introduce myself for a community-led, on-campus publication that is to be distributed in 2017. I decided that this would be the ideal opportunity to do soin Mi’kmaq, the same way I had observed the others at the CFS Semi-Annual General Meeting. The publication will serve as an educational tool for peers, staff and educators at OCAD to be used as a cultural competency tool and manual for Queer LGBT identities called The Queer Publishing Project. This undertaking took nearly three hours of exhaustively searching language resources and online translators. The largest obstacle in my feat of translating my greeting was that that I needed to translate noun identity signifiers; it took an incredibly long time to find the phrase “I am”, n’in na. I also needed to ensure that I was speaking in the right tense, placed the words in correct order, and that I use an appropriate form of address.I also was unable to find direct translations to cultural identifiers which placed emphasis on social differences or uniqueness of character based on sexuality, accolade or merit. I conclude my essay with the results of my research:
Gwé. Me' Talioq? N'in na two spirit Mi'kmaq e'pite's. Teluisi O'po'ksin.
Hello! My name is Amanda and I am a two-spirit Mi'kmaq First Nations of mixed settler ancestry living on Huron-Wendat and Petun First Nations land, as well as the Mississaugas of the New Credit River. My two-spirit identity is femme presenting genderfluid, queer, non-binary, and political.
Battiste, Marie; Decolonizing Education: Nourishing the Learning Spirit, Purich Publishing Ltd, 2013
Ball, Jessica, Supporting Young Indigenous Children's Language Development in Canada: A Review of Research on Needs and Promising Practices, i
Aboriginal young children’s language and literacy development: Canadian Language and Literacy Networked Centre of Excellence, 2007
Candace Kaleimamoowahinekapu Galla (2016) Indigenous language
revitalization, promotion, and education: function of digital technology, Computer Assisted Language Learning, 29:7, 1137-1151, DOI: 10.1080/09588221.2016.1166137
Cardwell, M. (2010). THE FIGHT TO REVITALIZE CANADA'S INDIGENOUS LANGUAGES/LE COMBAT POUR LA REVITALISATION DES LANGUES AUTOCHTONES AU CANADA. University Affairs, 51(10), 12-17. Retrieved from http://ocadu.idm.oclc.org/login?url=http://search.proquest.com.ocadu.idm.oclc.org/docview/816710341?accountid=12991
Duff, Patricia A., Li, Duanduan, Indigenous, Minority, and Heritage Language Education in Canada: Policies, Contexts, and Issues Canadian Modern Language Review, Vol. 66, No. 1, September 2009, pp. 1-8.
Neuhaus, Mareike, The Decolonizing Poetics of Indigenous Literatures, University of Regina Press, 2015