Two Spirit, originally published as “Reclaiming Two-Spirit” in Issue 25, Winter 2013 of Shameless magazine (on display until April 2014), the Love & relationships issue

 

Two Spirit

What does two-spirit mean?

There is a lot of confusion around the term two-spirit.  I’ve been told that the words ‘niizh mnidoowag’ originally came to an Elder in a dream.  And later these words were selected as an umbrella category in during the third annual Indigenous Gay and Lesbian conference in Winnipeg in 1990, to represent the entire spectrum of sex and gender identities across many different Indigenous cultures.

Culture is fluid, it changes over time, and often the courtesy of flux and change is not extended to indigenous cultures because they are often type-casted in romanticized notions of the past that erase or ignore today’s realities.  Some have questioned the validity of the term two-spirit because it is not ‘traditional’, or it is ‘just made up’ but one must remember that all culture is just ‘made up,’ and the term ‘gay’ itself is not that old.  According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the oldest written use of the word ‘gay’ in its modern sense is 1922, and it probably dates back to the turn of the century.  It makes sense for Indigenous people to choose their own words to describe their own identities, rather than simply relying on Euro-centric terms when it comes to sex and gender, especially given the history of colonialism, colonization, and sex and gender based violence.  Traditional indigenous understandings of sex and gender and spirituality have been eroded by colonization and indoctrination into western culture and non-indigenous ways of thinking that include sexism and homophobia.

Other questions that often crop up surrounding the term two-spirit are the following: “Is it even any different than being gay?” and, “Is it even necessary?” And the short answer to both questions is ‘yes!” because two-spirit is an umbrella category.  Many different people from vastly different cultures identify as two-spirit.  They may be Anishinaabe or Cree or Dene, they may be women or men, they may be gay or straight, they may be trans, they might occupy traditional gender roles that have no counter-part in Western culture (agokwe, winkte, nadleehe etc.), or they might simply be uncomfortable adopting the terms and cultural categories of the colonizer and the baggage that comes with Western conceptions of sex and gender.

There is a distinction I would like to make between the terms two-spirit and agokwe.  They are not necessarily the same thing.  The term agokwe is an Anishinaabe gender-identity category that has no counterpart in Western conceptions of sex and gender.  According to one translation of the word agokwe: ‘egwa’ means ‘and’, and ‘kwe’ means ‘girl’, so a literal interpretation of the word is ‘and-woman’.  What this means, is literally, a man who is also a woman, someone who literally has two spirits (and for this reason the term two-spirit is particularly appropriate for agokwe people).

An example of this could be historical figure of Yellow Head.  They are described as being agokwe, and performing the gender roles of both genders, (much different from much of the ‘trans’ theory, which is largely concerned with transforming/becoming another sex or gender.  Agokwe does not have the same concept of transformation, or change, rather it has a sense of already being.

When one takes into consideration the vast array of Indigenous history and culture on Turtle Island, and the different cultural understandings of, and roles, for people across an entire spectrum of sex, gender, spirit, and prosperity, one begins to understand the necessity for a specifically Indigenous term.

Two-spirit people of all stripes were historically considered lucky, advantageous, and beneficial members of society, and respected specifically because of their perceived advantages.  In many cases, two-spirit peoples were able to take up the work of both men and women, a clear economic advantage, or they were thought to have special skills and abilities.

There are many many, words in Indigenous languages to identify all sorts of different types of people, and ‘two-spirit’ is the term many indigenous people use today to identify themselves, as apposed to the terms created by western culture, or terms like ‘berdache’ chosen by anthropologists.  Two-spirit is a great term to reclaim traditional understandings of sex, gender, and spirit that are different from colonial understandings, and to return two-spirit people to their traditional places of respect within our communities.

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#oldpeopleproblems#dimentia#ojibwaygranny, and Wiisagendam originally published in Kimiwan Zine, issue #4, 2013

 

#oldpeopleproblems#dimentia#ojibwaygranny

“Did you see my canoe, when you came in?”

my grandma asks

–we don’t live near water–

“You haven’t lived on the Sevanne river

in a long time grandma!”

 

“Did you catch any fish today?”

my grandma asks.

“I wasn’t fishing today grandma!

I was at work!”

Fishing and work, are not the same thing.

We are not living on Lac Des Mille Lacs here anymore.

 

My grandma says

she went to visit her father

–this morning–

but

he was still in bed,

so she made coffee!

Fred Peters died

in 1967.

 

 

Wiisagendam*

My eighty-six-year-old-grandmother fell

and broke her wrist, (and pending the results of a Cat-Scan

she might have fractured a heel as well

–she’s got to keep that foot elevated!)

she needed a cane to walk before

which isn’t possible now that her wrist is broken

so she’s in a wheelchair–

and I learned a new Ojibway word today:

Wiisagendam.  It hurts.

 

*It turned out that my grandma’s heel was broken, as well as her wrist.  (and thankfully both injuries have since healed well)

 

 

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The Ten Plagues of Colonialism: written by Nathan an Howard Adler, originally written for the Passover Edition of Shtetl Magazine and in honour of the IdleNoMore movement

Original version in Shtetl Magazine: http://shtetlmontreal.com/2013/03/27/aboriginal-rewrite-of-the-10-plagues/

The Ten Plagues of Colonialism in Canada

1. A Plague of Blood: Water

Water is said to be the lifeblood and the veins of mother earth, and for over a hundred years, industry has been polluting the waterways. Uranium mining under the River Basin of Elliot Lake has left the water and the sediment of the serpent River contaminated. The Anishinaabe are left with the consequences of environmental damage long after the resources have been extracted, attached to the land by treaties, history, and tradition. This template of resource extraction, and pollution has been repeated countless times across Canada, and spanning a number of industries. 150 First Nations Communities live downstream from paper mills and mines. Since 2003 Josephine Mandaamin, an Ojibway grandmother has been walking around the great lakes in a ceremony to purify and to raise awareness around water issues.

2. A Plague of Frogs: Reserve System

The Reserve system was created to ‘civilize’ Indigenous Peoples by introducing them to agriculture and a sedentary way of life based on private property. Many reserves were unsuitable for farming, and those that did farm were prevented from selling their produce or livestock, in order to limit competition for colonial settlers. The underlying motive for the creation of reserves was to free up vast tracts of land for settlement, and extinguish title to the land, not to “share the land” as per agreements laid out in the Treaties.

3. A Plague of Gnats: Legislation

The Indian Act was enacted in 1876 to control every aspect of Indian life, including prohibiting Indians from being intoxicated off reserve, restricting the right to vote in federal elections until 1960, or serve in the army, or attend post-secondary school, or even leave the reserve for extended periods of time. The Indian Act determines who is and who is not an “Indian” within the meaning of the Indian Act. It restricted Indian status in many discriminatory ways (such as marrying out, or being born out of wedlock among others), and cuts off status after the third generation (and all attendant rights and benefits). Any given population, subject to the same rigorous standards of inclusion and exclusion, would become legally extinct within a few generations. The act determines how Indian reserves are governed by Band Councils, and displaces Indigenous sovereignty and traditional forms of governance. The slew of recent legislation, including the recent omnibus budget Bill C-45 (a realization of The 1969 white paper), makes changes to the Indian Act that make it easier to lease reserved lands, and surrender band territory.

4. A Plague of Wild Animals: Drugs/Alcohol

Addiction to drugs and alcohol remains an issue for many Indigenous peoples. Historically alcohol and drugs were not a huge part of most Indigenous cultures, and where they did exist, these substances were strictly controlled, usually for ceremonial or religious purposes. Government policy to assimilate Indians and obliterate Indian cultures has left many Indigenous communities in poverty, and in a state of shock, attempting to adapt to a rapidly changing way of life, and confronting a constant battle against further assimilation, which has created a situation ripe for the spread of alcoholism and drug abuse.

5. Pestilence: Stereotypes

The way Indigenous peoples have been portrayed, and continue to be portrayed, in various stereotypical, racist, and sexist ways, justifies the continued subjugation and destruction of Indigenous peoples and their culture, as both natural and inevitable, and even justified. The myth of the vanishing Indian relegates Indigenous peoples to a distant past, and a culture frozen in time, where any trappings of modern life are an invalidation of “Indian-ness.” The Doctrine of Discovery asserts that Indigenous peoples are inferior and less than human, and therefore cannot own land so it is Terra Nullius, empty. The way Indigenous women are repeatedly represented in highly sexualized ways has resulted in higher instances of rape and they are 2.5 times more likely to be sexually assaulted than other women, usually by non-native men.

6. Boils: Disease

Since Europeans first set foot onto Turtle Island, they brought with them diseases that had never before been seen in this part of the world; such as measles, scarlet fever, typhoid, typhus, influenza, whooping cough, tuberculosis, cholera, diphtheria, chicken pox, and sexually transmitted diseases. In contrast, syphilis is the one disease thought to have passed from the Indigenous peoples of America to Europeans (Wikipedia). According to one estimate, the North American Indian population was reduced from an estimated 12 million in 1500 to barely 237,000 in 1900 (Churchill). Reports of biological warfare can also be found in many history books, in which blankets inoculated with smallpox were intentionally given to Indigenous peoples. Debates over death and disease of Indigenous peoples in the Americas often turn to a numbers game, or a game of denial, but the sad truth is, that the plague continues. Today, Indigenous peoples face some serious health-related challenges, such as high rates of chronic and contagious diseases and a shorter life expectancy. For example, 15 per cent of new HIV and AIDS infections occur in Aboriginal people.

Compared to the general Canadian population,

• Heart disease is 1.5 times higher,

• Type 2 diabetes is 3 to 5 times higher among First Nations people and rates are increasing among the Inuit; and

• Tuberculosis infection rates are 8 to 10 times higher.

(http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/fniah-spnia/diseases-maladies/index-eng.php)

7. The Plague of Hail and Fire: Justice

It’s difficult to have justice on stolen land. Aboriginal peoples in Canada are 4% of the total population, yet they comprise 21% of the male prisoner population, and 30% of the female prisoner population (http://www.prisonjustice.ca/politics/facts_stats.html).

“Sometimes when Native women go missing, I hear they leave it alone.” (Phrase spoken by Ferris Morriseau, three days after the murder of her 27 year old sister Kelly Morriseau). In Canada, there is a lack of government, criminal justice, media and public response to this epidemic of missing and murdered Aboriginal women. Data gathered by the grassroots Aboriginal women’s group “Walk for Justice,” indicates that there have been up to 3000 missing and murdered women, with an estimated 80%, or 2400 involving Aboriginal women and girls. The Native Women’s Association of Canada has gathered data on 600 confirmed cases of missing and murdered Aboriginal women and girls in Canada. A majority of these cases occurred since the year 2000, and just under half of these cases remain unsolved, comparatively in the rest of the Canadian population, the solving rate for homicide is 84%. (Statistics borrowed from a March 9th 2011 speech by Kristen Gilchrist of the organization: Families of Sisters in Spirit).

In Canada, there have been many cases of “Starlight Tours”, in which the police pick up an Aboriginal person in their cruiser, drive them to the outskirts of the city, and abandon them on the side of the road. In 1990, Cree teenager Neil Stonechild, died of hypothermia after being taken by police to the northwest section of Saskatoon, and abandoned in a field on a night when temperatures were below −28°C

8. Plague of Locusts: Broken Treaties

11 Post-confederation Treaties, also known as the numbered treaties, were signed between 1871 and 1921. Despite many of these treaties involving coercion, continually being breached by the Canadian government, and not involving Indigenous women who by tradition often had the final authority; they are still regarded as sacred agreements that must be upheld. Today, Specific Claims deal with the past grievances of First Nations that relate to Canada’s obligations under historic treaties. Although there are only 630 First Nations Bands in Canada, 1114 Specific Claims agreements have been made, and 344 are currently in progress, suggesting that almost every First Nation likely has one or more historical grievance related to the breach of a Treaty. (http://pse5-esd5.ainc-inac.gc.ca/SCBRI_E/Main/ReportingCentre/PreviewReport.aspx?output=HTML)

Modern day treaties have also been signed, such as the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement, or the Nunavut Agreement. These new agreements often contain “Extinguishment clauses” in which the First Nation must agree to the surrender of Aboriginal Title. Most First Nations see modern treaties as ways of reaffirming and asserting their continuing ownership of their traditional territories. The state sees modern treaties as a way of ending that ownership in “exchange” for much smaller pieces of land and a small chunk of capital. It seems colonial conquest in Canada still continues.

9. Plague of Darkness: Religion

There is a dark history in Canada. A history in which one belief system, one religion and one way of life were thought to be superior, and forced onto other groups of people. Through missionaries and residential schools, colonial powers tried to convert Indigenous peoples from traditional religions and spirituality to Christianity. Under the Indian Act, Indigenous religious practices, such as the potlatch, the powwow and the sun-dance, were banned and made illegal.

10. Plague of the First Born: Residential Schools

Stemming from a policy of “Killing the Indian in the Child”, in 1920, the Federal Government made attendance at a Residential School compulsory for all First Nations children. They were forcibly removed from their homes and communities, deprived from learning or speaking their traditional languages and cultures, and many were exposed to physical and sexual abuse at the hands of school staff. Mortality rates at some residential schools in Western Canada ranged from 30% to 60% over five years (that is, five years after entry, 30% to 60% of students had died, or 6–12% per annum) [Wikipedia]. Mass graves have been found at many schools, and today many inter-generational effects continue to be seen in the children of survivors. The loss of language, culture, and identity, and the loss of connection to family and community, can all be connected to the genocidal Residential School system. The federal government of Canada has made reconciliation attempts, and in 2008 the Prime Minister of Canada made an apology for Residential Schools.

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Poems in the Literary supplement to Ode’min Giizis Festival 2012!

Here is a link to the Ode’min Giizis Literary Submissions:

Literary Submissions | Ode’min Giizis

And below is the full-text version:

Image

 

Five-Petal Flowers Up-Side-Down Hearts

We spend all day in the Museum Archives’ First Nations Collection
beautiful old things stored in drawers. Beadwork! Drums!
painted Car Hoods! Guns! –Antique Road-show heaven!–
Excited history-geek mixed feelings.

How did they acquire these things?

Righteous thoughts of repatriating First Nation’s treasures.
White-gloved archive-geek heaven.
We navigate around the city in relation to the location of the Archives,
then step out onto the street: The AFN conference is in town,
they’re selecting the new National Head Chief.
Lots of Indians in this city.
There’s a Powwow downtown,
people dancing on concrete. Beads & feathers, drums & leather.
The same Beaded Floral Patterns that were lying in drawers,
five-petal flowers and upside-down hearts
shining in the fresh air sun smell of wood smoke

 

The Black Robe’s Prayer
Black robe praying
beside the river of metal death
“Please, gtchi aandeg
I wait, upon your benevolence
I live, only at your pleasure
path of paths
road of roads
deliver to me
my next meal “

 

Curry Palace
“Does your mom make spicy food often?”
She asks me, casually, as we are passing Curry Palace.
“Spicy food?” I ask. Trying to figure out why she is asking me.
–She just met my mom yesterday–
“Yeah, I guess. Sometimes.”
What a weird question, I think.
Before it dawns on me, she thinks I’m an INDIAN.
Feather. Not a dot.

 

Prayers Answered
A crow sat pecking at something dead
at the side of the road, rending/tearing
at rubbery-grey flesh, a strip of shapeless meat dangling
from it’s beak for a
moment
before it was gobbled
down
head tilted back
to swallow it whole

 

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They Don’t Like Indians: My contribution to Shtetl Magazine’s Indigenous/Jewish Edition!

Here is the link to Shtetl Magazine:  They Don’t Like Indians | Shtetl Montreal

Or you can read it here:

ADLER N

they don’t like Indians

they stopped delivering our paper

again

my dad marched into their office

and demanded to know

whether it was because

they didn’t like Jews

they didn’t like Indians

or because he failed some punk kid

delivery-boy in his Grade 9 Art class

“If you don’t start delivering

our effing paper” my dad said,

maybe not in these words, but

in not-so-many words,

“I’m going to pull our advertising,

out of your god-damned paper”

finger pointed in the air.

We’re now getting our paper again

but I can only wonder,

for how long? 

Missing and Murdered

There is a highway, in Canada

called the “Highway of Tears”,

so many Women

have Gone Missing

or been Murdered,

along the 800 kilometer stretch of road

they call it “The Highway Of Tears”,

582 Aboriginal Women, have

Gone Missing, or been Murdered

since 1980*

I can’t help wondering

How things would be different, if

582 White Women, went Missing

or were Murdered

Would it make a difference?

I can’t help wondering

Why the lives, of my Mom, Grandmother,

Sisters, Aunts, Daughters, Nieces –

are Less important?

So Many Women,

have gone Missing

or been murdered

It Is Not Safe

to be a Woman, or an Aboriginal Woman

In THIS Country,

Because their lives, have less value.                                                *Sisters in Spirit

The Rybovski’s

5 kids: Dave, Steve, Irene, Mary, & Ziggy

–they all survived the war–

their parents owned a dancing studio in Poland

they were the “Arthur Murray” of Lodz

(“who?”  I ask)

Irene was a dancer too,

I saw her dance once, at some social function.

She could really dance.

Dave, is the one with the numbers Tattooed on his arm

Steve, drove a cab in New York,

Said he would never have children

too afraid he’d go insane some day:

When he was a child

the Nazi’s used to  revive him

after they killed him

kill

revive

kill

revive

kill

revive

kill

I wonder, what they were looking for?

Some secrets of the after-life?

I wonder what he saw when he died?

–the Nazi’s were meticulous in their records–

Is it awful that I want to know what they found?

I wonder if the records of his torture still exist

hidden away somewhere in some file

only one or two

out of the whole batch of children they did this to

survived

he was one of the lucky ones

lucky guy

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Beer Tasting: Another article I wrote for the World Beer Collection!

Here’s a link to the article on the World Beer Collection website:

Mother Just Realized She Likes BEER! | World Beer Collection

Or you can read the whole thing here:

Beer Tasting:

Whoever said they don’t like beer is wrong.

They do like beer they just haven’t drank enough to know any better.  This may sound counter-intuitive.  But saying you don’t like beer is like saying you don’t like cheesecake.  The thing is, you probably do like cheese-cake, you just haven’t tried really good cheese-cake, because there are thousands of cheese-cake recipes, and you will probably like one of them.  So don’t write-off cheese-cake (or beer) if you haven’t tried many different types of cheese-cake, because your bound to find one you like, and be kicking yourself for ever thinking that cheese-cake wasn’t for you.  It is.  Cheesecake is for everyone, just like beer.

Even my mom said she doesn’t like beer.  But this isn’t true.  I introduced her to a beer called Fruli, and she liked it.  So she does like beer.  Fruli is definitely on the fruitier side of the beer-spectrum, but not everyone can appreciate a nice dark stout.  If your mom says she doesn’t like beer, introduce her to a Fruli.  She might like it.

If you knew what kind of beer you like, you won ‘t be able to say you don’t like beer.  It’s just a matter of easing the doubters into the range of flavours that exist in the beer world.  There are thousands of different breweries, and every brewery makes a different beer, so you’re bound to like one of them.

Unless you’re a beer traditionalist, and believe in the “German Beer Purity Law” of reinheitsgebot.   This law states that the only ingredients that can be used in the production of beer are water, barley, and hops (Note that this was before the discovery of yeast and the role that this tiny living organism plays in the fermentation of beer– thank you Louis Pasteur!).  So right from the beginning the purity law was flawed.  But at least people aren’t starving on the street because brewers are using up all the grains and barley needed to make bread affordable!  Why limit yourself to only four ingredients when the original reason for the law of beer-purity has long since out-lived its’ usefulness?

How to convince someone that yes, they actually do like beer:  walk into the Lick-bow (LCBO), or a beer store with a specialty beer section, and choose a selection of different types of beers, either at random, or by whatever happens to catch your eye.

These are the beers I bought tonight: Fruli (a 4.1% strawberry Belgian White beer), Mort Subite Kriek (another Belgian, cherry beer), Maple Bock (a 6.5% beer from Oakville Ontario, brewed with maple syrup), Innis & Gunn Original (6.6% Oak-aged Scottish beer), Cochonette (8.5% Belgian Amber Ale), and X.0. Beer (an 8% French beer, made with Cognac!)

Chill them in your freezer for half an hour, and serve them cold.

In a glass!

Sample the different types of beers you’ve bought, covering the range from ales, to lagers, to stouts; amber-beers, brown-beers, cream-beers, dark beers, light beers, fruit beers, pale ales, pilsners and wheat.  Share each beer with someone else so you only get a taste, and if you don’t like something, you won’t have to drink much of it.  If you do, you’ll be left wanting more.

And, you’ll know what to get next time!

Fruli is a delicious, sweet beer that tastes more like fruit-juice or pop, made with real strawberry juice, it also has a hint of sourness like a sour beer.  For info on sour beers click here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sour_beer.

Kriek is even better because it isn’t as sweet as Fruli, it has an even stronger sour flavour, and the more subtle and complex taste of cherries.  Mmm.  I wouldn’t recommend getting drunk on either beverage (the sugar content would probably give you a killer hang-over, or is that a myth?), but either one makes a nice break from your run-of-the-mill beers.

Maple Bock, is a darker, malty, satisfyingly caramel-flavoured maple-syrup beer (which is very Canadian), and brewed in Oakville Ontario by the Trafalgar Brewing Company.

Innis & Gunn is probably one of the more neutral/accessible beers that I’ve tried tonight, although it is still interesting enough not to be boring.  It is aged in oak casks like many wines, it provides a delicious hickory-smoky-scotch flavour, (other beers made by Innis & Gunn actually include Scotch in their recipe), and the carbonation– (are beers carbonated? Or is that just the yeast?  Why are they so bubbly?   Is that where soft drinks get their bubbles?  It never really occurred to me until now).

Please excuse my drunken ramblings.  I think I’m getting more verbose the more I write/drink (I’m beer-tasting as I write to record my first impressions):  Apparently beer is naturally carbonated when it is prematurely sealed inside a container with carbon dioxide, produced by the yeast as a by-product, either in a cask, or in a bottle, or added artificially (I just consulted Google).  I found the info here:

http://beer.about.com/od/commercialbeers/f/fizz.htm,             http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reinheitsgebot,

http://www.thebeerstore.ca/beer-101/beer-types,

Back to my rambling:

Innis and gunn is slightly hopy, like a thorny evergreen tree (just taste the beer if you want to know), and has a pleasing carbonation.

Cochonette is an 8.5% Belgian amber ale; it is an odd beer with a heady, fruity-sour mixture of flavours that are coherent because the flavours hang together, although admittedly odd; a compendium of sweet, strong, and vinegar sourdough.

X.0. Beer, “la biere forte au Cognac,” is an 8% French beer made with Cognac, which is a type of Brandy that is made from distilling wine and is sometimes aged in oak casks.  X.0. has the flavours of wood and cherry (but not a sweet cherry), and the honey a bee would make from the fermented pop-can soda left baking in the noonday sun, or the honey extracted from the queen bee called, royal jelly: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Royal_jelly.

I think my writing has changed the more beer I drink.  Has my analysis of the flavours become more or less accurate, or maybe just less inhibited?

Anyway, enjoy your evening of beer-tasting.  And your cheese-cake.

Happy drinking!

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A poem I wrote: Canadian Winter

Canadian Winter

“Can you think of another crime

where they blame the victim?”

someone asked, on my facebook newsfeed

maybe Attawapiskat, dressed too suggestively?

 

The PM quibbles about a few million

spread out over five years, and finds

someone else to blame

instead of just solving the problem

When white kids need a new school.

It gets built.  (after all/take it for granted,

that’s what our tax dollars pay for)

Children don’t learn

in contaminated classrooms

maybe the children of Attawapiskat

should file a class-action lawsuit:

failure to provide the necessities for life

it’s only a matter of time

before someone dies, if they haven’t already

ill health only requires a proven correllation.

You want to talk a few million–

“Those greedy Indians always with their hand out”,

–“They don’t pay taxes anyway”–:

let’s talk DeBeers

and a multi-billion dollar diamond mine

not two hours from Attawapiskat

in the heart of their Traditional Territory

How much revenue, will that generate

over that same five-year span?

Maybe Attawapiskat, should sub-contract

the Diamond mine, to DeBeers’ competitor

with all taxes flowing to the First Nation

That should just about cover the cost

for a new school with a playground,

and safe drinking water, & be enough

to keep children out of tents

shivering in the cold

-40 degree Canadian winter.

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