Archives For First Nations

(Photo courtesy of Save Wįyąbi Project, who are doing truly amazing work)

I sat in my apartment in a daze today, thinking about the poor babies in Connecticut, and how many families’ lives were irreversibly changed. I kept thinking about my mom, a second grade teacher in California, and how her only responsibility as a teacher for 23 beautiful 7 year olds should be to help her students create, learn, and grow, not to protect them from an armed shooter, or even have to think about such a thing. When you look at the statistics, and see that eleven of the 20 worst mass shootings in the last 50 years took place in the United States–it points to a deeper problem. We live in a culture of violence, and it needs to stop.

Watching the incredible collective action occurring in Canada through the Idle No More movement over the last few days, I’ve become increasingly angry. I’m angry that Indigenous peoples in the US and Canada are in a position that we’ve been forced to march en mass, go on hunger strikes, and blockade roads just to get our voices heard–and that the national and international media is all but ignoring it. Our Native brothers and sisters to the north are fighting against a history of maltreatment and ongoing attacks against Native rights and sovereignty through acts of congress, and have turned to collective action as a means to give voice to the movement.

And I’m angry that here in the US, the Violence Against Women Act is about to expire any minute now, and GOP hold outs like John Boehner and Eric Cantor are keeping the bill from moving forward solely due to the tribal provisions that would protect Native women on reservations.

These are forms of violence. Systemic, real, deep and hateful violence. Violence against our land, our people, and our cultures. The United States and Canada were both founded on violence against and genocide of Native peoples. These nations would not exist were it not for the systematic and government sanctioned attempts of eradication of the Indigenous peoples of these lands. Though we espouse founding values of freedom and liberty, that freedom and liberty came at the cost of millions of Indigenous lives. Is it any wonder that even now, hundreds of years later, we still live in a culture of violence?

The Violence Against Women Act provisions that are holding up the bill are provisions that allow for the prosecution of Non-Indian perpetrators on Indian land within tribal court systems. The current laws state that crimes involving non-Indians are treated as federal cases. But in 2011, the federal government declined to pursue charges in 65% of domestic violence cases on reservations. Clearly this. is. unacceptable. 1 in 3 Native women have been raped or sexually assaulted, a rate 2.5 times higher than the national average, and of those crimes, 80% of them involve a non-Native assailant. This excellent Salon article discusses how these loopholes protect rapists on reservations, because they “know they can get away with it.”

What are Boehner and Cantor saying by not passing VAWA because of tribal provisions? That Native women don’t matter. That they are second-class citizens, who deserve less protection and less justice than their non-Native counterparts. 

I fight against negative representations of Native people everyday on this blog, and these issues are tied up in this fight. Victoria Secret sending a headdressed bikini clad model down the runway, pocahotties on halloween, Blair Waldorf on gossip girl dressing up like an Indian stripper–these images paint Native women as sex objects, as sexual fantasies, as something to be conquered and owned. Yes, other women are highly sexualized by the media, but the problem is that there are no other representations of Native women to counteract these. The overwhelming majority of images of Native women we see are the sexualized “Indian Princess.” 

So I’m tired, I’m upset, and I’m angry. I’m tired of being invisible, of Native rights being ignored, of ongoing and systemic violence going unchecked. I know my thoughts aren’t well formed, and my arguments might not be completely airtight, but we need to stand up. The connections are clear to me, though I know I haven’t found the exact and proper words to lay it out–yet. 

27 people lost their lives today in a needless and horrible act, and for me it became the catalyst for me to start forming thoughts about something bigger. Violence isn’t just individual violent acts, it is much more. Violence is defined by the world health organization as the: 

“Intentional use of physical force or power, threatened or actual, against a person, or against a group or community, that either results in or has a high likelihood of resulting in injury, death, psychological harm, maldevelopment or deprivation.” 

That, by definition, is how the US and Canada have acted towards Indigenous Peoples. We live in an ongoing colonial state that has been defined by violence against Native peoples. And it needs to stop. 

You can start by calling Boehner and Cantor and urging them to pass VAWA:

  • Speaker Boehner’s 202-225-0600 or 202-225-6205 and
  • House Majority Leader Cantor’s office 202-225-2815 or 202-225-4000
This is just the beginning. I feel that this is an important and real time for Native rights, and we will need to stand together in this fight. I’ve often worried that in my fight against negative representations I haven’t given readers images to replace the stereotyped and negative images. So let’s hope that we can replace those images with powerful and strong Native women and men who aren’t afraid to stand up for what they believe in.

Am I totally missing the mark? What are your thoughts? Let me know in the comments.

Other ways to stay involved:
Follow the #idlenomore tag on twitter for up to date info on the movement
Read more about the VAWA act
Post and share more information in the comments

Here are a few more links examining the Indigenous presence in the games!

The argument I’ve been hearing is that with the “inclusion” of First Nations in the games marks the NEW start to a world wide relationship with us as Aboriginal Peoples living in Canada.  The term “unprecedented involvement” has been thrown around quite a bit and I wonder what that means exactly?  Are we involved because we danced in the Opening?  Are we involved because there is an Aboriginal pavilion at the games where “the world” can see us perform, sing, dance, rap, etc.?  Are we involved because we had to be because the Games were taking place whether we liked it or not and to be “a part” of it made more sense than not; at least we get to represent ourselves right?

To me, Canada had a chance to REALLY change the way the world sees “US” and how THEY (Canada) sees “US.”  I can’t help but go back to the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and how Canada has participated in adopting (actually, NOT adopting) it.  Currently 143 countries have signed it and 4 haven’t.  The countries that haven’t signed are Canada, the US, New Zealand and Australia.  Australia has recently signed and New Zealand and the US are currently said to be close to signing. That leaves Canada.  To show TRUE appreciation for it’s Aboriginal Peoples and while on the world stage – could Canada have done more to let people know where they stand?  Should they have?  I mean, we did get to “dance” at the Olympics, but shouldn’t we ask for more?

Irniq is put off by the Olympic logo because of its human form. Its fat legs and outstretched arms make it look a little like a hockey goalie, and the head has a hint of a smile. Irniq says his people rarely stacked rocks to resemble humans.

“It’s a symbol of the fact that someone may have, um, committed suicide or someone may have murdered somebody at that spot,” he says.

If people are interested in looking at an example of an inukshuk that’s not associated with death, he says, they should look at the flag of Nunavut, which features a more traditional inukshuk.

Alano Edzerza, owner of Vancouver’s Edzerza Gallery and the acclaimed artist who carved the 10-meter native art mural at Vancouver’s GM Place (an arena to be used for the Olympics), together with ASICS, has unveiled their ground-breaking collaborative design for the Netherlands Olympic team uniform. 

The designs were unveiled at a fashion show hosted by ASICS at Arnhem’s Olympic Papendal Hotel and Conference Centre (Papendallaan 3, Arnhem, NETHERLANDS). The event was streamed via a feed and is available on demand at and on YouTube at

(Thanks Marjorie, Ryan, and Leon!) 
I didn’t get to watch the opening ceremonies of the Vancouver games live (I didn’t have a TV-until today!), but I was getting constant text message updates along the lines of: “girl, tell me you are watching the opening ceremonies! hella First Nations!” So I finally got around to watching them online and capturing some screen shots of the best parts.
I have very mixed feelings about the opening ceremonies–on one hand, it was fantastic to see the extensive Native presence (when has the US ever done anything like  this?) and a lot of it was culturally sensitive and true portrayals.
But, on the other hand, there were a few cringe worthy moments playing into stereotypes, and the involvement of the First Nations in the games masks a lot of the ongoing issues in Canadian Government/Native relations. 
After the jump, a bazillion more screen shots (once I figured out how to do it, I got a bit over eager) and analysis. 

The First Nations “welcome” was very early on in the ceremony, and it started with the four “host Nations”–the four tribes that are indigenous to the Vancouver area welcoming the crowd and the athletes. The image above shows the Lil’wat nation seal–the floor changed as each community said a welcome in their language. The four host nations are the Lil’wat, Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh Peoples.

As each community did their welcome and raised their arms, these big ‘ol “totems” raised their arms too. I thought that was a little silly. 

This is a shot of one of the “totems” raising its arms. 
Dennis Thomas of the Tsleil-Waututh Nation. This one is nice. haha.

After the four Host Nations welcomed everyone, they introduced the other Indigenous groups in Canada: The Metis, First Nations of the Prairie, the East, the West, and the Inuit…am I forgetting anyone? Each group came in wearing their traditional regalia (with a little powwow regalia thrown in there) and dancing more or less in the styles of their communities. 

Fancy Shawl dancer (First Nations of the Prairie)

The various groups dancing together after they were introduced

Everyone dancing together, kinda cool. 

Loved this woman, she reminds me of my Grandma and Aunties. 

As the athlete procession began, the First Nations participants continued to dance throughout–talk about some endurance! 
Notice the beanie of the Canadian flag bearer–it was given to her by the leaders of the four host nations, and has the symbol of the four tribes. 

After the parade of Nations, Nelly Furtado and Bryan Adams came out and sang a song called “bang the drum”, and the Native participants danced along. The audience was also given cardboard “drums” with First Nations designs to bang along. Sorry I didn’t get a shot of them. 

during the song they did “spotlight” dance breaks with fancy dancers and hoop dancers. 

So, this is where it gets a little questionable. After the Nelly/Bryan performance, the arena floor was transformed into the “North” and this actor dressed up in roughly “arctic” regalia began trekking across the floor. 

Then he started to bang his staff on the ground and waves of “electricity” started radiating out. 

causing all the people to scatter. It just felt a little stereotyped–mystical Native guy tied to nature brings magic to the “normal” community

oh look, his magic created the constellations in the night sky! 

 After the Arctic, they transformed the stage into the ocean (pretty cool effect, actually) and had Indigenous images of Orca whales.

After the ocean, they moved to the forest, with these large “totem poles” rising up, which then transformed into trees. 

Finally, a shot that I loved–the First Nations leaders sitting with the Canadian government officials. I am fully aware that it was completely symbolic, but I liked it nonetheless. 
Whew, so that’s a quick version of the opening ceremonies. The whole thing is on, in three parts, and can be watched here.
So, what does this all mean? Like I said at the opening, I am very happy that they decided to include the First Nations in the games overall–it’s rare, even in 2010, to see such a strong Native presence in a national event. I liked that they acknowledged the communities indigenous to the Vancouver area, even calling them the “host nations”, which is something we as Native people always make sure to do at events and gatherings–honoring the peoples whose land we stand on. I liked that I could sit and watch real Natives on TV, in traditional regalia, getting down to Nelly Furtado. It made me happy to think that for one night, Natives were in the minds of millions of people, and in a positive light. I felt proud to be Indigenous.
HOWEVER. The extensive involvement of Natives in the games in the ceremonies gives off the impression that Canada has a equal, open, and strong relationship with its First Nations communities. Most outsiders would think that Canada is an indigenous Nation, with its peoples having equal recognition in government (see last screen shot), practicing their sovereignty, etc–when this is not the case. At all. Canada, like the US, has not signed on the UN Declaration of Indigenous Peoples Rights UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (oops) , Natives peoples in Canada continue to be the most impoverished communities with highest levels of unemployment (also like the US). 
I admit that I am not as knowledgeable about Canadian Indigenous issues as I would like, but the bottom line is that the olympics are giving off the impression of an equal, happy relationship between the Canadian and First Nations; when in reality, First Nations communities still live in a colonial state, with constant affronts to their sovereignty and autonomy as Nations. 
In the next couple of days I’m going to pull together some great articles, op-eds, and blog posts about these issues. Stay tuned. 
If anyone more versed in Canadian issues wants to write a post on all of this, please let me know!
(Thanks to Michael, Jenny, and all my texting friends!)

Most of my pictures from Epcot come from the “World Showcase” which could be a dissertation in itself–it was fascinating to see which aspects and icons from countries they chose to feature, which were omitted, and how little explanation was given with the structures and images.

The picture above (and most that follow) comes from the Canadian village, which was almost exclusively Native themed–while interestingly the American Village looked like a stereotypical new England town:
Anyway, after the jump, lots of photos of Canadian First Nations Appropriations, a few Mayan/Aztec appropriations, followed by some disturbing representations of Indigenous Africans at Disney’s Animal Kingdom.

behind the totem pole you can see the rest of the Canadian Village–pretty nondescript

More Canadian Village

They had “traditional” masks to take pictures with outside the village

Behind the cash register inside the “trading post”

Trading Post

Souvenir coin machine inside trading post

Dream catchers for sale

Apparently the dream catchers are from a “100% Native Owned” company. hmm.

Now we go to Mexico!

Indigenous imagery on the front of the pyramid structure

Pyramid in the Mexican Village

Moving on to Animal Kingdom, which is partially set in a fictitious, purposely aged and run-down “African Outpost” called “Harambe” which (thanks google) means “coming together as one” in Swahili. Sorry for all those quotation marks. I only snapped a couple photos of things that just stopped me in my tracks:

Get your picture taken with a Real African! I was just struck how these men were put in the same role as Mickey or Donald Duck–characters on display.

Look kids, you can get your face painted like a tiger, or a butterfly, or…

an African Ceremony?!

Still to come, photos from the Disney Wilderness Lodge, a luxury resort that is completely Native themed. Think totem poles, winter counts, peace pipes, and lincoln logs all rolled into one decor.