When Justin Trudeau relied on a platform/promise of truth and reconciliation and nation-to-nation to come in to power, I found myself in a sad and miserable state. What made this feeling worse for me was how so many people were falling for it. I knew it was a political lie. I knew he had no plan to meet Indigenous people on a nation-to-nation basis. I knew he was not going to share the land and resources on an equal basis. Although I knew this what made me sad and miserable was that he was manipulating the hopes of Indigenous people. This I felt was a violation of the worse kind. I know too many Indigenous people who have killed themselves because they had no hope. And I know what it is to live without hope. I do this every day of my life. As a child all too often I felt and observed my hope being manipulated by other people; people who knew better but could not come through for me. Recently I have had another experience of this manipulation of hope. This time it was more of a bizarre form of appropriation.
I must caution you though that reading the paragraphs below may cause within you extreme cognitive dissonance, extreme enough for you to project hatred toward me, or maybe it may deepen that hate you already feel. I will take that risk though because ultimately I know I am going to die alone; die alone without all the pretenders who claim to care about Indigenous people.
Indigenous people have been speaking up, petitioning, and protesting for our land and land related economic rights since the early 1600s. Our more recent protests include challenges to the 1969 White Paper, and in 1982 when the Constitution was re-patriated. And of course there have been numerous court challenges such as the 1973 Calder decision, 1990 Sparrow decision, 1997 Delgamuukw decision, 2004 Haida decision, 2014 Tsilhqot’in decision … . Indigenous people have done our work over and over and over again. It is clear as day we want our Land Back. Again we have done our work.
The latest Indigenous uprising is on the matter of the Wet’suwet’in Nation’s demand that their rights be upheld and honoured. Many Indigenous and settler people across Canada protested in solidarity with them. During these protests I had an odd experience, again a feeling, and an insight when I heard an older white woman share her joy that she, in her old age, was finally able to experience Indigenous people rise up against the colonial state. This older woman expressed her glee where people around relished along with her. I experienced this collective glee perplexing and disenfranchising because it seemed to me that she was making the protests all about her and her need for a happy story and ending. It seemed like the only thing that was important was how she felt experiencing the protest and the hope it gave her. To me this was a bizarre experience of appropriation of hope somewhat analogous to when a wealthy person appropriates the ‘culture of poverty’ as a part of their persona.
Indigenous protests are not about settler Canadians and their need to feel good about themselves. It is foremost about Indigenous people and our need to address in concrete and practical ways the hopelessness that many of us feel and experience. As many know, many Indigenous people feel hopelessness every day of our lives and for good reason. We wake up with this feeling of hopelessness, every step we take is with this feeling of hopelessness, and we go to bed with this feeling of hopelessness. For me, and many Indigenous people, it was a sad situation when Juno award nominee Inuk singer Kelly Fraser ended her life on Christmas Eve. She was only 26 years old and for many she held hope.
I have always felt that there is the need to allow Indigenous peoples the space required to express this very hopelessness. I do this bravely as I soldier on. We need to keep in mind that suicide is only one manifestation or response to living with hopelessness. We need to allow people the right to talk about hopelessness when they want to versus quell and silence it.
My commentary here is not so much about living with hopelessness, rather it is about how it is that our protests are not about a settler’s need to feel hopeful especially considering that most settlers do not really understand what the issues are and what it is that we want: Our Land Returned to Us. We want more than Church charity; We want to live as well as Canadians on our land and from our land with structures that are meaningful to us such as health care, education, and law.
It was my experience that this older woman appropriated the recent Wet’suwet’in protest as hers for her need to feel good. To me it was bizarre because I know that it will not be until settler Canadians stand up en masse to their government regarding Indigenous rights that anything will change. Once this happens, Indigenous people will genuinely experience the joy and glee associated; then settler people can stand behind that. Until this happens there really is nothing for settlers to feel joy about.
Please Creator make them stop these bizarre forms of appropriation. The hopelessness and hope to be felt is not at all, all about them. When it is, the hopelessness sinks deeper for Indigenous people. It sure does for me.
While after reading this, while some people may be prone to act and think into a place of cognitive dissonance and hate the messenger, as settler Jean Koning has stated several times, “Settler people need to shut up and listen” and I will add stop stealing hope that is not really there.
© Lynn Gehl, Ph.D. is an Algonquin Anishinaabe-kwe from the Ottawa River Valley. She is a published author of Claiming Anishinaabe: Decolonizing the Human Spirit and The Truth that Wampum Tells: My Debwewin on the Algonquin Land Claims Process. You can reach her and see more of her work at www.lynngehl.com.