There is a perplexing bundle of knowledge, a paradox, which continually gets played out between the Indigenous and settler relationship. As I think about what I have experienced and observed over and over again I find it hard to put discourse to the phenomenon in a way that is clear. This is the nature of paradox; it is hard to pull them apart in a linear way. Regardless, this is what I feel I need to do.
While Indigenous people live under, and thus embody, the structural oppression of what has become the nation state called Canada, paradoxically it is Indigenous peoples’ responsibility to be the “teacher” to the settlers who have benefitted from the structural oppression imposed. What I mean by this is that often times it is Indigenous people that have to point out that the very privileges that settler Canadians stand on have come off their backs. Many settler Canadians claim to be interested in resolving the social injustices yet when they hear the knowledge couched in the fear, harm, and anger that the structural oppression has embodied they become too upset.
Settler Canadians become upset for several reasons:
First, they become upset with the level of emotion embodied in the person who has been hurt.
Second, they become upset that the emotion appears to be directed at them as they are the benefactors of the oppression.
Third, they become upset because they do not think they are privileged. Rather, they think they have worked hard for all they have.
Fourth, they become upset because their love for the nation state has fallen beneath their feet.
Fifth, they become upset because of the discomfort associated with learning new knowledge and the cognitive dissonance that has manifested.
Sixth, they become upset because of the iconoclastic nature of the knowledge. Yet emotional upset is inherent in the smashing of icons, even useless icons.
Seventh, they become upset because they are unable to perceive the paradigm discussed and this blindness frightens them.
Eighth, more often than not people get upset simply due to a lack of shared meaning and assumptions associated with new learning.
Ninth, many people judge the new knowledge as not being presented in a kind and loving way, or worse they harshly judge the teacher through a lack of realizing the nature of racism, sexism, ableism and the interactive, exponential, and heavy weight of the reality of these layers of oppression.
Privileged settler people go through an entire gamut of negative emotions as they learn how they have benefitted. Interestingly, many settler people will ascribe these negative emotions to the oppressed person’s identity, rather than valuing that it is embodied knowledge being lived out. Some privileged people will actually say that they have not done this ascribing. They will be adamant that the teacher, or the oppressed person, is angry. In this way, they are of the completely unreasonable rationalization that Indigenous people are not permitted the expression of the fear, harm, and anger that the structural oppression has embodied. Yet they live their more pretty privileged knowledge every day.
If you are not getting emotional about what you are learning you have not learned the knowledge that will liberate your mind. New knowledge is emotional. Stop blaming the teacher who triggers negative emotions; question the teacher who prefers to keep you feeling warm and fuzzy.
They wanted to kill the person who said the sun does not orbit the earth even though it was true.
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Lynn Gehl is an Algonquin Anishinaabe-kwe from the Ottawa River Valley. She has a section 15 Charter challenge regarding the continued sex discrimination in The Indian Act, and is an outspoken critic of the Ontario Algonquin land claims and self-government process. She has three books: Anishinaabeg Stories: Featuring Petroglyphs, Petrographs, and Wampum Belts, The Truth that Wampum Tells: My Debwewin of the Algonquin Land Claims Process, and Mkadengwe: Sharing Canada's Colonial Process through Black Face Methodology. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org and see more of her work at www.lynngehl.com.