Dear White women and men,
The other day I encountered a White man – he had African Indigenous art all over his walls. As we talked he began to argue that all my Indigenous knowledge (IK) was lost. I said to him, "no it is not, my IK is all around me, and further as a matter of fact it is sitting right in front of you (meaning me)." When I returned home and thought about it more, I realized that it was his IK that is lost to him – not my IK to me. And this is why he collects the IK of other nations and nails it to his walls. It is a projection of his own loss.
The other day I was walking with an elder – or better said an Indigenous man. Eventually we encountered a White woman in desperate need of IK. It was in the way that she looked at him with worship in her eyes and glee on her face that helped me appreciate the interference of a "White woman's gaze". I could never genuinely look at an "elder" in that way – man or woman. When I thought about it more I realized that the adoring White woman made me more vulnerable than I already am. Oh, how I wish that White women and White men for that matter would take the effort and return to their own IK and leave other Indigenous women and men the space they need to do the work they have to do. And yes, I do know that some "elders" want and expect White people to look at them in a particular way – this is precisely one aspect of my point.
The other day I observed an Anishinaabe man engaged in ceremony. It was apparent that all the White women and White men thought he was a great holder of IK. In my mind I thought when the day comes that he has an Indigenous woman (not a White woman) of equal status working in equal unison with him will be the day that I consider a man a great holder of IK.
The other day I encountered a White woman who argued that it is okay for others to rely on Indigenous men and the IK that they carry void of the presence and participation of women. This person argued this even though she knew full well that patriarchy was an issue in our society even for the men she loves and cares for. "Why is it then that the exotic Indigenous man is good enough for her?" is a question I ask myself. Obviously this person has not learned the lesson that gender balance is fundamental before all else. One reason I suspect she thinks it is okay is because this man and his knowledge came to her in a dream. In any one of the IK traditions a White woman's dream or vision does not represent IK, the ultimate truth, nor for that matter what is sacred.
I know many Indigenous people who do not think the way White men and White women fortify yet another oppressive patriarchy is okay. Many know that your need for other peoples' IK is a barrier to our wellness and the community work that we have to do. That said, if you really want to do contemporary IK work such as address some of the injustices imposed on us, help Indigenous women as we define help to be, not as you define help to be. For example, many know that Indigenous women are more likely to suffer from sexualized violence. There are now over six hundred missing and murdered women documented in Canada. Further, forty-five percent of Indigenous mothers age fifteen years and under have a child where the father's signature is not on the birth certificate. Often times this lack of a signature is not the mother's fault. Rather, rape, gang rape, and other acts of sexualized violence; as well as fathers refusing to officially acknowledge with a signature that they are the fathers are some of the reasons why this this happens. As a result of the lack of a father's signature many mothers and babies of Indigenous nations are placed in vulnerable locations in their communities and are denied their treaty rights such as housing.
Having voiced this, also know that people genuinely interested in the revolution of IK must begin with their own IK. We all have it - even White people have it. Yay! As Anishinaabe respected traditional knowledge holder Jim Dumont has stated - all people need to go a back to their own IK. "What is this some may ask?" It is the knowledge that predates patriarchy, industrialization, materialism, and the economic paradigm that is now hegemonic. Go find, express, and celebrate your own IK. Clearly, as we move forward other peoples' IK must not be a free-for-all. If it were a free-for-all no one would do the hard work they have to do and sadly we would remain void of significant IK. Further, our attempt at gaining the required critical mass would be confounded if we simply took other peoples' IK. Interestingly, after wrestling with the dynamics impinging on your own IK you will have a better idea of your place in other peoples' IK traditions.
Worthy of stressing in your process to your IK you need to be cognizant of the fact that we should not step on other people as we collectively come to IK. Feminist theory is careful to point out that in our effort toward emancipation we must think and act in the context of respecting the needs of others who are less fortunate. Clearly one has not gained emancipation if they have denied others in their process of emancipation. White feminism was critiqued for not being cognizant of this a while back and has evolved to this more enlightened understanding. Thank goodness as Indigenous and Black women are in need of good informed allies.
To this end, Dear Non-Indigenous White women and White men, it is not racism you experience from me. Rather, it is hurt and anger generated due to your need for "my" IK, a hurt no less that is generated by your selfishness and a lack of critical thinking. Stop defining these feelings through your need for "my" IK.
Here are some related links: