Wednesday, 27 February 2013

Beatrice Mosionier + Christi Belcourt

As I read about the vicious assault on an indigenous woman of Thunder Bay, last December, associated by her assailants' own words with the Idle No More movement, I thought of the sequence of words in Beatrice Mosionier's memoir, Come Walk With Me, in which she describes a virtually identical attack. Much more famous is her fictive treatment of the lives of two Métis girls and women, In Search of April Raintree. This gentle autobiography/memoir is undoubtedly the best of Beatrice's books, however, the expression of her mature and accomplished voice.

There is no book that has been more often recommended to me, than the tale of the Raintree girls. Not only because I am also Manitoban and Métis, but specifically because of the assault sequence in the story, as I have also written of the consequences of assault on the young woman psyche. I put off reading it, however, left the book laying around the house, gave it away, received it again as another well-intended gift. 

When Come Walk With Me came out, I spent a quiet turn of the year reading both books, one after the other. 

First I read the autobiography, because what is real is of utmost importance to me. I was gentled by the voice of this lovely family of women and men, inspired by the confidence that, however harsh the circumstances created and imposed upon us, we can and do survive. Except, of course, when we don't.

Thus strengthened by what is true and for sure, I delved into the fictional treatment, twenty-five years after it was first published and recommended to me. I read it from cover to cover, taking it all in, setting the stories and perspectives in with all that I myself have experienced, witnessed, described, and written, as well as all that I have left as yet un-articulated.

Beatrice' magnanimous decision, to provide a space for her mother's voice within the pages of her own memoir, enriches the tale and strengthens it, by revealing the contrasting experiences of the two women, and through them their testaments on the impacts of Canadian history, in a first-person, multi-generational context. The two stories of the women unfold, in their own voices. The impact of the state is omnipresent.  The wider society's ignorance, ambivalence, dissociation and downright hate, bobs in and out of view, a contradictory inheritance, an ongoing obstacle.

My own worst experience of assault was not like that suffered by the woman of Thunder Bay recently, nor that by Beatrice in Winnipeg, many years ago. My own experience was much more along the lines of what has been presented in the recent warrant executed against Patrick Brazeau.  A man I was spending time with, who had been kind and welcoming, became enraged at the contradictions within himself, exposed through the process of a conversation.  Unable to face the weaknesses and discrepancies in his own arguments, he shifted modalities from speech to physical assault. 

Unfortunately for me, we were not in a mansion on the Hill, but travelling on a highway north of Edmonton. This was long before the days of cell phones, and it took a few days and some full-blown survival savvy, to get myself back again. It took the help of strangers, in fact.

While I have no taste for the media's feast upon the bones of failed senators, none of them, I do think that it is high time that the communities of Canada face up to the realities of Canada. I do not think there is a single indigenous woman author of prominence in Canada who has not suffered from the social agreement that indigenous girls and woman may be assaulted with impunity. As girls, as young women, as young mothers, trying to get from one place to another without the intervention of some entitled other who thinks that whatever we chose for ourselves, whatever they choose is better for all. The police and the state, the doctors and social workers, the teachers and the media, have all to varying degrees shared these criminal prejudices, and have behaved accordingly.

This is not intended to split our communities, most of the indigenous men that I know have also suffered from the same social contract, that affords no protection and no dignity to indigenous boys and men. This is not intended to freeze the hearts of our allies, who have been working within the same warped and warping set of interacting circumstance. This is only to invite a movement into reality, where all the segregated bits of information are held simultaneously, within the heart and within the head, and in both hands.

Forsaken may well describe the circumstances of the victims of one of the many serial killers who prey upon impoverished and/or indigenous women, but an examination of the circumstances of a single case study, by the culpable solicitor general, celebrated as useful to police forces, is not the full answer. Perhaps it will help to appeal to any vestigal and residual chivalry the relevant generations of men may have, in the police forces, but the facts of racism as an endemic and the facts of sexism as an endemic and the facts of contempt for the poor, as an endemic problem in the country and widespread among it's citizens, and spilling far beyond our specific borders, will not be resolved by the decisions of the state, refusing to effectively support the voices of those who have survived. 

Sisters in Sprit was effectively banned by the same government that appointed Patrick Brazeau, in the same cynical hope that by not listening to the truth, somehow the days will pass without the full truth coming into collective consciousness, and becoming a matter for the media to wake up to, to investigate, to grill those talking heads about, to stir up the whole collective population to demand real and very fundamental, meaningful change. 

It is long past time to change the social contract. We are not willing to stop this conversation, until that goal has been achieved.  Canadian media over the course of my lifetime have many times raised the issues, and many times dropped the issues into the great realms of the unspoken, again and  again. Canada needs an excellent continuity person (or a few) to help keep the stories we know altogether and in view, to permanently disrupt the recurrent amnesia that prevents the fundamental shift.

There is a way to talk about violence against indigenous women specifically, and indigenous people generally, that depletes us. There are also many ways to open up these conversations and support the sharing of truth, in ways that do not further the immolations

Accepting the leadership of indigenous women is one of these ways and means.

Moccasin Vamps, Nathalie Bertin - Métis 

I watched the Academy Awards with two artist friends, and Christi Belcourt's Walking With Our Sisters project came up for discussion. One of my friends brought out the second set of beaded vamps she was creating, the first had gone ahead through the mail already, and she kept no picture of it. She noted some small imperfection, and to my own eyes, those quirks of individuality looked just beautiful. 

I thought not only of Christi's project, but another recent resistance to violence project that involved the feet, and footwear:

Aurora House + My Sister's House fundraisers, 2012

Here are a few excellent interviews about Walking With Our Sisters, and the collective powers of arts & healing:

to listen (7:30 minutes) Superior Morning, CBC
to listen (45 minutes) indigenous waves

to read (however long it takes)  metis ramblings website
+ one contributing artist's statement  

Moccasin Vamps, Florence Moses of Mayo, Yukon

It is now thirty years since the Canadian classic, In Search of April Raintree, was published. Beatrice Mosionier published a second novel, In the Shadow of Evil, which I haven't read yet. It has been reviewed, however, alongside Jeannette Armstrong's Whispering in Shadows.

For those who choose to pick it up, Come Walk With Me will fill out the story from a nonfictional perspective, loving portraits of the artist and her family, their living and working conditions, their aspirations as well as the obstacles, all told in the gentle, human voice, straight-up.

This new Canadian classic, Walking With Our Sisters, is an international art show of eloquence and beauty, engaging and affirming the hands and the feet of the women who are here all around, making memorial stitch by stitch for those who are no longer here to speak, stitch, cook, console, write, walk for ourselves. I trust it  will be equally well received and recalled, again and again. That was the year when we...

Her hands and her feet, what all communities rely upon.

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