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Lorri Neilsen Glenn: Following the River
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Lorri Neilsen Glenn: Following the River

By 49thShelf
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In Following the River: Traces of Red River Women, I gather fragments of stories of my Indigenous grandmothers and their contemporaries. Women are often the marginalia of history, the widows and orphans or the blank pages—unless, of course, we’ve murdered someone, been uppity, are born into wealth and privilege or are the centre of a sex scandal. It’s an exercise in painting negative space—I’ve scoured centuries-old newspapers, out-of-print books, community histories, and provincial and national archives hoping to read around the edges of their lives to imagine them whole, real. Several sources mention not a single female—settler or Indigenous—in their 300-page manuscript. Who did these men think brought them into the world? By the twentieth century, my family web scattered across the Prairies, most of their stories lost. Peguis lands were surrendered illegally and most of the Peguis Nation driven north from their original location on the Red River. My Red River ancestors took scrip, and my immediate family moved into the 20th Century as settlers. But those women are part of my own story, and as a way to honour their past, I search for snippets, anecdotes, census notes, anything. I long for the smell of Northern Manitoba air, the bite of river water, the textures of small celebrations and tragedies, and whispers of women’s voices in my ear from seven generations away. And as you’d expect, I begin feel a chill: women’s stories are saturated with the same attitudes and assumptions Indigenous women face today. Whether the woman is nehiyawak (Plains Cree) or ininiwak (Swampy Cree) or Métis (‘halfbreed,’ on the records of some of my grandmothers), whether she is a church-going married woman, a leader or an innovator – it doesn’t matter. History leaves her unnamed, erased, dismissed and often destroyed. Yet these women are among us. Their pasts are present. Behind the words on decades-old paper, I sense women’s strength, generosity, resolve and an inexhaustible resilience, a burden so huge no one should be expected to bear it. As a reader, I long for the felt sense of everyday lives. An embodied sense of a life invites understanding, and understanding calls me to responsibility (response-ability), and to action. If you, too, crave details of Indigenous women’s lives, I offer the following non-fiction works as a start. First is a book not listed on this site, but found in libraries: Jock Carpenter’s Fifty Dollar Bride: Marie Rose Smith – A Chronicle of Métis Life in the 19th Century. Sidney, BC: Gray’s Publishing Ltd., 1971. Marie’s granddaughter Jock weaves Marie’s extensive letters and accounts into a compelling account of Marie’s life from Red River to Alberta.
Following the River
Why it's on the list ...
It’s an exercise in painting negative space—I’ve scoured centuries-old newspapers, out-of-print books, community histories, and provincial and national archives hoping to read around the edges of their lives to imagine them whole, real. Several sources mention not a single female—settler or Indigenous—in their 300-page manuscript. Who did these men think brought them into the world?
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Our Grandmothers' Lives
Why it's on the list ...
A wealth of minute detail and hard-earned wisdom, this collection began with interviews with seven unforgettable Cree women in their native tongue. Vivid, explicit accounts.
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Why it's on the list ...
If there is one book Canadians should read, it’s Métis Elder Maria Campbell’s memoir. Maria Campbell was born in 1940 in northern Saskatchewan and her singular description of her difficult life is a testament against erasure.
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Women in Fur-Trade Society, 1670-1870
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Why it's on the list ...
Van Kirk’s exhaustive history of Indigenous women’s role in the fur trade is rich in detail and insight. Not Indigenous herself, Van Kirk swam against the tide of “male-stream” history to draw attention to women’s critical role well before Canadian confederation.
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Final Report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, Volume One: Summary
Why it's on the list ...
If you haven’t already read the TRC, start now. Then move to its detailed account of survivors’ residential school experience (available online).
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Indigenous Writes

Just Don’t Call Us Late for Supper

Names for Indigenous Peoples

Any discussion needs a certain number of terms that can be understood by all participants; otherwise, communication ends up even messier than usual. I’ve read a lot of books about Indigenous peoples, and it seems every single one spends some time explaining which term the author will use in the rest of the text, and why he or she chose that particular term. I’ve tried avoiding that sort of thing when talking to people, but it absolutely always comes up.

I find it somewhat easier to start with a list of what you should definitely not be calling us – a little housecleaning of the mind, if you will. Surprisingly, there are a great number of people who still think the use of some of these terms is up for debate, but I would sincerely like to help you avoid unintentionally putting your foot in your mouth. So, between us, let’s just agree the following words are never okay to call Indigenous peoples:

  • savage
  • red Indian
  • redskin
  • primitive
  • half-breed
  • squaw/brave/buck/papoose

This is not an exhaustive list, and there are plenty of other slurs we do not need to mention that are obviously unacceptable. I do not intend to spend any time discussing how the above terms might not be offensive, because engaging in a philosophical sidebar about whether words have inherent meaning tends to end in recitals of Jabberwocky; before you know it, you’ve wasted half the night trying to translate it into Cree, yet again. Or, so I’ve heard.

A lot of people who would like to talk about Indigenous issues honestly do not want to cause offence, and get very stressed out about the proper terms; so, it is in the interest of lowering those people’s blood pressure that I’m now going to discuss various terms in use out there.

First, there is no across-the-board agreement on a term. The fact that all Indigenous peoples have not settled on one term really seems to bother some people. I would like those people to take a deep breath, and chill out. It’s okay. Names are linked to identity, and notions of identity are fluid.

For example, did you have a cute nickname when you were a young child? I did. My parents called me “Goose Girl.” Twenty-five or so years later, if my employer called me “Goose Girl,” it would be awkward at best. There are terms of endearment that my friends and family call me that would sound very strange coming out of the mouth of someone I just met.

When meeting new people, we tend to err on the side of formality to avoid giving a poor first impression. So it is with identifiers for Indigenous peoples. Terms change; they evolve. What was a good term 20 years ago might be inappropriate now, or it has been worn out through constant repetition – like every hit song you used to love but can no longer stand to listen to. There is also an issue of terms becoming co-opted and changed by government, industry, or by pundits searching for new ways to take potshots at us. Sometimes, a term is abandoned because it has become so loaded that using it suggests tacit agreement to some bizarre external interpretation of who Indigenous peoples are.

Indigenous peoples are incredibly diverse; there are all sorts of internal arguments about which terms are best, what they actually mean, why people should reject this and that, and so on. What I’m okay with you calling me might really annoy someone else. If you were hoping this chapter was going to help you avoid that completely, I want to be upfront with the fact that you will leave disappointed. Be aware: no matter how safe you think a term is, someone somewhere might get upset if you call them that. No one can give you a magical pass so you never have to re-examine the terms you are using – not even your Native friend.

Be prepared to listen to what people have to say about the term you use, and to respect what they suggest you call them instead. This is surprisingly easy to do, and goes a very long way in keeping the dialogue useful. I mean, it would be a bit off to deliberately keep calling someone “Susie” when she’s asked you to call her “Susan,” right?

Here are some of the names in use:

  • Indian
  • NDN
  • Aboriginal
  • Indigenous
  • Native
  • First Nations
  • Inuit
  • Métis
  • Native American (more in the United States than in Canada)
  • the name of a particular nation (Cree, Ojibway, Chipewyan, and so on)
  • the name of a particular nation in that nation’s original language (nêhiyaw, Anishinaabe, Dene suliné, and so on)

Notice that I always capitalize the various terms used to describe Indigenous peoples. This is deliberate; the terms are proper nouns and adjectives referring to specific groups. “To capitalize or not to capitalize” ends up being a heated debate at times, but I feel it is a measure of respect to always capitalize our names when writing in English. This is my rule of thumb: if I can swap out “Indigenous” with “Canadian” (which is always capitalized), then I use the big I. I also capitalize names for non-Indigenous peoples throughout this book.

The term Indian is probably the most contentious. There are a couple of theories about where the term originated, but that’s not the point. In Canada, Indian continues to have legal connotations, and there is still an Indian Act; so you’ll see it used officially, as well as colloquially. There is also a long history of this term being used pejoratively – two good reasons why it doesn’t sit well with everyone.

However, it is also a term that is often used internally. Please note this does not mean it’s always okay for others to use the term. I tend to suggest that avoiding this term is probably for the best, unless someone is specifically referencing the Indian Act. There is a level of sarcasm and challenge often associated with its internal use that is easy to miss, and most likely cannot be replicated. If you are interested in avoiding giving offence, this term is one you might want to drop from your vocabulary.

NDN is a term of more recent origin, in heavy use via social media. This shorthand term has no official meaning and is very informal. If you say it aloud it just sounds like Indian, so its use really only makes sense in text-based situations. NDN is more of a self-identifier than anything.

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Why it's on the list ...
Finally, a suggestion for those who’d like a bracing, realistic and sound contemporary resource on everything from language, pervasive myths, naming, the state, and women and treaty rights. Chelsea Vowel’s (âpihtawikosisân’s) Indigenous Writes. Winnipeg: Portage and Main Press, 2016 is instructive and indispensable; âpihtawikosisân shows us the ways the past is present.
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A Really Good Brown Girl

A Really Good Brown Girl

Brick Books Classics 4
by Marilyn Dumont
introduction by Lee Maracle
also available: eBook
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Why it's on the list ...
Too-short a list—I could name a dozen more. And while you’re at it, check your library and this site for the work of contemporary Indigenous women poets such as Marilyn Dumont, Louise Bernice Halfe, Rosanna Deerchild, Katherena Vermette, and more. Poetry, too, can be nonfiction, distilled: you’ll find yourself engrossed in the complicated realities of women’s lives today.
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Burning in this Midnight Dream

Burning in this Midnight Dream

also available: eBook
tagged : canadian

Burning in the Midnight Dream is the latest collection of poems by Louise Bernice Halfe. Many were written in response to the grim tide of emotions, memories, dreams and nightmares that arose in her as the Truth and Reconciliation process unfolded.

In heart-wrenching detail, Halfe recalls the damage done to her parents, her family, herself. With fearlessly wrought verse, Halfe describes how the experience of the residential schools continues to haunt those who survive, and how the effects pass li …

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