By Christine Luza
On February 14th, Anishinaabe voices will be heard clearly and loudly across Canada. When most would be settling down for a special evening with their beloveds, Indigenous women, men, Elders and allies will gather in vigils, marches, and memorials. Our intention for gathering also comes from a place of love. We want to eliminate violence against Indigenous women.
Over the past ten years, I have been able to bear witness to powerful acts of strength and leadership. Women Elders have traveled to prisons to sing the Women’s Warrior song to inmates, moments of silence have been held in Vancouver’s downtown east side, and women have shared the intimate stories of their lives in talking circles. This organizing is tirelessly carried out throughout the year in every day ways, and on specifically chosen days of action to grieve, celebrate, and demand justice for our stolen sisters.
The violence directed towards Indigenous women is racialized, sexualized, and resultant from colonialism. In fact, violence against women is the primary means through which colonialism has occurred. Indigenous feminist and Cherokee scholar Andrea Smith identifies this ultra-violent logic of colonialism in relation to Indigenous bodies; Indigenous lands are considered to be inherently rapable, exploitable, or there for the taking by colonizers, and by extension so are Indigenous bodies, particularly the bodies of Indigenous women.
Indigenous people resist colonialism through building anti-violence movements that are anti-patriarchal and anti-oppressive. This is important because colonialism has come into being through patriarchy and interlocking systems of oppression such as homophobia, transphobia, able-ism, etc. One form of oppression enables the experience of the other, and this is why intersectionality plays a key role in understanding and dismantling the oppressions of Indigenous women.
Importantly, Indigenous peoples resist colonialism and violence by reclaiming our own traditions. Anishinaabe-kwe writer, educator, and activist Leanne Simpson calls this return to Indigenous meaning resurgence in her book Dancing on Our Turtle’s Back. I think that ending violence against Indigenous women is an intrinsic act of resurgence.
As Leanne Simpson shares, the practice of restoring relationships is central to the idea of resurgence. Taking care of our relationships across genders creates equity, and this in turn enhances our relationships with the spirit world, ancestors, and medicines – all of which are the foundations for Anishinaabe governance. Within an Indigenous resurgence, anti-violence against Indigenous women has broad and holistic meanings and implications. When we restore women’s relationships we restore all relationships in our nations.
Again, as Simpson conveys, resurgence calls for a restoration of Treaty relationships with Canadians. Our Treaties are sacred promises made before Anishinaabe spirits and ancestors, which were intended to be upheld for as long as the sun shines and the rivers flow. They are, in fact, a moral foundation for Canada that instructs our shared responsibility to one another.
Idle No More draws attention to these broken Treaties by demanding Indigenous sovereignty. Anti-violence against Indigenous women here intersects with sovereignty issues because, as Haudenosaunee reproductive rights advocate, Jessica Yee, puts it: sovereignty over Indigenous lands extends to sovereignty over Indigenous bodies.
That is, our nations will experience autonomy when all Indigenous women experience safety, integrity, and choice in our own bodies. Our nations will resurge when we have both healthy relationships to the land, and healthy respect for our women. As violence against Indigenous women has been facilitated through settler colonialism, non-Indigenous allies, or Treaty Canadians, should also work for gender justice as part of the resurgence of their relationships with Indigenous peoples.
As a response to the settler violence which has displaced Indigenous peoples, anti- violence against Indigenous women works to bring missing and murdered women home. By the act of speaking their names, the silence surrounding their deaths is broken. The often undignified disappearances are re-humanized as important losses. Their identities as Indigenous women are valued as they are re-embedded in a web of social, cultural, and spiritual relationships.
This work of restoring the broken relationships is resurgent because it is the first step to re-creating the world we want to live in. A world without violence against women and colonialism. A world that has recovered and birthed Indigenous consciousness. The movement to end violence against Indigenous women presents us with a vision to be actualized. When we speak of this vision we give voice to passion, intention to language, and practice the pathways of our Indigeneity.
Christine Luza is an Anishinaabe-kwe scholar, activist, and defender of Indigneous rights.