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Working It Out Together: Decolonization Dance

Season 3 ends on a high note featuring dance, and its ability to heal. Host Waneek Horn-Miller sums up the significance of dance: “Dance has always been an integral part of our ceremonies and traditions. It expresses our prayers, and our mythology, it celebrates our victories, and is a way to heal.”

However, colonization nearly destroyed dance. Policy forced dance underground, yet it survived and is seeing a resurgence across the land. Briana Olson, Manager, iHuman Youth Society, explains, “Our ceremonies were related, and central, and fully immersed in how we raised our children, how we engaged in trade, and through our language was how we were directly connected with how we viewed our land.” But to the colonizers, dance was viewed as a threat to the values they held. Thus the settlers created policy to ensure language, ceremonies and sacred dances were all banned. This form of colonization has facilitated  the culture of shame that, for many Indigenous people, has become a way of being.

Karen J. Pheasant, Cultural Knowledge Keeper, also speaks to the tradition and importance of dance in Indigenous culture: “We always gave first and foremost recognition to the powers that be, that brought these to us and we gave them with ceremony which was song, which was offerings, and celebrate the good life. What enabled us to do that was through our dance.”

James Jones, is a self described fusion dancer who, following a career altering knee injury, combined hip-hop with traditional dance styles. James, the official dancer with the popular band A Tribe Called Red, describes dancing as “food for the spirit.” When not touring, he has  been leading youth workshops, sharing his own experiences with multi-generational trauma and how that journey has affected his life. James was able to overcome personal tragedy and in so doing claims he was healed by the power of Hoop Dancing.

One interesting final note with respect to this episode: in the segment about James’ life in gangs on the streets of Edmonton,  there are a series of shots edited in, but never directly addressed. We see images from the Red Dress Campaign. This campaign was designed to draw attention to the plight of the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls across Canada.

You can read more about James Jones here at WIOT Zine.

Overall, this season has  been incredibly instructive. Each episode, each facet explored, demonstrates how pervasive colonization has penetrated the lives of Indigenous people. If you are a student or a teacher wanting to understand colonization, particularly in light of the recent TRC Report and its Calls to Action, or if perhaps you are looking to add more content to your Social Studies units I HIGHLY recommend watching this season in its entirety. When viewed together, you get a real sense of the over arcing scope government and policy have played in the lives of Indigenous people in Canada. Additionally, there is a wealth of resources that could easily be adapted for classroom activities, located in the link listed above.

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New competitors bring the heat to Chopped Canada this fall

From a media release:

Twenty-eight chefs from across Canada prepare to compete for the coveted title of Chopped Canada champion in seven new episodes of Food Network Canada’s #1 original series. * In each episode, beginning Saturday, September 3 at 9 p.m. ET/PT, four skilled chefs put their culinary expertise to the test in a battle against the clock and their fellow competitors as they create three gourmet dishes from daunting mystery basket ingredients.

The chefs featured will cook before a rotating panel of expert judges including Massimo Capra, Lynn Crawford, Eden Grinshpan, John Higgins, Susur Lee, Mark McEwan, Roger Mooking, Antonio Park, Michael Smith and Anne Yarymowich. Course by course, the judges critique each meal and chop the chefs from the competition until only one remains to win the $10,000 cash prize.

Episodes of Chopped Canada currently air Saturdays at 9pm ET/PT exclusively on Food Network Canada.

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Working It Out Together: Two-Spirited Gifts

Series host Waneek Horn-Miller opens this episode with the statement: “Love is a special kind of magic that people have between them, and everyone is allowed to have that magic.” This is the theme that is repeated throughout as we explore what it means to be two-spirited, both in traditional communities and in today’s society.

Waneek continues: “Sexuality should be something that acts as a strength rather than a fear as we grow and mature.”

Prior to colonization, Two-spiritedness—one body containing both the male and the female spirit—was held in high esteem. Gina Metallic, Social Worker, explains that two-spirited people were medicine people, pipe carriers, marriage counsellors and teachers. “They especially made good social workers and counselors because they were able to see both the male and female sides equally.”

Traditionally, Indigenous people saw sexuality and gender  as something that constantly evolves during the lifetime. However,  at the time of colonization, the settlers sought to destroy this practice, using the influence  of the Jesuits. Christian indoctrination removed the influence of the two-spirited advisors within the community, effectively breaking down the social structures. This  attitude was perpetuated for generations within the Residential School System; children who exhibited non-normative behaviours grew up ostracized.

Ms. Metallic also discusses how today, those who are two-spirited continue to feel  like an outsider in their home communities due to homo and trans phobias and oftentimes gravitate to larger urban areas in order to find acceptance. However, many times those who do seek refuge and find anonymity in larger centres then encounter racism. As a result, two-spirited people often turn to sex work to survive and “have the highest rate of suicide of any population.”

Robbie Masden shares his journey as he comes to accept and learn to celebrate his two-spirited self.  Growing up, Robbie was subjected to “gay bashing” and turned to alcohol and drug abuse as a means to escape himself. It was not until Robbie returned to his home community and explored the history of two-spiritedness that he began to understand and recognize the gifts he had been given, and began to heal himself.

This episode also features Pasha Partridge. Pasha shares her experiences as a bisexual, and is currently in a serious relationship with a woman. Pasha and her girlfriend left their remote northern community and now reside in her father’s community,  Kanahwa:ke, QC in order to avoid social persecution.

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Working It Out Together: Wayne Rabbitskin–The Long Road Home

Prior to colonization, Indigenous men and women treated each other as equals. They had different roles to fulfill but they still regarded each other with equal respect. But at the time of colonization, governmental policies created social dysfunction, essentially crippling the role of the men within traditional communities, even criminalizing their role as warrior within their families.  This has left men without a role to fill and has ultimately disconnected them from the land and their culture.

Throughout this episode we accompany Wayne Rabbitskin, Chisasibi, QC, as he travels his own journey of reconciliation. Wayne suffers from multi-generational trauma as a result of his parents’ experiences at Residential School. Included in footage are his heart felt words of apology for the pain he caused. He admits to alcohol and drug abuse. He also admits to abusing his former wife and destroying his marriage. This form of dysfunctional behaviour is commonly  referred to as lateral violence. Lateral violence refers to acts of destructive aggression against one’s peers rather than bullying to establish a sense of superiority. It is a means to share pain in order to alleviate pain rather than exerting force to create a social hierarchy.

Wayne is now working to end lateral violence in communities. Following his stay in a treatment centre, where he re-learned his role as a man and came to understand that women are sacred, Wayne committed himself to a 1000 mile walk, visiting other communities like his own to share his testimony. His own admissions are acting to expose lateral violence and inter-generational trauma, and allowing others to heal, while hecontinues to make amends for his own actions.

Traditional Story-teller Isaac Murdoch explains that prior to colonization, ” Women were literally a walking ceremony. They were the water carriers.  And because water is our first teacher, our first medicine, it’s the very thing that gives us life there was a high respect of women because of their strong connection of the land.” Because of this there was a balance in order to preserve life for the generations to come. However, with the arrival of the settlers came the arrival of both sickness and alcohol. Since the men were the ones who traded goods, it was the men who fell prey to the effects of alcohol, destroying the accord between men and women. Isaac believes that men must look back to the days before the settlers arrived and reconnect to the traditional ways in order to heal.

Shawn Iserhoff, Mistissini Youth Chief, also shares his experiences on the land and describes how this connection brings humility and harmony to his life, contrary to his experiences in the city.

Having participated in healing circles myself, witnessing the bravery of Mr. Rabbitskin admissions in order to make amends was particularly moving.

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Working It Out Together: Restoring Justice through Healing

This episode jumps right in with some shocking statistics: 20-25% of all prisoners in Canada are Indigenous. However, in prisons located in the prairies, the  population rate of Indigenous persons is estimated to be 75%.  Kimberly Pate, National Director, Canadian Association of  Elizabeth Fry Societies goes on to say that “Canada’s rate of incarceration of Indigenous people is worse than any other incarceration rate worldwide.”

These numbers beg the question, “Why?” with a follow up question, “What can be done to reverse this trend?”

When you consider these numbers in the context of colonization–the loss of land, language, culture, and ceremony, the significant change in manner of dress, the way lives are conducted, the way people interact–we begin to understand the significant changes undergone by communities. Then, when told “Just get over it already” by the ignorant or unsympathetic, you open up a powder keg of anger and retaliatory violence. Combining this anger, the social dysfunction created by other governmental policies, and a discriminatory justice system, we can begin to understand the “Why”.  And all of this has suited the Crown and its reason for colonization; there has been a consistent lack of people present on the land, thus allowing the Crown  free access to the land and all of its resources.

Isaac Murdoch, Traditional Story-Teller returns again this week to explain the history of how Canada’s justice system has shaped Indigenous life.  He states: ” When you look at justice today, it is not a holistic system. It is an individual system” … “Today they are just responding to the crime and before [within each community] they would respond to the break down that took place.”  Travis Gabriel, Traditional Helper, Waseskun Healing Centre, QC, adds that the cycle of  violence and drug abuse present today “has become habit, and one of our main goals here [at the healing centre] is making sure that whatever problems they had that got them into the prison system, don’t go home with them.”

To break this cycle and to reverse the high rates of incarceration, legal advocates have been promoting Restorative Justice, a process aimed at reintegrating  convicted offenders successfully into their communities.To understand the process of Restorative Justice we follow the stories of Sheri Pranteau and Elijah Decoursay, both convicted offenders, who through the aid of Gladue Reports have been sentenced to individually tailored sentences that promote their reintegration.

Mark Marsolais-Nahwegahbow, Justice Consultant, explains the process of a Gladue Report. Every Indigenous offender that faces 90 days or more incarceration is eligible to have a Gladue Report prepared prior to sentencing.  This  is a unique pre-sentencing report that  specifically itemizes the circumstances of the offender’s life and how they became a part of the justice system. It also includes the voices of community members. These reports are particularly effective if the crime in question is considered minor in nature and the judge believes that Restorative Justice is a suitable option instead of traditional incarceration, or “jail time”.

This is another informative episode jam packed with details that tackle a difficult consequence of colonization, and how reconciliation can be achieved!

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