The Land Still Knows Your Name
*originally posted to elainalec.com
I recently released a podcast and an infographic titled: Am I Indigenous Enough? In both pieces of content, I discussed colonial markers of Authenticity, and why we need to stop using them to arbitrarily measure whether or not an Indigenous person is “Indigenous enough.” A few of my podcast followers reached out to me to share their experiences about reconnecting with their Indigeneity and not feeling adequate or valid through the process, especially when it comes to language loss and connection to the Land. Their stories aren't mine to share, but I wanted to share my feelings here for those of you who don't follow the Go Smudge Yourself Podcast. Click here to listen to the “Indigenous Enough” Episode of Go Smudge Yourself Podcast At the bottom of this post is the available infographic mentioned in the podcast and in this blog.
So many of us have been removed from the Land, and this removal continues to this day in many forms. For many, it's as forceful as it's ever been through processes like adoption or Child Care Services taking children away to live in foster care. Indigenous students who want to build capacity for themselves or their Nation are often forced to leave for school, some even as young as middle school age. Even more disheartening is the amount of families who have been forced to live off-reserve and away from their homelands since the time of forced enfranchisement leading to loss of status and/or loss of membership.
Still, some of us have removed ourselves more by "choice" than by force, if we can call it a true choice to have to give up our culture and access to Land for services or acceptance by mainstream culture. Many Indigenous individuals have relocated to the cities for various reasons, and many cities have sprung up around Indigenous Nations, limiting their access to their land and forcing colonial bylaws upon their sovereignty. Perhaps the saddest case of all is the self-removal by way of assimilation in hopes of fitting into Canadian culture or feeling safer in a society that doesn't instantly flag us as Indigenous.
Regardless of the reason for being separated from the Land, there is often a lot of shame for Indigenous Peoples. We exist in a liminal space between two cultures. Canadian society has taught us to be ashamed of one culture because the false narrative surrounding it is that Indigenous Peoples are lazy, drunk, stupid, uncivilized, etc., so we are taught that we aren't allowed to exist as Indigenous Peoples in modern-day if we want to fit into Canadian society. Through devastating legislation and assimilationist policies, Canada's colonial government fragmented Indigenous cultures, but never managed to destroy them. On the other hand, the Canadian culture that we are told we are supposed to run towards and assimilate into has made it very clear that we aren't welcome as part of it. As such, many Indigenous Peoples often don't feel entirely confident or wholly within either Western or Indigenous spaces because we are often missing crucial puzzle pieces of language and culture.
My own reconnection journey has been extremely painful. I lost my language at the age of 10, and I still haven't forgiven myself. The shame I felt at being First Nations prevented me from fully accessing my truest self and I buried a lot of knowledge and teachings in an attempt to fit in during my teenage years. My tongue could already barely make a lot of the complicated and delicate sounds required for Kaska and Tahltan, but now I sound like I'm choking when I attempt glottal stops and my Grandmother would hang her head in shame if she heard me try any nasalized vowels. Still, I'm determined to relearn and I'm determined not to let my accent get me down.
I previously wrote about the importance of language revitalization, and I stand by what I said. Breathing life into our languages is absolutely vital in order to preserve our cultures and enact self-determination and Indigeneity. However, as I said in my podcast and infographic, speaking your Indigenous language doesn't make you any more or less Indigenous.
Indigeneity is based upon kinship, culture, values and relationships with the Land, Water, Plants Animals, and, of course, with our ancestors and future generations. When we speak about Indigeneity, we would be negligent if we disregard the reality that the majority of Indigenous individuals lack access to the ability to converse in their Indigenous language as a result of Canada's assimilation policies and genocidal tactics. As such, using language fluency as a metric of Indigeneity is not only unfair and colonial, but it's also further traumatic for Indigenous Peoples. Your validity as an Indigenous person can't be called into question over something that a colonizer government intentionally did to destroy your culture and gain access to the Land you were born to steward.
English speaking or fluent in your Indigenous tongue, it doesn't matter to the Land anyway. The Land knows your name. Your ancestors walked on, cared for and loved this Land. They prayed and planned for you on this Land, and they held the Land in trust for you just as you hold the Land in trust for our future generations. Of course, the Land knows this and heard their prayers. It doesn't matter if you speak the same language as your ancestors when they prayed because the Land hears your heart and your Spirit. As long as you're speaking from your heart, she'll hear everything you have to say. Mahsi, Jen Greenway