It’s a strange thing how memories get dragged around with you, awaiting moments to be summoned, or to see a chance to force themselves upwards towards the surface of your consciousness. Two days ago I was on my way to Vancouver to take part in a press conference for the release of the Amnesty report, “Out of Sight, Out of Mind”, which looks at the Violence against Indigenous women in a Resource Extraction Industry region.
I sat in the airplane seat, music streaming through my ear phones and stared off ahead of me. I tried to focus on the music and hold onto the melody because I could feel them coming but I couldn’t hang on to a god damn note, the memories began to surface.
I’m sitting in the bath tub, knees pulled to chest, water streaming over body. I watched the steady stream of blood merge with the river of water and disappear down the drain. Blood from injury. Blood from conquest. I can still see that blood.
Night. Darkness. The shadows and outlines of things surround me. The silence is more of a presence and less of a comfort. My hands move over my lower abdomen as if to console whatever wounds my body held… but I had no comfort to give. I was empty.
Walking down a road in the snow. The streetlights make this memory yellow almost. A sepia tone. The guy with the nice smile told a joke and made me smile. “Called a cab!” one of the other men yelled. I almost slip in the snow, another man steadies my balance with his arm.
He pushes me into an empty room. There is nothing in there except for an empty bed frame. Darkness.
“They had you there on the floor,” I can hear her voice crack still, like thunderclaps splitting the sky, “I..I.. swore at them all. Those fuckin’ assholes. Those.. I grabbed you and we left.”
The memories come jumbled in and spun around in my head until I felt dizzy. I clutched the hard armrests and took a deep breath.
I am who I am because of what I have been through. I do what I do because of what has been done, because of what is still being done. Only this time the memories aren’t mine to hold. They are another woman’s and no woman deserves to hold those memories. Even after years of healing and advocating, after countless letters burned with tobacco offerings and sweat lodges, those memories still surface unwanted and unwarranted. Admittedly, they do so less and less and now hold a diminished power to grab a hold of my being and rattle me like they used to.
The memories used to surface at stop lights, while brushing my teeth, putting my makeup on, over cooling cups of coffee and waiting in movie lines. You just learn to close your eyes and shake off your body, as if shaking off the cold. I am so much closer to freedom now, I dare say I am free.
I no longer experience the occasional fits of anger like I did. Laying in bed, my body almost convulsing, muscles tense, fists clenched, screams muffled by pillow. These waves of anger came from what was done to me because it caused me to have to carry this story around with me, to tell it to new could be lovers so that I could feel safe, so I could feel less conscious about what damage was done to me. If it was just a “normal rape” (there is no such thing as normalized rape) then I could heal from the psychological and spiritual damage and move forward but when the violence extends past that and leaves long lasting physical damage… well it attaches itself to you indefinitely as an outwards reminder. I have let that anger go…. although I do still get weary of it all.
I am telling this story but I need to be clear that I do not see myself as a victim. I am not some poor woman who is drowning under the violence of men. I am not a broken soul in need of saving. I am not a damaged person thrashing about in her sorrow. I am honest about how those events have impacted me (of which I have many). I am truthful about how devastating rape and aggravated rape can be because it really does have the weight to spiritually cripple people.
Rape is a tool of genocide. Rape aims for the heart of the people that was placed inside the chests of women. Rape has historical colonial based roots and it accompanied the men first coming over on ships that seen our bodies as conquerable, just as they seen our lands. Before I have experienced rape as a woman… I have experienced rape as an Indigenous woman. To be Indigenous and Female, it is an intersection that has its own unique privileges but also has its very real dangers. Some experiences and feelings are undoubtedly shared across “races” and cultures but there are those experiences that are interpreted differently and even the aggression behind the acts has different beliefs driving it forward (I.E. Indigenous women and women of colours body are there to be violated/conquered/taken/sexualized). We see this colonial aggression play out in our communities, in our own lives, if not to ourselves then towards the women we know and love.
Just because the actions of rape and murder of our women are not blatantly connected to genocide and the colonial conquest does not meant that they do not rest on, and exist BECAUSE of, that foundation that was laid out for them. This is happening because of the history that Canada was built upon, one of patriarchy, racism, and the absence of human rights of Indigenous peoples. One has to question, are they not moving to solve these crucial Indigenous rights issues in the right way.. because they are still “waiting for the Indian problem to solve itself” in hopes that they will die off, be murdered off, kill themselves off, and move away from “destitute reserves” and FINALLY be completely assimilated, where there is no longer an Indian Question. That question scares me, and makes me question where my faith in humanity is but it is a question that I had to ask.
Yesterday at the press conference a reporter kept pushing the question about “Well how do you know……What are the statistics?…. Where is the proof?…” in regards to the violence towards Indigenous women caused by the resource sector worker population and growth.
I wanted to say, “Are our experiences not valid? Are the voices of our women and real stories still subjected to colonial measures of validity EVEN when it comes to something as real as brave voices speaking to the presences of violence?”
I wanted to ask him if he had a daughter who was Indigenous, his own blood and kin, if he could raise her here and trust that she would be safe, be respected, and be seen as valuable as he would see her because that is what we have to think of as Indigenous mothers and fathers.
We need to do better, because our women and girls deserve it. After years of colonial terror and a sweeping epidemic of missing and murdered Indigenous women… god damn it, OUR WOMEN DESERVE BETTER. No one should have to fight to be seen as human.
I needed to write this because I was terrified of using my voice and talking even briefly about that experience. My first retelling of that specific assault years ago in a treatment centre brought me to a fetal position and uncontrollable tears. However, after the press conference was over and the dust settled a bit… I felt more free. This is my long walk to freedom. I am going to be embarking on a short documentary journey with someone I feel safe with that will talk more about violence and my journey and I needed to write this to prepare me.
I am an Indigenous woman who has had to fight tooth and nail to live. I have had a life that would rendered many men incapable of moving forward. I am more than a survivor. I am a god damned warrior and “I am coming for everything they said I couldn’t have”.
I have resistance and rage all wound up in this mixed blood light skinned brown girls body but I also have an immense love for my people, for the land that has given me healing and for the blessing that I have been given to live a good life today. I use this to move forward and to fight to change for the women who can’t remember, for the women who are drowning in memories, who are currently fighting tooth and nail to live and for those who hold these same stories. Know that there are women like me, and many others, who are fighting for change and we hold you in our prayers, we hold you in our actions committed to the possibility of something different. We got you. Your ancestors got you. Creator’s got you. You are thought of. You are loved. You are worthy.