I remember there was a TV show years ago called “That’s Incredible”. Every week new scientific discoveries would be showcased. They covered a story about how venom from poisonous snakes became the key ingredient in the remedy to cure the (same-species) snake bites. This became a metaphor to me which helped me understand how we could use the English language, which was often violently forced upon our people, as part of the cure.
With apologies to the ancestors, I will try to the best of my ability to explain and decipher in a foreign language the gems that I have come to understand using a strategy called syncretism: the combination of different systems or beliefs.
When I went back to school years ago, I was exposed to words belonging to the language that I was first taught (English) which finally defined many of the things our people have experienced. I was impressed with how eloquent everything sounded. Their language described our history, post European-colonizer contact. They were so academic sounding, so official. The short list included words like: assimilation, exploitation, genocide, inter-generational-trauma, manifest-destiny, oppression, subjugation.
These words were delicious, mouth-watering morsels of empowerment. Before being exposed to this language (academia) many of the concepts had only existed as gut-feelings, or soft-spots. They (the words)filled a gap, the missing piece. But: These words!? From that language!?
These words put into perspective the historic imbalance that had been imposed on many Indigenous people since the late 1400’s. Their own words made our experience crystal clear. Our ancestors were victims! We are victims!
We continue to live under their oppressive regime! Their rule of manifest destiny continues to exploit our people! The subjugation of Native America(s) and many other Indigenous people has held unrecoverable consequences! Within all of this eloquence, something was still missing.
Despite the high volume of traumatic events that occur in our collective (Native) communities, there is another tiny piece of truth that often gets lost in the pile of stories and statistics offered daily (by the media) that overwhelms anyone who might be listening. That piece of truth is this: we’re okay!
Somehow we have been gifted with a spirit that emanates resilience. After centuries of a history that was detrimental to our people and determined by European-colonizers and their leaders, then conveniently denied and/or downplayed or somehow evaporated, we are not just ‘still here,’ not just ‘dejectedly existing,’ but rather our resilience demonstrates something more.
The Doctrine of Discovery is one example of how the concept of ‘manifest-destiny’ has impacted our people. Learning the details of the perpetual and calculated subjugation of a race of people can truly be paralyzing especially if that is the race that you represent. The sub-human treatment of anyone (historically and currently) neither was, nor is, acceptable.
We might be at a time in history where we need to find a manner to address the imbalance, without creating a new imbalance. We may need to, armed with the power that comes with Peace, become empowered, continue to strive for and maintain equality, without the main-stream becoming the new ‘human in form only.’
‘Expressions’ of Hope
It may be important to take the same words and phrases that describe the equal but opposite legacy inflicted by ‘them’ and reconfigure these same words to express our collective Indigenous experience from the perspective of empowerment, reclaiming/reinventing them for our people. We will continue to deal with and heal from the ‘inter-generational trauma’ that impacts our lives, families and communities as well as an overwhelming high number of related issues. However, it might be just as important to take the next step and understand the positive ramifications, start developing a language that expresses our collective successes as we strive to heal or to just live our lives.
We can now take their words, and repurpose them to help our upcoming generations, the unborn, and ‘the faces yet to come.’ The same European language(s) that were often violently forced upon our people will now aid in neutralizing their effect and become part of the cure, a type of verbal ‘anti-venom.’
Definiate (de/fin/i/ate) could replace the word ‘assimilate,’ and mean: the ability for an individual from an Indigenous society to maintain their identity despite colonialism while participating in mainstream society.
Inter-generational survival represents the resilience demonstrated by Native/Indigenous people despite centuries of perpetual (man-made) manifest-destiny being imposed and replaces ‘intergenerational trauma.’ ‘Inter-generational survival’ could also create the opportunity for our young people to celebrate that same resilience and become empowered as a result.
Inter-generational healing symbolizes the expectation that we are able to celebrate the many and diverse gifts and contributions from our people to (both) our communities and the world. Although struggles still exist, we can celebrate the strides that our people have made despite the historic ‘human in form only’ labels that were once imposed on ‘us’ by ‘Canadians’ and ‘Americans.’
Indigecide (In/di/ge/cide) would replace ‘genocide:’ and would mean: with the endurance and survival of Indigenous peoples’ beliefs, culture, land base, language, and traditional governments despite sanctioned attempts to eradicate.
Revillagize will become the next step after decolonize. After Indigenous people become strong, have clear understandings of traditional values and the ways and means to express such (within the modern world), no longer living in fear of outdated genocidal policies and legislation, we will then start the process of ‘psychological revillagization.’ The people will have the frame of mind our ancestors did while they were living in the villages. Peace, power, righteousness will be an expectation of each member of this group. This will counter the current oppressed peoples’ survival tactics associated with lateral violence.
Indigenous Peoples Existence (IPE) replaces Whiteman’s burden and represents the understanding that Indigenous people need patience as the colonizers and their descendants understand and heal from the atrocities inflicted by their ancestors.
Their language has been used to describe and dictate our experience to us and to the world. It has been used in their courts, their media and their education system(s) to explain our historic and current circumstances. We can now respond in at least two ways. First, we can invent words that do not directly correlate to existing words. These words can define concepts that we understand, if only as gut feelings, and that we can explore in order to open a discussion regarding how we can use their language to describe and articulate our worldview. We can also start to incorporate words from our Native languages, introducing them as current social norms.
It has been an apparent oversight that we do not have a word to encapsulate the magnitude of our struggle. I have often understood the lack of a word similar to being an illness without a diagnosis. I do wonder if we actually need a ‘word,’ our word, the one that is supposed to encompass the enormity of our collective, historic and on-going struggles.
It is possibly still to be determined, waiting until the appropriate time to present itself to us and the world. Or maybe we don’t really need one after all. Perhaps our endurance, our survival, our resilience and our on-going existence says it all. Or just maybe in this instance we do need to return to our language(s) to find that word. We don’t need anyone from outside to describe or define our destiny. We will always be here to embrace our own and it can be found in our language(s).
A few years back I was in Tyendinaga. An elder was speaking at the microphone explaining some of the local history. He was a fluent speaker whom I had known through my parents for many years. He talked about the importance of language. He also talked about many things that our people have overcome. I remember that he translated one word. The word: ‘Onkwehonwe,’ it means ‘real people.’ Maybe it is a good thing to know that on this part of the planet, we are validated as ‘real.’ Onkwehonwe: Good word!