Part Three: maskasina

Advertising stories have normalized a perceived lovelessness in ourselves, and with our relations. I have demonstrated in the prior two parts that capitalist notions of love focus on turning towards consuming an external recognition of love as the default, rather than critiquing these assumptions, and then defining it for ourselves.

Something as small as a purchased diamond can be counterproductive to Indigenous resurgence, nationhood, community accountability, reciprocity, and responsibility because it allows us to trade money for time and relationships.

Colonial, patriarchal, and heteronormative oppression have normalized our perception of legitimate relationships, and the more we attempt to represent these advertised ideals, the more we de-humanize ourselves.

Instead of turning toward this idea of external consumption for the recognition of love – and the romanticism of this idea, we can just as easily turn inward to a sense of self-conscious traditionalism in relation to the stories of our communities and ancestors.

maskasina

maskasina is the nehiyawewin word for shoes. You are probably thinking, what do shoes have to do with love?

Maskasina in the Making Lekwungen and Wsanec territories March 2014

Maskasina in the Making
Lekwungen and Wsanec territories
March 2014

These stories have come through nohkom, her relative’s writings, and also through my Michif nitôtem Jodi Beniuk, where moccasins were central in recognizing accountability, responsibility, and reciprocity in your relationships.

nehiyawiskwew and les femmes Michif hand-made maskasina to demonstrate their commitment to their relationship with a partner.

Translation: when you received some badass intricately beaded moccasins, that person is really saying “hey, I’m committed to some serious love reciprocity with you”… as long as you keep supplying the tanned hides.

Joseph F. Dion describes a similar tradition in My Tribe, the Crees where “the bride accompanied by an aunt or grandmother, took with her a new pair of moccasins and a bowl of food to the home of the groom” (1996, 16).

Jodi taught me how to make moccasins during this past year, and related these teachings to relational reciprocity and responsibility. Moccasins or maskasina represented the balance of roles in domestic partnerships.

Traditionally, the hunter, who practiced ethical relationship with the land, and engaged in ceremony with the deer or elk nations for the meat and the skins, provided the hides to the maskasina maker, who tanned the hides, and created a unique signature of piecework. This relationship was based on reciprocity: you couldn’t hunt without moccasins, and you couldn’t make moccasins without a successful hunt. This represents transformative praxis. Moccasins represented engaged and balanced relationships, which included respect for our animal relatives, and the relationship with the land.

Furthermore, Sherry Farrell Racette describes Métis woman as feisty, independent, and capable. With a good hand at everything, they could choose a good husband regardless of her age, because of the status that came with her piecework (2013), which stimulated local Indigenous economies.

Practicing patience in technique Lekwungen and Wsanec territories March 2014

Practicing patience in technique
Lekwungen and Wsanec territories
March 2014

Integrating moccasins into relationship commitment ceremonies not only recognized the value and interconnectedness of all our relations into this relationship, but also the political and economic autonomous agency of the respected partners: the governance structures and economic values of the hunt, and the value of transformation and organization from the hunt to the hides to the moccasins.

These reflections extend further than the diamond love story. Through the process of deconstructing the stories that are sold to us, we can begin to construct a more sustainable, and engaging alternative practice within a commitment ceremony of responsibility, accountability, and reciprocity that are centred around the land. These stories support affective economies, and the integration of traditional laws, such as the love law in our political governance.

Do I recommend that everyone go out into the bush and hunt a deer?

Yes! But even if you don’t, understanding that practice is a start to understand and discuss how materialism and capitalism, patriarchy and colonialism are deeply engrained within our personal and intimate relationships.

My First Hand-made Pair April 2014 Nehiyaw and Métis Territories

My First Hand-made Pair
April 2014
Nehiyaw and Métis Territories

We most likely have a friend, or a friend of a friend who hunts, and a friend or a friend of a friend who knows how to make a mean pair of moccasins, so we need to start developing these networks in order to depend less on the capitalist system, especially when something as normalized as a diamond can be replaced with moccasins through what Dene scholar Glen Coulthard terms relational “transformative praxis” (2007).

These connections demonstrate the community potential of love dialogue and action, and a transformative praxis involves more than the two people engaged in the potential relationship.

Additionally, using an Indigenous feminism perspective, I am conscious and reflective of our own stories, so that we may share these stories in anti-oppressive ways in our lives and our communities, creating strong and powerful networks.

My challenge to you is to turn inward (Coulthard 2007), as I have done through this journey from selling diamonds to making my first pair of maskasina, and ask: is the diamond ring love story a form of self-conscious traditionalism or can we engage in a love praxis that integrates all our relations in our partnerships?

Through this process of self-recognition, I have discovered that centering the land in all my relationships creates space where I can learn to love truthfully.

Loving all your relations, on the land, is radical and resurgent love praxis.

 

References

Coulthard, Glen. “Subjects of Empire: Indigenous Peoples and the ‘Politics of Recognition’ in Canada.” Contemporary Political Theory 6 (2007): 437-460.

Dion, Joseph. My Tribe, the Crees. Calgary, AB: Glenbow Alberta Institute, 1994.

Farrell Racette, Sherry. “She’s a Good Woman: the Economic and Social Power of the Stitch.” Native American and Indigenous Studies Association Conference 2013 June 14-16, 2013. Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.

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Part Two: diamond rings

diamonds.

What was once treasured as a precious gemstone for only people of noble and bourgeois birth, new prospects increased the supply of diamonds throughout the nineteenth century, which opened mass-market availability and consumption.

These new prospects were in fact directly related to the dispossession of Indigenous peoples in the African colonies, and then later in another British colony closer to home, Canada. The continued growth of the global capitalist economy, and with the support of ‘successful’, emotionally driven advertising campaigns, the consumer consciousness and the desire for recognition in diamond engagement rings increased across the world.

The DeBeers love story, “Diamonds are Forever”, engagement ring symbolized everlasting love, and represented the lasting bond and commitment between two people. This advertising campaign created new markets in countries, such as Canada and the United States, where there was NO previous ‘tradition’ of diamond engagement rings.

This narrative continues to use celebrities and royalty to market this idea of a noble tradition which upholds a limited concept of love, which Hardt and Negri explore:

“The modern concept of love is almost exclusively limited to the bourgeois couple and the claustrophobic confines of the nuclear family. Love has become a strictly private affair. We need a more generous and more unrestrained conception of love.” (2005, 352)

Richardson’s Jewelry, St. Paul, Alberta Nehiyaw and Métis Territories  December 2013

“What Women Really Want” Richardson’s Jewelry, St. Paul, Alberta
Nehiyaw and Métis Territories
December 2013

Furthermore, this story is rooted in an external recognition of the love we have in our relationships, and continues to support a heteronormative and heteropatriarchal perceptions of romantic relationships.

“Men are convinced that their love for their future wife is directly proportional to the expense of the diamond ring, [which] also convinces women to expect love [and security] in the form of a shiny stone” (Moosa 2013).

I can attest to that. Working at Spence Diamonds, I had men running into the store asking me if they needed to save three months salary to buy a meaningful ring for their true love. Think about it. Where did they hear that story? Advertising. But don’t worry. Capitalism has a sliding scale for love based on personal salary. How noble.

Ok, some of you are probably thinking, she’s bitter and jaded and single – so spite me… Wait, no…

Call me, maybe.

Yes, I agree, Indigenous people can integrate new traditions into our cultures and ancestors’ stories; so let’s explore this story further…

Let’s start by looking more closely at the initial discovery of diamonds, and then at the “ethical” Canadian diamond.

Diamonds were discovered in the mid 1800s in the Cape Colony, which is now South Africa. As colonial governments were “relinquishing” control over the colonized, their capitalist offspring, the new wave of resource extraction corporations, took their place, conveniently in a space of confusion and vulnerability.

Cecil Rhodes founded DeBeers to take control over the diamond exploration in South Africa. He was an English businessman and opportunist, and happened to be a colonialist and colonizer, or the British History 101 version, a politician of South Africa during the same time as his business ventures. He has been historically acknowledged for his integral role in southern African and British imperial history (Woodhouse).

Fast forward to Millennial Canada. After all, the high arctic relocations didn’t end up helping Canada’s claim to sovereignty, because of human rights issues, the “discovery” of diamonds in the North was seen as a necessary progression in the assertion of Canadian state sovereignty. Canada’s last frontier can finally be developed…

But what does that mean for the nations of that land?

Diamond mining further dispossesses nations from the land: our northern relatives, the Gwich’in, the Dene, the Inuit, and northern Nehiyaw nations, and our animal nations which includes the caribou, wolverine, bear, ptarmigan, and fish nations.

Expediency for extraction creates inadequate regulatory frameworks at the municipal, territorial, federal level, and contentiously negotiated self-government and impact benefit agreements, in addition to pipeline pressures. Furthermore, these mines mean cultural and social disruption for the local nations, with few financial LONGTERM benefits.

Ekati, Diavik, Jericho, and Victor (the diamond mine next to Attawapiskat) are all diamond mines in Canada that have caused a disruption in the social fabric in these communities, affecting relationships from the collective level to the very intimate and personal.

Ellen Bielaski, a past dean of the Faculty of Native Studies and author of Rogue Diamonds, through her experience with the Dene people, found “no tradition of digging into the ground for diamonds,… [rather] diamonds became the stuff of hierarchy and ornament, while the Dene lived as nomadic hunters in a land that required travelling light and moving often” (2003, 24). Furthermore, through her research, she declared that “diamonds and other minerals fuelled the founding of apartheid” (2003, 25).

The diamond as a love story is an imperial, colonial, and capitalist love story. Colonial governments work with capitalist/neoliberal projects, such as the diamond extraction industry, and use advertising to create narratives of consumer demand to justify production, which ultimately means further land dispossession of Indigenous peoples.

So, when we think of how the diamond ring can be integrated into our cultures, let’s think of how wearing a diamond ring affects all our relationships with our relatives.

Ask yourself what’s the purchase of recognition in the diamond?

Why? Why do you really want to do it? The author giving this many f*cks to diamond engagement rings Musqueam, Squamish, Tsleil-Waututh Territories February 2014

Why? Why do you really want to do it?
The author giving this many f*cks to diamond engagement rings
Musqueam, Squamish, Tsleil-Waututh Territories
February 2014

I’m optimistic about reconnecting with our love stories. The next part gets better.

 

References

Bielawski, Ellen. Rogue Diamonds: The Rush for Northern Riches on Dene Land. Vancouver: Douglas and McIntyre, 2003.

Hardt and Negri. Multitude: War and Democracy in the Age of Empire. New York: Penguin Press, 2005.

Moosa, Tauriq. “A man’s perspective on why engagement rings are a joke.” The Guardian November 2, 2013. Accessed February 2, 2014. http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/nov/02/dont-buy-an-engagement-ring.

Woodhouse, Christopher Montague. “Cecil Rhodes.” Encyclopaedia Britannica. Accessed February 2, 2014. http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/501604/Cecil-Rhodes

Part One: From diamond rings to maskasina

decolonizing and engaging with perspectives on resurgent Indigenous love

It’s been a long journey to this time and place in my Masters of Arts in Indigenous Governance. I’m currently preparing to move back to the homeland, and continue my learning through the community governance project component of the program.

I’m taking this transition as an opportunity to reflect and share where I’ve journeyed over the last ten years. Some of my reoccurring reflections have been on love, relationships, and sex (when your mother was a (and your) sex education and home economics teacher, these are not uncommon, but that’s another story for another post).

After graduating with a Bachelor of Commerce degree in 2008, I worked in the diamond engagement ring industry (for one month) and then in the advertising industry (two years). Most of the stories I sold are connected to unlimited growth in profits, including the idea of ‘gifting’ love in the form of a diamond ring.

bell hooks best articulates the impact of advertising on our personal lives:

“Advertising is one of the cultural mediums that has most sanctioned lying. Keeping people in a constant state of lack, in perpetual desire, strengthens the marketplace economy. And lies strengthen the world of predatory advertising. Our passive acceptance of lies in public life, particularly via mass media, upholds and perpetuates lying in our private lives” (2001, 47).

Talk about being in the bowels of capitalism! At times, it was really shitty. However, I also developed useful skills, learned valuable lessons, and eventually found my truth. I consciously decided to decolonize and to question my socialized assumptions through the Native Studies honours degree program at the University of Alberta, and then committed to continue this process through the MA in Indigenous Governance at the University of Victoria.

Native Studies trained me how to articulate my truth (tâpwewin) and listen to my heart, and IGOV taught me how to further strengthen the relationship between truth and love (sâkihitowin).

Speak your truth from a place of love and compassion.

We need to be critical about the capitalist system that structures our ‘business’ relationships. I believe we can engage in affective (love-based) and reciprocal economies that are rooted in respectful relationships between each other and with the land (again, another story, another post). We need to rethink and reclaim the way we view gift giving and how love is integral to these relationships.

Through critically reflecting on these experiences, I can share my stories about how I understand the world, which is an ongoing and self-reflexive process.

I’m asking critical questions about advertising narratives, in this case, the diamond engagement ring story, to open up discussions about how we love, and how we may seek recognition for love through consumption if we don’t question these assumptions.

Some of the most difficult decolonization reflections and conversations that are happening and need to happen are our unquestioned investments in “romantic” love. These discussions on love lead to more questions that I’m working through on the interconnection between love and Indigenous health, economies, and political governance.

I can honestly say that advertising has silenced traditional Indigenous stories of love and reciprocity, and have shaped our perceptions and expectations of romantic relationships and “everlasting” commitment. However, it’s not only advertising that has affected the way we understand love, but it’s also how advertising is connected to more insidious structural influences of capitalism, colonialism, and patriarchy.

Through this ongoing decolonization process, I’ve learned to critically engage with stories. I’ve learned to question my assumptions about stories without history, and I’ve also learned the journey back, through the unconditional love of friends and family, to reconnect with the stories in my history, and the history of my ancestors.

What comes to mind to represent your commitment to love and reciprocity, and more importantly, why?

diamond rings or moccasins (maskasina)? 

I’m going to share two stories from my journey; my journey from selling diamonds to hand making my first pair of moccasins. Throughout this story telling, I engage with an Indigenous feminist perspective influenced by Coulthard’s (2007) framework of recognition. The first is a story about diamonds (part two), and the second story is about maskasina (part three). One explores land dispossession of Indigenous peoples, and the other demonstrates relational and reciprocal love.

 

References

hooks, bell. All About Love: new visions. New York: Harper Collins Publishers Inc., 2001.

Coulthard, Glen. “Subjects of Empire: Indigenous Peoples and the ‘Politics of Recognition’ in Canada.” Contemporary Political Theory 6 (2007): 437-460.

sâkihitowin masinahikana

sâkihitowin masinahikana // love letters

A Love Letter to Myself on Relationships

I needed the time and space to reflect about your past relationships and your attachments to romantic love ideals. I also needed time and space to reflect on how I was going to write to you about boundaries and balance. This past year challenged me, but also gave me the time and space I needed to get to know you better.

When I speak about relationships, it means that we all have varying forms of relationships with other people, non-humans, and the land. Relationships are nurtured on foundations of respect, responsibility, reciprocity, and accountability.

I think we have inherited a warped sense of relationships and what it means to love, and be in love from the colonial violence our ancestors and our other relations have experienced. Contemporary forms of colonial violence continue to affect our relations, as communities, and us, as individuals. Colonialism and capitalism have created this idea of the individual that is very much alone, and that we cannot be whole unless you are romantically partnered in a monogamous relationship.

We have forgotten that we are never alone. The land is always with us. Our ancestors are always with us. The animals are waiting for us. We also hold in our hearts the relations that cross time and boundaries.

With that, you need to work on being a good relative: to your family, to your sisters and brothers in your communities, and to all your other relations. You can imagine and live a traditional self-consciousness of love and relationships. Don’t worry too much on searching for a specific romantic partner. I think that it may be helpful to stop investing in the idea of the one true love and placing so much energy into romantic and sexual relationships.

Do what you love with infinite love in your heart. Love and care for your relations who are in your life, but be conscious for shifts that may happen in your current relationships, and also for new relations that may come into your life.

You need to learn how to say no. Be honest, and don’t feel guilty. People are hurting from colonialism and from living in a consumer driven and commoditized society. You cannot save them all, nor should you feel like you need to save them. Create space, if you have it. Listen, and don’t immediately give advice. Sometimes, people only need to be heard. However, you need to remember that there needs to be a balance. If people continue to take from you, you need to re-establish your boundaries and be clear about it. Speak from tâpwewin, your place of truth. There will be times when you will need to ask for help too.

I feel that there is important work that can happen through your relationships, in terms of getting to know more about yourself, and your commitment to decolonization and Indigenous resurgence in your body and in your communities, on the land.

I see you are doing important work. Be conscious about how you engage in relationships and how you think about love, so you are a healthy, strong, compassionate, and loving being for the revolution.

Remember, if you are feeling lonely, turn inward for self-reflection, but go outside. The land is the centre of all your relationships, and this is where you are learning to truthfully love, a radical and resurgent love.

I love you.

P.S. You might have to read this letter over and over again.