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.

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