I am wondering if anyone felt like I did this past week: weak, hurt, angry, disoriented, disappointed and down right disgusted at what happened on January 11th in Ottawa.
I am sure there are many other men and women who worked twice as hard as I did, but for my part in the month or so leading up to #J11 I spent countless hours up late working for the movement. I spent countless hours thinking, learning, worrying, discussing, praying, offering tobacco to the spirits. tweeting, spreading the word about Idle No More; hours talking with family, friends, offering support to people I don’t even know, and lobbying my own Chief and Grand Chief. And I also went on two road trips to Ottawa in support of Chief Theresa Spence.
For the first time I felt like I was part of something really big. I felt like we had team work and I was energized by our shared pride and unity. And ever since #J11, I’ve been trying to figure out why I was left feeling so down this week. And what I’ve figured out it isn’t easy to admit or talk about.
When I played hockey back in the 80’s, I played goalie for my community, and everyone gave their heart for the team. Including the guys wives who were called our “booster club.” They would hold fund-raising events like bingo, 50/50 draws and dances so that they could hire the bus and get our fans to come and watch and cheer for us at every hockey game. It was a community life style of friendship and get-togethers.
We practiced at our outdoor rink, most of the time in 40-below weather. Nobody complained. If we got cold , we just moved a little bit faster. One time a deflected puck at a tournament knocked out my four front teeth. I was bleeding pretty bad and the coach filled my mouth with tissue, put my mask back on and told me to keep playing. I played the rest of the game, which we won. But win or lose, I’ve always been a team player and I never let it get me down when I lost.
I’m too old for playing hockey now, but in my younger days once when I was at a tournament I was fighting and exchanging blows with a guy from another team. It was just me and him fighting. It was a fair fight. That was until his team mate came and sucker punched me in the head from behind. I wasn’t expecting it and I lost the fight because I was caught off guard.
That’s how I felt about #J11 and what the AFN did to all of us. As a united team, we were expecting to have opposition from the government, from the media and even from Canadians. We readied ourselves for it and felt like we couldn’t be defeated – not this time, we told ourselves.
What we didn’t expect was betrayal from our own. We didn’t expect that the blow to us would come from our own team. The AFN sucker punched us. Not all the Chiefs. Just 20. Out of tens of thousands who marched on #J11 – 20 self-righteous people coasted in on the wave created by the 30-day sacrifice of Chief Spence, and all the countess hours of effort by all of us and stepped on all of us as if we were dirt on their way into the meeting with the Prime Minister.
They abandoned Chief Spence, one of our own, and achieved nothing but to gain another empty promise from a Prime Minister who will most certainly proceed with the very legislative agenda that made us march in the first place. It’s so tragic I can’t even think about it.
The media got it totally wrong. There aren’t divisions. There is intense and wide-spread unity across the country. If a vote for an MP was held today and 9,980 people voted for one person and 20 voted for another – I think the media wouldn’t hesitate to call that a landslide endorsement for that person’s platform. So there is unity like I have never seen before. But the truth is a very small handful of opportunistic individuals decided to take advantage of their own people. They were not the ones who were hunger striking, they didn’t earn the meeting, and there would have been other meetings. That’s the truth of it. The betrayal hurts like hell. But, I’ll get over it.
The events of January 11th may have hurt and thrown us off and also temporarily shifted the spotlight from Chief Spence to Shawn Atleo but I can already see the people gaining strength again and planning for #J28 and beyond. We aren’t giving up.
For me, the events of January 11th have also done something else – and this is the positive part. It has made me think really hard about my own community, my territory of Treaty 3 and what I want for my grandkids. I was born and raised on the rez, so my mind and my heart is always at home on our land and on the water of the Lake of the Woods.
My community has its hardships; alcohol and drugs and other addictions. The Residential school and day school spared no one – including me and my family. As hard as this is to admit – my community is not healthy. We are dealing with the long term effects of the loss of power and pride over many generations combined with debilitating poverty. With nowhere for that to go, we act out with jealousy towards one another. We gossip, we put each other down. We don’t like it if someone does well. We say they are trying to be better than us – and in my community – saying that is a put down. Its not always like that of course – but we have to admit we’ve been sucker punching our own for a long time. We can’t heal from all of this and have our communities come out healthy if we don’t admit it first how much we care for one another, and how much we also hurt one another. We have to figure out ways to bring the unity back. We have to support each other and encourage one another.
Now is the time for a rebirth of our Nations and our people. We cannot just stand back and feel defeated by a sucker punch. We have to pick ourselves up and keep going. And we have to support Chief Theresa Spence and Raymond Robinson NOW as they are on their 40th day of their hunger strike, and as the Women of Turtle Island led by Ellen Gabriel are calling on us to do.
Its taken 150 years to get here. We are going to have our ups and downs and change is not going to happen over night. Our people need to heal and that is what we are doing by being involved in Idle No More – its healing us as we go. We can see this in our youth who are involved already and its filling me with pride.
We will always have the type of people among us who are willing to betray their own people for their own personal gain OR because they think they know what is best for everyone. But we owe it to ourselves and our future generations to try to make our communities better than that. We are better than that. We always have been. We just didn’t know it.
Follow on Twitter: @alowhite1
Alo White (Mide Kiwenzie/Bizhew Dodem /Nanaan Mide) is respected for the knowledge he carries of Anishinaabe language culture, songs & spiritual ceremonies from his community of Naotkamegwanning First Nation (Treaty 3) in Northwestern Ontario. He is currently working on a series of recordings under his label Alo White Recording Studios, recording Elders from the Treaty 3 area under the project titled “Preserving Anishinaabe Music.”