Violence is never simple; it is horrific and loaded with long-term devastating consequences. I know this from experience and have lived it up close and personal.
Imagine yourself standing on a highway as Canadian armed forces tanks roll towards you flanked by soldiers in full combat gear. Army helicopters hover above with men hanging out the sides; guns are pointed at you.
You watch as Warriors scream out in anger as the tanks roll closer and closer. Women are yelling at them to “get back!” and to us, “stay calm!” Your heart is beating so fast, as your body tries to adapt to the adrenaline coursing through your veins. You wait, hold your breath, and listen for that sound, the gunshot that will start and end it all.
You are 14 years old, and your summer vacation has taken you to the middle of a war zone. You are scared, excited and not fully comprehending what is going on. The one thing do you know is, you are unarmed and those guns are pointed right at you. You suddenly understand completely that your life could end at any second, and you wait.
It is August 20, 1990, the Canadian forces have stormed right into the disputed land where a golf course is set to expand onto a traditional burial ground. The Oka standoff would last another 27 days. I would be witness to horrific acts of violence, psychological warfare and finally I would be stabbed in the chest, 2 cm away from my heart.
Memories from that summer have both inspired me to achieve and haunted me. As I write this, my hands begin to shake as I once again feel the adrenaline flooding into me, getting me ready to run or to fight.
I am writing this as an open letter. It is a window to my soul and my experiences. It is for anyone who even hinting at violent action. In the post 9/11 world, the consequences of violent action have changed. There are new terrorism laws that have extreme implications for not only the perpetrators, but for all indigenous people across North America.
I am reminded of watching a heated discussion on the last days of the Oka Crisis that violent action is not the solution. Some of the men wanted to shoot it out, guns blazing and the women where arguing against it, telling them to keep a cool head. It was the women’s role to remind them, that in the great law, it does not state that you fight till you die, but rather you fight till you win. After a long heated summer of provocation I understood the anger those men felt, and the attractiveness of a martyred death, but I was terrified watching as my life or death was being debated. In the end the debate for life and our future won out.
Witnessing that made me understand as an indigenous person we are part of a larger community and we do not exist in a vacuum. All we do as individuals in peace and violence has a huge impact on all of us.
These memories, my new role as a mother and my overwhelming love of all our children have infected me with a need to ensure no other 14 year old has to face that kind of trauma. I think violent action is not the solution, and I have made it a life’s mission to look for alternate ways of making change. Ones based on peace, cooperation and inspiration.
Over the last few months we have witnessed an awakening of both indigenous and non-indigenous peoples, inspired to stand up, speak out, and act. The power of Idle No More comes from the fact that; it is open to all who lend their voices for change. The potent combination of flash mob round dances, social media and teach-ins, has created a new generation of politicized people. It has done this because the essence of these acts is to raise awareness and because it is peaceful. People from all walks of life are drawn together, have engaged in dialogue and are personally inspired because of the simple message- that the peaceful future of this country matters to all of us.
It is hard to miss the understandable undertone of anger and frustration; I feel this to my core. I feel anger at the incredibly damaging impact of genocidal policies like the Indian Act, intentional mis-education of the Canadian public and resulting racism. Rage at how they have ripped at the very fabric of our nations, communities and personal lives. It frustrates me that the most damaging legacy left is; many of our peoples’ lack of self worth. How many see themselves only important for their anger, and their lives only worthwhile if given up in a fight.
I remember a conversation I had with a reporter during Oka who asked me if I was ready to die. I said yes because if I died today, maybe my life would mean something. Looking back 23 years later, I think I have contributed more with my life than I would have with my death.
“The most revolutionary act we could do, is not visiting more violence on our communities, but rather to support our leaders in their fight by bringing the passion and power of Idle No More to the dismantling of the legacy of dysfunction, trauma and violence that plagues our communities.”
We will disempower our opposition by ending the lateral violence expressed on each other and finally unify our nations by acts of respect, love and peace. If our ancestors could speak to us today, they would tell us that violent action will never be fully off the table, but for the sake of our children, it should never be the first option, but rather the absolute last.
Peace and Power to all My Relations.
– Waneek Horn-Miller
Follow Waneek on Twitter: @waneekhm
Waneek Horn-Miller (Mohawk) is an activist and Olympic Athlete. She has traveled across North America speaking about her experiences that took her from the Oka Crisis to the Olympics.