On Friday night I attend a talk by Andrea Smith who spoke about the racism that exists in North America around the Violence against Native Women and the struggle of indigenous peoples.

Andrea Smith is a Cherokee feminist and anti-violence activist who is the the  co-founder for INCITE! An aloquint speaker i found that I was really drawn into the points that she made around systemic racism that exists in our North American culture around peoples of colour.

We once were factious, fierce and wild,
To peaceful arts unreconciled;
Our blankets smeared with grease and stains
From buffalo meat and settlers’ veins.
Through summer’s dust and heat content,
From moon to moon unwashed we went;
But Ivory Soap came like a ray
Of light across our darkened way.

And now we’re civil, kind and good
And keep the laws as people should.
We wear our linen, lawn and lace,
As well as folks with paler face.
And now I take, where’er we go,
This cake of Ivory Soap to show
What civilized my squaw and me
And made us clean and fair to see.

This ad was one from Ivory soap (maybe think twice before buying that again) which Andrea read aloud. The importance of drawing back out of history this advertisement is that this inherent training that we receive as western people about indigenous people is that they are dirty and wild. According to Andrea this makes it more justifiable to use other forms of violence against them as though they were ‘savages’ – in her words making them more ‘rape-able’.

I can see how many First Nations peoples are feeling fed up with the way in which they are being disregarded and ignored – treated with little respect for so many generations – it doesn’t become questioned but justifiable.

Now for some they might this provocative, but coming from a culture that has been treating with little respect for so many generations I’m not sure they could find other words to describe their situation. We are still not respecting First Nations peoples when they ask us to stop destroying the land that they eat from, the land they find sacred, and the very same land that they want to live on. Personally, I find the way that indigenous people in this country appalling – but for some reason our governments think that this is ok – it’s justified.

Andrea put it well when she said that “when we hurt one person we hurt everyone.” Right now in Canada indigenous people are asking for our support in a long standing fight against the Tar Sands project.

Later, Andrea spoke about organising projects and her sentiments around burnout rang true to my heart, “We work so hard for revolution tomorrow we burn out and then go the shopping malls [that we wanted to stop] to shop.” To alleviate this she spoke about reformulating the way that we work in activist groups to more then a few people doing everything. Having attempted that with a project in Australia I can relate to demands and toll it took on me afterwards. I think after three years I have only just recovered from all the energy I put into that project to try and make it a success.

Her suggestion: Spread around the work into little jobs that everyone can do in order to contribute, and then have it organised by one person. But to reduce the power dynamic this ‘one person’ is rotated on a regular basis. I think it’s a brilliant idea and I think it’s too easy when working on a project to take on more rather than asking people around us for help. Sometimes people really do want to contribute but don’t know how or are worried they can’t commit enough. But if 100 people contributed 1 hour a week that’s 400 hours a month, which isn’t a trivial amount of time.

A lasting thought from her presentation was to continue to be aware of what we are taught to see and reformulate that image to see it for what it really is – seems to be the best way we can break free from this system of dominance, oppression, and inequality. I know I do about the people and world around me on a daily basis.

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