“I’m Anishinaabe and back then it wasn't within the institutions and academies and school boards that I was getting my education. It was actually directly from the community, from the elders, from the spiritual leaders, from the activists that's where I was getting my knowledge from. I never went to high school. I was mostly working within the community through the different jobs and contracts they had. How I gained my experience and my knowledge was through reading books that people were suggesting to me; that were already activists. People that were affiliated with the American Indian Movement. People that were affiliated with so many activist groups within Toronto at the time. Those were the people that were giving me books to read and recommending books. And so, that's kind of where I based my knowledge.
After my first speaking gig, I ended up getting nominated to a Youth Council of Friendships Centre then I became a vice president for National Aboriginal Youths within the National Association of Friendship Centres and I did that right until I was 25 and that's because I got used to speaking in front of crowds of over 500 people. Also, I had this knowledge base around culture.
How I really utilized my masters was just learning from Dr. Susan Dion and Dr. Celia Haig-Brown and their perspectives on anti-racism and anti-oppression theory practice. Even just the colonization timeline and learning the difference between colonialism, colonization and imperialism. All these things I kind of knew to certain degree, but it was more validated and solidified with my education here [at York]. So, it's been a long journey and I've worked in friendships centres and drop in centres counsellor shelter for all for quite some time. I counsel children in care, Indigenous children in care. I worked for the Toronto STAR for a short time in one of the sections called "Young Street".
As of recently I've been doing more keynotes for conferences but in the past 20 years it's been mostly about Indigenous ways of knowing. We have to think about Indigenous ways of knowing more in a fuller explanation in terms of indigenous perspective. People more commonly refer to it as Indigenous culture but who are people with culture? And we think about culture it almost gets boxed in with more artistic display or exhibition, song and dance. And sometimes we say “Indigenous culture” sometimes people's minds go to drums and feathers and beads. So, for us in terms of Indigenous ways of knowing it talks about our pedagogy, our philosophies, our methodology. It talks about our sciences and it talks about even the drums and what they do mean and what is the method behind the drum and why we use the drum? How does the drum take you to the frontal lobes to naturally calm you down? All these kinds of things are implied within our ways of knowing within the language, within this thread that's coming through everything we talk about.
But within the education systems like this and institutions and academies, it's very compartmentalized. Music is separate from science and science is separate from education, but for us in terms of our ways of knowing it's fluid throughout. And so, I've been talking about a lot of those things from our perspective in terms of stories, in terms of cultural awareness and cultural perception.
Like, did you know that a pow-wow isn’t really traditionally or culturally or inherently ours? It comes from Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show and it comes from our people being showcased, and the only time they're able to occupy spaces of privilege is when they're performing. And so, as a singer and a drummer that started out in that way, I was always tokenized. I did that for a long time and I was noticing that when I was doing those things there was no education following up. And so, after every time we do a performance we get up there and we'd sing, and we'd dance people would ask, “What does that mean? What is that about?”
So, then before I did anything, I would offer two minutes of intro and talk about what we doing, then I start describing the dances and describing the drum. And then from that point, I started introducing history. I start talking about residential schools and I started my own company and then after a while of starting my own company of doing those kinds of things I started wondering if I was perpetuating the stereotypes and misconceptions? Am I one of those people's that's contributing to this ongoing misconception of our people that are just being attached to these insiders? And then I stopped.
People get uncomfortable [when I talk about white privilege] and there's a certain thing that they have to process themselves. Even when I was looking at my own maleness and my own male privilege. I didn't realize so many things and sometimes people don't even realize their own privilege. I'll have those kinds of questions [after I speak]. Mostly argumentative or disputing what I've presented, which is fine, but sometimes it's based on anger because they don't want to lose or they don't understand their position within society.
So, when I position that privilege to them or that dominance to them as a racialized person or as an Indigenous or Anishinaabe they get really offended but I'm not supposed to get offended by the thinking that I should be wearing beads and feathers? That I should have darker skin. That I should have long hair and braids. I'm not supposed to get offended by their misconceptions?
[In my lifetime] I would like to see indigenous nations in this country as well as United States have actual governing power within the institutions of government. I would like to see that because we have nationally recognized leaders but they're in an ex-official capacity. They have no actual voting power within institutions of government unless they're sitting in those positions So, it's good to see some of those indigenous people now occupying that space.
We need places like Nunavut. That's amazing to me in terms of their governance structure. We need to move in that direction as well with languages. I mean there are over 50 Indigenous dialects within Canada. Why are they all not acknowledged? I mean, when I walk through institutions that are promoting equity and diversity and they have languages and readings from all over the world but, yet they don't have any Indigenous languages of the territory or of across this land. That's not inclusivity. That's not being inclusive of the Indigenous voice. And why do I have to ask permission from the system of dominance of whether or not I can pray? Or smudge within a building like this? Why do I have to ask them for permission to engage my own culture? Our own ways of knowing. That tells me that we have a long way to go still.
I would like to see the elevation of the collective consciousness of Canadians because I feel that it's not fair to that there's information missing from their education. Huge chunks of history are missing from their knowledge about who we are. So, in terms of the Indigenous here in Canada they might have 5-10% of the story. And how are you going to base a decision and a feeling on 10% of the story? Even recently I was at Algoma University. The reason why I bring that up is because my father went to that residential school and so there was a superintendent of education listening to the presentation and then later after the presentation he said, “Eddy, I use to walk by that school every day and see those children playing in that yard every day but I had no idea what was going on there. I didn't have any clue of the torture or suffering that was happening to those children. Because I thought they were just playing in the yard. And so, that's the thing; abuse is hidden, and people aren't talking about it and they don't feel safe to talk about it because the environments that we've created aren't safe for Indigenous people. So, how can we create a safe space for them? How can we create safer spaces for this conversation that needs to happen?
People have to understand the privilege and use it to create space for this conversation. This needs to happen, it is happening, it has been happening, but it needs to happen even more on a global scale. Because there's so many people come into this country and swearing and become citizens but they're not being told their history. So, they're coming to this country seeking a better life and when they hear that the Indigenous people here haven't been treated well and are still not being treated well they get disrupted. How is that possible? Because Canada has been so great to them. How is it possible that they’re still treating their own Indigenous people basically like garbage? They're still oppressing them. It gives you an understanding of the perceptions of the world when the Pope won't even apologise for [the Catholic church’s] involvement in residential schools.
My hope is that change will happen with the awareness of the people and stoking that fire within them to want to create change and to want to know the truth. More talk about truth and reconciliation. Truth is the hard part. It's disruptive and it's a process that we need to endure in order to move towards reconciliation and understanding what reconciliation actually means to indigenous people. What does that word mean because it's nothing compared to what it means in the dictionary? It's a process, it's a process of healing. It's a journey of knowledge, it's a journey of understanding, reflection, actualization. So many elements to reconciliation.”
Video credit: 4Boake Creative