Last summer I purchased a gift for my daughter from an indigenous artist. It was a beautiful hand-carved comb, from the west coast. “Her first treasure” I thought.
I love supporting the beautiful works and art forms that our people’s hands and spirits are gifted in doing. The authenticity and originality in the beadwork, carvings, jewelry, regalia, moccasins, paintings, and the hundreds of other avenues that indigenous artists transform items into is indescribable. Many times we can see the sheer magnitude of energy, prayers, and love that goes into these pieces when we receive them, we can even feel it. The pieces we receive when we purchase items from indigenous artists are more than just their works of art, these pieces are physical examples of their manifested prayers and hours of concentration and love.
Yet, sometimes, we never see those items we purchase.
I can assume that the same amount of prayers, hours of concentration, and even love may have gone into those pieces that we pay for and never physically see. However, somewhere along the way, that artist makes the decision to participate in corruptive behaviours. And sometimes, those behaviours are repeated even after those artists have been publicly called out on social media and in other avenues.
I never did see that piece that I purchased from that said artist for my daughter’s one year birthday, even after countless messages and attempts to reach out for an explanation months later.
And this happens all too often.
Now to clarify, one experience with an indigenous artist who exemplifies corruptive behaviours does not mean that all experiences with indigenous artists are going to exemplify behaviours that are corrupt (I know how colonizers often skew things to benefit their ideologies and beliefs.)
In fact, many Indigenous artists are honest, beautiful, tear-inducing creators of generations of love and truth in our people’s. Many Indigenous artists are the reason why social stigmas are changing. Many Indigenous artists are a part of our livelihoods.
However, there are instances, as stated above, where payment is made for works from artists and the works are never seen.
We learn as we do work on ourselves that we are not our behaviours.
But that doesn’t mean we should not be held accountable to our behaviours.
So the bigger question in all of this is:
Why don’t we call out our own “leaders” who commit bigger acts of corruption and thievery against our own people?
Some communities have chief and council members who have criminal records and who are charged with theft “leading” the people. Some communities have people working in our band offices with lists of crimes of all kinds and they are the ones responsible for ensuring our people are surviving in our communities. Some communities have teachers in schools with drug charges against them teaching our children. Shit, we even have men with charges of sexual assault against minors working in our gas bars, selling minors their chips and pop all summer. And we don’t say a word.
But what’s worse than that?
Why don’t we call out the colonial “leaders” in colonial systems who commit the biggest acts of corruption and thievery against our people every single day?
We have mayors in towns agreeing to building golf courses on our sacred sites. Yet the only ones concerned with what is happening are the ones on the front lines. We have provincial NDP party members approving the theft and rape of the lands all in the name of oil and money. And the only ones protesting that are the ones whose lands it is impacting.
And the biggest one yet? We have the prime minister of “Canada” commanding others to rape and steal more land, telling others to continue the capitalization of indigenous children in the child welfare system, whispering to others that the mmiw inquiry is just to keep indigenous peoples quiet, and saying to others that money comes before indigenous peoples.
And you know what our people are doing instead of calling him out?
They’re taking selfies with him.
So why must we call out and tell others not to buy from indigenous artists who stole from us and wronged us, but then take selfies with the man who proudly continues the legacy of genocide and colonialism. The man who is in charge of notorious crimes of theft and treason.
It makes no sense.
Sure, we write all kinds of articles and make all kinds of tweets on how wrong and atrocious the colonizer’s behaviours are. Hell, we even hold rallies and round-dances in shopping malls and city streets to make our point. But guess what?
We have to begin to ask ourselves, why is it when an indigenous artist who is of our own kin commits an act of thievery and betrayal, do we hold onto it for our lifetimes, vowing never again to purchase pieces from that artist ever again? We even tell our sisters, aunties, kokums, and our moshums who are looking to romance their partners, to never buy from that artist.
Yet, we will gladly put a check in the box beside the chief’s name who was convicted of stealing from our people. Or beside the councillor’s name who co-signed on the oil agreement with Husky which will lead the demise of our people and our lands.
Shit, we even brag about going to the colonial polls to vote for “NDP” or the “Liberals,” hoping that their nice haircuts and white skin will mean that they will be different this time around.
You know who taught us these behaviours to begin with? When our good old friend Christopher Columbus sailed across the sea and “discovered” us Indians. He committed every act of barbaric treason, corruption, thievery, rape, murder, and crime against our peoples and our lands.
I stole once. I was a thief. 7th grade. I stole an Oh Henry chocolate bar from my teacher’s, Mrs. Aylward, desk. It tasted damn good.
My mom called me every name in the book when I got caught. She beat me with her words. Colonialism taught her how to raise children.
But you know what? I learned my lesson. The shame was deep, sure. I still remember having to write lines in the “in-school suspension room” my eyes all puffy from crying all night and not sleeping and my teacher coming to check on me every half an hour asking me “are you all right?”
I never stole again after that.
We have chiefs and councillors who do jail time and come out, and they still steal. They still lie. And they still cheat their way into power. And our cousins and uncles tell us, with a smile on their face, that they voted for them.
We have leaders of colonial political parties who shut down inquiries on the murder of our women and justify the rape of our land bases. And our cousins and uncles tell us, with a smile on their face, that they voted for them.
We are even at the point of constantly trying to make space for ourselves to be seen as successful in these colonial systems that breed leaders of lying, stealing, cheating, and manipulation. We applaud indigenous peoples who become ministers, or members of parliament. We strive for that unhealthy and toxic recognition from colonialism. We have become so focused on colonial success that we are driving those messages into our children unknowingly.
“You are going to be the next prime minister.”
Saying that to our young people is like saying:
“You could be the next leader of pipelines, violence against indigenous lands and women, justice system, residential schools and the child welfare system.”
“You know what? You are such a good leader that you could lead the ongoing colonization of our people, you could aid in making your people landless! You have the potential to lead the genocide and assimilation of your own people today! I see it in you.”
This needs to stop.
And it needs to stop if we want our people to continue surviving.
Otherwise we are instantly setting up our young ones for a future of suffering.
So again, why do we allow ourselves to keep on operating this way? If anything we need to recognize where these behaviours stem from. The lying, the cheating, the stealing, the manipulation.
When an indigenous artist steals from you after you purchase a piece of their works, do what you need to do in order for yourself to move ahead.
But also remember to treat the system that created those behaviours in our people the same way.
Just because the colonizer commits the same crime as one of your own against you but they give your community a giant payout for it doesn’t mean that they deserve better treatment.
If anything, they deserve a BCR from every community to be kicked off our reservations.
Call out Trudeau for manipulating the conversation of reconciliation from one of truth into a one sided conversation of photo-ops and selfies. Call out those ministers for lying about creating positive change for indigenous peoples when they ran in the elections that you gladly participated it. And call out those mayors for destroying those sacred sites rather than observing from afar and remaining silent.
Some indigenous artists may steal from our people, but it’s time that we stop applauding the colonizer who commits the same behaviours after they give their speech of “change,” “decolonization,” and “reconciliation.”
Because we can no longer cater to colonialism if we want to see change in our nations, communities, and within our families.
And ultimately, we need to call out the colonizer more often than we call out our own.
Because they’re behaviours are killing our young people every single day.