Life in the slow lane: an old turtle’s view of the world Matriarchy can be the new patriarchy

I’m of the unqualified opinion that the acquisition of power remains the driving force behind most of our daily actions.

We either revel in its presence or chase after the dynamics that present us cultural privileges, like freedom and prosperity. The reason that I think freedom and prosperity are cultural privileges is because of the soundless structures that exist to make it this way. Where once our beloved grandmothers used to sit near the pinnacle of societal aptitude, now they sit at the bottom of Canada’s socio-economic ladder. Equity is not something that is naturally built into modern ways of living and we’re powerless within these structures.

So, we find ourselves inclined towards seeking the balance so intrinsically built into our ancestral ways of living. The places that we find our power.

This opinion, of course, is framed by my own worldviews and lived experiences as Anishnaabe kwe, as an indigenous woman. When our blood memory reverberates against the windowless panes of glass that colonialism so eloquently provides for indigenous nations through legislation, like the Indian Act, and eco-genocidal actions, like Prime Minister Trudeau’s recent approval of Enbridge’s Line 3 and the TransMountain pipeline expansion project.

It’s simple to explain any fear, mistrust and anger. Why wouldn’t there be anger? Where once our voices were upheld and respected, they now remain lost in this vacuous hole of hetero-normative patriarchy and colonial capitalism. The inquiry into missing and murdered indigenous women and girls is the newest distraction from other forms of violence against indigenous women, girls and two spirited people. Violence against the land and water is violence against indigenous women, girls and two spirited people.

And what about the people in between? The ones that navigate spaces between prescribed gender roles. Why are we never questioning the way that our history has been told to us? If colonialism is so good at erasing women’s roles within ceremony and places of leadership in our nationhoods, then it’s easy to see how colonialism has erased the stories of the people in between.

Our power was written away. Our people have been disempowered through the loss of our languages, ceremonies and our land. Our continued existence at the bottom of Canada’s socio-economic ladder has many of us working to balance our ways of living.

So, we remain forever chasing the power that we lost. I think that the process of empowerment looks different for everyone. My truth is that hetero-normative patriarchy and colonial capitalism are structures that continue to inhibit my ability to live my life safely and fully. The places that these structures intersect with each other are the most violent. Why wouldn’t I want to over turn the systems that tie me unmercifully down to ways of living that violate the ancestral knowledge running through my veins. But the thing is that I know I don’t have to chase anything because everything I need is already inside me.

However, the trauma that indigenous peoples have lived through since contact with our European visitors is one of consistent violence and continued harm. Indigenous women and two spirited peoples remain relatively powerless because of patriarchal narratives, because of the societal and economic worth that capitalism defines our sacred feminine bodies with. So, this reverberation echoes through our spirits and we know that our nationhoods are not in the places they should be. As women and two spirited peoples we are to be cherished as life givers and water keepers; as the ones that can walk between two worlds.

Without love and support our unbalanced myriad of dignified rage leaves us chasing this power in the ways that our power was chased from us. Removing roles, ignoring voices and suppressing participation are ways that our balance has been erased from our nationhoods. The structures that have been built to maintain the lies that colonialism tells need to have their support systems swept out from under them. Patriarchy is one of them.

Matriarchy is a system that can have the same harmful effects as patriarchy. Utopian visions of reclaimed balance, in the context of our current realities, can sometimes mean squashing the structures that have nearly brought indigenous nationhood to its demise. We can get mixed up between the pain of our trauma and the need to recreate our ancestral ways of living in balance with each other. Our fight is with the systems and the structures, not indigenous men and two spirited peoples.

Our ancestors practiced ways of living that were in balance with other people, the animals, the waters and lands, and the spirit of creation. Absolute power was never one of those practices.  Clanmothers and Chiefs would work side by side to make sure the people were well, through a brilliant system of checks and balances, accountability and transparency. Since our cultures have been under attack, we’ve clung fiercely to what we’ve been taught instead of wondering how this balance was upset by deliberate methods of infiltration like patriarchy, an idea introduced through cultural genocide.

Balance is an art form that has nearly been lost. Nowadays, we’re so busy deciding who is in charge and which photo-ops will help to predicate the fame of our National Chiefs, that we follow the subversive flow that these systems create, instead of remembering and actively living the ways that once guaranteed the power of our nationhoods.

To be honest I can’t help but by humbled by our reliance of the animal nation for our survival. Our own creation stories tell us this. Skywoman landing on the turtle’s back, for example. Our clan systems are built on the brilliantly creative ways of living of the animal nation. With these teachings come a blueprint for our success and the reclamation of our power. The animal nation doesn’t create gendered spaces for power; rather they live as equal parts of a whole. Working together for their survival and success.

As humans, our responsibility as original people of the land is to live in balance. We’re living within a politically foreign reality upheld by structured reality that our blood memory doesn’t recognize. And so we struggle everyday to dismantle these structures. Delegitimize the power of these structures by believing, instead, in ourselves. Letting go of the ideas that colonial, hetero-normative patriarchy will lead us out of quandaries is a deliberate act of reclaiming our own power. Within balance, our power will emerge gracefully and necessarily.

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