At the center of Indian Country on Six Nations-Grand River Territory in the middle of the Iroquois Village Plaza is Everything Cornhusk, where we are greeted by a display of traditional cornhusk dolls and acrylic-on-canvas paintings. Six Nations’ multimedia artist Elizabeth Doxtater shares her insights through her art regarding many historic and current issues that affect our people.
From her unpublished book Art of Peace Elizabeth writes:
“After Indigenous people become strong, have clear understanding of traditional values, and the ways and means to express such within the modern world, no longer living in fear of outdated genocidal policies and legislation, we will then start the process of ‘Psychological Revillagization.’ The people will have the frame of mind as our ancestors did while they were living in villages. Peace, power, righteousness will be an expectation of each member of this group. This will counter the current oppressed peoples survival tactics associated with lateral violence.”
There is an ongoing struggle that many of us who have lost our language experience. I saw this television show called That’s Incredible back in the 1970s showing new scientific discoveries. One episode showed if you got bite from a venomous snake scientists could take that same venomous poison and turn it into a cure for that snake bite. I understood from that how the English language that was often violently forced on our people could aid as part of the cure.
We’re kind of like the lost generation. Now we can take some of those words that they have labeled us with, because some words they use are very negative and victimizing. We can turn those words around; we can create a language within a language to survive.
One word which is like anti venom would be “coloniocide.” This would mean putting an end to colonization. This new word is more accurate than decolonize. Decolonize means when a colony is granted sovereignty, but because we never surrendered our sovereignty, that doesn’t really fit. We can’t be granted sovereignty by a group of people for whom we’ve never been subjects. We’ve been “allies with” but not “subjects of.”
Another word that isn’t used very often is “dissimilation.” It can displace “assimilation.” It means individuals from our communities will be able to maintain our identities despite colonialism. We can still continue to participate in mainstream society, but we understand that we are distinct. We know that we are different from non-Natives.
We have a habit of repeating what non-Natives say, so if they put a label on something like Indian Residential Schools then we call it “Indian Residential Schools,” but the reality is they weren’t “ours.” They weren’t “homes,” and they really were not “schools.” So by repeating the name that they gave their institutions, we perpetuate their myth. The Truth and Reconciliation report says the schools were set up as a catalyst to take title of our homelands (Davin Report 1879), and in the White Paper Act of 1969 they say you don’t have your language anymore so now you’re going to be a Canadian. That was and is a form of genocide. Instead of calling them Indian Residential Schools, I suggest we call them “Canadian Genocidal Encampments.”
Another common phrase is “intergenerational trauma.” When we talk about intergenerational trauma we are focusing on the negative, when the reality is we’re still here! We still know who we are! If I saw you on the street, we’d nod even if I didn’t know you; we still knowledge each other, so we’re still distinct.
Instead of talking about intergenerational trauma (which is still here and we’re still dealing with and healing from), we can now talk about intergenerational survival and intergenerational healing. Those phrases can displace intergenerational trauma because “intergenerational survival” and “intergenerational healing” gives our young people the opportunity to celebrate the same resilience of our ancestors and become empowered as a result.
People’s individual experiences are unique, and I think we’re at a time in history where we’re just starting to more openly talk about how all those negative things impact our people. To a certain extent, we’re becoming more forgiving of ourselves and of each other. We understand people who are struggling to find their way back to the important teachings that were kept safe for us.
Formerly, there was an understanding that if you were raised in the city or if you were raised on the reserve there were two different world views, but I’m not sure it’s like that anymore. I think you will find that for a lot of people it’s like feeling like you’re the only one that’s raised in the city, so you don’t know anything about living in your home community or you’re the only one living on the reserve whose understanding about traditions is limited, or whichever way you understand your reality.
One of the things that gets lost is we repeat the statistics and the trauma that occurs, and we mistake that for our identity. We have to remember that we come from the Indigenous Nations of North America. We come from a history that was powerful, and it was beautiful. Our traditions were based on our people appreciating and giving thanksgiving to the wonder and beauty of everything in Creation.
In those teachings, we continue to have a responsibility to give thanks for those gifts from Creator. We understood we had a responsibility to take care of Mother Earth for our future generations. We are forgetting that because we are so focused on the trauma that happened to our people—we have to acknowledge that trauma and work through it. Now it is time to remind ourselves that we come from a rich culture.
We were all given our own mind. Our minds are precious and should be protected. We decide what we will allow in. We also learn what we should be protected from. Our mind is a gift from Shonkwaya’tihsonh. It is a sacred place. It is the first thing that is mentioned in the Great Law. A healthy mind is part of the “Great Peace.”
We can wear the peace like armour. It can protect us like it protected our ancestors. After all of the effort to commit any and every form of genocide against our ancestors, we are the evidence of the strength, endurance, and resilience of our people, protected by peace. We just need to remember: we are the real people of this land. Our breath comes from Shonkwaya’tihsonh; our bodies come from Mother Earth. We are still here, and we are gifts! We need to wear that knowledge as armour, not to boast, but to dismiss anything that has been an imposed, oppressive mind set. The lateral violence that can be epidemic in many of our communities can be dismissed using the power of peace, power, righteousness, love, unity, good-mindedness, and compassion. This isn’t a list of words that we memorize and just recite. We are actively supposed to—by law—practice these values through our actions.
(Art of Peace, Elizabeth Doxtater, 2014)