With Each Word We Move Closer to Decolonized Voices

Understand that part and parcel of looking towards building a healthy relationship with First Peoples and settler governments we must start with words, names, and symbols. For ten of thousands of years people have moved about the land, come to understand it in way that is both spiritual and physical, and have developed names and histories that stem from those experiences. These are not lost, but they are and have been repressed by subsequent colonial ideas and governments. Coming to this knowledge has been a critical development to both me as a writer and me as Lenape. As one of the most longstanding colonized portions of Three-Fires territory, our area is sorely in need of settler motions to actual reconciliation actions. Naming is important as our the symbols they use to depict us.

firewalk native american history
Still our fires burn upon the land.

We must continue to find it problematic that this amalgamation of settler towns that has become Windsor, Ontario does so much to celebrate one of the few Indigenous folks that didn’t live here. As I write this, the city government is bus in the final stages of installing a statue to honour the great Pan-Indian Confederacy leader Tecumseh in the old Sandwich Town part of the city. To say nothing of the fact that Tecumseh can’t be depicted alone, but rather with this government “handler” General Issac Brock in bronze, this I’ve viewed as an unwillingness to come to terms with the Indigenous presence, both historically and contemporarily, on this land. Tecumseh is not from this area, he never called the region of Windsor home, likely he saw it as battlefield only to help him and his achieve independence from colonial governments. Yet here we are with the only visible presence of an Indigenous community on this side of the river being erected to celebrate local Indigenous cultures and heritage. Basically this follows the path of name a couple of roads after First Nations and throw up a statue to an outsider to illustrate the proud cultural history here and city hall declares a moral victory of sorts. All of this despite the fact that the second fire of the Midewin was ignited here, the Three-Fires Confederacy began on land claimed by the city, and for tens of thousands years people have called this area home before a bunch of Europeans showed up little over three hundred years ago and said none of that mattered. Waawiiyaatanong our words for this place matter because every other outlet of our connection to this place have been attacked and erased by successive waves of colonial-minded governments. And sadly, it is an ongoing process.

 

great-lakes-in-ojibwe
Know this map. Understand these names.

I say this because in a great deal of my recent work I’ve been focusing on instilling astronger decolonialized voice, something that doesn’t simply repeat past traumas, and can serve as a rally point to reclaim our spaces from those that have tried for centuries to erase us from them. As a writer, I’ve often started with the land and built out from that point to craft a consciousness to talk about our experiences on the land. It is a bit of old John Wadland’s Canadian Studies classes at Trent University that still haunts me to this day. Haunts in every positive way imaginable and it is a manner of looking at the world that jives with being Lenape on Turtle Island. We must know that all things of importance stem from the land because we are an equal, if unruly part of creation. We cannot exist without it, through water and air and the various ways that creation nurtures us, we come to understand ourselves in terms of our physical world. Our history, our land, our words are all intertwined in ways that make us either struggle or thrive. The land matters. It teaches us everything we need know about our existence. It teaches us how to speak of our place upon it.

Pontiac_conspiracy
Pontiac speaks at council

It is important to take in one’s surroundings, understand the language and symbols being used to express our history, and find a manner in which we can turn our environment into an inclusive and nurturing place for all it’s inhabitants. Language matters. Our history and our words arise from our experience upon the land. And such is the case with a place like Waawiiyaatanong, This is an important word for us all to know. It should be spoken by those that now seek to claim their Indigenous heritage, here, Speak it often, because Windsor and Detroit and all the names for the counties and suburbs are words that seek to erase everything that came before and place only the borders and ideas of our settler present before us need be challenged. Tecumseh, a Shawnee warrior with a Lenape prophet, would have understood this. It is why they fought Harrison for control of the land that is now Indiana, it is why they joined the British to fight the Americans. The manner in which one names the world reflects the understanding they have of it, the frame that they seek to understand creation it. Frameworks build understanding. They help us to know creation better, live more within its means.

Know this: that when a statue to a Shawnee leader not from Waawiiyaatanong goes up and the mayor of your city directs folks to a museum rather than a celebration of contemporary Indigenous artists, vendors, and residents for National Indigenous Awareness day that culture genocide is a learned habit. It is also practiced, as there are now plaques to Chief Joseph White, the great warrior Pontiac, the Odawa village directly east of downtown. All acknowledges here are seemingly done for the political strengthening of settler ways. Writers and artists and non-Indigenous residents must come to understand the way the land and spaces have been called and who has lived and continues to live upon them. There are those around us with the knowledge and care of traditional histories and names. Getting names right is important for respect, sadly I’ve rarely seen this from our local intelligentsia/academics, and we must as peoples of the land, those with ancestors millennia old here, must begin to insist in inclusion of our physical and ancestral birthright and to be heard by sequestered academics and clueless politicians. We must continue to speak in the terms the generations before colonization taught us, free our world from the colonial violence of half-true histories, colonializer-driven agenda holders, and pry open a space for us in areas like Waawiiyaatanong cut up by settler borders and fueled by ignorant half-truths to keep their the mythology of the lost or civilized Indian in place.

 

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