Reality called last night, Shannon. As you are so out of touch and wrapped up in delusional behaviours, I took a message. You’re an addict, Shannon. Whether or not you actually pick up a narcotic substance or a bottle of booze, it’s painfully obvious to virtually anyone who fights for their own sobriety. I am addressing you in this letter as someone who has never been active in substance abuse, and yet inherited the full spectrum of addict and enabler psychology from both parents. I can tell you with all sincerity that whether or not you are actively abusing a substance, I know an addict when I see one. And I’ve been observing you for long enough to have run out of both patience and compassion.
I’ve been gradually trying to issue you your reality check for quite some time now, but I can’t get a word in edge wise with you face-to-face (where you refer to me with female pronouns despite never having known me as a woman). So I’ve been trying to send it to you in written medium, where I still held onto the hope that because it is functionally impossible to interrupt someone in writing, somehow the message will reach you. But I underestimated your capacity to wave a magic wand and instantly turn every fucking thing I write into a personal issue about your delicate feelings. I even tried to reach out to one of your closest enablers with a long and frankly honest phone conversation, but somehow, you had already gotten to her, too. I now suspect that every person close to you is treating you like you were made of glass—desperately shielding you from any and all forms of critique, criticism, or negative feedback. But let’s get real, Shannon. You’re can’t get yourself all worked up, unleashing your anger into the streets on a weekly basis in all the marches, rallies, protests, and flash mobs you attempt to organize in this city, and then turn around the very next instant and claim bruised flower petal victim status. The only person you’re fooling is yourself.
When I first met you at the 24-hour occupation of a burial site that had been desecrated by a condo developer, hairs on the back of my neck were standing on end from the first moment. Struggling between ignoring this sensation out of silent respect for the authority of the people in charge of the occupation, and a lifetime of trauma that has imbued me with the superpower of second-guessing my every instinct, I suspended my distrust of you—for exactly long enough to get even more uncomfortable about you.
Remember when you plagiarized the phrase “unsettling the settler within” to give your blog a title? Yeah. That was fraudulent, dishonest, and slimey. Let me tell you more about where that phrase comes from, just in case you’ve forgotten — no, make that especially because you’ve forgotten, as I recall you telling the story about your blog only several dozen times, always making sure to point out that you don’t remember where you came across the phrase that has assumed such a prominent place in your writing. The author’s name is Paulette Reagan, she holds a PhD in indigenous governance, and she is the Director of Research for the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. You might have heard of this commission. In fact, you might have, at any time in your intellectually lethargic writing process, simply typed the iconic phrase into a Google search. The title you stole from her 2010 UBC publication is now the title of a book she’s written based on it. Seriously, Shannon.
Remember when, at the site of that desecrated burial ground, the people whose ancestors had been moved into tupperware under a tarp were singing to them, and we were encouraged to join in with drumming along and learning their songs? Yeah. These were prayers we were singing. They weren’t for you. They were for the ancestors. It might have been cute to some people the first time you bashfully interrupted yourself mid-song to start laughing at how you think you sound silly, but that got old awful fast, considering you’re not your daughter’s age. These songs are for the bighouse. They are ancient, and they are sacred. Now I admit that, when we weren’t receiving direct teachings about what to do with these songs or where it was appropriate to sing them or not, I fucked up for a while in relative privacy. I also merrily drummed and sang along in public when these songs were intiated by members of the nation whose ancestors we were singing to when we were still learning them, not having a care in the world about the potential political or ethical consequences of anyone singing their own nation’s bighouse songs at a public rally.
But I’ll tell you what I didn’t do. I didn’t start singing them as if I owned them, in the distinguished absence of any member of the nation to whom they belong, in front of a press conference I had arranged, substituting in my own lyrics as I saw fit to do so. Try being hyper-vigilant of exactly how offensive this behaviour is, gradually becoming self-conscious of your own behaviours around the same issue, trying as delicately as possible to explain this to an elder (and later to a member of that very nation) while you ask for advice on just what the fuck to do about it. What you did there, Shannon, I no longer have any doubt in my mind about. That was full-scale cultural appropriation—theft of cultural practices not rooted in where you originate from, and a fraudulent attempt to depict yourself as having a fully conscious relationship to those cultural practices. But I’ll give you credit where it’s due: you sure showed me what a fucking asshole I am if I’m not singing these songs to the ancestors who once sang them, alongside their descendants (or at least with their prior knowledge and blessing).
Speaking of which, remember the last time you were standing inside the cookhouse, directly next to the doors of the bighouse, crying about how you, as a self-described “white chick”, never anticipated that you would receive so much respect from indigenous people just for caring enough to get involved in their struggle as a community defending their ancestors? Because I’ll tell you something. I remember that moment. It was the last time I was invited to that building, and I’m betting the same goes for you, too. It was also about six months before the first time I heard you declare you’re “part Mi’kmaq”, during the turbulent few weeks that followed the Elsipogtog blockade. The only problem with this is that you’re either Mi’kmaq or you’re not (and you are definitely in the “not” pile between these two options). There is no such nation as the “part Mi’kmaq”. This logic isn’t about blood quantum, either. It’s more like pregnancy—you either are or you aren’t, there is no “part pregnant”. But I guess you needed to give yourself some reason for feeling compelled to tell the Georgia Straight that indigenous people are going to full-scale civil war with the colonial state over the pipelines. After all, if you’re going to issue extremist statements on their behalf, why not just start telling people you’re an Indian too? What could possibly go wrong?
Except everything, that’s what. While you’re playing around with words and songs and identities—which you can permanently shed just as quickly as you slapped them on at the first sign of inconvenience to you—you’re also toying around with peoples’ lives without their consent or, in many cases, even their knowledge. Indigenous people. Individuals and adults and children and families who can’t shed their identity at will, and shouldn’t have to just because of some meddling, loud-mouthed “white chick” with a spotlight who is long overdue for a rehab retreat.
It’s time to pack up the tipi and quit the tourist gig, Shannon. Before you take down entire nations with you — nations already vulnerable due to their marginalized position in this white supremacist society, complicated further by epidemic addiction in some of their communities. It may already be too late for some individuals to repair the damages they’ve done while they chose to not just stick by your side, but actually get increasingly closer, no matter how hard you trample all over their ancestors, who are no doubt rolling in their graves.