This is my third day off work, without my kids. I am currently psyching myself up to get back in the saddle, blogging seriously and getting the rest of my contract work wrapped up.
I figure this is an excellent time to have a liiiittle bit of a stress freak-out before I get over it and get back to being seriously busy 24/7. So this is me, breaking down the pressure and expectations that plague me daily.
- The Metis and the “we don’t live on reserves” attitude: Or how we adopted the Calvinist work ethic
Let’s be honest…not everything is Kumbaya between Metis and First Nations. Sometimes they call us “the spoiled ones” and I’ve heard plenty of Metis smack talk in the other direction. Plenty of us ARE actually First Nations, but had a family member who took scrip way back when and now we live off reserve. Some (but not all) of us escaped Residential Schooling because of it. Some (so very few) of us actually got our land allotments. All of this…feeling cut off from our relations, the fear of having our children taken too, the resentment our relations felt towards us because we weren’t on reserve, and of course the massive, internalised racism…all of it has led to a psychological need to make ourselves feel better. The best way for a colonised people to do this, is to buy into the ‘us and them’ mentality. And this is not just a Metis phenomenon by any means.
I honestly think this is why so many Metis adopted the Calvinist work ethic, whereby work is everything and you get to rest when you retire. Anything less than this should be punished with guilt so strong that it chokes you.
The truly fucked up thing about this is that it became an unexamined goal, an add-on to our other kinship obligations, a source of pride and torment. Sometimes it is expressed through open racism and separation from First Nations, and sometimes it is expressed as a central tenant of Metis culture, what makes us ‘distinct’. I know many older relations who bought into the idea that laziness is endemic to native people, FNs and Metis alike, and that we had to do everything we could to overcome that. I think the rampant Catholicism in our communities helped inculcate that feeling of ‘sin’ and ‘guilt’.
The Calvinist work ethic taught me that idleness is the ultimate badness. That you let your relations down when you aren’t working to your utmost all the time. For men, this means backbreaking physical toil. If you work away from home, you spend every waking moment working hard so you can get back to your family, and work some more. For women, this means backbreaking physical toil as well…but you don’t work outside the home unless absolutely necessary, and it is your job to care for all your relations.
We took our kinship obligations and layered in colonial gender roles in a punitive sense, twisting this so that when we suffer from the amount of work, we exhibit the ultimate in indigenous pride. We tell ourselves we were always hard workers (and this is true!) but that we became lazy (bullshit) and so we have to work three times as hard now to return to our roots (dangerous lies).
I started to see this for what it was when I was in my mid-20s, but it is very, very difficult to overcome. I remember studying at law school full time, with a part time job doing research while raising my daughters on my own (my ex worked out of town for weeks at a time), tending our huge garden, acting as an Elder’s helper (preparing meals and driving out to the community from Edmonton) every weekend, and helping my in-laws however I could in the spare time I had left (ha!) AND I STILL FELT GUILTY FOR BEING LAZY.
- The Seventh Generation Syndrome
All my life I have been told I was a member of the seventh generation. Of course, now my kids are seventh generation too, and maybe my parents heard some of this when they were young. But what comes with that is always a sense of urgency, of doom. “You are the last ones, you have to save us.”
Very few of our living Elders grew up without being taken away from their culture for a time, and abused. Those Elders who did not experience this fragmentation are passing away at a terrifying rate. So for me, the ‘norm’ is an Elder who at one point suffered from addictions and violence (usually as victim and perpetrator) and cultural dislocation, before overcoming this with the help of the community. On one hand it always made me proud of our resiliency, but it also inculcated in me a belief that I was going to experience abuse and addictions and dislocation too before coming back to my people. In a way, I feel like it is a self-fulfilling prophecy that.
So these people who have suffered so much, would tell us again and again that we were the future, the ones who had to bring the language and the culture back, but also go out and get educated, become doctors and lawyers. We had to become fluent in both cultures, for the sake of our people.
Yes, it can instill pride, but it can also crush you. YOU HAVE TO SAVE YOUR PEOPLE. If you are not working every hour of every day to do that, you are failing a thousand generations of your people who have struggled and fought and died for you. Bah, Christians feel like they owe one man? There are millions of eyes on us, the seventh generation, urging us on, and many of those eyes belong to those who haven’t been born yet.
This is a twisted version of indigenous principles, but it is born from desperation, and as much as you fear the responsibility, you know they are right. We are still fighting for our very existence. Ooh, I’m interested in Soviet ecological history? HOW IS THIS HELPING YOUR PEOPLE? Ooh, I love reading Science Fiction novels..HOW IS THIS HELPING YOUR PEOPLE?
Not one of my relations could possibly be as hard on me as I am on myself, but I have felt that weight all my life. Every single job I’ve taken, every single bit of education I’ve squeezed out of the system has been flinging me towards the inevitable role as SAVIOUR OF MY PEOPLE…but holy shit, that’s a tall order, innit?
- More internalised racism than you can shake a stick at.
Destined to be an alcoholic…for three years I ‘gave in’ and drank and fought tried my best to live up to all those evil expectations of who I was as a native person. And then, terrified, I refused to drink a drop, believing like so many Canadians do, that there is something fundamentally wrong with me and I can’t control myself.
Destined to be a single mother, I endured an abusive relationship because I believed that this was the price you pay for stability…until I realised that in trying to avoid perpetuating a cycle…I’d actually run straight into it.
Destined to be uneducated, no amount of education made me feel on par with my non-native peers. For years (and it still creeps up on me from time to time) I felt like an imposter, like someone had messed up and let me ‘in’ by accident…and at any moment they’d figure out their mistake and kick me out of school.
- I can see it all for what it is, but I can’t just cut that shit out
Being able to name all this stuff is good, it’s important…and I can talk to myself and say, “This is why you’re stressing the fuck out”…but it doesn’t necessarily make it go away because parts of it ARE TRUE.
I DO have a responsibility to do what I can in this lifetime to help my people.
I DO have to work damn hard, because when a whole society is set up believing you are less than human, proving them wrong is not easy.
It’s enough truth to keep me paralysed with guilt a lot of the time, no matter how unhealthy I recognise that to be.
But I also have an obligation to decolonise, so I don’t pass these dysfunctional pressures on to my kids. Sometimes I just have to give in and let all that shit flood over me, and make me feel like a piece of worthless crap…and then I get up off the floor and say, “FUCK EVERYTHING ABOUT THAT, I AM AMAZING!”
This is your seventh generation speaking.
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- nock-knock said: If I had a nickel everytime I heard “you have to learn the language it’s a dying language/ you have to learn our ways they are dying.” I’d be able to pay for my education. I do this happily, but the pressure can be suffocating.
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- ayiman said: oh good lord, this is my whole life. work work work, don’t let your family down, don’t be like those people at (wherever)…
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