I’ve been thinking a lot lately about when, if ever, it is acceptable to invoke violence to achieve certain means. I certainly have had to employ physical force to protect myself in the past, and the memory of that fear and terror never really leaves the body. For years afterwards I jumped at loud noises. I was always hyper-aware of my surroundings. Once you have been physically assaulted once in your life, you never forget what it feels like to be the one accosted. Although my experience was a very long time ago now, it still intimately shapes who I am and how I view the world.
I am not a grand theorist. I am a realist. I write from my own lived experiences. Perhaps I am a storyteller at heart. There are those who can offer eloquent arguments for violence, but as a survivor of violence I just cannot reconcile my own lived experiences with those I am being told I ought to support as an Indigenous person. This does not make me weak, or my own approaches to reconciling the injustice my ancestors experienced colonized. It makes me empathetic. Strong. Having lived with the fear that I could die at someone else’s hand means that I could never argue for intentional harm to anyone. But it also motivates me to be an engaged human being, to question what is being argued by everyone, to really understand how our own actions can nurture or destroy the healthy, strong, vibrant communities and Nations we dream of. I survived for a reason, and I am determined to use this time on this Earth to contribute to my own healthy, respectful, and strong community.
At the same time, there are other more subtle forms of violence that are mobilized within our own circles — be it work, be it our social networks, be it home — that are also unacceptable. Lateral violence is pervasive throughout society, and it is up to us to acknowledge that we are absolutely complicit in actions that harm our peers, our colleagues, our loved ones. There are reasons that this violence exists, and it is hard to overcome the trauma, inequality, injustice that contribute to toxic work environments or social networks. I am always dismayed when I encounter lateral violence within Indigenous contexts, because it works against us. We need to acknowledge that when we treat one another badly, the oppressors win.
Violence is romanticized, fetishized. But for women who have been physically or sexually assaulted, there is no romance in the act of violence. Waneek Horn-Miller wrote elegantly about this here. She states:
“The most revolutionary act we could do, is not visiting more violence on our communities, but rather to support our leaders in their fight by bringing the passion and power of Idle No More to the dismantling of the legacy of dysfunction, trauma and violence that plagues our communities.”
Domestic violence. Sexual violence. Social violence. These are still things that we often turn a blind eye to. And I can’t fathom why. Why are we allowing other people to suffer? Why are we scared to speak out when we are threatened? When I do vocalize concerns about these issues I am told that it is none of my concern (as a survivor, it actually is), or that the circulation of violence is the colonizer’s fault. While the roots of violence are definitely embedded in the horror and suffering that Indigenous people have experienced over hundreds of years, we cannot simply say that when we hurt another human being that we cannot be held responsible. We are all agents, with the ability to choose when and how we treat one another. While there are complex factors that shape how we all process our pain, I still think it’s important to address the fact that we must find ways to transform this pain. And if we are struggling to transform it then we need to find ways, collectively, to support each other to heal. How that transformation takes shape is really up to each of us (and this is where it really is outrageous how little support there is for healing and treatment programmes, despite lip-service given to the desire to reconcile past injustices), and there is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way to heal. But I strongly feel that this needs to be part of our conversation. Rather than externalizing everything to some other person, we do have to admit when and how we are complicit in hurting one another. That is a huge undertaking, and certainly cannot happen over night. But it has to happen.
It really is up to all of us to question how we support those in our own communities. Are my actions helping someone to be strong, healthy, loved? Or am I making them feel small and insignificant? What motivates actors to bully? How can we implement better responses to these dynamics in our work places, in our social networks?
Perhaps all I can do is offer my voice as a support. For anyone who has ever felt bullied or threatened or harassed — let’s support each other. Let’s resolve to stand strong together.
I have been ridiculed for invoking love as a response to trauma and suffering. But it is perhaps the most transformative tool at my disposal to process and forgive the experiences I have lived through. It does not mean that I will not advocate for — and actively create — the conditions necessary to bring about lasting and meaningful change. But it does mean that I look at my own relationships and surroundings very carefully, and try to truly understand when and where I am supporting positive change and when I am hindering it.