Speaking notes from #MigrantSWJustice event

Aaniin, Tansi, hello from Treaty 8, Nehiyaw/Cree territory. I am honoured to be able to share a few words at this important event. Miigwetch for the invite.

Originally, I am from Garden River First Nation, located in northern ontario. Presently, I am in Sucker Creek First Nation, located in northern alberta. I am speaking from my own realities and knowledge of my particular communities and I do not mean to erase the realities and knowledge of those communities that exist in more northern parts of canada. Yet, I think it is safe to say that colonialism and all of its racism, misogyny, gendered based violence, etc. remains the same to all of our realities as indigenous peoples in colonial canada.

These word are inspired by my little sister’s essay entitled “Homeless in their homeland” where she outlines the history of our family’s migration over colonial borders imposed on the communities my family originate from. I credit her for the research on my family’s history.

Before confederation of colonial canada in 1867, my thrice-great grandparent, Cecile, to my maternal grandmother, Lillian, migrated to manitoulin island from wisconsin. Cecile became a part of the South Bay Band, where her partner, Samuel was from. The band travelled for an annual harvest. In 1862, however, at the signing of a new treaty for manitoulin and while the band was travelling for the harvest, the band missed the signing and was not granted any land. At this point in time, my sister describes my family as having no rights to their land, or homeless in their homeland.

With an increase of white settlers literally settling on the band’s land, and less than 100 years later from the prior mentioned displacement, my great grandfather, Edward, was removed from the same band. Edward was removed from the band because he left the reserve to make a living for his family. A source of income for families was cutting pulpwood and Edward could not cut pulpwood. A newspaper title of the time reads, “Indians Must Steal Wood to Eat” (Emphasis on the word Indians). And the main image under the title? A picture of my great grandfather with his daughter, Gladys. This is the second forced displacement.[1]

Then, over 100 years after the 1862 treaty, the Department of Indian and Northern Affairs, which is now called Aboriginal and Northern Development Canada, granted the same band land by forcing the band to amalgamate with Wikwemkong. As my sister writes, “my people could now lead their lives but only in terms of where the government allowed them to do so.” Today nothing has changed.

The third forced displacement that I want to talk about is my migration from the north to the south for better job and education opportunities within the context of sex work. I mention my family’s history and this point about my experiences within the context of challenging colonial borders to bring two important points to light: the forced displacement of indigenous peoples from their communities and the criminalization of their lives within the context of that forced displacement.

My great grandfather was criminalized for trying to provide basic necessities for his family and was forced to move because of white settlers settling onto band land and who occupied the majority of jobs. When I moved, I was leaving a call-centre job, one of the limited jobs available to women, especially Indigenous women, in a northern city. I called a southern ontario strip bar, asked to be put on schedule and move into a dancer house. Under canada’s current anti-human trafficking policies, I would be labelled a human trafficking victim: a young indigenous woman moving from the north to the south while working in the sex trade.

I want to briefly deconstruct the human trafficking narratives produced by the state and forced onto Indigenous bodies. I want to deconstruct these narratives because the state is not safe. It does not protect Indigenous peoples. The state chooses to define when the forced displacement of Indigenous people is human trafficking or not. The forced displacement as a result of state action is okay. But the forced displacement when seeking to provide for one’s self or for one’s family is not okay: the state chooses to criminalize our movements, our lives, and our livelihoods.

In the context of sex work, indigenous persons are forced to move from their communities because of lack of job opportunities in or around their communities. Some are pushed into sex trade by the industry (natural resource extraction) or by sexism, racism or misogyny in the only available “legitimate” or “legal” jobs.

The colonial government’s love-affair with anti-human trafficking policies is an example of the ongoing criminalization of Indigenous people’s lives. We need to be cautious about who is defining what is trafficking and who is being targeted by these policies. We need to question how these policies increase the risk of violence in the lives of Indigenous peoples—the state is violence and criminalization is violence. If we look at the history of policing and our criminal code in canada, we will see that it is directly related to the colonialization of indigenous lands, bodies and sexualities. We must always remember that colonialism and colonial canada is violence.

Miigwetch, thank you.
[1] Note: the title actually reads “Must Steal Wood to Eat–Indians” but for sake of the presentation, the title was slightly altered to prevent any confusion in understanding the overall essence and message of the title: that Indians must still wood to eat.

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