Oddly Honest

I had a strange conversation the other day about law school. I said, “I never choose to go to law school.” Yeah, I dreamt about being a lawyer when I was a kid. The only reason I remember this is because I wrote it down in a “scrapbook” I created in grade school. And, I wanted to be a lawyer only because my older sister wanted to be lawyer–I had no idea what a lawyer did.

My comment made me laugh on the inside because we talk about choice and sex work a lot. “I never choose to do sell my body,” some people say. While others say, “I choose to do sex work.” Why is this focus on “choice”? Like, I never planned or had this dying need to go to law school. I am thankful I am here though.

It all began when I went to college, only after being out of school for many years and escorting/stripping for just as many. But what made me go back to school? I was getting tired of living in a dancer house where, like I said in this article, the stray cats roamed in the basement getting fat on the mice that shared the house. I was getting tired of that routine.

So, I applied to college. I graduated college and once I figured out I needed much more “experience” to get a job in my field (law clerking), I decided to apply to university. Once in university, I had no idea how to navigate the system. I had no idea what a minor or a major meant. So, by the time it came to pick my specialization, I choose criminology. I had no idea what criminology was when I picked it. “This looks fun,” I thought. Then, the time came to graduate from university, and I had to again decide, “what next?!” I applied to two masters programs, one in women’s studies and one in criminology. I only got into one. In that same instance, I also applied to two law schools. Everyone kept saying, “Apply to more!” Thanks, but it costs more to apply to more law schools. I applied to the schools I could afford. And, I got into both of the schools (Thank you for having me!).

But now that the words came out of my mouth, I never choose to go law school… I still am thankful that I did what I had to do to survive. School helped me to survive. Also, I think it kind of scares myself, maybe others, that I can be so honest. I never choose to be here–where ever here is…. Yet, if it wasn’t for these experiences, including my encounters in sex work, I don’t know where I would be. And if it wasn’t for sex work, I wouldn’t be where I am now and for that, I am thankful.

Law School and Displacement

The last time I can remember crying like I had last week, I lost my best friend to suicide. I would walk around the city of London, Ontario in a haze. Sometimes, I thought I saw her walking around too, always in front of me. Her long auburn-coloured hair, flowing in the wind. I could picture her standing next to me while I waited for the #6 bus at the corner of Dundas and Richmond. Other times, I imagined I heard her laughing. But as time passes, the memory of her face, her smile and her laugh fades. I miss it. I miss her.

In my experience, legal education in Canada is kind of like the same thing. It is exactly like grieving the loss of a loved one. Maybe, the loss of a friend. Or, the loss of a part of you. Occasionally, I have these feelings that I can no longer relate to my family. My mother’s voice seems so distant when I try to tell her about my day. “Oh yeah,” she usually says in reply to my stories. I know she cares. I know she loves me because she tries her best to let me know that I am not alone.

A displacement from land.

Today, I received medicine in the mail. I imagine all the hands that touched the medicine before it came to me. The irony of having to leave home, while being at home, to attend any sort of schooling is my reality. From high school to college to university. Now, here. Home is everywhere but no where.

A displacement from home.

For some people, law school is home. Crazy, I know. But I struggle to relate. To connect. To associate. I love law but the entire experience of law school makes me want to disassociate from myself, my true self.

A displacement from body.

I don’t write because I want pity. Nor, do I write because I want to scare people away from their dreams of studying law. It is still my dream. It always was my dream…even before I knew what or who a lawyer was/is. Mostly, it was always my dream because it was my older sister’s dream. “I want to be exactly like my sister.” I still want to be like my sisters, including my baby sister. They all inspire me. But, this law school thing, keeps me from being me, and keeps me from being with my family. It hurts. It hurts so much that it feels like I am grieving the loss of my family.

A displacement from family

The laws that I learn do not reflect who I am. As Patricia Monture once wrote, “I felt during my law student days that I was always waiting for my legal education to begin.”[1] I share these same feelings. When will my legal education begin? I struggle with it every day. I want to stay but I want to go. “Let us help you,” my school says. But it doesn’t know how to help me. “Tell me what you can do for me,” I reply. Conversations take place in isolation of each other. Still, my struggles are not isolated. It is all connected. These feelings of waiting, of grieving, of wanting. The words I use seem confusing. A dissonance between each other. But it’s my reality. And even the words available to describe my experiences in law school are inappropriate. Complain. I can’t complain about what has always been. That’s the truth and that’s the reality.

While I reflect on my experiences last week, I want to envision a schooling system that doesn’t force its students to feel alone, to feel isolated. From their families, their home or their land. I want to dream of a schooling system that doesn’t remove itself from the communities that surrounds it. This displacement, the removal, the erasure, is getting tiring. Let’s conceive a new schooling system that doesn’t treat my realities, one of many, as an Anishnaabe-kwe existing in isolation from each other and others. We are all connected.

 

 

[1] “Now that the Door is Open: Aboriginal Peoples and the Law School Experience,” in Thunder in my Soul: A Mohawk Woman Speaks.

#MMIWG2S: My submissions to the pre-Inquiry design process

The following list is a snapshot of the recommendations I make throughout my submission to the pre-Inquiry consultation process:

I recommend…

  1. The Inquiry should acknowledge the right to self-identify and acknowledge the right to self-determination, especially when it comes to naming one’s own experiences since not everyone will identify as a survivor and the right to name one’s own experiences should be explicit throughout the Inquiry process, including internet and print materials.
  2. The Inquiry should create safer spaces for Indigenous women who sell or trade sex to tell their stories and should acknowledge their expertise especially when it comes to the violence they have experienced.
  3. The Inquiry should examine the current prostitution provisions (including recently enacted provisions) and how these provisions contribute to the violence that Indigenous women who sell or trade sex experience. In particular, the Inquiry should examine how these provisions preclude people from creating safety networks or support systems, and how these provisions foster unsafe situations that encourages violence.
  4. The Inquiry should create safer spaces for Indigenous women who sell or trade sex that respects their privacy and anonymity because of the high risks of criminalization and stigmatization, as outlined by the Supreme Court of Canada, and at the same time, these safer spaces should also recognize the risk of increased harassment from others, including community members or authorities such as policing or child welfare agencies, and accommodate the accessibility needs of all.
  5. The body conducting and directing the Inquiry should include either a peer-led organization who works directly with Indigenous women currently selling and trading sex or individuals who have lived experience and who are willing to respect these invaluable experiences to sit on the commission.
  6. The Inquiry should continue to provide the social, cultural and financial support to hear listen to those who come from northern or rural areas and provide feedback from an intersectional perspective.
  7. The Inquiry should remain alert to the risk of essentializing Indigenous women’s and girls’ roles as primarily familial roles (i.e., mothers or daughters) through Indigenous laws and thus, the Inquiry should respect the diversity of experiences of Indigenous women, girls and two-spirit folks by remaining alert to the potential to essentialize their roles and responsibilities through Indigenous laws.

Within the last several days, I reflected on the families’ strength and courage to come forward, carrying the stories of their loved ones: the missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls and two-spirit folks. Nothing is more important than the space created by the pre-Inquiry consultations for some of these stories to be heard. I deliberately use the word, “some”, not to say the space created was limited, but because not all stories are ready to be told.

Some people are still grieving the loss of their loved ones. Others are still working through their anger, hurt and pain. And so, I make these submissions while recognizing that not everyone is ready to tell their stories. I also recognize that not everyone has the words to tell their story, but not because they lack the vocabulary or they don’t know how to use the words. Rather, there are sometimes no words to describe the pain, the loss, and the hurt from losing a loved one or no words evocative enough to describe the violence that one may have experienced nor its resulting trauma. As such, this submission consists of recommendations shaped by my story, my experience, my knowledge and my truths.

My first recommendation for the Inquiry is to acknowledge that not everyone will identify with the term survivor and to have explicit reference to the right to self-identify or the right of self-determination to name and label one’s experiences, especially for Indigenous women, girls and two-spirit folks who continue to negotiate and navigate through spaces to avoid violence. When I first read the text on the Government of Canada’s website, “Designing a National Inquiry on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls: A Discussion Guide,” I sensed that my story did not fit: I did not lose a loved one to direct colonial and gender-based violence. Yet, I have many friends who continue to sell and trade sex, and continue to experience colonial, gender-based violence. In other words, none of my family members nor friends have ever been reported missing or murdered but I know many who continue to work in criminalized spaces that undermine their safety. More importantly, I sensed my story did not fit because I did not and do not identify with the term survivor. I am not a survivor of violence; I continue to negotiate and navigate through spaces to avoid, manage or de-escalate violence. I have experienced violence and the risk of experiencing more violence has not diminished.

My second recommendation is that the Inquiry takes the time to listen to Indigenous women who sell or trade sex. I understand that some people may still be working through their loss. I choose not to speak at the pre-Inquiry consultation I attended knowing that many Indigenous women enter the sex trade, experience violence and then, are reported missing or murdered. I respect that some families may be angry at the pimps or johns. I felt that it was not the time or place to bring up the recommendation that the Inquiry examine current prostitution provisions as contributing to the violence that Indigenous women who sell or trade sex may experience, regardless of the social locations they occupy. That is to say, Indigenous women who sell and trade sex tend to work outdoors but there are also some who work indoors. Yet, regardless of where Indigenous women sell or trade sex, the risk of police violence and harassment remains the same due to the continued criminalization of Indigenous women’s bodies and sexualities and due to the increasing surveillance and infantilizing of Indigenous women via human trafficking narratives.

For instance, most anti-human trafficking initiatives focus on public awareness and education. These campaigns primarily emphasize educating hoteliers, condominium concierge or other similar businesses or corporations on how to “spot” the signs of a human trafficking victim. However, these initiatives are usually informed by racist and classist assumptions about Indigenous women, especially Indigenous women who frequently travel to urban centres. In Frank v AJR Enterprises Ltd (cob “Nelson Hotel Place”), an Indigenous woman was kicked out of a hotel at 2:30 AM because the hotel assumed she was a prostitute and assumed she was “overly drunk.” The narratives that most Indigenous women who sell or trade sex are likely to be trafficked and likely to be controlled by substances, including alcohol, inform these public awareness and education campaigns. These anti-human trafficking initiatives, then, call for increased policing of these spaces and places, which have the potential for increased discrimination against Indigenous women like in Frank v AJR Enterprises Ltd. Further, it is Indigenous women, girls and their families who experience the consequences of calls for increased policing. Such consequences of increased policing include increased police harassment and surveillance informed by racist and classist assumptions about Indigenous women in the sex trade. Thus, as my second recommendation insists the Inquiry take the time to listen to Indigenous women who sell or trade sex, it is important to listen to all stories and experiences of Indigenous women who sell or trade sex because it is these women who understand how anti-human trafficking initiatives have the potential to contribute to more violence in their lives.

Third, I recommend that the Inquiry, in listening to Indigenous women who sell or trade sex, do so in a space that respects their privacy and anonymity. The risk of being outed[1] to their families, friends, employers or other authorities, like child welfare agencies or policing agencies, is very real. Being outed also carries the risk of criminalization and increased violence from others. The Supreme Court decision, Canada (AG) v Downtown Eastside Sex Workers United Against Violence (SWUAV), acknowledges the reality of being outed. Justice Cromwell for the Court notes:

[Members of SWUAV] feared loss of privacy and safety and increased violence by clients. Also, their spouses, friends, family members and/or members of their community may not know that they are or were involved in sex work or that they are or were drug users. They have children that they fear will be removed by child protection authorities.  Finally, bringing such challenge, they fear, may limit their current or future education or employment opportunities.[2]

As someone who has experienced the harms of being outed, including the lateral violence from other women for speaking out about my sex trade experiences, I recommend that the space the Inquiry creates protects their privacy and anonymity, while acknowledging the risks of criminalization and stigmatization, of Indigenous women who sell or trade sex. The space should also acknowledge the increasing harassment from others – community members or authorities – if Indigenous women who sell or trade sex choose to speak about their experiences. Consequently, I would recommend that the body conducting and directing the Inquiry should include either a peer-led organization who works directly with Indigenous women currently selling and trading sex or individuals who have lived experience and are willing to respect these invaluable experiences to sit on the commission.

I also recommend that the Inquiry continue to provide the social, cultural and financial support to hear from those who come from northern or rural areas. I admire the strength and courage of the families and survivors who traveled many hours, sometimes more more than twelve hours, just to get to the pre-Inquiry consultations. Their stories are essential to understanding how violence takes place in northern and rural areas. Also, these stories are crucial to helping the Inquiry grapple with the erosive effects of increasing criminalization of Indigenous women’s movements from the north to the south. I say so in light of the narrative that tells agencies to presume all Indigenous women who move from the north to the south in the context of the sex trade, including those who migrate voluntarily, are victims. While human trafficking is a reality for some, it is not the reality for all Indigenous women who sell and trade sex. Both realities are important to acknowledge, honour and respect.

In the end, I view this Inquiry as an important step in the reconciliation process. Reconciliation, to me, respects and honours the principles of Indigenous law. To me, these principles inform Indigenous people’s relationships to one another, to other communities and to other nations, including Canada. As such, these principles help guide the roles we all occupy. Nevertheless, I recommend that the Inquiry remain alert to the risk of essentializing Indigenous women’s and girls’ roles through Indigenous laws. For instance, though some Indigenous women take on the roles as mothers or wives not everyone chooses to take on these roles. Indigenous women and girls occupy many roles and responsibilities in our communities and nations. Accordingly, the Inquiry should respect the diversity of experiences of Indigenous women, girls and two-spirit folks by remaining alert to the potential to essentialize their roles and responsibilities through Indigenous laws.

 

Thank you/Miigwetch

Naomi

 

 

[1] Where being outed is defined as someone linking a sex trade identity to a sex trade worker’s real name or as someone revealing their sex trade status, including either revealing their current working status or revealing their past sex trade history/status.

[2] http://scc-csc.lexum.com/scc-csc/scc-csc/en/item/10006/index.do para 71.

But what about the assault in sexual assault?

Foucault first proposed the idea in 1977 where he suggested that rape be treated like any other act of violence, like a punch in the face. Foucault stated, “In any case, sexuality can in no circumstances be the subject of punishment.”[1] First, sexuality is used in this context to refer, I am assuming, to the sexual aspect of a rape and rape is a term used in the text where this suggestion was first published. For the remainder of this post, I will be using the term sexual assault instead of rape to refer to an act which someone did not consent to and that had a sexual aspect to it. Second, while I agree with the idea that sexual assault should be treated like any other assault, I do not agree that we should not bring in the sexual aspect of the sexual assault at any point, which is also part of Foucault’s suggestion.

In the Ghomeshi trial, the issue is whether the women consented to the acts which Ghomeshi is accused of, and subsequently, the offences he is charged with — four counts of sexual assault and one count of overcoming resistance by choking. Such instances include punching, choking and biting. And yes, some people can agree to some sort of rough sex. Yet, when someone says that they do not consent to such acts, then they should be believed on their definitions and experiences. In this case, however, it is not a fact that these women are not believed. Actually, the very fact that this trial is taking place undermines the assertion that these women are not believed.

In a chapter titled, “Confinement, Psychiatry, Prison”,[2] Michel Foucault engages in a dialogue with David Cooper (a medical doctor/psychiatrist who is critical of the institution of psychoanalysis because it “inflicts violence on individuals”), Jean-Pierre Faye (writer, philosopher and editor of the journal Change, where the dialogue first appeared), Marie-Odile Faye (editorial assistant for Change) and Marine Zecca (collaborator with David Cooper).

Throughout this dialogue, the five people discuss social control, social order and punishment. However, the discussion I want to highlight is the dialogue on rape. Foucault outlines how France was, at the time, reforming penal law and explains that they reached out to him. France contacted Foucault because they wanted his opinion on legislation relating to sexuality (p 200). Foucault outlines that France asked him questions relating to:

“[E]verything concerning legislation about films, books, etc., none of that is any problem to me. I think one can in principle that, in no circumstances, should sexuality be subject to any kind of legislation whatever. O.K. But there are two areas that present a problem. One is rape and the other is children” (p 200).

Cooper replies, “That’s the most difficult question” (p 200).

Foucault then responds:

“One can always produce the theoretical discourse that amounts to saying: in any case, sexuality can in no circumstances be the subject of punishment. And when one punishes rape one should be punishing physical violence and nothing but that. And so that it is nothing more than an act of aggression: that there is no difference, in principle, between sticking one’s fist into someone’s face or [rape]…But, to start with, I’m not at all sure that women would with this…” (p 200).

And, the only two women present for this discussion do not agree with Foucault’s suggestion (p. 200). In response, Foucault asks the women, “So you accept that there is a ‘properly’ sexual offence” (p 200). Zecca replies, “Oh yes.”  Faye, the second woman, also replies, “For all the little girls who have been attacked, in parks, in the underground, in all those experiences of everyday life, at eight, ten, or twelve: extremely traumatizing” (p 200). I am assuming Faye is referring to the ways young girls are sexualized in society. However, Foucault asks Faye if she is referring to exhibitionism, and she says yes (p 200). The discussion then moves from looking at rape as similar to a punch in the face, or an act of violence.

Foucault states, “The answer from both of you, Marie-Odile and you, too, Marine, was very clear when I said: it may be regarded as an act of violence, possibly more serious, but of the same type, as that of punching someone in the face. Your answer was immediately: No – it’s quite different. It’s not just a punch in the face, but more serious” (p 201). Zecca replies, “Of course!” (p 201). Then, Foucault goes on to question the basis for treating rape differently than any act of violence (p 201). Foucault suggests that “sexual organs” are not like any other part of the body and thus, they must “be protected, surrounded, invested in any case with legislation that isn’t that pertaining to the rest of the body” (p 202). Zecca replies, “I was thinking more specifically about children. But, where children are concerned, I don’t think it’s any longer simply a sexual act. I believe it’s really an act of physical violence” (p 202). Cooper chimes in, “It isn’t sexual. It’s a wound.” (p 202). Zecca then replies to Cooper, “That’s what I meant. It’s no longer sexuality, we’re in a different area. That of physical violence” (p 202).

Foucault then replies to everyone, “In that case, then we come back to what I was saying. It isn’t a matter of sexuality, it’s the physical violence that would be punished, without bringing in the fact that sexuality was involved” (p 202).

In the discussion surrounding the trial, there are some people calling out the low conviction rates in sexual assault cases as being linked to “believability.” Yet, the goal of the prosecutor is not to obtain convictions. Their task is to “lay out all relevant evidence capable of supporting a conviction” (See Boucher).

It cannot be over-emphasized that the purpose of a criminal prosecution is not to obtain a conviction, it is to lay before a jury what the Crown considers to be credible evidence relevant to what is alleged to be a crime.[3]

So, by the very fact that this trial is happening, it suggests that there was or is enough evidence in the prosecutor’s file to lay the charges and to present relevant evidence to support a conviction.

The central issue in this trial is the obvious: did these women consent? If we ask this question in the context of Foucault’s suggestion that sexual assault should be treated like a punch in the face, we  still ask ourselves the very same questions minus the sexual aspect. Did these women consent to the choking? The punching? The biting? What makes these acts different from any other person who says they do not consent to being assaulted in another way? And in this post, Reflection on Week One of the Ghomeshi trial, there is reference to a National Post article where another law professor states, “We wouldn’t start questioning the victim about whether or not he likes being punched in the face.” No, we wouldn’t ask someone if they liked being punched in the face. However, we are not asking someone if they liked being punched in the face, we are asking whether someone consented to such acts (the punching, biting, slapping) And, it is possible to consent to an act but not enjoy it (consent is not premised on whether someone liked something or not and should never be premised on such questions).

But, why are we placing such acts like punching in a sexual context?

Some people consent to acts including sexual acts that they do not like all the time. Whether you like something or not doesn’t vitiate consent. Also, people may consent to acts that someone else might find questionable like choking. Or, biting. Or, punching. And yes, imagine if we took out the sexual aspect of such assaults, do you think what happened before, during or after the assault might be of little importance? I’m not saying that we do away with a discussion of how women are victims to violence and that this violence very much tends to be sexualized and gendered. I am just saying that in order for the courts to grapple with these targeted attacks, that there might be some value in removing the “sexual” from sexual assault if the goal is to secure more convictions in these cases (again, I don’t agree with this end goal and I have previously written about this here).

Still, this is not to say that the decades of feminist legal work on the issue should be ignored. But if we have gone from rape to sexual assault, what is preventing us from going from sexual assault to assault and then, dealing with the sexualized and gendered aspects after a conviction? Also, we have to be cognizant of how we talk about the identifier “women” in these cases because I only know from experience that when we talk about women as the majority of sexual assault victims, I know that “women” only includes a certain kind of woman. When we talk about women being targeted for sexualized and gendered violence, do we include trans women, for instance? And for some cases, the Courts assume that the victim of a sexual assault consented because of actions before, during and after the assault, like in the case of Cindy Gladue.

The fact Cindy was a sex worker and met Barton in the context of sex work was an important fact at trial. So, the Court, in its instructions to the jury, noted that Cindy could consent to the sexual acts because she appeared to be enjoy “it.” Even then, the Court put too much importance on the whether Cindy enjoyed the acts, where Barton (the man charged with killing her) testified at trial said she did. The question when it comes to consent should not be whether someone enjoyed it. It should be whether or not they consented to the act of violence. And, very properly, it is well-established in law that nobody can consent to violence. Still, if the law acknowledges that nobody can consent to violence, focusing on the sexual aspects erases, in my opinion, the actual violence that takes place in sexual assault. So, while there is a discussion as to how there has to be perfect “victims” in sexual assault cases, I would put forth that there has to be a perfect “woman” to just fit into the discussion about sexual assault, leaving out any considerations on actual charges and convictions. Because we all know that the court did not see women like Cindy as the perfect woman and the discussion around sexualized and gendered violence for sex workers will continue to erase how violence takes place for sex workers if we are all too fixated on the “sexual” in the sexual assault.

 

 

[1] “Confinement, Psychiatry, Prison” in Michel Foucaul, Politics, Philosophy, Culture: Interviews and Other Writings 1977-1984, translated by Alan Sheridan and others, edited with an introduction by Lawrence D. Kritzman at p 200.

[2] Michel Foucaul, Politics, Philosophy, Culture: Interviews and Other Writings 1977-1984, translated by Alan Sheridan and others, edited with an introduction by Lawrence D. Kritzman.

[3] https://scc-csc.lexum.com/scc-csc/scc-csc/en/item/2741/index.do

These are stories of resilience. Or, emblems of resistance.

It wasn’t until 2015 after I arrived in Ottawa, Ontario where I attended my first missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls and two-spirit folks (MMIWG2S) rally. It is not so much that these events are a rally than they are more of a coming together. Coming together to share the pain, the grief, and the hurt in losing a loved one. But, these rallies are also a show of support to one another. A building of community.

In media articles across the country, the signs remain the same. “Missing”, “Murdered”, and “Mother” or “Daughter” are just some of the words painted across the placards. While some people carry boards that call out the injustices, others carry posters or wear t-shirts with faces of their loved. These posters and t-shirts remind onlookers of a moment in time when the missing or murdered were at peace, smiling and care-free.

Media articles often try to paint the missing and the murdered as humanly as possible. “She was a mother, a daughter, a sister.” As if being a mother, a daughter or a sister makes someone more human than another. But, still, occasionally media articles tell the readers about the gruesome details. “She met him at the hotel.” As if we needed to know. Often, silence is enough. Because when an Indigenous woman talks about violence, she doesn’t have to say anything and we know.

When the RCMP released the report on missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls, they noted that sometimes the missing and murdered just “wandered off.”[1] In other cases, policing agencies claim these women don’t want to be found.[2] But who leaves home without saying goodbye? Or, as my mom would say, “It’s never goodbye, it’s always see you later.”

On our drive to Ottawa, my mom began to tell me stories of her past. And for many Indigenous women, my mother’s recollection of her past are many Indigenous women’s present. Sexual assault. Missing person reports. Moving to the city. Returning home. When I think back to when my mother started to tell me these stories, I always wonder why? Why now? Why not before? Why not when I first moved to London, Ontario? Or, to Toronto, Ontario? Perhaps, her stories served as a warning. A reminder. “It’s okay. I survived and you will survive too.” These are the stories that are passed down from one generation to another. Stories of violence. Markers of survival.

I first left home when I was in my late teens. Then, again in my early twenties. And that time, I moved more than 700 km away from home. “Where will you end up?” My mom’s voice filled with worry. “I am not sure.” And, I wasn’t certain where I would end up. “But I will call you when I get there.” My ticket read London, Ontario but I wasn’t convinced that this would be the next place I call home. It would be a few weeks until I called home. I used the payphone outside the bar where I worked. “Hello?” My mom answered. “Hi, mom. It’s me.” I missed her voice. And, I missed home. Relief emanated from my mother’s voice. Thankfully, the long distance calling card still worked. I still have feelings of regret and shame. Regret that I didn’t call home sooner. Shame that I waited so long. But the longer I waited, the more the shame intensified. “I’ll call tomorrow.” Tomorrow passed. “I’ll call on the weekend.” The weekend came and the days turned into weeks. Then, I remember my mom telling me, “You can always call home.”

When Indigenous people talk about the missing and murdered, we talk about systems or institutions as contributing to the violence and disappearances. It is important to acknowledge how colonial systems and institutions contribute to the issue of MMIWG2S, but we sometimes fail to question the feelings of shame of those who leave home. Where does that shame come from? Who contributes to that shame? How does that shame contribute to MMIWG2S?

Some Indigenous women leave home to escape abuse. Some leave home in hopes of finding a safer home. Some leave home to escape the shame that comes from others. Shame toward certain gender identities. Shame toward drug use. Alcohol abuse. Shame toward those who sell/trade sex. For Indigenous women who sell and trade sex, this shame often manifests itself in having to leave home to survive. Then, Indigenous women who sell/trade sex are pigeonholed into the “survival sex work” box. We leave home to survive. Everything we do is linked to survival.

Thinking back to the words my mother told me growing up, I often wonder about the Indigenous women who sell/trade sex. Do Indigenous women who sell/trade sex have someone to call without the shame and judgment? The way the current laws are structured, even offering a sex worker a place to stay or a ride to their next call, puts those who show an ounce of care and love are at risk of being criminalized. Yet, even when Indigenous women leave home in the context of sex work, even that is criminalized. “Human trafficking” is what the RCMP calls it. Or, when Indigenous women migrate from the north to the south in search of better job opportunities. But if the people who interact with sex workers, Indigenous or not, are at risk of being criminalized, how do we even move to a stage of offering support to sex workers without shame or judgment? How do we move beyond these narratives that seek to criminalize our movements? Our bodies? Our sexuality?

When I first left home, I felt shame because of how people viewed and treated sex workers. Victims with no choice. No chance of survival. But I survived. I carry survival’s guilt with me wherever I go. It scares me sometimes the number of times I count where I should be dead. Silence is not enough in the fight to find justice for the missing and the murdered. And, this is why I speak out in support of decriminalization of sex work. When we talk about violence, we need to make space for the stories of those who sell/trade sex and the violence that they experience. Violence from the police. Violence from their community. I knew that when I left it home, it was never goodbye. And I know that when I tell my stories, I want others to remember that these are more than stories of survival. These are stories of resilience. Or, emblems of resistance.

 

 

 

 

[1] http://www.rcmp-grc.gc.ca/pubs/mmaw-faapd-eng.pdf

[2] http://www.nwac.ca/wp-content/uploads/2015/05/NWAC_Story_Telling_Daleen_Bosee.pdf

“This decision is for the children.”

For the most part, the interview flowed more like a conversation. I hate interviews. Job interviews. I am getting used to them. I think. Maybe. Perhaps not, still unemployed, in the conventional sense (but able to survive).

I visited my school’s career and development centre after my friend suggested I go to them. I am glad I went.

I always struggle with interviews because I usually end up having to fight back the tears when I talk about my work that I do. I don’t even know if I can describe my work that I *do* but I can tell stories. I have a lot of stories. Some stories are funny and others, not so much. I have to be careful about the stories I reveal about myself.

When I visited the centre, I cried. He asked me about the latest piece I wrote for the Ottawa Citizen and why I wrote it. I told him. “It’s about the missing and murdered Indigenous women inquiry and sex work.” Looking out the window, I noticed the sun was shining. “And, often times when we talk about the missing and murdered, the voices of Indigenous sex workers are usually ignored or erased.” A perfect day for walking to an interview. “Well, and, it is these same people that everyone is worried about…the marginalized.” At the least the sidewalks are not icy. “Yet, it is these same voices that are shunned, shamed and ostracized from these discussions…”

I could no longer withhold my tears from steaming down my face. And, it happened in the interview I had.

I cry a lot. Sometimes people think crying is a sign of weakness. It’s not. I had someone tell me, after I started crying when I talked about Cindy Gladue, “You have to be stronger.” What. The. Actual. Fuck.

When I started crying in the interview, I was talking about the recent Canadian Human Rights Tribunal decision. I recalled working out west. I was living/working in Treaty 8 territory. While out west, I had the opportunity to attend Treaty 8 Elders gathering. It was a beautiful event which lasted for several days. At the event, there was a presentation on child welfare and efforts to keep children and youth in the community. In that presentation, they talked about how it is important to keep children in the community and the presenter referenced the previous media article. I remember reading that article when it first game out. The title reads, “Grand Chief ‘horrified’ Alberta quietly allows organ harvesting from children who die in provincial care.” 

The Grand Chief of Treaty 8 in Alberta says he was “horrified” to find out Alberta has a policy allowing for the harvesting of organs from children who die in the care of the province (aptn)

And, I remember sitting in this gymnasium with all these leaders and Elders talking about how to keep their children in the communities to stop this from happening – the removal of children and placing them into state care. The presenter talked about how communities and its leaders knew something was up. In one community, a youth would be taken out of state care, struggle, and commit suicide. Then, in another community, someone who needed a new liver would have a liver not long after. The presenter insinuated that outsiders, the government, think that communities don’t talk to each other, like as if they would not put two and two together. I said to the interviewer that this is what this decision means: keeping children in communities, with their families so that they are placed in state care, struggle with being away from family/loved ones, struggle, commit suicide and then have their organs harvested. When I write these words, to me, it is so blunt and scary but it’s the truth.

So, this decision means so much more than just services or monies in communities. It means that First Nations children have a fighting chance at surviving in a society that depends on their disappearance. Even as I write these words and as I attend law school, it really hurts me to study law because I don’t think the colonial legal education system does a good job in actually reminding law students that these decisions are so much more than words. They are attached to lived realities of actual fuckin human beings. Children. And, this is what I am always faced with in the colonial legal education system: This complete disassociation from discussions about decisions or the “law”… whatever that word means.  I just don’t know what else to say about this decision and how it means more than the discussions that have taken place in the media (i.e., monies, services, jurisdiction, etc). People’s … children’s lives are actually connected to the outcome of the decision. Like decision states at the outset, “This decision is for the children.

land connected to body: I wonder what is the pain our Mother Earth carries?

I remember. I remember everything. I remember the wind blowing and the sun shining when I first tried to kill myself. I remember the sun shining when I ran away from the hospital. The hospital wouldn’t let me take my traditional medicines. So, I ran away and hid until it was safe. Safe? Safe meant the police stopped looking for me.

I remember when the police arrived and he was on top of me. I remember the sun shining down on my face. The grass was still dewy. The cement felt cold. Strangely, I didn’t fell any pain. I don’t know why I didn’t feel any pain. Was it disassociation?

Sometimes when it is cold out, I feel the pain. The pain stretches from the top of my outer thigh to the scar, where the knife pierced my skin. I remember that night. Clearly. Except at that one moment when the knife penetrated my skin. The waitress called out my stage name. “You are bleeding!” The waitress asked me if I needed anything. “Get me some clean bandages.” I paused. “And two shots of sambuca.”

Other times, I feel the pain whenever I walk. I carry the pain with me. The heel of my foot pulses with pain. The doctors said it was okay. The nurse said it was okay too. “You will be laying down anyways.” In the cell. The cold, hard cell. The nurse was right. I just lay inside my cell. I only knew if it was night or day. But I never knew what day or what night. Or how many nights. Or how many days.

Then, on other days, my shoulder hurts. Then, my arm. A sharp sensation traveling from my shoulder down to my finger tips. Where I go, so does the pain. From the soles of my feet to the nape of my neck. Colonialism, I carry it in my body. The hurt. The aches. The pain. When people say that the land is connected to the body, I now know what they mean. I hurt. It hurts. My body.

Land connected to body.

I wonder what is the pain our Mother Earth carries?

The case of I.B.

So, I fell behind on my post-a-day self-challenge for January. I thought it would be a good idea but … not so good. I am in a super-challenging/wonderful course for the January term in law school and it is challenging me in all sorts of ways. I have a major paper due at the end of April and I also have a journaling assignment due on Friday next week (which has to take a priority, obviously).

One thing though: Perhaps, the self-challenge forced me to write about things that I normally wouldn’t think to write about which I am not entirely certain if I wrote about things other than I normally write about. Also, my reading week begins next week and I will continue this self-challenge until the end of the month to the best of my ability.

I wanted to write something because I haven’t written in about two days and I need to write several things today (one article, some journals and a case deconstruction which is also for this January course). If you can’t tell by now, I love writing. Writing for me is healing. It helps me to think in other ways and to also let me “get things off my chest.” Aside from all this school/professional/personal stuff, I also have a personal journal—I literally love to write (which sort of grew after my car accident and my brain injury which I’ve written about else where).

So, this is sort of connected to my case deconstruction but it’s not (because it’s not part of the class). This post is about a case I read about when I was randomly reading cases that had nothing to do with my legal education (okay, I also like to read things… especially things that have nothing to do with law school).

This case is called R v Byron and it is a couple of years old (2013).

Byron was convicted of “procuring a person who was under the age of 18 for the purposes of prostitution; that he was aiding, abetting or compelling a person under the age of 18 to engage in prostitution and that he was living off the avails of that prostitution.” The victims, IB and AD, were both under age (17 years old). IB was a ward of the state at the time. IB also had FASD and was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Both of IB’s parents are deceased. There is not much about AD.

Byron met IB in Windsor and Byron brought IB and her friend, AD, to Montreal. AD did not feel “comfortable” and decided to leave. IB could not leave because she did not “have the financial means” to leave.

The story the case tells is one that people assume the sex trade to be like: exploitative, abusive, violent involving vulnerable girls. Yes, that type of stuff happens. It is sad but I wanted to highlight this case because it caused me to feel so much rage after I read one particular paragraph. This paragraph reads:

[31]           IB was not so fortunate.  She was a ward of the CAS and was required to remain in the province of Ontario, a restriction she had violated by her trip to Montreal.  She testified that she was afraid of being arrested for this violation and that she had no means by which to return to Windsor on her own.

This paragraph makes me so angry because it just highlights the issues with the child welfare system and highlights the issues with using criminal laws or criminalization to “protect” children. IB was more afraid of being arrested then seeking out help. Just think about that for a moment. Imagine being in IB’s shoes.

While Byron was convicted and later sentenced, there could not be a clearer case which says criminalizing people to protect them does not actually protect them. I know this is hard for some people to actually accept. I know that some people will try to say I am advocating for the continued exploitation of young women and girls (and I know this because people have previously told me this) and this is false. I just want people to think about ways other than criminalizing people to “protect” or “save” them. Though someone might say this case is an example where criminalizing something saved IB and thus, criminalization works. But we must remember: this case took place in 2013, before C-36 came into effect and well, the laws worked then.

You can read the sentencing decision here: R v Byron.

I am strong. But I am weak.

This black van. I began noticing this black van over the last week. Yesterday, I didn’t see it. Perhaps it is a moving van? A delivery van? Like that one time a pitch black car followed me around back home. I called the police and I told them about this black car following me.

“Do you have the license plate?” After I gave the police the license plate number, the police called back about ten minutes later. “That is a gentleman who owns a delivery company. He is just making deliveries.” Strangely, the deliveries always happened to be around me, near me. My home. My work. And, surprisingly, the black car also disappeared.

“Do you have people following you?” Confused by her question. “I don’t know.”

That is the question my doctor asked me when I asked for a prescription for anti-anxiety medication.

“Do you have any thoughts of suicide?” Perplexed. “Before, but not right now.” At this time, I am agitated. “I have anxiety and I know the harms associated with the medication I am asking for but I am only asking for a bit.” A bit. Just enough. To survive. “But I don’t want to…” I cut her off. “I know what I need. I know the medication. I don’t have time for a full time psych evaluation because that’s not why I am here.” Despite my assertion that I know what I need in that moment, health care professionals (any kind of professional for that matter) don’t like being told that you know yourself better than they do. They are the professionals. You are not. Silly little girl.

It was a cold evening in London, Ontario. I decided to go for a walk. Not a run. I didn’t have the strength. I needed to clear my head. The truck appeared out of nowhere. It drove passed me. Once. Twice. I started to walk slower. The truck went ahead, pulled into a parking lot. I passed the parking lot. Despite the fact that I could have crossed the parking lot to access the grocery store, I walked around the entire lot on the sidewalks. The truck stayed in the lot. When I went inside the grocery store, I expected the truck to be gone once I left the store. The truck was still in the lot. I proceeded to walk toward the direction of my apartment. I knew that there would be more parking lots but this time more people, more lights. The truck pulled out of the lot. I walked faster toward the bright parking lot. The truck drove slower. Near me. My earphones in my ears but my music off. I walked to the sub shop. “Can I just sit here for a bit?” Nobody cared. I sat in silence. Scared. My arms were numb. My legs started to shake. I certainly felt like I should be running now. Nothing.

And, this was not not the first time this happened. This. Being followed. Being scared. Feeling alone.

“Text me when you get home safely.” These are the words I always say to my friends when we separate ways to walk home. We sat together celebrating the end of a term. “People don’t know the reality for Indigenous women.” We are law students. “We could go missing at any time.” We survived.

There are certain streets I don’t walk on after dark. There are more lights and vehicles on the other ones. The other streets. I always text someone, my mom, before I leave my apartment when I go out. “Text me when you get home.” She still cares about me, despite being five hundred kilometres away. “If you don’t hear from me by 1:00 pm, call me.” But what would happen if I don’t answer my phone? “Be concerned if you don’t see anything on Facebook by the end of the day.” Funny how social media works. Funny how safety looks. Texts. Calls. Earphones without any music. Phone in my hand. Battery fully charged. Charger. My body feeling like it is fully charged. Tense.

Yesterday, I planned for things to go smoothly. But things do not always go as planned. I read her story many times before. Pamela George is her name. I critiqued the scholarly work that examined her death once before. It needed to be done. People always argue that Indigenous women are human beings too. Thanks. They say what happened to Pamela George was senseless. Mindless. The words are practically one in the same. The murder was neither mindless nor senseless. They went looking for someone like her. An Indigenous woman working on the streets. An Indigenous woman working in the sex trade. Then, I received the notification on my phone. One of their names appeared on my phone. My arms went numb. My legs felt I wanted to run. Still, I was stuck. I couldn’t move.

People assume that because I am out that I am out for whomever, whenever, wherever. Where is Shakira when you need her?

I am not available for whomever, whenever, wherever. Just because I am publicly available, my tweets, my writings…this does not mean I permit this unfettered access. To me. My energy. My spirit.

After I testified at the c-36 JUST meetings, the only Indigenous woman with sex working experience who opposed the bill, the messages came. I wish I was anonymous. “Does Naomi want a law for heroine addicts?” Someone wrote. “Crocodile tears.” Another.

I am strong. But I am weak. I still struggle with how to reconcile the violence that Indigenous women in the sex trade experience—the violence that kills—with the violence that feminism likes to unite us all under the pretty pink “sisterhood” umbrella of alleged shared experiences.

We do not have shared experiences.

The violence that Indigenous women experience is targeted. It is everywhere we go. On our way home. To school. To work. To the grocery store. To the pharmacy. Sometimes I just want to live…without the fear of going missing or being found murdered.

 

 

 

What does it mean to be an Indigenous woman?

For the month of January, I am enrolled in a course relating to Indigenous women and legal advocacy. It is an intense course. I am both excited and nervous about the course.

The first week of the course completed last week. I suspected it would be a “journaling” course, where students have to write journals for an assignment. The term “journal” sounds very elementary in a law school context but each course that I have been in that requires journaling has been … well, challenging. You are expected to write a journal according to the assignment (which obviously differs from course to course). I find these journal-assignments always force me to think beyond the surface of the readings. This is what I enjoy about these journal-assignments. But I didn’t really want to talk about the structure/set-up of assignments in this class.

I enrolled in this class because I wanted to be challenged, personally and professionally. And, without a doubt, I am.

The longer I am in law school and the longer I am in post-secondary education, generally, the more I notice that there exists this idea about Indigenous women. I don’t know if I have the correct words to describe my thoughts about the readings I have encountered about Indigenous women.

While I agree that Indigenous women are the core or the center of communities and that Indigenous women (because of colonialism and all of its patriarchy, racism, sexism, etc) are sexualized, I am having troubling with some of the readings that talk about Indigenous women’s roles as “life givers” or “mothers.” I guess my issue with these kinds of portrayal of Indigenous women in these roles is that this is something I don’t want to do… it is not my role. I know that mothering takes place in various contexts and can happen in many ways. I know that someone doesn’t have to give birth to be a mother. But these readings that I have encountered on Indigenous women only talk about sex as something that is used to create family, life or community. I am a bit bothered by this portrayal about sex and Indigenous women because I feel it pigeonholes Indigenous women bodies/sexualities into only a certain type of role.

If by saying that Indigenous women are sexualized, how do we make space to talk about how Indigenous women can be sexual? In particular, how can Indigenous women be sexual in other ways without fear of judgment or shame because they aren’t fulfilling “traditional roles”? I ask these questions because I wonder how the stories of Indigenous women who sell/trade sex fit into the histories of Indigenous peoples. I know that Indigenous peoples used to trade with other Indigenous peoples. I know that Indigenous peoples, including Indigenous women, participated in cash economies. But how do we know that Indigenous peoples, especially Indigenous women, did not trade sex when other forms of trades (for items/cash) occurred? Sometimes people argue that prostitution is not a “traditional activity” and well, sure. Prostitution is a term coined by the Criminal Code (and um, the white feminists of the time). But does the absence of stories of trading sex necessarily mean that this form of trade did/did not occur?

I know with sharing my stories relating to selling/trading sex that there is a violence attached to these stories–I am ostracized, shamed, silenced…to name a few. I sometimes avoid certain spaces/places (including in ceremonial/traditional spaces/places) because I know that people in those spaces/places will shame me for coming out about my own stories/truths. So, if we don’t make the space to talk about these stories, how can we know what we do not know?

And personally, I question myself: what does it mean to be an Indigenous woman? Specifically, if the roles are defined as “mother” and “life-giver” and sex is only seen in the role as “life-making” or “family-making” or “community-making”, what does it mean to be an Indigenous woman if you show mothering in other ways (not giving birth/life-making) or if you have sex for other reasons (not giving birth/life-making)?