Red Dresses and reconciliation
May 5 is National Missing and Murdered Native Women, Girls & Two-spirit Awareness Day, a time when Indigenous communities and our allies wear red and gather to remember, honor, and give voice to women whose stories have not been heard. As I hung the red dress, I started thinking about all those spirits, souls, beings who have been targeted by colonialism, racism, sexism, trans/homophobia and more. I also started to think about the children who are being uncovered at the sites of former colonisation camps known to some as schools. As I hung the dress, I got a vision of the spirits of MMIWG2S stepping towards the children, picking the wee ones up, dancing and singing with the older ones. My heart was full while it also ached.
For me, as with many Indigenous folks, remembrance is not just this one day a year... it is every day. Every day we live with the fact that someone we know has or may join this ever-growing genocidal list, or that we ourselves may be targeted. It is a weight that never goes away but that is lessened when we are together with friends and allies and when we are in ceremony. It is a weight that is often not recognised by those that don't share it.... a sort of 'out of sight, out of mind'.
As a therapist and an educator, I often think and speak about decolonising as a key part of reconciliation. Since becoming a certified mainstream therapist through a very colonised institution the need for decolonising has become even more clear to me. The question then is how do we do it? How do we make therapy more culturally safe for Indigenous folk to access it? How do we, as therapists, help the process of reconciliation in the work we do with our client's pain? More importantly, how do we as therapists ensure that we are not complicit in ongoing colonial systems, attitudes and ignorance?
The first step in all of this is knowledge, knowing what you don't know... then taking steps to be better informed. There is so much information available to educate you about MMIWG2S, here are a few:
The next steps might be more challenging, seek out opportunities to engage with Indigenous communities with an open heart and mind, sitting in discomfort and being open to hearing difficult things that may be directed at you. Reflect on that weight I mentioned above; in taking the time to sit with us in discomfort you are, in a sense, connecting with our everyday experience of being in a colonised world.
Try it on, reflect on your discomfort, if you are moved to guilt - let it go as it serves nothing but more colonialism. If you are moved to anger - good - direct it at colonial systems and structures. Understand that the feelings of anger, despair, hopelessness and yes... sometimes guilt are feelings shared with many Indigenous people as we walk with the weight that is colonialism and genocide. When we move from our hearts, THAT is the point where we approach reconciliation.
That is the point where we come to understand that we must remember every day, that we must work to make change in whatever ways we can. Our work as therapists can be a microcosm of our society, we need to foster awareness of how colonialism is infused into everything and take whatever steps we can to decolonise.
Like a stone thrown into a pond, the ripples of a tiny action can reach far shores and even when the ripples stop - the stone has changed the form of the water for as long as it lies within.