The Weight of All Our Rage/Red Dress

I recall this poem I wrote during the Oka Crisis of 1990. Thirty-one years ago. Things have only gotten more dire.

Oka Nada

It was true what the foremothers
told us.
Words are unrepentant birds
which fly off
and leave us silent.

(Once more we watch
the silenced movie.
Clear Quebec Sky,
still summer days).

The army and the police
destroy dignity and land.
Earth, if you are the mother,
how can you bear the weight
of all our rage?

I am from the country Columbus
dreamt of.
You the land Columbus conquered.
Now in your land
my words are circling
blue Oka sky
they come back to us.
Alight on tongue.

Protect me with your brazen passion
for history is my truth,
Earth, my witness
My home,
this native land.

from A New Remembrance, TSAR Press, Toronto, 1993

At that time, in 1990, we did not have the public land acknowledgements used in social justice venues that we have today, as links between racisms and histories of exclusion are being made between people of colour descended from slaves and immigrants/refugees with Aboriginal and Metis peoples. For example, in Toronto, this might be used:

The land I am standing on today is the traditional territory of many nations including the Mississaugas of the Credit, the Anishnabeg, the Chippewa, the Haudenosaunee and the Wendat peoples and is now home to many diverse First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples. I also acknowledge that Toronto is covered by Treaty 13 signed with the Mississaugas of the Credit, and the Williams Treaty signed with multiple Mississaugas and Chippewa bands.

During that time I was forcibly struck by the banal genocidal machinations of the Canadian/Quebec alliance, as a Mohawk ancestral territory and burial ground was to be razed for a golf course. This speaks to the colonial settler state’s desire for amnesia, an amnesia to be filled with fake news and anonymous trolls, as any news item pertaining to indigenous /Canadian relations will show on the internet.

In this world, named as genocidal, by the Report of the Inquiry on Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women and Girls,

the symbol of the red dress stands for the thousands of murdered and devalued Inuit, Aboriginal and Metis women, upon whose bodies and lives, our present standards of morality as a constitutional polity rest.

Through these pictures, I invite the reader to join me on a journey of solidarity and testimony from “sea to shining sea” and in particular, pay attention to the notorious Highway of Tears where so many lives of Aboriginal women have been taken.

I comemorate the presence of First Nations and Metis peoples in spaces that for me, constitute Canada in so many ways, the park, the bus, the north, the highway of tears and the prison or jail (where aboriginal women are grossly over-represented).

I leave the viewer with this series, The Weight of All our Rage/Red Dress as my meditation on a hope for a future where indigenous peoples throughout the Americas (of which Canada is a very real part!) can create autonomous and just relations with settler and extractive governments and in alliance with the many people of color who increasingly make up the population in Canada and the United States.

The Weight of All Our Rage /Red Dress 1, Copyright 2019, Kaushalya Bannerji
The Weight of All Our Rage /Red Dress 2, Copyright 2019, Kaushalya Bannerji
The Weight of All Our Rage /Red Dress 3, Copyright 2019, Kaushalya Bannerji
The Weight of All Our Rage /Red Dress 4, Copyright 2019, Kaushalya Bannerji
The Weight of All Our Rage /Red Dress 5, Copyright 2019, Kaushalya Bannerji

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