Stella Bowles Interview

 
 

Recipient of Meritorious Service Medal from the Governor General of Canada visits campus

Stella Bowles was interviewed by Yanik Gallie in The Xaverian Weekly newsroom on February 5, 2019. Bowles was on campus hosting an address to Bachelor of Education students with a focus in Business. Bowles was invited to speak of her entrepreneurial skills and how to support non-traditional student learning. My River: Cleaning up the LaHave River is a book by Bowles written with Anne Laurel Carter available for purchase at Chapters, Amazon, and local bookshops across Canada.

***

YG: How did you meet Carter?

SB: She presented herself as an author wanting to write a book about my work. She came over for a cup of tea, we had tea and talked. We decided it would be a good idea to write the first couple chapters and see if a publisher picks up the book. Formac Publishing Company Limited picked up the book, so she wrote the rest. 

YG: Describe a typical workshop for the book with Carter. 

SB: Anne wrote the book from my perspective. There was a lot of sending notes back and forth to change things. Because she lives in Toronto, we had to FaceTime to talk. Sometimes it would be talking about my day because she needed to become me to write the book. She was in Hawaii once when we were FaceTiming. She was asking about how I would structure my sentences. When I proofread the drafts, I recognized things I said. There’s a lot of proofreading involved. Even if you read a page, you have to go back and read it again. Sending emails is a big part of the work too. She captured my voice. 

YG: What’s your advice to  students? 

SB: You can make a difference no matter your age. Your age shouldn’t define what you can and cannot do. If you talk to your parents or a mentor, you can get somebody to help you. You can accomplish just about anything. 

YG: What’s your advice to teachers?

SB: I think classrooms need more hands-on learning. I don’t like traditional school. It’s boring. If you do an activity or workshop, students retain more information than they would if they were reading from a textbook. Science is fun; I learned that with my project. 

YG: How can teachers better support students?

SB: Care. Any kind of acknowledgement is nice. They don’t have to throw a party but saying something positive with constructive advice is important to students. Don’t shut down questions if students are interested in an unfamiliar topic either. Guide students and help them find a resource, teacher or mentor to engage with their interest.

YG: Can you share the story about your sign?

SB: I’m a little stubborn (chuckles). My sign was up to show that the river was contaminated with fecal bacteria and the municipality called me asking to take the sign down. I said, “No.” They called again and asked, “When are you going to take it down?” I said, “As soon as the program starts and the first hole is done for a septic system, I’ll take it down.” They called me again later and invited me to the digging ceremony for the septic system where we took some pictures then I took my sign down. 

YG: You recently announced a partnership with Bluenose Coastal Action Foundation. How did it happen?

SB: It happened through the prize money I was winning from different organizations. We decided to have a partnership and create kits that provide students with equipment for them to test their own  waterways.

This partnership is showing that kids can make a difference and science can be fun. The kits are about $600 each, and that provides equipment to test for about a year. I have a few groups in Nova Scotia and three groups in Sweden who are using the kits. 

YG: What is your message to communities in Canada that have straight pipes dumping into waterways?

SB: Straight pipes are 100% illegal in Canada. They are not grandfathered in by law and that should be enforced. I don’t see how it’s right to be putting sewage and toilet paper down the toilet directly into our waterways. When I was getting a sample, we found needles along the shore. Anything being flushed ends up in our waterways. If someone steps on a needle, it’s dangerous.

YG: Mayor Rachel Bailey of Lunenburg questioned the validity of your Lunenburg water results.

SB: I was curious. I wanted to know what Lunenburg’s contamination level was and it was bad. I posted the results and the mayor was not happy. She questioned the validity of my results. I went to Acadia university and we did tests with variables to validate my experiment. Half of my samples are tested by me and half are tested by an accredited laboratory. The results turned out to be accurate. 

YG: How do you modify your presentation for a specific audience?

SB: I present to people in primary and secondary classes, university, and nursing homes. It’s interesting because I’m always presenting in a different way and adapting my speech. If I talk to little kids, I’ll say, “There’s poop in the river.” They’ll react by trying to fix the problem. When people get older, it’s all about tax money going towards fixing the problem and funding. It’s fascinating how people’s perspectives change as they get older. 

YG: How did you get in touch with researchers in Sweden?

SB: Jennie Larsson came to work with Coastal Action for a month over the summer. We got in contact with her and we went to one of her conferences in Halifax. She said it would be great to have a partnership with us. 

I went to Sweden this  December right after the Walk of Fame. It was a cool experience being in the classrooms in Sweden. All the kids get fed healthy meals at the schools. They were eating cream fish and food that nobody would ever go near at my school. 

YG: Considering how Sweden is running their education system, how can we improve our system?

SB: Technology in the classroom is not going away. It   bothers me when teachers lock      everything down on a Chromebook. Have a little more trust in students. We need to have a conversation in the classroom about how to properly respect the internet and use the technology. 

YG: What’s your takeaway from being the first recipient of Canada’s Walk of Fame          Community Hero Award?

SB: I think it’s a good opportunity to spread my message    further. It really gets the message out that our waters aren’t clean, and we need to step up our game on that situation. It’s great to be winning, but I’m not doing it for the awards. 

YG: During your acceptance speech you mention Dr. David Maxwell is a mentor. How is he an exemplary teacher?

SB: He provided me with testing equipment. I was able to publish my results. Being an 11-year-old kid testing water and saying it’s dirty, a lot of people would question what I was talking about. Dr. Maxwell helped to validate my work. 

He likes to ask me a lot of questions and makes me think critically. He still goes back to things I didn’t know when I was 11 and asks me to explain it to him now. 

YG: What was a most memorable moment from Canada’s Walk of Fame?

SB: They cut out the best part of Canada’s Walk of Fame from airtime. I didn’t know who Kurt Browning was and I was told to walk fast to my seat because I had gone to the bathroom during a commercial break when Kurt said, “Are you Stella Bowles?” I said, “Yep.” I kept walking to my seat. He got on stage and made a joke that I am the most intimidating person he ever met and that I could get any politician’s money (chuckles). 

Also, because my award was associated with the Toronto Maple Leafs, they gave me a jersey signed by the whole team with my name embroidered on the back. In a few weeks, they’re flying the family to see a Toronto Maple Leafs game which I’m excited to attend. 

 

Dr. Leslie Jane McMillan Interview

 
 

Book Launch: Truth and Conviction: Donald Marshall Jr. and the Mi’kmaw Quest for Justice

Dr. Leslie Jane McMillan was interviewed by Yanik Gallie in her office on January 28, 2019. McMillan’s book launch on February 1 at the Antigonish public library brought together a roomful of people beyond seating capacity. The book sold out before guest speakers Laurel J. Halfpenny-MacQuarrie and Kerry Prosper introduced McMillan. Truth and Conviction: Donald Marshall Jr. and the Mi’kmaw Quest for Justice is available for purchase at Chapters, Amazon, and local bookshops across Canada.

***

YG: Looking back at the wrongful conviction and fishing cases, how does it feel to continue fighting for social justice?

JM: September 17, 1999 is the 20th anniversary of the Marshall decision. This year also marks the completion of the commission on Donald Marshall Junior prosecution for the time he spent in jail for a murder he did not commit. It’s the 30th anniversary of that report which technically was released on January 26, 1990 but the commission concluded its work in 1989. Having been involved in that work for a long time, my passion is constantly fueled and restocked by the outrages that continue to happen in terms of justice and equality with examples of systemic racism and discrimination. There’s no shortage, unfortunately, of situations that point to the need for systemic change. Hopefully the work we do now in collaboration with community is picking up some momentum. It’s starting to drive not just surface changes, but substantive changes in the way relationships recognize and honour Indigenous treaty rights, human rights and Mi’kmaw vision for governance over all things that affect their lives. It’s taken a long time to address systemic racism and discrimination because they require systemic change. There are increasingly more and more people getting involved in positions of power who are recognizing what happens when they exclude Mi’kmaq people from decision making that impacts their lives. 

YG: What are your favorite memories with Donald Marshall Junior?

JM: We had a lot of very happy times when we lived up in Cape Breton in Aberdeen at a place we called Junior’s farm. I think some of the happiest moments were when his brothers, sisters, mother, the extended family, the kids and their kids would all come over to the farmhouse. We’d have a big bonfire with lots of food. The day he woke up from his transplant was also one of the happiest days. When he recognized he had survived that ordeal, it was a special moment. Most of the time, happy moments were sitting around up in Aberdeen playing cribbage at the kitchen table with the windows wide open, smelling the cedar, and being out in the country.

YG: How is the title and cover artwork significant to you?

JM: It took a long time to get to that title. It certainly wasn’t the original title. It’s commonplace that the press has an idea, the author has an idea, and sometimes it takes a while to negotiate something that everybody’s comfortable publishing. The book was originally called Unsettling Justice and then colon with another caption. 

Truth and Conviction are powerful terms. As an anthropologist, I think there are multiple truths. I also think there are many forms of conviction. Whether it’s conviction to make change or conviction in the sense of the justice system, we constantly construct these ideas of truth and conviction. It’s a metaphor for many paths that are in the book. 

It’s the legacy of Donald Marshall Junior that I’m pointing to in terms of narrating these very important points like what are the truths for Mi’kmaq people? What is the history and the consequences of colonization of their legal principles? What are their convictions about the restoration and revitalization of those legal principles today? That’s very much part of Donald Marshall Junior’s legacy outlined in the quest for justice.

The artwork is one of my favorite pictures. I thought we would go with more abstract art or an artist’s rendition, but they wanted to use this photo. It’s a beautiful photo of him fly fishing and he looks extremely peaceful. Fly fishing was one of his favorite things to do. 

YG: Having been a defendant for Marshall’s decision on Indigenous fishing rights, can you describe the atmosphere during the proceeding?

JM: There was a lot of tension. The court was first heard at the provincial level here in Antigonish because the charges were near Paq’tnkek at Pomquet Harbour. There was a lot of media attention to the case because it was Donald Marshall Junior. It’s interesting whenever you’re dealing with somebody who’s in the public gaze, you deal with a lot of unwanted attention. You’ve got strangers approaching you about strange things too. There’s a certain vulnerability of being in the public gaze that made me very uneasy and made Donald even more uneasy. 

He wanted to avoid that after the wrongful conviction when it was just non-stop. All he wanted to do was exercise his treaty rights in a calm and peaceful way, a right that he knew he had. Generationally, these rights were known by the Mi’kmaq to be active and alive. The gaze of the public, again, caused a lot of stress and tension. His health declined more rapidly than I think it would have otherwise hadn’t he experienced that.Then, we lost at the court here. The late judge John D. Embree did everything he could to give the fairest judgement and open it up for further investigation which we are always grateful that we were given leave to appeal. It was hard work. 

YG: Kerry Prosper was talking with me earlier today about the preparation for court and the collaborative effort of the team.

JM: There was a huge team of researchers. A lot of new Mi’kmaq lawyers who had just graduated from the Indigenous Blacks and Mi’kmaq law program that had started at Dalhousie University as a result of the commission of inquiry into the wrongful conviction helped with the case. It was a beautiful synergy that was happening. Many of these Mi’kmaq lawyers at that time are now in leadership positions like chief P.J. Prosper, Doug Brown who is president of Union of Nova Scotia Indians, and Jimbo Michael. A lot of strong Mi’kmaq women lawyers were also part of the research team. 

There was an awful lot of preparation. I have seven or eight volumes of historical archival work. William Wicken who was one of the historical experts for the Mi’kmaq worked tirelessly. This was a very important treaty test case because it was testing 1760-1761 treaties which were different than the 1752 treaty. This had the addition of commerciality and the livelihood trade part that was critical to the nation. Bruce Wildsmith and Eric Zscheile led the legal team with exemplary care.

YG: You were with Donald Marshall Junior in Pomquet Harbour fishing. Can you describe the environment the day DFO met you on the water?

JM: A beautiful sunny day. It was one of those days when you’re happy to be on the water. A slight breeze, I remember the water sparkling. Donald’s back was really sore, so I was driving the boat most of the day and I was hauling the nets. In Pomquet, the eels are big. The eels were slapping around the boat. 

We were in a good mood, then we see a boat coming. Normally it’s quiet down there. Sometimes there would be a fisherman or two around, but it was quiet that day. The DFO came over in their boat and asked to see what was in our boat. I thought they were looking for by-catch like if you’re fishing salmon when it’s out of season. They asked to see our license and JR said, “I don’t need a license.” The officer said, “Everybody needs a license.” JR said, “I’ve got a treaty right.” I didn’t have a license either. None of the people we fished eel with had them or talked about them. Mi’kmaq didn’t need licenses is how we understood the land to be. 

The officers were very polite. They wanted our names and address. We were reluctant to engage with the officers. Donald’s not that comfortable around people in uniform, and rightly so. They asked to take one of our nets for evidence. We asked them to take an empty net, which they did. We wanted it back, but we didn’t ever get it back. Then, they drove away and hit a sand bar. We laughed because we thought, they don’t even know the water. What are they doing down here?  We had no idea what was going on. When we called asking to get the net back, things started to progress from there. Things got quite political quickly. It was a nice sunny day and we were quite bewildered. 

YG: What are your thoughts on the implementation of the Truth and Reconciliation Calls to Action?

JM: There are 94 Calls to Action. Two of the most critical ones from my perspective are numbers 42 and 50 which talk about building Indigenous justice systems and institutes to learn about Indigenous legal principles and put them into practice. We are a long way from those Calls to Action. I think they offer such an exciting opportunity to engage, develop, and apply Indigenous legal principles. 

Other Calls to Action talk about the reduction of incarceration of Indigenous people. There are lots of opportunities to build programs and facilities for wellness and healing that are really grounded in Indigenous cultures and teachings. If the government follows through on their commitment to implement all Calls to Action, there can be some beautiful programs and opportunities to help break cycles of intergenerational trauma, recidivism, and young people going to jail because there aren’t opportunities for education, employment or getting grounded in cultural teachings. 

I’m optimistic. There’s lots of mobilization around Indigenous intelligence. There’s lots of scholars, legal scholars, but there must be more collaboration with the legal justice system and the courts, with society in general. What does a pluralistic justice system look like? Community building and fostering community to legitimize their own justice systems and programming in ways that are meaningful. It takes a long time to unpack the horrors of colonization and rejuvenate pride and belief in the principles of ways of being. 

YG: Land-based education is important in schools.

JM: We just came from a three-day conference on land-based education as the conduit to healing dispute and dispute management as well. People get disconnected when they make a dispute within a community. They break a relationship not only with the individual they’ve harmed but with the families and networks of families that create a community. How do you fix that? Sending them to jail isn’t the answer. The answer is reintegration back into the fold of what it means to be a whole new person. By creating opportunities, we help an individual who’s in crisis to address their prideness demon, addiction, or cycles of abuse that they need help to facilitate. Giving the space, having the communities create spaces, and having them supported consistently not with programs or pilot projects but with real systemic resources to make change. It’s generative, but we are a long way from seeing substantial results. We’ve been talking for a long time. More people talk now but I want to see more action. 

YG: What is your philosophy as an anthropologist?

JM: Anthropology as a discipline is well-positioned in terms of community engagement. In terms of working with Indigenous communities and as a professor of Anthropology, I try to leverage my position of privilege and power to advocate for changes the community tells me they want. 

I’m very fortunate. I was up in community today and I was up in community for the last three days of last week with the Marshall family and a gathering of elders. They are so generous in the knowledge they share. The experiences that I have are rich. 

A lot of times, it’s really painful and difficult work. You’re working with people’s pain and suffering trying to find solutions so that it doesn’t continue, so that we don’t perpetuate colonial relationships, and so that we don’t allow laws or policies that infringe on people’s wellbeing. 

We fight for equity and my job is a great one in that I get to meet people from around the world who are so wise and resilient. It keeps reaffirming that cultural attributes are phenomenal, and they tell us a lot about humanity. 

 

“Is it worth it to be a stereotypical man?”

 
 

Dr. Murray Knutilla speaks about his 2016 book Paying for Masculinity

Dr. Murray Knutilla was interviewed in the evening of June 27, 2018 by Douglass Hook.

Dr. Murray Knutilla is a professor of sociology at Brock University and an adjunct professor at the University of Regina. The book referred to in this interview is Dr. Knutilla’s 2016 work, Paying for Masculinity: Boys, Men, and the Patriarchal Dividend.

***

DH: In simplified terms, what is “Hegemonic Masculinity” and what is Patriarchy?

MK: Patriarchy is a form of organizing human social relations in which males are dominant, males are more privileged, maleness is more highly esteemed than femaleness. An example of patriarchy at work is I’m a golfer, not a good one, unfortunately, but when I’m golfing with my male friends if someone leaves a put five feet short it’s not uncommon to hear someone say “Nice putt, Sally. You did that like an old woman. Are your panties too tight?” That’s humour, but underneath that humour is the notion that girls couldn’t putt well. That old women are useless.

Hegemonic masculinity is just the dominant way in performing masculinity as a man or boy in the world. So, what I argue happens is coming to understand how, in the last 300 to 400 years, a particular form of masculinity became hegemonic because during feudal society, for example, there was much greater equality in men and women’s relationships. Something happened with the emergence of the industrial revolution and capitalism that codified a particular way of “being men” and that emphasized power, control, and domination. 

DH: You talked about how approximately 350 years ago there were more egalitarian modes of being for families, what did this look like?

MK: It was an era that the family was also the productive unit. So, if I were a cobbler or if the history of family was  cobblers, we all worked in the home and the kids were in the home and I might be cutting the leather or my partner, or my wife, might be cutting the eyes in the shoe and sewing the soles, children underfoot, and so the production happened literally in the household. It was still a patriarchal society, so when we went to church on Sunday we might have heard a sermon that emphasized the nature of patriarchy but when we got home on Monday, the truth of the matter was that in order to make the shoes, we worked together.

DH: So, what changed?

MK: That system eroded during the 1600s, 1700s, and the 19th century Victorian period, when the production moved from the home to the factory, when the mechanization of production happened these factories could make shoes at a fraction of the cost of the artisan-produced home shoes and so we were all driven into the factory. Myself, my female partner, my children, and for a period of time the entire family worked together. They liked small children working in mines (and factories) because children could get into small spaces. But a variety of social forces led to change. Men, unions, people of good conscience and, social reformers were important in this; “No we can’t do this to our children, this is not right.” Men increasingly began to realize that if they restricted the work of women and children and if they could get the government or state to do that, they could demand higher wages. In the transition from the feudal family to what became, three centuries later, the traditional western nuclear family, the woman stayed at home raising children and the man brought home the family wage.

DH: How important was the income that women earned to the family household?

MK: In the pre-industrial era, it was absolutely essential. 

DH: How did this change become entrenched if household production was so important?

MK: The notion of domestic labour as a labour of love was really interesting because, on the other hand, “I’m this poor working class man in Manchester, I work long hours in a textile factory, work is nasty, it’s dirty and dangerous. When I come home from my ten or 12-hour shift, it’s really sweet if there’s a meal ready, I don’t have to start doing the laundry, if the kids, whom I love, have been properly taken care of. All of those are really sweet benefits to me.” As patriarchy takes on a new form in the era of industrial capitalism, we begin to understand the benefit that accrues to men from this new division of labour, it’s an element of the patriarchal dividend.

DH: Even though there was this dividend for men, it was reinforced with this kind of Victorian chivalry where the women were expected to be dainty, delicate, and fragile and they needed to be protected from this new industrial world?

MK: The interesting thing about the Victorian middle class, the emerging entrepreneurial capitalist class, they wanted to emanate certain things and imitate the aristocracy, and how they lived. Think of Downtown Abbey, though it was in decline, it was still a lifestyle that many in the middle class and many in the upper echelons of the working class sought to emulate. 

DH: In the book, you talk about the patriarchal dividend, and the benefits that men enjoy because of their status, but there are some significant downsides to this dividend. Can you talk more about that?

MK:  Unequal social orders bear up some of the most lonely and alienated people in the world, which often are men who are unable to establish human relations with other people. One of my favourite movies is Stand by Me, about four boys looking for a dead body. Those boys have not yet gone through the process of “manning up,” but if you know the movie, there are two groups of boys, eleven and twelve, and the older boys who have “manned up,” one played by Keifer Sutherland, and he’s basically a psychopath. What happened between twelve and sixteen? At the end of the movie it’s narrated by Richard Dreyfuss, and he says “I’ve never had friends like I had when I was twelve. Jesus, does anybody?” In a totally non-erotic and non-carnal way these boys love each other, they genuinely love each other, they’re genuinely capable of expressing love and affection. In my chapter on boys, I use Niobe Way’s work a lot, where she has done twenty years of cross-cultural work [on boys] and the profound need for connection in love and friendship and that gets drubbed out of us and that’s a tragedy.

Let me tell you about the corporate executives I interviewed about masculinity. I had a number of cases that, by an hour into the interview, the man cancels his other appointments because he hasn’t talked about himself for a long time. One question in which I asked them was “Tell me about your relationship with your children,” so you hear me on the tape say that, and you’re listening to the tape — let me imitate the sound on my tape: “[deep sigh and silence].” You hear this silence because they don’t have memories of the first six to eight years of their child’s life. 

DH: How does this happen?

MK: It’s back to that cost, it’s not just about us, in terms of unhappiness and so, I think men are lonely. In the chapter on boys, I talk about how, as we move from our best friend to our good friend to our acquaintance. In your life, ask yourself, did you have best friends with whom you shared intimate secrets? Then you had good friends, and then you had acquaintances to talk to about stuff, but the corporate executives I talked to, they had no one to talk to about this stuff. They couldn’t talk to their wife, or their competitors in the office or the guys at their golf club, or the people that worked for them. If you have people working for you, you can’t display any weaknesses. Certainly can’t do this with your “good friends,” you’re going to talk about sports and other things, not about your masculinity or sexual frustrations.

DH: Even within that bottling up, there are compartmentalizations that happen, where men display different masculinity to different people based on context, which creates further issues within one’s own concept of their masculinity. 

MK: A really common comment from young girls, when talking about their boyfriends is that, “they’re so nice when we get together, but when he’s with his friends he’s just an asshole.” 

DH: Some of the chapters in your book talk about the rules for men, like, no sissy stuff, don’t be gay, etc. I wondered, that when it comes to masculinity and gay men, do they get a kind of “pass” on masculinity or the competitive aspects of hegemonic masculinity? 

MK: Well, there are multiple masculinities. One of the weaknesses of my book, I think, is the treatment of the whole community of LGBTQ+ and so on. And a part of that is that there is material out there about gay masculinities. I know some gay men who practice hegemonic masculinity. In some ways he acts towards his same-sex partner very much in the way a dominant heterosexual man would act towards his female partner. So, he’s very comfortable in his skin as a gay man practicing hegemonic masculinity. The other point is that there are a range of gay masculinities, just as there are a range of heterosexual masculinities. One of the particular challenges for gay men in our society is the phenomenon of homophobia, which is commonly associated with hegemonic masculinity.

DH: What is it about manhood, or masculinity, that makes it so fragile or difficult to maintain status?

MK: The interesting thing about masculinity as opposed to femininity, is that it has to be earned and granted. You’re not automatically a man, you have to prove you’re a man. For different cultures there are different rites of passage and the interesting thing for advanced western society is that we don’t really have a right of passage. We need others to tell us that we’re men, and recognize we’re men and sometimes we do stupid things to do that...

DH: I thoroughly enjoyed the book and it’s something I will be thinking about for some time to come. This was a pleasure, thank you so much for taking the time to talk to me.

MK: You’re very welcome.

 

Books that Aren’t Textbooks

 
 

The power of minimalism

Perhaps you were one of the fortunate people who had too much time during the break to relax. If you were, maybe you picked up a book that wasn’t a textbook. 

If you did, I’m happy for you. It can be challenging to make time to read for pleasure, especially while studying. A lot of times we don’t turn to reading as a downtime activity or as something to do to unwind. Maybe one of your new year’s goals is to finish that book you picked up in the summer that’s been hiding underneath last semester’s study notes. Or maybe you’ve promised yourself just to read more in general. 

Many of us read more than we think: there’s an infinite amount to read as we scroll through our newsfeeds, the blackholes of forums and posts to catch up on in Instagram. If you don’t like reading, maybe it’s because you haven’t found something of interest to read. But there is something about picking up a book, even just for a few minutes every day, that is enjoyable. 

We also sometimes forget about how much is out there. Here is a short list of suggestions for readings this year.

Cal Newport - Digital Minimalism 

For the past year or so, there has been a lot of talk about the practice of minimalism. There are several books about getting rid of your junk, packing your little backpack and going on a wild expedition. There are Youtube channels and TV shows about experts going into peoples’ lives to coach them in the art of being a minimalist. In Digital Minimalist, Newport speaks to how minimalism is about more than just throwing out all of your stuff. In short, minimalism is about knowing how much is enough. This goes for our physical belongings as well as our personal technology. In our tech-savvy and digital world, we are losing out on the many other real-time satisfactions in our lives. 

Tanya Talaga - All Our Relations

Given the recent arrests in Wet’suwet’en First Nation in British Columbia, it is no surprise that the new year posesses the same conflicts and injustices. Resistance, resilience and reconciliation. These are a few buzzwords, important ones at that, that we all have the responsibility to understand. Talaga, author of Seven Fallen Feathers, a novel that highlights the silencing of the missing and murdered indigenous children of Thunder Bay, speaks to the national and international crises that is the continuing oppression of Indigenous peoples and their families. This is a non-fiction read with personal accounts and a lengthy list of cited academic works regarding justice and power – just a start to learning more about this local and global issue.

Michael Lewis - The Fifth Risk 

There is quite a bit of noise surrounding American politics. Having trouble following it all? Maybe it is not beneficial to listen and read the headlines. Quite frankly, it is a lot of words (or the same words over and over from President Trump). Underneath all of the mess and confusion are many other individuals, some destructive and others heroes, who are lost in the mayhem. Lewis brings these folks’ voices to the forefront to examine everyone’s question: What is going on? Read it, my dad said so.

Mira Jacob - Good Talk: A Memoir in Conversations 

If you like graphic novels, this visually-appealing read is coming out in March. In this compilation of works, Jacob touches on the subjects of colour, race, religion, sexuality and love. Her writing stems from her own conversations with her son. This book is a collection of how she has gone about these “tough subjects.” All the while, she uses artful humour to convey her messages – something perhaps we can learn from in these times of noise, powerful opinions and ongoing social unrest.

Richard Louv - Last Child in the Woods

This book is not a recent release but it is an important one. Louv speaks to the modern-day problem in children: nature-deficit disorder. As the digital world continues to develop, children are missing out on what perhaps a lot of us are learning is very important to our wellness as adults. Going outside. 

The outdoors has an unequivocal effect on our brains and it is, as Louv puts it, our responsibility to preserve it, relish its beauty and educate each other on its importance for our upcoming generations and ourselves.

Chimimanda Ngozi Adichie - Americanah

You’ve likely heard of this author before. She is the face of a memorable TedTalk, “The danger of a single story.” Her voice, ever-captivating, provides a clear picture of the differences that exist in our world. Americanah is a fictional novel about a young girl named Ifemelu and her boyfriend, Obinze. As the setting in the book shifts, the subjects of race and identity are unpacked in an interwoven and complex story. This book is  available for purchase in the bookstore on campus conveniently enough. 

 

Alan Syliboy Interview

 
 

Arts and Community editor Salome Barker and Co-Editor-in-Chief Yanik Gallie of The Xaverian Weekly did an interview with Alan Syliboy on June 24th, 2018 at NovelTea Bookstore Cafe in Truro, Nova Scotia. Alan is the artist of Mi’kmaw Animals, released on May 30th by Nimbus Publishing. The baby board book is now available for purchase at Chapters and select bookshops across Canada. 

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Alan Syliboy grew up believing that native art was generic.  “As a youth, I found painting difficult and painful, because I was unsure of my identity.”  But his confidence grew in 1972 when he studied privately with Shirley Bear.  He then attended the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design, where 25 years later, he was invited to sit on the Board of Governors.  Syliboy looks to the indigenous Mi’kmaq petroglyph tradition for inspiration and develops his own artistic vocabulary out of those forms.  His popularization of these symbolic icons has conferred on them a mainstream legitimacy that restores community pride in its Mi’kmaq heritage.

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YG: Two years ago, you held the Coady Chair at StFX. What did you gain from that experience?

AS: I think the hardest part at the very first was, exactly what is that position? What do they expect? Trying to define what is was, that question, came up a lot early on. I didn’t worry about it too much and I just kind of let it happen and that’s generally how I do things. I do a diagnosis of it as it’s going on. I found a good number of indigenous students there who were very thrilled that I was there. In my being there, they felt supported. They got noticed too because I was there. Every time I would be invited somewhere, they were there. It was a mutual, beneficial, thing and I felt that I was already benefiting from the position. Also, there was an indigenous student who was in a wheelchair, and her husband who was sort of the manager in some way, sort of directed me how to be an ombudsman in a way. That’s how I saw the role.

The first day I was there I was on FOX campus radio. Well, I'll come and watch the show. I thought that was the plan all along. Right away, I’m running against the establishment in my very first day. There couldn’t be a better cause. I found out how difficult it is to make change in that structure, because it’s nuts and bolts, it’s money. If you wanna change a building, it’s a big effort. These buildings are from different ages. One student in a wheelchair had to crawl through the snow to get to class a couple times. It was just so difficult. When this woman got to StFX, she was so happy to have finally made it. And, it took her an extra year to graduate, because she had to drop classes as she couldn’t physically do them. She wanted to go to lunch and she had a lunch voucher but couldn’t make it there a lot of the times because she had to get the key to the elevator. You got to find that person with the key to get access. All of those things were against her. It’s amazing.

When we had the president’s colloquium, that was probably the highlight of everything I did there because I had panelists and they never did panelists that way before. I said, “It would have an effect, if I do it. But it would be a stronger effect, if I had 3 other opinions on the same subject.” That’s what I did, and it was a phenomenal success. That was addressed there, the issue of a person in a wheelchair. Very uncomfortable, I think, for the establishment who sat there. I was surprised that they sat there, and they listened. I felt that was one of my main achievements there. I didn’t do it alone, I had the right people. I listened to them who directed me too because I had no idea. I had Senator Murray Sinclair there and we had the flag issue came up at the time, the Mi’kmaw flag. It’s up, it’s down. Murray was told about this problem with the flag. He said, “I went to the Senate. They gave me two flag poles and it was Canada and my Nation. He wanted another flag for his community. They said, “No. We only have two poles.” So, he said, “Ok.” He opened the window and he put his flag up and you could see it. That’s how we dealt with that. Next day, he had a pole haha.

There were a lot of grad students’ voice grievances, it was very touching. It’s very isolating when you come from a small community and you’re in this university. They’re not really equipped. Some of the indigenous personnel weren’t indigenous. They took the job because no one else was taking it. It’s getting better, of course. It shone light on issues like that which should have been addressed. They are being addressed now. It was good for me in the sense that I had all of these classes. I did more talking than I had ever done before. I was talking for three or four hours a day. Then you’re in big demand, so they’re trying not to wear me out.

I took classes voluntarily on my own. So, I couldn’t blame them for all the workload. I even had a daycare come into my studio on-campus. They came twice. I wasn’t there on the first day, but they watched my animation. The next day they came in, I read them a story. Some of them were three years old. I felt really connected in doing these things. It was very positive. I wouldn’t want to do that every day, I couldn’t do that every day. But, I’m glad of the experience.

Also, I had to talk and tell my story so many times it refined my story. It made me a better public speaker. It improved my message to a large extent as well. I felt that. Basically, you’re telling the same story over and over, so you refine it. You also find the keys that turn in the right direction at the right time. It was a very good and rewarding experience.

SB: You’ve had many accomplishments as an artist such as creating the first Indigenous coin for the Royal Canadian Mint. Reflecting on your career, what other big accomplishments stand out the greatest for you?

AS: The Queen’s Jubilee medal, I also got to meet the queen as well. I have a campaign to do more public art. In this area, we are almost invisible. Whereas if you go to B. C., indigenous art is everywhere. You do not see that here at all. To increase the visual profile of us. And, it’s working. I have a mural at the airport that is permanent, and I just put a piece in the Commons. I have a piece there and it’s up for Masterworks Arts Award as well. I should hear within a month about whether I’m on the shortlist or not for that. All kinds of things have sort of come up every day.

Pat Power and I have a meeting every day in the morning for two, sometimes three hours, just going through emails. Answering emails and everything. I have a sense that Pat’s good at filling out forms and taking care of the little details. He was a finance guy so that’s the kind of stuff he likes a lot which is a perfect partnership because details are not my area. It could take me an hour to write a paragraph, I’m almost illiterate that way. As far as a spell check and all that, they’re catching up to me. I’m starting to speed up because of that. On my own, my education was very poor that way.

Social media too was one of my major accomplishments. As Native and indigenous communities we are pretty isolated as a rule when I was young. Now, I have 5000 friends on Facebook. A great number of my friends are indigenous. It’s a daily thing. I like the intimate interactions. For us, community-wise, you have a living Mi’kmaw dictionary. If you ask a question, you’re gonna have a half a dozen people come to help you out. You feel like you’re talking to the whole community, even beyond Mi’kma’ki. Even out West, I used to do shows out there, so I know lots of people out there. I find that is the biggest. Like first when we started the Morning Drum featured on my Facebook. That was just a temporary one-off thing that we did, but people refused to let us quit that. They would not let us, they just demanded. That was by accident. It’s a thread that finds its way everywhere. I go to places and people tell me about the Morning Drum and a lot of them have been shown by their friends. I realized the power of that. You’re always in an age when you’re relying on a gallery to promote you to make you a star. But that couldn’t happen, you couldn’t get the critical mass on your own, or you’ll get it for a little while and it’ll fade. My approach is brick by brick and day by day. That’s how I’ve done everything. Sometimes you don’t look back and see what you’ve built, because you’re too busy in the middle of building the next brick. You have to come back, or somebody will remind you that you did things. A doctorate too is up there. Unexpected. A doctorate was one of the biggest. There’s a list but I don’t think about it very much. There’s a few on the top of the list for sure.

SB: How does art help you to express your own heritage?

AS: When I was young, just starting out, there was no indigenous art. Art was your view of yourself as what you saw on TV. I had to discover that I am a Mi’kmaw which is aside from other tribes, but no one teaches you that. When I was about to go to school, and I remember this clearly, we spoke Mi’kmaw all the time as kids. Then a letter came out from the church, it was catholic school, and they said, “You’re not allowed to speak Mi’kmaw anymore. If you go to school, it’s gonna hold you back so no more Mi’kmaw.” My parents bought into that because they were very, very fluent. Everything was fine up until that point. That’s why I stalled in school that much because it was not only emotional trauma of going to school. But, it was going to school and not understanding what they’re telling you. TV came on at the same time and the language went out fast. It was gone really fast. I never recovered. I never was a very good student. I excelled at making images under the table in whatever way I could make them. My art was sort of an underground movement. That’s what I did daily.

Unfortunately, I didn’t learn any of the grammar rules or arithmetic. I was very poor at that. The nuns when they finally limped me into grade 7, there were 3 years of failure already in that time. I was diagnosed as “borderline retarded” by them. That was who they saw in their school. You couldn’t disagree with that because I had very little to say. I was actually afraid to talk. You go into the classroom, and you try to stay in the back to not cause any weight. You’d be singled out every now and then for entertainment purposes. They’d ask you a question they know darn well you don’t know the answer. Some of it was just for survival. I would say that school was residential-like. We’d head home every night. It wasn’t residential schools, but it was a version of it.

YG: Your artworks are often used in schools to teach principles of design such as balance, depth, and contrast. When students are introduced to art, they often ask “What’s art?” How do you respond to that question?

AS: I try to diagnose what level they are at artistically. For instance, I went to an inner-city school in Halifax which was primarily African. All of my classes before then were indigenous or rural, which is quite different. The first thing I saw was that the teacher had told them about me. They had got them prepared. They had already done artwork upon meeting. The first thing I did is I went place from place to place and individually looked at the work and gave them some critique and some advice. It was a one-on-one thing, and from then on it was just golden. I was in, we were pals. They were a generic group, killing time or something. Individually, you see where they are at. Some of them are quite advanced. You determine that and ask them what they want to know or how to do something. That connection is easily fixed with a one-on-one thing.

I do DAREarts, it’s an art program from Ontario originally. Look for DAREarts Atlantic. I started the program with them when they were down here, but they’re all over. I was impressed with them because they are like an art SWAT team. They come into schools and teach painting, music, theatre in one week. They have several teachers who have different strengths. Their program is free for schools. They finish a project and do a show at the end of the week.

I’ve heard a story that one group went out North. They were waiting for students to come and nobody came to their program. They decided to go knocking door to door and explaining what they’re doing. First thing we’ll do is feed your kids and then we’ll teach them art and take care of them. A handful came when it started. I think there was a dozen the first year. Next year there were almost three dozen. The year after was over a hundred and then on. Had they not knocked on doors, nothing would have happened. They might have said, “Well nobody wanted to come.” They didn’t take no for an answer. I like that because they’re aggressive. They work very hard. They select their people well.

I’m a painter, we’re doing The Thundermaker that is a vehicle for education in the arts. They also have people in the theatre, and somebody in music. All of these elements are touched at once and the fort of focus. We’re working with three schools, working on the same material. It’s all over Canada and it’s privately funded. I think McCain’s is one of our funders down here in the Atlantic Provinces. If you go onto DAREarts Atlantic, you’ll see all that information. That’s one of the ways I can be in the schools. I can focus in that way. I can go there for a whole week and affect quite a few students. I get asked almost every day by a class to come speak and it’s not possible. I’m a professional artist and that’s priority for me. I want to do work with students and do my part with students as much as I can.

There are exceptions for somethings like Québec. I’d never been there. I said I couldn’t get there because I needed to fly over. But, they were so determined to get me there. They covered travel expenses for me. They wouldn’t take no for answer. So I said, “I’ll go.” I feel that what I do is seen as important. This is not the political thing. I’m not talking about the band council or whatever. They are what they always were, they ignore everything. It’s business as usual for politics on reserves mostly. I wouldn’t say that as a whole. Very few politicians look at the arts that much. That’s changing, and you don’t wait around. That was one of my main things. If support wasn’t coming, you just worked around it. I always felt that way. I always felt that there’s a big world. When I went to the Art Project with Shirley Bear in the 70s, she made my world a big world from then on. We were being taught by world-class artists. We were going to the best universities and museums, and we were taught so well. The world was that, we never regressed. It was always looking ahead toward an extra horizon. I give thanks to Shirley Bear for changing everything for me that way. The main idea for Tribe Incorporated was that we did workshops on reserves. That was leading edge for indigenous people teaching indigenous people. Even now you don’t see that much. I did an art program in Wagmatcook. It was the first time they had an indigenous artist critiquing or judging their art.  That’s kind of amazing, but it shouldn’t be. The quality of work that was there was so astounding.

YG: What is the most valuable lesson Shirley Bear taught you?

AS: Shirley’s always been there all my life, and still is. I think she was very radical. She’d never ask any permission from anywhere. She was part of AIM and she knew Anna Mae Aquash. I met Anna through Shirley at a radical time. She was from Tobique which is sort of a radical place. I think that’s a sort of breeding ground for radical women. They take over the band hall every year few years and you hear of them all the time. That’s where she comes from and she was never afraid to speak up.

Indigenous people don’t like to rock the boat. It’s really hard for them to confront. It’s not easy to do. Shirley and Peter are the exception of that. And, that’s not always appreciated in the larger indigenous community. We’re taught by the Catholics very well to not say anything. However, that is changing more and more every day, things like Idle No More. Shirley and Peter J. Clair would do protests in the early 70s around here which is unheard of. When the Warrior’s Society took over, which was a bad approach, you’re in the red zone on the first day. You got a gun. Nothing got resolved over a long time. It was intimidation back and forth. No one wanted to support Warrior’s Society. That was a bit too radical too fast. It didn’t get the results that it had planned too. They were loosely structured and that didn’t help as well. Some of them had charges on them for domestic abuse and that didn’t help. When Idle No More came, that was completely revolutionary in the sense that their approach was superb. You know they’re working when the chief and band council are being asked questions they never been asked by anyone before. They’re not used to that, it never happened before. It’s in a better state than it was. I’m glad I’m around to see this.

YG: Nature comes alive in many of your pieces, especially in the cover artwork of Mi’kmaw Animals. Talk us through your creation process for your artwork.

AS: Shirley was giving me my first painting lessons, and I was doing landscapes, portraits and the typical kind of things. We decided we didn’t want to be just another landscape painter. Shirley is the one who discovered the petroglyphs book. That radically changed everything. We looked through that and decided that was what we wanted to do. We were teaching ourselves, but ultimately, we were teaching everyone. Mi’kmaw people didn’t know about petroglyphs at all. It’s way different now. We didn’t have anyone to follow at the time in the 70s.

The animal motifs, I learned about them. In the beginning, artists are very isolated in their studio. That’s changed for me. I have archaeologists, who are Mi’kmaw people now, and all kinds of support people that I can get better information. I can increase my knowledge and then convey that in art. Roger Lewis for instance, he was an RCMP and became an archaeologist. Now, he’s head of the Archaeology Museum in Nova Scotia. We’re the same age, we grew up together. He’s one of my best sources for information. I’ve asked him about anything and he’ll come up with some research and give me something. I prefer to do that. I prefer to base it on factual knowledge, but I’m bringing an artistic element to it too. It feeds a couple of things. It has the beauty.

Art can be beautiful. For instance, I’m doing a burial show now. It’ll be out in a couple of years. It’s not burial rights, it’s on burial practices and it’s never been done before. It’s been a few years since I’ve been researching this at Saint Mary’s University. Robin Metcalfe is my curator. It’s gonna happen there and I’ve got a grant for it too, it’s being supported by the province. All of this is coming together. Now I have animation that I use, we’re gonna have some hologram effects. We’re going to have some music that I do. All of these things that I’ve incorporated, we’ve flipped them for another use. This should be interesting. No one ever done a burial show.

One thing that bothered me when I was young was that it was a Christian burial. It was like one size fits all motif. That’s the way it was, they didn’t really speak about who was being buried. It was the word of God only and that kind of thing. To me, that was disrespectful in my opinion. I started looking around because you go to a lot of funerals when you’re an indigenous person. Going to funerals is a regular thing. Some of them start to change over time. You can see very subtle changes. Some of it like being buried with tobacco and sweetgrass. When my grandmother was buried, I was part of a sweat lodge group. We did a song in the graveyard which has never been done like that. We didn’t ask anybody to do it, we just did it. My grandmother supported us. She always told me all her life, “You should go back to the church.” She lived to be in the eighties. She saw what the ceremony was doing for me and then she said, “as long as you believe in something.” She stopped the "church" thing. She was supporting us. She was a forward thinker. She was always open-minded. I give a lot of credit to her for making me because we had a good relationship. We could talk about anything at anytime. She was radical in her own way too. She made some people nervous. Especially the priests. If she would disapprove of them, she would say something. They all had to pass the test to go see her, of course they had to go see Rachel Marshall.  

From left to right: Salome Barker, Alan Syliboy and Yanik Gallie

From left to right: Salome Barker, Alan Syliboy and Yanik Gallie

SB: How did you select the 9 animals represented in the baby board book?

AS: I compiled a list of animals, but I was never thinking about a list when I made them. See the petroglyphs to me, there were so many varieties of them. 10 years ago, I started doing caribou. I never did one before. I had never done one before, so I started doing them from then on. Then, I started to draw eels. It’s just like I took turns finding them. Each one has a turn. The turtles have been there a long time. Whales are fairly recent. They’re already part of who we are, and petroglyphs give us that. That’s what I’m using as my source. These are the images that were available right now. None of them are new for this book, they already existed. The butterfly’s been around for a while, it took me about ten minutes to make the first one.

SB: I found myself really connecting to your “Qalipu” painting.  Interestingly enough, I come from the Qalipu Mi’kmaq First Nations band in Newfoundland and Labrador.  I was wondering if you intended for aboriginal people from different nations to connect to your artwork?

AS: I know that it would, the caribou were all over the place. Over half of Canada at least. It was in the petroglyphs book. The reason I picked that at that time was that I did some research and found out that in Truro was where one of the last place they were shot and extinct. The last groups were shot here, so I said, “this was very close physically to where I was”. To me, it evokes the memory of what they meant. It’s also a teaching tool. Like Debert for instance, it’s an 11 000 or 12 000-year-old campsite there. You can imagine how long we’ve been here. There are two sites there that are really old. I’m talking to the new people who are working there and they’re telling me new things that they are finding, I’m up on that currently.

YG: Mi’kmaw Animals is an excellent educational resource for children to develop literacy skills. What is the connection between polylingualism at a young age and literacy?

AS: We were told that Mi’kmaw was gonna hold us back. People in the community, like our neighbor, believed that it was gonna hold us back. I said, “Well if that’s the case, why do Europeans speak six languages? It doesn’t hold them back” He didn’t have an answer to that, but that’s how I thought. To me, the more information that is brought forth the better. Now you have Mi’kmaw aritsts who are going to NSCAD, and their working on their own too. It’s opening up much faster intensity to different points of view and different ways to do things. To me, I feel that it’s a really great time.

Also, artists have never been considered important. I think if you’re learning about yourself, artists can bring you more than anyone else because it’s emotional too. It’s not just the text or the hard-raw information. It’s more than that. There’s an attachment that they can bring to make you feel something. Artists can do that. When I’m on Facebook, I see lots of excellent artists doing excellent things. I’m feeling pretty good about where we are right now.

SB: Can you share your vision of indigenous art for upcoming generations?

AS: Mark Sark. He’s in his fifties. He was in the Marines. He used to be in our sweat lodge. He was always connected to us all the time. He’s decided to go to NSCAD and become an artist. It’s amazing because of everything he’s done. All of that raw energy and knowledge with other things he did, he’s putting it into making art now. He’s popping out all over the place. He does animals, but he’ll cut them out and put them together and paint them. Like a 3D thing. Everything I’ve done, he’s made into 3D. That’s pretty cool.  I said, “That’s alright.” Next year, he’s going to carve. It’s not like he started when he was seventeen. He’s fifty-seven and doing this. There’s more and more people like Natalie Sappier-Samaqani Cocahqup in Tobique. I met her a few years ago. She’s doing terrific. There’s lots of new ones.

I went to Caraquet too. I’m working with the French in Caraquet. There is the biggest French community there. They really support their festival, it’s sophisticated. They all have careers as artists. It’s good for our artists because they can see what it’s like to be an everyday artist because we don’t have that facility. We don’t have that support. They were very welcoming, so it’s a good place and it’s mutual. We’re doing a show in Montreal at the Peoples' festival. I’m going to Montreal with Caraquet’s group in mid-August so I’m pretty happy about that. I’ve also got a new gallery of world-wide fine art in Toronto, we sold a painting yesterday. The gallery’s been around for twenty-five years. I think they are originally from Cape Breton so there’s a home attachment.

SB: The conversation of reconciliation has been happening for years now. It’s been three years since the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada: Calls to Action. How do you see reconciliation moving forward?

AS: I’ve been approached by people to do events. The events were stirred by this reconciliation. It’s almost like they wanted to do something and now they have a blueprint to go by and I’ve seen that lots of times. That’s a step forward definitely. We have a lot more connection. I’ve also joined boards, and so on, because they just didn’t have indigenous representation. Like the ECMAs, I went there on the board of directors. A very daunting work to that position, however I did the best I could. Now they’re not going backwards. They are having visions and they’re moving forward. If they were sleeping, they would have stayed asleep. You have to go there and say, “here I am” so they can’t go to sleep again like I’ve done that in several boards. I’m more concerned about the next one.

Like the Coady Chair in 2017, Dorine Bernard was just amazing. I know her, but I didn’t know how much she did. How much effort she puts in everything. She is like steel, it’s amazing. She told me too about things, that is was real hard for her to do it, but she got it done. The focus once it happens, there’s a good chance it’ll be another indigenous person again. I see that as breaking a few trails. I see my role as a senior artist as something that will live on and contribute in a long-term and meaningful way.

YG: I’d love to get your interpretation of this quote by Black Elk, a medicine man of the Oglala Lakota, he said “The first peace, which is the most important, is that which comes within the souls of people when they realize their relationship, their oneness with the universe and all its powers, and when they realize that at the center of the universe dwells the Great Spirit, and that this center is really everywhere, it is within each of us.”

AS: I totally agree with Black Elk. There was an indigenous Akwesasne Notes from New York, we got it every month. It had all sorts of indigenous ads, like tobacco and wild rice. We ordered all the posters, my brother and I, with the sayings of chief Joseph. We had them all. We got music from there too for years. It eventually stopped but it was a nice ride for a while to have that coming out. I miss it.

It’s been a long time, since the 70s, that I read the quote. Absolutely, his words are tremendous. I see that more and more. Years ago, there wasn’t much going on. People are appearing and doing things. You can feel the energy and see it. I’ve been here long enough to see it happening and I’m grateful for that. I see that the younger are the ones who are more dedicated. Their motives are better. That’s why you see people who go to sweat lodges and do things like that. Their motives are much more clear and pure. Some people just say words. It’s not just saying words, it’s actions. That’s always been my scale. It’s not what you say, it’s what you do. If you’re not doing anything, then it doesn’t matter what you say.

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So You Want To Be A Feminist?

 
 

Some key feminist reads for those interested in learning more

I have spent the past four years of my life talking and learning about feminism. As a student of the Women and Gender Studies department, the concepts of feminism and feminist theory were first introduced to me in my Women and Gender Studies 100 class, taught by Dr. Rachel Hurst. Since this time, my understanding and definition of what feminism means and what it strives to do have expanded and developed immensely. My understanding is that feminism is not solely about advocating for the rights of women and the equality of all genders, although that is a central aspect of it. To me, feminism is about deconstructing the binary of gender in allowing space for gender fluidity while recognizing the disproportionate suffering faced by female-identifying people. It is about understanding the complexities of identity and analyzing marginalized groups and the ways in which these groups exist within the world. It is about learning, organizing and mobilizing to deconstruct patriarchal, colonial and heteronormative narratives in hopes of allowing voices that are continuously silenced to be centralized.

I feel extraordinarily lucky to have engaged with the feminism of many, and through reading, watching, theorizing and discussing, have come out of a four-year degree with a stronger and more nuanced understanding of the phenomenon and a base to contextualize the world around me. Despite having this formal academic background, I still struggle to practice my feminism in a way that is both true to the topics I care about and digestible for those around me (which is not always possible). What I mean by this is that sometimes practicing feminism or labelling oneself as a feminist can be met by a series of eye-rolls, shrugs or backlash. My continually developing ability to navigate these instances can be in part credited to the many women whose literature and theory I have engaged with, that tells a personal story of their own feminism. For anyone interested in grounding their feminism or simply in learning more deeply about the topic and movement, I have comprised a list of some of my favorite feminist reads. These authors have inspired me immensely and I hope that these resources will allow you to understand the importance of feminism to all human beings and the different ways a feminist life can be approached.

Sarah Ahmed- Living a Feminist Life

‘Living a Feminist Life,’ was published in January 2017 and is the latest work of feminist scholar, Sarah Ahmed. Ahmed has seven previous novels discussing how feminist theory is generated from everyday life and writes personal accounts about her own experience being a feminist and learning about the world through a feminist lens. Ahmed introduced the notion of the ‘feminist killjoy’ in her previous work, which she defines as a figure who is willing to disrupt happiness by speaking out; Ahmed ends her novel by proposing a feminist killjoy survival kit and manifesto.

To me, Ahmed’s work speaks to the difficulty associated with pursuing feminism as it often entails speaking out and calling into question elements of people’s lived experiences that are too often trivialized. The idea of a feminist killjoy is something that is easy to relate to as much of the time practicing feminism requires one to reanalyze and criticize jokes, popular culture and language that we see day-to-day that may be working to further marginalize certain groups. All of Ahmed’s work is beneficial to those who are interested in leading more feminist life.

Kimberle Crenshaw

Kimberle Crenshaw is perhaps one of the most important feminist figures of the 20th and 21st centuries. Born in 1959, Crenshaw has spent her life advocating for American civil rights and studying critical race theory. In 1989, Crenshaw coined the term intersectionality which has since been incorporated as an essential element to modern feminist thought. Intersectionality has challenged feminists to understand how the intersecting identities that people hold intrinsically and uniquely affect their lived experience and we must take all marginalizing identities into account when working to combat issues. Crenshaw bases her theory in the experiences of black women who are both black and women, but who’s experiences as both identities often leave them out of the discussion of both black experience (which is often looked at through a masculine frame) and the experiences of women (which predominantly focuses on the experiences of white women).  Crenshaw’s 2016 TedTalk entitled ‘The Urgency of Intersectionality,” and her articles ‘Mapping the Margins: Intersectionality, Identity Politics and Violence Against Women of Colour,’ and ‘Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex’ are all incredible resources for learning about authentic intersectional feminism. 

Chandra Talpede Mohanty- Under Western Eyes

This critically acclaimed piece written by Professor Chandra Talpade Mohanty discusses and criticizes the homogenous perspectives and presumptions made by Western Feminists about women in non-western countries. She argues that Western feminists often work to subjugate non-western women as the collective “other” by continuously labelling them as poor, uneducated, tradition-bound and victimized. These narratives homogenize both groups and erase the complexities of individual and intricate experiences of women both in the west, and in countries around the world. These narratives disrupt women’s solidarity and continue to perpetuate damaging narratives about white, western-saviour complexes. Mohanty brilliantly criticizes the colonial discourse that is often used by western feminists and helps us to understand that we cannot simply assume the experiences of any women in either context, or hope to push our own feminisms on women in different cultures. Mohanty is a must-read for all who are interested in the nuances of feminism and it’s complex and often contrasting approaches. It is important to not ground your perspective of feminism solely in western contexts, this is what Mohanty offers us to consider.

Roxanne Gay- Bad Feminist

One of my most favourite feminist reads has got to be the New York Times Best-Selling essay collection ‘Bad Feminist’ written by the excellent and hilarious, Roxanne Gay. Gay is unique in her approach to discussing her feminism. She explores imperfection, describing herself and her feminism as a “mess of contradiction.” Gay describes that she is a flawed human being who’s feminism is in turn also flawed. She candidly admits to indulging in music, television and artists that are often seen as problematic to feminism. She grapples with the fact that she despises rape jokes, but can find herself enjoying music that is exploitative to women. She admits to finding herself singing along to ‘Blurred Lines’ while discussing the issues associated with supporting Chris Brown. She talks about her affinity for reality TV show, ‘The Bachelor,’ while also being able to name 5000 reasons why it is problematic. Gay does not strive to be perfect. She understands that as human beings we may at times indulge and enjoy things that are not 100% aligned with the values that we hold. Her essays are inconclusive and personal, they allow the reader to find themselves in her writing but do not propose solutions to these issues. ‘Bad Feminist’ is a great read because it humanizes activism and feminism and allows us to forgive our imperfections while striving to be better. On top of being a fantastic and humorous writer, Gay is also a fabulous person to follow on Twitter for her commentary (@rgay).

I have barely scraped the surface of the numerous thought-provoking, radical and tremendously impressive works that are out there. Of the dozens of feminist theorists, I have read in my classes these are just four of the many scholars who have stood out to me. Learning about feminism, of course, goes beyond literature and theory. There are also many artists on Instagram such as (some of my favourites) @fances_cannon,@ambivalentlyyours, and @pollynor, that express their understandings of feminism through cartoons and illustration. There are TV shows like comedy central’s Broad City, that work to normalize feminist rhetoric and play with feminist knowledge in a hilarious and welcoming way. I could sit here and type all day about people and resources I have come across that allow me to shape my ideas and understandings of feminism. Instead, I encourage all people to seek out some feminist knowledge and thought. The bottom line is that feminism is a movement that works to equalize all people and we should all be feminists if we believe in this equality. Happy Reading!