A true tale of woe and triumph in which our protagonist encounters a real Princess, battles the demonic forces of White Supremacy and finally escapes life as a downtrodden servant
I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for my dreams. I mean I wouldn’t be writing this, or doing many of the things I do on a day-to-day basis, if it weren’t for those allegorical dramas that play out in my head while I sleep. I believe they are one of several cryptic messaging systems used by ancestors and earth spirits to deliver guidance to those of us who care to interpret. I have had several dozen dreams which instructed me to write this particular revelatory piece. Some of the most memorable are the ones that feature animals. I am frequently visited at night by dogs. They are a strong reminder to me of the values of friendship and loyalty and the need to speak up about one’s feelings. On one occasion it was two spiders and a feather inside a book – a symbol of the spiritual knowledge I’ve acquired though dedicated study and of the importance of weaving my story like Ananse so that I can overcome foes and finally close this chapter of my life. One of the most powerful messengers has been the whale -that deep-sea-singer and record-keeper, who has been spiritually tuned-in to all life since the very beginning. I know that I must tell this whale of a tale in order to bring a record of truth to the surface!
CHAPTER 1 : HIGH HOPES
By the time I was finishing High School I had it all figured out!
Ok…well now that you’ve picked yourself up from rolling on the floor with laughter, I’ll clarify… When I say ‘it all’ I mean that I had figured out that institutional education was one of the key tools used to carry out the state’s neocolonial agenda, and that I no longer wanted any part in it. So, of course, I had no intention of going to University. I wanted instead to learn how to hunt and gather and live sustainably with the earth. However, not surprisingly, my mom had other ideas. After many long discussions and arguments I eventually had to listen to her and attend University. I selected strategically to go to Trent, because it had the largest wilderness area of any Canadian post secondary school. It was also near to Curve Lake First Nation where our family friends live and where I had spent a significant amount of time in my teens.
At Trent I did courses in Native Studies and also African history and was even able to create my own degree with a special emphasis in ‘Decolonization –Indigenous Reclamations in Africa and Turtle Island.’ As important as the academic learning, of course, were the social connections I made. In 2002, I formed a grassroots, community organization with two fellow students who are Indigenous to Turtle Island. The mandate of the group was to support decolonization locally, and internationally. We did community consultations about the ideas and practice of decolonization and we raised funds to support Indigenous communities who were fighting to protect their territories from destruction. During this time I privately approached one of our family friends from Curve lake First Nation, who was also an Elder participant in our early Decolonization consultations. I had $5000 from an education savings account that I didn’t need for my tuition because I had been granted scholarships, and I wished to use the money to buy some acreage and return it to the stewardship of the Mississauga peoples. The Elder advised me that $5000 would not buy much, but he liked the idea and suggested that I work with my group to raise more money and purchase a significant amount of acreage that could be reclaimed jointly by all the local Indigenous nations, and serve as a site for cultural reclamation work. I took this information back to my fellow group members and we further developed this vision for a space where local Indigenous people could reclaim their cultural traditions and their stewardship of the land, and where allies from other parts of the world could work in partnership to reclaim their own respective Indigenous traditions and relearn methods of sustainable living that are respectful of the land and local Indigenous peoples.
CHAPTER 2: THE QUEST
For years we raised awareness about our project and attempted to raise funds by writing grants and approaching some private funders. I engaged in this work as an African descended woman who felt that there were many parallels between the struggles of my people and Indigenous people here and who hoped to build upon our historical alliances and help create a decolonized space where all of our peoples could access healing. I also had a keen sense of my responsibility to address injustices carried out by my White ancestors. While I was doing this work I was also parenting a young child, but, by all accounts, I was the most proactive member of the group for much of the first ten years. I must have written over a dozen extensive applications and proposals. I was often the one coming up with new schemes to try to raise funds and push things forward. At one point we were actually donated land through a connection of mine. However, before the land transfer was finalized, and just after we had invested significant energy in cleaning up the buildings and trails on the property, the offer was withdrawn. You can imagine our frustration. It turned out that the vision for that particular land was that it be exclusively for female usage, and because our vision included having all genders involved, it was incompatible.
Although, we were unsuccessful in accessing grants, the group's membership grew -friends joined, partners joined and more kids were born. Sisters of the partners joined and we kept working away on raising money for our vision. In 2012, one of the new members, who also happened to be a partner of one of the founding members suggested that, instead of grant-writing, we invest our personal funds to purchase the land for the project. He had been running his own business for years and had savings put aside that he intended to use to buy land for his young family. He suggested that if we could all pool our resources we might be able to buy land and move things forward more quickly. Although some of us did not have savings to draw on, the group agreed, eager to try something new after our many grant writing attempts had proved unsuccessful. The idea was that the land would support ourselves and other primarily Indigenous families as members of an intentional community, and would also host the decolonization/learning centre where various projects and programming would provide healing and education to Indigenous peoples, as well as Black people, people of colour and White allies. It was also critical to the vision that we invite the local Indigenous community who had rights to the territory to reclaim stewardship of the land, and partner with us in developing and running the centre as originally planned.
In retrospect I think this is when we made one of our first major mistakes. Whereas our original vision was to buy land and create the center in the Mississauga territory around Peterborough where we already had some strong ties to local Indigenous community, now we were looking for affordable land anywhere in Southern Ontario, and inevitably we would be interlopers who purchased the land without first building relations in the area. At this stage, I must also point out that the three newer group members were of mixed European and Mapuche ancestry, but were not Indigenous to North America. And the three original group members were myself, of Afro-Tobagonian and British heritage; a phenotypically White woman of unknown ancestry who was adopted by a Haudenosaunee mother and British father; and a woman with a Quechua father raised by a White-identified mother who reclaimed her Miqmac and Metis heritage late in life. I share all these details of background because with this kind of work they matter. While the two other founding members are undeniably Indigenous to Turtle Island, and I always saw them as such, only the woman raised by a Haudenosaunee mother had grown up with a local Indigenous culture, and she was therefore a gatekeeper around protocol. She was also the only one with any Indigenous ties to local territory (albeit through culture rather than blood). The reality is that with only one out of six people having said ties to local Indigenous traditions and land, we were not in the best position to navigate this work. I felt this from early on and voiced that we needed to invite Anishinabe and more Haudenosaunee people to join the group. While other members agreed in principle, there was not strong support for it and in the end most efforts to actually invite new local Indigenous members were blocked by the Haudenosaunee woman. I realized then that there was a deep insecurity on the part of this woman because she was adopted, and perhaps not genetically Indigenous to this land at all. It was clear she felt her position as the sole cultural gatekeeper would be threatened if other local Indigenous people were to join. While I pushed to invite people, I could only do so much as someone who is not Indigenous to this territory.
I think our second major mistake was the manner in which we combined our personal finances with volunteer/non-profit activities, because, unfortunately, it really confused things. We discussed the idea of creating an agreement so that any member who decided to leave the group could reclaim their investment. We debated whether it would make sense that members could be reimbursed if it was a non-profit project and the land was going to handed back to the original stewards. Arguments were made that because people were investing all of their savings, it was important to create a document that would protect us individually. We all agreed to this in the end, however, we never got around to creating the document, because we took for granted that we had an understanding in place and that, as good friends, our mutual trust would carry us through. This trust was so strong on my part that I was naively dismissive when family members told me that I needed to get something in writing asap. Thankfully, despite our failure to create a formal document, this understanding is referred to in several sets of minutes in which group members talked about the possibility for individuals to 'sell' their share etc. During one of our consultations with elders, one elder even suggested we each contribute money to a pot on a monthly basis, so that, if needed, we could buy a group member out if they needed to withdraw. Unfortunately, in our youthful ignorance we didn’t follow-through on this wise suggestion either.
In late 2011 we incorporated as a Non-Profit organization, and stepped-up our search for properties. We spent over a year searching and also securing personal funds for the project. I spearheaded much of the efforts to find property, making dozens of out-of-town trips to view land, and I also connected us with a mortgage broker etc. I was still feeling super gung ho about this important revolutionary work. To this day, I don’t know of any other project quite like what we had originally envisioned.
As our preparations to purchase continued, we discovered that it would be very complicated to buy land in the name of the non-profit, so the group decided that only the members with good credit should go on title, and that we would transfer the property to the group name after the initial term of our mortgage was up.
CHAPTER 3: DEMONS SURFACE
In early 2013 we purchased approximately 200 acres of land with a house in the Bancroft area. Five of the six members contributed to the purchase. I contributed approximately 1/5 of the down payment and initial repair costs ($9,500) from my personal funds and an arts collective, which I founded and co-coordinated, helped raise an additional $1000. The amount each member contributed was based on what they volunteered to put in, so it was entirely based on free will, rather than any assessment of means or having set shares or any obligation to pay a certain amount. The Haudenosaunee woman did not contribute anything to the initial down payment, which was fair enough from my perspective, given her ties to local land. Another member put in $4000, and yet another put in $11,500, which she inherited from her parents. She is a mixed European and Mapuche woman who was adopted and raised by wealthy White people. The couple with the savings put in about $12, 000 each. We then each contributed monthly ‘family shares’ to cover the mortgage. I paid between $245 and $300/month for three years, which adds up to another $10,000.
While it was a huge victory to finally be buying the land, it came with some mixed emotions for me. I was originally opposed to the purchasing of the selected property because there was a lot of mold in the house and I have a severe allergy to mold. However, the other group members decided to purchase this property despite my concerns, and I accepted the decision because I felt that as someone who is not Indigenous to this territory it was not my role to have the final say. In retrospect this was the first clear moment when my status as second-class was cemented, and I recognize that I allowed it to happen. While, in any movement the role of allies is to support the directive and vision of the people primarily impacted by the oppression, the alliance between Indigenous and Black people is a partnership of two races that have each suffered as much at the hands of White colonizers, so neither group should be expected to play the same role that White allies are expected to play. To treat an Indigenous or Black ally in the same way that a White ally is treated is inherently racist, because it ignores their significant experience of oppression. Furthermore, when we are making decisions about things that will impact our day-to-day health and safety, I would say that we are all simply human and, wherever possible, we should all be considered equally. Given that one group member had a severe allergy to mold, a moldy house should never have been purchased as the primary residence for our intentional community. However, I accepted this decision, thinking, in my youthful wisdom, that I was being a good selfless ally. Having done a lot of reflection and healing since, I realize that I was really just struggling with my own low sense of self-worth as a woman of African descent. Again, most of the group members were not indigenous to that territory or even to North America, so there was no reason their voice should have counted more on the subject.
Although the intention was to work on the house to abate the mold, there were very real consequences for me in the meantime. I could not be in the house during the first year because it so aggravated my allergies. In order to participate in the project, I therefore had to arrange for alternate housing. I purchased a caravan for $5000 and also paid the $300 ‘family share’ towards the property mortgage each month (primarily to pay towards a house I could not access at the time). The other group members never saw fit to reduce my rates of payment based on my lack of access to the house or the added expense of the caravan. Here again, although I raised the issue, I didn’t argue because I was trying to be a good ally and believed I was contributing to a greater good. But I was struggling financially and didn’t have enough money to take care of my family’s basic needs. It was such a strain financially, that on one occasion my family spent our last money to get to the land, so we had to walk for hours to the nearest town in order to sell apples so that we would have money to get back to Toronto.
And so it went, with me and my son, the only Black members of the group, frequently hanging out and eating outside during the first year because of the mold, while other group members hung out inside the house that I helped pay for. It may not have been done consciously but the result was sadly reminiscent of images of the “no Blacks allowed’ spaces in the Southern States. And yes, my mom did berate me for allowing myself to be treated like this, but I couldn’t see it because my dedication to the cause obscured my vision. But one has to wonder why was it so easy for my fellow group members to deem my needs as secondary and to treat me as though I was a resource rather than a person. For years I overlooked the obvious, but eventually I had to accept that I, as the only Black group member was being treated as a lower class of person by a group of people who all had far closer proximity to whiteness and more access to white privilege than I. Again, they were all raised primarily by White-identified parents, except the phenotypically, and possibly genetically, White woman who was raised by an Indigenous mother and White father. I now realize that in growing up in White culture and/or with White-passing privilege, they inevitably imbibed a significant dosage of the supremacist attitudes and anti-Black racism that are so deeply, inextricably tied to that culture. And unfortunately, they had not done the necessary work to unlearn these ideas.
I also have a White father and have grown up accessing certain privileges because of him. I am acutely aware of this, so much so that I have at times silenced myself, or diminished myself in an attempt to compensate for it, all the while forgetting that self-silencing and self-diminishing are also survival tactics ingrained in me as a person of African descent operating within a White supremacist society. I colluded in establishing my role as subordinate ally, always speaking up about my responsibility as someone with White ancestors, when none of the other group members, all of whom had as much White ancestry as me, ever bothered to acknowledge these ancestors or the privilege inherited from them. And THIS is what made the situation so toxic. At least when working with socially conscious White people there is an opportunity to put realities of privilege on the table and address them when they rear their ugly heads. But in this group there was no chance of addressing these issues because all of the members identify as Indigenous and don’t acknowledge either their White-passing privilege or the fact that they were actually raised entirely in White culture with all that goes along with that. Again, I am not saying that every White-passing person, or everyone raised primarily by White parents is inherently oppressive. What I am saying is that they have undoubtedly absorbed the oppressive ideas imbedded in White culture and must actively work to unlearn them. But this can only happen if they recognize what they have absorbed.
I have to confess that I was aware of issues of anti-Black racism in the group before we even bought the land. I remember when I proposed that we invite a young man of mixed Haudenosaunee and African ancestry to join the group. He came to meetings for a while, but then other group members began making petty complaints about him and eventually they gradually cut contact with him. I can’t prove that it was racism, but it left me uncomfortable. I think he was too much of a threat to the group’s power structure because he was a Black-looking man who had stronger ancestral ties to local Indigenous land and culture then any of them. Similarly, the group members never had the same level of respect for one of our elders who had mixed Black and Indigenous heritage as they did for our other elders. I also recall that the phenotypically White, Haudenosaunee-raised woman often felt the need to talk to me about messed up experiences she had had with Black people, and it left me feeling as if she was somehow trying to hold me accountable for the behavior of other members of my race. Her unkind attitude to me was so noticeable that other group members frequently commented on it, but of course they never intervened. I remember having to jump to my six year old Black son’s defense once when she began scolding him for not respecting the rights of another member’s daughter to ‘concentual play’, because he was following her and her brother around when they were excluding him. The language she used made it sound like this little six year old Black boy was a stalker or rapist, when he was simply feeling excluded and trying to get them to play with him. That incident resulted in a heated debate, which left me in tears. While it was only one group member who treated my son in that way, no other group member acknowledged my concern about her use of language that criminalized a six-year-old Black boy! On another occasion, the same little girl who had excluded my son made comments about my curly hair being weird and was shocked that I chose to make a doll with dark brown skin. She is just a child, of course, but her comments can only reflect what she’s learned at home. In fact, when her father was visiting the land once, he actually told my son that he didn’t want my son playing with his kids anymore, because my son was carrying a pocket knife that I allowed him to use to carve sticks etc. Instead of telling my son to ‘be careful’ or even to put the knife away, he treated him as dangerous and used it as an excuse to attempt to separate the ‘scary Black child’ from his kids.
While these incidents are obvious red flags to any savvy Black person, the fact is that everyone has imbibed racist, sexist, homophobic, ableist ideas because of the society we live it. As Black people, we know that all of our non-Black friends are carrying some anti-Black ideas. The question is whether they are engaged in the necessary and ongoing hard work needed to unlearn these prejudices. So when the White passing group member raised by his Italian mother made some problematic joke about gangsters, I bristled, but it wasn’t a deal-breaker for me. When my Quechua friend who was raised by her White-identified mother showed signs of being physically afraid as she entered an Ethiopian bar at night or commented that her best friend from childhood (a light-skinned Black woman) is ‘not that bright’, it troubled me, but it was not something that I could easily point a finger at or address. These were radical people who talked about issues of racism and attended rallies after all, so perhaps what I saw was my imagination. My self-doubt about the validity of my perspectives is so strong that I am still afraid to share this piece publically. After finishing a first draft I dream of being in prison: I see a Black woman lying down in a cell as a Black female guards her. The prisoners then turn into aliens and I’m trapped by these long-tentacled otherworldly beings. I realize that life in a colonized world has forced me and every other Black woman to police and imprison ourselves, by making us so fearful to speak up about our experiences of alienation, and for this reason I have to share my story.
CHAPTER 4: MY TIME IN SERVITUDE
Flash forward to 2014: I continued to have limited access to the house after the first year because the mold was never completely removed. However, it was removed sufficiently that the couple whose name was on title, who had also suggested the idea of our using our personal funds, could now reside in the house full-time. It was necessary for someone to hold down the fort in order to take care of the garden properly etc. so since they had a vehicle and the resources, the couple gave up their place in the city and moved to the land full-time. The rest of the group members commuted back and fourth from Toronto or Sudbury, spending anywhere from 15-30% of our time there. Now an interesting dynamic had already emerged and was being solidified. The couple, whose name was on title began to have a significantly stronger voice in the group because they represented two out of six people. One of the group members was their sister/sister-in–law and another group member was their ex who still adored them. Thus, it became a strangely incestuous situation where power was concentrated with certain people in the group because they were the nucleus relationally. The result was that the couple managed to convince all group members that when expenses were divided (mortgage, replacing oil tank etc,), they should be considered as a unit and should pay the same cost together as the rest of us paid as individual members. Thus, they lived in the house full-time and had no other rent to cover, whereas I spent maximum 25% of my time there and still had to cover a rent in Toronto, yet I paid more than they did individually. I raised a concern about this, but I think you can imagine where that went given my status in the group and their position as ‘head family’ in our stratified little community.
In the second year, they decided to get a cat despite the fact that I had an allergy to cats. This meant that my health was strained even further by spending time in the house and so my access was further reduced. Although I raised an issue about it, when the cat had kittens they kept two, raising the number of cats to three. As you can imagine, feelings were beginning to ferment on my side. Amazingly, even though I was paying as much or more than other individual group members for significantly reduced access to the house, and even though I clearly had no voice in the group, there was resentment towards me on the part of other group members. Apparently I wasn’t doing/giving enough to the project!
During the first year the main focus was on renovating the house and cleaning up the property. I recall spending many hours removing barbed wire and picking up garbage on the property. The group members also began some land-based living activities like gardening and maple-sap harvesting. Naturally, those who were at the property more did more of the garden maintenance and also consumed proportionally more of the garden produce. This seemed fair to me. It seemed like the same ‘free will’ principle that was applied to the original down payment, and which, in fact, applies to all grassroots non-profit work. Ie. Members should commit to doing what they could do, based on their schedules and other demands of life. While a basic level of participation should be there, when people are volunteering their time, there can’t be mandatory participation in every activity because people are juggling paid work and family etc. I did my share of planting and garden maintenance (I literally made sure that I planted approximately one sixth of the garden), but began to feel that there was an ever-present pressure to do more. I helped tap trees, but was not able to take part in the harvesting and boiling of the sap, and, as a result, I only ever received one small sample bottle of maple syrup out of the dozens of bottles produced. I didn’t expect or ask for more, yet there was still an air of discontent because I couldn’t participate in the processing of the syrup. Of course, three of the other members did not have jobs, so they had a bit more time and perhaps it was hard for them to understand what I was juggling as a self-employed musician, parent, and community-organizer who was also working with other projects. Or maybe my status as the group’s subservient negro meant that I was supposed to make myself available for all work on the land at all times.
Despite the fact that they enjoyed the property full-time because they were using it as their primary residence, the fact that the ‘First Family’ was doing more work at the land was continually lorded over the rest of the group members, as was the fact that they, as a couple put in more than each of the individual members to the original down payment and the renovation process. Of course, if we were to look at their contribution on an individual basis, it was not that much more at all. Furthermore, they were the ones who selected the fixer-upper house based on their having the resources to renovate it. But now this was to become a source of debt and guilt for the rest of the members. There was no longer an understanding of people putting in what they could as there had been during the ten years when I was putting in more work than anyone else. Now there was an ever-present sense that some of us were coming-up short. There was even disagreement and conflict over how much food people consumed vs. how much they brought. Perhaps it was my spidy sense, but I always wanted to keep our family’s food separately. During the first year, as I mentioned, we prepared our own food on the fire or the barbecue outside, so it made sense that we keep our resources somewhat separate. However, when I was chided for this, because other group members were sharing, I began to do ‘as the Romans did’ and started pooling our food. I had a rough sense of what our daily food budget was and I would bring up the equivalent value based on the number of days we were staying. These things are never an exact science, but I was conscientious about how much we brought each time. However, I didn’t bring the food to the “First Family” for inspection when I arrived. I simply put it away in the cupboards and fridge and expected that there was trust at work. I was very wrong. The “First Family” felt we were freeloading off of their food stores. Given the fact I didn’t want to share in the first place, to be pressured to do so and then be told that I was “being subsidized’ was deeply upsetting. Again, it’s worth noting the language that was used. Like a regular mid-western White conservative, the Princess (so dubbed because of her behavior) of the First Family felt that the negroes were not doing enough work and were draining their family’s resources.
In retrospect, I realized that there was a lot of North American dominant White cultural elements at work that made it difficult for this project to run smoothly.
From my experience, Black, Indigenous and People of Colour have very different approaches to resources than those of the dominant White North American culture. People who are either from the South or raised in their Indigenous communities are usually very generous, especially when it comes to food and material things. If there’s food, everybody is going to eat and no one is looking over anyone’s shoulder to see how much was eaten. I still struggle to be as giving as my friends who were raised in a context where this cultural principle is more intact. Part of the reason colonization ‘succeeded’ all over the world is because Indigenous folks opened their doors to White people and shared with them, and Europeans took advantage of this quality. However, there was no spirit of generosity, even between friends, in our little ‘decolonization community.’ There was just constant policing of resources and a very capitalist approach to everything. For example, when major expenses arose for the house, we were all expected to come up with our ‘equal family share’ regardless of the fact that sometimes I could barely afford to pay my rent in Toronto and ‘my share’ of the mortgage as it was. The approach was so exacting that on one occasion when I simply couldn’t come up with the money for an unexpected house expense, I suggested that it could be drawn from a donation that a contact of mine had made to the group. However, group members were not happy about this because that would mean I was not ‘paying my share.’ In a group that supposedly had a social justice mandate, there was no consideration of sliding scales, or adjustments based on income levels or means. So while one group member paid a discounted rent to live in her rich, White parents’ condo in Toronto and was later given a house by those same parents, and another inherited her parents’ house in Sudbury, and another talked about how he was able to communicate well with his rich White clients and bring in huge fees for landscaping because he was a White-passing man who could speak their language, when I talked about having difficulty with the additional costs of the house because of my financial struggles, I was told that I “chose to be a musician” and therefore my low income was ‘my choice’. However, when another group member was going through a difficult time financially, it was suggested that we all pay towards this person’s gas. It was at that moment that the double standard was most clear to me. I recalled how when I was unable to find transportation to a group event, I received a message saying that I needed to ‘get myself there,’ but I was not offered a space in the car that was driving up from Toronto, or even money from the event budget so that I could take the bus. Yet, my absence from the first part of that event became the ultimate example of my inadequacy as a group member. There was no understanding offered when I shared that it was sometimes difficult for me to be present at the land because in addition to a music career, homeschooling my kid, and working with another social justice group, I was also the primary caregiver to an immediate family member with a serious mental health issue who was in an ongoing state of crisis after their meds were dramatically adjusted. Apparently, this group was only ‘anti-oppressive’ on paper.
CHAPTER 5: DERAILED
That brings me to another key point. If you recall, all of this drama started out with a grassroots community group that was trying to facilitate the reclamation of some Indigenous territory and to create a center for decolonization in that space. However, between arguing over money and food and how much work people were doing or not doing, nothing much was happening to further those original goals. Since the purchase in 2013, there has only been one occasion when members of the public were invited to access the land for programming. This was during a four-day grant-funded Hide Tanning workshop in the spring of 2014 (the same event I couldn’t find transportation to get to until the last day). There were challenges at the event and I was told by the Princess afterwards that she was not sure she wanted to continue the work or if she would simply choose to use the land for personal use. This was not the first time I had heard a group member suggest that perhaps the land would just be kept for private use, and I was gravely concerned, but not entirely surprised. At almost every meeting since early 2013, I had expressed my worry that we were not fulfilling the mandate, and that we were becoming a private intentional community rather than a non-profit that serves the broader community. For various reasons, other group members did not want to invite new members or carry out activities for the public. The reasons sited were that we lacked the infrastructure to do the work. According to the other group members, we needed funding first before we could do anything. This didn’t make sense to me, however, because I know that Black and Indigenous people all over the world do revolutionary work with or without funding. If our peoples waited for the government to fund us we would be dead. On multiple occasions I suggested that we could organize a camp that would have a sliding scale fee, where Indigenous and Black families wouldn’t have to pay and the fees collected from other people would balance out the costs and even bring in some income, but this idea was nixed because of our lack of insurance. Rather than think creatively about how to get some kind of coverage, it was completely shut down. So I asked if we could do a smaller scale skill-share with people that we knew, but this was also nixed. I then suggested we just organize an open house so we could at least let the community know what we were up to, and maybe even collect some donations, but, as you can imagine, this idea was also rejected.
You may ask where our Elder advisors were in all of this. Oh yah! On multiple occasions, I also raised a concern that we needed to have a meeting with our Elder Advisory Council to help us with some of our issues and help us get back on track. When the group finally agreed that I could organize said meeting, I sent out invitations to the elders, but another group member sent a confused email to the Elders that sabotaged my efforts and then the idea to have the meeting was …you guessed it…nixed!
One effort was also made to connect with the local Algonquin community who has title in that area, but, not surprisingly, they basically said they have their own problems (they are in the midst of a land claim), and were not interested in working with us, because we were just other occupiers on their territory, or something to that effect. As I mentioned earlier, I think we had made a critical mistake when we decided to buy land in an area where we didn’t have connections. We definitely did not have enough local Indigenous expertise in the group to navigate such a complex project. None of our members were Anishinabeg, and our only Haudenosaunee member was so insecure about her identity as an adoptee that she wouldn’t allow the group to grow.
CHAPTER 6: ESCAPE TO FREEDOM
I was becoming disillusioned and disheartened and my membership in the group was totally financially draining for me. Based on the original vision, we thought we would secure donations to support the community work that we were doing, and we would be able to contribute to or even cover the mortgage with this money. However, we could not collect donations because there was no community work happening. And because they did not want to bring in new members the entire burden was on our now five members (one member had dropped out along the way). So in Spring of 2016 I notified the group in writing that I needed to withdraw from Core membership. I expressed a desire to continue to support the work of the group and didn’t mention any other issues because I didn’t want to fight with them and I wanted our kids to be able to stay friends. They had grown up together after all, which was one of the reasons it was so hard for me to get to the point of withdrawing from the group. However, because the land had obviously become a private intentional community rather than a land-reclamation or community center, I also felt it was fair that I rely on that original agreement, and recoup my investment. In my letter I referred to the initial conversation where we discussed the need for a contingency plan that would reimburse members who withdrew. I got an email from the Princess saying that a “mandatory meeting” would be held in a few days. Her status as boss-woman and my lack of power in the group was affirmed yet again. At the meeting, she got angry, yelled at me about how she was the ‘best friend I had’, that she was always ‘defending me to other group members’ and that from now ‘the group would be exclusively for Indigenous members’. Of course I support closed cultural groups without question, however, her partner and another group member were no more Indigenous to North America than I am, so I have to ask myself : is it their lighter skin and straight hair that makes them more acceptable group members? This was also not the first time she had been extremely rude to me in a group setting when I set a boundary for myself. Once she snapped at me because I had a migraine and needed to ring-off of a phone meeting. So obviously my voicing that I needed to leave the group because that was best for my family was completely unsettling to the Princess, who ‘naturally’ felt completely entitled to my obedience, labor and resources. We continued the meeting after she stormed-off, and proceeded to talk about how much I would be repaid. It was obvious that everyone took it as a given that I should be able to recoup what I put in to the down payment, since I would no longer be accessing the property and we had a longstanding understanding about members ‘selling their share’. However, when I contacted the group some weeks later about going to the land to collect my caravan I received an email (that was actually not intended for me) that suggested that my money would be deemed as an ally contribution and would therefore not be repaid. The letter suggested that since they felt they were ‘entitled’ to more mortgage payments from me for months still to come, perhaps they would hold onto my caravan to redeem that amount. A second email talked about their fear of my entering the house if I went to the property. Keep in mind that I had not shared a single harsh or argumentative word with them at this point even after being yelled at. Yet despite my non-confrontational approach and the longstanding connection we had, I was being talked about as if I was a thief or vandal, as if I would do something to the house that I had helped pay for. By this point the racism was too obvious and I responded with a strong letter that said as much, and expressed how unfair their words were. I suggested mediation or an Elder consultation, but also warned that if they were not willing to use these options I would have no choice but to take legal action. I received no response for months. I wrote again, but got no response, so I began pursuing the matter legally.
When I think back to a dream that I had before we bought the Bancroft property about a Turtle’s shell breaking open and toxic waste coming out, I suddenly understood it’s meaning. At the time I thought it was a warning about the fact that there is a history of uranium mining in the area, which was another reason I was not enthused about that particular property. However, I now realize that the turtle was a symbol of the group’s visions for a reclaimed space on Turtle Island, and, unfortunately, this vision has been broken by the colonial toxicity buried within the group members. Perhaps the group will go on to actually serve Indigenous communities in the future and will partner with the local Algonquin community etc, as we envisioned. However, I don’t imagine that work can happen without a significant amount of healing and self-reflection about the colonial, capitalist, White-supremacist ideas that are festering amongst the members due to how they were raised and their European ancestral inheritances. For my part, when I get back my money I intend to donate at least $1000 to an Indigenous land-rights movement, such as Grassy Narrows. In the meantime, I continue to do decolonizing work within my own community. I have found another rural space to work from where the home-owners, who are of African descent, run camps at cost and allow community members, such as myself, to do decolonial retreats and cultural programming on a ‘pay what you can’ basis –everything that my former group refused to do for various fear-based reasons. With the organization Decolonize Now, I also continue to work towards building healthy working partnerships between Black and Indigenous movements. I believe strongly that our liberation depends on our ability to heal together, to work together and to resist together. With this in mind, I am still willing to enter a mediatory process with my former friends/colleagues, but I feel that I would need the basic assurance that our agreement around repayment will be kept and also some indication that they have taken seriously and are willing to reflect on my family’s experiences of discrimination within the group. But I’m not holding my breath anymore. Like my whale guardians, I must powerfully exhale and let it all go.