Proposed tip line undermines shared struggles of Muslim, indigenous women

"I see this tip line as a direct act of violence against our Muslim relatives, but I also feel its threat," says indigenous educator Tasha Spillett.

'The struggle of my Muslim sister is indeed woven to my struggle,' Tasha Spillett says

'I see this tip line as a direct act of violence against our Muslim relatives but I also feel its threat,' says indigenous educator Tasha Spillett. (Patrick Doyle/Canadian Press)

When I heard the words "barbaric cultural practices" fall from the mouth of Conservative candidate Kellie Leitch late last week, I instinctively wanted to pick up the phone. Not to report on practices at variance with this narrow conception of "Canadian values," but because I felt a searing urgency to check-in with my sisters.

I felt a great need to speak with them; about how we might collectively keep our relatives safe from possible acts of hatred and violence incited by the racing, near-intractable fear-mongering that has saturated this federal election's landscape.

I'm accustomed to this sense of urgency. It is, in fact, the same urgency that permeates every march demanding justice for missing and murdered indigenous women and girls (MMIWG), and which pulsates at every vigil commemorating a valued life gone too soon, stolen.

It is an urgency situated at the cultural and political intersection in Canada, where racism, classism and misogyny meet.

That said, it wasn't the women from my own indigenous community that drew my concern following Leitch's election broadcast. It was, instead, a grave worry for the well-being of my Muslim sisters, their families and their communities.

Our collective well-being has been threatened by an especially divisive use of language employed over and again throughout this election — language that serves to further entrench polarizing narratives and lived realities of "us" and "them"; language that seeks to relegate the Islamic community further into the margins of "the other."

'More alike than different'

I see this "tip line" as a direct act of violence against our Muslim relatives but I also feel its threat. I hope indigenous people understand that "those" people are our people, because as Canadian history dictates, "them" also means us.

As a descendant of a people who, by Canadian colonial policy and practice, were (and are) forcibly required to live within the apartheid confines of the Indian Act, I have an intimate understanding of the potential dangers and menace encoded in words and phrases like "barbaric cultural practices."

Given this, it is particularly alarming to witness the re-articulation of the same ideologies that birthed Canadian genocidal practices and policies against Indigenous Peoples, made manifest in our present-day federal election.

It is within our recent memory that indigenous ceremonial practices were outlawed and made the target of assimilationist policies, resulting in what Canada's Truth and Reconciliation Commission has identified as a cultural genocide  And yet despite the lasting impacts of these historical (and contemporary) offensives against Indigenous Peoples' cultural fabrics, we are very much experiencing a cultural reawakening.

Now, more than ever, Indigenous Peoples are finding their way home to ceremony lodges and reclaiming their identities, and in doing so interrupting the colonial legacy.

When I look at the ceremonial markings on my own body, I see love, strength and faith. I see no barbarism, I see only beauty.

From developments this week, I fully understand how the sovereignty I have over my body, and the ability I have to be part of a ceremony in which I honour my cultural identity, could be seen as a barbaric act — but only as defined by our current federal government. Consequently, the people who I share my ancestral territory with could, out of fear and lack of understanding, report my participation in this ceremony to the RCMP.

In the end, while a great show of Conservative election forces have been designed to divide us and to entrench fear of "the other," we must resolve to always connect, to eschew hatred and to acknowledge a truth far too unarticulated in this campaign: that we are more alike than we are different.

In recognition of this truth, the struggle of my Muslim sister is indeed woven to my struggle. Anything which serves to undermine this certainty is the ultimate "barbaric cultural practice."   


Tasha Spillett is a Cree/Trinidadian woman with a masters degree in Indigenous Land-Based Education. She teaches for both University of Manitoba (Native Studies) and University of Winnipeg (Faculty of Education). Tasha infuses cultural knowledge into her teaching methodology to strengthen cultural identity of Indigenous students, while building relationships between all communities.