Indigenous·Opinion

Fearful or fierce? Raising my indigenous daughter in Canada

Last year, 15-year-old Tina Fontaine was found in a bag in Winnipeg's Red River. On the day after her body was recovered, I went to pick up my kids and I couldn't help but notice there were homicide detectives across the street from where my kids lived in the West End.

'We shouldn't have to raise our daughters in fear,' community organizer Lenard Monkman writes

'We all need to reflect on what type of country we want to raise our daughters in,' says Lenard Monkman. (CBC)

Last year, 15-year-old Tina Fontaine was found in a bag in Winnipeg's Red River. On the day after her body was recovered, I went to pick up my kids and I couldn't help but notice there were homicide detectives across the street from where my kids lived in the West End.

I had this grim feeling in my stomach that the detectives were looking for clues in Tina's homicide. A few days later, the police said the last place Tina was seen alive was across the street from where my kids were living at the time.

I have a teenage son and a young daughter. My daughter was seven years old when I had to tell her there are people out there who don't value the lives of indigenous women and girls. I had to tell her to be street smart. Is this a conversation that non-indigenous people have with their seven-year-old daughters?

There are a different set of worries when raising indigenous children. Is it fair that we have to have this conversation with our children?

'Why is my tongue so unsettling?'

A few weeks ago Erica Violet Lee, a Cree student from University of Saskatchewan, playfully took a selfie with her tongue sticking out and Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall behind her, at the climate summit. It was a spur of the moment move, but it started to gain a lot of attention on social media. After the selfie went viral, someone commented: "Next time you are chosen to represent Saskatchewan, don't act like a cheap whore, so disappointed that little girls like you roam the planet."

While attending the climate summit a few weeks ago, Cree student Erica Violet Lee playfully took a selfie with her tongue sticking out and Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall behind her. (Twitter)
Is that not an indirect threat to the safety of young, intelligent, indigenous women? Why are we not outraged at comments like that? Erica's tweet after posting that comment: "Settler violence toward Iskwewak for daring to be visible, playful, resistant. Why is my tongue so unsettling?"

When something like taking a selfie with your tongue sticking out during a climate change conference causes that much of a racist backlash, we have to ask ourselves: what kind of country do we live in?

There is a lot of talk about reconciliation in this country, and I often wonder if Canadians are ready for it. There cannot be reconciliation without the continued exposure of the truth — the truth being that Canada has a race problem. That race problem is amplified every day in every media outlet in this country that posts indigenous-related stories. The CBC just recently shut down the comments section because of that race problem.

Raising my daughter to be fierce

Which makes me question: what kind of country are we raising our indigenous girls in? I love my daughter and want the world for her. I recently was teaching her about climate change and how it affects people. Her heart is there. I want her to grow up thinking that she is safe and that she doesn't have to worry about people attacking her without knowing who she is — in person or online.

I also want her to grow up without fear. I want her to grow up with the support of the community, and the strength to believe that she can be a leader. We need to teach our daughters to be strong, and we need Canadians to support indigenous women.

I would hope that we are raising daughters who are going to be able to challenge current structures and systems, but I hope that they are able to do that in a country that is not going to threaten their lives for it.

With the announcement of the arrest of the man accused of murdering Tina Fontaine, I have to have another conversation with my daughter.

I need to tell her that she is loved, and I also need to tell her that there are still people out there that she needs to be worried about.

We all need to reflect on what type of country we want to raise our daughters in. Tina Fontaine was a girl. A young girl who was failed at every level.

I would love to believe that as a country, Canada can do better. We shouldn't have to raise our daughters in fear. We should be raising them to be fierce.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Lenard Monkman is Anishinaabe from Lake Manitoba First Nation, Treaty 2 territory. He has been an associate producer with CBC Indigenous since 2016. Follow him on Twitter: @Lenardmonkman1

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