54Lights with Kondwani Mwase
54Lights with Kondwani Mwase

Episode 69 · 2 months ago

Standing in Solidarity

ABOUT THIS EPISODE

Our guest, Jana Rae Yerxa, is one of our season's most inspirational guests. She's an activist, writer, poet, teacher and community leader. She not only embodies the spirit of the work we do but stands as a key model and shining light to learn from. 

From her insights on being a selfless, or selfish, activist to her guidance on how to protect oneself from the weight of deep work on racial justice, Jana-Rae exposed us to her world. As part of our deep discussion on racial justice, and her community work to uplift our Indigenous brothers and sisters, Jana-Rae also helped us better understand how better to apply language of support...converting us from allies to those that stand in solidarity. 

GUEST BIO - Jana-Rae Yerxa, M.S.W., M.A. is Anishinaabe from Couchiching, First Nation, in Treaty #3 Territory. She is an advocate, educator, writer, and poet whose work is grounded in Indigenous feminims and decolonial frameworks. Jana-Rae is faculty and curriculum developer at Seven Generations Education Insititute in Anishinaabe Gikendaasowin. 

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ABOUT 54Lights

54Lights is committed to elevating creative voices through authentically told stories. Our energy stands in solidarity with people across the globe. 

The following has been brought to you by braided media. Today's show features Januarray Yerksa, whose presence on this show was inspired in part by a piece she pent in two thousand and thirteen about the colonized mind. It captures the spirit which led to this following conversation and provides us with a window into her genius. The following are excerpts from that work. My struggle, your struggle, ours struggle, the colonial struggle. There are many layers to this struggle. For the longest time, I didn't even know what the true struggle was about, yet I couldn't escape it. It consumed me. Colonnie realism, as I've been forced to discover, is like a cancer, but instead of the cells in your body betraying itself, the thoughts in your mind work against you and eat you up from the inside out. You're like the walking dead, and you don't even know it because you are so blinded you can't see the truth. Here are some of the perverted ways colonialism infects the mind. With a colonized mind, I hate being Indian with a colonized mind. I feel as though I'm swearing when I say white people in front of white people. With a colonized mind. I discredit my own people with a colonized mind. I think that I am better than those Indians. With a colonized mind. I I'm lost with a colonized mind. I do not care about the land. With a colonized mind. I do not have a true, authentic voice, with a colonized mind. I live in defeat with a colonized mind. I do not know that I am powerful. The colonial struggle, as I said earlier, has many layers. I am no longer eaten from the inside, yet it is no less painful. What is different today is that I'm connected to a true source of power that was always there. It's like my friend once said, I come from a distinguished people whose legacy shines on me like the Sun. I now understand this, and it is because of this understanding that my mind and my soul are freer than they've ever been. It...

...is because of that gift, that awakening, which came through struggle, that I will proudly continue to struggle for freedom, my freedom, your freedom, our freedom. Thank you for these words, Janna Ray. Let's get started. When I first read that poem by my next guest, Jannarey, I was overcome, overwhelmed really with emotion and angst. I read and re read it several times to ingest its full power. I read it in the wake of newscasts featuring the unearthing of unmarked graves. I read it in the midst of images of shoes and Teddy bears placed on barren school fields across Canada. I read it as I donned my orange shirt, feeling the weight of a color, and I read it as I thought deeply about the plight, perils and power of our sisters and brothers in the indigenous community. Good morning, good day or good evening, and welcome to the powerful preseason of fifty four lights. I've often thought that this show, at its core, is really borderless, with contributions from the African diaspora, Africans on the continent itself and allies of the community generously sprinkled across the globe. Today's episode is a proud moment in our lead up to season four because it epitomizes that collective and universal relevance. You needn't be African or of African descent to enjoy and learn from this show, and today underlines that truth. My next guest is January Yerksa. She's an author, a leader and a teacher. She's a force of nature who's dedicated herself to her community and to doing the work. To do this, she must walk an uneasy path, one ripe with conflict and pain, but she does it with grace and with a posture that's beyond admirable. Now, without further a ramble, let's lean in and listen up to an important conversation with my special guest, a dear friend, January. My last name is Yerksa. It's okay, if you mess it up. It's not my real name. Okay, okay, we'll perfect. Okay, so maybe we'll start there. Who who talking to? What's your what's your full name,...

...and what, if anything, does it? Does it mean? So, yeah, well, January Yorksa is my English name, and we all know that, like my ancestors, didn't have last names. Um, they it's a process of colonization and you know, we were given our names. So, UH, Mr Kibin a seeking to go. That means that the spirits know me as Mr Kibin a seek. So my name, Missr Kibin at seek Um. There are stories that go with our names. And so for me, Um, the story that I was told by the elder who gave me my name was, you know, she reminded me of our teachings with the thunderbirds and how to honor them. And UH, Mr Kibin as seek is kind of like thunderbird coming down, and so that is the the spirit that is with me all the time. Fantastic. What is it? What does that mean to you and maybe to the people around you? Do they do they see you as that thunderbird coming down? Do you? Do you personify your name, I guess, is the is the question. So that is that's a great question. I don't know how people see me, but I know for me that in the ceremony, the elder asked me how I felt about my name when she gave me the story, because she talked to me about how this thunderbird, Michigi Bene seek, was kind of like the big thunderbird that people would listen to and when this thunderbird spoke, it got a response from all the other thunderbirds and as long as this thunderbird would speak with truth, Um, that was really important. So, you know, when she asked me how I felt, about my name. I shared that I knew it was a really powerful name. And Yeah, and she and the advice she gave me was to keep saying my name till I become it, you know. So I feel that my name helps me so much, helps me so, so much to walk in this world as an Initia Nabe woman living amidst colonization. That's so profound. Thank you for sharing that with me. Really appreciated. Do you feel that that you know now, years later, that that was prophetic? Do you feel now, years later...

...that you've you've actually done accomplished that? I don't know if I accomplished that, but I do. I do my best to honor my name and Um, are ways and our teachings around around that. Yeah, so I feel like, Um, well, I know we're going to be talking about ally ship later, but definitely like it's action based, right, for sure. For sure, it's really Um. It's really interesting when you when you said that Um so, so my name and and and our cultures maybe are are there's a lot of like similarities in our cultures, right, at least in broad strokes, and in in you know, my family lineage. So my my oldest sister is named speeway, my middle sister, or who's late, is named Lyndanny, and then I'm named Kundwani, and you know, we we kind of said that to one of our our family friends one time we were on on vacation back home, and they said, Oh, I understand. So sepeewa means gift because she was born Um right after Christmas, so boxing day. So she's a boxing day baby. Shoot, so it means gift. Then uh, Lyndani actually means patients. And, you know, wait, and the reason for that, part of the reason was because my mother wanted a boy and my dad wanted a boy. So they were like sort of like okay, let's be patient, we'll have a boy and then u when when I came along, it was like be happy. So it's like there's kind of like there's literally in our case, a story that could be told about, you know, from the parents perspective anyways, about what we meant to them at the time that they gave us those names. And it's funny that you say that. Like when I walked through my my life, I try as much as possible to live up to quote unquote happiness right, to bring happiness to other people. I don't know that I always accomplished it, which is which is which is the challenging part of life. Um, it is something that that that I that I tried and I try and do so thank you for for sharing that. I've read a bunch of stuff about you, I think. I think you're fantastic and I'm so excited to have you on our show, fifty four lights podcast to kick off the fourth season. I'm I'm really excited about this interview, in this conversation, what I read about you and what I've done some some background. You're a poet. I think you're a teacher as well. You're definitely an activist. You know, I would put like a gender gender Justice Crusader as one of those like I just I feel like there's, you know, super super person, but to a degree, what's out there in the in the on the web and in the world about a person isn't as important as what the person says about themselves. So can you, for our audience and for myself selfishly speaking, can you describe like who's who, who you are and and and what what is what is the work that you do? Well, Mr Cuban,...

...a seeking to go. I am a Nishanabe, I am from Kucha Ching First Nations, Pre d three territory and well, I am an educator, I am a poet, I am a writer, I belong to three bulldogs. I am a daughter, sister, an Auntie, a wife, and you know, I think that in terms of what I do, a lot of my work is definitely influenced by indigenous feminism. So when you bring in that gender analysis, it's very important. Like I love the intersection of Art, education and activism. So, regardless of what I'm doing, my work, my work practice centers on the dignity and well being of indigenous people. So with that focus, I sometimes I am helping others to understand what gets in the way of US living well, and that work, like oftentimes revolves around raising the consciousness of settler colonial realities. I would say that de colonization work is very hard work that we must commit to on a daily basis to disrupt within ourselves and with one another in order to disrupt the de humanization of indigenous people on our home lends. And so I also love resurgent work which is about centering our ways as indigenous people, and that work I find very soul nourishing. Um. Yeah, so, uh, I always go back to that whole intersection of art, education and activism and I absolutely love participating in community development and initiating it. That's amazing. Well, thank you for sharing that. The work that you're doing is obviously very, very impactful for the community, for yourself for those around you. I'm curious, though, is it? It feels like it's a type of work that is really selfless. You know, come back to that word about being selfless. What led you to this type of work? What? What? What? What? What led you to this space, if you will? I would have to say I want to come back to the selfless too, because you got me thinking about something there. But I guess what led me to this type of work would be the way that I grew up. The way that I grew up had a lot to do with it. My family and my community, like many indigenous families and communities, have been, like have suffered from colonial...

...violence, and so there was a lot of violence, addiction, abuse. Um, I experienced and witnessed as a kid and when I attended university, I went there with the hopes of wanting to help my community. I was introduced to the concept of oppression and like as a young as a young person being introduced to these concepts, it really blew my mind because finally there was this concept that applied to my entire life and the lives of so many that I cared for, and what I experienced and what I seen wasn't because I was January, but the things that hurt and troubled and upset me, the things that I wanted to change, even experiencing them presently, had historical boots that would manifest like socially, politically, economically, culturally right. So that just kind of really lit my soul on fire in a really good way and from there, like my own conscious raising, expanded beyond oppression, which was validating, to colonialism, to settler colonialism, to de Colonization, to resurgence um indigenous feminism. So all of that validated my hope that things could be different, relationships can be different, we can be different, and that takes a lot of thought and action. And I do need to say, though, I'm always hesitant to talk about the ways our communities are harmed through colonial processes because I find that sometimes outsiders, especially folks that haven't done their work around colonization. Like to stay there and focus on that. And when I when I acknowledge that truth, it's not to say that there was still like love in my family, still beauty in my family. You know, as well as navigating those those harmful realities, you could have elected to do other things, for quote unquote work, but there's obviously a point in time where you said no, this is what I'm I'm going to be, quote unquote, digging into, and I'm wondering when that was. Man I I guess like when I did my first master's degree, I wanted to I was really focused at that time on wanting to help, wanting to help indigenous children Lu combat internalizing white supremacy, and when I tried to sit down to write a children's book, I realize that I myself was lacking the skills to have that...

...conversation, to bring it forward to other people, which and then I started to see that a lot of us for lacking those skills to have this conversation in an informed way that didn't resenter white supremacy. So I think that was the turning point in terms of things beginning to unraveled for me that I needed to there was a lot of work that I needed to do for myself and, Um, without doing that work, Um, I guess liberation work was going to be very far away. Yeah, yeah, almost like unattainable, right, if you don't if you don't manage that or don't get those learnings done for yourself, yes, and doing it in a very deep and meaningful way in an ongoing process. So yeah, so I think that's kind of where it started. But there were a lot of things that I mean, I just recently moved out of the city of Thunder Bay, so I don't know if folks are familiar with Thunder Bay, but Thunder Bay, Ontario, is the city in northwestern Ontario and it has garnered a lot of Um news in terms of its anti indigenous racism. So I think that, coupled with, you know, me having to honor my name, Um, and the work that I was committed to doing, created a space for you know, the the the advocacy work, the activism work, the education work, whatever you want to call it, to to manifest. When you get into the space of activism in really broader terms, you have to, I think, go through through a bit of a process and you know, I'm wondering what you think is is a good bit of advice for people who are feeling compelled that they want to do some activism for their community, for their cause or for for something that is as prescent for them or emotionally attached to them? That is such a big question and it's such an important question and it's one that I have thought deeply about, like over the years, like what would be helpful right, um, even thinking about my own process in terms of like, you know, what did I need, what was what was helpful, what was missing? And so I would say that a lot of people will talk about how it requires courage and bravery, and that's true, but I think that it also requires vulnerability, and so those like courage, bravery,...

...vulnerability, they all kind of flow together, like they're not in their own silos. And so for me, like when I had to really look at the way colonization like impacted myself and my self esteem, Um, I needed to like I had to sit with some really uncomfortable truth about things that I thought that I needed to kind of purge, and that gave me a good starting point, because you really need to know who you are and where you stand and what your values are, knowing where you want to go. I think it's also really important to build relationships. So again it comes back to that relation ship, right, your relationship with self, your relationship with others, because, you know, activism work or advocacy work is all about working with others. You cannot do it by yourself. You need to feel supported and I think two boundaries are important. So knowing when when you need to pull back. I like to call it cocoon Ng. So you know, like sometimes I need to cocoon and that is where, Um, you know, the people in my very close circle are the ones who hold me so I can come back into the into the world, yeah, and deal with world and life on those terms. Right. Yeah, I love that as a as a bit of advice and I Love I love everything that you're saying so far, but I really like that one because a lot of the people that I I run into who do a lot of advocacy work or who do heavy work with equity, diversity and inclusion, let's say, in these types of spaces, there is this like there is this burden that ways on them and it's it's really sometimes I look at them and I say. Well, well, you need to make sure you you take care of yourself in this because there's a lot coming at you. You're dealing with a lot from other people, which you're also dealing with a lot internally. So I think cocoone is a great bit of advice along with all of it. I am curious, though, as well. Um, you know, in in these types of conversations, I'm very consumed with the like the work for whom is the work right? Or for whom should be the work right? Like when I'm looking at, you know, conversations on decolonization, conversations on gender justice, conversations in the spaces that you operate in, the you navigate through, who should be listening? And or maybe who do you do the work for?...

Leads me back to when you were talking about like selfless work. I think there's different ways to look at it. I think that in some ways it's very selfish work because I am committed to wanting to build worlds that I want to live in. But I think where, when you bring up self lists, it cannot come from like ego. Yeah, you know, and and so Um, in terms of like who is this work for? I do this work for me so I could live and I do this work for my nieces and my nephews because I want them to be I want them to experience spaces that will hold them, that will honor the dignay of who they are, that will celebrate their strengths and their gifts and where those don't have to come out because they have to push against things, you know. But also in terms of like who should be listening? And you're right, the easy answer is everybody. But that's where we get into this realm of ally ship. Right. Yeah, yeah, that's that's gonna be my next question. So let's let's go there. Let's go there. So it's important to think critically about the term. Like I love language and I think language creates worlds and it's important to us for us to critically reflect on them. And so my beef with the term ally ship is that, when we don't think critically about it, I think that it reinforces structures of power and privilege. You know. Um, what I mean by that is that, like in a settler colonial context, Um Power and privilege is granted two certain people. Right, white, Male, straight, able bodied, post secondary educated, rich, English speaking, so on and so forth. And so initially, like ally ships started to be discussed as like these folks that fit these identities are going to use their power and privilege to help elevate on those on the margins. What I think is that those that do not necessarily fit into those categories, and so, for instance, Um, black indigenous people of Color, Um, our knowledge is in our ways of being, have so much...

...to offer the world in terms of how we relate and not to offer in a in a way that reinforces colonization, where it's extractive and about taking, but we have a lot to share that the world could benefit from, and so in that way it's about like reciprocity. So that's why I really like when you were asking about like standing in solidarity. I love that. I love that. I'm I'm I'm. I'm tempted to to oversimplify my question and oversimplify your answer and say, Hey, you didn't come, you didn't tell me. For whom, as a as a secondary potential, secondary universe, who should be listening, embracing and learning from your message, what would give you the most fulfillment, selfishly speaking, right, is if you were to somehow break through to that person at the dinner table, so she could have a like that lightbulb go on? Is that? Is that in any way, shape or form part of like what maybe would fuel used to say, Hey, she could come away from this and sort of say oh, or does that not necessarily motivate or or impact you at all? You know, earlier, earlier on, I would say that my focus was on how to how to help other folks understand, and that's still a big part of my work. However, what I do center and what I centered in that conversation was myself, you know, stepping into the space, in in the fullness of me, you know, to to claim the space and have the conversation. And we can't always control how that is going to be received and how folks are going to react to that, but being able to walk away from that and leaving that and learning from that as well, right, because I think that sometimes, sometimes, like folks are not open to learning. Yes, and so again, going back to power and privilege, like Dr Sarah Ahmed has spoken about how power and privilege is simply energy saver for those who have it, and so I've been really trying to be more cognizant of where I'm placing my energy. I love it. I love it. I could, I could probably talk to you for for hours and days, but I don't want to take up to too much of your time. I do have one final question and I know we've only scratched the surface here of of of it, but I wanted to, or I have to final questions. One is, what are your thoughts on standing in solidarity with with specifically the black...

...community and, you know, African Diaspora? This show, you know, fifty four lights, is really focused in on this concept of illuminating different cultures within, within the continent. But I think by by by by Osmosis or energy, we're talking about people who are typically on the fringes. So I wanted your reflections on, quote unquote, brothers and sisters in the African Community, in the African diaspora and and and do you have any reflections about the importance of that outside of the framing which you just said, in terms of like understanding the language? Oh, that's like a really good question and I think that I think standing in solidarity with each other. Well, that's how I came to meet you, right, is that? Um, I've been really reflecting on how do I stand in solidarity with Um African Americans or Um African indigenous people, Um, and really thinking deeply about that. Like I I've been very disturbed by the violence that I've seen where I see black people being killed by by the state, whether it's through police or through their citizens, and those are things that I could relate to. Learning about the history of Um, of black people in these lands, in their lands and Um, our relationships with each other and how our struggles and our liberation um coincide together. That's what really got me excited about looking at anti indigenous racism and looking at anti black racism together and side by side and building those meaning meaningful relationships with some of my sisters that are are meaningfully engaging in the struggle. So we are connected, yes, through settler colonial violence, like I think about how people were stolen from their lands and brought here and how we were dispossessed of our lands, like all for the benefit of colonialism. Thank you so much for for those profound words. I think it's you know, a lot of people sort of asked me like, Oh, you you love doing this podcast because you're you know, you're just, you know, kind of shedding light on on different different places and you get to chat with different people and for me it, you know, it is a learning exercise. So this conversation, like I've learned so much in this this little time that we've spent together, but it also has given me like I have so much more to learn. Right like to to your point, I have so much more to learn, and I hope that, Um, I hope that all of the people listening in, who eventually will be listening into this, Um, can take it upon themselves to do that, go through that, because if...

...somebody is educated as you are, um is kind of turning the tables and saying you have to learn, I think that that's that's remarkable. Nothing about what you do, it feels, is light. Uh, you know, and, but, and, and people who are going to be listening to this won't won't necessarily see this, but you have a beautiful smile. You know, like how do you find your smile and what makes you smile? You know what, like that is so true. It is not light, Um, and there are times that I really struggle with that. And yet what makes me smile, I think of being comfortable with me. So there you have it. The conversation continues. As noted off the top, part of our show was recorded and produced at the sound stage and auditory office of fifty four lights, and while our stage is small, our lights together shine brightly. This season, more than most, has been produced in partnership with some incredible people, ones who all avoid rattling off anonymously, but we'll find it time to thank personally after each and every play. Now, before I go, a special shadow to my amazing guest for lending your Lens to this important conversation and, of course, my enormous gratitude goes to you, the listener, for lending us your ears today, during this important preseason and for our future upcoming shows. My name again is Gondwan Muasi. Here's hoping you find yourself in every play. It's been fierce as usual. Until we speak again, thanks for listening.

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