Abusive Relationships

Ever had an abusive relationship with a boss, lover or parent? It’s an unfortunately common experience. Staying in an abusive relationship while hoping that your abuser will see the error of their ways, apologize sincerely and transform into someone who treats you with the respect you deserve is also unfortunately common.

This is especially sad when your abuser has stolen all your stuff and controls your life through financial and other forms of manipulation. Any counselor or therapist observing that dynamic, would probably tell you to get out of the relationship as soon as possible. Find safety. Focus on taking care of yourself and your loved ones. And although the abuser may change their ways, don’t put your life in danger or on hold waiting for it.

This scenario is very much like the relationship Indigenous folks are in with Canada. The ugly, brutal truths of historical and ongoing genocide continue to be revealed almost daily. Empty apologies are given for past wrongdoings. Remedial actions are insincere, incomplete and inadequate. The abuse continues. And unfortunately, it’s not as if Indigenous folks can withdraw from the relationship. What differs from the scenario above is that communities have been made structurally and legally dependent on Ottawa. Plus, there’s nowhere to go. There’s nowhere they should go. This is their land.

Many Indigenous leaders have publicly stated that apologies aren’t enough. Or worse, they are meaningless in a situation where the abuse continues. Late author and Stolo Elder Lee Maracle once said, “I can forgive you for stepping on my foot but you’ve got to step off first.” Land must be returned. Resource extraction must stop sucking all the wealth from Indigenous lands, leaving them barren and polluted. The waters must be protected from industry. Missing and murdered women must be accounted for, their abusers and murderers brought to justice. The institutions that perpetrated and sanctioned the torture and murder of residential school children must be held to account. The same level of funding, health care, education, and community services available to non-Indigenous Canadians must be equally available to Indigenous people. And these items are only a few on a long To-Do List Canada must accomplish before it can be perceived as stepping off the feet of Indigenous people.

Non-Indigenous people have asked me, “What happened to the Idle No More Movement?”

My answer is: “You tell me.” Do you really need a women-led round dance in the local mall or a main intersection blockaded every weekend to spur you to action? Education should and will continue but there is certainly already enough truth and awareness out there to justify a transformation of Canada and its relationships with Indigenous communities.

Canada has and will continue to change. I see community organizations doing the work of educating every single day. In my lifetime I’ve witnessed a lot of awareness being raised.

Awareness matters but it’s clearly not enough. For those who sincerely want reconciliation, it’s Canada’s move. But Indigenous folks aren’t putting their lives on hold.

As Elder Robert Lovelace, educator and retired co-chief of the Ardoch Algonquin community once said (paraphrased), “We’re turning inward, strengthening our community. We want to make sure everyone is fed, housed, and knows their language and culture. I have no illusions. The government or the corporations will come knocking, looking to harvest our wild rice or mine our lands. But when they do, we don’t want to meet them hungry and tired with our hands out. We want to meet them healthy with straight backs and heads high.”

May all people in abusive relationships find such empowerment.

About Zainab Amadahy

Of mixed heritage (African American, Tsalagi, Seminole and European), Zainab lives in Nogojiwanong, Ontario and has authored works of fiction and nonfiction. Now semi-retired, she has worked in community arts, non-profit housing, Indigenous knowledge reclamation, women’s services and migrant settlement. For more on Zainab and to access some of her writings, check out swallowsongs.com.