When I joined the Otahpiaaki project I felt a sense of validation for myself and for my Indigenous community. Truth and language has a funny way of offering liberation because it helps us structure the issues we face into tangible ways. When the cholera epidemics were rampant in the 1800's, people were fine with the status quo of the cause being the “smell” (i.e. the false Miasma theory of Cholera); but the issue forced others to take action, to listen to people who were affected, and to find the truth through the means of the scientific method that people were dying, not because of the smell, but because of water contamination and faulty sewage systems. There are rampant epidemics murdering my communities one girl and woman at a time, one addict at a time, one suicide pact or individual at a time. Things could feel pretty hopeless when you grow up thinking that “natives are just lazy”, or that Indigenous people are just so inherently incapable that they need to be reliant on the welfare system but I believe that, just like the Cholera epidemics, there are truths that need to be talked about rather than simply relying on the status quo that stereotypes perpetuate.
A great resource that fills the foundation of my work with Otahpiaaki is the Truth and Reconciliation Commission final reports. Within hundreds of pages of the Commission’s report lies truths on the Indigenous struggle with social issues referring to vulnerabilities to leading causes of deaths in adult lives, and the over-representation of Indigenous folks in prison. Why are Indigenous people social deviants in this regard?
The Commission realized that, although uncomfortable, Indigenous people are over-represented in prisons because of violent crimes but the truth of the root causes were becoming clear. Many had committed murder, assault, drug offenses and robbery to name a few. The Commission also realized that they needed to talk to Indigenous offenders where they found rampant parental neglect, family violence, sexual abuse, substance abuse, racism from within and outside the schools. It was enlightening to be able to read the stories and court hearings of Indigenous people being heard and their vulnerability being recognized by judges and community members.
So this idea of childhood trauma and its relationship with problematic and life threatening behaviours was becoming more and more clear. It’s not a disability being an Indigenous person but there is a spectrum of vulnerability to these social issues for each and every person and it really comes down to each and every person's childhood exposure to abuse or household dysfunction. How we’re structured personally is heavily influenced by our critical developmental years, by the hands of those we have no control over. New knowledge in the Adverse Childhood Experiences study shows a “strong graded relationship between the breadth of exposure to abuse or household dysfunction during childhood and multiple risk factors for several of the leading causes of death in adults”. That was my key to see where Otahpiaaki could help Indigenous designers and potential designers and artists, by recognizing their talents and helping cultivate a sense of worthiness and empowerment.
Joining the Otahpiaaki project gave me a great sense of validation for myself and for my indigenous community because it has helped expose truths that empower me to continue the legacy of resistance to colonization. Otahpiaaki is about resistance because it promotes Indigenous entrepreneurs and continues to support them in the background going forward, it’s resistance because Indigenous people weren’t supposed to be here, neither their culture or their language and yet Otahpiaaki continues to help entrepreneurs who engage with all of those sacred things in their craft.