Lately, I’ve been super caught up in the packaging of this Braiding Conversations project. I didn’t even realize my plan to launch was right after International Women’s Day. I was initially going to save these next pieces for next week after the launch, but it seems fitting to jump right into this conversation.
Shame of Destruction was the first spoken word poem that I’ve ever written and it was on accident. During one summer in college, when I was back home in Kotzebue, I wanted to start a new initiative to speak out about violence against women. My friend and I started The MISS Movement together, mainly through Facebook. At this point, my feminism was rapidly growing and I was all about the power of womanhood. I started a blog to empower local women by writing about them and I also wrote educational pieces about sexual violence like coercion, rape culture, mansplaining, etc. There was an anonymous man who wrote a defensive e-mail about my blogs. He said I should be more inclusive with men…
So, I was fucken pissed off. I was a librarian at the time and in between checking out books for people, I was writing Shame of Destruction. It’s a spoken word poem that tells my story of sexual trauma but raises the conversation to the societal level of why it could happen to me. It’s one of my favorite pieces because of the fire behind it. I was twenty years old, I wanted to make a change in the world but this man’s ego was in my way. I honestly feel like the passion in it is so young. The passion I have now has made a change since then.
I’ve also learned a lot since writing this piece. First of all, I learned about colonialism and the impacts it has on our people. My mind was opened to the idea that social issues can come from western contact, rather than myself, my family and community. There’s a lot of trauma that came from this societal shift from generations ago. So, I started to have anger towards white men specifically since they are the masterminds behind this system. I kept thinking, “well, if they hadn’t done this, maybe we wouldn’t have things like sexual trauma around…”
Well, I was wrong. And I started learning even more.
I’m really into old publications. I love finding old archives about our people across the Arctic. My collection of traditional stories within old books, newspapers and magazines is pretty impressive. It makes me ask more questions when I’m with people who could know more about ancient stories. I learned that violence against women is embedded right in the original stories of our people.
Sassuma Arna is our sea goddess and we believe she rules the sea animals. She received this title through a wild story of first being tricked into marriage and then having her fingers cut off by her father when he was trying to take her back home. There’s also a story about a girl who was bullied by a group of boys. They tied her up onto a log to float down the river and eventually die through the waterfall. She came back as a rolling fire and burned them all down, though. Even our story about how the sun and moon came into existence is about a brother molesting his sister. When she found out it was him, she ran away into the sky and became the sun. He chases after her now as the moon.
These are just a couple examples but there is a major theme of violating women within our old stories. It blew my mind. This isn’t how I want to view us. I thought this all came from colonialism. My mind had to sit on this for a long time. It’s still trying to wrap itself around the idea.
When people talk about our stories being dark because there’s so much horror within them, it makes sense to me because we’re from the Arctic. We spend a lot of time in the darkness when things are slow, cold and still. Of course our stories are dark because our environment is. But when it came to these traumatic similarities of violence against women, I couldn’t understand for a while.
I could be wrong with this idea, but I feel like having these themes within stories is actually a good thing. It brings the conversation right to the forefront of storytelling. We learn what is wrong through these stories. And if we hear that this violence is wrong, it could be easier for us to speak out about it. These dark stories are a way to protect ourselves and especially our children. They start conversations about trauma and it isn’t in a way that it directly shames a single human being. The stories weren’t made to point fingers at one person. They weren’t told to embarrass the victim. They were told to show that it exists. But, the conversation was still there and I can imagine that it led to more personal conversations after the story was told. It provided a safe space to open up.
I think that’s the difference between the traditional and western cultures. The colonialism I want to be mad at is the kind that wants to silence the hard truth. There’s a lot of hiding within the western culture. There’s a lot of secrets and lies that come from it. We’re taught to hide this pain. Often times, if we do open up with the truth, a lot of people are still in denial about it. This is why violence against women is a huge problem. It’s hard to talk about.
I believe it’s important to face the hard conversations through storytelling. I believe our Ancestors knew how to face conflict, not only within the harsh Arctic climate but also within the dark realities of the human experience.