So, I’m doing an abbreviated version of my SSHRC thesis for my final Indigenous studies paper, and it is going to be so helpful when I finally start my thesis (book) again.
I’d never thought of myself as the kind of writer who needed to do research, since I’m such a navel-gazer storyteller, but damn. People have thought about and written about so many useful things! I’m thankful to this whole scholarship application process for helping me put into words the ideas about the Peel Watershed trip that emotion (and frankly, trauma) have made difficult to express.
I’ve been struggling with so much around the canoe trip, and blaming myself for ways I didn’t step “out of my comfort zone” or “up to the challenge” and part of it had to do with the way gender issues were perceived on the trip. There was a fundamental incommensurability in the way different kinds of feminists framed social justice issues–what was heroic and strong behaviour. Because I didn’t meet the expectations–honestly, I often gave the expectations the finger–I felt like a loser. But today I read this:
“…I have often revelled in seeing women being strong and confident out on the trail, occurrences that were in line with the stated curriculum of “empowerment” that these trips were designed around. Yet, in a Euro-Canadian context, where white women take up space as trippers in this historically masculine sphere, we are, in a sense struggling against gender norms only to participate in the cultural work of sustaining the hegemonic mythology of the canoe and Canadian [colonial] wilderness. This is a kind of frontier feminism in which our “liberation” also signifies our deepening implication in colonial relations. …a curriculum of feminist empowerment overshadowed the complexity of the place and the other issues at hand” Liz Newbery.
Every time I was politely pushed toward “empowering” myself on the trip and I refused, believing I had other shit to deal with, I was told I would regret it later. I never have. I regret not honouring my own position enough to ignore the delicate shaming that surrounded my own process of self-revelation. A process that was far more concerned with battling my inability to connect to the land than battling white gender norms. I regret defaulting to anger and shame at the time, though I realize it was because my ignorance made it impossible to put into a proper argument what I was feeling.
I’m not saying I was oppressed by white feminism, I am far too privileged to make that claim. But to be able to unpack my emotions about this now, and move towards forgiving myself for having different goals on the trip than others, is really helping me heal.
One of my Peel poems is about this, though I feel like I should rewrite it now that I’m feeling less like a failure. Anyway, here it is:
Paddling For Feminism
This northern backyard is foreign in every way
so we’re looking for relatives in the canyon walls,
a lineage spelled out between contour lines on a
map. And there are so many maps. Curve of a breast
lost under layers of wool, inked triangles
mark the places we might camp for the night
but all I see is river. Where am I in you?
There’s no connectivity. The river is electric,
the river dictates time: time to get up,
time to eat breakfast, time to brush your teeth,
time to take a shit, time to pack up the canoes,
time to paddle, time for lunch, time for dinner,
time for bed. This won’t make me popular,
but I don’t want to sit in the stern and navigate
like the guys do. I just want to paddle from the bow.
To do what I’m told. Paddle hard when I’m told.