On January 27, I had the privilege of attending a talk given by Jessica Yee. However talk cannot properly describe the event that took place. Jessica Yee challenged the lecture form as she coaxed the attendees from being a passive audience into active participants. The energy in the room was definitely alive. She left no room for dispassion and her strength was infectious, asserting from the beginning that we must “learn to be comfortable with being uncomfortable”. She didn’t ask, or bade us into this process gently, Yee commanded it of us and it was assumed we were naturally capable. With these sentiments she set forth exposing us to a series of very uncomfortable and painful truths.
It’s important to note that before she began she acknowledged the land she stood on and that she came as a visitor, as an ally, recognizing that the subject of violence against women in this territory in particular is of the utmost urgency. She paid tribute to the importance of recognizing the efforts of local women working towards their aims. “I bring the spirits of my ancestors here with me” were her words exactly, and she described a time when the Mohawk came to the aid of the people of this territory when they were in need, how she came with this same disposition, upholding the importance of Indigenous people standing in solidarity with one another’s communities.
“I’m not here to talk on some lofty theories on violence against women, I want to know what you plan on doing once you leave this room, because this isn’t about just going to a talk, I saw Jessica Yee speak and wasn’t that nice!”
Projected on the wall behind her were a series of illustrations, all demonstrating oppression resulting from colonization. They were well done, in comic book style and one featured a woman on the phone with the words “I’ve been raped/ My boyfriend beat me” to which a police officer replied “Native, go figure…” All of the images were equally candid and forthright. Shortly after Yee began speaking she revealed that these drawings were in fact done by an 11 year old. There was a quiet yet strong reaction from the audience, impressed that an 11 year old possessed such strong social awareness, they also seemed filled with a kind of urgency. The hope of age creating a shield of ignorance and thus protecting younger generations from unfortunate realities did not apply here. Jessica Yee stressed that we needed to listen to what the voices of our children are saying, adding that “Often its not what we say, but what we listen to.”
With this Yee set the tone for the evening by keeping the voice of this young person in our minds.
Marginalization doesn’t happen by accident was precisely the subject at hand. She reminded us that we must start at the beginning to have the strength to go forward by reasserting “Mother Law”, with “woman as the first environment”; the values of womanhood as a source of power and strength are embedded in Indigenous society. She explained the tenants of Mother Law as the highest potential for social change, where we must come together to reassert this law, keeping in mind that we do not need permission to do so. Reasserting Mother Law is something fundamental to ending violence against women.
Unsettling America’s recommended reading: Conquest: Sexual Violence and American Indian Genocide