Ksahwowaakaasaaki translates to “Spider Woman” from Blackfoot to English. Spider Woman, among other entities, brought us Ceremony. The woman who married the Morning Star was brought back to earth on the back of Spider Woman. That in itself is a long story, and not to be told now. I was walking along one day, and I saw some street People sitting together, all of them in the process of getting drunk. There was about five or six of them. They had asked me for a smoke, and being that I was once part of a particular Ceremony, they cannot ask me. I explained to them how I cannot give them a smoke, but instead, I’ll pray for them. All of them became excited. Happy even. I asked them their names, and one by one they gave me their names in Blackfoot. There was one woman who didn’t know her name in Blackfoot. She said “I know what it is in English, but I don’t know how to say it in Blackfoot. So, I responded “what is it in English then?” She said “My name is Spider Woman.”
Knowing what I know about our Ceremony, I said “I know your name, I’ll say it for you. Ksahwowaakaasaaki is how you say your name.” She was happy to know what her name was. We repeated it a few times to one another, and eventually, I went on my way.
Several weeks later, I had attended the “Sisters in Spirit Vigil” which is a vigil held in October across Canada. The vigil is intended to bring attention to missing and murdered Indigenous Women. At the event that was held downtown, there were various speakers. Everyone held a lit candle, and prayers were said. Drummers sang their songs. The speakers spoke. I looked among the crowd, and although there were a number of Indigenous People there, mostly women, there were many settlers. I recognized quite a few, who lean on the left side of the political spectrum. Some might call them bleeding heart do gooders. Others might think of them as heroes. Some, may even consider them saps.
As the evening wore on I noticed the woman there. Spider Woman. Ksahwowaakaasaaki. She was going from group to group, asking the white settlers for change, or smokes, or anything they could spare. Buy her a sandwich even. She was obviously intoxicated with something. I don’t know what. She wasn’t all there, in whatever sense sober People are usually. She asked for their kindness, but what they gave her were sneers. Very obvious faces of disgust. They gave her derisive, short, angry, faces and answers. “No, I don’t have anything for you” and would look away. Some even outright ignored her.
So, I was sitting on a bench, and she came to sit by me. I rolled her a smoke, as she did not ask me this time, and together, quietly, we sat and smoked. Taking in the “Sisters in Spirit Vigil” where they bring attention to missing and murdered Indigenous Women. As the leftist white settlers clapped, and made sad faces, and went home to post the pictures on their social media profiles to “bring attention to the horrors of missing and murdered Indigenous Women” they left Spider Woman and me to smoke, and think about this world we are in.
The irony wasn’t lost on me. Here we were, all of us collected at a time and place at a certain event bringing awareness to “missing and murdered Indigenous Women” while those same bleeding heart do gooder leftist saps patted themselves on the back for showing up. They went to their comfortable homes, to their warm beds, and full bellies, while I thought about the way they looked at Spider Woman. I realized she, if anyone, is in complete danger of becoming one of these missing and murdered women. I don’t know if the crowd who showed up did though. I realized the irony of the situation. I realized the disrespect, and anger she faces daily. Perhaps that is dulled somewhat by the substances she used.
I say used intentionally. A few months later, she was murdered. Beaten to death.
I’d now like to illustrate how her death, is one of many manifestations of inequality, oppression, and resonating effects of colonialism necessitated by capitalism, international trade and finance structures.
To begin with, like myself, she was denied her ability to be Blackfoot as Blackfoot can be. Our Tribe was nomadic by nature, within the boundaries of our Territory. Blackfoot Territory stretches from the North Saskatchewan River, south to the Yellowstone River, from the eastern slope of the Rocky Mountains, to the confluence of the North and South Saskatchewan Rivers. IN this territorial boundary we have made our lives for the last ~10,000 years or so, living symbiotically with the Plants and Animals in the most efficient and ecologically minded way that enabled our culture to survive for those thousands of years. In that time, the systemic processes of migration patterns of Animals, and seasonal changes of flora informed our interactions with the environment, and very likely vice versa. As an example, when we’d make camp in a river bottom, the first resource to be taken were the dry fall branches. Over a few days or few weeks, all of the dead branches that accumulated over a long period of time were collected for firewood. Then, once those were used, the next place to take firewood from was the trees themselves. However; not to be cut down, but pruned. The dead branches on the trees were taken, and only those. Once those were used, and other resources taken such as available food as berries, roots, and vegetables, then we’d move on. Also important to note, that there would always be some berries, roots, and vegetables left for other Animals to eat. Our practise of firewood collection was also enabling the trees to thrive, as the dead branches only wasted the energy of the tree. With those branches gone, the tree can now redistribute its energy into other parts of itself. Modern day arborists fully understand the necessity of pruning the branches of trees for its overall health. The clan or tribe would move on to a new place, in turn, the area that was just left would now have a chance to renew itself. More berries will grow, more roots and vegetables will come, and the trees will grow larger and healthier. The place of camp not being exhausted of life itself (like the oil sands project) but rather invigorated. The camp continues on.
This way of being is, if not in the most positive of senses, antithetical to capitalism and global market economies. In the most negative of senses, this way of being may even be downright treasonous to the foundations of capitalism and global economy itself. Contemporarily, I and my tribe are simply not able to live as we did only three generations ago. Three generations ago we were living on the plains in the above illustrated manner. In those three generations we were forcibly moved onto reserves to scratch out a living within tight and rigid boundaries on resource poor tracts of land, yet we survived. The best resources the settlers saved for themselves. Up until the 1960’s we needed a permit to even leave the reserve. This system was what directly inspired South African Apartheid, however, in Canada this apartheid system remains entrenched, whereas South Africa developed a collective conscience and abandoned this system years ago. The surrounding landscape of the reserve is either crown land, or “privately owned” by white farmers, municipalities, and so on, most every single one of those People are white settler colonists from no more than three generations back.
The Beavers were the first to go. We as Blackfoot People did not kill them, as they are an integral part of our ceremony. However; white settlers found their pelts useful for hats. So there was a nationwide cull of Beavers for the purposes of fashion. This cull drastically altered the landscape, as their dams were essential for retention of Water on the plains. They dammed streams and rivers alike, creating mini ecosystems where Fish, Moose, Elk, Deer, and predators could congregate and engage in the circle of life. Their simple act of creating a dam would create entire wetlands. After they were mostly wiped out, save for a few where selection pressures of nocturnality saved them from being hunted in the day, the plains became dry and dusty as we presently experience them. The next to go were the Buffalo. For two reasons, mainly that the crown wanted railways to go through Blackfoot Territory to the coast. Buffalo were in the way of that expansion, and therefore must be removed as vermin. These were of course one of the main resource partnerships Blackfoot People had relied on, with there being some 6000 uses for a single Buffalo. From food to shelter to clothing and on. Not only with proper management was this resource partnership equitable, but sustainable. Evidence of buffalo hunting goes back as far as People were here in the archaeological record. A wit and hap –less society would have exterminated them a long time ago, however, for those thousands of years together the people and the buffalo thrived. The buffalo were one of the main drivers of migration, as a great many other species followed their patterns of migration, Blackfoot People included. As they traveled their hoofs ploughed the plains, enabling new growth, and the passing of seeds. Condors traveled as far north as Canada to scavenge off of the carcasses left when perhaps an older bull would die. Plants and Animals alike were affected detrimentally with the passing of the buffalo from the plains.
Now, to the meat of the issue. All of the land around the contemporary reserve is held in freehold tenure by settlers. The crown of course, is the actual owner of that land. The reserve itself is entirely crown land. Flying over southern Alberta one can see vast fields of monoculture, almost every square foot cultivated and seeded in neat sections of a grid. Each section of that grid is fenced, each section “owned” and not one piece of that land free. Here I am as a Blackfoot person writing in English, wearing the clothes of the colonizer. The lifestyle lived by my ancestors, and not too distant ancestors at that. The last of the buffalo hunters died in the 1960’s and 1970’s, as the last buffalo was killed in 1890 near Bow Island Ab. Those men were well over 100 years old when they died. The lifestyle afforded to my ancestors is of course not afforded to me. I cannot simply walk out in the plains anywhere I’d like, and with my tribe find a place to camp as we please. That might get us shot in the back of the head.
Indeed, the marker of success is how well you as an individual engage in capitalism and economy. Buy a house, buy a car, buy a boat, buy another house, maybe buy a cabin, send your kids to school, save up for retirement, have a nest egg, make sure they have something to inherit and you leave no debt, then die. The circle of life for capitalism. That is just on the local scale. In the grand scheme, all of these resources go to market. The “softwood timber” of old growth forests, and just underneath the biodiversity of the boreal forest is the dense, rich, thick, black tar heroin that is bitumen. The cash cow of Alberta, and Canada. That magical substance is so valuable, no amount of life or biodiversity is too much to forsake to get to it. Bitumen to market drives the entire economy, allegedly. To pipeline that sweet, sweet black tar out of Alberta to the coast to get that dope to market is the main goal above all else. Before the health and safety of people downstream of the oil sands. The natives downstream are getting all different kinds of cancers because of the project. The landscape irreversibly polluted where once rich and life giving forests stood. They plant some grass over the chemically inundated muck, and say it was “reclaimed.” To hell with those People dying from this resource extraction. We need the economy more, allegedly. Indeed, most of the Canadian economy isn’t built upon sustainable resources, but, built on taking the resources here that rightfully belong to the Indigenous populations if anyone. Steal the resources, bring them to market, and trade them for pictures of the queen (money).
All of this destruction, for pictures of the queen.
Every parcel of land bought and sold. Every resource extracted and refined. Every actor within that system as “innocent” as can be.
Where then does that leave Spider Woman? First off, she was denied her ability to be Blackfoot. First from having her home taken away from her, which is Blackfoot Territory. Settlers have settled that, by forcing us on to reserves. The next was to take her language. She didn’t even know her own name. Residential Schools and the church hand in hand with the government took care of that problem. Intentionally, she was kept without her home, without her language. Forced to speak English. Forced to abide by the laws and barbaric cultural practises of the settler colonial state. If she didn’t succeed, which she wouldn’t, as she’s a woman, and not only that, an Indigenous woman, it’s her own fault. Nothing systemic about it. The (thankfully) former Prime Minister Stephen Harper said that the issue of missing and murdered Indigenous women was not systemic in nature, but criminal. Simple crime was to explain why there are low estimates of 4000 missing and murdered Indigenous women in Canada. Not systemic, but a simple act of criminals. Not the robbing of a home, language, way of being, and replacing it with a dog eat dog step on your grandmas neck for a dollar I’ll eat you if you fall asleep capitalism practised in the west and much of the rest of the world today.
The worst part being, that it is everyday Canadians. Ordinary People who are going along with that. Driving their cars, buying their supplies from these multinational conglomerates. From those corporations engaging in global market economies.
Then, they have the gall to say “why won’t you assimilate?”
I’ll answer “why don’t you stop killing?”
Spider Woman’s murderer is most definitely to blame for her death. However; had she been a nice wealthy blonde from a rich family she may have been at Vassar reading Jane Eyre. Had she been a happy bright blue eyed boy, might have been going to provincial hockey championships. Had she been anyone else she might have had a good sporting chance to survive, to thrive in this beautiful global market economy we have today where every desire is fulfilled if you keep your nose clean and “work hard enough for it.”
Instead, she was murdered.
Her murderer is responsible, but, the invisible hand guided him in every way possible.