From an 11-part series recorded at the April 16, 2022, “Celebrating Badass Minnesota Women” event
Thanks to First Unitarian Society of Minneapolis for hosting the April 16, 2022, event on behalf of the 38th anniversary of Minnesota Women’s Press and its kickoff of Changemakers Alliance.
To become a supporting member of Changemakers Alliance and its conversations-to-CALLs-to-action, click here. Contributions also can be made via Venmo at @mnwomenspress.
My name is Chris Stark. That is my English name. My Anishinaabe name is Nagamo Ziibi Oonce Ikwe, which means ‘singing little river woman.’
I wanted to start off with a little excerpt from my novel “Carnival Lights,” which is currently up for a Minnesota Book Award. I wanted to read this little excerpt from the book. It is about accountability and it is about memory. When we talk about justice and we talk about healing, those are two of the core pieces, especially for people of color, especially for Indigenous people, as we all live here on this land that is in a continued state of colonization.
Deeds live on. Deeds have consequences that do not end — for place holds memory, not time.
That is really important to me for my own background. I grew up in a situation in which I was being, shall I say, profoundly abused, along with other people in my family, and other women and children in Minnesota, just off the Iron Range.
When I was growing up I was aware that I might not wake up in the morning, and I would fall asleep feeling very very sad that I might not be alive the next day. I had that awareness as a very young girl. I grew up in that situation where one of my main preoccupations in my life was whether or not I was going to disappear and no one would talk of me again. I would simply be gone.
A reality that Indigenous people continue to live with, and other communities of color, is a very different reality than having someone die from natural causes, or even having someone sadly be murdered, maybe walking down the street. You know what happened, and maybe it went through some kind of process, and there was some kind of reckoning and awareness, and it was spoken about, and it was in the newspapers. There can be some kind of way for the family and the community to move forward despite that situation, as painful as it is.
Because of my past, and the work that I have been doing — as an advocate, as a researcher, as a writer, as an organizer, as a visual artist — I carry the knowledge of at least some people who have gone missing. I carry that as I drive through the Twin Cities. I carry it with me as I am going through the rural areas here in Minnesota.
Possibly a mile away, there were two young Native women who were murdered in 2011 and their bodies were dumped in a predominantly white upper middle-class area that did a lot of work around the birds being harmed at the Vikings football field. I love birds, and we can care about more than one thing, but there was silence about these two young women who disappeared.
And I want us to root our work in the beautiful Indigenous cultures that continue to be on this land. And continue to fight and live and celebrate and have joy in our ceremonies and in our ways — as we revitalize our communities that were almost decimated, but not decimated, by colonization.
There are people who did these atrocities. There has to be accountability. There has to be naming. There has to be reckoning. I don’t have those answers. They are not simple answers.
Babette Sandman, who was on the video at the beginning here, is a dear friend of mine. I have known her and her husband for many years. They have a lot to do with my survival, and they have a lot to do with the wonderful life that I currently have and the work that I do to bring forward the gifts that the Creator gave to me when I was born.
The gifts that were given to all of us, each and every one of us, has meaning and purpose that our community needs — all of us human beings, the earth, the land, the water, the animals, the trees, the plants. We are all part of the same community and we have to bring forward these gifts, honor each other, and speak with kindness, and treat each other with true kindness and humility and gentleness and love, because that is our way forward. That is how we are going to find ways to heal the harm that has been inflicted on so many of us, and the land, and the water.
I also want to say I was a member of the Minnesota Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women Task Force here in Minnesota. It is just a profound feeling of gratitude for Mary Kunesh and so many others who laid the groundwork for the now Missing and Murdered Indigenous Relatives office and its existence. I met the director last week and she is just a wonderful, wonderful woman. I think she going to lead that office towards many paths of healing and justice for the Indigenous community.
You can support that office, politically, and in other ways.
I am also part of a lot of organizing with Babette and my friend Sheila Lamb. We are starting a nonprofit, Nanda-noojimo (“she comes to heal”), that is going to focus on healing and on the gifts that Indigenous women have. It is going to open doors for that healing. Because it is through joy and through love and through finding the things and the people that we love — that is what brings real healing. Not calling each other disorders and pathologies, but finding the beauty within each of us and celebrating that with each other.