Happy is Resistance

Words by Cecilia Elizabeth Best

Illustrations by Jesse Matas

  1. Two women on their balcony with their phones. Internet activism is credited for helping to organize the protests in Russia last winter.
  2. February 2021: Students in Barcelona strike in support of a rapper Hasél who was imprisoned on charges of “glorifying terrorism” and “slander against the crown”.
  3. Polish abortion-ban protests which started in Fall 2020 and went into 2021. Signs read “Women Strike”. Demonstrations were in response to a Constitutional Tribunal which restricted the law on abortion in Poland.

Colonial processes have always defined my life in ways that are seen and unseen. I am a survivor of Canada’s genocidal program to assimilate Indigenous children through so-called “welfare” policies. Whether or not my mother wanted to give me up when I was born is irrelevant. The fact of the matter is that Canada’s child welfare system alienated me from community and culture. 

I was raised by non-Indigenous folks who accept systemic racism as fact. They did nothing to instill pride in where I came from. In fact, they did their best to convince me that alcoholism, sex work and an inherent inability to raise my own children are characteristics of the blood that flows in my veins. Colonialism is all encompassing: Liberal, Conservative, left, right, provincial, federal, they are all levels of a system that erases Indigenous history and perpetuates colonialism in Canada. 

I am not the person who will solve colonial narratives. I will never see a world that is free of colonialism. I am trying to be a happy, functional human in a world where my happiness is not important to the people who judge me by my skin colour. The best I can do is break the cycle of poverty, depression and reliance on a genocidal state system that defines my family history.

I am an urban Indigenous Two-Spirit person living on the territory of the Anishinaabe, Haudenosaunee and Neutral Nations. As a mixed race Vietnamese and Métis, I am constantly expected to justify my position because the government deems me Native enough for the child welfare system but not Native enough to give me a status card. Add a confusing trail of guardian placements between Edmonton, Saskatoon, Regina, Moose Jaw, Manitoulin Island and Southern Ontario, it’s fair to be confused about who I am. I am a person in between. 

Except that my Indigenous identity is inscribed in my skin and my hair and my eyes and it’s obvious that I am not the mainstream. I am not fully accepted by Indigenous folks and I will never be welcomed by the white folks. My mixed identity makes people so uncomfortable that the most common form of racism I face is to be completely ignored. Maybe that’s why I am pursuing a PhD. The title “Doctor” is the only way your people will take what I have to say seriously.

I often feel like I am living in an alternate universe where my experience is so outside the Canadian narrative that I don’t actually exist. Once a person very close to me told me that my experiences in child welfare would have been the same if I was white. I really believed that nonsense for a while. Then I realized that this person never really listens to what I say, and they will never see me as an expert in the history of my people. 

Colonialism is forcing survivors to convince you of the validity of their lived experiences through books and articles and lines on a CV. I have to prove to you that what I am saying has a colonial impact. The irony is that my child welfare experiences led me to a PhD so early. I have the rest of my life to use your tools to dismantle your systems.

Art is the best way for me to explain what I experience to people who have trouble with the reality that I live. Resistance is who I am. Every day I resist by being present, participating in a system that tries to break me down to easily digestible parts to make you comfortable. Looking to me to solve your problems because I survived your system is not okay. My existence and my art are resistance. Beaded art is time consuming, it’s special, it’s part of my journey. Beading is how my people express themselves since time immemorial. The fact that I know this skill despite my cultural alienation is resistance.  All I can do is make space for the next survivor to come along and continue the fight. To resist is to live my truth no matter how complicated it is. Resistance is finding ways to serve my community. Resistance is finding love and happy to replace trauma and hurt. Happy is resistance.  

  1. Police take swings at an elderly, unarmed farmer during the India Farm protests, which hare ongoing. Demonstrations were result of farm laws passed by the government of India in September 2020.
  2. Tractors line up during Indian Farm protests. Demonstrations were result of farm laws passed by the government of India in September 2020.