This is a sincere and long-overdue apology to the Anishinaabekwe and to all indigenous and First Nation women.
From the bottom of my heart, it is with truth, a humility, a love, and an unwavering respect that I write these words to each of you today -- my Sisters.
I apologize for every time we, as men, do not make you feel beautiful, valued, appreciated, cherished, and worthy of nothing less than respect, reverence, and honour -- not only with our words, but with our actions and how the very lives we live align with the words we speak.
I apologize for each time we, as men, do not congratulate you on each of your successes, when we fail to take the time to listen (and hear) your dreams and aspirations, and when we do not commit ourselves to supporting and encouraging you every single step along the way as you support and encourage us -- and just as committed and just as frequently.
For each time we forget that the small things matter and sincere sentiments truly count. For each time we forget to cook you soup and keep warm blankets (and your favourite movies) in-reach when you're feeling under the weather. For each time we think of taking a moment to leave you that note to wish you a good day before we leave for work, but choose not to again and again. For each time we have the opportunity to call you at the office or at home to tell you that you're on our minds, but decide we're "too busy." And for each time we stay silent instead of telling you "Miigwech for being who you are. I'm very thankful you're in my life."
For every time we disregard our traditional teachings which instruct us to treat each of you with respect, kindness and as equals -- in ways that we would want our own Mothers and Sisters to be treated. But also, for each time we sidestep our responsibilities of understanding, kindness and compassion to challenge other men when they disrespect you or treat you as anything less than sacred.
I apologize for every elected or entrusted leader who preaches-hollow about "protecting our Nations" and "valuing Seven Generations Forward" at a community gathering, at election time, or from a faraway podium while, at the same time, not respecting or valuing their own wife, partner or daughters in the very home they share. Ironically, wives, partners and daughters are all the very centre of our Nations and those who make Seven Generations Forward possible.
For every ounce of disrespect from us in the workplace -- whether it takes place in a band office, a community street or gathering place, within the House of Commons in Ottawa, or a forty-third floor office building in Toronto.
I apologize for every time we ignore who our true leaders are (Ikwes, young and old) and forget the respect you deserve, the significance you represent and the future you make possible.
I apologize for the "too often" times we turn our backs on our true leaders by failing to turn to you for guidance and direction, but also when we close our ears and hearts to what you wish to share and express in our communities, on our territories, in the cities, in the suburbs, at ceremony, at meetings, at gatherings or on the streets.
I apologize for those of us who fail to walk our talk rather than walking our talk upon our Red Road - but more importantly walking upon it without the talk, especially as it relates to our respect for you.
For every promise to you that we break while we passionately speak out against broken treaties.
For every broken home, every broken heart, and every broken peace-bond due to our own choices, actions or words, but also when we do not do enough to protect and prevent any of these happening to you by another, Indigenous or not.
For every tear shed, every voice ignored, every concern discounted, every bruise covered, every excuse spun, every repeated apology that continues to ring hollow and every time you feel unappreciated unless strings are attached -- or feel unloved so unconditionally.
For every Deadbeat Dad that walks away from their child and responsibilities (often while preaching that "youth are our future") while helping to close the four economic walls inward upon committed Mothers -- Mothers who begin each day with little sleep, multiple shifts, few childcare options, but who still help their child with homework, make it to the school play rehearsal, and cheer the loudest at soccer practice.
Not to mention each Deadbeat who imagines that sending you a cheque once a month and offering a visitation every six (if we show up) is an example of a "considerate and selfless ex" and a "dedicated Father" in the same way that someone who owns a piano that's stored in their garage means they're an accomplished pianist.
For every "forgotten" child-support cheque, every day you shoulder the weight as you strain both roles as a Mother and a Father, every explanation and excuse we give you to pass onto children (excited for weekend visitation) who wait on front steps for arrivals that don't happen, and when we leave you without explanation and without as much as a phone call.
For every wannabe-player with his sights locked on Ikwes, with his "game" down to a self-professed science, and velvety, convincing "right words" filling her ears. But not forgetting to mention those of us who watch them work, who listen to tales of their conquest, who give high-fives or keep silent, and then wonder in shock and amazement why all us men are seen as "all the same."
I apologize for each of us who choose the comfortable paths of little-to-no involvement when we see our women's faces among the missing or murdered, as we continue to watch your rights and identities stripped, and when we hear about incomprehensible abuse at the hands of "the police and the complicit" because we believe it's a "women's issue only" - blindly forgetting that you are the centre of our families, the centre of our communities and the centre of our Nations.
I apologize to you all for each and every square-inch of vacant, open space at rallies and gatherings where the feet of more men should be firmly planted, standing in full and committed support of our Sisters who are gathering, leading and speaking up for the abused, missing and murdered indigenous women -- saying "Enough!"
For each of us who do not take the time to join search parties, engage the community in unfamiliar neighborhoods, embrace and support families who ache with hurt when they are left without answers about their daughter, sister, grandmother or mother -- and when we stay silent when she is spoken about by others as "another Aboriginal," "another face" and "another name" under text that reads "missing."
For each of us who do not directly challenge those "responsible" and "accountable" when the media instantly portrays each missing indigenous woman as affiliated with drugs or sex-work and when the media and politicians both downplay the matter into non-existence.
For each time we do not inform the unfamiliar and challenge the willingly-ignorant - explaining to all that "missing" or "murdered" are often end-of-the-line destinations following a steady journey though consistent inequities and inequalities, constant devaluations, lack of supports and critical preventative measures at systemic and institutional levels, as well as social and economic marginalizations that put our life-givers at risk.
For each makeshift "warrior" disguising himself as a legitimate Ogitchitaa who may wave the biggest and nicely-pressed flag, who may take the most "rebellious" social-media pictures via self-scheduled photo-ops, and who may be among the loudest about the missing and murdered women issue, but is, himself, guilty of abusing and threatening a number of our Sisters across Turtle Island as your voices continue to surface. Also, for each of us who do not challenge such loud people with little integrity who treat activism as narcissism by making themselves important to a cause rather than making the cause important to themselves.
For every one of our Brothers who speak-out against villainous, unjust legislations enacted by Canada and colonial governments, but who personally use the same legal system as a weapon against our good and dedicated Mothers which, in turn, impact our future -- known also as our children. But also, I apologize for those of us who choose not to speak up and take this prevailing weapon of law enforcement out of their hands and doing what we can to replace it with justice instead.
I apologize for those of us who cheat, those of us who lie to you, for those of us who flood you with mixed messages, those who cruelly claim "you'll never find anyone better than me", and for those of us with cellphones and e-mails overflowing with inappropriate replies from other women followed by a locomotive of denials and guilt thrown onto you.
For the boyfriends and husbands who continuously try to find fault in you and continuously try to control; fueled by a jealousy and an insecurity that outweigh any warmth and kindness in relationships and marriages.
I apologize for those who make you question our motives. For those of us who disrespect your families or disrespect you in front of them. For those of us who tell your friends and relatives the same sweet things we tell you in private. For those of us who make you doubt our words and question your worth and your significance in our lives -- but also for those of us who choose not challenge the men who do such things while, in our own lives, living a clear, contrasted example.
For every time we take you for granted, when we leave you to feel lonely, when we don't appreciate you to the highest degree and to the fullest extent, when we fail to be good friends without "benefits" linked closely in expectation to the time we share, and when you are made to feel alone even when the house isn't empty and your partner or husband is just feet away.
For each time we laugh at jokes at your expense, disempower or hyper-sexualize you through humor, when we contribute to gossip when you aren't present to defend yourself, but also for the times where we may not laugh or share a rumour, but we don't challenge those who do either.
For every shred of abuse of any kind. For every story quickly thrown together so family members and neighbours won't be suspicious for too long. For every turtleneck covering bruises and long-sleeves worn over upper-arms and wrists on hot humid days. For every dark pair of sunglasses worn indoors or beneath a cloudy-overcast above. For every cellphone hidden in a pillow-case or under a matters "just in case". For every restraining order walked-through like frail leaves and for the extra locks and deadbolts screwed onto wooden doors because you know that simply "changing the locks" might not be enough.
For those of us that think "if I'm really sorry, it's not abuse."
For those of us who believe to our cores that "if it isn't physical, it's not abuse."
And especially for those of us who imagine, "if I pretend to not hear it...", or "if I pretend it's not happening to her...", and "it's just a couple's dispute, it's none of my business..." in order to convince ourselves that our hands are washed clean and our responsibility is absolved.
For those of us who raise our voices, our fists, our guilt-fueled expectations and our suspicions to you -- even "just once" as it will be "the only time" and then "the last time."
For every time we control who you're friends with or to whom you speak. For every time we isolate you from friends and family, when we try to convince you not to work for our selfish reasons, or when we try to keep you from being involved in what you're passionate about because it doesn't involve us. For every pager or cellphone ridiculously ringing as we try to keep tabs on you. And for when our accusations of cheating or flirting serves as a tool to justify our jealousy or our grasp for control.
For when we hide your school textbooks, college and university parking passes, or try to flood your schedule so you cannot attend class because education means empowerment and empowerment means independence.
For seemingly never-ending criticism. For name-calling. For mind-games. For guilt-trips. For put downs. For silent treatments. For partners and husbands who transform warm homes to frigid, ice-cold houses and for when we use the word "love" so haphazardly and so carelessly.
For each time we ask for your money to hold onto as a form of economic control and for every time we follow gifts or dinners with certain expectations from you.
For each time we pressure you to have our children, when we use pregnancy as a means to control and keep you with us, and for each time we use our children as weapons and tools against the free-will of loving Mothers.
For those of us who drive you to cut lines across beautiful brown skin -- not to necessarily scar, but so you can remember what it was like to heal once.
For the keepers of ceremony and spirituality who allow insidious influences of the Church to creep into certain protocols in certain lodges, that disempower you, our life-givers, appearing as an all-too-familiar hierarchy.
And for when we deny abuse, act as if what we do doesn't matter and isn't serious, do not take responsibility for our own actions, or when we say "well, you brought it on yourself."
And for those who give you any distrust of happiness, as well as those of us who give you suspicion of genuine acts of future kindness or friendship.
For those of us who influence reluctance in future relationships, as if our shadows are still present in the room at all times.
I apologize for all innocence-robbed and traumatic stories that are kept hushed, bound and buried in basements of memory for some misplaced "greater good" of a household or a reputation of family.
For mornings of uncomfortable confusion and zero-recollections that meet unknown surroundings and unsure suspicions.
For realities and memories when the word "No!" is ignored.
For the victimizing "spiritual leader" taking more than just tobacco with a smile, who continues to hide under-the-radar while disguising himself in the image of the many legitimate lodge-keepers from our territories.
For those who cheapen and manipulate words like "sacred," "leader," "ceremony," "traditional," "medicine" and "cultural" as a means to get what we want.
For those of us who know about these things, who are told such stories by our Sisters, and who choose to remain silent.
For those of us who refuse to acknowledge your very real connection to the land that we are taught to protect. For those of who fail to challenge those who degrade and disrespect the land (putting you and future generations in danger's path), and for those who demand respect for our territories and resources, but fall short of respecting you.
For those of us who disrupt a recovery because we know addiction can equal control.
For those of us who noticeably slow our vehicles while flagrantly calling out of windows, leaving little question to how we see our women who may be walking home, downtown, to school or to a friend's house.
For each pathetic "John" who enthusiastically strives to objectify our life-givers and those in vulnerable circumstances.
For each wretched pimp who does the same to capitalize on another human being.
For the greased circus hoodlums with motorcycles and patches that hold hands with a number of ethically-bankrupt Dirty-Badges and empty municipal-suits who are interestingly present and silent when so many of our life givers "just disappear."
But especially for those of us who aren't paying attention, and those of us who are paying attention while refusing to speak up and challenge any of the above. Those of us who stay as silent as the Dirty-Badges and Empty-Suits, even when our own entrusted and elected leaders, no different than any other common John, slow their vehicles alongside the Mothers of our Nations who have been lured by the streets.
For our men who contribute their time and energy to federal and provincial organizations that continue to strip away and violate the rights of our women, daughters, mothers and life givers of tomorrow, as well as uprooting your connection to a precious sovereignty due to a relationship of control and coercion in Ottawa.
I apologize for those of us who accept this corrosive affiliation and do not realize the contradiction between accepting an everyday abusive and controlling relationship between our Nations and Canada (and the United States) -- by our example -- and trying to convince our women and men that abuse and control in relationships are wrong -- by our words.
For each time we choose not to be better sons, better partners, better brothers, better cousins, better nephews, better grandsons, better co-workers and better friends.
But most importantly, I apologize for each of us who do not walk alongside our ancestors by living up to our cultural responsibilities as men -- by standing beside our women with nothing short of support, kindness, and love -- every day.
All in all -- for when we refuse to listen to our teachings and walk this road beside each of you in a good and respectful way, I am truly sorry.
So why am I taking the time to write this to you today?
It is not only written out of respect and adoration of our women, but to acknowledge the voices that fall too silent when matters are as clear as crystal.
I can say that I have never, ever raised my voice to a woman, nor a hand, nor ever put down a partner in a relationship, nor have I ever stepped into the shoes of such a vile Abuser -- but I do know there have been times in the past were I could have shown our Ikwes and women more respect so very deserved, in different ways and at different times, often due to ego, pride, a lack of humility, not taking the time to step back and ask myself "is this respectful?" or due to an absolute disconnect from so much... and for that I apologize from the very bottom of my heart.
Fundamentally, I know now that it is not enough for one to simply apologize, nor is it enough to choose not do these things.
Respect, kindness and fulfilling personal responsibilities to our Ikwes are only legitimate when we challenge those who continue the abuse.
And my Sisters, from this day forward, my commitments are to you and to challenging such matters that need to be challenged. I'm in it for the long-haul, wherever it may lead, and come what(ever) may.
I know I can do more. We all can.
And that is the very point at the heart of this apology and acknowledgement, but in no way does my acknowledgement and apology absolve men of their responsibilities and choices.
It is not written, by any means, in a way that perceives you (or any of our life-givers) as victims, but rather acknowledging you as dynamic and resilient survivors. Survivors who, far too often, experience realities that should not have to be experienced, at all, at the hands of far too many of our men who absolutely know better.
I also acknowledge countless of Ikwes who are fortunate enough not to face many of the things I've written. But even one is too many.
It is also written to find its way to our Men's eyes, as well.
It is inarguable that we have a lot to answer for.
Acknowledging that there are also countless of our men who are solid -- men of integrity and character who are kind and respectful to all of our women (Miigwech to each of these countless Brothers) -- there is still a cautioned, too-common, and often-overlooked third-option between the Abuser and the Respectful. That is the Complicit, those who may not raise their fists or voices, but who give those who do a safe harbour and an enabled disposition by our silence and approval by our non-involvement.
This is meant to be a mirror for all of us to see what and who we really are.
Are we Abusers?
Do we truly and fully respect and support our Sisters?
Or are we Complicit, who give Abusers unseen nods of approval by our language of silence with cues of non-involvement, as we claim to respect our Sisters -- claims that truly ring hollow?
It's not enough anymore for one or many to simply not do these things, as supporting our Ikwes is only legitimate when we challenge those who continue the abuse.
True we have inherited histories of multigenerational trauma through colonization, pluming forth many of the realities we see. This, nor the trickle down cause-and-impact across generations, should ever be downplayed, minimized or forgotten.
However, our personal responsibilities, individual choices, and collective conduct should, can (and must) overcome the afterglow.
And I have a request for us all, men and women.
Above all, our definitions of kindness and respect must be redefined.
Men, it is no longer enough that we choose to never be abusers and to never disrespect our Sisters. Our kindness must reach further, to actively challenge those that abuse women in any way, who disrespect or devalue our Sisters and treat women as anything short of sacred.
My Sisters, is it enough at this point to simply exhale with relief when you've been fortunate not to experience these things -- or when you may have left abuse disappearing in the rear-view mirror? Or is kindness due for a redefinition through your eyes as it is ours -- a kindness when relief will only come when your Sisters are beyond the grip of abuse and devaluation?
The Abuse and Devaluation may not only come from our own men (who have a sacred responsibility to our life-givers and to each other - which is why our men are focus of this apology) and not only from our women (who, at times, also step into the role of The Abuser or the Complicit), but from any other person of any background or walk of life who seeks to abuse, devalue and harm.
Is respect itself due for a redefinition? A redefinition by both men and women so we respect and care enough about each other to challenge any abuse when we see it -- at any level, so we respect the teachings where all of these answers await us, and so we respect ourselves to not tolerate any love that hurts?
I think so.
Love is not supposed to hurt.
Imagine a future when the lives and well-being of Indigenous and First Nation women are valued and protected on the same level and with the same concern and respect as anyone else.
Imagine a future when the lives and well-being our women on the street are supported, valued, and protected in the same scope as those in business suits in high-rise office buildings.
Imagine a future when the victimization of life-givers is not only punished, but the entire matter is prevented in a committed and dedicated way.
Now imagine it in the present.
Imagine a tomorrow when we reclaim our men, young and old, as sensitive nurturers and never anything less than absolutely respectful to our women, to others and to ourselves.
Imagine a tomorrow when we reclaim our women, young and old, as strong, confident, and proud Ikwes who stand tall and who know, to their very core, that they deserve (and will tolerate) nothing less than respect and reverence.
Imagine a tomorrow when a single heart of a woman will never be on the ground, nor will a single heart even come close.
Now imagine it today.
The answers are there just as they have always been.
May we reclaim our kindness, as Kindness is also Leadership.
May we Gashkozin (Wake Up). May we Niibawin (Stand Up). May we Giigidoon (Speak Up).
To each Ikwe of each Anishinaabe Nation. To each Iskwêw of each Cree Nation. To each Winyan of each Dakota Nation. To each Yakon:kwe of each Mohawk Nation.
To the Ikwe; and to all indigenous and First Nation women.
To Wabun Annangikwe who lived silently abused while hiding her abuser along with every one of her scars.
To Waabishke Binesik ("White Bird") of Toronto. Miigwech for opening my eyes. I'm eternally grateful.
And to ALL women, from each and every background and culture, acknowledged and never discounted.
Each and every one of you are absolutely beautiful, valued, appreciated, cherished and worthy of nothing less than deep respect, true reverence and to be honoured every day.
You are appreciated and I'm truly thankful and grateful each of you are in this world with me.
To all our Relations; to our Sisters, our Mothers.
To our Aunts, our Grandmothers, our Daughters.
To our Granddaughters, our Cousins, and our Friends.
To our Support, our Water-Carriers, our Drum Carriers and our Future.
This is a Miigwech. A Thank you for all you do each and every day.
And I apologize for what so many of our men do -- and for all that we do not.
Robert Animikii Horton, "Bebaamweyaazh", an Anishinaabe member of Rainy River First Nations of Manitou Rapids (Treaty #3 Territory) and from the Marten Clan, has built a reputation as a progressive and outspoken activist, contrarian writer, and a respected orator on an international scale speaking on topics such as community organizing, political/social/economic justice, and youth empowerment. He is a sociologist, social and political activist, and spoken-word poet.
This letter was written in support of the Missing and Murdered indigenous women of Turtle Island.