Solidaritea Story: Holly Atjecoutay
My name is Holly Atjecoutay. I am a proud Cree and Saulteaux woman from Cowessess First Nation in Treaty 4 territory, but am honoured to call Treaty 7 my home. The most important roles I hold are: mother, wife, daughter, sister and friend. I graduated in 2015 with a Bachelor of Arts in English from Mount Royal University in Calgary Alberta. I have background working in the fields of: law, industry, community, economic development and business. My job is Indigenous Business Facilitator for a non-profit organization, where I assist Indigenous entrepreneurs pursue their dreams of owning businesses.
Solidariteas will always and forever hold a very special place in my heart because I was present from the very beginning, watching the amazing Alexandra brainstorm and ideate this wonderful and influential business was awe inspiring and nothing short of wonderful. Solidarity is defined as a synonym according to the English dictionary, but the word holds multitudes of significant meaning and power. Solidarity, as defined by myself, is a bridge between the Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities, and the major building blocks of that bridge are: Respect and understanding, unity, and courage.
It is extremely important that the non-Indigenous population understand and learn the history of Indigenous peoples. Know that the issues that plague our communities are deep rooted; they are the severe effects of intergenerational trauma, and yes, intergenerational trauma affects every Indigenous person in today’s society. Know that loss of language and culture, eradicated ways of being, erasure of identity, pride and self-worth were weapons fashioned by colonialism, but those weapons then manifested in such institutions as Residential Schools, Child and Family Services, prisons, health care, and religion. Know that those weapons created wounds and gashes in our families, communities, clans, and societies in the form of: alcoholism, drug use, lateral violence, abuse and corruption. I wish everyone could understand that the issue of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women is not seeded in the issue of drug abuse, alcoholism and prostitution, rather the foundation of the issue is the lack of respect and honour Indigenous women experience in mainstream society. Indigenous women are viewed as disposable and unimportant in the majority of the western world. I wish North Americans could really study the statistics of MMIW and realize that many of them were “normal” women, working, studying, raising families, and often, were hitchhiking from their remote communities to the nearest urban center to buy food and basic necessities for their families, because in Indigenous communities, the women are the backbones and providers.
Understanding to the best of one’s ability is key. Not claiming to “know” Indigenous culture, but knowing about Indigenous culture. Indigenous individuals do not know everything about the vast and wide teachings of Indigenous epistemologies and ways of knowing; we are constantly learning from our elders, through stories, song, and language. Language is a form of reconciliation and reclamation for Indigenous peoples. Not every Indigenous person knows their language, and this is a heart wrenching reality. Understand that these histories are not solely regarding Indigenous peoples, but they are tethered to all Canadians, for this is Canada’s history.
The unity that is needed is for non-Indigenous peoples, whether fifth generation Canadians, newcomers, or refugees, and Indigenous peoples to form a strong relationship that fosters care, understanding, respect, empathy, and builds solutions to extremely apparent and well-hidden problems. Understanding the history and effects of colonialism and neo-colonialism, respecting culture and individuals plagued with a torrid history, and uniting as a forceful front against preconceived notions, prejudice, institutionalized racism and acts of violence will build courage: Courage to stand up and speak out against learned behaviour, acts of injustice, sympathetic racism and all forms of oppression and hatred.
Solidarity is needed now more than ever. We are not a society divided. All of the problems we each face as individuals and communities are no match to the solution of solidarity. We must all learn from each other, and understand that at the foundation of it all, we are all more alike than we are not. Ekosi.