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Northern Wildflower: Challenging cultural norms

This so-called Canada day got me thinking of the need to break free of over prescribed colonial cultural norms that society has been conditioned to conform to.

This so-called Canada day got me thinking of the need to break free of over prescribed colonial cultural norms that society has been conditioned to conform to.

Standing for the national anthem, for instance, is a norm that has been ingrained in us since kindergarten. I used to be proud to sing that song when I was young and didn’t know any better. Now I take a seat because our country was built on lies and its my small way of taking power back by showing disdain.

Then there are the less obvious colonial norms like eating breakfast. I don’t eat breakfast. The word breakfast means ‘break fast’. It can be any time of the day that you break fast from the night before. This notion of having to eat first thing in the morning is probably rigged to promoting cereal. Regardless, I tend not to be very hungry in the morning, so I usually have my first bit closer to noon. I stick with coffee first thing but coffee too is another societal norm that I’ve bought into, yet its one that I’m not willing to give up so easily.

The last supper? Speaking of eating, sitting at the table is another one of those colonial norms that people are slowly starting to move away from. In the movies, there are always ‘well to do’ families sitting around the dinner table, up straight, properly using their utensils, but in reality most families don’t all come to the dinner table at the same time each night and have a meal together. Eating meals together as a family is important, however, but it doesn’t need to be around a table. It can be around a fire outside.

Just this Indigenous Peoples day I went to the Wiiliideh site and there was a communal fire where everyone threw on tehri meat an fish that they prepared themselves. I just so happened to win second place that day in the duck plucking contest, beat by an Elder who was so fast she already had the duck cooking over the fire ready to share with her family before her competition was even done plucking! I ended up sharing my cooked duck with a family who taught me how to prepare it for eating. These communal feasts are important ways for connecting with one another and I hope to see them happening more and more.

Hello my name is. Personal introductions have been interrupted since Covid and left us all feeling awkward when meeting someone. Do you shake a hand? Hug? Fist bump? The act of introducing someone is often rigid and uncomfortable for me even before Covid, especially if you are like me and bad with names and forget who I’m introducing. It’s much easier to introduce who I am through my grandparents, as is customary in Dene culture.

Marriage, babies and the single life. Now, not only is the act of getting married expensive, having to declare your love for a person shouldn’t need to be solidified on paper with the approval of the courts or the church. Nowadays it’s harder to get a divorce than it is to get married. If I ever remarry, I will have a traditional wedding, one that doesn’t require the need for registration. I’ll save that for my vehicle.

Being single is just fine

While on the subject of marriage, another colonial imposed societal judgement is placed on people who reserve the right to be single. Not everyone wants to be in a union or a companionship and that’s OK, but somehow people who are quite content to be alone are often frowned upon. This also goes for the decision not to have children. But let’s be clear, Roe v. Wade needs to be put back into force. Anyone who makes the choice not to have children has that right and shouldn’t be dehumanized for it.

Monday to Friday workdays. Whoever said that the work week had to be five days long? Why can’t our weekends be three days instead of two? I want to know who made these rules and have a talk with them about changing it.

Alcohol consumption. Over and over again on the big screen we see the normalizing of drinking. It’s marketed in an attempt to trick viewers into thinking that drinking is glamourous or socially acceptable when it can be quite the opposite. In reality, drinking, for many, comes with a massive hangover and deep regret, at the very least. Let’s start normalizing sobriety and celebrating it rather than making a person feel out of place if they are drinking pop or water at a get together.

Non-binary acceptance. Masculine and feminine gender roles have been impressed upon us to think that girls should play with Barbies and boys should play with trucks. Or that girls are supposed to be dainty and boys are supposed to be strong and never cry, when, in reality, both genders can show traits of masculinity and femininity. In fact, not being able to express all of our qualities can be very limiting. For a long time, women weren’t allowed to work in a non-traditional occupation like welding, forestry, trucking, policing, and some women are still shunned for choosing a career in what is still very much considered a man’s professions and vice-versa. It takes courage to go out into the world and choose a profession that goes against the grain of what is expected of a person according to whether they were born pink or blue.

Grass. This might seem trivial but having well kept green grass is actually a colonial symbol of status. The menial work that goes into keeping a perfect yard for the neighbours dog to pee on is conformative and trite. My backyard down south looks like a jungle, naturally grown weeds and all.

And on the subject of dogs, putting a dog on a leash all the time is restriction and controlling. We’ve got to let them run free every once and awhile. Take them out into a field somewhere and let them sniff and roll around. The happiest dogs I’ve ever known are the ones that have their freedom. Since when did not picking up the odd dog poop become such a rebellious act?

Traditional midwifery. Giving birth in hospitals is not natural. Hospitals are for sick people, they aren’t meant to be a place for bringing a new life into the world. Only in the past few decades have we seen the rise of Caesarean births. Before colonization, women were giving birth at home surrounded by family members who were able to help labouring mothers through the delivery process. Now labour is cold and institutional. We need to bring back the rightful birthing practices. The birth of a child should be a sacred ceremony, especially in Indigenous communities where Indigenous midwifery can be a way of healing hurts such as the trauma of cultural stereotypes imposed on Indigenous women by the westernized health care system.

I don’t have enough room on this page to continue on so I turn to you. What are some cultural norms that you can think of that might be worth getting rid of?