‘Throat-singing’ may their voices be heard
‘Throat-singing’ may their voices be heard
By Joel Bates
Image credits: Shina Nova on Instagram @shinanova
Videos of Shina Nova and her mother Kayuula have taken the internets attention in recent weeks and they aren’t showing signs of giving it back any time soon! This iconic duo has taken to social media sensation TikTok to promote indigenous culture’s practices. One particular practice showcased is the once all-but-lost art of throat singing. Previously outlawed by Canadian government as part of a cultural erasure mission, such indigenous practices such as ‘throat-singing’, or as in the Inuit language Inuktitut, Katajjaq, Pirkusirtuk, or Nipaquhiit were almost lost entirely. Social media has given them the platform to showcase their heritage and celebrate their cultural journey together. However, this also touches upon a darker stain on western history, the implications of colonial’s efforts to erase native populations and their cultures. Including the shockingly high and largely ignored homicide rate among native women. It was this shocking fact that made me do further research. Though it may be best to start at the beginning – the colonial invasion.
I begrudgingly give attention to the colonial powers for context, for the benefit of you the reader, but I think we all recognise they have had quite enough recognition and attention already! In the 15th century French and British expeditions continued their – so called – colonisation of North America. While modern history classes in Europe and America love to glorify this period under taglines about ‘Discovery of the Americas’, this does conveniently breeze past the small matter of who was there first, and the genocide that followed.
Besides the discovery by Vikings coming from a colony in Greenland a thousand years ago, the European exploration of Northern America (Canada) in 1497 was supposedly amicable for the first 200 years. Besides the widespread sickness and death brought in the form of flu and viruses along with the European invaders. This epidemic claimed innumerable native lives just in the first thirty years. By which time the appropriation had already begun, from the Iroquoian word for ‘village’ – Kanata – French colonials took the word and by the mid-16th century ‘Canada’ was starting to appear on maps.
This appropriation and perveance of native culture continue all the way up to the 150th year celebration of Canada’s good fortune. This good fortune that was built upon genocide. As outlined in an article by Pamela Palmater from March 2017 this celebration comes at a cost, the cost of indigenous cultures and cultural practices being forcibly extinguished from Canada’s culture.
For those unaware Canada was the site for rampant genocidal acts including, placing bounties on the scalps of indigenous men, sanctions on hunting rights, fishing rights and possession of lands were also used to control and eliminate indigenous peoples. Furthermore, sanctions were placed on these groups with the goal of isolating and limiting travel of indigenous people to specific areas, known as reserves or reservations. The barbarity does not stop there, many indigenous women were forced into mass sterilization meanwhile widespread physical and sexual assaults on women and young girls went unchallenged.
Perhaps the most prolific or well-known aspect of this period are the residential schools. These government sponsored religious schools were specifically designed to re-culture these Indigenous children to make them suitable – in the eyes of the government – for Euro-Canadian culture. These sanctions jointly contributed to the diminishment of Indigenous culture over time, with residential schools being held in collective regard as particular cruel by their very nature they include the designed and purposeful separation of children from their families with the goal of reprogramming and brainwashing their cultural identity out of them.
Back in modern times, one may be forgiven for assuming that these issues are a thing of the past. However, just like many horrific parts of human history, these issues are not so far behind us are we would like to believe. The effects of colonial powers on modern day life for native people in Canada are very much still visible in our rear-view mirror.
The effects are still seen today and are not going away. The bias in the language used when discussing native peoples is a key example of this. The word ‘Indigenous’ is testament to that. By its very nature it should be a word that does not need to be used, as by its definition refers to the rightful ancestor of those who once occupied a land that was forcibly taken from them by colonial powers. It is the recognition that we the white European invaders do not belong in a country that we stole. Contrastingly, a darker, more sinister effect of colonial powers is still visible in Canadian authority’s laissez-faire attitudes to native women. Current statistics show that native women are twelve times more likely to go missing or be murdered than their fellow citizens of European/colonial descent.
I am far from the first to write about this issue, yet nothing appears to be done about it. This is very well outlined in an invaluable source for indigenous women’s lived experiences is an article by Brandi Morin which gives insight and depth that I, a white cis-man from England, could never convey. Morin rightly outlines that if three white women per week were going missing, something would be done about it.
This problem is ongoing and is not stopping any time soon, and I believe it is important to celebrate the work of Shina Nova and her mother Kayuula. Their social media presence has shed an important light on issues that have been shrouded in shadow for far too long. Using their following to revive native practices and callout cultural disparities in Canada can teach us all. It is our responsibility to further their message and add our voices to their cause.
As a start I recommend all to follow, support and share these petitions, change for women in Canada and for women in the USA and use social media to draw attention to this issue. Sign petitions and share their stories, make these unseen women seen.
If you’ve been moved by this story of resilience please do check out @shinanova on Instagram and TikTok!
From an eclectic background in the arts and media, Joel holds a BSc in Psychology and is currently undertaking a Masters in Psychology and Neuroscience of Mental Health at King’s College London. Ferment believer that access to education is a privilege that many take for granted, and as such personal projects and writing seek to address disparities as they come to the fore. Currently based in Lincoln, their other creative persuits include artistic outlets, with this medium providing a commercial and personal outlet for Joel. Most of which can be found on Instagram @Noble_artt.
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