Ukraine, Texas, and Indigenous history have one thing in common

A group of 5 young girls, including a 7 year old Joanne, poses in their Ukrainian dancing costumes on a stage.

I had a great topic for a blog this week, but you’re going to have to wait. My mind and my heart are preoccupied with two events that are weighing particularly heavy on me right now. The illegal Russian invasion of Ukraine, and the Texas governor’s decision to effectively criminalize gender-affirming care for kids. FFS.

Over the past few years, I’ve been trying to understand more about intergenerational trauma. So when I was watching tanks and military vehicles tearing up the Ukrainian countryside on the news yesterday, some of what I’ve been learning started to become clear in a new and visceral way.

As I watched the tanks roll through poor villages – which were exactly the kind my family abandoned four generations ago when they came to Canada – I felt fear. Not for myself; I’m safe and warm in my house in Winnipeg. Not for Ukrainian people. But with them. It was as though that fear was arising in my blood, carried forward through generations of my family. I felt it like an adrenaline rush, a fierce need to protect my loved ones and the land.

The thing is, I’ve never been to Ukraine. And I don’t know much about my extended family members who live there – just that I have some. So why, then, was my reaction so physical?

Our spirits are connected to the land

I’ve had some heart-opening conversations over the last year with an Indigenous Elder, who I deeply love and respect, about the importance of the land, and the importance of knowing where you come from.

I have always appreciated my freedoms as a Canadian. Not because there were stories passed down about my family’s hardship in the old country (nobody in my living family had actually lived in the old country, though they talked about it as though they had). I just knew it was better here than it was elsewhere. For years, I have had to wipe tears from my eyes every time the Canadian national anthem plays. But I have never felt tied to the land here. I appreciate it. I love it. But I have never felt a deep connection to home in Canada.

As a child, I grew up steeped in the beautiful elements of Ukrainian culture that so many admire. The dancing: yes, that’s me – second from the left, clearly concentrating very hard on where my arms need to be. The food: I always have perogies in my freezer and I make a mean pot of beet borscht, with my secret recipe passed down to me from my Baba. The work-ethic: My ancestors cleared land in Manitoba’s Interlake by hand. They woke up every day to backbreaking labour, just to survive.

As I’ve grown older, I feel a stronger pull to visit the old country – to touch the earth where my DNA has its origins. To see if it tastes like home.

The importance of love and encouragement

As a child, I couldn’t have explained my complicated relationship to Ukraine. I just knew it was important. And I had parents who encouraged and supported me to learn and explore. To embrace the parts of myself I didn’t understand.

This brings me to trans kids in Texas. The Governor has directed child welfare agencies to investigate parents who provide gender-supportive environments to their kids, and to consider gender-confirming support as child abuse.

Angry isn’t the right word – seething, perhaps

I grew up with a friend who, later in life, was able to make his body match his soul through gender-affirming surgery. But growing up with him, I can say with certainty he wasn’t able to be his own self publicly. At the time, I didn’t know what was happening with him, but I knew something wasn’t right. I wish I could go back in time to be a better friend, to be there as he began to understand himself. I’m so grateful that he is who he is now, and able to be all of himself. Don’t we all deserve that?

We need to ask: what harm will come to a child if they are encouraged to be who they are? Why should the state have a role in determining identity? Validity? Texas is the same state that has criminalized women’s reproductive freedoms in an insidiously clever way to subvert the protections and autonomy confirmed through the Roe v Wade judgement.

This is the same attitude that led to the forced removal of hundreds of thousands of Indigenous children from their parents to attend residential schools, with the goal of erasing their identities and culture. Enter the lessons of intergenerational trauma: nothing good ever happens when you force people to be something they are not.

I call on those who support the Governor’s directive to think of themselves when they were children. What if the government had told them they were wrong to be who they were? Invalidated what they knew to be true? What if the government criminalized their parents’ love?

The braid that connects

As you’re reading this, you’re probably wondering…WTF…how does all of this connect?

It’s simple. When wealth and power is concentrated in the hands of just a few, right and wrong are not determined by a moral code, but by the whims and biases of the powerful elite.

Vladimir Putin dreams of reanimating the glory of great Mother Russia. Governor Greg Abbott dreams of reanimating a 1950s ideal: of a society of Stepford wives, obedient children, dinner on the table at 5:30 sharp. They are no different from Duncan Campbell Scott, who was the architect of Canada’s residential school system, which he designed to “kill the Indian in the child.” They are all the same. Old, ignorant white men who see the world through their own clouded myopic eyes.

I don’t normally swear in writing, but I’d like to be explicit in how I feel today, and send a big fuck you to Mr. Putin and Mr. Abbott – and a posthumous one to Mr. Scott. The world is colourful. It’s yellow and blue for the Ukrainian flag. It’s pink and blue and white for the Trans flag. It’s brown for all of the beautiful Indigenous people who are reclaiming their pride and power after more than a century of genocidal attack.

People deserve to be who they are. It’s time for ignorant old white men to stop making those choices for them.

If all the governments and boardroom tables in the world actually looked like the people they served, if women comprised 50% of those seats, if compassion and empathy were embedded in decision-making, I am quite sure I would never have had to write this post. Vladimir Putin wouldn’t believe he has God on his side in attacking Ukraine. And Greg Abbott wouldn’t believe he had any role to play in the lives of children who are loved.

I have no answers, except to encourage you to use your voice and your own privilege to call out these horrendous acts. Call your elected officials. Send financial support to the Red Cross and other agencies on the ground in Ukraine. Support trans-serving organizations. Post on social media. Declare where your allyship lies.

And think about yourself as a child. What advice would that little person give you today?

In case you’re wondering

This is probably a good time to say that, while I don’t tend to be highly political on my blog, you should know a few things about me – especially if you ever plan to attend one of my classes or events.

  1. I am a feminist. I believe in equality. I recognize the intersectional barriers to that equality.
  2. I am committed to using my privilege to dismantle those barriers within my control and influence. Fuck the patriarchy.
  3. I believe in the importance of identity, and want to support every person to bring their unique gifts to the world. That means I believe LGBTTQ2S+ folks, people of colour, and people with disabilities deserve love and respect and to share their voices with the world. We will all be better for it.
  4. I believe in climate change, democracy, intuition, that Elvis is dead, and in the power of people motivated by compassion to change the world.
  5. I don’t hate men – a have a wonderful one in my husband. It’s just the ignorant ones I can’t stand.
  6. If you don’t agree with me, I’m not the right person for you to work with. Feel free to unfollow me. But I also welcome you to keep reading what I write. That said, don’t waste your time telling me I’m wrong. I won’t be arguing with you. If you disagree, please look inside yourself for the argument you really need to have.

Cool! You’re still here. Yay!

If this is the first time you’ve read my blog, know that this isn’t a typical article for me. I usually write about women’s leadership and negotiation strategies. But, this is my space, so I get to publish what I want to say. If you want to hear more on my regular topics, please subscribe to my weekly newsletter to get the latest thoughts and advice from my brain to yours. You can sign up below. In the meantime, here are some great blogs on negotiation.

2 thoughts on “Ukraine, Texas, and Indigenous history have one thing in common”

  1. I love this blog post. I totally resonate with what you’ve written about your feelings regarding the invasion of Ukraine- my grandparent came over in the early 1900s. When growing up, we celebrated Ukrainian Christmas at my aunts farm, and at Easter, we raced down the country road with our boiled eggs and cold ham and bread to the church to have it blessed. (My aunt drive fast, and she attempted lipstick application at the same time…😊)

    Thanks for a great post!!
    Jaime

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