[Warning: This release contains profanity and triggers about violence.]
The way these phrases and photos invade my life is a bit like grace, in that I do not anticipate their effect and I know they are spiritually important—but they do not feel like grace. They are always something dreadful and sad that spring out of the information gathering I do that is part of my work. Usually, they are not accounts of slaughters or grand tragedies, or pictures of carnage. When an Israeli military bulldozer driver ran over Rachel Corrie in March 2003 (can it really be eleven years now?) The photo of her corpse did not pierce me. It was the photo of her colleagues—calmly comforting her in previous photos—weeping and embracing each other in the final photo, after her death, that got its hooks into me, that still has its hooks in me for that matter.
Most recently, the item of hideous grace was this: “Fuck, they just found her body. Rest in peace, love.”
It was a comment by a young women going by the name “Willow Deplorable” on the Tumblr blog of our Aboriginal Justice Team. They had posted a notice about 26-year-old Loretta Saunders’ body turning up on the Trans-Canada highway in New Brunswick. An activist trying to publicize Canadian authorities’ lack of interest in more than 800 murdered and missing Indigenous women, Saunders had been writing her thesis on the topic when she disappeared on February 13. I clicked on a link that brought me to the article about her disappearance, and for some reason, among the 64 notes posted at the bottom of the article, Willow Deplorable’s jumped out at me:
“Fuck, they just found her body. Rest in peace, love.”
And then I read a piece by Saunders’ thesis advisor, Darryl Leroux, who wrote that the image of her final resting place by the highway “hurts beyond anything I could say in words…I simply cannot get this image out of my mind.” I read Tara Williamson’s piece, “Don’t be tricked,” in which she said she shared Leroux’s initial gut reaction, “she’ll show up in a ditch like so many indigenous women before her” but allowed herself “this glimmer of hope, this notion that, for some reason, maybe this time it would be different…because she was an urbanized grad student or because she could pass as white … Despite all my talk, all my activism, all my ‘decolonizing’ work, I swallowed the pill… I got tricked.”
Williamson goes on to say,
• If you are an Indigenous woman, don’t be tricked into thinking you are any more safe than any of our other sisters out there. You’re not. The system and most Canadians don’t give a shit about you…
• Don’t be tricked into thinking that wearing a ribbon for a day, or signing a petition, or composing a tweet, or writing an article is going to change anything on its own…
• Finally, don’t be tricked into thinking someone else will do this work. You are that “someone else.” Loretta knew this. That’s why she was working so hard on uncovering the truth about murdered and missing women.
Honour Loretta. Don’t be tricked.
The thing is, I knew about murdered and missing indigenous women in Canada before Loretta Saunders’ death—women whose disappearances and deaths the authorities mostly could not be bothered to solve. I edit releases for the Aboriginal Justice team for CPTnet. If I were working with the team in Canada, I would have gladly joined demonstrations and put my skills to work on behalf of this issue. In fact, I have edited hundreds of releases describing many horrible things over the years, but for some reason, Willow Deplorable’s comment, “Fuck, they just found her body. Rest in peace, love” was like a raft that carried me past the word “issue,” and forced me to face the agony of the people who loved these women.
And then that raft left Canada. It was 1999; I was with Lakota friends in South Dakota who were telling me about their ancestors’ bodies displayed like animal specimens in museums and the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers flooding their sacred burial grounds along the Missouri river. I was in college in the 1980s learning of other bodies tortured and dumped by the roadside in El Salvador and Guatemala, disposed of by men trained in the U.S. to terrorize civilian populations. It was 1998; I was viewing the photos of Mayans from Union Progreso in Chiapas who had been stripped naked and cut open by the Mexican military and returned to their families that way. I was reading the reports of how paramilitaries slaughtered and mutilated Las Abejas, our partners in Chiapas from 1998-2001. It was 2001-2003 and I was editing reports of my CPT colleagues and friends pulling bodies and parts of bodies out rivers in Colombia, bodies who had been teachers, and farmers, and labor organizers and some of whom would remain unidentified—all to teach the people in the Magadalena Medio Region that rightwing paramilitaries were in control.
“Fuck, they just found her body. Rest in peace, love”does not completely capture what I felt as I wept for these poor abused bodies, and the people who lived in them and their loved ones, but it echoes the sentiment. Willow Deplorable’s Tumblr comment begins with outrage, lays bare the awful truth, and then ends with compassion.
And as I said earlier, the tenacity of its grip around my heart seems like something spiritual.