Barbara Kentner

Editor’s Note: Barbara Kentner, an Anishinaabe woman from Wabigoon Lake Ojibway Nation in Treaty Three territory, died on Tuesday, July 3, 2017. In January in Thunder Bay, Ontario, she was struck in the stomach by a trailer hitch thrown from a passing car in a horrific act of hate crime. Her injuries were so devastating that she died slowly and painfully. The suffering she experienced and the pain felt by her family and friends and broader communities deeply sadden and anger the editors of ArtsEverywhere.

I weep. I wake up to the news that Barbara Kentner has died, and I weep. I’m sure I do not weep as her closest family does, as her closest friends do. I’m sure I do not weep the way she must have, through the long nights knowing that she was going to die. Her family said she suffered. I can only vaguely imagine.

My own experiences of grief and sadness are triggered and suddenly I am angry. I am angry that we are not humans in your eyes, we’re just targets of your own ignorance and misery: “I got one,” he yells as he launches a metal trailer hitch at his target. People assume he was drunk. As if that matters. As if drunkenness is an excuse. Barbara used to drink. You will use a young white man’s drunkenness as a way to minimize his hateful actions and then in the same breath you will use her drunkenness to minimize her death.

I do not understand you, mooniyash. I do not understand how you can forget that we are related. I watch you destroy the land. I watch you climb over each other on the ladder of upwards mobility. I watch you launch fireworks in the sky while waving maple leaf flags made from the maple trees you destroy to build fine homes. In my eyes, you are backwards and lost. I imagine it must be lonely to be so far from your Creator.

But, not as lonely as Barbara must have felt in the moments of her despair: “I’m too damn young to leave this earth,” she writes. And yet, here we are, without her.

How many martyrs will you demand of us before you see the error of your ways? How many bodies and hearts do you need to satiate your hatred? Because it is hatred, this method you have of killing us – softly, with policies and laws; roughly with metal trailer hitches. I believe it must be true that your hatred extends inwards towards yourself for it to explode so violently outwards. But, I do not care anymore. I do not have patience for you to heal from self-hatred while you murder me in the process.

Because that is what you are doing. You are murdering me. When you murder Barbara, you murder me. And, all of my Anishinaabe relatives who are still here. Because we still understand that we are related. In her death, I lose a part of myself. This is grief.

I am starting to think that you want all of us dead. Some of you will say “No!” You want to celebrate us. You want to be friends with us. But, only if we don’t ask for land back. And, only if we follow your laws. And, only if we dance for you and make you bannock and tea when you visit. What you don’t understand is to live that way is to be dead.

And, yet, even in death, we survive. Barbara’s family will pick up their bundles. They will visit with each other and hold each other up. They will sing their songs and meticulously remember the ceremonies that keep our spirits alive. They will feast our ancestors who remind us that we are alive in the land and sky and water even when our bodies are done their journey in this realm.

So, maybe I do not need you to see that I am human. Maybe I am not human. Maybe I am a vessel of spirit – made of flesh and bone. Maybe we will never die. Maybe you already know this and that is what makes you so hateful and jealous. Maybe being human means having a spirit. Maybe it is you who are not human.

So, I say to you, you maybe-not-human-mooniyash, I weep. I wake up to the news that Barbara Kentner has died, and I weep. These tears – these gifts from my ancestors that remind me that sometimes my soul seeps out as water – are something you cannot understand if you do not know we are all related. It is something you cannot learn in school. It is something that cannot be bought or sold. These tears remind me that I am alive in a way that your actions tell me you will never be – as a part of a world full of spirit and life. And, I pity you. I do not pity you more than I grieve for Barbara, but, I pity you. You do not even know what it means to be human. In my eyes, you are backwards and lost. I imagine it must be lonely to be so far from your Creator.

But, not as lonely as Barbara must have felt in the moments of her despair: “I’m too damn young to leave this earth,” she writes. And yet, here we are, without her.

Filed Under: Poetry & Prose

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Tara Williamson is a member of the Opaskwayak Cree Nation and was raised in Gaabishkigamaag (Swan Lake, Manitoba). She is a writer, musician, and educator. Her latest album, Songs To Keep Us Warm, was nominated for a 2017 Indigenous Music Award and she is currently the Editor the Indigenous media platform, Indian & Cowboy.
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