An Open Letter to Ron Bruinooge, Conservative MP for the Manitoba riding of Winnipeg South
By Tanna Pirie-Wilson and Jessica Yee
We write to you as two young Aboriginal women who are unafraid to speak up, with concern in regards to the anti-choice statements you made in December 2008 about your recent election as the new chair of the Parliamentary Pro-Life Caucus.
And we quote (as reported in the Western Standard):
As an Aboriginal MP, Bruinooge says his roots play a role in his pro-life view. “Respect for life is paramount to my Aboriginal culture,” he explains. “Respect for the unborn was passed on to me by my Aboriginal elders and I believe in keeping that tradition alive.”
We realize the “pro-life” vs “pro-choice” debate will be an issue so long as we live in patriarchal societies, however we would be remiss if we did not state that this is the direct affect of generations of colonization and oppression we are still suffering through. Much of the values, practices, and traditions once held strong in our Aboriginal communities are now lost, and this most definitely includes the rightful place of our women to govern their own bodies.
Looking closer at traditional teachings and practices within First Nations, Inuit, and Métis nations, it is evident that methods of family planning and birth control, including abortion, were performed as necessary procedures to ensure the health and welfare of the community, who have women at its core. Although we are vastly diverse in terms of societal structure, whether matrilineal (e.g. Haudenosaunee) or egalitarian (e.g. Inuit), it is clear that the right to govern one’s own body and take care of it they way we choose, is a foundational principle shared amongst us all.
With the imposition of colonization and Christianity, which brought in cultural genocide and systemic assimilation, conflicting belief systems were forced upon our people to an extreme extent. Among other horrific atrocities that occurred throughout the centuries, it took away our traditional ways in which we exercised our innate rights over our own bodies to choose the number of children we wanted within our families, while shaming us into believing that talking about things like sexuality were wrong.
We do agree that life and respect towards all living creatures is at the core of many First Nations, Inuit, and Métis cultures and traditional teachings, however our right to self-determination of what that actually looks like in our own lives and communities must be simultaneously intersected. When our traditional communities were unaffected by colonialism and Western influences, this allowed for balance to be maintained. To assist in this balance the elders would teach the younger generations the many traditional medicines and various methods of birth control Mother Earth had to offer them. Our elders do teach us to respect the unborn, but they also teach us reality, and respect for women’s choices.
As two young Aboriginal women who represent the next seven generations and are proud of our culture, we strongly urge you to re-examine these anti-choice statements you have made and recognize the danger of generalizing all Aboriginal people’s views on abortion and reproductive rights. You do not speak for all of us, and we hope to one day have an open dialogue with you on re-learning and re-incorporating all of our traditions, that must undoubtedly include our right to choose.
Tanna Pirie-Wilson, Maliseet Nation
Jessica Yee, Mohawk Nation