“a collective atmosphere” – An Interview with Marjorie Beaucage
Part poetry collection, part memoir, part diary; longtime activist Marjorie Beaucage plants the seeds for another generation of loving, radical activism in her latest book leave some for the birds: movements for justice (Kegedonce Press). We ask her about her conception of “justice,” how she came into her Two Spirit identity, and why collectivity will truly change the world.
All Lit Up: The book is dedicated to “the future ancestors and dreamers.” How did you approach the writing of leave some for the birds as both a chronicle of your life and something of an “instructional document” (for lack of a better, less technical-sounding term!) for younger generations?Marjorie Beaucage: As I was going through my journals that contained a lot of my anger and hurt as I railed against systems that sought to control and silence and oppress, I wished that I had someone or somewhere to help me through. I wanted future activists and artists to know community…not keep going until they dropped or burnt out. Someone to say sit down, here’s a cup of tea, rest. I remember going to Occupy camp in Toronto and thinking how the young ones set up their communications and library and food at the camp and the human microphone so everyone was heard… a collective atmosphere. I did not consciously set up my book as instructions though some stories came up as recipes for change. Story medicine helps people connect and find their voice.ALU: In the prologue you say: “I recognize the way we order and structure our lives is our own making.” This book itself, too, is uniquely structured – shorter poems, more prose-style poems, photographs, and artworks are scattered across the pages, as well as snippets of French and Michif. How did you balance these elements of personal history, poem, art, and language? Why was it important for you to include them all?MB: Again, the story unfolded itself. Different forms evolved over the years, sometimes poetry, sometimes in French, sometimes in a collection of my reflections on what I experienced or witnessed. The action/reflection process was a way to develop my own theories and practice around social change and relations. I left them in the voice/language they came out in. The unstructured became the flow of the book, just as my life flowed out of the movements for justice I was a part of, my story created its own order. ALU: The subtitle of this book is “movements for justice.” There is a preconception of justice as punitive in settler culture and practice. But, through reading these works, they reveal a radical counter to that notion: justice instead as mercy, healing, and even sacrifice. Please tell us a bit about what your idea of justice is, and how you write about it.MB: For me, justice is making room for difference. Everyone/everything has a place in the Circle of Life. Creating justice requires a lot of discipline and commitment for the long haul. The things that I seek to change may not happen in my lifetime but I continue to work towards that vision of justice so those coming after me will not have to suffer through the same abuses of power and oppression. My dream is that everyone has power over every aspect of their lives and everyone’s unique gifts are respected. Self governance is responsibility, respect, relationship, reciprocity. My understanding of justice is just that. I have had many teachers along the way who have helped me uncover my true North and walk in my truth. And those are the moments I share in my book.ALU: You’ve travelled broadly in your life: all over Canada and the United States, the Philippines, Beijing, etc. You also have a profound relationship with the land you came from. How have these international and “home” perspectives informed your activism?MB: Going on pilgrimage is going on a vision quest, going to another way of seeing and being expands my own. When I went to the Philippines I was going to learn popular theatre as a tool for change. I experienced culture shock and all the contradictions of privilege and access. My sense of responsibility and accountability to a larger world where we are all interconnected was deepened in very real ways. When I went to China for the women’s conference I met women from around the world struggling for justice and human rights. We are not alone and we stand with each other in our struggles. So when I come home and look up at the Full Moon I stand with all my sisters who also are looking at this same Grandmother Moon and feel connected. Ceremony unites us in ways nothing else can. ALU: The explorations of your sexuality in the book are celebratory and vibrant: thinking of pieces like “First Kiss,” “Two Spirit gifts,” “New Mexico waters” – what did it mean to you to come into your Two Spirit identity and what advice would you give younger generations looking to do the same?MB: It took me quite a while to unthaw my sexual self because of incest and church teachings that denied pleasure. Folks did not talk about sex or identity back in the day. My feelings towards girls when we were “practice kissing” remained unspoken. And as a celibate, love was sublimated to the spiritual realm of mysticism or community service. I learned to give myself away, but not to take myself back or stand as an equal. Only in my adult self did I begin to choose and negotiate relations and express my love my way. There is more than one way to love and express love. That is what I want young ones to know. And it is good to explore and express your love in multiple ways.
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Marjorie Beaucage is a proud Métis Two Spirit Filmmaker, cultural worker, and community based video activist. Her work as a community based independent artist, seeks to question, empower, and change the ways we look at ourselves…seeing from the inside out. Marjorie was a cofounder of the Aboriginal Film and Video Art Alliance. As a ‘Runner’ she worked as a cultural Ambassador to negotiate self governing partnerships and alliances with the Banff Centre for the Arts, V-tape, the Canada Council for the Arts which resulted in the development of Aboriginal Arts programs. She also programmed the first Aboriginal Film Festival in Toronto in 1992.