My Story: Wanting My Indigenous Identity Recognized by Western Systems

By Saniya Ghanoui —

MF discusses how they feel about western medicine and healthcare as a spiritual person. They explain how their culture, along with many others, have experienced linguistic genocides due to English systems.

This is an audio recording only.


OBOS Today: You mentioned various ways in which the Western medical system may not have been comfortable and accepting and a health-promoting space, so I wonder if you could talk a bit about language and how all of these medical labels were put on you when you first started getting treatment, and if you could discuss how it felt to be labeled in that way?

MF: Yeah, and I could talk about, more broadly, the movement to encourage non-binary individuals, or queer individuals, to proclaim personal pronouns. And as a non-binary person, I truly do appreciate the space, linguistically, that my community, my co-workers, colleagues, friends, family, do in adopting that way of thinking.

But again, the commentary— mainly centering on Western versus my Indigenous identity— linguistically, we technically don’t have any pronouns in our language. You just would say “mine.” So, for example, I would say, like, “My name is Marlon Footracer.” So, I would say “shif”, which is “I” or “mine,” “a” being the transitive verb “is,” and then you would say the name, but “shif” is gender neutral, so you could use any type of expression to express possession and your identity.

Well, when you overlay English-speaking people or English-system ways of speaking onto people, and you’re forcing people to adopt that mentality, there is an erasure, there is a linguistic genocide that occurs when those English systems are forced on Indigenous people. And so, for me, if we look at the basic unit of understanding and being interpolated in the world, and the main unit of speaking in English, therefore, the speaking and the terminology, the, the attempts to fix all of those medicinal words, are not based in my culture.

So, in the non-Western system of psychotherapy, um, it never, it was always approached as the dichotomy of the body and the mind. And, specifically, with cognitive behavioral therapy, you’re viewed as a unit of physical reactions that are accompanied with emotional reactions. In that, in that way, a different way that my Indigenous culture might view or approach that, or something that’s culturally informed with my background or culture, you would approach it as a level zoomed out, one level wider, which would be a spiritual system. A spiritual system accounts for the body that you occupy or live in, that you can stay in the world with, and it also accompanies, like, what your body feels and experiences as a spiritual being. In those systems, Westernized systems, there, to me, the biggest frustrations and disappointments I had was when those systems didn’t acknowledge that deeper level of spiritual significance. And the same thing with medicinal or medication remedies in this Western system: how can 25 milligrams of Wellbutrin a day address the historical trauma and forced removals enacted by the US government, starting in the 1860s? A chemical cannot repair spiritual rupture. Spiritual work is required to heal spiritual wounds. And in the Western system, it’s not a level deeper, it’s always emotional and body reaction connected.