Everyday Indigenous

Time Is A Colonial Construct — Here’s How I Learned To Reclaim Mine

Photographed by Mecoh Bain, 2021
Introducing Every Day Indigenous, our series centering and celebrating Indigenous people. Through strength and resistance, comes joy. It’s time to share that.
Whenever anyone emails me, they will get an automatic reply: “At this time, Larissa is managing complications from a brain injury that have severely affected her cognitive abilities. As directed by a team of neurologists and brain injury specialists, Larissa is adjusting her work schedule and time away from screens to honour the healing that must take place if she is to avoid permanent cognitive damage… Please expect delays in response time.” Every single person. 
They will also be directed to a statement by my organization, Future Ancestors Services, to learn more about our relationships to time and decolonization.
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As a single mother, someone with a disability, and a business owner, rest is an important part of my work — whether I want it to be or not. I use my Out Of Office reply to really own when I'm working and when I'm not. I have a chronic pain disability that affects my pelvic organs and I suffered a brain bleed that worsened in March of this year. I decided it was much more empowering to prioritize my health — my physical and my mental health first — before my body chooses for me. I have had two major surgeries in the past two years, and I now have over eight doctors. I was not prepared to leave work. To stop the community work I love to do. But my body told me no. It's forced me to think more critically about rest and my relationship to productivity. 
Decolonization requires us to unpack the consequences of colonialism. What are its living legacies? As a mentor and friend, Nikki Sanchez, taught me, when we get into the history of our relationship to time, we see a very racially-charged legacy of colonialism. By the beginning of the nineteenth century, British society had  largely correlated the notions of ‘civilization’ and ‘true religion’ with the profitable use of time. Their specific experience of time was a cultural construct, deeply embedded within their industrial-capitalist and Christian society. They used their clocks as a tool to dehumanize Indigenous people. In the British colonies, the portrayal of Indigenous societies as being ‘time-less,’ or culturally lacking regularity, order and uniformity, came to operate as a means of constructing an inferior, ‘irregular other.’ 
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Indigenous people often successfully managed to either defy the imposition of British clock-governed culture, or to exploit the temporal discourses of their reformers as an act of resistance. Indigenization of time, for me, means filling the void that decolonization creates with ways of being that honour my ancestors. For example, this means exploring that many of our ancestors worked with the changing of seasons, and how that can inform my current work. This was a teaching that I received from Sam Whiteye and the Cohort X Fellowship [a program that helps support six community leaders to spark change at a local level]. When I explored my own community's practices and histories, I found that it was very uncommon — if not completely out of the scope of reality — to expect someone to work the same way the entire year. Why are we investing the same amount of energy or doing the same work year-round? 

We must recognize that we are more than our job description. We are more than our capitalist roles at these organizations. 

At Future Ancestors Services, we tend to have more energy in the fall, and we end up getting a huge demand for work in the spring, because of our financial quarters. So, in being aware of when our times are busier, why not think, "Okay, what do we need to do to protect our energy, to protect our time in winter and summer so that we can come into those busy times of the year with the full vigor that our clients and community deserves?" That means taking less contracts in summer and winter, and spending more time internally working and building out our practices.
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Another way to manage time differently is to say  "No.” We spend a lot of time supporting our team members and helping them become comfortable and gain the confidence to say no to very powerful people, or to not respond to "urgent requests" when we're on holidays. This constant sense of urgency, and this constant frantic expectation for work, comes from a capitalist and colonial relationship to time. I’ve found it really beautiful to reflect on how my culture and my ancestry informs the way I need to be respected in a workplace.
One phrase I love to use is "Radically adjust your expectations of me." I posted this on Instagram and it was pretty much a PSA: less social communications and hangouts, more extended periods of time where I’ll ghost my phone, and less enthusiasm about dating. But I make it really clear what people can expect from me, and I say this to my team, to my family, and I shared this publicly to my followers. Now, not everyone's going to be as comfortable sharing that as widely as I am, but I think it’s important to practice the language of setting people's expectations for you and setting boundaries  — whether that's journaling, writing captions, sending emails or talking it out.
Photographed by Solange Lalonde.
I started a four-day work week in March and it has been transformational. At my work, we think about where we want the future of employment relationships going both ethically and sustainably Sometimes that takes the form of  Reiki sessions, or group manifestation. Other times, it's actual workouts. For me, that means never working on Mondays. Each of our team members has a one-page tayhkay di miyootootow, or directions, for how to respect them in working relationships; that could look like resisting deadlines and schedules that do not honour their time, or taking moments away from work for healing. I know this seems impossible for many people working within the rigid structure of capitalism. But changing your relationship to time is possible no matter where you work.
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Before starting Future Ancestor Services, I worked in several government offices and ministries, all with very hierarchical, structured work environments and power relations. I think one of the biggest misconceptions,especially Black and Indigenous peoples have, when we go into those structures is that leadership only looks like what’s been put before us. My ability to assert my needs for rest came from an understanding that I can be a leader in that space too. I have valuable skills and setting boundaries is an act of leadership.  We must recognize that we are more than our job description and we are more than our capitalist roles. 
Still, I've still been in horribly racist, horribly ablest, horribly ageist workplaces, and as difficult as that was, I was not in a position to leave because of my reliance on the income. So, I spent a lot of time thinking about, "Well, what do I need to do to protect myself and my energy in this space? Does it look like, for example, asserting my identity visually?” For me, it looked like wearing my moccasins to the office, and wearing my ribbon skirts at formal events. But it also looked like asking, “What are the consequences of asserting my needs, and am I prepared to navigate those consequences?” It meant having an awareness of the HR policy, and going through it before any of those conversations. You need to have a deep awareness of the structure before going into any conversation that involves asserting your needs, your expectations, and boundaries.
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One of the first questions we ask anyone new that's coming onto our team is, “What harm have you suffered in other workplaces and other institutions? How do we make sure we're not duplicating those systems of harm?”

At Future Ancestors Services, one of the first questions we ask anyone new that's coming onto our team is, “What harm have you suffered in other workplaces and other institutions? How do we make sure we're not duplicating those systems of harm?” A huge source of harm has been a relationship to time that centers productivity with a capitalistic understanding of what it means to be valuable, what it means to be productive, and that shapes our understanding and relationship to self, to money, to work, to land, and to rest.
As someone living at the intersection of my Indigenous identity, being Métis Cree and a second-generation Jamaican to Canada, and also having a very complicated relationship with my Blackness and with that side of my family,  I often feel a lot of pressure to respond to the news cycle. The exploitation of Indigenous and Black trauma, death, and violence is something I really consciously try not to participate in, but battling with that has been a huge source of my resistance to rest. I’ve had to really examine why I feel so uncomfortable not doing anything. Why do I feel guilty sitting on the couch and watching TV, or listening to a podcast and suntanning outside? Why do I feel so uncomfortable doing that? 
In my office, on my very visible chalkboard wall, I have a section of sticky notes. On those sticky notes I have written, “What would you be doing if you weren't working?” I’ve listed a ton of things: reading a book, sewing, making ribbon skirts, hiking, and traveling to the north. I'd be at a cabin with my daughter Zyra. With a very constant daily visual cue,  I make sure that I do at least one of those things every single day. I heavily rely on my calendar to schedule out time to rest. This is where decolonization of time becomes an act of resistance. I use my calendar, a tool of capitalist and industrial relationships to time, to schedule out my workouts, and schedule out time to go on the land. All of these things bring me joy, and inform my ability to come to work but also to center my need for rest, and my need for joy.
As told to Kathleen Newman-Bremang. This interview has been condensed from its original transcription. 
The Refinery29 Canada team acknowledges that we are settlers on the land now known as Canada. We stand in solidarity and support of Indigenous people and we recognize that all of us have an ongoing part to play in reconciliation. We thank the Indigenous community for allowing us to live and work on their land.

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