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Monday, August 29, 2011

Review: Lateral Violence


Lateral Violence
By: Christine McFarlane

Lateral violence is a topic that is rarely addressed, and it is also an issue that is very contentious. I heard about this term a few times throughout my school career, I have read about it in the numerous books I have, and I have also experienced it in one form or another. I think we all have whether we care to admit it or not. First, here is what lateral violence means and why I have chosen to speak about this topic in particular:

“Lateral violence is defined as happening when people who are both victims of a situation of dominance, in fact turn on each other rather than confront the system that oppresses them both. Lateral violence occurs when oppressed groups/individuals internalize feelings such as anger and rage, and manifest their feelings through behaviors such as gossip, jealousy, put downs and blaming.” (

I wanted to start addressing different issues, and go beyond the scope of what I usually write and cover within my blog. I’ve heard and understood that it is good to have variety when you are a blogger, because you don’t want your readership to get bored with the same content over and over again. Therefore I began a search for new material to cover.

I was going through books, and looking through old articles that I have kept over the years in my filing cabinet. One day, while surfing the Internet, I came across some information about a video that was put out by the Native Counseling Services of Alberta and BearPaw educational resources- “Lateral Violence.” An idea was born, and after receiving the video in the mail, it has come to fruition.

The video- “Lateral Violence” is a documentary drama illuminating an issue that you could say is easier to be kept in the dark, or not discussed at all.  I mean why give voice to something we all feel uncomfortable about? I believe that the mandate I follow in my writing is to write about the truth and for the truth. It is important that issues not normally discussed are brought up because when we give an issue a voice, we are bringing forth a dialogue. A dialogue that will help us all to move forward in a good way “piimaatisiwin.”

Tantoo Cardinal hosts “Lateral Violence” and it sheds new light on an age-old topic-ourselves. It explains what lateral violence is, how it can happen and why it happens. The example shown in the video is about gossip in the workplace and how through malicious gossip, a woman’s job, marriage and credibility is almost destroyed all because of another co-worker’s jealousy and insecurities.

Cardinal is a well-known native activist and actress, and in the opening of the documentary she addresses what lateral violence is and how lateral violence “happens to me, happens to you and its not who we are.”

Within the video, future and present leaders take a look within their own Nations, communities, organizations and families. They ask and examine pertinent questions like “where did we learn to treat each other that way,” and state that “its not just gossip that is the most destructive form of violence, but it’s the behavior of lateral violence itself” that makes us struggle not only with mainstream society but with each other.

Lateral violence is a behavior that Cardinal states, “ has its roots in colonialism.” Furthermore, according to the website- “it is a cloud that has loomed over us for years. It has become a destructive way of life for families and communities.

We have learned many negative ways to live with one another. We have learned that whoever drives the best car or lives in the best house is better off than we are. I believe that lateral violence plays a role in our societies because we have moved away from our teachings of being community based to a way that is individual based.

It is important that we not get stuck in a place that is blaming one another, and this includes the non-Native society. We are all responsible for the choices we make and the actions we carry out. A renowned researcher Cora Weber-Pillwax who is also in the video argues that “lateral violence is not just with First Nations people, it is everywhere.”

We see it in the workplace, we see it at home, we see it in our communities, and in the way we interact with each other. We do not need to get caught up in lateral violence. We can choose to walk away, let go of past grudges and move on with our lives. This can be difficult but if we choose to live our lives in a healthy manner, and choose to see healing in our lives, it is something that we must do. We need to deal with lateral violence with kindness, instead of more hurt and anger because reconciliation and healing cannot happen unless we take the responsibility to make the changes ourselves to live in a better way.

BearPaw Media produces useful Aboriginal produced resources that are used across Canada as healing tools to promote discussion of critical issues within Aboriginal communities and to educate others on topics they may not be aware of.

“Lateral Violence” is 20 minutes in length and funded by the Alberta Law Foundation and Native Counselling Services of Alberta. To obtain your copy of “Lateral Violence” from Bearpaw Media Productions please visit Copyright. 2006.

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