Zhawenim (Love) and Debwewin (Truth)

Zhawenim (Love) and Debwewin (Truth)

Two words that we don’t often think of when we are working to end violence against women and girls are: LOVE, (Zhawenim) and TRUTH, (Debwewin). Some might even question what they have to do with our work, and why we need to have to talk about them. Both of these words are important teachings in my culture and are very important to me. They are also words that are frequently overused and not truly valued.

Let me give you some examples of what I really mean when I say truth and love. The other night, my 10-year old daughter told me a lie. Of course, it didn’t take me long to uncover the truth of the matter – to which, we had a talk about the importance of telling the truth; and she was then held accountable for her actions. You see…I love her enough to hold her accountable – I love her enough to tell her the truth when she has done something wrong – and I love her enough to work through some tough situations with her while still being loving and kind. I’m telling you this story, not to give you a parenting lesson, but to give you an example of how I think we can transform our movement with TRUTH and LOVE.

Many conversations are happening in our movement around race, class, and gender – in fact, they are conversations that are most definitely not new. They are also some of the most feared and heated conversations that are held, but hold the potential for such growth and transformation.  The problem is that when we are scared or feel shame, we tend to retreat back to what is comfortable. For many people from dominant culture, that often means retreating back to their white privilege. For me, as a Native woman, I retreat back to my anger and blame at 500+ years of genocidal practices and policy at the hands of white people. What I’m hoping we can do differently, is to hold truth and love in the center, and work together in that space to create change. Not just change for you and me – but for the countless women and children who have been, or will be affected by violence in their lifetime.

So what does it mean to hold truth and love in the center? It means that I love you enough to speak my truth – and I hope you love me enough to HEAR me. When someone I love tells me something unpleasant, but does it with love, I can truly hear them and then it’s up to me to make the changes necessary. Does that mean that simply because I’m speaking my truth from a place of love, that everyone is going to be accepting and give up their privilege and make grand gestures and epic changes?  Probably not – but maybe. It does, however, mean that we most definitely have a beautiful way to relate with one another.

There are so many unjust realities in our world – the fact that Native women are victimized at a rate that is 3 ½ times higher than all other races by primarily non-Native men; the fact that our LGBTQ/Two Spirit communities are disproportionately used in prostitution and trafficking; the fact that an African American woman in Florida faces up to 20 years in prison for firing a warning shot in her own home, while white men in Florida go free for shooting and killing unarmed African American men; and the fact that children of color and Native children are disproportionately removed from their homes and placed in white families – thereby furthering the destruction of their cultural identities.

How on earth do we take on these big issues – rooted in race, class, and privilege, while still holding on to truth and love? I’m not really sure, but I am sure that I want to find a way to work on it together – with all of you.

Nicole Matthews
Nicole Matthews
Executive Director
Minnesota Indian Women's Sexual Assault Coalition

Nicole Matthews is Anishinabe from the White Earth Band of Ojibwe, and has worked to end violence against women and children for more than 15 years. She is the Executive Director of the Minnesota Indian Women's Sexual Assault Coalition. Learn More

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