Wellness Wednesday: Misrepresentation, Accountability, & Community Healing
by Rebekah Elkerton
To be Indigenous is to be accountable to one another and live as part of a community. To be a community member is to understand the responsibility of living with integrity and contributing our gifts and strengths to processes that support overall community well-being. We emphasize the importance of our relationships, whether being with one another, the non-human, or the self.
Recently, we’ve seen another influx of the unfortunate trend of misrepresentation on the part of self-identifying “community members,” who have positioned themselves to gain notoriety and profit from a false narrative they have created and presented to the world. We’ve had difficult conversations to reveal the truth of those who have taken advantage of Indigenous people, and sought ways of holding these individuals accountable. The unfortunate truth in these dynamics is that you can’t make somebody accountable, they have to want to be accountable. So then, what are we left with?
In identifying harmful actions and misrepresentation in a relationship of any kind, we find ourselves facing a multitude of unnerving emotions. The foundation on which we’ve built said relationship shakes and cracks, and hard decisions have to be made about how to handle ourselves in the face of disrespect. Confrontation can be uncomfortable, often our intuition raises flags when we are presented with falsities. At other times the actor has mastered their performance and it’s harder to pinpoint the lie. In any case it makes most people uneasy to question another person, whether bringing attention to where actions and words have not lined up, or where they've misrepresented their identity and experiences. It can be challenging to know the healthiest way of opening a discussion about these discrepancies and asking that person to be accountable to the impacts of their actions.
When someone misrepresents themselves it is a definitive example of privilege and audacity. Their feelings of entitlement to people and spaces that can only be accessed through the presentation of falsities is telling of their lack of personal integrity as well as their lack of respect for the people with whom they are building an untruthful relationship. Their fabricated realities then implicate unknowing others, and deserving people are denied opportunities to take up roles in which they truly belong because the space is being occupied by someone who has pushed their way in through manipulation. People who have lived experience and legitimate community ties are harmed, in often long standing exclusions, impacting their emotional well-being, financial security, and access to their rightful place as a contributing community member.
Those who manipulate are often seeking belonging and acceptance in a realm where they know they don’t belong. While this is born out of a poor mental state on the part of that person, we cannot ignore the damage that falsehoods bring to a relationship. When inauthenticity is revealed it has a ripple effect; feeding mistrust in those who have been lied to, disrupting the communal healing we are working toward as Indigenous people, and the possible discreditation of collaborative efforts for change that have involved the person who has manipulated their way in. Consequently those actors who claim to have formed their relationships with the good intentions, have shown a lack of respect and consideration for the very spaces they have infiltrated.
Accountability has both personal and impersonal components. When we go through challenging experiences, specifically relationships that have shown to be inauthentic, unsafe or damaging, we must ask ourselves what parts of this situation are personal and which are not. We may blame ourselves or feel frustrated that we let people into our lives who in turn disappointed us or caused harm. When these feelings arise we are tasked with treating ourselves better than our manipulator has. We must be gentle, truthful, and forgiving so that we can learn from the situation that has caused us pain, or at the very least practice self-love with the intention of healing rather than carrying the weight of their dishonesty in our hearts. We must hold onto compassion and empathy and, when possible, free ourselves through forgiving the other for their abuse while removing their access to us. We must think through the situation and identify emotions without taking on the components of the event that are not our responsibility- the impersonal components. We are not responsible for another person’s manipulation tactics or damaging actions. Separating the entangled emotions that arise from being harmed so that we may come out of the situation on the path to healing can take time but through community conversation and care we can uplift and support one another.
Indigenous people have long felt the effects of harm inflicted by unapologetic outsiders. When we are deceived by those who develop inauthentic relationships with us, through which they gain our trust with the intent to take our time, knowledge, stories, or opportunities, it can be triggering. It hurts to feel frauded and we are justified in our feelings of anger and frustration. What follows these emotions is up to us. It’s important that we protect our spirit, not to be darkened by the shadow of these master manipulators. We are not responsible for another person's lack of ethics and our response to those who refuse to take accountability must reflect that. We are instead responsible to one another, committing to truth for the purpose of collective healing.