The Indian in the Cupboard (Closet)


In contemporary Indigenous/Settler relationships today, there is a profound imbalance of power which has been ongoing for so long the people in the relationship are almost completely oblivious to it. It is like most cannot remember a different way or who they even are. The psychic effects are traumatic for all involved as the continual tension and conflict between Indigenous peoples and Settlers has been generational with both sides being subject to unhealthy ways of being. It is like the emotional reality of a lived human existence has been shunned in favour of an “objective”, rational, dispassionate, and sanitized relationship. It reminds me of many of those loveless marriages where the conversation which occurs at the dinner table are filled with hostility, passive-aggressiveness, and the myriad other was of non-communication which one finds in such relationships.

Like a relationship between two people, the relationship between Indigenous peoples and Settlers has evolved. The beginning of the relationship was one of hope and promise. The Settlers began the relationship with Indigenous peoples in a way which saw both parties’ needs seen to and respected. Indigenous peoples provided the necessary accommodation for Settlers to survive here and it was hoped that, in time, they would learn more of how to live here as we did; in balance with the lands and each other which was based in respect for all living things.

What ensued quickly was traumatic and is reflective of pre-meditation and actions of the serially abusive partner which canada continues to be today.

Outside the Closet

Firstly, the abusive partner (the crown and its peoples) lied in order to gain entry into the life of the abused partner (Indigenous peoples). By deception and with no willingness to honour their word, they negotiated agreements, many of them non-textual but no less formal than Treaties between nations in the eyes and minds of the abused partner.

And so the lie was created.

With entry into the abused partner’s life, the abuser then acted in the following ways:

  • They intentionally poisoned and weakened their partner.
  • The stole everything which the abused needed in order to be healthy and provide for their needs.
  • They locked their partner in a closet with inadequate resources to live.
  • They stole their children and locked them in different closets and subjected them to the same treatment.
  • They incessantly, 24 hours-a-day and non-stop, told them they were worthless and that all that they were was stupid and inferior and wrong.
  • They entered the closet from time to time to beat their partner.

Every once in a while, the abuser would put things in the closet which added to the suffering of the abused. Things like alcohol and drugs. Things like weapons. Things which would “teach” the abused that they were the problem, not the abuser. Things that told the abuser that they needed to change and become like the abuser in order to be free from the closet. Things which were meant only to frighten, control, confuse, divide, manipulate, and destroy any strength the abused might be able to gather. Things like money. Things like power. Things like foods which would make you sick and weak. These they gave to the abused in order to make them become abusive themselves.

During this time, the abuser began other relationships with other abusers and they would just act as if nothing was going on. They would also lie and say that the closet wasn’t a closet but it was a preservation chamber. They would also lie and say there wasn’t anyone in the closet at all except for some hostile and dangerous people who needed to be educated so as to not hurt anyone and who were in desperate need of training before they would be able to be let out.

Also, the abusive partner had children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren, which they told the same lie to and new lies as well, when the successive generations of children asked questions. Some of the new lies were that the people wanted to be in the closet and only those ones which didn’t were the ones which were hostile and dangerous and should be feared. These were crafty people, they would say, because they sounded like the abuser but they were definitely not to be trusted. The successive generations of children believed the lie because they had never met the abused partner nor did they think their parent would ever lie to them. They also feared being duped by the abused in the closet and they also feared they would abuse them if they got the chance.

So the children and the grandchildren of the abuser learned that the abuse was deserved and needed for their protection because the abused were not to be trusted. How could they be trusted? The things they were saying were lies and were sometimes very loud and angry. They had been shouting, screaming, crying, beating on the door, pushing on it, and all the while trying to convince the children of the abuser to let them out.

Inside the Closet

On the other side of the closet door, things were much different.

The abused people in the closet had multiplied for they had children of their own. The trauma of being sick and watching some of their family killed by beatings or die of sickness or even worse, by their own hands, had left deep and ongoing problems in the closet.

The things that the abuser left in the closet were working. Some of the abused began to accept and use these things in order to be free of the closet like the abuser had been telling them to do non-stop 24 hours-a-day along with the messages that they were inferior, backwards, wrong and if they only used the things the abuser put in the closet, they would be set free to join the abuser outside.

Some are desperately fighting against the door of the closet and fighting against the abuser through the door. Yelling at them, screaming at them, reasoning at them, doing whatever they can in order for the abuser to open the door so they can confront the abuser directly and on equal terms. A sort of “face to face” intervention. Some of these people have looked at the things the abuser left in the closet and have even used them. Most of these people have seen how dangerous these things are and how they are now fighting even harder to get out of the closet.

Some of the abused were paralyzed by fear, telling the ones fighting to get out to be quiet or the abusive partner will beat them more, or take away their food, or stop giving them things with which to become like the abuser so they could finally leave the closet.

Some are telling them that the closet isn’t bad and we should make the best of closet.

Still others just sit and cry or scream or do nothing at all, completely traumatized into immobility; a kind of living death. Having been abused their entire lives and horrifically so, they cannot even face their feelings. They cannot even face the world. All cannot even face themselves because they don’t even know who they are. They eat and they cry and they scream and they sleep. Their sleep is haunted by nightmares and they often wake up screaming only to notice that the nightmare is real and they begin screaming again.

And then there are others. These ones that act as the abuser does. Abusing those in the closet in order to be granted exit from the closet and even fighting at the closet door, to be given more things from the abuser which will grant them exit from the closet. Which will prove to the abuser that they are ready to be freed from the closet, they have learned that they were inferior and they need more of the abuser’s things and lessons in order to become more like the abuser. They are abusing those in the closet like the abuser does and they deserve to be let out, because they are just like the abuser if they would only please let them out. They love the things which were put in the closet and they forgive the abuser for locking them in there in the first place because it was just a misunderstanding. You see?! They weren’t unlike the abuser at all, they just didn’t know it yet because they weren’t getting it. They got it now so just pass more things through the door and they would prove they were just like the abuser.

Back Outside the Closet

The abusers are listening to all of this happening and are now confused because to some, the lie seems less and less important. Less and less true. This is because the abusers are now starting to understand that the abused people in the closet are very much like them but even more so, could be even equal to them. Could even know some things which the abusers don’t know but need to know. They are now starting to talk to the abusers guarding the door and asking them if it’s a good idea to keep them locked in the closet. That the act of abusing may not be justified and that in fact, the abused have the right to be free of the closet and to confront and talk to the abusers. They understand that the abused may be angry and may be hurt and some may be acting very much like the abusers guarding the door but are willing to listen.

Some of the abusers haven’t even been paying attention and had no idea that there was even a closet, let alone people who have been trying to get free of it for a long time. They have heard some commotion but thought it didn’t really have anything to do with them so they just didn’t pay attention.

Some abusers, the ones guarding the door are becoming desperate for they see that the lies they rely on to hold the door closed and remain in power over the abused and the rest of the abusers is being questioned. They begin to tell more lies and act as if they are truth. Even when some of the abusers know they are lies. They begin to act hostile to those abusers who don’t wish to be abusers anymore and begin to look around for the things they threw into the closet in order to give them to the abusers so they would just shut up.

Then they get angry. They begin to build a bigger closet for the abusers who don’t want to be abusers anymore and even for the ones who weren’t paying attention, just to be safe.


I find that in writing this, I have had many thoughts with which to contextualize the experience of Indigenous/Settler relations. Some of the main weapons being used to divide and rule the relationship is to promote fear, anesthetize emotion through jargon and excessive dispassionate speeches, that is will cost too much money, and to instill in people that the problem is too great to be handled or too hopeless to address.  These weapons are tired and old and if you look at them critically, they are weak and the greatest power which overcomes every single one of these weapons is belief.

I believe we can overcome fear and be courageous.

I believe we can awaken our feelings and use our passion to clarify these issues.

I believe the cost of not addressing this is far more expensive than not addressing this.

I believe that this problem of Indigenous/Settler relations is not too great to be handled and is not hopeless because we are all capable of doing our part to lessen the size of it and support one another through that process.

I believe the closet door needs to be opened. Do you?


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