Sarah Agaton Howes

Sarah Agaton Howes is an Anishinaabe artist, teacher, and community organizer from Fond du Lac Reservation in Minnesota. Her arts business, as an Inspired Natives collaborator, House of Howes, specializes in Ojibwe design. Sarah is an Artist in Residence for the Minnesota Historical Society, and a grant recipient from the Jerome Foundation and the Arrowhead Regional Arts Council.  She was awarded the Community Peacemaker Award in 2018 and is a 20 Under 40 Award Recipient for her work in community leadership. For the past 6 years, she has organized an Indigenous Women’s Running Group and utilizes social media to provide inspiration and support to promote wellness and health.

Photo by Ivy Vainio

September 23, 2018

Breathing into Injury

As an Indigenous person I have received messages my whole life about space -  I take up too much space, I should disappear from space, I don’t deserve space. I work actively to reclaim my own right to be in space.  What I never took was my freedom.

There is a freedom in modern movement that is positively terrifying.  And I knew, oh I knew going into this that at some point someone would say “move through the space.”  And I knew I would have no idea how to move without instruction, without restriction, without excelling, without being who I am expected to be, without FREEDOM. Our whole lives are built upon trying to be the best at who we are.  We work hard at reclamation of ourselves as cultural people. 

I am not free.

My body, especially as an Indigenous woman is under attack.  We are kidnapped, raped, murdered at rates so high no one even keeps track.  I scarcely know an Indigenous woman who has NOT been sexually assaulted in her life.  We walk through our lives trying to be safe, trying to be strong, trying to be brave, and our bodies are wounded.  We carry and protect these wounds by isolating and shutting off parts of ourselves. 

I am not free.

We laid in a circle on the floor, closed our eyes, and Sam asked us to feel where our breath comes in and out. With all we carry -what sickness forms in these shut off parts of our bodies.  And what if we do not allow breath and water to touch them? 

In this movement class we are dancing with our whole body.  I was crawling across the floor, feeling the air, dancing a groove, and spinning with laughter. 

With people around me and my eyes closed?  How do I trust them and how do I allow my daughter to also move in this way in a world where she will likely be hurt?  And what If I don’t teach her to be brave and unafraid? What if I am teaching her to hide herself?  How do we raise these children to be smart but unafraid?  How do we teach them to stand their ground while feeling that ground gently with their fingertips?

I am not free.

I wonder how many times today did I think about being kidnapped, raped, killed, and or if my daughter would be and what we do.  How many times did you?? Can we breath into this? Can we move through this into freedom? 

I am not free. 

This movement was inside our breath, inside our bodies, inside our hearts.  We deserve the freedom of safety and the ability to move across our lands without being attacked.  We deserve to feel like our bodies are gifts, not burdens.  

I have this beautiful brown Indigenous 8 year old daughter. She has entered that awkward girl 8 year old awareness where she knows now that her body is up for critique by others. She dances every day in our home, but isn’t free.  I try to remember when I lost  the myth of my freedom?  When did she? She did NOT want to dance, but I convinced her to JUST TRY. In fact, I Told her to try.  There was something so soft and genuine in this brown man dancing that her guard fell.  After an hour of following Sam, I leaned over and whispered to her “This memory, you will have this forever.”  I am determined to give her a life of amazing memories because I know life will give her plenty of hardship.  She danced for two hours surrounded by mirrors showing her body. She danced for two hours surrounded by others who she was free of their judgement.  In that, I saw her freedom.  

Today, I have not yet moved my breath into all the parts of me.  I have dark and swirly places that I hold tightly bound.  I left the Ordway swirling and glowing with the light of our amazing life.