Porphyry Deer

sculpted deer with painted stain glass hanging on the wall

by Michel Dumont 

There is a history of light keepers marrying Ojibway women on Porphyry Island from the second light keepers family in the 1890s to the last family to man the light in the 1980s my aunt and uncle Eva and Gordon Graham. This deer was my attempt to honour this legacy of interdependence and love. I pictured my aunt and her beautiful thick black hair which she always kept in a flowing pony, holding the medicine wheel, while my uncle is holding a lantern. In the hundred years of indigenous women their roles as home makers and on this island that took a different meaning. Originally they lived on the island all year round, gave birth and buried their children there, which is why the cemetery exists on the island. My aunt was renowned for her bread baking. Visitors to the island still  remark on her pastries to this day. What changed in one hundred years was that she was considered an assistant lighthouse keeper to her husband. As a child, I  grew up going to the light houses of Lake Superior with my aunt and uncle and this piece was made during a light house artist residence I did last summer for the Canadian Light houses of Lake Superior.

My name is Michel Dumont  i am a metis artist from Thunderbay Ontario . i recently made a peice of fauxtaxidermy entitled Zaangwewe-magooday

Waawaashkeshi . Jingle dress deer it is to honor the ojibway women in my family . the jingle dress appeared in the 1920s in minnesota and the rainy river canadian area almost simultainiously, i would love to think it was two sisters making jingle dresses at the same time one just married into another family.

Rebuilding our Relationship with the land

Indigenous eagle storytelling artwork that reads "learn from the past, prepare in the present, to defend the future."

By: Beze and Vanessa Gray

Our homeland is more than the reservation system forced onto my ancestors across our traditional territory. Land is sacred, and this is especially important to acknowledge when multinational companies carelessly contaminate the environment we all share through colonialism and toxic chemicals. Our family and community are Anishinabe people from the Aamjiwnaang First Nation in Treaty 29 territory located near Sarnia, ON. The Canadian government continues to use violence to inherently disconnect us from our land and it’s our responsibility to protect it using our traditional culture and language. Our culture and language survive through land based teachings.

Our teachings offer lessons of honesty, humility, and truth that connect our bodies to the land.  We take what we need and offer tobacco to give back to the land to acknowledge when we take anything and to give thanks. Canada is established through resource extraction and land theft. When industry forced their way onto our territory to extract oil in the 1880s, the land was stolen through Canada’s Indian Act system that segregates us on reserve lands. Colonization takes on many destructive forms and acts like a virus endlessly taking from mother earth. Industry created an empire from our stolen land. Instead of using oil as we did once, oil quickly became the foundation of Canada’s national identity. The petrochemical industry on our Territory expanded and changed the relationship between our people and the land. These threats to our traditions and culture immediately created the apartheid state between settlers and indigenous people. This is clearly visible when the City of Sarnia enacts class violence through Victorian houses just down the road from our reserve that we were not allowed to leave from. The Canadian Justice system was created to protect colonial capitalism and white supremacy. The present day reserve boundaries of Aamjiwnaang are substantially smaller than our original territory. Our homeland is seen as an industrial resource, not a residential place where more than 800 people currently live. This racist notion is how companies justify putting an above ground pipelines so close to our homes.

Aamjiwnaang is completely surrounded by industry with over 60 facilities in the 25km radius. The highest polluting facilities are within 5km of the community. The first company to start operating a refinery was Imperial Oil. Canada’s Chemical Valley currently holds 40% of Canada’s petrochemical industry [1]. Accumulating pollution has been collecting and contaminating Aamjiwnaang for over 100 years. In our community everything is polluted, including the land, air, water, and people. We are the grandchildren of the generation who survived Canada’s attempted genocide. Our responsibility to the land is carried on from the strength of our intergenerational knowledge. Even when we grow up surrounded by industry, we will always find our way back to the land through our songs, drums and ceremony. The warning signs found along the creek in Aamjiwnaang were put up to keep us from exposing ourselves from the toxic chemicals that flow from industry into the water. Even though Canada tries to forget its violent history, we still experience the cumulative effects such as cancer and high numbers of stillbirths and miscarriages. There’s a constant stress of the emergency sirens of the community going off from spills or leaks.

Not only do we worry about our health and safety on the daily, but our medicines are exposed to the chemicals in the air. Healing is the most important part of our survival as land and water protectors. We need time on the land to rebuild and sustain our relationship with the land. This includes our seasonal responsibilities such as collecting food and medicines. Our Wiigwams teach us that we all have a role to play in sustaining our communities. In a time when everything can be made easier by new technologies, the land will always provide for our needs. Our traditional dip net fishing is made from cedar trees because it’s the lightest to carry and can last for generations, you can buy a metal net that can last with care but is more likely crushed or bent easily if left in the river. Our load isn’t a light one to carry, we pick up where our ancestors left us to move forward and hopefully thrive. The land is alive and deserves to be honored with ceremony.


 

Beze and VANESSA Gray
Vanessa Gray and Beze Gray are Anishinaabe siblings from the Aamjiwnaang First Nation located in Canada’s Chemical Valley. Co-founders of Aamjiwnaang & Sarina Against Pipelines.

Vanessa is a land defender and environmental justice researcher with the TRU at the University of Toronto.

Beze identifies as two spirited and studies Anishinaabe mowin and traditional land use with Meesiingw.

Beyond Body, Words and Time

Reviews of Billy-Ray Belcourt’s This Wound is a World and Joshua Whitehead’s Full-Metal Indigiqueer

by Kai Cheng Thom

How does a settler of colour like me – a third generation, ripped from homeland, utterly cityfied trans girl – learn real love for the land? How do diasporic people of colour learn to become responsible, to have integrity, in our relationships to Indigeneity, to Indigenous people, to the stories that bind us all? These are the questions that surface in my mind as I read the poetry collections: This Wound is a World by Billy-Ray Belcourt and Full-Metal Indigiqueer by Joshua Whitehead – two recently released debut collections of poetry by queer Indigenous authors that have lit up the queer poetry scene this year.

Whitehead and Belcourt, along with writers such as Gwen Benaway and Arielle Twist, are among an emerging generation of Indigenous queer and Two-Spirit poets who follow in the lineage of groundbreakers such as Chrystos and Qwo-Li Driskill. In the tradition of anti-colonial poetry, their work – in each of their unique voices and styles – interrogates the violence of European colonization and genocide on Turtle Island though the lenses of intimacy, sexuality, and gender. In so doing, each poet also breathes new vision, affirmation, and possibility into the conceptualization of Indigenous queer identity.

In This Wound is a World, Belcourt pulls the reader into a searingly intimate examination of what it means to live in the world with an Indigenous, queer body – the narrator of the opening poem, “The Cree Word for a Body Like Mine is Weesageechak”, introduces himself in the opening poem as “a broad-shouldered trickster who long ago fell from the moon wearing make-up and skinny jeans.” Simultaneously, Belcourt troubles the notion of what it means to “have” or to “be” a body at all, perhaps most explicitly in the piece “If I Have A Body, Let it Be A Book Of Sad Poems” and in the Epilogue, in which Belcourt reflects on love as “a process of becoming unbodied.”

Tender yet fierce, vulnerable yet unrelentingly powerful, Belcourt’s poetic voice skillfully uses the confessional register in order to evoke an emotional landscape of love, loss, heartbreak, grief, and hope. Over and over again, in myriad ways, Belcourt asks the question: What is Indigenous queer love in a colonized world? Each piece in This Wound is a World offers part of the answer.

Poems such as “I Am Hoping to Help this City Heal From Its Trauma,” “The Back Alley of the World,” “Native Too,” “OKCUPID” and “There Is No BeautifuL Left” explores the potential and power of sexuality in an Indigenous queer context. Here, Belcourt does not shy away from the impact of trauma on the body. “i am the monster in the closet / your bedtime stories prepared you for / you want a man / whose body doesn’t whisper / horror stories / each time you touch him,” he writes in “OKCUPID.”

Yet there is possibility as pain in sex, for Belcourt, as the title of his collection suggests. In wounds, there is sometimes wisdom, and through the abject, there is sometimes absolution. In the gorgeously written “Native Too,” he writes:

“he was native too

so i slept with him.

i wanted to taste

a history of violence

caught in the roof of his mouth.

i wanted our saliva to mix

and create new bacterial ecologies;

contagions that could infect the trauma away

[…]

i wanted him to fuck me,

so i could finally begin

to heal”

Interspersed with the first-person confessional poems that comprise the majority of This Wound is a World is a series of third-person meditations on moments in history and current events that reflect on the collective trauma of colonial genocide and violence. These pieces, such “A History of the Present,” “God’s River,” and “Wapekeka,” ground the intimacy and emotional authenticity of the rest of the book by placing it within a historical frame. Like the shape-shifting trickster of “The Cree Word for a Body Like Mine is Weesageechak,” Belcourt weaves himself in and out of this frame, using his words to reach into and through the notions of body and time toward decolonial love.

Where This Wound is a World is an intimate close-up, Joshua Whitehead’s Full-Metal Indigiqueer is an explosive panoramic that shatters the frame: inspired by anime and sci-fi archetypes, the collection follows the journey of Zoa, a cybernetic trickster virus that infects, transforms, and rebirths everything that it touches – which is to say, pretty much every colonial literary and cultural trope – in order to re-member and re-centre Two-Spirit stories. Whitehead’s conceptual genius and technical brilliance come to the fore in Full-Metal Indigiqueer as he takes Zoa and the reader on an expansive revolutionary tour of the English literary canon and contemporary Western pop culture.

Full-Metal Indigiqueer is at once trenchant in depth and breathtaking in scope: Like Donna Haraway’s cyborgs, Zoa manifests itself from everything and anything around it, all the while remaining fixedly devoted to its mission of Indigiqueer vivification. Shakespeare, Spenser, Milton, RuPaul, Mean Girls, Harry Potter – if it is in the zeitgeist, Zoa can and does subvert it with almost ecstatic zeal. Yet the human(e) aspect of Zoa remains apparent throughout; Whitehead balances meta-human nature of his protagonist with haunting emotional clarity:

“there is no safety word here,” Zoa proclaims,

“you’re on the precipice of sex;

i am unas lion; i am sansjoysanslovesansboy

i am the real fairy queene

femme-boy-fatal[e]

thegreenbladeofgrass

that castrates Whitman endlessly

do you still want to dream of me [questionmark]

tell me: “i didn’t think gay natives still exist”

The intensity continues to build as Zoa grows through the narrative, becoming at once more human and more powerful in its otherworldliness. In, “MIHKOKWANIY,” a poem dedicated to Whitehead’s kokum, or grandmother, Zoa states “to be honest / I’m im just a little brown boy / obsessed with mutants & robots / queered by his colour / queered beyond his tradition / the saving grace of ceremony / writing for a kokum he’s hes never met.” This tender, vulnerable piece is immediately followed by the “THE EXORCISM OF COLONIALISM,” in which Zoa breaks the code of colonialism and digitally resurrects a host of missing and murdered Indigenous women. The piece serves as both a heartbreaking testimony and an unrelenting challenge to the ongoing violence of the colonial legacy.

Among Whitehead’s many achievements in Full-Metal Indigiqueer is his resounding success in the creation of a map for an Indigenous futurism that breaks the colonial boundaries of English language and literature. In giving birth to Zoa, a consciousness that transcends words and time, Whitehead offers readers a new way of conceiving queer Indigeneity – or rather, Indigiqueerness.

Whitehead and Belcourt have given great gifts to the world this past year with the publication of their debut collections. As I read their words, I am reminded that stories are a pathway into the heart – into a place beyond body, words and time. In order to reach that place, we must be open to stories that destabilize us, that centre others, that push the boundaries of our sense of self. As Belcourt implies in his Epilogue, decolonial love is non-sovereignty. As a trans girl of colour far from a homeland of my own, reading Indigenous poetry on Turtle Island, I am trying to learn what that means: For me, it begins with gratitude. Gratitude for the land, for Indigenous queerpoetry, and for Indigenous poets.

I read these books, and I am grateful.


 

Kai Cheng Thom
Kai Cheng Thom is a writer, performer, healer, lasagna lover and wicked witch based in Montreal and Toronto, unceded Indigenous territories. She is the author of the novel Fierce Femmes and Notorious Liars: A Dangerous Trans Girl’s Confabulous Memoir, the poetry collection a place called No Homeland, and the children’s book From the Stars in the Sky to the Fish in the Sea.

Silhouette: A Letter to Syria

silhoutte of women in a stone doorway facing a landscape view of a syrian city

by Yousr El Sharawy

A silhouette it is.

 This is how we see each other now. Far. Very far, as I stand at the top of the citadel, armed with egoistic prejudices. & afraid to let go – to fall down – in love. I used to have a clearer picture before. Now, to each other: we are solely silhouettes.

 You are very far now. & the distance between us is a traveler’s journey that I read about in poetry books. Traveling all the way to you is worth it, but I am afraid. I currently dwell in my comfort zone. And reaching you could be so uncomfortable, O Syria. To dismantle all the typical measures of travel, and to walk all the way to you is indeed difficult.

To bare the rich nuances and the complex intersections that exist on the way to you may indeed lead to my arrival. But who wants to leave their comfort zones now, my dear Syria? What heart bears the heaviness of truths?

Deep down, I know you are worth the journey. I just cannot see that now. You are a silhouette. A silhouette described in the books of authors who may have never seen you before, nor have they seen your blood.

How can I believe that which I cannot see? & how can I see you in the dark? & how can I see that which is far: very far away! O Syria, you are very far away now. And the distance exacerbated with all the obstacles built between you and me.

Between you and I are refugees of love. Diaspora out of a war that spilled blood in between the rocks of the citadel, reaching to the far corners of the city.

Between you and I are strangers from ancients travels who want to colonize our hearts. And now they colonize our minds too, in the writers of Cairo, the readers of Iraq, the publishers of Lebanon, & the roads of Jerusalem. All of us know no resistance. 

All they preach is co-existence, and to get over the past. Because the past has passed. If only they knew, it only passed for them.

Between you and I, are these different countries inside of us. & the different sects that are fighting for our hearts. We are torn between different cultures, languages and traditions.  Even though they seem like one, we speak a different language now. And I don’t mean the vocabulary of the mother tongue – I mean the language of resistance, rights and freedom.

Where are we now from all of that? The composer of your music is everyone but you.

Despite being a silhouette, I can tell you are trying to see me in the crowd of seekers.

O Syria, if you can, just divorce all their proposals you get from the East and the West.

And solely seek refuge in me. If they change your geography, my heart can be your home & you can always live in my heart. & that, my dear, they cannot change. Ever.

I will remind you of the smell of mint leaves in your sidewalks and the fresh aroma of basil trees in the gardens of your family. The sprinkled thyme on the oven-cooked bread infused with the smell of white Jasmine flowers from my grandma’s balcony.

& bedtime stories will be about war and love – the stories that refugees brought to my expatiation.Stories that keeps us aware of the sufferings of this world, but also ones that I will turn into songs to put you into a warm goodnight sleep in my arms.

I will show you pictures of your mountains, your churches up the hills & the citadels built over the graves of your martyrs. I will show you the mosques in Damascus, the norias of Hama, the markets of Homs, & the protestors of Aleppo.

But there still remains that distance between you and me. And between all that which I would like to do. Between you and I, is a very long distance – O Syria. Even if they grant me a passport that brings close the proximity of geography, the greatest distance to travel will always the one from my heart to yours.

Yousr El Sharawy
I am a graduate student of Political Science & International Development at the University of Guelph. My own identity took me to research pursuits revolving around social justice. I enjoy travelling, writing & the outdoors.

The Crows have lots to talk about

dark line illustration of a crow mirroring itself.

by Joce Two Crows Tremblay

I am a Two Spirit Transgender-blender and I come from a Land of Crows.

I am a Great Lakes metis of hybrid ancestries, including Kenienke’haka ~ Mohawk, Odawa, Migma, French and Ashkenazi, that we know of.

I am white appearing. My body is a battleground of colonization.

I am also a lifelong E(art)hworker and Land/Water Defender.

My Spirit name is Tékeni Tsó:ka’we Mashkikii Bimosewin ~ Two Crows Medicine Walker, a name in Kenienke and Anishnaabe moen. When Elder Blu Waters saw those Two Crows that day in the Sacred Fire held at Six Nations of the Grand River, her Tobacco offering yielded a name true to my core. So too, when Elder Ma-Nee Chacaby gifted me the Responsibility of taking on Medicine Walker, though scared to Hold it, I carry the significance with me deeply.

I was born (with my identical twin) a few minutes away from the place where Chief Tecumseh was slain in his final “rebellion” to resist land theft, and where the river of Crows flows incessantly. It might be the GMO, conventional industrial “Corn”, growing as far as the eye can see, that draws the Crows from far and wide. But they are also Birds of Death, respected (if feared) among many First Nations, as communicators with the Spirit world, and South Western Ontario is a Ghostland. The Ecocide that erased the Great Woodlands and Wetlands of the Great Lakes basin, as well as the Onkweonhwe, has haunted my life.

So the Crows have lots to talk about.

For one, our Relative O:nentse ~ Corn, the eldest of the Three Sisters of our Sustenance, for which the Haudenosaunee have held seasonal ceremonial dances and songs, has become a zombie like plant in the monopoly of Capitalist Agri-business. Adding insult to injury, these Longhouse people whose Ancestral bones lay beneath the ground, also brought O:nentse to this territory.

Who is singing to that Corn now?

This is an example of how the Land is held hostage within the dominating empire of settler “property”. Indigenous peoples once had freedom of movement like the seeds, flocks and herds. Colonial thought conditioned many to believe that relationship to the Land is dirty (in a bad way), stigmatizing the Peasantry aka peoples of the Land. In the so-called nation of Canada, only .01% of the total landmass is held in Reserve for Treaty Indians, which combined, cannot even fill one Navaho reserve (Bonita Lawrence). This reflects how much the state depends on stolen Native Land for its economy, all the “Free” Trade agreements considered, for the extraction and export of our natural resources. Severance of connection with Land, has been an insidious tool of colonial oppression, employed across the whole planet.

 

“Sell a country? Why not sell the air, the clouds, and the great sea, as well as the earth? Did Great Spirit not create them for the use of all our children?”

– Tecumseh, Shawnee Chief

Europeans had already 700 years of blood on their hands, for the recorded torture of 11 million Witches (The Inquisition), primarily of women and non-conforming peasantry. This approach to implementing dominion through Christianity, was applied here on Turtle Island via the ‘Doctrine of Discovery’, used similarly to disempower our Clan Mothers, Medicine & Two Spirit peoples (‘Witchcraft and the Gay Counterculture’, Arthur Evans). Suffering from displacement, epidemics and all out warfare, First Nations, Metis and Inuit peoples showed incredible resilience in retaining their Spiritual Teachings. That said, it cannot be underestimated how severely intergenerational traumas are still grieved. From broken Treaties to the Indian Act, the Stolen Sisters to the Residential school system, Sixties Scoop to MMIW (Missing Murdered Indigenous Women, Girls & 2S)… Native youth have tremendous weight on their shoulders, leading them to be among our most vulnerable. Loss of connection to Land, is also loss of culture (Cultural Genocide), as our Indigenous Knowledge base, languages and Ceremonies are all derived from relationship with the Land.

I had the Blessing of being raised on a working multigenerational small-scale family-run ecological farm, but didn’t realize how rare an upbringing it actually was. My mother and her Migma metis father both grew up there. Nearby is my father’s family farm. A descendant of rebel-rouser Chief Pontiac and of longtime Paysannat (French peasant) heritage, his father, my Pepe, is a proud farmer. His Mohawk metis mother is a bad-ass gardener, crafter, fisher-woman and bingo player. A Medicine woman in her own right, I learned a lot from her.  As a young Queer, gender non-conforming farm kid, in a fairly strict Christian society, wandering on the Land was literally my escape from suffocating alienation. My most favourite playground, on the Land is where I observed some of the most critical teachings in my life, such as diversity, inter-relation, synthesis, cycles, humility, transformation and Majïk in general. These experiences gave me the space to believe I deserved to exist in my body. Not to mention the true wonder of being held by a tree. The thing is, I’ve never felt judged by a tree, insect or any Relative, other than humans (though a squirrel or two have seemed to jeer at me). I recognize the blessing, all the more now that I live in the big city of Tkaronto.

 

“They came with their religion, stole our Land, crushed our spirit, and now they tell us we should be thankful to the lord for being saved”

– Pontiac, Odawa Chief

 

In the Creation Story, Atahensic ~ Skywoman fell from the sky, to the water world below, and in the ensuing heroic work of our animal friends, Turtle Island came to be. I’ve learned to respect through the various tellings of this story, that we humans are the youngest of all the Relatives. There’s of course Grandmother Moon, Brother Sun and all those Elder Relatives of the Cosmos. We owe a great deal to those oldest on Earth, the minerals, who over millennia were eroded by the elements, namely the great Winds of the Four Directions (East, South, West, North) and became the life providing substance we now know as Soil. Then came the micro-organisms, the plants, the animals (two & four legged, winged and finned) and lastly we Humans. In the Original Instructions which we adopted as the youngest, human people are meant to be Stewards of the Land. While we cannot eat oil-petrol, most adults today are aware of the term peak-oil, yet few have grasped the urgency of peak-Soil. Industrial malpractice has caused vast desecration/degradation of soil ecology, resulting in the loss of fertility across large tracts. Disturbed soil tends to be taken up by opportunistic non-native plant volunteers, who easily become noxiously invasive “weeds”. But one person’s weed is another’s salad, or Medicine, and pushing back gently against those dominant, out of balance plant Relatives, is a great metaphor and practice. As Treaty People, which we all are, we are subject to upholding those agreements. One of the earliest such on this territory, between the Haudenoshaunee and the Anishnaabe, was the Dish With One Spoon Wampum belt. This covenant illustrated that the Land and its resources are to be shared by all, and that when the bowl comes around, you take what you need, but always be sure there’s enough for others. Also, always keep the Dish clean. This is one of the ways I understand the concept of Right Relations, and not just with regards to our human relatives.

On my family farm we’ve been working for 30 years to leverage what resources we could, towards ecological restoration, with slow, but ever growing success. We’ve seen the return of hundreds of plants, insects and animal Relatives, most notably Osprey, Badger and Beaver. These might seem like little accomplishments, but healing overflowing grief is a life’s work. Elsewhere in the region, the few remaining Relatives are in a constant struggle for survival, trying to retain their habitats, under threat of ongoing human “developments”.

I’ve often pleaded with Humanity, into the night sky, “for the love of all things Sacred”?!

Our stories have been silenced, but not fully taken from us. When we practice our Ceremonies, especially on the Land directly, we can download with our Ancestors, our Blood Memory helping us to potentially channel our inherent Gifts, live in Right Relations and find our path in Bimaadiziwin ~ The Good Way (Zainab Amadahy). As a young adult I came to this city to study art, a vehicle to break the silence and come out of the closet. My transferable skills were tied to agrarian experience, so I worked in urban and near-urban ecological agriculture. I put in 5 years with a Holistic Master Gardener, co-created intergenerational community gardens across the city, stewarded the Spiral Garden with kids of all divergent abilities, studied permaculture and became a certified Organic Master Gardener.

Though I frequently found that it harmed my social status to identify myself as an E(art)hworker especially in the Art world, my social location did improve greatly. I’ve found a wondrous chosen family among QTBIPOC community, specifically those witchy ones who also find Sanctuary in the Natural world.

For the past 3.5 seasons I’ve been Stewarding Mashkikii;aki’ing ~ Medicine Earth, a Medicine Wheel Garden on an old Oak Savanah ridge, known as Gete Onigaming ~ Old Portage, running North along Davenport rd. There’s a real presence there. Primarily I’m digging into Indigenous Land Sovereignty with community members from organizations such as NaMeRes / Sagatay, Anduhyaun / Nekenaan, the Native Learning Center, Native Women’s Resource Center and Naadmagit Ki Group, to name a few. We grow Native food crops, like the Ancestral Three Sisters (Corn, Beans, Squash). Various  Medicinal plants, like the four Sacred Medicines (Tobacco, Cedar, Sweetgrass, Sage). We wildcraft / forage. We also grow seedlings that we distribute into community for Medicine gardens and for Native plant eco-restoration. This community based work has revealed the threads of an extensive spider web of Spirit. Aiming towards inclusive, accessible, safer and culturally appropriate E(art)hworking, with some of our most marginalized Indigenous people, I’ve seen just how Restorative this field of work can be. We practice Honourable Harvest (Robin Wall Kimmerer), share Stories, Knowledge, Ceremonies, Ancestral seeds, meals, Medicines and subtle strategies for shedding grief.

Decolonizing the heart and mind is no simple task. ReIndigenizing the Land, returning Native plant Relatives in order to create the habitats conducive to greater life, is the work of those who wish to Hear the Land, even the hungry ghosts. Collectively and collaboratively, through Indigenous governance, self-determination and non-pyramidal power structures, we can reclaim space. In fact, the more this work takes place, the more interest there is in restoring Land into Indigenous stewardship. I fully agree that ‘Truth and Reconciliation’ can only go so far, if Land isn’t Returned (Taiaiake Alfred). I hope in my lifetime to see Manoomin ~ Wild Rice growing in the re-established wetland borders throughout our extensive watershed, but until that time, we’ll know the waters aren’t healthy, because the rice will only grow where the water is clean enough, a marker of how far our work must go.

If any of this has resonated with you, please make an offering of Sema ~ Tobacco, our first Sacred Medicine, to the Land, in exchange.

Nia:weh, chi Miigwetch


 

joce tremblay
Joce Two Crows Tremblay is a two spirit, Great Lakes métis, artist, activist, night walkers, wonder wanderer, tree holder and lifelong e(art)hworker, co-creating in Tkaronto communities for nearly two decades.

Our Lives Depend on Our Relatives

By Linda Black Elk

The seventh annual Florida Herbal Conference was hosted February 2018 in unceded Timucua territory on the ancient Lake Wales Ridge in Central Florida, with keynote speakers Linda and Luke Black Elk. With a focus on the healing flora of Florida, our conference seeks to not only educate but to advocate for the conservation and preservation of our bioregional ecology. Together, we gather to begin the process of healing ourselves and each other as we also heal the planet. Videos of Linda and Luke’s presentations can be found at www.floridaherbalconference.org.

Thank you all for being here tonight,

I’m Linda Black Elk, you’ll see my family here tonight and I’m really thankful for that. You know? I was never taught to look at plants as a source of food or even really sources of medicine. As an indigenous person I was taught to look at plants as my friends, as my allies, as my relatives. I think probably because of that I actually have a gift for connecting people with plants. I can meet someone and get to know them a little bit and I can visualize a particular plant that I know would provide some healing for them. Whether it’s emotional, mental, physical or spiritual. It’s a really cool gift to have. Sometimes I’ll leave and i’ll have a dream or a vision about a person or a plant and I know i’m suppose to connect those two spirits together for some greater good. I’ve always been really thankful for that and I know i’ve done a pretty good job of being that advocate. So, it didn’t surprise me when a friend of mine, that i’ve helped quite a bit with connecting her with a plant that’s helped her a lot, came to me and said “you know what? You should totally start a herbal Tinder app. You should get people to upload profiles that tell about themselves and then you can hook them up with a plant”. All I could picture is people looking at their phone like “ouuu enchanter’s nightshade… swipe right” or “skunk cabbage… swipe left” (laughs). 

It sounded really silly to me but it got me to thinking about that fact that the relationships we have with human beings are actually really similar to the relationships we have with plants or the relationships we TRY to have with plants. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to anthropomorphize. I do not believe that plants have to have human qualities in order for us to consider them sacred or in order for us to consider them sentient. But if you think about it a lot of the strategies that we employ in healthy human to human relationships are probably the same strategies that we are employing to build relationships with our plant relatives. You want to be a good communicator when you’re working with plants or people, right? You want to be respective, you want to compromise. If a plant doesn’t want you to pull it up by their roots, you don’t pull it up by their roots; you figure out another way. Right? You apologize when you do something wrong. You give space and make each other feel safe. And you trust each other.

I can’t think of a better way to exemplify these ideas of relationship building and thinking of plants as our relatives then by telling you some of my absolute favourite plant stories. These are traditional stories of multiple indigenous groups, the Lakota, the Catawba, the Duka all sorts of nations, about relationships between human beings and their plant relatives that have been built up and then built upon over thousands of years. These are stories that are really important to me so it’s important to me to share them. It’s also really important for you to take them in a good way because i want you to see the incredible benefits of building a supporting, loving, caring relationships with our plant relatives. And I want you to take action, I want you to stand up for these plant relatives just as you do your human relatives. I want you to defend them. Above all, I hope these stories will help you to see the consequences of what happens when we neglect our relationships. I want you to see the consequences of that because our lives really do depend on our relatives, whether they are human or plants, and they depend on us too.

The first story is about the buffaloberry. If you’ve ever tried the argentia buffaloberry you’d know that it is like nothing else you have ever tried. The reason why not many people have tried it, is because this only grows in a particular area of the northern great plains. So that’s North Dakota, South Dakota, a little bit in Wyoming and Montana and that’s pretty much it. It should be on your bucket list to try a buffaloberry at least once in your life! They are insanely delicious. It’s indescribable. They have this fresh berry flavor and it’s amazing. But they’re also a little tricky to harvest. There are short thorn-like spurs all over the plant protecting the berries. So when you go to harvest them it protects itself. It might be saying “don’t take too many of me” or “okay i’m sacrificing for you? you’re gonna sacrifice a little too”. I remember this elder telling me this story of when he six years old. The first time he had a slice of buffaloberry pie, that his sister had made. He said he obsessed over it. He said he literally waited an entire year until he was 7 years old and he went to his sister and he said “I want buffaloberry pie!” Right at the season when they’re ready. The prime time to harvest them is actually after the first frost, you want it to freeze a little bit and for the sugars to condense. Before that first frost they’re a little too tarty but after the first frost they are sweet and delicious.

So he waited that whole time and remembered the whole year where they were and she told him “you know, it’s really tough to get enough buffaloberry to make a pie!” She said, “But if you go out and you fill this milk jug with enough buffaloberry, i’ll make a pie for you!” So, he went out and 6 hours later, he had filled the jug and he came back in with these scrapes and bloody wounds all over his tiny little 7 year old hands. He said it was all worth it! She made the most amazing pie! So, two days later when two elders came to his door and asked him to help them pick buffaloberry, he was torn. They had 5 gallon buckets with them. They said “we’ll make pie, if you help us come pick buffaloberry!” He was hesitant but said alright. So he went out with them to pick buffaloberry, trying his hardest not to hit those thorns because his hands hadn’t even healed yet. But then one of the elderly women did something a little weird. She took a bedsheet and she spreaded it out under the buffaloberry shrub and she got a broom out of her car and she just went *wack* on the buffaloberry bush. Then 5 gallons of buffaloberry fell onto the sheet in about 60 seconds. He just stood there and he couldn’t even be happy! He was pissed off! He said he went home and got really mad at his sister and told her “now you’re making a pie with these berries, because you never told me!” So, it’s what we learn, right? When we get to know our plant relatives they tell us these kinds of things. Like the best ways to harvest them for the benefit of both of us, they let us know this stuff.

 

Another one my favourite plant stories is something that I think is just amazing. Many years ago, an elder told me that when you pick sand cherries (Prunus pumila or aunyeyapi in the lakota language) you have to approach them from downwind.  Otherwise, they’ll smell you and they’ll turn bitter. I kind of giggled about it. I was trained as a western scientist so I was always like, oh okay, they “smell” me. For many years, I wondered why some of the sand cherries i was picking were sweet and some were bitter. It always bugged me. What the elders said rang in the back of my head, because they know. They have built these relationships over thousands of years through this data that’s been passed down from our ancestors, getting to know these plants getting to know the land so perfectly and so intimately. And I was a fool to just sort of laugh off what they told me, but I was young. So, we did some research and we found that sand cherries actually have breathing pores (stomata) that open up and close and they do indeed pick up on our pheromones to protect themselves from humans and the deer eating too many of them. They pick up on our pheromones and produce bitter alkaloids when they smell us coming. Right? Plants are smart and elders are smart. They are intelligent! If i had learned to respect my relatives, get to know them better and understand the experience of my elders, I would have saved myself a lot of bitter sand cherries.

So, this is Timpsila, in english some people call it breadroot, breadroot skurvpe, indian turnip or indian prarier. I’ve heard it called a lot of things. This is probably one of the most important foods of great plains people. It’s a complex carbohydrate and absolutely delicious. I’ve always thought that turnip was a weird name for it because they don’t taste like turnip. They do have that earthy, sort of root flavour but the texture is totally different. They have a meaty texture and is able to pick up that buffalo broth (or vegetable broth) when you cook them. I always tell my students that if we could stop eating those white foods, (the colour of the food not food brought by white people, but those too!)– If we stopped eating things like potatoes, rice and pasta and replaced it with these, we would really save ourselves a lot of the diabetes epidemic because this is really a carbohydrate. It fills you up, it burns slow and is also really delicious.

Through a long time of really getting to know this plant and talking to people and community members, when you harvest timpsila you stick the shovel in the ground, pop the shovel up and the root will pop up with the plant still attached. So you pull the root off of the plant and you always stick the plant without the root back into the ground standing up. You leave them standing up because the seeds, even after taking the root off, will still mature. The plant will dry up, roll away and they’ll disperse the seeds later. Over thousands of years of our relatives getting to know this plant, they’ve listened to this plant about the best ways to harvest it. In order to make sure that we are helping perpetuate these populations.

Additionally, these are chokecherries, the traditional way to harvest chokecherries is to harvest them and then mash them with a stone, pit and all. The pits contain really important fido-nutrients, proteins and complex carbohydrates. In fact, elders will tell you that it is really important to eat the pit because that is where the medicine is. A traditional chokecherry dish is chokecherry patties, where we’ve taken our chokecherries put them into a hamburger patty and let them dry in the sun. Later on we reconstitute those patties add a bit of water and that’s chokecherry pudding. We call it wojabi.

I can see some of you getting a bit uncomfortable because we know that chokecherry pits contain cyanide. We actually did some research and found that one chokecherry patty would be enough to kill a 250Ibs man. So how is it that we have turned this into absolutely one of the most vital food sources that we ate today? What happens is, during the crushing and drying process, we are actually breaking the bond between the cyanide and the carbohydrate that it’s attached to. As it dries, the cyanide dissipates as a gas, so you’re only left with all of the nutrition. It’s native science. That is something that we have come to learn and understand over thousands of years of developing these relationships with these plants. I always hate when people try to reduce indigenous knowledge to trial and error. It’s so much more than that; it’s not trial and error. We are scientists. We are the original scientists. We experiment, we learn and we observe over thousands of years with this relationship with our relatives.

This next plant is one of my favourite plants, lavender hyssop. It helps us develop loving relationships. When people want to kiss their sweetheart or develop those relationships, they’ll chew on these leaves to freshen their breath. This is  the first breath fresheners. It taste like black licorice. It’s so good! We love it. The Lakota name is “wahpe’ yata’pi” which actually means “the leaf that you chew.” My grandmother told me this story: she had been dating my grandfather for a long time and had decided she was ready to kiss him. That was a big step back in the day. She didn’t want to seem too forward, you know? But she wanted to make sure she was ready. So she stuck some wahpe’ yata’pi in her purse and when they went on their date she chewed some of it. After a while, he kissed her and left a big smooch on her. She reacted with a gasp and said “how dare you!” and he responded “psshh i smelt that wahpe’ yata’pi on your breath! I knew what was going on.” So this is a plant we’ve gotten to know because it brings people together.

Above: Sweetgrass, Hierochloe odorata

Next is sweetgrass, one of my favourites. It has actually taught us how it loves to be harvested. So many plants, I have to tell my students do not pull that plant up by the roots, if you leave the roots in the ground it will actually send up new plants for the next year. Sweetgrass isn’t like that. When you harvest sweetgrass you actually do want to pull it up by their roots to help thin it out. Sweetgrass is a ceremonial plant. Up until i was four years old our spiritual practices and religion were illegal and we were not allowed to grow any of our native ceremonial plants. We found that in the areas that we were unable to plant sweetgrass, they choked themselves out. They died because there was no one to thin their roots for them. It always hurts me to talk about that because i always think, gosh, i had a responsibility that i was unable to fill.

I remember an elder, Helmina Makes Him First, telling me that she remembers when she was little riding on Standing Rock and taking her horse and carriage. They loaded it up and rode it all the way from Little Eagle, South Dakota (the southern side of the reservation) all the way to where Cannonball and the Missouri river meets. So, the place where the Dakota Access Pipeline camps were set up has always been a very important gathering place for native people. A place where we would go to harvest plants and get to know these plants. Helmina said she remembers being so young and riding in a horse and buggy all the way up to Cannonball and camping there with 5 or 6 other families. They would spend days, eating singing and laughing together around fires, all harvesting sweetgrass from the sweetgrass beds there. In the 1950’s and 60’s through something called the Pick Sloan project, they built a series of dams all along the Missouri River that drowned all the sweetgrass in those areas. I remember Helmina telling me that back when she was little, they would go there and they’d harvest all of the sweetgrass, putting them in bundles so lovingly. Once they were packed in the back of the carriage, she remembers riding back in beds of sweetgrass and smelling it all the way home. When they got home, they spent weeks braiding sweetgrass and hanging it all throughout the house and to share with the community. She said that for months the house smelt like sweetgrass. They would sing songs and certain prayers to the sweetgrass. It’s always really difficult for me to talk about this because my kids will never know what that’s like. Because of the Pick–Sloan Program my kids do not sing those songs and they don’t know the prayers. We have nowhere to harvest sweetgrass on Standing Rock. I have nowhere to take them to do that. They  have no idea what it’s like to have those braids hanging through the house for months and smelling the sweetgrass. To them, sweetgrass is something we have to buy in a store and braids from people. These are the kind of relationships that we’ve built with these plants– even because of things that are not our fault, we have still neglected our relationship with these plants, and that harms usNot just because we don’t have access to that plant but because we no longer have that relationship.

I guess i do have a few favourite plants, this is one of them. I’ve heard it called “hog peanut”; we call it “mouse bean” in English and in Lakota we call it Makhatomnica which means “earth bean.” That’s because it develops two kinds of beans. There are these little small unpalatable pods above ground on the plant but then below ground it actually develops these beans. Some of the pods will twist their way into the ground to develop below ground and they grow to be delicious, meaty and larger than lima beans.. It actually has more protein than any other legume in existence. These large beans are a really important food source for two organisms. The first organism is the meadow mouse, who will tunnel into the ground to collect beans from the plant and then cache them in these grapefruit-sized caches all throughout the cottonwood forest. (Those same cottonwood forest were adjacent to where the sweetgrass once grew. These forests no longer exist, again because of the Pick-Sloan program.) The caches would sit on the surface of the soil and are difficult to see if you don’t have project.

Before the 50’s and 60’s, this bean was also one of the most important food sources for the Lakota, Dakota people and all the people along the river. A lot of the elders and women that I worked with remember the time when they were little before the Pick-Sloan program made this plant go locally extinct. They would walk with their grandmother(s?) through those cottonwood forests, which were so thick the path was like a tunnel.They would watch their grandmother, she carried a stick, she would be able to stick her stick into the cache, move it around a tiny bit without disturbing it and know exactly what bean was inside. Can you image getting to know these things that well? So, after finding one with mouse beans, they didn’t dig into the ground. These beans are difficult to harvest. They let the mice do the work for them. They would remove the top of the cache and take some or all of the beans. Then, they’d reach into a pouch on their waist and replace the beans with berries, animal fats or dried corn. As they walked behind their grandmothers, they remembered their grandmothers singing to the mice. The song was so beautiful it would echo off the cottonwood canopy. They’d sing to the mice saying thank you. Thank you for harvesting this amazing food for my children and I promise you that I will not let your children go hungry. They recognized that reciprocal relationship. Everyone thinks of the Lakotas and Dakotas as these great hunters of the mighty buffalo and having this relationship with the buffalo and that’s true! But they also had relationship with the tiny little meadow mice as well. My children will never know this experience or hear their grandmothers’ songs to the mice because these relationships have been broken.

Something I remind myself is that just like human relationships can mend, these relationships that we have with the plants and these stories can continue. My kids may have missed out but my grandchildren do not have to. We can mend these relationships and help perpetuate them. We have to remember that our relatives depend on us and we depend on them. Not just for medicine, we depend on them mentally, emotionally, physically and spiritually.

So, I’ve shared these stories with you, stories that in order to save and share i have sacrificed a lot. Two years since standing rock i have been tear gassed, shot at with rubber bullets and escaped arrest. Now, I am sharing that with you. You can take these as fun stories,I just hope that you will take these and think of them as a responsibility that you have too have these plants. If you are going to live on this stolen land then i ask you to take action and stand next to me when i am fighting for these relatives. Don’t just go to the store and buy them and not consider how they got there. Think about them. Think about those people who are fighting for their relatives. Fighting for your relatives everyday. It’s not just the plants too, it’s the water. I hear people say that the momentum for Standing Rock is over. That’s not true! People are still fighting. I have friends who are still fighting the Line 3 pipeline in Minnesota. Indigenous people are standing up for their plant relatives. They are fighting for their wild rice relatives.There are people sacrificing their blood, sweat, and tears for wild rice that you probably buy online. Stand next to them. If you can’t be in Minnesota to support them, find other ways. Our plant relatives need us. They depend on us.

Above (click for more):  parts of Makhatomnica, mouse bean, Amphicarpaea bracteata. 

Next is sweetgrass, one of my favourites. It has actually taught us how it loves to be harvested. So many plants, I have to tell my students do not pull that plant up by the roots, if you leave the roots in the ground it will actually send up new plants for the next year. Sweetgrass isn’t like that. When you harvest sweetgrass you actually do want to pull it up by their roots to help thin it out. Sweetgrass is a ceremonial plant. Up until i was four years old our spiritual practices and religion were illegal and we were not allowed to grow any of our native ceremonial plants. We found that in the areas that we were unable to plant sweetgrass, they choked themselves out. They died because there was no one to thin their roots for them. It always hurts me to talk about that because i always think, gosh, i had a responsibility that i was unable to fill.

I remember an elder, Helmina Makes Him First, telling me that she remembers when she was little riding on Standing Rock and taking her horse and carriage. They loaded it up and rode it all the way from Little Eagle, South Dakota (the southern side of the reservation) all the way to where Cannonball and the Missouri river meets. So, the place where the Dakota Access Pipeline camps were set up has always been a very important gathering place for native people. A place where we would go to harvest plants and get to know these plants. Helmina said she remembers being so young and riding in a horse and buggy all the way up to Cannonball and camping there with 5 or 6 other families. They would spend days, eating singing and laughing together around fires, all harvesting sweetgrass from the sweetgrass beds there. In the 1950’s and 60’s through something called the Pick Sloan project, they built a series of dams all along the Missouri River that drowned all the sweetgrass in those areas. I remember Helmina telling me that back when she was little, they would go there and they’d harvest all of the sweetgrass, putting them in bundles so lovingly. Once they were packed in the back of the carriage, she remembers riding back in beds of sweetgrass and smelling it all the way home. When they got home, they spent weeks braiding sweetgrass and hanging it all throughout the house and to share with the community. She said that for months the house smelt like sweetgrass. They would sing songs and certain prayers to the sweetgrass. It’s always really difficult for me to talk about this because my kids will never know what that’s like. Because of the Pick–Sloan Program my kids do not sing those songs and they don’t know the prayers. We have nowhere to harvest sweetgrass on Standing Rock. I have nowhere to take them to do that. They  have no idea what it’s like to have those braids hanging through the house for months and smelling the sweetgrass. To them, sweetgrass is something we have to buy in a store and braids from people. These are the kind of relationships that we’ve built with these plants– even because of things that are not our fault, we have still neglected our relationship with these plants, and that harms usNot just because we don’t have access to that plant but because we no longer have that relationship.

I guess i do have a few favourite plants, this is one of them. I’ve heard it called “hog peanut”; we call it “mouse bean” in English and in Lakota we call it Makhatomnica which means “earth bean.” That’s because it develops two kinds of beans. There are these little small unpalatable pods above ground on the plant but then below ground it actually develops these beans. Some of the pods will twist their way into the ground to develop below ground and they grow to be delicious, meaty and larger than lima beans.. It actually has more protein than any other legume in existence. These large beans are a really important food source for two organisms. The first organism is the meadow mouse, who will tunnel into the ground to collect beans from the plant and then cache them in these grapefruit-sized caches all throughout the cottonwood forest. (Those same cottonwood forest were adjacent to where the sweetgrass once grew. These forests no longer exist, again because of the Pick-Sloan program.) The caches would sit on the surface of the soil and are difficult to see if you don’t have project.

Before the 50’s and 60’s, this bean was also one of the most important food sources for the Lakota, Dakota people and all the people along the river. A lot of the elders and women that I worked with remember the time when they were little before the Pick-Sloan program made this plant go locally extinct. They would walk with their grandmother(s?) through those cottonwood forests, which were so thick the path was like a tunnel.They would watch their grandmother, she carried a stick, she would be able to stick her stick into the cache, move it around a tiny bit without disturbing it and know exactly what bean was inside. Can you image getting to know these things that well? So, after finding one with mouse beans, they didn’t dig into the ground. These beans are difficult to harvest. They let the mice do the work for them. They would remove the top of the cache and take some or all of the beans. Then, they’d reach into a pouch on their waist and replace the beans with berries, animal fats or dried corn. As they walked behind their grandmothers, they remembered their grandmothers singing to the mice. The song was so beautiful it would echo off the cottonwood canopy. They’d sing to the mice saying thank you. Thank you for harvesting this amazing food for my children and I promise you that I will not let your children go hungry. They recognized that reciprocal relationship. Everyone thinks of the Lakotas and Dakotas as these great hunters of the mighty buffalo and having this relationship with the buffalo and that’s true! But they also had relationship with the tiny little meadow mice as well. My children will never know this experience or hear their grandmothers’ songs to the mice because these relationships have been broken.

Something I remind myself is that just like human relationships can mend, these relationships that we have with the plants and these stories can continue. My kids may have missed out but my grandchildren do not have to. We can mend these relationships and help perpetuate them. We have to remember that our relatives depend on us and we depend on them. Not just for medicine, we depend on them mentally, emotionally, physically and spiritually.

So, I’ve shared these stories with you, stories that in order to save and share i have sacrificed a lot. Two years since standing rock i have been tear gassed, shot at with rubber bullets and escaped arrest. Now, I am sharing that with you. You can take these as fun stories,I just hope that you will take these and think of them as a responsibility that you have too have these plants. If you are going to live on this stolen land then i ask you to take action and stand next to me when i am fighting for these relatives. Don’t just go to the store and buy them and not consider how they got there. Think about them. Think about those people who are fighting for their relatives. Fighting for your relatives everyday. It’s not just the plants too, it’s the water. I hear people say that the momentum for Standing Rock is over. That’s not true! People are still fighting. I have friends who are still fighting the Line 3 pipeline in Minnesota. Indigenous people are standing up for their plant relatives. They are fighting for their wild rice relatives.There are people sacrificing their blood, sweat, and tears for wild rice that you probably buy online. Stand next to them. If you can’t be in Minnesota to support them, find other ways. Our plant relatives need us. They depend on us.


Linda Black Elk 

(Catawba Nation) is an ethnobotanist specializing in teaching about culturally important plants and their uses as food and medicine. Linda works to build curriculum and ways of thinking that will promote and protect food sovereignty, traditional plant knowledge, and environmental quality as an extension of the fight against hydraulic fracturing and the fossil fuels industry. She has written for numerous publications, and is the author of “Watoto Unyutapi”, a field guide to edible wild plants of the Dakota people. Linda is the mother to three Hunkpapa Lakota boys and is a lecturer at Sitting Bull College in Fort Yates, North Dakota. Since 2001, she has taught many courses from English, Math and Native American Studies, to Science Education and Ethnobotany. Linda also serves as the Director of Traditional Medicine at the Mni Wiconi Clinic, which is a fully integrative clinic focusing on decolonized medicine that will soon be opening on the Standing Rock Reservation.

L’eau Est La Vie, Water is Life:

black and white illustration of women rowing in a bayou with various sea creatures and animals surrounded them. It reads "water is life. stop the bayou bridge pipeline"

Fighting the Bayou Bridge Pipeline in Louisiana

by Anne White Hat

The Atchafalaya Basin in southern Louisiana is the largest river swamp in North America and one of the most productive wetlands in the world. Its 885,000 acres provide habitat for a vast array of wildlife, including half of the continent’s migratory waterfowl. 

Since time immemorial, people have centered their life-ways on the Basin: from the indigenous Houma and Atakapa-Ishak nations, to the Cajuns and crawfishermen who came later.  It is a special place where land becomes water, where life flourishes as it pours into the sea. But the Atchafalaya Basin is under attack. Corporations are ramping up the development of oil and gas infrastructure in its waterways. Large access canals and pipelines dredged through the swamp have fundamentally altered its geology, disrupting the north-south water flow and creating sedimentary build-up that fills natural bayous, preventing the Basin from serving its natural role as a floodplain. In addition to dams (constructed by the oil industry), some parts of the Basin have two kilometers of man-made canals for every one kilometer of natural bayou.

All of this meddling has impaired water quality, destroyed wildlife habitats, and wreaked havoc on the livelihoods of crawfishing communities. The last few years have seen serious floods hit communities throughout Louisiana, and the flooding will only get worse as the Atchafalaya Basin continues to wither. Our state is losing an acre of coastal wetlands every hour.

The last thing we need is another pipeline through the Basin. Yet that’s exactly what Energy Transfer Partners (ETP), the company behind the Dakota Access Pipeline, is proposing.

They’re calling it the “Bayou Bridge Pipeline,” but we call it a threat to everything we hold scared — and it’s already under construction. Its proposed 162-mile length will cross an astounding 700 bodies of water, including Bayou LaFourche, a critical reservoir that supplies the United Houma Nation and 300,000 Louisiana residents with clean, safe drinking water. This not only violates the sovereignty of the Houma and other nations, but it also threatens sacred mounds and traditional “marker trees” (ancient Cypresses) along its path.

Furthermore, the pipeline would destroy our economy by adding to the already enormous problems that pipelines have created for the crawfishing industry, which supports thousands of good jobs. By ETP’s own admission, the Bayou Bridge Pipeline would create only 12 permanent jobs. It’s clear that this project only serves the needs of industry, at the cost of more of our precious wetlands, with unforeseeable impacts on flooding throughout the entire state of Louisiana. This pipeline is incompatible with humanity’s goal to limit emissions and stop climate change. It is incompatible with the belief in our hearts that water is sacred, and water is life.

To fight this pipeline, we have formed the L’eau Est La Vie Camp, a frontline resistance camp. L’eau Est La Vie means “water is life” in French, and the camp is backed by a coalition of indigenous nations, water protectors, local landowners, crawfishermen, faith-based congregations, and environmental groups. Holding space in the traditional territory of the Atakapa-Ishak Nation, which we have entered with their blessing, our camp serves as a home-base to monitor the proposed route, build relationships with nearby landowners, and reclaim land under the vision of a just transition and sustainable future.

We are targeting the Bayou Bridge Pipeline and the company behind it, ETP, with both legal interventions and strategic non-violent direct actions. With lessons learned from allied pipeline resistance efforts, we are appealing the permits awarded by the Army Corps of Engineers and Louisiana Department of Natural Resources, alleging that these groups have failed to consider irreparable harms to both the Atchafalaya Basin and the coastal community around St. James Parish in southern Louisiana. We are also fighting in court to receive public records regarding communications between the companies behind this project and our local sheriffs, as well as with the governor of Louisiana.

Our coalition is working to develop and implement Louisiana Water Protector Training for every person that joins Camp, as well as folks in communities across southern Louisiana. Water protectors are trained to look for specific Energy Transfer Partners construction permit violations and report them to the appropriate agency. We also provide a comprehensive overview of the Bayou Bridge Pipeline and environmental history as well as laws regarding waterways. To date, nearly 100 water protectors have been trained and monitoring is being coordinated amongst our coalition via Signal app and Facebook reporting, with daily-on-the-ground updates provided by L’eau Est La Vie water protectors. This strategy builds internal power and also sends a strong message to ETP: Louisiana isn’t as friendly to oil and gas as they have been told.

In a recent exploratory excursion, we noted and took samples of Louisiana’s old-growth “legacy” Cypress trees in the Atchafalaya Basin. These trees are estimated to be more than 400 years old and are often referred to as the “Noah’s Arc” of the wetlands because they are home to wildlife during storms and high waters. While the number of these old growth trees that lie within the Bayou Bridge Pipeline’s route is unknown, its 75-foot wide right-of-way will permanently destroy at least 940 acres of these wetlands.

In addition, water protectors also discovered a work-site where construction crews had cut the fencing on the property easement and left it open. A horse was found entangled in the barbed-wire. They were able to free the mare, and our online petition garnered nearly 75,000 signatures in just 3 days calling for ETP to be charged with animal cruelty.

ETP is also the same company behind the notorious Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) and also hired Tiger Swan, the private security firm that committed horrendous human rights abuses at Standing Rock. Tiger Swan applied for their license to operate in Louisiana but were denied due to our coalition organizing efforts. They have appealed. Meanwhile, the Louisiana’s Governor reportedly told the Baton Rouge Advocate that “another pipeline traversing the Atchafalaya Basin” wasn’t going to keep him up at night.

The collusion and apathy of our leaders is unacceptable. As we inch closer every day to a real climate catastrophe, it is up to water protectors and the people we stand with to shut down these projects by any and all non-violent means.

We are striving to create the systems of change necessary for a drastic shift towards clean energy, challenging systems of oppression within the Deep South at the heart of oil and gas country. By launching L’eau Est La Vie Camp as a home-base on the route of the proposed Bayou Bridge Pipeline, we have opened avenues of direct action, strategic organizing, and political resistance. We envision this land becoming a space devoted to multi-generational skill shares, radical art creation, activist retreat space, and everything else needed in a just transition toward a clean energy economy throughout the Gulf Coast region.

Oil and gas companies often build their infrastructure in Louisiana because they expect acquiescence from the people. Their industries have been long intertwined with our livelihoods; we have, sadly, come to see their infrastructure in our bayous and swamps as normal. But Louisiana is rising to challenge that situation. Folks are standing up to say “no more.” Inspired by the example of our relatives at Standing Rock, as well as those resisting Kinder Morgan’s TransMountain project in Canada, we are building community around defence of the sacred. We will not let them take our Basin and the life that flourishes there.


 

Anne White Hat
Anne White Hat is a member of the Aśke Gluwipi Tiośpaye of the Sicangu Lakota Nation from Rosebud, South Dakota. She is a mother and herbalist living in New Orleans, Louisiana and serves on the Advisory Council for L’eau Est La Vie Camp, a project of Louisiana Rise.

Tiny House Warriors: Secwepemc Cultural Resurgence and Resistance

black and white of protestors standing with their fist up by their tiny house. text reads "tiny house warriors"

By Ruby Smith Diaz

Land defender Kanahus Manuel explains how ten tiny houses can help stop a pipeline.

 Can you introduce yourself?

 I’m Kanahus Manuel, of the Secwepemc nation and Warrior Society and Tiny House Warriors: Our Land is Home.

Tell us about the Tiny House Warriors project.

Tiny House Warriors: Our Land is Home is a project to build ten tiny houses that will be placed strategically on the path of the Kinder Morgan Pipeline to assert our Secwepemc authority and our Secwepemc decision-making on our lands. Our people got together in a historic gathering last summer, and the consensus was that there is no consent for this pipeline. That’s what we’re standing on right now — that declaration of our people, as well as our ancestors, that said never cede, never surrender our territories. This is the power that we’re standing on by going out and putting these homes on our territories.

What inspired you to launch this specific form of resistance against the Kinder Morgan Pipeline?

We looked at all the different issues that we are facing as Indigenous people. This project is not just to stop the pipeline. It is to create a solution to the housing crisis that all of us are facing, not just our community– it’s for people in the activist community, people within my own immediate family to learn [alternative building skills] to better our movements. Right now we’re doing the interior decorating of our first tiny house, and that one’s going to be deployed very soon. The second one is our elders’ tiny house and it’s built on a 24’ trailer. We wanted it to be a little bit bigger to accommodate elders. We want to have it in a very beautiful pristine part of our territory, where elders can come and be protecting the land and the sacred area that we chose to make that stand. The elders’ house is also going to be the language immersion place, because all of our language teachers and elders say we’re going to lose our language if it’s [only taught] in the classroom.

And so everything is based on the land. There’s [so many] different reasons why we chose to build tiny houses. First of all, right now, Indigenous people are stuck on this 0.2% of reserve land– meaning that if you calculate all the Indian reserves of Canada, it makes up 0.2% of the land base. Not even 1%. So the other 99.8% of our traditional territories is being developed, [is subject to] industrial resource extraction that has been happening since contact. Mining and pipelines are some of these things that are threatening our territory. Our people, although we have always been pushed onto the 0.2%, we still maintain current use traditional use on our territories including berry picking, medicine harvesting, and sacred fasting areas. We still depend on clean water as a main part of our ceremonies. In order for us to conduct our sacred ancient ceremonies, we need clean water, and so there’s going to be many different impacts on our traditions by having that pipeline going through, and that’s why people are opposed to this pipeline.

People are looking at tiny houses as a solution in a housing crisis globally. So that’s another reason why tiny houses became a way for us to make a stand. We’re building our homes, the land is our home, and we’re connecting those dots for people that don’t see the earth as our home. Our land is going to be a really beautiful area;  we’re looking at doing some intensive gardening. These are things that Wolverine* (“Wolverine was a Secwepemc elder and land defender, Gustafsen Lake who passed away in 2016”)  has taught us and [folks from] the other resistance camp* (Unistoten) has taught us too. Some will live, some will die and the strong ones will survive, so we need to start producing our own food. And so with Tiny House Warriors, Ruby, we don’t want to just be setting up camp, to just be another Standing Rock where we’re going to make our last stand right there. No, we want to build villages, we want to build hope, we want to build our dreams and imagination and creativity. We want food, beautiful homes, clean water, language, culture, dance, songs.

We even want entrepreneurship for our young people. We want some kind of economic interest. We have economic interest in every tree that is coming off of our territory, everything that’s being transported through our territory right now. I’m sitting here looking at the Trans Canada Highway, as millions of dollars [worth of resources] are being transported through here. When we were figuring what homes we were going to establish on our territory we chose to go with tiny houses because they’re fast, because the rest of the country is landlocked. The Trans-Canada and CPR crosses Neskonlith Indian Reserve, crossing our own natural transportation corridor, the river.   Transporting every raw product across our homelands: Cars, coal gas, heavy machinery, military equipment, tires– the same corridor that is linked to the alberta tar sands that we are also fighting. They need these transportation corridors to come through our lands, in order to get things to the global market. I’m looking at a truck full of oil or gas, that’s going by right now as I speak, while our little 0.2% holds some of the most impoverished communities.

So Tiny House Warriors is giving hope to the nation that we can leave the reservations, and exclusively occupy traditional territories. We can go out there and say we are upholding our own laws, and our own rights to self determination; we can say no to projects like Kinder Morgan and Canada must respect that. Right now, Canada is violating our rights by [Trudeau giving] the federal “ok” to go through with this pipeline. But he doesn’t have our consent. So there’s many different people involved in this violation of international Indigenous and human rights right now.

To back up little bit: obviously the tiny houses are mobile projects. What do you think is the benefit of having this kind of specific resistance that are literal homes on wheels, instead some other traditional structures that have been built on the territory in the past for similar purposes?

As Secwepemc people we’ve always been tiny house living and so building this type of structure is nothing really different for us. We’ve built traditional underground pit houses, we’ve built cord wood houses, we’ve built all kinds of alternative and traditional housing. These homes are sacred sanctuaries cause our homes are the whole basis of our family life and who we are as Secwepemc people. We’ve had cedar bark lodges, we’ve had houses that are the most advanced architecture for our lands. We want to build underground traditional homes; when we’re figuring what homes we’re going to establish on our territory, we chose to go with tiny houses because they’re fast. You can get the shell of the whole house up in 2 or 3 days and have someone actually living in there while you continue to work on it. Our goal is to establish hundreds of pit houses and traditional homes on our territory cause I know personally how it is to live in an underground traditional pit house. You know, my partner built one for us and I raise my children in there. [The pit house] gives you more than you’ll ever imagine– a sense of how it was to live in the past. For instance, living in one structure that’s round, you don’t have walls, you don’t have rooms that separate your children from the parents. You’re all in one family, you have to learn how to collectively live together in a small space. That’s an art, that’s a very necessary art right now. How we’re going to live together as a people.

And so we’re building tiny houses now to stop this pipeline. Our goal is to have ten tiny houses on our territory along this 518 km pipeline route, but not stationary. We have them on wheels so we could be mobile out on our lands. We’ve always been a nomadic hunter and gatherer society and that’s what we do during the winter: we follow the seasons, we follow the food. Some of our people haven’t even been to these pristine areas where this pipeline is being proposed. Huckleberries, blueberries, medicines, fresh game, there’s so much out there that’s at risk right now that needs protecting.

Beautiful. So that gives people the opportunity to actually make connections with those sacred places and with those traditional areas in ways that other structures maybe wouldn’t have allowed for. That’s awesome. How were you able to find resources to lead this project?

 Resources are the number one thing that we need in our movements right now, and we’ve been blessed to have made contacts with people who have big networks. Naomi Klein put out a call for donations to LEAP* ( https://theleap.org/give-tiny-house-warriors/) and they were able to secure $16,000 and then LUSH was able to give a big chunk of money as well, the cosmetic company. Now we’re selling Tiny House Warrior Volume One, a music compilation of artists that have come together to donate songs that are on this album. We’re selling this album on Bandcamp for $10 minimum donation. So we’re trying to find creative ways and sources that could help sponsor these tiny houses that doesn’t compromise our principles.

We’re going to be launching a bigger online fundraiser for a spring building camp– we’re hosting a 14-day building camp and hopefully make three or four tiny houses during that time. We’ll need approximately thirty or forty skilled builders to come out to assist, some of them could be labourers. We need five, we’re calling them conductors, but like foremen or crew bosses, that can help.

I’d like to also say that there were volunteer builders that came and volunteered all of their skills to build these tiny homes. Melina had secured some funding as well to solarize the tiny houses that were being built during the [last] spring building camp.

Incredible. On that note, how can people find out more?

We have a website, TinyHousewarriors.com and also we have a facebook page, and the Bandcamp page. And if you google Tiny House Warriors, a lot of news articles will come up and you can get educated in that way too. We had some other famous people, like Leonardo DiCaprio, that post Tiny House Warriors’ photos and information on Instagram. So there are people that are learning about the project and I’m sure that we’re going to be able to collectively come up with the resources to be able to complete all ten [tiny houses]. We’ve built three and we have enough raised for the fourth one, so we’re looking for funds for six more of them. We’re learning a lot as we go along, and you know, the tenth one is going to be like, boom. It’s going to go up like that, so we’re hoping to have these all out by summer.

Amazing. What has been the biggest obstacle that you’ve found during this project?

There’s many different obstacles that you’re faced with as grassroots organizers. Some of them are around funding. [Often it’s] these established organizations that have tax deductible status or non-profit status that are able to raise funds here in Canada. We don’t have that, we’re a grassroots organization, so a lot of our funding needs to be received from non-mainstream sources. That’s why we are dependent people, through crowd-funding and such, to support this project.

I don’t want to have to go too much into it, but for us here at the Secwepemc nation, we’ve had three of the Secwepemc chiefs who have already signed with Kinder Morgan and actually received money, cash deals, from them. And just to help people to understand they’re a federally funded native organization I would call it, more than a band council. People really need to be clear about who they’re putting their support behind: who the grassroots people are, who the tribal people are. We really need support from people who understand where Indigenous people hold the title to our lands; amongst all the 10,500 Secwepemc people that exist in the world that are in on Secwepemc territory– collectively, we are the ones that have a say in our lands. We collectively hold that title to the land, not one elected chief and council can make a decision about our lands. So these are some of the other obstacles, is being able to explain to everyday Canadians the internal politics that go on behind the scenes. As the grassroots people, we really need the support behind us because that’s one of the biggest obstacles we’re facing too in our territories.

Many long term projects and social movements have the tendency to quickly lose people along the way due to disinterest or burnout. However, it seems that you’ve been able to pull together enough people with sustained interest to complete three houses so far, and more planned for the summer. What do you think is different about this project that has helped keep people motivated and committed to help?

It’s the urgency. And just the dire crisis that this planet is in right now. We see the climate change in our everyday harvesting practices. We see the climate change through the wildfires that ravaged our lands last summer. We see that happen in our berry patches and our medicine areas. We see the urgency around standing up now. We know that if this pipeline pushes its way through, the Alberta Tar Sands is going to increase dramatically in size and impact more of our people in the north, our own relatives that are there around the Tar Sands. With the people that we are working with, it’s a life– I don’t want to say it’s a lifestyle, but it’s the way we live. We aren’t saying, oh my daughter’s gonna grow up to be a doctor or a professor, you know. It’s like, we already knew, you can’t turn back and once you wake up in the matrix there’s no going back. You know that the rest of society is fake. And it’s based on non-documentation of our title and our rights to our lands. We should be able to have our homes in the most pristine areas of our territory and that’s where we’re going with our tiny houses. We want people to see that no, you’re not meant to live by the Trans Canada highway, you’re meant to be up there in the beauty of your lands. That’s why they’re ripping all this stuff to drive through the Trans-Canada highway. Everything is based on the lands; you can’t have society without the land. Everything, the whole consumer capitalist society, is based on these resources, on these lands.


 

Ruby Smith – DIAZ
Ruby Smith-Diaz is an afro-latina person born in Edmonton- amiskwacîwâskahikan (ᐊᒥᐢᑿᒌᐚᐢᑲᐦᐃᑲᐣ). Since graduating, with a degree in education, she has found her passion working as a youth facilitator, multi-disciplinary artist, video editor, and body positive personal trainer. Throughout all of her projects, she is deeply invested in the dignity and identity of individuals and supporting them in developing the sense of self-worth and integrity that will make them agents and animators of change in the world, according to their most fierce imaginings.

Kanahus Manuel
Kanahus Manuel, Secwepemc and Ktunaxa, is member of the Secwepemc Women Warriors Society (her unceded Territory lies within so-called British Columbia, Canada), a mother of 4 and a twin , she was born into Indigenous Resistance and Land Defence, coming from a high-profile political family known for bringing their fight for their Traditional Territories and homelands into the spotlight from the local to the international level.  Kanahus’ inheritance of the land struggle has led her to spearhead many Indigenous frontlines. Kanahus is traditional birth keeper, traditional tattoo artist and warrior.

Earth Workers, Not Farmers

illustration of cotton

by Hunter Cascagnette 

Today, small scale commercial farming and agriculture are seen as noble and romantic occupations. But farming across Kanata (Canada) continues to be another form of occupation of Indigenous lands. The rural Canadian landscape is dominated by European settler farmers. These rural farming settlements are breeding ponds for White Supremacy and, as we have recently been reminded through the acquittal of a White farmer in the murder of Cree youth, Colten Boushie, a place of impunity for White farmers who act out violence on the bodies and lands of Indigenous peoples. Throughout the colonial history of these territories, farming and conventional agricultural practices have been pushed on Indigenous communities as a strategy for assimilation, cultural genocide, control and manipulation of the land.

Throughout the 1800’s Agriculture was viewed by the Canadian Government as the best solution for changing a nomadic lifestyle based on subsistence and relationships to vast territories into one that is fixed in place. First Nations people proved themselves to be very successful farmers because of their long history of stewarding these lands alongside growing and harvesting traditional foods. The success of First Nations farmers provoked the state to develop policies intended to protect the interests of settler colonial farmers. Reserve farmland was divided into small 40 acres plots. The small farm plots were created in order to promote individualism, and to continue disrupting Indigenous tribal systems. This process also informed the amount of agricultural land on reserves that would be available for surrender to the Federal government since the Canadian government considered any unused or unallocated land as open for sale or lease to the European settlers.

The 1890s brought more restrictions on farming, and new powers for Indian Agents on the reserves. The Permit System was introduced, requiring Indigenous farmers to have documentation in order to sell produce or to buy equipment. The Permit System required all First Nations to obtain a permit from an Indian agent before they could legally sell their products off-reserve. The restriction prevented Indigenous farmers from competing in the Canadian economy. Local businesses were prohibited from purchasing products from any Indigenous people who did not have a permit. Most infractions by First Nations farmers centred on the enforcement of the Pass and Permit provision in the Indian Act, which prohibited the free flow of people, goods and services to and from reserves. Native people were turned away and faced criminal prosecution if they did not have the mandatory permits or passes. The permit system did irreparable harm to the emerging initiatives of Indigenous farmers. There are cases where crops and produce rotted in the fields because permits could not be obtained.

So much of the natural state of the lands across Turtle Island has been altered through the project of removing Indigenous people and putting land into the hands of pioneer farmers. Agricultural workers have drained ancient wetlands, rivers and streams, polluted ground water with chemical pesticides, disrupted countless ecosystems including old growth forests (around the Great Lakes largely leaving only maple trees because they were seen to have monetary value), severely decreased Indigenous plant species and tree diversity, flattened land, removed massive amounts of rocks and minerals, grown monocrop vegetables and grains, stripped the earth of nutrients and microbial communities, introduced invasive European plant species, and on and on.

The Holland Marsh is a heartbreaking example of the types of violence that have been acted out on the land in the name of agriculture. Located 50 km north of Toronto, this ancient marsh land spanned over 7000 acres and drains into Cook’s Bay, part of Zhooniyaagama (Lake Simcoe). It is no coincidence that this land is known as some of the most “fertile” soil in Canada. The Holland Marsh is a shallow water basin that was once covered by part of glacial Lake Algonquin, and as the lake level dropped, the land shifted and a marsh was formed that was home to countless natural relatives. This marsh provided Indigenous people of these lands such as the Wendat, with the sustenance they needed to survive and thrive. As European settlers started to occupy the area (first through hunting and fishing which started around 1825), the fate of this ancient marsh was forever changed. Around 1900, the Bradford Mattress Factory was clearing the marsh of grasses to use as stuffing for mattresses. Then, in 1904 Dave Watson a Bradford grocer, persuaded William H. Day professor of physics at the Ontario Agricultural College, Guelph, to explore the possibility of draining the marsh. In 1925, without any consultation with First Nations people, the project of draining the wetland began by putting in a canal and dikes 28 km long and 2 m deep around the marsh to divert the “Holland River.” Pumps were installed to control the water table within the dikes. The project was completed in 1930. Immediately afterwards, 18 Dutch families settled on the marsh which marked the beginning of an expanding agricultural community. It took about 500 years for 30cm of organic plant vegetation to accumulate over a layer of clay that lay in the marsh basin. And in only 100 years, we lost this rich, ecologically diverse and ancient wetland to the prioritization of White settlements and agricultural practices.

Another form of ongoing theft of Indigenous lands across Turtle Island that needs to be scrutinized is the “back to the land” or “queer land project” fantasy. White folks who aspire to live on land either collectively with their friends, or in a nuclear family through private purchase of land in order to take up a lifestyle that is attune with nature. Living “rurally” is imagined to be more authentic and less stress inducing than the grind of urban life. Oftentimes, these folks are interested in “land based skills” and (invisibilized) traditional Indigenous practices, such as practicing herbal medicine with plants from these territories, traditional basket making, making maple syrup, harvesting wild plants and foods Native to these lands, wild crafting, harvesting and processing animals that are from these lands, and small scale farming or gardening. Although they claim to be against systems that uphold private land ownership on stolen Native lands, I see “radical” White “settler allied” queer and cis-straight folks legitimize their desire to settle on Indigenous lands in the name of “permaculture”(a holistic approach to farming inspired by Indigenous land stewardship methodologies based on synchronicities in nature) or farming, or by indulging their White saviour complex. The rhetoric often used is that if folks can use their privilege to gain access to private lands, they will be better settlers than the ones before by engaging in more ethical farming and land stewardship practices or by being committed to “sharing” or at least philosophizing about eventually returning title to the land to Indigenous people. The desire to fulfill these “back to the land” fantasies, has nothing to do with Indigenous land sovereignty. How will these ongoing forms of White entitlement and monopoly of these lands truly be different from the legacy of earlier European settlers?

The current agricultural industry across Turtle Island has been built on stolen land, and the stolen labour of Indigenous, Black, Latinx, Asian and People of Colour who have been pushed out of the contemporary rural landscapes through the projects of White Supremacy and cultural genocide. If you want to be a good ally by means of using your privilege for others to gain access to land, there are many Indigenous, Black, and People of Colour networks and collectives where you can donate money and resources to support people in self-determining how they will access lands and build their own land based community healing initiatives. More White settlers having title, control and access to Native lands is not helpful, no matter how benevolent or exceptional you might think you are. If you are a White settler who indulges “back to the land” or “queer land project” fantasies, take a hard look at why you feel entitled to access even more Indigenous lands, trees, plants, medicines, waterways, traditions and land based skills.

As an insider-outsider, a mixed-race Indigenous & White person, I move through rural spaces with ease because of my White passing privilege, despite having to painfully witness all the ways that settlers continue to hold the land hostage for their profit. Over the past few years, I’ve been working to develop good relations with the settler colonial farmer community that I work wage labour in, to create space where Two Spirit people can be prioritized on land, and to engage local farmers in conversations about Indigenous histories of the territories, their treaty responsibilities and land ownership. In the lands where “Ste. Marie Among the Hurons” is a celebrated historical tourist attraction commemorating the first site of French Jesuit settlement, I am actively involved in staging a small intervention in the spirit of *returning*. Myself and another Two Spirit mixed-race Haudenosaunee earth worker steward gardens that are home to many Native plant medicines and foods. By planting traditional foods such as flint corn, Anishinaabe and Haudenosaunee beans, Gete Okosomin and ancient longhouse squash, Seneca sunflowers, sunroots, as well as medicine plants like sweetgrass, traditional tobacco, stinging nettle, wild bergamot, wild ginger, globe thistle, echinacea, blue flag, etc, we are bringing these relatives back to the lands where our ancestors once lived off such sustenance.

As Indigenous people trying to heal our lands, and revive our traditional diets and relationships to the land, from the ceremony of seeding to harvest, we are not farmers, we are earth workers. We work for our mother, the earth. To restore our lands, our traditional roles, treaty responsibilities, and relationships to all of our relations- so that our food/ plant medicines – and all our non-human relatives – can return and prosper; to help the earth, waters and our people to heal.

White settlers should not be profiting economically or morally from continuing to privately own and control land as they engage in the wide appropriation of Indigenous knowledges, while Native people in Kanata have title to only 0.01 percent of these lands. The maple syrup industry is a relevant example, as it trivializes and exploits our sacred cultural relationships to maple trees for the economic gain and access of White settlers. Sugar bushing has been so widely appropriated and practiced by non-Natives that it is now proudly claimed to be part of “Canadian” culture. Sugar bushing was made to be hard work for our people, now plastic tubing is strung from tree to tree in order to streamline the gathering of sap, eliminating a relationship based on intimacy and gratitude. Before the War of 1812, a prophet came to the Shawnee people. He was the brother of Tecumseh, a courageous Shawnee leader and war chief. This prophet was called Tenskwatawa, ‘The Open Door.’ He spoke of how European traders were cheating the Anishinaabeg by giving them whiskey in order rob them. Tenskwatawa attempted to curb the production of sugar making because the people were making too much of it, to the point that they were spoiling the trees by cutting them too much. This was being done so that the Anishinaabeg could sell the excess to the non-Natives in order to trade for European goods and pay off debts to settlers. The Prophet and his brother Tecumseh saw this participation in the settler economy as detrimental to Native independence and wellbeing. The brothers led a cultural revival movement to regain the sovereignty, power and access to resources. The Prophet said that the Anishinaabeg must return to the ways of the forefathers and decline any products or tools of the whiteman. The following is an excerpt of his teachings in reference to maple sugar translated to English. Part of a talk delivered at Le Maiouitonong entrance of Lake Michigan on May 4th 1807:

My Children – I made all the Trees of the forest for your use but the Maple I love best because it yields sugar for your little ones. You must make it only for their use, but sell none of it to the Whites. Besides by making too much you spoil the Trees and give them pain by cutting & hacking them for they have a feeling like yourselves. If you make more than is necessary for your own use you shall die & the maple will yield no more water. If a White man is starving you may sell him a very little corn or a very little sugar but it must be by measure & weight. My Children – you are indebted to the White Traders but you must pay them no more than half their credits because they have cheated you. You must pay them in skins, guns, & canoes but not in meat, corn or sugar,” Tenskwatawa urged us not to participate in the colonial, capitalist economy or to exchange the medicines of our maples, as well as other sacred life sustaining foods with European settlers.

As my father’s family goes out for our annual hunt every fall and winter, we cross through one provincial park, three designated conservation areas (held as “crown land”), and dozens of cottage properties. Being a group of both status and non-status Wiisaakodewininiwag, as soon as we set out into the bush, we are considered trespassers. It is through our hunting, trapping and fishing practices that the men in my family understand their roles and responsibilities as Wiisaakodewininiwag. Without that connection to the land, we would be vert lost. It is through our resilience as a people that we navigate through these colonial borders to keep our culture and harvesting practices alive. At this time of supposed reconciliation between Indigenous people and Canadians, secure access to land for all Indigenous people (First Nations, Inuit, Métis, Status, Non-Status, Mixed Race, living on and off reserve, etc.) needs to be established. “Crown Land” (provincial park & “protected lands”) and privately owned lands held by White settlers, need to be rematriated and returned to Indigenous, Black, Latinx and POC communities and initiatives.

Updates on “Alliston” Aquifer water protection:

The existing Teedon pit quarry excavation site (site 42) in Tiny Township Ontario regularly removes gravel, sand, stone, and clay from “French’s Hill”. This is called aggregate mining. “French’s Hill” is part of the natural filtration system that cleans our local aquifer. Our local water (the “Alliston” Aquifer) has been tested as some of cleanest water in the world. By continuing to extract from French’s Hill they are weakening the natural filtration system which keeps the local aquifer so clean. Dufferin & Aggregates, an Ireland based company and division of CRH Canada, has a current water removal permit that expires mid April. Dufferin have applied for a new 10-year permit to continue to extract water for washing gravel. The company seeks to expand their operation and obtain another permit to take 1.6 million litres per day from a well and 5.2 million litres per day from a washing pond 210 days a year. The water underneath the Teedon pit is recognized as some of the purest water in the world. The existing quarry site was operating an illegal washing pond and only obtained a permit for the pond after it was discovered. Currently, the quarry site is also being used as an asphalt and concrete transfer station. This means large piles of asphalt (bitumen product) are sitting on the land, with no barrier between the asphalt and the ground to prevent contamination of the precious groundwater below. Local residents have been complaining that the “dewatering” being carried out by Dufferin is affecting the quality of their drinking water with cloudy water coming out of the taps. There are currently “community liaison” meetings happening about the renewal of Dufferin’s water removal permit but these meetings are not open to the public. There has been little to no consultation with local First Nations and Métis communities about the permit renewal. People living in the area do not know asphalt is being stored at the site. There is strong opposition to the permit renewal from local Beausoleil First Nation community members, Williams Treaty FN community members, local Métis community members, other local Indigenous community members, and settler residents. Site 42 is a few kilometres from Site 41, where a proposal to put a landfill on top of this same water was shut down in 2009 after many Indigenous people and supporters held a camp across the road from the site in opposition to the landfill. This aquifer is connected to the Waaseyaagami-Wiikwed (Georgian Bay), and the “Wye” and “Tiny” marshes (2 of Ontario’s largest wetland marsh conservation areas). It is our responsibility to protect and defend clean fresh water and all water. Fresh water is under continual threat across Turtle Island. Locally, we will continue doing ceremony for these waters and showing up outside closed meetings. An All Nations water ceremony led by Josephine Mandamin was held on Saturday April 14th at the Site 41 location. Hundreds of Indigenous people from across Turtle Island came together in ceremony to protect these waters. If you want to donate money toward local water defence organizing contact “Anishinabe Kwewag & Supporters” or “Friends of the Waverly Uplands” (make contact with Anne Ritchie; a trusted member of the local settler allied group) on facebook.


Hunter Devyn Cascagnette is a Two Spirit (of Trans experience) mixed-race Wiisaakode/ Michif-Anishinaabe & Euro settler person. An earth worker, hunter, and musician, building towards Two Spirit centric land, food, and plant medicine sovereignty and ecological restoration in their father’s Métis homelands of southern “Muskoka”. They are the co-founder and co-coordinator of a Two Spirit led sustenance sovereignty initiative called Sacred Seeds Collective (FKA Mno Wiisini Gitigaanan),located within Dish With One Spoon and Williams Treaty territory, connected to the sacred waters of Waaseyaagami-wiikwed (Georgian Bay).

Heritage Hall & Black History

by Denise Francis

     The base stones of 83 Essex Street, former British Methodist Episcopal (BME) Church, were set in June of 1880. Its cornerstone was set on September 18th, 1880, as recorded in Guelph newspapers: The Mercury and The Advertiser. The contents of the cornerstone were described in the same article, “Copy of the Holy Scriptures, Hymn Book of the BME Church, copy of the 

Missionary Messenger, the organ of the church, and copies of the Mercury and Herald. The roots of the BME Church were in the American Methodist Episcopal Church and the Underground Railroad. In 1783, after the American Revolution, slaves accompanied their Loyalist masters into Nova Scotia and other British colonies north of the border, some traveling to Upper Canada (Ontario). There had been slavery in Upper Canada as early as the French regime, as there were known slaves in the Windsor area in the mid 1700s.

In 1793, Lt. Governor John Graves Simcoe, an Anglican, regarded slavery as anti-Christian. As a result, he ensured the passage of “An Act to prevent the further introduction of Slaves and to limit the term of contracts for servitude within this Province.” It was the first anti-slavery legislation in the British Empire, and while it was met with resistance from local slave owners, it abolished the lifelong enslavement of the children of slaves, and prevented further slaves from being brought into the colony.

Once news of Simcoe’s legislation reached slave states in the US, Upper Canada became the destination for many escapees, often with the help of the Native community on highland trails. It was upon those trails that the Underground Railroad was created in the late 1820s. The fugitive slave Railroad was originally a loose knit coalition of anti-slavers, most of whom were Hicksite Quakers, who began to aid and abet the movement of escaped slaves into non-slave states and Upper Canada. Once those slaves got beyond the reach of American law, they created communities in border towns like Windsor and Niagara, while others moved inland towards towns like Chatham and the Queen’s Bush Settlement (current day north Waterloo and Wellington counties) on a tributary of the Grand River.

Guelph was established as a village in 1827 and most former fugitives who came through or stayed in the town came north from Lake Ontario and the Niagara River crossings. Between 1793 and 1865, tens of thousands of African-American slaves entered Canada via the network of Native and white anti-slavery activists. President Lincoln ended the slave economy through an executive order known as the Emancipation Proclamation, which took effect on January 1st, 1863. Although slavery was not formally abolished in the United States, until December 1865, when the 13th Amendment became law after the defeat of the South.

Guelph’s place in all that activity was at first no more than a stopping place for most on their way to the Queen’s Bush in north Wellington and Waterloo counties, the largest settlement of escaped slaves in the colony. By the 1850s that settlement was disbanded, and many of the families and individuals dispersed to various communities, some to Guelph, north to Owen Sound and Collingwood or west to Chatham and a myriad of other places throughout the province.

Although Black benevolent societies and fraternal organizations were significant players in helping former slaves in Canada adjust to freedom and the climate of the north, they had a great many allies including Quakers, Native Americans, Methodists, Presbyterians, Congregationalists, Baptists and Anglicans. Other allies included Anti-Slavery societies, of which George Brown’s Toronto newspaper, The Globe was a staunch supporter. There were a number of reformers in the Guelph area who played local roles.

The neighbourhood of Essex and Waterloo streets had first become home to Guelph’s English Methodist Community who named the streets, and then to black settlers who found the community welcoming. Some of the Blacks had Caribbean or Loyalist origins, but more were from Queen’s Bush families. In the 1881 census of the province, two thirds of the 107 Guelphites of African-American origins lived in the neighborhood.

The building at 83 Essex Street ceased to operate as a BME church for more than 20 years from the 1970s to 1994. In 1994 a congregation was reformed under a minister from the Caribbean. The minister and her congregation left the BME Church in 2009. The Guelph Black Heritage Society (GBHS) was formed after the BME Church was listed for sale in November 2011. The GBHS’s offer to purchase the BME Church was accepted and the sale was finalized in December 2012. The Guelph BME Church building has been renamed Heritage Hall.

In August 2013, 83 Essex Street was designated a cultural heritage property by the City of Guelph. The plaque outside the Heritage Hall reads:

“Built in 1880 of local limestone in gothic revival style, the B.M.E. church became the centre of Guelph’s Black community. The city’s early black community of fugitive slaves from the United States settled near Waterloo and Essex streets as workers in area stone quarries. After worshipping in a frame church nearby, this stone church was built as a meeting place and a safe haven.”

The mission of the Guelph Black Heritage Society is to restore and maintain the historical former British Methodist Episcopal Church building. 83 Essex Street, now known as the “Heritage Hall”, serves as a community cultural and spiritual gathering space and promotes Guelph and Wellington County’s distinctive place in Southwestern Ontario’s rich Black heritage.

GBHS activities include providing the community the opportunity to learn about our community’s Black heritage by staging presentations during Black History Month, Emancipation Day and throughout the year; providing space for events, workshops, meeting space for clubs and other community groups, and providing members of the community with rental space for live events (weddings, concerts, day camps, and more).

The Guelph Black Heritage Society is in the midst of the “Rampin’ It Up!” fundraising campaign.  The purpose of this campaign is to achieve wheelchair accessibility into Heritage Hall via the Freedom Ramp, foyer and accessible washroom.  The fundraising goal is $50,000 and we will accept donations of labour and materials to help off-set construction costs.  The Guelph Black Heritage Society is a registered charity. Registration # 80158 3907 RR0001. Tax receipts will be issued for donations.

To learn more about our campaign or to make a donation at our  GoFundMe. 

contact us via email: info@guelphblackheritage.ca

visit our website and facebook


 

Denise Francis
Denise was raised in Guelph and is a graduate of the University of Guelph. Denise is a long-term employee of the Waterloo Catholic District School Board and works in the Human Resource Services Department. Denise is a founding board member of the Guelph Black Heritage Society and currently serves as President / Treasurer.