Selling Out Resistance

by Amelia Meister

Behind closed doors, shortly before COP21 in Paris, the Alberta NDP government met with the leaders of four major tar sands oil producers and four major Non-Governmental Organization (NGOs) that oppose them. What came out of this meeting was a pathetic agreement between all parties that touts “sustainable development” of the tar sands.

The NGOs represented were Equiterre, ForestEthics, the Pembina Institute and Environmental Defence. If you don’t know about these NGOs then let me put them into perspective. ForestEthics, in 2014, spent 1.5 million dollars on their anti-tarsands campaigns, the most of any of their campaigns. In 2012, major social justice lawyer Clayton Ruby joined the organization to push it into the limelight for the good work that it was doing against the tar sands. In short, these are major NGOs with significant resources and support bases. These NGOs have been one of many vocal thorns in the side of tarsands development reaching a wide audience through radio and print ads that more grassroots groups couldn’t afford.

However, what was once direct opposition to any development of the tar sands has become a support for a new agreement with oil conglomerates. The agreement between the Alberta NDPs and the oil companies, supported by these four NGOs is a cap on emissions and development. However, the cap is forty percent greater than current development and emissions. This is hardly a revolutionary deal. Anti-pipeline and anti-tarsands activism, including actions from these four NGOs, has slowed down investment and development in the tar sands and their affiliated pipelines. I wonder, with this new endorsement of “sustainable development”, how these NGOs will continue to be a voice of opposition to the tar sands. If all opposition continued to present a united resistance, development could have been slowed even further, instead of capped at something greater than it is now.

It is jeopardizing to the anti-­tarsands and anti-pipeline movement when the more mainstream view of what is possible consists of “sustainable development” and creating relationships with oil companies for “workable solutions”. Resistance to the tar sands cannot coincide with collaborating with oil companies. There is no such thing as sustainable development of the tar sands. The only sustainable option is for them to cease to exist, something that these NGOs have apparently forgotten. Any development of the tar sands is destructive not only to the delicate boreal forest ecosystem but to the indigenous nations affected by the pollution and deforestation. There was no consultation in this agreement with the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation. These NGOs claim some sort of solidarity with Indigenous peoples of Turtle Island and yet have no problem negotiating a secret deal with oil corporations and government without any consultation. This is yet another perpetuation of the broken colonial systems that allow the tar sands to continue. While it is not surprising that this happened, the non-profit industrial complex continues to perpetuate the patterns of capitalistic and colonial ecological destruction. We must, then, continue direct action, in solidarity with Indigenous peoples, to apply the pressure that these NGOs have ceased to offer.


Amelia Meister
Amelia Meister is a poet, healer and radical single mother. She believes in working hard, loving fiercely and grieving deeply. Her writing appears in a monthly column in the Guelph Mercury and her words have been shared on many stages across Canada.

Migmuessu aqq Wisqq

By: Gesig isaac

I am not an easy person to love. Perhaps if I weave you a basket this may change, however. Growth and transformation is a slow sometimes an unperceivable process. She goes by many names: Black ash, Basket ash, Wisqoq in Mi’gmaq. She likes her feet wet. She likes the swamp. The muck. The dark, damp. She likes to be pounded. Her layers peeled apart and woven.

Growing up I had always been surrounded by these baskets. I never paid too much attention to them. In my young mind I viewed them as a kind of artifact my white mom liked to accumulate and keep around the house with very little explanation as to their relevance.

At first, the baskets may seem funny to look at. They have curls and swirls and my favorite, spikes. Like a porcupine. Fast forward fifteen to twenty years later and I learn that we call these adornments jikij’j. I’ve also know them to be called wijki’kn.

You may see a tree in the forest today and it could be a basket the next. A vessel to carry, hold, transport, aid and adorn. It’s a process, a transformation.

It takes at least thirty years for a decent basket tree to grow. Depending on the weather, soil quality, what tree neighbours she has, she could be an even better basket tree. She doesn’t like cedar as a neighbour. I don’t really know why.

It took me a great deal of searching to find someone to teach me how to weave. I almost gave up a small handful of times. Her name is Irene and she has been in her fair share of bar fights. She comes from a family of basket makers. It’s how she makes her money. She hustles baskets. We have, for quite some time now, been a basket hustling people.

Intergenerational reclamation of traditional knowledge. Or maybe it should be called “Hello, I’m some confused half breed from the city. Please teach me everything you know.”

At times it feels like pulling teeth to find people willing to share their knowledge with me but when I do it is the most invaluable experience and gift. I feel as though I am living, walking and learning in a whole new way; a visceral experience I have not felt before. I am using my Mi’gmaq hands the way my ancestors intended.


Gesig Isaac
Gesig is a self proclaimed angry, misanthropic, half breed femme demon living and weaving in unceded Mi’gmaq territory.

When We Grow Together

by Jamie Holding Eagle

Food culture can be a road to health and healing. However, work cannot stop there.

Diabetes is a chronic health condition disproportionately affecting poor, of colour, and Indigenous communities. In the Upper Midwest of the US, the prevalence rate of Type II diabetes is almost twice as high in the Indigenous population (13%) than in the white population (7%). However, the death rate is six times higher (North Dakota Diabetes Report, 2014). The rates are similarly high among Canada’s First Nations (Diabetes- First Nations and Inuit Health Canada, 2013).

Type II diabetes is a preventable disorder. Type I diabetes is an autoimmune disorder, where the body destroys the insulin-producing cells of the pancreas. Type II occurs when the body cannot produce enough insulin to break down sugar in the body. Over time, the body produces less and less, leading to long-term issues like kidney, eye, and nerve damage (North Dakota Diabetes Report 2014). Type II is influenced by diet, whereas Type I is genetic. Diabetes was relatively rare among Indigenous populations. Satterfield et al. wrote, “Many elders remember a time when there was no word for diabetes in their language because the disease was almost unknown… A word pronounced SKOO yah wahzonkah, which links words for ‘sick’ and ‘sweet’ can be found in a Dakota dictionary published in 1976” (Satterfield, 2014).

The increase in diabetes is associated with a number of factors, including land displacement, boarding school trauma, and poverty. For generations, Indigenous communities hunted, fished, and gardened. The fresh food combined with the physical activity associated with such practices served to promote health. The shifts in community structure from villages to reservations, than reservations to urban areas disrupted family connections. Children sent to boarding schools returned to their families, speaking different languages and preferring different foods.

Food is another major factor, whether related to access, education, or resources. If you know you should eat better, is there an affordable source of fresh produce nearby? If you know how to cook, do you have the utensils and dishes to do so, as well as a refrigerator in which to store leftovers? Many people now live in what are called food deserts, which refers to an area with a lack of grocery sources.  Often, a convenience or liquor store may be the closest store, neither of which generally stock fresh produce beyond bananas or apples.

Food insecurity is the term used to refer to the issues impeding the ability to access affordable and healthy food. The World Health Organization defines the converse, food security, as “when all people at all times have access to sufficient, safe, nutritious food to maintain a healthy and active life”. One step further than that is food sovereignty, which refers to culturally appropriate foods as determined by the community. Food sovereignty values the connection between community health and food. Food justice is an umbrella term that incorporates all levels of the food system, from farmers to chefs to families and servers.

It is estimated that food travels an average of 1500 miles, which can be an uncertain variable when oil prices fluctuate, as well as contributes to carbon emissions. Building a local food system can help assure that access is more reliable. It also reduces environmental impact.


Current food initiatives across Indian Country are focused on rebuilding food systems in a way that draws on culture. Dream of Wild Health, in Minnesota, teaches young people how to grow and culture traditional foods. The Sioux Chef, Sean Sherman, is a chef out of Minneapolis who cooks using pre-colonial foods. Rowen White, a Mohawk seed keeper, grows ancestral seeds through the Sierra Seed Cooperative and uses sustainable practices, which she passes on through a series of classes.

I have worked with a volunteer-run group dedicated to building community through gardening. Volunteers and New American families work together during weekly meetings. All work is done by hand, no chemicals are utilized, and it is an intergenerational effort, with whole families attending.

The families are refugees from various areas of strife around the world, from Iraq to Rwanda. The Upper Midwest, with its extreme winters, can offer a sort of culture shock. Just those two factors alone, let alone language barriers, post-traumatic stress disorder, and the very stress from displacement, can have a negative effect on mental health.

The gardening program has been successful. It has grown from one garden to four within the city. Thousands of pounds of produce are grown each year. Many families participate and more attend each year.

Access to land and access to gardening can do wonderful things for the health of a community. Gardening promotes physical health, it can help make new friendships, and can provide families with fresh food. With diabetes at epidemic levels, healthy food can make a major difference in health.

However, in the long-term, a major paradigm shift will need to occur. Community gardens cannot fill in the gaps left by violence, income inequality, and inadequate access to resources. A community garden can help bring a community together, but not if neighbors are afraid of police violence. A community garden can help a mother make new friends in her neighborhood, but what about the mothers fleeing their own community gardens?

And so, if you are a food justice advocate, we cannot separate ourselves from Black Lives Matter. If we care about how people eat for community health, we must care that they are dying. Similarly with the Syrian refugee crisis. As Native folks, we are living through the generational reverberations of land displacement, violence, and family disruption, as is reflected in our high rates of diabetes. We can help rebuild our own community’s health while not turning a blind eye to suffering elsewhere. It should never be one or the other. We know firsthand that crisis we experience impacts our grandchildren. My grandmas taught me that all elders were to be respected like grandparents, and so right now, there are children like our children in danger, and there are grandmas and grandpas in danger, too.

I will end on this note. I am from the Mandan Hidatsa Arikara Nation of North Dakota. We have been through some interesting times, to say the least. We lived through several waves of smallpox in the 1800s, killing many, sometimes in hours. The accounts are nothing short of horrific. One of the things that haunted me the most was the isolation and sense of abandonment. I feel a sense of grief for them for having gone through that, as I do for other incidents. But, I don’t feel a sense of vengeance. The strongest feeling I get is the one that says, no one should ever go through that alone, ever again. When I see other people living through that violence right now, as their homes are destroyed and their children are dying, it’s the same feeling: no one should ever go through this alone, ever again. We all deserve to eat healthy food and we all have the right to be safe in our communities and to live free of fear.


Diabetes- First Nations and Inuit Health Canada

North Dakota Diabetes Report

Satterfield, D., Debruyn, L., Francis, C., & Allen, A. (2014). A Stream Is Always Giving Life: Communities Reclaim Native Science and Traditional Ways to Prevent Diabetes and Promote Health. American Indian Culture and Research Journal, 38(1), 157-190. doi:10.17953/aicr.38.1.hp318040258r7272

World Health Organization: Food Security 


Jamie Holding Eagle
Jamie Holding Eagle is an enrolled member of the Mandan Hidatsa Arikara Nation of North Dakota. She is completing a Master’s of Public Health and is specializing in American Indian Health. She has worked in food science research and believes cultural connections are a vital part of food and public health.

The Inaccessibility of Food Accessibility

by Julie Nowak

I’ve wanted to get into foraging for a while. It’s a wonderful way to connect with nature, help eliminate edible invasive species, and, of course, provide me with free food to eat. This is very pertinent, as I am disabled and without much of an income. While I’ve known about a couple plants I can forage, I need more hands-on learning to be able to really make foraging a consistent part of my diet. There is a monthly foraging meet-up in Toronto I’ve wanted to check out for almost a year; I haven’t been able to attend because it takes place in the evening, when I am at my lowest energy. Plus my social anxiety often prevents me from attending group events. I finally made it out to the last meet-up, however, which I was very excited about. We learned about edible roots like burdock, dandelion and garlic mustard. I quickly realized how much physical effort was involved, as I spent about fifteen minutes of exhausting, vigorous digging to get a little piece of burdock. It was a tasty treat to eat, but I knew I would not have the physical energy to visit the forest and dig up these roots – or at least not regularly enough to actually make a dent in my food costs.

The food justice movement is supposedly centred on accessibility – specifically food accessibility – with much dialogue around ways for individuals and communities to have increased access to food. While the long-term goal is to create a more equitable and sustainable food system, the short-term goals often focus on ways individuals and communities can more immediately access food – financially, geographically, culturally, etc.

Various approaches and strategies are touted as creating radical change and food access. Activities such as gardening, foraging, dumpster diving, bartering/volunteering in exchange for food, serving free food, cooking from scratch, preserving and bulk buying are highly praised within my activist circles. While I support these approaches, and participate in many myself, I would not put them in the category of “radical change”. There are several reasons for this, but I would like to focus on one in particular: inaccessibility. These quick-fix approaches require a multitude of things that many folks do not have: certain abilities, skills, time, energy, flexibility, space, upfront money, safety, privilege.

For example, I used to dumpster dive and barter frequently before I became disabled. Now these activities are too time and energy-intensive for me to do regularly. Other folks may not have the time or energy because of life circumstances, such as working two full-time jobs, single parenting, or being sick. Cooking, preserving and bulk buying require access to a kitchen and storage space, which many do not have. Gardening and foraging usually involve bending and physical labour, and gardens and forests are often not wheelchair-accessible. Many individuals (myself included) cannot usually accept free prepared food because of dietary restrictions.

I’m not saying we shouldn’t promote and participate in these activities. But we need to stop presenting them as something everyone can do. We are also delusional if we think we are fundamentally changing the food system through these particular efforts. Thus, I propose three ways to reframe the movement. First, we need to focus more heavily on the mid and long-term goals of shifting structures, such as policy change, poverty reduction, improving food sourcing, eliminating food deserts and building local agriculture. Second, we can simultaneously be implementing short-term initiatives, but we should creatively find ways to make them more accessible. Third, we must bring more voices into the food justice movement in order to be more inclusive and properly address inaccessibility.

These three propositions are not easy tasks, so let’s start by breaking down how to make initiatives more accessible. Here are just a few specific ideas of how you can make changes in your organizing to increase accessibility:

  • In community gardens, create wheelchair-accessible pathways and include raised beds so those needing to sit can participate.
  • When serving prepared food, cater to dietary restrictions (i.e. vegan, Halal, gluten-free, nut-free, alcohol-free, etc.) and clearly label ingredients. Consider providing options, such as serving several dishes with differing ingredients or using a buffet/build-your-own meal set-up so individuals can choose their own ingredients.
  • To increase access to cooking, preserving and bulk buying, provide kitchen and storage space. Also consider doing these activities collectively in order to lessen the upfront financial cost.
  • When accepting bartering/volunteering in exchange for food, offer sliding scale options. For example, require fewer (or zero) hours of work from someone with limited ability/capacity/time.
  • Share the bounty from your various endeavours (e.g. gardening, foraging, cooking, preserving) with those who cannot access these activities.
  • Before and during the planning of events and projects, seek out input from a variety of folks in your community to find out what initiatives are desired and how best to implement them in an accessible way. If you don’t have marginalized folks involved in your planning, you need to figure out why you’re not accessible to them.
  • Work creatively to come up with alternative ways of doing something. Inaccessibility and ableism are, in part, the result of a lack of thinking outside of the status quo, so get creative!

Accessibility means different things in different contexts. I’ve touched on just a few aspects of what it can look like in the food justice movement. Remember, though, that accessibility is an ongoing process, not a clear set of laws. If you view these suggestions as annoying rules to follow, you are missing the point. The purpose should be focused on people, not checklists. I admit it can be overwhelming to be faced with requests and recommendations, and I often feel incapable of accommodating everyone. Keep in mind, however, that it doesn’t have to be all-or-nothing. Attempting some (or even one) of these efforts is better than nothing. Of course, we need to strive to do more, be self-critical, and listen to feedback. That being said, don’t let the fear of imperfection prevent you from trying. It’s impossible to achieve one hundred percent accessibility, especially when there are conflicting needs. Yet we can continually work at it, doing our best to structurally make space for this evolving process.


Julie Nowak
Julie Nowak is a Toronto-based food justice organizer, educator and writer who focuses on the intersection of food issues, body image and disability. This stems from her personal experience of finding healing from disordered eating through therapeutic farming and involvement in food justice, as well as living as a disabled person after a brain injury. Julie enjoys gardening, vegan seasonal cooking, and walking in parks. You can follow her at


a black and white illustration of a goldfish with a blue background

by Amai Kuda

For each of us, the process and timing of political awakening is different. My mother named me Salmon, she said I looked at her like a judge when I was a baby, so I think that process happened quite early for me. By the age of six I decided I could not eat my best friends, who at the time were some goldfish, so I became a vegetarian. Within a few years I was putting up my own hand-made ‘Go Vegetarian’ posters around the neighborhood. Although, I confess I am no longer vegetarian, I am thankful that my early relationships with animals taught me about empathy, spiritual connection and how to fight for things that mattered to me. I also attended an alternative school that encouraged us to write advocacy letters, and so at eleven years old I was writing to NASA decrying their vivisection practices, and contacting Nelson Mandela to critique post-apartheid South Africa’s continued employment of White police officers who had actively oppressed Black people during the apartheid regime. Having a mother who taught me about the political realities of our people, both past and present, was certainly a critical part of my awareness and engagement as well.

Then I went to a feminist all girls school where I was both empowered to have a voice as a young woman, but was also punished by some White teachers who were disconcerted by a little Black girl, albeit a light-skinned one, having academic gifts in math and science. When one such teacher, named Susan, accused one of the school’s few Black students of stealing a watch and the Principals called the police on this fourteen year-old girl, I decided to organize a walk-out.  The Principals then had to answer to us, the student body, for how they had reacted to our schoolmate. It turned out that the teacher had tormented that same student all year long, even inviting other students’ to ridicule her in class. I learned from a young age that in White so-called ‘progressive’ circles we, Black and Brown folk, were far from safe.

From grades ten to twelve I went to Weston Collegiate Institute, a high school resembling a prison where two thirds of the student body were people of colour and the majority of the teachers were White. They had no pretentions of ‘progressiveness’ and I observed the policing of Black students’ bodies and ways in which young Black people were miseducated. I listened to the Fugees and Dead Prez. My best friend and I performed Lauryn Hill, Bob Marley and Mahalia Jackson songs in duet at Black History shows, and I made my peers uncomfortable when I sang “Strange Fruit.” When I noticed the double standard that allowed Jewish or Muslim students to wear religious head-coverings, but barred young Black women, like myself, from wrapping our heads as part of a longstanding spiritually-rooted tradition, I created a petition to protest this injustice. It was during this time that I really clarified my own views about the problems of institutional education. I found the learning environment oppressive, from the rigid schedule and the constant grading, to the rows of desks and fluorescent lighting. I found it unfair that our education should be in the hands of people that didn’t love us and, often, even despised us.

Despite this unfriendly environment, I did learn a lot. I took anthropology and learned about the Yanamamo, the Bunyoro and the San peoples.  My readings confirmed my hunch that land-based/Indigenous societies seemed to have much healthier ways of doing things, and problems of homelessness, imprisonment, poverty, environmental degradation and racism were non-existent when these Indigenously living peoples were left to their own devices. In these societies where people were organized into smaller communities, one was not educated in cold institutions, but by one’s community members. One was not ruled by a distant stranger that one had never met. One knew where one’s food came from and where one’s waste went.  I learned how each Indigenous society had a complex spiritual tie to the earth that allowed them to live in relative balance. They were not perfect, but to my mind their ways of life were a far cry above the soul-sucking, oppressive, environmentally destructive path that our society was taking. I decided my career goal was to become a hunter-gatherer.

I pursued this goal to the best of my ability at the time. I spent a summer at Curve Lake First Nation with a family friend, Alice, so that I could begin to learn from the people whose land I was on about how to live in a better way with the land. I had begun visiting Curve Lake with my mom when I was about thirteen years-old. It was during discussions with Alice’s kids, who were mixed Anishishinabeg and White, that I realized that being mixed didn’t make one less Black or less Native. I realized that identifying with one’s marginalized identity was a kind of resistance.  So in the summer after I finished high school I mostly spent my time volunteering at the Curve Lake daycare centre and hanging out with the woods and lake there. Then I had an opportunity to spend a few months up in Red Lake with Alice’s daughter’s family. During my time with her family I did housework to earn my keep, and volunteered a bit with a local Indigenous youth group, but I actually spent most of my time in the bush. I had always loved the woods and during this period I determined that the trees were to be my main teachers. I learned to listen to them, and to connect to my own ancestors through them. This practice has been my source of guidance and wellness ever since.


Although I was keen to continue pursuing my career path as hunter-gatherer/tree-talker my mom was pretty keen for me to get my butt back in school. I was not to squander the opportunity that our ancestors had fought so hard for. So, having been granted scholarships to cover my tuition, I attended Trent University, which I had selected because there was lot of bush on the campus. I planned to camp out in the woods the whole time. I even took a tent and all my best woods clothes and everything, but then my Granny warned me that I would surely be raped if I slept outside alone. Having had this idea firmly planted in my head I conceded to sleeping in my dorm and just spent as much of the daytime as possible in the bush. I continued to learn from the trees and they guided me to pursue my commitment to social justice by working in solidarity with the Indigenous peoples’ of Turtle Island.

It was at Trent that I met Laura Hall and re-met Urpi Valer-Pine, the two Indigenous women with whom I co-founded the group Seven Directions. Urpi had, in fact, been one of the brown students who was also tormented by the same Susan teacher at the feminist all girls’ school.  Although, we had not been friends in middle school, all these years later we discovered that we shared a commitment to social justice, particularly Indigenous rights and gender equality.  So we formed a group. We hosted Decolonization Discussions and consulted with Indigenous elders about what decolonization could actually look like and how we could best contribute to it. We also fundraised for Indigenous groups fighting for their land, like the Secwepemc in BC and I took the bus out West to do some front-line land defending with Cheam First Nation.  I learned a lot in my time at Trent. I actually created my own degree specializing in ‘Decolonization: Indigenous Cultural Reclamation in Turtle Island and Africa.’ The program included Native Studies and African studies courses as well as a self-directed study course on genealogy and another on the role of religion in the colonization of Africa.

After three years spent exploring ideas of decolonization, consulting with local Indigenous community members and working in solidarity with land-rights struggles, Seven Directions began working towards the creation of a centre for decolonization. The idea was to buy land and establish a space where Indigenous peoples and allies could relearn their  land-based traditions and learn to live according to the treaties.

It took us some ten years to pull together the money to buy the land, which we finally did in 2013, and today we’re still working on building the infrastructure for the centre. Last year the group was able to host a first Hide Tanning workshop for the local Indigenous community with a grant we received. However, we found that it was a challenge to bring large groups into the space without sufficient resources to accommodate them. We’ve had to go back to fundraising so that we can create the necessary infrastructure, such as a big kitchen and showers. We are working on building both physically, emotionally and spiritually. We are still learning how to share space so we can function as a healthy community, while also developing relationships with the local Algonquin and Metis communities. the center.

As we work through the challenges of building an alternative to a colonial way of living, I am sometimes frustrated by how slow the process is. I know patience is a virtue, but at times I panic when I look up from this work to see how incessant and tireless the forces of destruction are as they tear up the earth in the name of profit, displacing our peoples and gunning us down or jailing us if we resist.  I am terrified that there will be nothing left by the time we relearn how to live in a good way. Perhaps it was in answer to these worries that I dreamt one night about riding a bus where I could not distinguish between people and baggage. In another part of the same dream I was with some Batois people, my ancestors, and we were learning the names of plants as we walked up a hill.  I woke up with thoughts of the Montgomery bus boycotts in my mind and I knew that we had to get off the bus! I felt that those of us who believed in a different way of doing things had to engage in a boycott as powerful as that of the Civil Rights movement. So I started plotting. After many conversation with Black, Indigenous and POC activists who seemed on a similar page to myself I wrote the Call Out below.

The Call Out is a work in progress. At present it is being revised to be more reflective of the Indigenous voices in our movement.  The movement itself is a work in progress. But I have to say I’m proud of some of that progress. Due to the overwhelming support from community members, we already have a website and a beautiful flyer that serve to educate people about how they can take steps towards creating a more just world. We’ve held three powerful actions that at once feed and honor spirit while, simultaneously resisting oppression. All this has happened in only a few months. We have many great social justice groups within the coalition already and we are building steadily all the time.  I know this revolution that we dream of will not happen overnight, and I know that we have to take time to do things in the right way, rather than rushing forward to our death, as the wise ones say. But I also know we are in a powerful moment and timing is everything. I know that my job is to listen closely to the guidance of my ancestors whether they speak through trees or dreams. I must keep my feet planted firmly on the soil and offer thanks and water daily in the constant flow of reciprocity. In doing so, I can play my role, not unlike like the salmon who performs the ultimate sacrifice to make way for future generations.


Amai Kuda
Amai Kuda is a Toronto based singer/songwriter, community activist and the mother of a young child. The name Amai Kuda means “mother to the will of the creator” in the southern African language Shona. Amai Kuda is a co-founder and co-coordinator of three organizations, Moyo Wa Africa, Seven Directions and R3, dedicated to the decolonization of African peoples and to indigenous solidarity respectively.Daughter of the internationally awarded writer, Nourbese Philip, who has used her work to speak out about all kinds of injustice, Amai Kuda grew up going to demonstrations and listening to her elders passionately discuss the history and future of African peoples. Her first music video, All My Fine Shoes, was part of The Reel World Film Festival 2010 and in October of 2011 she launched her first CD called ‘Sand from the Sea’, an indie release which she produced herself.

Earthships & Sovereignty

A photo of car tires filled with sand

by Kahsenniyo Williams

My family and I have spent the last year and a half of our lives dedicated building our home, asserting our sovereignty and raising the coming generation. Building our family home is massive deal for us as a young family. We aren’t building just any house though. We are building an Earthship. Not everyone has heard of them tho so let me explain a little bit more. Simply answered an Earthship is a home made from mostly recycled material that is off grid and self regulates the interior temperature. Amazing right!! There are a few key components of an Earthship so here’s a bit of a bigger explanation:

Components of an Earthship

1) Tires!!!

Lots and lots of tires! Said tires are pounded full of dirt using a sledge hammer and lots of muscles. These tires are pounded in place,stacked and layered like bricks these tires are used to build the back and side walls of the house.

2) Window Wall

The entire south facing wall of the house is windows. The reason for this is simple; heat. These windows are placed south facing to provide heat to the house through the sun. Shining low in the winter sky and high in the summer this provides perfect heating to the house.

3) Thermal Mass

Thermal Mass is anything that holds onto heat. So I’m talking things like stone, concrete and dirt. The thermal mass is packed throughout the house (dirt in tires, floors, some walls) and works in conjunction with the window wall. Sun shines in through the windows in the winter and beams in on all the thermal mass of the house to heat it up. In the winter these houses will maintain of temperature of 20 to 22 degrees Celsius (which is room temperature-ish). The entire tire wall is also cocooned in a hill of dirt to help insulate it. The house is positioned and designed to miss any direct summer sunlight coming into the house, as the sun is very high in the sky. With the sun not shining directly into the house this allows the thermal mass to maintain a cool temperature.

4) Greywater System

The entire house is run of a greywater system by collecting rainwater, and snowmelt runoff from the roof. All of the water collected from the roof is directed into a big water tank (which is buried in the giant dirt hill). When a tap is turned on in the house this is where the water comes from. Once it goes down the drain it is then directed into a grey water planter inside the house. A natural spring filtering system is recreated in the planter and the water is cleaned out through this process.This will also water our plants we will grow inside. Once it has completed the filtering it is then pumped up into a second tank. When we flush our toilet and do laundry the water will come from the second tank. This will allow us all the luxuries of running water without the wastefulness.

5) Solar energy

The entire house is run off of solar panels that are placed on the south-facing roof. It is completely possible to run your entire house off of solar electricity. For us we will be using all of the solar energy we create and not selling it back to the power company.

These houses can be a solution to many environmental issues we have today. It really is a process to come to the decision to actually do it, tho. When the reclamation of our lands boarding Caledonia began, I was 16 years-old. I felt so strongly in what my people were doing, This is where I was introduced to the concept of sovereignty. I was so angry for a long time and the potential destruction of the land was devastating to me. The theft of our lands was infuriating. These feels lingered and grew in my life for many years. All I really wanted was for my children to not have to suffer because of the decisions that we were making today. I wanted to leave something for my grand children and their grandchildren.

I spent a lot of my life asking permission to be sovereign, demanding to be recognized as sovereign. Through a series of ridiculously difficult lessons, I eventually realized I don’t have to ask for permission to be sovereign. And that sovereignty is about much more than protesting and demanding our voices be listened to. My sovereignty lives in my bones. It lives in the way that I live my life on a daily basis. It is about actually being independent from Canada, producing our own food, our own clean energy, taking care of each other, and working with the younger generations to raise them with teachings.

I had first heard about Earthships a decade ago. Since then building and living in one has been the dream. When my husband and I decided we were actually going to build, we spent roughly two years of hardcore researching and putting a game plan together. We watched countless youtube videos and read every book and article we could find. The technical design is all by my super amazing husband (who has also been an Ironworker for fourteen years and is in general a handyman). Me, on the other hand, I had never picked up a hammer in my life, other than a few attempts to put together some Ikea furniture which ended miserably. Basically me and physical labor had never really met before this experience. The thought of sweating it out pounding tires was pretty scary. However it felt that our values and daily living were not aligned, and Earthships seemed to be a significant way to bring those two things together.

A great thing about Earthships is that there isn’t a ton of skilled labor involved. If you can swing a sledgehammer or use a shovel you can help build. Our children have been a huge part of the building process. They pound tires, fill buckets, grab tools and help out anywhere they can. We have discussed regularly throughout the process about why we are doing what we are doing. We want to raise them with a connection to their land, food, water and community. We want to show them that it is possible to live your life and walk gently.


Kahsenniyo Williams
Kahsenniyo is from the Mohawk Nation, Wolf clan. She is a spoken word poet and writer. Her work is centered around indigenous issues. Outside of being an artist she is a mother and wife. Together with her family she is currently building an Earthship and community/family farm on Six Nations.

Is This (Capitalist Settler Colonial Violence) Vegan?

Centralizing Anti-Colonial Theory in The Vegan and Food Justice Movements 

By Nicole Davis

I’m a white settler on stolen land, and I am a direct beneficiary of the systems of injustice and oppression I will go on to explore in this piece. I think it is incredibly important to make this assertion, because it is important to remember that whiteness is not ‘neutral.’ I believe any attempt to discuss issues such as food justice, food sovereignty, or equity, without acknowledging and attempting to grapple with my white, settler identity, would be dangerous—and wholly irresponsible. Acknowledging my whiteness is crucial to understanding my implication in systems that have destroyed—and continue to destroy—the food systems of Indigenous populations across the world. This piece should be read with the understanding that I am a white settler. This piece is largely about grappling with the violence inherent in this identity, and the importance of understanding this for all white folks engaged in food justice work.

Having been calling myself a vegan for the past six years, and trying to submerse myself in the food movement since then, my relationship to food has been central to a fair chunk of my adult life thus far. Recently, I have been grappling with the question of how I was able to have such a severe eating disorder for nearly ten years while I was trying so hard to connect my eating to its implications on a larger scale.

While making those connections has been central to my recovery, I have also come to realize how actively both the food justice and vegan movements were feeding into my disordered eating.

The food justice movement to which I am referring is that of Michael Pollan and Jamie Oliver. I am talking about the ‘local’ and ‘foodie’ food movement—whose spokespeople claim that everything from climate change to urban poverty to health issues can be solved by ‘voting with your dollar.’ This food movement encourages non-profit models, social enterprises, and ‘conscious consumerism’ to address social issues through food. Ultimately, the food movement encourages people to throw money at structural issues in order for individuals to feel absolved of the everyday structural violence with which they engage and from which they benefit.

The vegan movement I am referring to is the mainstream vegan movement. It is the ‘single issue’ vegan movement of individuals and organizations who decry subsistence hunting by Indigenous populations. It is that of white vegans who protest and shame Black and Brown factory farm workers, displaced from their lands by extractive industries which ultimately work to make white vegans wealthier and more powerful. I am also addressing the ‘no excuses’ vegans, who maintain the wholly classist and ableist argument that if a vegan diet is easy for them to maintain, then it must be simple and accessible for everyone.

Both the food justice and vegan movements rely on healthist rhetoric to try and recruit new members into these ideologies. One of the first reasons I went vegan was because it was supposed to help me to lose weight. Ditto eating ‘local’ and ‘organic’. There is so much more to focus on with these movements, shaming people’s bodies and lifestyles is not something they should have to resort to for finally coming to understand how these movements that I thought were helping me improve my relationship with food, were simultaneously enacting a form of violence on my psyche, was truly central to my recovery. And once I first became critical of these movements, I came to understand just how deep the holes of these movements truly are. The extreme violence they enact upon other people, specifically people of marginalized identities. And I began to understand the ways these movements simultaneously justify all kinds of violence, while invisiblizing their own participation in violence.

Much of the food movement’s rhetoric around eating ‘local,’ ‘organic,’ and GMO-free, is about cleansing and absolving consumers of any guilt. Sure the produce you buy at your farmers market might be organic and local, but it was grown on stolen land, and most likely by white settlers of European descent. Sure the vegan chocolate chips you’re buying don’t have cow’s milk in them, but the palm oil used likely displaced hundreds of orangutans and Indigenous people from their Malaysian jungle homes, and the cocoa was most likely produced by child slaves in the Ivory Coast. As Judith Butler says, “We are all mired in violence.” It is not a principle, it is a claim. We cannot have a non-violent food justice movement, and it is impossible to have a non-violent vegan movement. We can only strive for an anti-violent one. A movement that centers inclusivity and marginalized voices and identities. One that is self-reflexive. One that aims to understand our implication as colonizers and settlers on stolen Native land.

 What would it mean to have a vegan movement that does not only call for animal liberation, but the liberation of all oppressed bodies? What would it mean to have a vegan movement, and a food justice movement, to which prison abolition and Palestinian solidarity were centralized? We must all work to understand that all animal lives matter, but what possibilities could be opened up if the mandate that Black Lives Matter became centralized in the vegan and food justice movements?

It is fundamental to understand how all oppressions are interconnected. It is fundamental that any movement towards justice—be it animal liberation, food justice, or environmental justice—fundamentally grapple with the violence in which we are implicated through our everyday actions of being in the different bodies and lives we occupy. The fundamental violence of colonialism, the rupturing and apocalypse that came with it, and the foundational shuddering our world has been grappling with since needs to be understood as central to any discussion of land, environment, and bodies.

How do we understand food justice if the legitimacy of farmers of European descent are called into question? How do we understand food justice if we question the land we occupy, from which many have been nourished, and from which many been displaced, and on which so much violence has been inflicted? For many involved in these movements, these questions are incredibly unsettling to ask—and they need to be. We need to be unsettled, to expose ourselves to these wholly unsettling questions and sit with our discomfort. How can we move forward with the food justice and vegan movements if they are founded on colonial, capitalist, patriarchal, and racist practices?

There is no simple or succinct answer for how to fix the problems embedded in these movements, but it most certainly involves reworking the frameworks and ideologies at their very foundation. And for white settlers (like myself) involved food justice and veganism, this must include unsettling ourselves. We must sit with unsettling thoughts and ideas, and notice how they make us feel, and try to ask why they might make us feel this way.

Our work within these movements must include a lot of actively listening to people of marginalized identities, and striving to center these people and their life experiences in these movement in any opportunity we have. The food and vegan movements already center the stories of middle class white folks. It is time to pass the microphone. White people—the most important and effective thing we can do right now is shut up and listen.

There is no such thing as a non-violent diet. The food produced in a colonial- capitalist food system is inevitably implicated in the suffering humans, non-human animals, and land. Recognizing this fact is fundamental for truly moving forward with our relationships with our food system, with non-human animals, the land, and each other. I think that a food justice movement, and a vegan movement, that could understand this and work towards fighting colonial, racist violence at their root, could be incredibly powerful and effective in creating truly meaningful change.


Nicole Davis
Nicole Davis is a white anti-zionist Jewish settler on Turtle Island, hailing from NYC and studying and living as a human bean in Toronto. Nicole is passionate about creating a more intersectional and holistic food justice movement, cooking cheap rad vegan food for people, eating, learning, and talking about food and plant magic, and doodling glittery piggies. She has previously been involved in organizing food justice-centered panels at the University of Toronto, has co-authored the zine ‘Complicating Veganism,’ and is currently an organizer for the UofT Food Policy Council.

There Will Be Elders

By Chief Coker

There will be elders. There must be. For decades I have been working to build space for them; and the knowledge of them; and the significance for them. People keep asking me what I think we should do. When we start talking we go big picture. Our vision: green oasis land sites and beautiful homes with animals and people co-existing. Its a lovely lush and abundant view. We talk picking it apart and end up calling out the technologies we need to build this vision. We then end up identifying multiple inputs required to support this vision, all to end up where I sigh and say. “So now on to grow our eldership! For without elders we will not have the strength and tactics to see change through.”

Change is coming! I swear it. Positive changes that will allow us to celebrate everyday in ways that make sense to the individual. Through food justice and social justice we have academia pulling apart definitions and understanding positive and negatives effects of our current system. What strikes me is that the very things these youth are going to school to understand has been detailed in major movements in history.It’s gaining traction now that conflict is in everyone’s face but it has always existed on the scale it exists now.

We are past the tipping point. What a shame we (the dominant culture) did not give this fact the weight it deserved. Which begs the question why the “F” is the dominant culture still the dominant culture? There is proof in the history of the dominant culture of the people’s conflict and experience with oppressive bully-like tactics. No wonder we are where we are now. Those who protest and resist feel like they are in a headlock by the system. Just like a bully the system has got us awkwardly bent over struggling to be free. We now have even more work to do since people have been living like this for over fifty years and apparently, that’s all it takes to be set in people’s minds as the only option. As if fifty is a significant chunk of time. Nevermind my culture, Yoruba, with over 11000 years of rich culture, successful and sophisticated was destroyed to accommodate a bully culture. Shame! Here in the western part of the world, it appears that as we continue to identify what is needed in our communities as we work to improve them. However, we only seem to give the solutions limited energy. We understand what we should do for the most part. Voting with our dollar at local stores versus big box store. Eating locally produced organic food and learning about our own and other indigenous cultures. We strive to be disciplined and then we make a compromise we sometimes do not even know we have made. In turn, reinforcing the head lock we find ourselves. The argument can be made that it is because we are building up to change. Building up to action. Rising up. By building, I mean, we are building momentum connecting the pieces through projects and actions. Building to present a holistic message which will result in change. The building blocks are the projects and events we create. The mortar is made of the events and happenings. The doors are presented by those who know how to interconnect these things so that others can see the structure. I also have the image of five fingers on a hand building its strength to become a first. First, we add the pinky, then the other fingers one by one, then we have to teach them to close. We build up to this. Each project represents a finger, each happening teaches the muscle to close, each unified message represents the first.

But there are many out there that see things coming. They see it years, even decades in the making. They can tell you what it really turns out to be in the end. Failed systems and broken promises. Further oppression and disparity. “Elders.” Not meaning the aged. Community elders. We know that we need to conserve and understand what is going on in our world. Not for lack of caring, we just fall short of the NEEDED input. Our current culture is so consumed with the day to day that we do not even have time to build changes into our lives. How is this? Yes, this current system and its markets are huge. It is in every corner. We can not help but see it. A lot of us try to change for our own health. Us parents often have to shelter our very youth from it so we don’t have to un-teach them later. The current capitalistic; make, money money! Moving on up and all that culture is choking us blind while kicking our offspring in the temple.


Why are we reluctant to change in the western countries? Why do we wish to “develop” other countries like the west? Knowing the harm why would we want to see the big box stores everywhere? More things to buy and throw away? WHY?

You would think that our mission as a large diverse conscious population was to ignore natural laws. Ignore things like health and diversity unless it makes us money, have children and offer them little substance, build homes that cover all of the arable land and acquire things that take us further into this sickness? And even if you do not want to live like that; and that is not your mission, how would you know that you had a choice by the way the current systems tentacles are sprawled out everywhere?

Let’s acknowledge how difficult it seems to live sustainably, flagging income ability and race. However, those are learned barriers not real barriers. When those with the access to sustainable lives can tell you that it is cheaper and more accessible. The addictions are on the social, not the spiritual and ecological. Granted there are some real challenges when our cities are constructed to isolate us, when marginalized just means lack of good resources and when the current constructs by which we all live enable the oppressors to target their oppression. Then the food coops, free seeds libraries and culturally appropriate gatherings become inaccessible for entirely different reasons than want. It’s not for the lack of want, it’s not that the communities want bad food because even when people do have access to good food and sustainable choices, maybe the land that they have access has been poisoned or there are toxins in the ground.

Yes, alternatives are here. They have been. Now more can see it on social media. Some see it but will need to learn to first stop hurting themselves in order to start healing.  Turn away from addiction. A social rehab. A downside is that with all the alternative “Options” out there people plug in and invest into non sustainable solutions. Our elders could tell us that certain things have been tried before. Some methods have failed before or are dangerous solutions. We have lost touch so deeply with our own wisdom and with our elders that even the solutions we hurriedly present end up needing to be tested again and again. Time lost. While our best practices are finally reluctantly dusted off and reanimated. When we finally hear our ancestors and Elders guidance. Success!

Once we do we see very quickly how swift we can be. Our elders are a gift for our continuance. They are governance on the local level and our communities’ historical records. Research should start with elders. So many people in many places need to learn many things. Things Elders know and have lived to share with us. We in the west get a fast track with Permaculture tools. Designed to aid the transition of the Western culture into one that allows for diversity and equality. Simply put the change we want. Which keeps me coming back to the reality that without elders we are in the dark clinging onto these tools. It’s even more dangerous for us with these power tools in the dark. Elders are needed to come shed some light on the process. In our Permaculture villages especially here in Toronto, we have them. So let’s note for the sake of all of us in these many movements, at the many frontlines, there will be elders!

Chief Coker
Chief Coker is Toronto’s only active teacher who uses the knowledge of permaculture, traditional Yoruba culture and progressive social and food justice skills. Students and community members around Chief Coker recognize them as a passionate woman of colour with a strong social consciousness strongly linked to their Nigerian and Jamaican backgrounds. Students arrive en masse to learn from Chief Coker and to work on their ground breaking projects. They have been awarded with a Food System Leadership award in Toronto and Elders awards for their work with African youth in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA). As a disciplined curator and humanitarian Chief Coker continues to provide eyewitness testimony with their skills in journalism and performance-based art to the struggle for those pushing back against oppressive forces. A sensei of Shodan ShotoKan Karate and dedicated mentor and elder in the PGTA village and GTA communities, Chief Coker leads a team of Leaders in action through projects and events around the world intended to better our leadership and cultivate healthy communities. They are dedicated to community and they put their direction and motives into words with their saying, “Positivity is Power.”

Ten Questions for Vandana Shiva

by  Nadine Compton

I met Vandana Shiva in the airport. When the automatic sliding doors at the gate revealed her luggage cart and her orange sari, I half expected a beam of light to illuminate her, such is the legend that surrounds her. Of course none did because Vandana Shiva is just a human being and not a saint. But what a human being she is.

After studying physics in her undergrad she received her Master’s in philosophy and her Ph.D. in quantum physics. In 1982 she set up the Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Ecology, where researchers work with local communities and social movements to address important ecological and social issues.

In 1991 she established Navdanya, a movement to protect the diversity of living resources, especially seeds, and to advocate for organic farming and fair trade. And like she does after every ten years or so, she founded yet another institution, Bija Vidyapeeth, a sustainable living college. She has taught at universities, written books, and serves on the board of a number of organizations concerned with women, organic farming, and international property rights, among other issues.

So why was she talking to me? Well, she wasn’t really. She had flown from New Delhi to Toronto to give a lecture at her alma mater on “The Right to Food – Women, Development, and the Global Economy.” I was lucky enough to have a discussion with her in the car on her way to Guelph.

Nadine: What do you think the University of Guelph’s role is in improving access to the right to food?

Vandana Shiva: Well interestingly you know I was invited to get an honorary doctorate here maybe two or three years ago, and the president said, “We’re giving this doctorate to Dr. Shiva to remind ourselves that the university is a public institution.” Because you know universities are becoming so privatized and as an agricultural university, Guelph is being absolutely hijacked by the Monsantos of the world. And it’s a typical example of how public institutions or goods get privatized even though society continues to bear all of the responsibility. So, what should Guelph be doing? I think Guelph should be addressing the challenges of our times instead of being an extension agent of corporate agendas. It should be making the new connections that are being made by those that are really working on this issue, the connections between sustainability and ecological issues, the issues of work and livelihoods, the issue of climate change, the issues of health and nutrition, the issues of women’s knowledge. That’s an issue that’s also been addressed in this past election – tuition fees that young Canadians have to pay, and ultimately get into debt for. It was particularly contentious in Québec a few years ago, where there were protests and demonstrations due to an increase in fees.

N: Do you believe that tuition should be free?

VS: I believe that tuition should definitely not be so costly that students begin their lives borrowing and in debt. Students should be absolutely free intellectually and mentally, so that they can concentrate on their learning, on their education because beginning with debt, you’re forced to make the kinds of choices that’ll help you pay off the debt, rather than those that would help you grow to your best potential. And it’s not that the society is poor. I mean Canada is a rich country. It’s wrong for Canada to subsidize fossil fuels and burden the students. It’s just morally an outrage.

N: How is your approach to these topics different than your peers? Non-environmental activists?

VS: First, because a lot of the work I do today… I haven’t been groomed in it in a linear, one-dimensional way. I’ve addressed as an issue in nature. I see an ecosystem collapse and try to get what’s really happening. And in reality things are connected. My Ph.D. thesis, which I did at Western, was on non-locality and non-separability in quantum theory, so even science tells you that everything is related and yet we have a reductionist paradigm that pretends that everything is separate. Sadly most trainings are in that one dimensional groove and then when you get into the academic track, you want your publications, you want your tenure, then you have to continue in that. So a lot gets left out. Reductionist approaches don’t look at interdisciplinarity, don’t look at interconnections.

N: How did you transition from physics to agriculture? Was there any backlash from your colleagues when you made that move?

VS: No, no. Even when I decided to come here to do my higher studies it was with the conscious choice that I didn’t want to be a mechanical physicist. And I didn’t want to just be a cog in a machine. For me, physics was about understanding how nature works. And that understanding was what I followed all the way, especially why I specialized in the foundations of quantum theory, already by that time I was walking alone. So my trajectory was a trajectory which I was carving out for myself. When I went back, I consciously chose to join an institute where I could look at interactions between science and society because I’ve always been very troubled by incongruent messages. We are all always told, “Science removes poverty.” And India has the world’s third largest scientific community and this point one of the highest rates of poverty and malnutrition. And it didn’t hang together. The Green Revolution was given the Nobel Prize for peace and in 1984, Punjab was a land of violence. And Canada’s connected to that because the Air India flight that was blown up over Ireland was part of that whole extremist action. It didn’t make sense to get a prize for peace, but then there is violence. I was working for the United Nations University at the time and I said, “You’ve got to look at this.” The pressure really came at two points – not from any peer groups. I was in Bangalore and every day I saw more eucalyptus planting on the farmland and I couldn’t figure it out. So I told the institute that I was working for that we must investigate. And of course we found out that the World Bank was behind it, funding the growth of eucalyptus for raw material for the pulp industry and calling it social forestry because we had come up with that phrase with Chipko [the organized resistance against the destruction of Indian forests]. The study made a huge impact and the farmer’s movement emerged around it and the regional parliament had huge discussions about it and rejected the plan. The director of my institute was very fond of me and respected me and he says, “I’m so proud of you, but the World Bank’s been putting the pressure on me saying, ‘we will cut of this funding and this funding and this funding’ if you ever do research like this.” His name was Dr. Ramasan. I said, “Dr. Ramasan I’m not going to change. Any research for me is to find the truth. And no power in the world can suppress that urge in me. And instead of you losing grants for the institute which you need, I will create a space where I can work independently.” Which is why I created the Research Foundation, I left the institute. The next round of intense pressure was not from peers, but from Monsanto and its lobbyists. They’re not fellow scientists, they’re journalists.

N: How can we all be sustainable in our food consumption practices?

VS: I think the way to be sustainable in food consumption practices is to be sustainable in food production. And non-sustainability is built right into the industrial agriculture model because it uses ten times more inputs than it produces, it uses ten times more energy that it produces as calories, it uses ten times more finances for purchase of internal inputs than what farmers can earn which is why farmers go under, get into debt, and leave the land or in the case of India commit suicide – three hundred thousand of them. So it’s not sustainable. But fortunately we have better ways to produce. And the three things that – and this is the work that I’ve been doing through Navdanya, the movement I’ve built over the last thirty years – is that we have to move from monocultures to diversity, we have to move from chemicals and external inputs to ecological processes, internal inputs, what is called agro-ecology, we’ve got to move from globalized trade to local distribution. So that wealth gets distributed and more nutritious, healthier, fresher systems improve.

N: Do you have any advice for any future agricultural activists?

VS: One is, you’ve got to do the work that will take care of the Earth and of food. Just because those who are destroying the planet and preventing our right to food have huge amounts of money, be guided by your conscience. And be resilient.


Nadine Compton
Nadine Compton is a freelance writer and blogger who started and curates Pop Culture Middle East (, where in an effort to maintain her connections to her home in that area of the world, she publishes posts on Arabic cuisine and her interviews with notable Arab figures in the fields of political cartooning, film, hip hop radio, online comedy, feminist lingerie, environmental activism, as well as with women living in Saudi Arabia’s Eastern Province. She can be found on: Facebook, Twitter & Instagram