The Future is Intersectional

greyscale sketch of side profile of woman with headwrap on and a greyscale rose behind her

An Interview with 519’s Soofia Mahmood

by Liaba Nisar

Artwork by Thaila Paige-Dixon

Soofia Mahmood is the Manager of Communications and Fund Development at the 519; she has over fifteen years of experience, including working with UNICEF and gender activism during her time in Pakistan. She works at The 519 with Programs and Services, and Philanthropy teams to serve marginalized and vulnerable LGBTQ2S communities through programs, community engagement, space use, and advocacy initiatives. The Peak was able to ask her some questions about her work, and learn more about her experience and passion.

How did you get your start working in gender and sexuality-related activism? Did you find a passion for it early on, or was it something you came to later?

My work in gender professionally started 10 to 12 years ago. My path has been heavily linked to my own lived experience as someone who identifies as a woman and doesn’t follow conventional gender or gender expression norms – in a patriarchal and misogynistic world.

As a mother of a 12 year-old daughter, I feel even more passionate about this work.

What is a major way that your work now differs from what you focused on while in Pakistan? On the other hand, how has it remained mostly similar? 

Back home, my focus was feminism, and gender-based violence specific to women. My work in Canada has expanded my scope. It has also expanded my own understanding of gender. Personally, and professionally, it has been a process of growth. My field has always been communications – including writing and photography work. So even though the nature of my job here is similar, the scope and strength of my work has certainly changed.

How have you noticed your work changing from when you began to now, in terms of the people who come to you and what you do?

The demand for our refugee services has been increasing over the past few years – and is linked to the global socio-political situation and continued persecution of LGBTQ+ communities worldwide.

LGBTQ+ communities experience a lot of barriers to service. Any negative change impacts the most marginalized members even more. For example, the housing crisis is impacting everyone, but LGBTQ+ folks are impacted even more because of the higher incidence of poverty and higher levels of discrimination. Violence has also been a major issue that has always impacted our communities. The last two years have been particularly hard and that impacts the services needed as well. The need for healing spaces, counselling services, as well as trauma-informed services have also been steadily rising.

Is there an experience in particular that sticks out, that you remember to this day, in the work you’ve done? Something that keeps you going? 

When I write impact stories, I get to interact with program participants and hear about their journeys. The protagonist in those stories are always the program participants, and they celebrate who they are, and their resilience. Seeing the different reactions of people to their own stories is most memorable for me. Whether a story makes someone feel validated, respected, celebrated – or supports a refugee claimant’s claim (LGBTQ+ refugee claimants must prove their sexual orientation or gender identity to be successful in their claim as a refugee based on their sexuality) is inspiring and heart-warming. When you are not in the frontline role it is tough to see the impact of your work directly. But when a story impacts someone, it reminds me that at the end of the day, I am not only serving an organization, but I am serving the people the organization serves.

So in short, believing in the organization’s mandate and seeing my role contribute to that, directly or indirectly, is what keeps me going.

Soofia has over 15 years of experience in Marketing and Creative Communications. She has worked for UNICEF and USAID in Pakistan before immigrating to Canada. She has been an active gender-rights activist in Pakistan, passionate about creating awareness for positive change through writing and visual arts. Soofia has a deep- rooted passion for change. Her two true loves are photography and writing.

Liaba is a student completing a double major in Theatre Studies and Geography. She enjoys overindulging in caffeine, watching horror movies, and avoiding her actual homework at all costs. In the future, she wants to be a filmmaker.

Thaila aka Vegas has been tattooing for almost 8 years. She continues to grow as an artist and works to creatively find ways to incorporate social justice and liberation in her work while advocating for disenfranchised communities and engaging with people that align with her identity. To check out more of her artwork, add her on Instagram @vegas. ink

Trauma-Informed Healthcare

wallpaper of different flowers and plants

By Hazelle Palmer

Health care is such an intricate part of everything that we do and I’ve always noticed how health care institutions interact with different populations and different communities, genders, people of different orientation, racialized groups… But some of those interactions are so systemically driven and in many ways very oppressive. I want to see that health care reflects what I think we all deserve, which is health care that is responsive to our needs, and that every individual needs to be a partner in their own health care.

Sherbourne has built a unique space which allows folks to feel comfortable and safe when receiving care. Being able to relate to experiences is really important. We hire staff who have similar lived experience, to exemplify the importance of culturally competent care. We highlight our focus on anti-racism, anti-oppression as being something that we do with all staff upon their hiring here. Being able to live those principles in the work that we do and how we do the work is so important.

At Sherbourne, we have quite a range of programs that speak to these different experiences of (lesbian-gay-bisexual-trans-queer) LGBTQ communities and I think we’re starting now to do more around Indigenous and 2-Spirit communities, but I think that we have really tried to look at and create space for (Black, Indigenous, People of Colour) BIPOC youth and for LGBT youth; and overall we’ve tried to address the issues of homelessness and substance use. We’ve looked at trying to create places where people can just meet because social connection is so important. We’ve created forums where we can listen and engage with folks to get a sense of how we can improve what we’re doing already.

We’ve also been an advocate. For example, through our province-wide Rainbow Health Ontario program, we underline the importance of Human Rights and the areas that we feel still are discriminatory or infringe on the rights of people from the LGBTQ communities… We are also training doctors across the province to be able to provide competent care. Access everywhere is important.

Looking to the future, Sherbourne is beginning to focus more on marginalized populations including BIPOC populations, and the intersections they face. We understand that people can be dealing with sexual orientation but also dealing with substance use, they may also be homeless, they may be a newcomer to Canada, they may be dealing with other forms of discrimination …  or trauma that deeply affects their ability to achieve health and wellness. We have staff teams who deal with under-housed folks and those experiencing homelessness, (lesbian-gay-bisexual-trans-2 spirit-queer) LGBT2SQ, as well as newcomers to Canada, but mental health and trauma were key areas that really stood out as impacting every community.

At Sherbourne, we acknowledge the significance of trauma and so with our new mental health framework we’ve embedded trauma-informed approaches. It’s really acknowledging that many of us in some way have experienced trauma. And while that trauma differs along a continuum, when we hear stories about people’s experiences with stigma, discrimination, substance use, or even the conditions that make them have to leave home early, or the abuse they’ve suffered in their life which may result in PTSD, it tells us that trauma is really a significant factor in people’s lives.

I strongly believe that we, all have our own resilience. And organizations like Sherbourne are there to empower, to help people to find that resilience in themselves. What’s challenging about intersectionality is that the burden of all the issues we deal with is so great, that it can feel so overwhelming. … Sometimes we think about some of the systemic things that we can’t control, whether it’s within politics, whether it’s the justice system, policing, all of the things that make it really so overwhelming and so discouraging but on the other hand I always am so admiring of −, I’m a queer person myself −, I’m admiring of our communities because we’ve gone through so much, and yet we continue on. And that’s true of people who are from BIPOC communities who are also dealing with issues around race and discrimination and stigma every single day and yet we march on. And we know from our history and social justice movements that we are stronger together.

Hazelle is a seasoned senior executive with more than 18 years experience in the non-profit sector.  Before becoming the CEO of Sherbourne Health, she was Executive Director of the AIDS Committee of Toronto (ACT) and previously Executive Director of Planned Parenthood of Toronto. Hazelle holds a Master’s Certificate in Health Care Management as well as a Bachelor of Arts in Communications from Carleton University.

Black Women, [Inherited] Mental Health and Healing Art

black silhouette of elderly black woman with a headwrap on

by Gloria Swain

When I was first diagnosed with a chronic illness along with the deaths of loved ones, I felt my world falling apart. I fell into a deep dark emotional state for several years. The treatment for my physical illness took a toll on my body which naturally added more stress to my mental health. Finally, I was officially diagnosed with depression in 2004. After being on antidepressants for a few years and struggling with the long list of side effects -suicidal thoughts, anger, weight, hallucinations – I realized I needed a way out. I was on the edge and there was nowhere else to go but down. I was alone. And I felt invisible.

Black women are strong and resilient, but we are also human and mental illness does not discriminate. We are not strangers to depression, anxiety, bipolar or PTSD but Black women continue to suffer in silence because of the shame and stigma surrounding mental illness in Black communities. Growing up I suffered from undiagnosed depression. Being born in the late 50s, mental illness was unheard of and taboo, especially in the Black community. I was born and raised in the southern United States, at the end of segregation and the beginning of integration. My parents and grandmother refused to talk about their histories growing up in Alabama or South Carolina because of the violence and racism they experienced. It was too painful for them to speak on. Sometimes I wonder if they ever had an opportunity to heal. This is intergenerational trauma. Unexplained and unspoken wounds that are passed down to the next generation. When we don’t heal ourselves, we lack the tools to create healing for our future descendants. It’s difficult to talk about mental illness, especially if you’re a Black woman whose ancestors have suffered in silence for centuries because we are constantly told that we are strong. It’s even more difficult for Black women to seek help when the people who are advocating for mental health look nothing like us. Mental illness does not see race, sex, or economical status; yet, certain communities are routinely excluded from mental health conversations.

One day, while going through old photos, I found a picture of me as young girl painting. I remembered how art had brought me so much happiness. I started painting again and never looked back. Art was not only healing for me, but it also led me into researching my own history. I successfully traced my ancestors from Africa to Alabama, one of the largest states that took part in the U. S. slave trade. I learned there is a history of mental illness in my family as well as other illnesses that has now begun to take a toll on my body as I age. Being a descendent of African slaves in America I asked myself, what mental toll has slavery placed on Black people?

My art practice, together with my own lived experiences with intergenerational trauma, challenges the narrative of the strong Black woman and the shame associated with mental illness. My creative journey started at a very young age and it hasn’t stopped. Art pushed me to get back to school and today, at the young age of 60, I have completed my masters.

As a child, art was an outlet for my frustration of trying to fit in. Today, art is a part of my journey of healing. Through art, I face the traumas that come with intersecting histories of slavery, racism, and violence against Black women’s bodies. Through art, I am an activist; I strive to create art that opens discussions around social issues within the Black community. Through art I encourage connection; art brings folks together and moves people to change. Art has become a powerful tool with which I can find healing in my own pain.

Gloria C Swain is a multidisciplinary artist who uses art to explore the history of violence against Black women, the roots of Black mental health and intergenerational trauma. Her work is part of a social movement that seeks to raise awareness for Black female victims of police brutality, anti-Black violence and those who fail to warrant media attention.


Colourful drawing of faceless man in all white with a headwrap sitting cross-legged playing a middle eastern instrument resembling an Ektara

The Land of Fife, the Cradle of Civilization, and My Home

By Falah Hafuth with Sowsan Hafuth

Artwork by Zeena Salam

I am Dr. Falah Hafuth, born and raised in Baghdad, Iraq. I graduated from the University of Mosul in 1983 as a physician and have been practising medicine in Canada for almost 30 years. I left Baghdad in 1984 after working as a physician for only a short period of time through the Al-Kindi Specialized Hospital and the Iraqi National Centre for Cancer Research.

The reason I left Baghdad was because I didn’t want to participate in Saddam Hussein’s unjust war between Iraq and Iran. I chose to join the opposition political front who were for a democratic state and who tried to get rid of Saddam and eliminate the reign of dictatorship. Saddam’s regime was never for the people and was governing Iraq without a real free election. The elections that took place were administered by Saddam and his puppets and he was always the winner by a 99.9% vote. How lucky, right? His regime forced people to become members of his party, the Ba’ath party. He introduced a law subjecting anyone from other parties to death sentences, torture, and prison. He was engaging the country in very risky acts like attacking neighboring countries and waging the war between Iraq and Iran for 8 years, destroying much of the infrastructure of Iraq.

Everyone was subject to a certain degree of harassment from the government, especially if they weren’t participating in the government party and activities held by Saddam. These included the student unions, youth organizations, women organizations, etc. Anyone not a part of these would be considered an enemy and went on the notion of “if you’re not with us, you’re against us.” I didn’t believe in tying my life into these organizations or these people who were so ideologist, I believe in freedom and everyone being their own entity. With these thoughts and not publicly supporting Saddam, you became under surveillance and on the watch list of the secret police or by

Saddam’s organizations. People like me were targeted.

One night in 1980, someone had written:

يسقط صدام حسين

يسقط حزب البعث

الموت للدكتاتور
(Down to saddam hussein, down to Ba’ath party, death to the dictator) on the wall of the medical school. That same night me and my friends were staying late in one of the reading rooms to study. So, when the secret police discovered the graffiti on the school wall, they immediately took every student that was in that reading room that night to the secret police headquarters in Mosul. Those days in the headquarters of the secret police were the most difficult days in my entire life They were torturing us on a daily basis in so many ways to figure out who wrote it. Immediately they released the students who were collaborating with the Ba’ath party and student union, but kept the students who hadn’t been affiliated with those organizations. We payed this price for two months. I was able to feel the joy on the face of the interrogator when he saw us in pain, calling our nightly torturing session the “night party”. The interrogator would tie our arms to tables or behind our backs and extinguish his cigarettes into our hands. They would tie us to poles in cold rooms and leave us there overnight on a very cold ceramic floor and take our jackets and belts away so we couldn’t hang ourselves when we’re alone. They would throw cold water on us 2 or 3 times a night during the winter then whip us with electrical cables. They finally released me after I had written the graffiti slogan in a book to fill about 100 pages and decided my writing wasn’t the same…after two months. The only reason I didn’t drop out of medical school was because many of my classmates would spend time writing the lectures and summarizing everything for me and the others. They then helped teach us everything we missed when we were released. Even people I never met before did this for me. During my time in jail, I made my final decision to leave this regime as soon as I could become a doctor and support the movement against Saddam. I didn’t want any innocent soul to go through the same wretched torture I endured. So, after medical school I worked for one year in Baghdadi hospitals. I then left Baghdad (the central government area) to support the rebels in the provinces of Kurdistan (Northern Iraq).

Me and a friend were smuggled in the back of a car across checkpoints to the North of Iraq (Kurdistan), where the government had no control over the rural villages. Once we arrived at the villages and gained the trust of the rebels who resided there, they let us join them. We spent two and a half years with them. I was helping this opposition as a physician by treating the wounded, delivering babies, and doing whatever I could to help these sanctioned areas of Iraq. People in Kurdistan weren’t allowed to sell their products to the rest of the country and were isolated, unless they worked directly with Saddam’s government. So, I went on the back of my horse with my medicine bag and a couple of books, travelling as a mobile medical unit between villages in remote areas with the rebels. The government never knew we were a part of the rebels because we changed our identities (our names, our looks, etc.). If they ever found out who we were by a photo or anything, they would go after our families.
My journey ended with the rebels at the end of 1986 when Saddam started throwing chemical bombs into the remote villages of Kurdistan where the rebels used to take shelter. Everyone was dying, birds were dying, animals were dying. I remember thinking to myself that I never appreciated the beauty of the different types of colourful birds there were until I walked through one of the villages that got hit by a chemical bomb a few days earlier and all these birds were laying dead on the ground. At that time I realized that we can not fight a regime that is poisoning the air. I had then left Iraq with the rebels. We had nowhere to escape to other than going to the Iranian cities on the Iraq-Iran border.  

At Saddam Hussein’s time, there was a state, but under dictatorship. No freedom. Although, after the American invasions in 1991 and in 2003, the entire infrastructure of Iraq was completely demolished. All the governments that came after the last invasion in 2003 have been even more corrupt than Saddam. Iraq needs a real, transparent, free election without the involvement of America meddling in its affairs. In Iraq now, elections are a very poor tool for measuring democracy. A democratic country should have equal opportunity for everyone where equal services are provided to everybody. In Iraq, basic services are almost non existent; there’s no clean water, only a few hours of hydro a day, and the unemployment rate is high among young people. Although the oil production companies are doing OK, there is a shortage of oil to Iraqi people. It is very clear that America is not interested in helping people as much as they are interested in controlling the oil of our lands. They didn’t take care of the infrastructure that was destroyed by their very own American war machine.

It is clear the reason for invading Iraq was not to introduce democracy, neither was it because Saddam was a vicious dictator. It was for controlling the oil. Before the invasion, there were hundreds of ways to get Saddam out of power and save hundreds of thousand of innocent victims, but America chose to invade Iraq and take the lives of innocent peoples in such horrific ways. America’s behaviour after the invasion shows they have no interest in democracy and improving the life of the people in the Middle East. As long as the Middle East has the powerhouse of the world, being the largest oil reserve, the warmongers of the Western world will never let this area settle. Until either oil no longer becomes a hot commodity, or the peace and justice prevails in the world. Although, I don’t see either of these two things happening in my lifetime. This is the reality.

Real hope for freedom is dependent on many factors. The main one is that peace and justice will prevail around the world and the people of each country will contribute to it. If we have a government that looks after its own people by genuinely respecting our human rights and cooperating with each other on an equal basis, the international community will not let others take advantage and abuse the resources of our nation.

Young people everywhere have the most power in their hands for a better future. If they stick with the peace for their own country and other countries equally, we could defeat the peace disturbers and live in unity. We would pull the rug out from under the feet of those who are opportunists that want to take the resources of others. Standing in solidarity together to fix the entirety that is our world, not just your own world.

Iraq will always be a part of me; it is the only place where I do not feel like a stranger. I still think about it because that was my childhood, my life, my education. My family still lives there. And it can never be forgotten. I will take those memories to the grave with me. To be away from Iraq for so long has solidified my love of true Iraqi history and has increased my interest to study it more. I keep falling in love with Iraq again and again. I express my love of Iraq and the open wounds I have from being forced to leave through various forms of art like poetry and music that can easily remind me of my old life. Iraq to me will forever be the land of life, the cradle of civilization, and my home.

Falah was born in 1955 in Baghdad, Iraq. He graduated from Mosul Medical School in 1982 and moved to Canada in 1988. He was also the first president of the Iraqi Canadian Society in 1991 and he was the founder and current president of the Kitchener Waterloo Arab Canadian Theatre. He is currently practising medicine as an ER physician and in an urgent care clinic.

Zeena is currently living in her home town Najaf, Iraq. She is studying accounting at the University of Kofa along with pursuing an art career on the side. She enjoys painting and drawing pieces that relate to Arabian culture, nature, and landscapes.

Handling the Unpredictable

a illustration of the left and right brain. the right side is more free flowing and made of swirls and the left side is more rigid with straight lines. the background is blue.

Loss, Grief & Taking Control of Your Emotional State in a Masters Program

By Rose Conlin

I have been working on a Masters degree for the last two years, and it has been a great experience. I say this because I am automatically inclined to love school. The goal/success oriented structure of it, though trying at times, has always provided me with enough stability to go on about my daily life fairly easily. Unfortunately, as many colleagues of mine tend to do in post secondary education, we begin to perceive our education as the only facet of our lives. Performing research for and writing a thesis is a big obligation; however it doesn’t need to be all consuming. Especially when there are so many other facets of life that are uncontrollable and can throw themselves at you chaotically without any warning.

We arrive to a common struggle among Masters students, students; really anyone who is set upon a particular long term task and has difficulties finding balance with the other aspects of their lives. Last year (2018), the first year of my Masters program, was continuously plagued by personal life crises that were completely out of my control, for which I will present a brief and efficient list because that appears to be my best method of communication for this matter (as there is truly no way to accurately portray my feelings for this unfortunate series of events in any form of communication): in the beginning of the year my grandfather (closer akin to my father) passed away; my eldest brother attempted suicide for the first time around that same time, and again, and again, later throughout the year; my horse fractured his leg and I eventually had to make the decision to have him put down, after twelve years of having him in my life; the night before he was put down, I almost died in a car accident. After he was put down, I discovered another brother was attempting suicide and making reckless life choices. Surely you can see that these life events were an immediate distraction from my task of writing a Masters thesis.

And yet throughout this, I continued to try to work, research, and write. I continued to grow more deeply rooted in this systemic disappointment with myself and my inability to produce good work. I was so obsessed with grinding away at academic success that when each of these events took place, the levels of depression, anxiety, and this constant dread for terrible news, death, and dismay grew and grew. Eventually I snapped, after the events of my car accident and my horse’s passing.

There is an excellent way that people have described intense depression and loss: before you lost whatever it was that was dear to you, the world was colourful and vivid… but after loss, you lose any notion of the colour that makes that world so vivid. Your presence is physical, and you are aware of your surroundings but only at a basic level of function; engagement, enjoyment, and energy… they are all gone. Attempting to write a Masters thesis while this snap from life happens is truly a feat that I don’t think anyone could effectively accomplish- at least I know that I could not. I stopped my writing, I stopped my research,  I contacted my advisor and asked for an informal break from schooling to prioritize my mental health.

Unfortunately, even when I did begin working again, which was only a month after my accident, I was not mentally prepared to tackle the task ahead of me. The best way to describe this is that I was still in that discoloured state of mind. Yet the pressure that I perceived was upon me to perform constantly ate away at my confidence, self-esteem, and overall mental state. Because of this, the depression and anxiety became more and more consuming as time went on. Why? Simple- I wasn’t allowing myself to heal. I wasn’t giving myself lenience in the steps that I needed to take to heal. I wasn’t recognizing the validity of my emotions. It is truly incredibly the amount of pressure we put on ourselves to succeed academically.

Fast forward three months later. It was November and I was sick of feeling horrible and worthless about my inability to meet my academic expectations. I began to recognize the cycle that I was a part of – grieving over my losses, attempting to perform while being consumed by that grief, and grieving more over my perceived “inability” to perform effectively – and I broke it. Or at least the part related to school. That is the funny thing about grief; it never goes away, but you do learn how to manage it with time. However, the unhealthy cycle that happens when you are unable to fulfill your own high expectations is something that can be worked with. I began to recognize where my disappointment and depression was stemming from, and addressed it head on. I set a lighter schedule for myself, and more realistic deadlines so that I could ease back into research while addressing my own grief. To start this all on a positive note, I scheduled my tentative research trip to the Netherlands and used that as a great opportunity for a fresh start.

In the last three months since recognizing my cycle with depression and creating a realistic plan to resolve the issues that were in my control, I am proud to say that I have been able to focus once again on my research. Mind you, I often have minor episodes of doubt, insecurity, or ill thoughts towards my productivity. However, I do not allow them to consume me as they did before.Without such high expectations for production, I have found that my work is steadily improving in quality and quantity as time goes on. Being able to regain control over the academic facet of my life after my high expectations doomed me to such crippling depression and anxiety is a feat of strength that I can very easily say I am proud of.

What I learned from this experience is that life has a tendency to throw curve balls from every and any angle, and they will always be unexpected to some extent. I have also learned that in our daily work, goals, hobbies, and passions, we often hold ourselves to unrealistically high standards that we could never possibly succeed in reaching because they are created by us as a means to constantly improve. This perception can be very unhealthy if not kept in check; especially in times when loss, trauma, or tragedy happens and you must now juggle ten pressures instead of one, it is better to recognize your high expectations and inhibit their ability to tamper with your emotions more than life already is. School isn’t everything, don’t let your inability to perform in it while you are grieving or suffering in any way further consume your wellbeing.

Rose Conlin is currently enrolled in an MA in Art History and Visual Culture at the University of Guelph. Although her life goal is to become a professor, Rose also enjoys spending her time reading fantasy novels, painting, playing the Legend of Zelda, and having bubble baths.

Finding Common Ground and Fighting Nazis:

a blue image of nazi symbol being shattered by a nail

An Interview with Loretta Ross

By Julianah Oguntala & Shabina Lafleur-Gangji

With the rise of hate crimes and the lack of preventative strategies government are adopting to prevent the radicalization of white supremacists, it can be to easy to feel helpless. In times like these, it can be so important to turn to our elders to help in our fight justice

Recently, I was given the opportunity to interview one of my heros, internationally-acclaimed author, activist and feminist, Loretta Ross, about her work dismantling hate groups. Loretta was the Founder and former Executive Director of the National Center for Human Rights Education (NCHRE) in Atlanta, Georgia, former Program Research Director at the Center for Democratic Renewal/National Anti-Klan Network, the third Executive Director of the first rape crisis centre in the United States and organizer of the largest protest in U.S. history. She holds an immense wealth of knowledge and decades of experience I think many of us could learn from.

Shabina: I’d like to thank you for taking you time to speak with me today. I first wanted to ask you about some of the struggles and challenges you faced when you led your organizing efforts.

Loretta Ross: Well, the biggest struggle, of course, is that when you are doing anti-fascist work, you have to get fascist, which is not always pleasant work and you are not necessarily hanging out with the right people. I was the only woman who ran a research department studying hate groups at the time and I was the only Black person to do it. And so, there was a lot of embedded misogyny and surprisingly, racism amongst the anti-racist movement .

S: Do you feel that has changed over time?

LR: Well, there is certainly more diversity in the people doing the work. Whether or not there is still misogyny or racism in the movement, since I don’t do the work anymore, I can’t say that the organizations are less racist or misogynist. But there are certainly more women writing about fascism. I organized a retreat last year on women and fascism and was able to bring together almost 15-20 people who do that research now and they were all women.

S:Can you talk a bit about the difference in terms of the approach in women-centered anti-fascist organizing vs. the former circles you were running with?

LR: Well, one of the things that men consistently doing the work fail to do is integrate an analysis of gender and so they weren’t intersectional. They usually only talked about racism and sometimes anti-semitism. They rarely talked about homophobia, and never, none of us talked about transphobia, to be honest. I means we weren’t that far ahead of the curve.

But they didn’t integrate gender to my satisfaction. For example, I thought that the violence against abortion providers by the violent vigilante subculture was connected to racist violence and to homophobic and anti-immigrant violence. I thought the walls between what looked like separate movements were in fact right polarists, and people were crossing over. If we are able to be intersectional in their hatred and that was very hard to persuade my male colleagues to give as much attention to misogynist violence as they gave to racist, anti-semitic and occasionally anti-Indian and anti-Immigrant violence.

S: Thanks. Did you want to chat a bit about what you did or what your role was, what were some of the goals of your organization at that time?

LR: Well, the Center for Democratic Renewal National Anti-klan network was the first group to monitor hate groups like that. We started in 1979, two years before the Southern Poverty Law Center. It was started by veterans of the Civil Rights movement, Black and White veterans of the movement. And so, our first goal was to identify people and organizations in the hate movement and our second goal was to publish reports about them to warn people of their potential for violence and therefore potential for affecting the discourse on civil rights, hate, and anti-semitism in the United States. And our third goal was to organize effective responses to them and that meant working with the affected communities. Let’s say when the Klan decided to have a march, to help people come up with effective non-violent responses − because the tendency was for people to want to bury their heads in the sands, hoping that they would go away. Or you had the other extreme response which was the response of violence with violence and we didn’t want either of those responses because they were less than helpful. I started as their program director and my job, at the beginning, was on the community responses. When our research director Leonard Zeskind retired after he got the MacArthur Genius Award, I became the research and program director. And so then my job was monitoring the preparation of reports and dealing with the media.

S: What was your experience working with ex-Klan Members like?  I have read that you have done some rehabilitation with people who had left the Klan. Did you find their ideologies changed when they were working with you?

LR: I don’t think I was responsible at all for their change in ideology because usually they had left the organizations before they contacted the centre and there were a variety of reasons for why they left. Probably the largest single impulse to leave was to avoid being liable, or at least being held responsible, for the criminal activities of the groups of which they were associated. One particular person, Floyd Cochrane, said he left because his second son had been born with a cleft palate and his Nazi buddies said the Aryan Nations told him that his son was a genetic defect who needed to be eliminated; so he had quite a personal reason for re-evaluating the company that he kept. One family, Kian and Carol Peterson, left the KKK because of criminal activities that they didn’t want to held accountable for. So, there were a variety of reasons. The impact that we would have, first of all, was to help them get out of danger. Quite often, they would leave these organizations secretly, sometimes not even being able to carry clothes with them or their household furnishings or anything. They snuck away because they were afraid of retribution from their former colleagues. So it was an informal underground to get them relocated to another city. Similar to a community-based witness protection program. We weren’t the state, we weren’t law enforcement, so we had limited resources. And quite often we would use churches and things as ways to provide them support while they were reorganizing their lives. We did introduce them to different concepts and very rarely was anybody in the hate groups prepared to have conversation on homophobia, for example. And one of the significant moments that I experienced was when Floyd Cochrane had to testify. – chose to testify – I should say, in support of LGBT rights at a state legislature that was trying to pass a hate crime speil.  And that was probably his first time ever really speaking up in support of gay rights. He was trying to make amends for all the wrongs that he had done so he was willing to have his mind expanded.

S: You have been involved with a wide range of social justice fights and activisms. From the founding of the National Center for Human Rights and Education to being their program and research director at the Center for Democratic Renewal/ the national Anti-Klan Network. What motivates you to keep going and to keep the fight going?

LR: Well, I think my biggest motivation is my passion for human rights, which of course evolved over the decade. This wasn’t what I immediately started with. I was a rape and incest survivor and that led me to the anti-violence movement. It was there that I learned to teach Black feminist theory to Black men who were incarcerated, who were rapists themselves. What I learned about myself was that I could have very insightful, passionate conversations with people I wouldn’t necessarily bring home for coffee. And so when you are a survivor, you do the things that help you survive and eventually I developed a passion for social justice and dealt with the assassination of a political colleague in 1980 which frightened a lot of people because we were doing only legal activities so we never thought that the state would move so aggressively against us. Somewhat naively, we didn’t believe that. After Yolanda Ward was assassinated, I had to make a decision. I either had to recommit myself to being in the struggle or do like the majority of my colleagues did and go back into their regular lives. And so that was the point, 1980 was the year I decided that I was going to be a social justice activist for the rest of my life, however long that life was.

S: In terms of the current movement to end race-based violence, what kind of advice do you have for activists and organizers?

LR: Well, I can only pass on the same advice that was offered to me. As I said, my mentor was Leonard Zeskind, and he once told me to lighten up because I was taking the work entirely too seriously. And he said fighting Nazis should be fun, it’s being a Nazi that sucks. And I have always taken that to heart that we can do this work for human rights without sacrificing our joie de vivre and we really can see the world as a wonderful place full of promise and opportunities even as we deal with this netherworld of cynicism and hate. And to not descend into being cynical or hateful ourselves.

S: Right now, you are working on a book, Calling In the Calling Out Culture. Did you want to give a brief description of what the book will be about?

LR: Yes, It’s called Calling In the Calling out Culture and it actually was inspired by a fellow Canadian, Asam Ahmad. He and I spoke on a program together at the University of Massachusetts and I actually was perturbed in the early 2000’s by the vitriol of the internet culture. I was actually surprised by it because I’m fairly elderly, so I wasn’t aware of how much shade was being thrown, how much calling out was being done over the internet. And so when I observed this phenomenon and spoke about it, this young woman told me that this was part of the call out culture and of course young people had named it. And so this caused me to do an internet search and that was when I encountered Asam’s writing on the topic. And so, I began to read a lot on it. And then I figured I had something minor to contribute to trying to change this call out culture, since I had done this anti-rape work working with men who had murdered women and raped them and since I had done this anti-rape work working with men who had murdered women and raped them and since I had done that reprogramming of people in hate groups and things like that. That’s just decades working with problematic allies, in the predominantly white women’s movement. I thought I had learned some lessons that I would like to share about working with people without indulging in the call out culture. And so that’s what I tried to package up in my book. One of my life lessons about dealing with people you don’t agree with is also that you don’t use tactical calling them out as a way of building movements.

S: What are you hoping that the book can incite in terms of impacting call out culture?

LR: Well, the book is primarily on skills building as a pathway for building a more unified human rights movement and so, it’s about self-forgiveness, so that you can then forgive others for the mistakes that they make. It’s about how you can actually go through steps of listening to diverse points of views that you don’t necessarily agree with but still keep the conversation ball rolling. It’s about showing people that it’s possible to do activism in a lot of different ways without doing it in a way that violates people’s human rights.

S: Over your work doing rehabilitative work and working with people who have done some pretty awful things, how do you feel about people’s ability to transform? Do you have hope that we can get through this?

LR: I think the majority of people are just good people who do bad things. And I think that the majority of humanity, if we are honest with ourselves, we are all victimized violators capable of having our human rights violated, and at the same time capable of violating someone else’s human rights. And so that’s kind of how I see the world. I tend to really focus on forgiving others and start from forgiving myself. And trying to find that common ground where we can have discourse, where we can have conversation not with the goal of persuading people to agree with me or believe me. But with the goal of persuading them to work with me so we that can build a human rights movement.

S: Thanks so much, Loretta.

Loretta Ross is the Founder and former Executive Director of the National Center for Human Rights Education (NCHRE) in Atlanta, Georgia, former Program Research Director at the Center for Democratic Renewal/National Anti-Klan Network, the third Executive Director of the first rape crisis centre in the United States and co-organizer of the largest protest in U.S. history.

Black and white picture of shabina hand picking dandelions

Shabina is a community herbalist and organizer working towards the liberation of all people.

Julianah Oguntala is a second year Biomedical Sciences student at the University of Guelph. She hopes to pursue a long career as a physician, providing compassionate care to those who need it the most. She loves to read and spend time with her family.

A Journey Home

painting of a silhoutte of person rowing in a lake. the skies are pink and redish and the lake is purple and blueish

The Decolonizing Work of Nancy Rowe

By Xicohtencatl Maher Lopez with Nancy Rowe

It was with this idea that Giidaakunadaad, or Nancy Rowe, a Mississauga, Ojibwe, Bear Clan Kwe of the Anishinaabek Nation, founded Akinomaagaye Gaamik, also known as the Lodge of Learning. Akinomaagaye Gaamik is a grassroots initiative with a mission that began with the intention of bringing back culture to the people living on the Mississaugas of the New Credit reservation and other Indigenous peoples. The lodge also strives to educate not only Indigenous people, but all peoples who are interested in learning about Indigenous ways of knowing, of doing, of living, of history, of health and the environment. Akinomaagaye Gaamik began in response to a lack of access to cultural knowledge and teachings on her home reservation of New Credit, but stems from a twenty-five year journey of coming home to a culture that, thanks to colonialism and assimilation, was taken from her as it was from many other people on New Credit reservation.

“The lodge is all about decolonizing. Learn our language, our history, so we can defend our grandfathers and grandmothers. Learn how to live a good life. The big philosophy and principles in Anishinaabe is to live a good life. We have laws that say this is what you do to live a good life. You be honest, be kind, you share, you be loving. You incorporate this into your life. It’s not a poster on the wall called seven grandfathers, its something inside your being that says this is how to conduct yourself, to be a good human while you’re here. The other big piece of that was bringing Creator. Nowhere in that western way did they bring in Creation as that ultimate teacher.”

New Credit reservation is a small reservation, and in Nancy’s words is “about 5 concessions big, it’s not much land at all. There’s no water here either.” Located in a far corner of it’s neighbour reservation, Six Nations, the Mississaugas of the Credit have lived on this reservation since 1847. When speaking on the reasons why Akinomaagaye Gaamik was built, Nancy told the story of Rita Montour, a woman from her reservation who was nearing a hundred years old before she passed. Nancy said, “Rita, did you ever go to a traditional funeral? Did you ever hear Anishinaabemowin? I was asking her all these questions because she’s a hundred years old, and she can tap another 100 years through her grandmother and great grandmother. And we moved here in 1847, so her memory could go back that far. And she said she had never witnessed any kind of ceremonies here at New Credit.” She explains how there are two lodges built, one that was built eighteen years ago in the form of a large, stretched out tipi in which ceremonies are often held, and the other a wooden roundhouse, and that these lodges,  together, bring culture and knowledge that has “never been seen here on New Credit.”

Nancy Rowe decided to do something about this lack of cultural knowledge on her home reservation. Six years ago, Nancy, her husband and other collaborators built the lodge with the intention of attracting Elders of the highest caliber to New Credit in order to provide a direct knowledge transfer between the Elders and those who came to learn. “People were so excited for the lodge they would come and work for food. I would cook all day and the carpenters would build all day. We started in February and had it [the lodge] up and operational by April.”

Akinomaagaye Gaamik attracts many different people— from young school children to deputy ministers from the Government— all seeking to learn more about Anishinaabe ways of life, of seeing, of doing. The lodge hosts programming such as cultural workshops, Moccasin project workshops, and traditional ceremonies. Nancy says, “With permission from elders I share a little culture with them [settlers], not to make them Anishinaabe but to show them just how intelligent Anishinaabe is … We have been working to really position Indigenous knowledge at a higher level.” According to her, education revitalizes ceremonies, and the lodge “gives people exposure to this other world … people call it ceremonies, but it really is education.”

When asked what other kinds of work needs to be done in order for Indigenous people to heal from colonization, Nancy stressed the importance of education being brought to Indigenous people once again. “When I was done my degree with poli-sci, I was pissed, man … I have spent 48 years living under colonial rule. I’m a card carrying Indian, every day of my life is determined by Indian affairs, so I was mad … My teachings say you can’t stay angry, you’ll get sick.”

“If 99% of them [canadians] are ignorant to our issues, I want to bring them out of that [ignorance]. I didn’t want to be aggressive and say hey you’re a colonizer, did you know? You’re reaping the benefits of my land that my grandfathers shared with you. My strategy was I’m gonna teach them the truth … There’s an entire body of people here, suffering.”

Nancy Rowe is also one of the founders of the Da-Giiwewaat (So They Can Go Home) Moccasin project, which seeks to “bring attention to the contemporary genocide that’s happening right now in this country”. Nancy is referring to the canadian child welfare system, and how nationwide the child welfare system disproportionately targets Indigenous families. She says, “The operating policy of the government of canada is genocidal. They still wanna get rid of the Indian … They are after the bigger picture, which is the land.” She then references the statistics in Manitoba which show that 11,000 children are currently in care, and 90% of these children are Indigenous, or statistics such as the one that says forty Indigenous babies are taken from Manitoba hospitals each month. She explains that when one reads these statistics and analyzes the way the system is structured, one realizes quickly that “Indigenous children in the welfare system are basic income units, they keep that ministry operating.”

“I don’t want child welfare to be like residential school. Residential schools operated for 175 years. Child welfare has been around since 1945.” she explains. The destructive, oppressive nature of the child welfare system is what lead Nancy, along with other Indigenous women like Colinda Clyne, to start the Moccasin project. Nancy’s idea was that if Indigenous children in the foster care system were gifted baby moccasins as something to take with them on their journey through foster care, that when they grew older they could begin to question why they had these moccasins, and that this curiosity could spark their journey home. Thus came the name, Da-Giiwewaat, So They Can Go Home. In foster care, very few Indigenous children are able to retain their culture, as it is a system likened to the residential schools, and is a continuation of the Sixties Scoop, seeking to severe the ties Indigenous children have with their culture, their traditional ways of knowing, their language, their land, and their family.

The Moccasin Project, like Akinomaagaye Gaamik, is a shining example of what true action towards reconciliation can look like. Nancy says that the project works closely with educators who seek to highlight the issues of the canadian child welfare system by bringing Moccasin making workshops to classrooms and even to entire schools across the country. The project also fosters new relationships with community based organizations who wish to also support the project, such as friendship centers or community health programs. “It’s doing what it was intended to do, which was raise awareness for child welfare,” says Nancy, who made a promise to Cora Morgan, a First Nations Family Advocate from Manitoba who showed Nancy the grim statistics from Manitoba, that “wherever I go, I’ll talk about this”.

The final question asked of Nancy was on what futures and possibilities she saw for healing in the wake of colonialism, to which she stressed the utmost importance of Indigenous people learning their language and culture. “We can’t even understand our own world yet without our language.” To Nancy, true reconciliation means “putting back what was taken. Period.”

“Everything was taken from us. Our land, our culture, our language. In education, the job of educators and the system is to create opportunity for native children to access their culture and language … Those priests and nuns didn’t have any pity when they were taking that language from our children. We should have no limitations on how much it is gonna take to put that back.”

The importance of education plays a big role in true decolonization and reconciliation according to Nancy, who says, “If one child in the whole school wants to learn their language, then we must do whatever it takes for them to learn.” Assisting each and every individual Indigenous youth is where the role of educators and of the school system appears, and Nancy says that educators should do everything in their power to fully support Indigenous children on their journey home to their culture.

Through her impressive work throughout her own 25 year long journey home, Nancy exemplifies the actions that are necessary to begin the journey of decolonization and reconciliation on Turtle Island. Akinomaagaye Gaamik, the Da-Giiwewaat project, and her own personal convictions and actions are what is desperately needed across the continent to achieve these goals of decolonization and reconciliation to birth a healing legacy. She says of reconciliation, “I really do not see the level of reconciliation that we are going to require in order to put things back to the way they were”. To put things back to the way they were is to heal the traumas, to bring back as much knowledge as possible that has been lost over the centuries, to support future Indigenous generations by building the structures that will be necessary to help each and every individual Indigenous person on this long journey home to their land, language, culture and self- all of which the work Nancy has accomplished has assisted. “Put it back the way it was- that’s reconciliation. Put it right.”

Giidaakunadaad (The Spirit Who Lives in High Places) n’dizhinikaaz (is my name): Nancy Rowe is a Mississauga, Ojibwe of the Anishinaabek Nation located at New Credit First Nation, ON. Nancy holds an honors BA in Indigenous Studies and Political Science. She is an educator, consultant and a Traditional Practitioner of Anishinaabek lifeway’s, views and customary practices and is currently completing a Master’s degree of Environmental Resource Studies at the University of Waterloo.

Xicohtencatl Maher is a 2spirited Tlaxcaltecan Nahua and Newfie, born in Mexico and living currently on Anishinaabek territory. He is an activist, artist, writer, escuincle and shit-disturber, and in his free time enjoys mixed martial arts and going out on the land.