3 Poems

Poems and artwork by Kamika Peters


He slinks away in the night
And returns in his home on wheels
Bedding made of the devil's wrappers
A woman took an axe to his knee
He cut a woman's face
A scar across her eye
I stayed invisible
when I went to school with her son
He wants to see me
He says he'll pay
with cash
But he can't afford time wasted
I used to fight through her to see him
Arms soft like fresh bread
But strong
I would sing my song at the door
Pools for eyes
She's not in today
I would cry
Sit tight
I will be back
as quick as peanut butter
In a garage parking lot
during an Algonquin winter
He puts a lime in the cash box
For the wicked people dem
Bad mind people
be aware
But don't mind
He is going in
I might be 26 or 29
He might be 49 or 52
Either one of could be dead
More for me for him to miss
More of him for me to forgive
More of me for myself to forgive
During the time

Lily of the St. Micheal

She throws her napkin at me
I don't need to see inside
I know
It's filled with the usual
Chewed grape skins
She laughs at me
Soft lips over hard gums
Hard knuckles in the air
She asks me if I want a sandwich
And sticks out her tongue
I shriek for her
I laugh with her
I am a cackling hen
I love her
She calls me monkey
In any other context
Other than her love
I would be upset
She sings me a song
About a brown skin girl
She laughs at the end of the song
After she's gone I realize
She changed the ending
As sweet as the sugar spoons
For her Orange Pekeo
To me
I miss her everyday


Your mother twisted your words as if it was her tongue
Wove a narrative for you to be a saviour of which you never asked
Couldn't hold you unless she was upheld
Couldn't kiss you unless it was a spell
I am rooted in an understanding that I must convey to your foundation
To illustrate my love in words you should have learnt from birth
Nisam Mama

Portrait of Kamika

Kamika Peters
Kamika Peters is an odd, twenty-something years old budding multi-disciplinary artist who happens to be a black, queer, femme with disabilities born on Algonquin territory to West Indian guardians. Predominately self-taught and interested in exploring  complex truths in their identity, their trauma, and the oppressive paradigms that exist in their world using many mediums.

Report Back From #OccupyINAC Toronto

by Carrie (Teyon-nanit-skwah-kwá:nyu’) Lester: Land Defender / Water Protector

Kanien’keha:ka (Mohawk) through my mother and her mother, from Six Nations Grand River Territory.

May 2016


That was the chant that broke out from our determined group of about 30 disparate folk who walked into Toronto’s INAC (Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada) office building on St Clair Ave East near Yonge St, in midtown Toronto, on that fateful day of Wednesday, April 13th, 2016,( the day before my daughter’s 26th birthday), as the Regional Director of Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada walked away from us and our questions.

Little did we realize, but we were about to embark on a week-long (plus) occupation of the INAC office in Toronto, which would cause a ripple effect of similar occupations across Canada. We were ill-prepared for such an endeavour, as we had no supplies with us to sustain us for more than a few hours, let alone overnight, or more than a week!

So why did our small, but concerned, group of men, women, and children, (Indigenous and Allies, from Black Lives Matter, and other non-Native Settler folk, young and old(er), enter the office of Indigenous Affairs? Well, it’s because after 500 years of non-native settlers (Invaders!) arriving in droves to these beautiful lands, and more than 200 years of colonial domination and warring by the British and the French, and almost 150 years of Colonial Canada, things have not sat well with Native Folk.

Yet another crisis had struck stricken one of our northern communities, Attawapiskat (northern Ontario Cree community, west side of James Bay, the lower part of Hudson’s Bay), in which despairing youth, who saw no future for themselves, had made suicide pacts with each other, and had just tried, unsuccessfully, to take their lives. On the weekend before we paid our visit to the INAC office, eleven Youth had attempted suicide. Several days later, while we were occupying the office, another thirteen had attempted suicide, but there was nowhere to treat this new group, because the hospital was still dealing with the other eleven, and so about half of these thirteen Youth had to be housed in the jail, under supervision, while waiting for room at the hospital.

Native Communities from across Turtle Island, aka so-called Canada and United States of America, have been suffering under the oppression of what became the dominant societies, living in squalor after the War of 1812, as bit by bit, we found ourselves rounded up and removed from our lands, and put onto patches of land deemed unfit for the never-ending hordes of New Comers from the Britain, the United Kingdom, and Europe. No longer needed by these New Comers to assist in surviving in this new territory, no longer needed to assist in military operation, our ancestors were relegated to be out of sight, out of mind, awaiting their expected demise. The Death of the Noble Savage.

Lands were stolen, held by greedy Land Barons, and sold off to fatten their bank coffers, cut up and sold again and again. Treaties were made with some of our people, to take the land, but our people were under the impression that lands were to be shared. Shared and looked after, as had been done since time immemorial. The new people did not know how to live on the land respectfully. They did not know how to learn the language of the land. They did not know how to take the time to learn the language of the land.

Over time, our people being restricted to these plots of land called Indian Reserve Lands, fell into different states of despair, and squalor. Impoverished for the first time ever, they were forced to take handouts from the Indian Agents who oversaw the goings-on on these Reserves, aka Prisoner of War Camps. Food and clothing rations would be handed out to the community members, as hunting and fishing became more and more restricted. There was a long period of time in which movement off these reserve lands was controlled by the Indian Agent, the Prison Warden, using a policy known as the Pass System, in which the Agent had the authority to either allow, or disallow movement on and off the Reserve with permission slips. If you were found off- Reserve without one of these permission slips, you’d be jailed and fined.

This system was set up to allow for the eventual ruin of our People, so that once we were fully assimilated or dead, ALL the lands across the territories would no longer be held by Indian Title or Treaty, and would all belong outright to the Crown for full exploitation and extraction of Resources, aka Gifts of the Land: the Tree-Beings, the Food and Medicine Beings, the 4-Leggeds, the Flyers, the Swimmers, the Crawlers, the Waters, aka our Relations.

Much of the Reserve Lands that our People were forced onto, were lands that were barren, and ill-fit for the European-style farming that was to be forced upon us all. Often times, as in the case of Attawapiskat, we were put onto flood plains. Flood plains were normally places that one would visit at certain times of the year, but never to live on permanently. Very few of our communities lived on specific lands permanently. We moved about with the seasons, and with our 4-Legged Relations; however, we would always come back to specific places each season. Those of us with winters had our Wintering Grounds, and our Summering Grounds. Over time, we had come to agreements with our neighbours for sharing of these Lands. In particular, here in what is now Southern Ontario, the Haudenosaunee and the Anishinaabek had made a Treaty with the Dish and One Spoon Wampum Belt, which determined the sharing of the lands and it’s food sources, by allowing us to:

1) use (or ‘eat’) only what was needed from the Dish; 2) leave enough for others in the Dish; and 3) keep the Dish (area) clean.

Without the ability to move about, coastal communities like Attawapiskat must endure almost yearly evacuations in the Spring due to the flooding that takes place. Attawapiskat has also declared several States of Emergency since 2006, five in fact, for water contamination, for flooding, for sewage contamination, for housing shortages and unfit homes due to black mold and lack of (clean) running water, and most recently for the Youth suicides. Since September of 2015, there have been about one hundred attempted suicides by the Youth of Attawapiskat. ONE HUNDRED: out of a population of about 2,000 residents. Their hospital has only fifteen beds; no full- time doctors, (there is not enough housing for the community, let alone the doctors!) who fly in four days per week, three weeks out of a month; two nurses on weekend duty; and no regular mental health workers over the past nine months, again, due to the housing shortage.

The desperation of the Youth of Attawapiskat really hit them hard during a nearly thirty-five year period of neglect by the Federal Government of Canada, while their pleas for help for their ill health, due to what was found to be diesel oil contamination under their elementary school, seemed to go unheard, but was really just government stalling and bungling. For many years the Youth and the teachers and other staff endured headaches and nosebleeds due to the vapours of the diesel fuel. Finally, a temporary band aid solution was set up, in which portables were brought up to take the place of the school, but they eventually became the permanent solution to the problem, as the Minister of Indian Affairs decided that they at least HAD a school, stating that some Reserves had NO schools.

So, all of this brought our group of like-minded people together on that morning of Wednesday, April 13th, to meet with the Director of Indigenous Affairs, and demand that they do their job of opening up their purse strings of the trillions of dollars held in trust which belong to all First Nations, and put pressure on the Federal Government to do their job and look after these issues of mental health, housing, water and flooding, and STOP with the quick fix band aid solutions.

Our arrival was a bit alarming for the receptionist at the desk in the office, as we came in with banners and signs, and some of us laid out on the floor of the office, spattering ourselves with red paint, to symbolize the deaths and attempted suicides of the Youth, as we held a ‘die-in’. We also lit a sage smudge to purify and calm the area, and the receptionist actually backed away from the smudge shell, seemingly unaware of its purpose and significance. This alarmed US! Why was this staff member NOT aware of the most basic symbol of our spirituality? This place was definitely in need of Cultural Training 101!

So, it took over three hours for Regional Director Mauricette Howlett to actually come out from her office to meet with us, after which she only gave us typical platitudes … such as, “we’re doing the best we can”, “we feel the same way you do”, “we’re looking after things”. When she finished with these pathetic words, we spoke up with questions … and she turned and left the reception area, going back to her office, refusing to take our questions, never to come out again that day. That’s when we spoke up with our chant of “You walk away? We stay!”

And stay we did. For almost nine days. We had no extra clothing, no food, no extra diapers for the 3 year-old child with us, no blankets, and no medications that some of us needed. Some of us had to call into our work places to let them know that we wouldn’t be in to work the next day, and more days as the occupation kept going. Some of us would leave as the days went on, choosing to take up space on the outside of the building to educate the passing public as to what was going on inside, and to act as support for food and clothing for those of us inside.

We had called for media to attend the initial entrance of our group to the office, but as time went on, more media arrived for the (non) meeting with the Director, and our surprising situation with what would become the occupation of the office.

Our first few days were chaotic with media interviews, getting media releases out, setting up a Facebook page, organizing food and clothing and medications, setting up the space for living in, child-minding, securing privacy spaces away from the prying eyes of police and security (initially, we were watched over by police for the first few days, but that job eventually fell to the building security team, many of whom became supportive of our cause), making sleeping arrangements (finding space on the floor, first with just the clothes on our backs, then as supplies arrived, we were able to use blankets under us and over us), calling home to families to let them know what we were doing and that we were ok, and having to deal with the ever-changing security conditions / human rights infractions that were being imposed upon us, such as washroom facility use: initially we were allowed to use the washrooms that were on other floors with police escort, but then that was curtailed, and a couple of slop buckets were brought up for us to use, along with toilet paper (ridiculously, we were allowed to empty the buckets in the very toilets that we were not allowed to use, along with police escort to make sure we didn’t take the opportunity to use the toilets!); the ever-changing electrical light and air circulation conditions, which we later realized was their energy use conservation system, (however, the lack of air circulation lead many of us to develop respiratory problems, such as dry throats, and for at least one of us, sore and bleeding mouths and swollen tongue); the ability to move about and get fresh air; the ability to practice our cultural and spiritual ceremonies, such as smudging, without setting off the fire alarms, and having our Pipecarriers and Elders (Grandmothers and Grandfathers) attend to our ceremonial needs.

Eventually things began to settle down, the media left us as we had suggested they pay attention to the Youth, and we set about trying to figure out how this would end. We needed to connect with the Youth of Attawapiskat, and even the Chief, Bruce Shisheesh. We had attempted to connect with Chief Shisheesh several times before even going to the office without success. The night before we went to the building, we were able to find an article from the Youth of Attawapiskat which gave a list of their demands, which we could use as our demands for our eventual departure. These included things that we here in the south take for granted, like a youth centre, a library, a parenting centre, a recycling system, a movie theatre, an arcade, a skate park, a (new?) church, Traditional Teachings, and dry land, among other things. Pretty basic stuff, eh? Oh, and one of the items on the list was also a visit between the Youth and the Prime Minister, who is also the self-appointed Minister of Youth!

We found assistance in our dilemma with lack of contact with the Youth in a person who eventually arrived on the scene, and who had been born in Attawapiskat, but who had moved away to the city for most of her upbringing. She was able to connect us with the youth from the Youth Council, who advised us that the list was not quite a list of demands, it was more of a brainstorming exercise. The Youth Centre was still a priority, but they also wanted the mercury contamination to be cleaned up (effluent from the nearby DeBeers diamond mine), a breakup of the monopoly that the only store in town, the Northern Store, had on the community, where prices of the most basic items would be out of reach of any southern community ( twenty dollars for a case of pop, thirteen dollars for a carton of juice, forty dollars for thirty rolls of toilet paper, one thousand dollars for a mattress, forty dollars for diapers), and Traditional Elders to help get back to the Teachings of the Land.

Since we chose as our main focus initially as the meeting with the Prime Minister, and the promise of the building of the Youth Centre, we kept to that, along with the promise of the other items to be addressed as quickly as possible. However, we all know that these issues are not new, nor are they isolated to this Reserve. There are about one hundred Reserves with boil water advisories, some of which have been in states of emergency for this issue for over ten years, and issues of deplorable housing conditions.

On Monday, April 18th, a delegation of politicians, including NDP MP for the region, Charlie Angus, Minister of Indigenous Affairs Carolyn Bennett, and even Regional Director Mauricette Howlett flew up to Attawapiskat to meet with the Youth and the community (Howlett initially refused to go up because, as she stated to us, she couldn’t leave her staff alone without her! After we held a lengthy and transformative Sharing Circle with her, we convinced her that surely her staff has worked without her before, and that she MUST attend the meeting on the Monday). After the meeting, the Youth let it be known that they were satisfied with the promises made, and wanted us to stand down, and take the spotlight off of them. They let us know that they didn’t mind if we stayed if we were to support the other occupations that had developed across the country: Winnipeg was first, then Vancouver, after all offices across the country shut down, and then in Regina and Edmonton encampments took place outside. There were also Sacred Fires lit, such as in Halifax, and demonstrations in Ottawa, and a couple of band offices were taken over as well.

Once we were satisfied that the Youth were satisfied with the meeting, and after contacting the other Occupations in Winnipeg and Vancouver, we set to working out our exit strategy and timing. By Wednesday, our discussions with our fellow Occupiers were done, and we had had an agreement with Mauricette Howlett to keep in touch, we let it be known that we’d be leaving the following day. We set to work on organizing our belongings and the incredible bounty of food that had been donated to our cause which sustained our eight and a half day occupation for the coming exit. The next afternoon, Thursday, April 21th, we departed the office and met with our supporters on the outside who had organized another rally to greet us, and said our goodbyes to the Security Staff who had befriended us.

Carrie Lester
Carrie Lester (Teyon-nanit-skwah-kwá:nyu’), Mohawk (Kanien’keha:ka) through her mother and grandmother from Six Nations Grand River Territory; grew up and resides in Toronto (Tkarónto); mother of two grownchildren; by day, works with school children with Learning Difficulties and Autism; Land Defender / Water Protector.

I Believe Survivors & Tent City Actions Merge: What Community Healing Can Look Like

by Eddie Jude

On March 24th, 2016, the day of the verdict for the Jian Ghomeshi sexual assault trial in Toronto, I was at the Black Lives Matter occupation, Tent City, outside police headquarters. The fifteen day occupation sought justice for Andrew Loku, a Black man who was shot and killed by Toronto police. The person next to me read out the live tweets of Ghomeshi’s acquittal and judge’s comments on the (lack of) integrity of the witnesses. When I heard that he wouldn’t be convicted, I didn’t even bat an eyelash. I literally felt nothing. At one point I said I didn’t want to hear anymore and so the person stopped reading out loud and we both went on with our day. I knew from the start that Ghomeshi would never be charged, because if most ordinary men never get charged let alone convicted for sexual assault, then what were the chances that this B-list celebrity would?

A month prior, singer Kesha was told by a judge that she’d have to fulfill her recording contract with her label, which meant continuing to work with producer, Dr. Luke, who was also her rapist. A week before that the vocalist of a punk band called Bleed the Pigs put out a public statement saying they’d been assaulted by their bandmate, who, once confronted, dipped out of the band and ghosted off to tour with another one of his projects. Back in January, the world erupted into arguments over whether or not David Bowie was a rapist for having had sex with a teenager.

Every day my online news feed is filled with more and more breaking news about men in various entertainment scenes and industries who assault women, femmes, and gender nonconforming people. What stays the same with every story is that people will say or do almost anything to hold up the reputations of these men no matter how many survivors come forward. Over thirty women say they were drugged and raped by Bill Cosby, each having an almost identical story, and yet people still believe that these women are corroborating. I never really understand what people think survivors have to gain going to criminal court because literally the only people making money are the lawyers and pretty much the only people on trial are, well, seemingly the survivors.

All this goes to reiterate, that the day Ghomeshi was declared not guilty, I felt nothing. It all unfolded exactly as I had expected it to; the survivors were humiliated, their stories discredited, their privacy breached; Ghomeshi never took the stand once, and then he walked free. Rape culture ran its course and subsequently, no justice was served.

That same day, survivors and protesters alike congregated at Old City Hall to express their support to the trial’s witnesses at the ‘I Believe Survivors’ rally. At first I was stunned that these women would show their faces after what they had just gone through, but then I remembered that when I was raped, I got up the next day and life continued as usual. The world doesn’t stop when your abuser walks free. You just try to avoid them and hope that you don’t get raped again in your lifetime. Maybe you see a counselor or a therapist. Maybe you become an advocate for survivors everywhere. Maybe you develop Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) brought on by your assault, or re-traumatization from your trial. Maybe you seek an accountability process from your community and they react with indifference or silence. Maybe you write about it. Maybe you do nothing.

Healing is an ongoing, messy, and non linear process that often feels lonely and isolating because of people’s unwillingness to accept the experiences of survivors as truth. Many survivors choose to heal alone and in silence because when we do speak out, we are rarely believed. Sometimes healing alone is not a choice, but the only actual option.

During the I Believe Survivors rally, we began to march from Old City Hall up Bay Street to Tent City in the rain and sleet, where Black Lives Matter TO (Toronto) were waiting to greet us. The police officer who killed Andrew Loku had also been acquitted of all charges. So our two causes joined forces and Tent City became a cacophony of hundreds of echoing screams and chants, ‘we believe survivors’ intertwining with ‘Black Lives Matter’. Alexandria Williams of BLM TO screamed over and over again that she believed us; her yells hitting a pitch that caused her voice to crack, as if the spark ignited inside her was erupting into flames. Having someone repeatedly say they believe you while you stand with hundreds of other survivors is a magical and transformative moment of healing. The combining intersections of racism, colonialism and patriarchy; misogyny and rape culture in this space felt like an important moment in history, and I was honoured to be able to witness and heal from its energy.

The merging of these two actions demonstrated that solidarity within our movements not only bring us closer to justice, but also shape our ability to heal in public, and as a community. There is transformation in healing together because capitalism wants us to remain solitary and alone. We break that silence by recognizing our own voices and the voices of others; in believing each other. By telling the stranger next to you that you have their back; by crying on the shoulder of the friend standing next to you. To feel mother nature’s rage alongside you, as she showered the city in days of endless rain and snow while Tent City and the Ghomeshi trial proceeded.

In the moments that these actions physically merged, space was carved to hold and cradle our collective grief as the rain showered us, and I felt truly nourished. With gratitude, I would like to thank Black Lives Matter Toronto and the organizers of the I Believe Survivors rally for providing us with such an exemplary example of what community healing can look like.

Eddie Jude
Eddie is a writer, musician, community artist and educator living in Toronto. They write zines under the moniker Late Bloom and are a collective member of the Toronto Queer Zine Fair. You can find more of their work at www.eddiejude.com.

Black Lives Matter Toronto Tent City: Reportback

by Galme Mumed

On Sunday March 19th 2016, Black Lives Matter Toronto organized a rally at Nathan Phillip’s Square, in protest against anti-Black racism in Toronto and specifically in response to the special investigations Units decision not to charge the police officer involved in the shooting and killing of Andrew Loku last July, it was also a response to the reduction of Afrofest to one day. Hundreds of people from various communities showed up to demand justice and to protest the continued erasure of Black people in Toronto. We stood at Nathan Phillip’s Square with members of our community as we honored, mourned and celebrated the lives of those we have lost but whose spirits live on.

CI-BLM BLM rally at Toronto Police HQ on March 27, 2016.
Uploaded by: willoughby, serena

I stood in the crowd and listened to Black storytellers put words to feelings all of us have felt but have not been able to express. I watched our elders lead us in prayer and reconnect us with our ancestors. I watched as Black people danced fearlessly and freely, even if it was just in that space for that period of time, to Music that has come out of Black struggle; the true sounds of resistance. A few hours later the rally was coming to end and the crowd was getting smaller, my self and about six of my friends drove from Guelph because we received a message from the organizers saying they needed more bodies for the tent city.

It was getting dark and really cold, some of the organizers and community members who have decided to stay the night got under blankets and start to prepare for the long night ahead. We had a fire going and we all joined in singing our favourite old school tracks and the many freedom songs as a way to keep our spirits high and pass time. About an hour after we started getting comfortable the organizers told us that police in riot gear and were about to move in on us and we needed to make a decision weather to stay or move to another location. The decision was made to pack up our tents and our fire and move to Toronto police headquarters on College Street.

We packed up our tents and those of us who had the capacity to move to the next location made a decision to continue on. Something told me that I needed to go and be apart of this. At this time nothing could have prepared me for how transformative and healing this decision was going to be for me, I don’t think any of us knew what we were about the take part in or how long this was going to be, we just knew we needed to be here and not anywhere else. We arrived at the police headquarters super late at night. We built our tents and prepared to go to sleep for the night. That first night was brutal that I could feel the cold in my bones, there was not enough blankets at all. Three of my friends and I held each other super tight hoping that our body heat would keep us a bit warmer. That was not the case because the whole night I was afraid to lay down and  sleep because I actually thought I would freeze to death, but I made it and realized that this was not about me it was about something bigger.

The morning was beautiful we all cuddled under blankets around the fire and sang songs, shared stories, laughter, and a space where we all felt safe and loved, most of us had never met before this occupation but it felt like we knew each other. We had Black and Indigenous elders stop by to give us some words of encouragement. We had Indigenous elders in the space keep the fire going, smudging the space and praying with us, it was after we were in the space we realized we were right beside the Native youth center, which was clearly not accidental at all. It was not until I am writing this I’m realizing that that whole day was preparing us for the violence and trauma we would have to face later that night.

On Monday March 21st at about around 10pm we got word that the police were going to come and try to make us leave. We all linked arms and formed a huge circle around our tents and the fire that has been keeping us warm. We stood there fearlessly and waited, we waited as we watched about over twenty police officers walk and form a straight line overlooking us in front of the police building. The head of police made an announcement stating that we can stay but we can’t have the tents nor the fire, we made a decision to not move and that their fear tactics will not work on us. There were police, firefighters, and men all types of uniforms. The pigs were mostly white men, they were all tall and huge. On our side we were mostly Black woman, there were also children, elders, disabled people forming the circle around the fire and the tent. I remember standing there as firm as I could to protect our tents and within seconds I watched police officers charge at us, they pushed us, they kicked us, they punched us, and they sexually harassed us. They flung the barrel of fire down to the ground near children, they destroyed and grabbed the tents from our hands and they threatened to shoot! All I could hear is creaming crying and but we were also fearless. They put our fire out but they sparked another fire in us that they can never kill. A pig grabbed me and threw me down on layers of fire wood, I have always known that we were not human beings in their eyes but that moment made things real. I cried like I have never cried before not because I was in physical pain, but I cried for every black person in that space and globally whose lives are not valuable and whos lives don’t matter and who are disposable and whose skin colour has been a target of violence.

Amongst the trauma and anger there was something magical happening something bigger than all of us. Minutes after the pigs left every single one of us in that space hugged in a huge circle and started chanting “I Believe that we will win” and it was powerful. One image that I have held on to and have not been able to forget was of an Indigenous couple and their baby in a stroller stand between us and the police, to protect us and to let the pigs know whose land this is and that they will not touch us. I was in tears as I watched them wave the Six Nations flag to let us know that Black lives Matter on Indigenous land. That night we all sat together sang freedom songs like our various ancestors did and we knew we were protected. We were sitting in the stolen front year of our enemy and we had no fear, because we were connected to something more powerful than this system.

The next morning our communities from various parts of Toronto and across Canada showed up! Everyone came strapped ready to go to battle, ready to build, ready to heal. They came offering anything they had to offer weather they were healers, artist, writers, cooks, business owners, Black people from all walks of life came to let us know they see us and if they come out tonight they might as well get ready for war. The place that brought us so much trauma and violence became our home because that is what we are capable of taking something that represents so much trauma and turning it into a world that we can all safely exist without fear. The donations were coming in like floods. There were mountains of blankets, the food was endless, we had hot dinners almost every night. We were able to feed our homeless communities and provide shelter for them. We were able to take care of our own, I can’t even explain how that felt being able to provide the people in our communities who have been fucked over by the system the most these basic things.

We lived amongst each other for fifteen days. We woke up the warm kisses, hugs and prayers of our indigenous elders. I watched them smug the whole space with sage. People who usually never share space shared space with each other, we spoke about how our struggles are connected how important it is that we continue to work with each other, how critical it is that we learn from each other and build meaningful relationships with one another. Indigenous organizers and black organizers were able to share knowledge and be in the same space infront of police headquarters! Like what the fuck? How powerful is that? How dangerous is that for this system that has been built on the back of our communities. I wonder why they never tried that shit again for the next fifteen days we were there. That space was transformative it was us reimaging together. Prior to this experience I heard a lot about transformative justice and Tent City showed me and example of what that looks like even if it was a very simple and small example. I stayed at Tent City every single night except one or two nights because I needed to be home, it was my community, I was protected, I was loved, I was cared for, I felt and believed that everyone in the space knew my live mattered and it was valued and it was important. We affirmed one another. We spoke about revolution, we talked about liberation, and we asked each other what ways we can show up for each other. We shared skills and we began a process of healing and building trust with one another. In the fifteen days we watched the space transform into a different space that reflected each day. There was an art station where artists can come and visualize our experiences, there was a medic station with everything we needed, there was a healing space where Black and Indigenous elders setup message beds and performed spiritual healing, there was the food station where our elders fed us foods that they know to be good for us. I imagined this is probably the closest thing to show me what living in a decolonized world would look like. I learned that Indigenous folks are not fucking around and that we have a lot to learn from them. We had addicts who became clean due to our elders working with them, we deescalated intense situations without involving any outsiders, we all lived together without any issue for fifteen days. we held members of our communities who are the most vulnerable the closest and did not shun them away no matter how “problematic” they were, I understood that none of us disposable to each other that we all need each other, we might be disposable outside of Tent City, but not here amongst our people.

Until we are all free and we will be, I will hold on to the small taste of freedom that tent city was for me. I will stand behind indigenous people in their struggle to reclaim their land and I know they are ready to stand beside behind us and beside us in our fight for our liberation the Universe has brought us all together for a reason. Let’s do this shit!

Galme Mumed
I was born in Hararge Oromia. I came to Canada when I was 8 years old but my heart and my memories are still in Hararge Oromia. I believe I am here in Canada for a reason and have a purpose to serve both here and in my home. I am proud to call myself Oromo and Muslim and Black. I feel like my ancestors have left me with many teachings and gifts that I’m constantly trying to listen to. I am a revolutionary because that’s the legacy I was born into.

Speaking the Ancestors’ Names: An Interview with Obeah Opera

By Savannah Clarke 

Obeah Opera is a hand clapping, foot stomping, spirit lifting, magical musical sensation. Steeped in Black music, sung entirely a cappella by a powerful all-female cast, Obeah Opera is a retelling of the legendary Salem witch trials from the fascinating perspective of Caribbean slave women. It is a ground-breaking dramatic work that redefines the traditional opera form by moving away from its European classical standard and using an array of different musical genres mainly found in what is termed ‘Black’ music such as spirituals, blues, jazz, gospel, traditional African, Caribbean Folk, Calypso, ska, R&B and reggae (taken from www.obeahopera.com).

Earlier this year, I had the pleasure of hearing some excerpts of Obeah Opera. After feeling connected to the stories I watched on stage, I caught up with Nicole to hear more about the Salem Witch Trials, what inspired her to do Obeah Opera and the spiritual aspects they entail.

Nicole: A few factors were happening, it was around 2008 where I was investigating my spirituality. Since I work in film and television, I was on the road with a crew and a crewmember came to my room to ask something and he saw that I was burning a candle and that I had incense and water. So when he saw all of that, he went back and rumors spread that he called me a witch. Instead of freaking out I said to myself: that’s really interesting. In this day and age, people are asking me “are you a practicing witch?” So, that was one of the stems where I thought it was really interesting. Also, at that time I was investigating African spirituality and looking more within my cultural roots and/or the Caribbean and/or African spirituality. Just learning and discovering.

I would say that was the catalyst for me, outside of a few people encouraging me to write for stage. I am really committed to telling Black women’s stories. I’ve always said it’s really important we have writers. Creators of content, [who are] creating work. So it was a combination of things and with all of those things happening it was very serendipitous for me to stumble upon researching witches more and of course eventually the Salem Witch Trials came up, which was the most famous witch trials in the America’s. As well, the name Tituba came up. Tituba was made famous through the play The Crucibles by Arthur Miller. She was the first Black slave accused at the Salem Witch Trials. She was from Barbados. I thought that was huge! How did we just bypass that? It’s written in history. It’s referenced a lot but then she’s forgotten. So I started to do more research and what I discovered was, yes indeed Tituba was a slave from Barbados who was brought to Salem and that there were more Black women in the Puritan town. This is real historical facts… Although, there weren’t that much written about them, TItuba had the most information and her testimonial was also transcribed. The testimonials of a couple of Black women were also there such as Mary Black and Candy. I thought it was fascinating because people never thought this town had slaves in the late 1600s/early 1700s. It’s amazing to not only “stumble” onto Tituba and realize that there were other black women from the Caribbean who were brought as slaves but were going beyond 100 years plus from where slavery is usually popularized in the 1800s in America. So, it’s really interesting to see the different factors that brought me to this story but also realizing the different facets of what I’m dealing with in regards to Black women’s history and Caribbean history. Now the question in writing this story is not about the first crossing of slaves coming from Africa, it’s the second crossing of slaves coming from the Caribbean to America. What’s that story? We don’t talk about that. What was the stop from Africa to the Caribbean and then from the Caribbean to the America’s?

The other thing that really excited me was the word Obeah, which I found in some of my research. I asked myself how are these white men referencing Obeah? Which was another indication to me that certain practices from the Caribbean really stayed in this Puritan town. For me, I didn’t realize at the time how controversial it was to use the word Obeah in our communities because of the negative connotations it holds and because of slavery, how we were told if we practiced anything or used our drum, anything that represented us, we would be lynched and killed. So, we have literally inherited all the way up to present day that Obeah in itself is evil. Without investigating what it is and I’m not saying that people don’t use Obeah for bad but I’m saying similar to any practice or religion, we have both sides. In Obeah Opera, I definitely look at the positive, which included having grandmas who knew how to use herbs to heal and midwifery. We were women who knew of these things and that true power threatens men, especially white men.

This is all to say that a whole bunch of factors contribute to how Obeah came to be. I can say the base of it is based on claiming back my story. Which includes the Black woman’s story, stories of the Caribbean and Africa. My people, and I’m not ashamed to say that. I’m very committed to the vantage point of the women’s story and retelling/rewriting history from my people’s lens after being excluded from history for so long.

When I saw you do your performance in Guelph you also mentioned that a lot of the knowledge and stories you gathered came from a very spiritual place of trying to evoke the energy of your ancestors. Can you touch on what that was like for you?

Nicole: Yeah, it’s not a secret that it’s based on the Orisha spirituality practice. When looking at the play you will see that each of the main female characters represents an Orisha and have those characteristics. I also show in the play that slaves, which is known, would go at night into the forest to practice Orisha or celebrate who they were. In there, I wanted to really show the strength of the slaves to not only survive the middle passage but also have the innovations and intuitiveness to preserve themselves. Such as hiding their practice in Catholicism because a lot of the Orisha practice is blended in with the Catholic religion. Also, what’s written in the script is paying homage to our Caribbean methodology, which is based in carnival. In the script, each character represents a carnival character and holds those respective characteristics. As I develop as a storyteller, I am beginning to realize that my components of storytelling are evolving to be based on history and telling Caribbean folklore and spirituality.

When I saw you perform, it was really powerful for me especially being from a Trinidadian background. It was beautiful for me to see those stories be brought back to voices of Black women and it was incredibly healing for me. What does it mean for you to be able to reclaim and explore these stories?

Nicole: I think it’s taken me a long time but I think that I am fulfilled in my practice. I realized that I am extremely privileged to have been afforded the opportunities that have been given to me. For example, it’s not easy to mount a play and the fact that I’ve had the opportunity on more than one account to mount this work is more than incredible. And that means a lot to me. I’m really happy that earlier on in my life I knew exactly what I was put on this earth to do. Now, it just continues to manifest and evolve as I evolve. I am a storyteller. That is what I do. Outside of this privilege, I also see my responsibility in being able to create stories for my children and my children’s children…Right now I am fighting the good fight of not moving away from the stereotype and heralding who we are and our history. Not being ashamed. Embracing our culture and our music in all of it’s glory.

I would love for Obeah Opera to debut in Salem so I can honor the women and the ground they were on because the women were real, these aren’t characters they are real people in history that were ignored. When you speak the ancestors name that’s what keeps them alive. If I were to sum it up, that’s what I do. I speak their name. To hold that mantle up, it’s an honor. We have the responsibilities to keep and tell our stories.

The more I work with other Black folks to help in the liberation of our people the more I realize this work needs to go hand in hand with spiritual healing and connecting with our storytellers. How do you feel social justice movements can incorporate this type of work and bring about the healing necessary so we can feel grounded in moving forward?

Nicole: Wow, that’s a deep question. I think that inherently the work (storytelling) in a social movement in itself. Obeah Opera is that. The reason I say that is that I’ve been told on more than one occasion, not only from Black women but from women period, the fact you’ve put us on stage in this positive light infuses, induces and demands change because you’re shifting perspective. The work that is on stage has ritual, so in fact, you are healing. So that’s Obeah Opera and through this we are liberating ancestors because they’re being showcased and they’re able to tell their story. The whole thing about not being silenced anymore; Obeah Opera or anything through the arts becomes a vehicle for voice, so that in itself is a vehicle for social justice, because social justice deals with voice and demands justice. Obeah Opera, as I see, demands justice. That’s why I’m saying before Broadway, I’d love to go to Salem and just honour the women and what they lived through and what they survived through and let them know that they are not forgotten. The biggest thing, what has happened to our people, to Black people, they erase the history and if you have no history, you are nothing. That is part of the genocide. that is why people burn documents, because they don’t want you to exist anymore. So when you realize that when you claim back history, claim back things that have happened, claim back your religion or your heritage, that in itself is a social justice act. When you remember your ancestors and your history and bring it to the forefront, that is a social justice act. When you remember and step into who you are, that inherently is healing. So my message is that even just being is part of social justice, in the sense that acceptance is part of social justice, in the sense that speaking the ancestors names, claiming the history and demanding you are not forgotten is social justice.

Obeah Opera loves #blacklivesmatter because the women in Salem’s lives matter and they will not go down in vain and neither will we because we’re standing up and taking responsibility. Even the hashtag #oscarssowhite and the hashtag #broadwaynotsowhite is interesting because this year is an interesting year. The Color Purple was back on Broadway, Fela! was there for a very long time, we have Hamilton, we have Eclipsed, which is the first ever Black woman written, Black woman directed and all female Black women cast on Broadway. I look at that as a paved way because I’m like “I’m coming!”. You know what I mean?

Media and the arts play a huge role in social justice. It brings awareness, it propels the message. I even say that television is the greatest propaganda tool of all time. So being able to see the messages and hear the stories is social justice too. Nina Simone once said that “An artist’s duty, as far as I’m concerned, is to reflect the times” and that quote changed my life. Or even Billie Holiday when she wrote “Strange Fruit.” Look at what art has done to propel the movement. Even beyond Malcom X, the people involved with Black Lives Matter and other people standing up; the music, the tools of media, all of those things play a huge impact and it also deals with healing.

Spiritual healing comes in ancestral acknowledgement. Spiritual healing come from acknowledging and understanding your history and claiming it. I think in particular with Obeah Opera we have to have a town hall meeting in a version of the play because people people were ripping down the posters saying thing was a devil ting and we called in the community to talk about it and I realized how it transcends what we were taught. We were taught that we had, what we believed in, what we practiced, our cultural practices, our religious practices we wrong and we were told Christianity is the only way. I’m going to be very careful because some people might get offended and say “Christianity is very important to me”. What I’m saying is that the healing comes into saying that who we were was not evil, we were not evil. We were told we were evil.

I want to end with a quote from the play. A quote from a song called “My Mother’s Name” and the words go “So I stand in my mother’s name and those before her who took on the blame, for all the daughters who inherited the shame, for all the women who will never be the same, I’m gonna stand”. That’s healing.

Nicole Brookes
Nicole Brooks is a Toronto-based filmmaker, director, performer, singer, playwright, composer, curator, teacher and ‘art-ivist’. She has developed the concept of “harmonized storytelling”; blending media and performing arts, Brooks has spent over 15 years envisioning narratives that illuminate the peoples of the African Diaspora. Through her company Asah Productions Inc., founded in 2005, Brooks has generated an impressive body of work for both stage and screen.  To learn and follow Brooks’ latest work, please visit www.obeahopera.com; Twitter: @obeahopera; YouTube: obeahopera.

Healing is Already Happening: A Reflection

by Akua

I consider myself as a life long learner.

When my friend called me in emotional distress as I was writing this reflection, a number of things were going through my mind about her: empowered community worker, champion of human rights, supporter of Indigenous education, and a creative, innovative spirit. It became apparent that she was becoming deeply triggered – very deep past traumas coming to the surface, seemingly all at once, through events converging in an overwhelm of grief and emotion…While one part of me focused on staying present and centred as we spoke over the phone, another part of me was in a place of complete TRUST. A part of me knew, as we spoke, that whatever was coming up, was coming up for release and we needed only to make space for it. To be present, to make space for the body-mind wisdom arising (although it doesn’t always initially look that way initially). That part of me knew that healing was already happening. On my journey through my own healing and the study of what it means to heal, I’ve learned so much for which I am grateful. For what it’s worth, here are some reflections thus far.

Contrary to conventional notions we are nature, we are not other than or separate from it. Nature knows how to balance itself. From a healing perspective, we might see a disease, for example, involving the production of phlegm or pus as the organism of the body in its innate capacity, generating a response to imbalance. Some Naturopaths working with very physically ill children experiencing Autism will reassure the parents and rejoice when the child’s immune system finally gains the strength to generate a response, such as a fever.

We have a microbiome in this organism called the human body (or we could say it the other way round; this microbiome has us). Three to ten times more bacteria make up this organism, than the cells of the human body. When these cells and bacteria work in symbiosis, optimum health occurs. When there is disharmony ill health follows. Our organism is self regulating and self healing. We are nature.

We have a microbiome in this organism called the human body (or we could say it the other way round; this microbiome has us). Three to ten times more bacteria make up this organism, than the cells of the human body. When these cells and bacteria work in symbiosis, optimum health occurs. When there is disharmony ill health follows. Our organism is self regulating and self healing. We are nature.

Without the prescribed/conventional separation from the body, we see that when the mind is stressed, the body changes; the heart rate rises, blood vessels in the gut contract, the pH levels change, etc. Hans Selye(1), as quoted by Gabor Mate(2) in a talk I attended said “…the biggest stress is emotional, and the biggest emotional stress is being something you are not; not being who you are.”

We know the body-mind connection is real. Many of us feel it in our gut. And we know that many others consciously or unconsciously, follow constant media suggestions telling us our body signals and feelings must  be overridden with pharmaceutical chemicals.

1. Hans Selye coined the term “stress” in the 1960’s.

2. Gabor Mate is the author of When the Body Says No- The Cost of Hidden Stress

When we see ourselves as nature and understand nature’s capacity for balance, an intimate understanding of such processes of life give way to trust. When I was in rural and remote locations (Mennonite farms and Nunavut), it was consistently the case that the midwives I worked with had different parameters for length of labour. Anything over four hours was on the long end of the scale, whereas when I worked in urban areas, fifteen hours was on the long end of the scale and twenty-four hours was not unusual especially for first births.

A key difference appeared to be trust, grounded in an intimate relationship with the natural world and the trust and acceptance that comes from it. For many generations, Healers have known this intimacy with the processes of nature, and the trust and deep acceptance that comes from it.

A deeper study of the meaning of healing came upon me with the experience of debilitating disease. I started to realize that no amount of healthy eating can heal the self-limiting beliefs I carry within or the hardening of the heart; the closing of connection with that which gives me life and creativity from within.

I was so desperately ill and so adverse to seeking help from the conventional medical system. I had to go deeper and ask what was happening within my system (mental, physical, emotional,and spiritual). I had to reexamine my notions of the healer and what it means to heal. My conditioning started to reveal itself. Seeking healing and healers in my community also meant a review of history and culture. It meant realizing my own resistance to healing and to the healer within me. Healing means wholeness. Healing involves growth and change. I came upon healing modalities and healers that were completely outside of my previous radar – what appeared to be physical illness put me on a blessed path of education. My gratitude often goes out to those Healers who are often invisible to the conventional modern day consciousness.

Midwives and Healers have a similar role; they help to facilitate what is already happening. Nature knows how to balance itself. We are nature. Are we listening? Healing requires an unconditional acceptance – to see, to look openly. Healing involves safety, and healing is optimized in a caring environment which involves a deep acceptance grounded in the skill and experience that comes from mature work with the self and with others. I was privileged to come across healers that provided a sacred space born from their own work within. Since we are nature, healing is already happening, in nature the movement is constantly towards balance. “Healing always comes,” I was told by an angelic stranger on my travels in the Southern US and I would add that healing is already happening – we just have to get out of the way.

I like the three wisdoms described in the Buddha’s teachings (the third one being the most revered). There is the wisdom you hear about, the wisdom born of intellectual discourse, and the wisdom of your own experience (experiential wisdom –’bhavnamayi panna’). Healing is ‘direct experience,’ depending directly on one’s own capacity to open to it. My own healing brings me to a deeper connection with my ancestry, an integral connection with my natural environment, and healing brings me to a place that allows for the safety and the sacred space to grow and change.

In recent living history, the circumstances on this planet have become less and less hospitable to life. What this happens for the human organism, is called sickness and disease. And the body-mind knows how to heal itself as we learn to trust we learn to get out of the way. Healing is already happening. Nature knows how to come into balance. In the ancient language of the Buddha, Dhamma means Nature, Law, and Truth. The more we reclaim an intimacy with the natural world within us and as we develop the trust coming from this capacity for healing and balance, the more we see possibilities around us, and the more we become an active part of the process of change.

Today I received a message from my friend of many years who had called days before. “Thank you so much for your accompaniment on that wild ride that was my processing, it really reminded me that we do have the medicine within us and we can create that space for it to work…”

This reflection is in dedication to Robert Hinds of Pinnacle, a very successful, self sufficient community in Jamaica (a contemporary of the more known figure, Marcus Garvey in the 1930s). The community of Pinnacle did not bow down to the queen of England, which was a huge act of resistance at the time, when all over the world brutal colonialism was the order of the day. Robert was a community leader, a political and spiritual leader. Robert was known also as a Healer.

This reflection is also dedicated in gratitude to Mary Kate Brennan. Though she grew up in a Gailic speaking home, she would avoid discrimination by not claiming her Irishness. She would in her late years tell her daughter that she avoided claiming ‘the sight’ though she admitted to having it. It came through her anyway and healing came through her in the form of unconditional acceptance and love. Many unexpected faces showed up at her funeral with stories of great compassion and love (she and her mother had their own ‘underground railroad’ for orphaned children during the troubled times in occupied Ireland).

These examples and others are part of the healthy flora in my ‘microbiome’ on another level. We are nature and I trust that nature knows how to bring itself into balance. And I’m so glad I know now that healing always comes: it’s already happening within me.

Akua has been studying nutrition and health independently for over twenty years and stress and trauma for the past ten years. She has attended around 400 births in her studies and practice as a midwife.  Akua has received training in plant medicines, Chinese Medicine and other forms of natural medicine and through indigenous ceremony. She has received some of her most profound education on her travels. Akua recently has focused on the study of Autism.

Akua is drawn towards Healing Trauma and changing self limiting beliefs and has studied and worked primarily in this area for the past ten years. Her mother was born in England of Irish and English parents. Her father was born in Jamaica of African/Jewish and African/Arawak parents. 

contact: akuahinds@gmail.com

Deep Medicine: Cotton Root Bark and Reproductive Justice

by Karen L. Culpepper

Herbal medicine, or plant medicine, is a healing presence and a major healing tradition across the globe. Every culture in this world uses plant medicine in some form for food, healing and/or ritual. As a clinical herbalist with a deep love for folk medicine, I have always had a profound interest and curiosity about how groups of people, specifically Descendants of Africans Enslaved in the United States (DAEUS), used herbs traditionally. I discovered the opportunity to explore folk medicine in depth while studying herbal medicine in graduate school and cotton root bark became my teacher. I was guided to write my thesis about cotton root bark from a historical perspective through the lives of enslaved women who used the root as medicine from a space of social justice and reproductive empowerment.

Who and where was the original source of this understanding about cotton root bark? Knowledge about the cotton plant dates back to Mandingo women who used cotton root bark as an abortifacient during the first trimester of pregnancy. In doing research, I found that these women had the knowledge of long lactation for birth control, ritual abstinence, abortion and other forms of contraception. By using the root bark of the cotton tree, they were able to control their fertility during stressful times when there were limited resources, such as during drought or famine. This brings up the notion that enslaved Africans brought along with them their own traditions, values and existing knowledge about various plant medicines. In fact, in the Carolinas, plantation owners wanted enslaved Africans from very precise areas of Africa specifically for their knowledge around the cultivation of crops such as rice. Although enslaved Africans were eventually taken to a new land with a new language, there were some similar plants, food and herbs and quite naturally the knowledge of cotton root was easily transferred into the cotton fields of the southern states in the US.

The horrors of the Transatlantic slave trade, from the interior trek in Africa to the middle passage from, to the breaking in period to enslavement in the Americas, are indescribable and beyond imagination and comprehension. John Hope Franklin and Alfred Moss summarized in their book From Slavery to Freedom (1994) somehow things went from producing crops to the “traffic[king] of human souls.” There are accounts of women being taken from their native land in Africa who grabbed soil and swallowed it as they begin their trek, possibly making it to the foreign land of America. The middle passage, a journey from Africa to the Americas, took anywhere from 1 to 4 months. Enslaved Africans were packed so tightly on ships that they were forced to lie on their backs with their heads between the legs of others in poorly ventilated area devoid of fresh air and sunlight, filled with urine, feces and blood. Arrival to the Americas did not bring relief. Sweltering weather conditions, the further breakdown of the family unit, forced pairings and rape accurately describes plantation life, not to mention the labor intensive crop called cotton, which required year round tending, harvesting and processing.

In the midst of this horror, a new branch of medicine was born called Allopathic medicine, with a specific branch dedicated to enslaved Africans called Plantation medicine. Enslaved folks were seen as less than and not human, therefore should be managed differently. Scientific racism began to rear its head with diagnosis such as drapetomania: is a mental illness that caused Black slaves to flee captivity. Dr. James Marion Sims “the father of gynecology” restricted his research to enslaved women, yet all the illustrations were of white women. Even though there was anesthesia available, he did not use any because enslaved women had a higher tolerance for pain (interestingly there was recently an article in The Washington Post (April 2016) about this very subject: pain management and racial bias). Doctors were working to perfect c[aesarean]-sections on enslaved women without using anesthesia because of their “high tolerance for pain”. As a result, this reinforced to both enslaved Africans and enslaved African Americans to take their own health and wellbeing into their own hands.

Self care became more of an underground phenomenon amongst the slave community, specifically in the realm of women’s health. Enslaved women had knowledge passed down from generations within their families, other herbalists or root workers and from Native Americans. Oftentimes an herbalist tended to the slaves because a visit to the doctor would cost the plantation owner. There were slaves that were granted their freedom because of their skill-set. Some plantation owners even acknowledged “Black doctors sometimes produced better results than white practitioners” and there was even a case in which a Governor freed an enslaved herbalist for their knowledge around venereal diseases. With slave women already claiming the role as herbalists and keeper of sacred recipes and remedies, they naturally fell into the role of being a caretaker and midwife amongst their peers in the community.

Women’s health concerns were very common amongst slave women and cotton was ubiquitous. Enslaved women used fresh cotton root bark as contraceptive by chewing on it throughout the day. There was one incident where this enslaved woman was forced to marry someone and could not stand her husband. She was not sleeping with him at all and he reported this and she received quite a few lashings. Furious, she said you all will never get any property out of me, since the status of the child took the status of the mother. She kept her word by chewing on cotton root bark and never bore a child. In The Eclectic Medical Journal (1860), there was a first hand account of the power and efficacy of cotton root bark to induce abortion. “My attention was called to the bark of the cotton root by two or three planters in Mississippi, during the Fall of the year 1857 and I witnessed it’s action in one case of abortion. A Negro woman collected some bark of the fresh root and some green seed (about a pint she told me) and made a quart of strong tea and drank about half of it. I was sent for by her master, but the drug had brought about such energetic pains that it was impossible to check them and she lost her child”.

Using scientific language, we now know that cotton root bark is an emmenagogue and oxytocic. In other words, cotton root bark has the following effects in the body: increases oxytocin, contracts the uterus, inhibits implantation and in higher doses induces abortion. There were accounts of plantation owners learning of the use of cotton root bark amongst slave women. As word began to spread to white physicians, they began to use another herb, black haw, as the antidote to stop miscarriages or abortions already in progress, however they often ran out of their supply of black haw because cotton was so abundant. It is fascinating to think in the midst of such suffering, enslaved women created a subtle and impactful way to protect their fertility, empower themselves reproductively and support themselves and each other through the use of plant spirit medicine.

Karen L. Culpepper
Karen L. Culpepper is a clinical herbalist and licensed massage therapist in the Washington, DC metropolitan area. Her work in the world is to heal through touch, her healing presence and the use of plant spirit medicine. She can be reached at embracingrhythm27@gmail.com.

Within & Beyond The Sugar Bush

by Jayal Chung

Over the years, through participation in a few sweatlodges, ceremonies, and in paying attention, I have learned about the practice of offering semma (tobacco). It has been foundational to my sense of being grounded, my connection, and understanding my relationship to this land as my birthplace in Thunder Bay on Fort William First Nation Robinson-Superior Treaty territory as a Chinese Canadian woman. It is being in friendships, and connecting with resilient Indigenous women who have shared generously with me that I witness and find so much healing and community with.

I have learned to set down semma or give it as an offering to say meegwetch, especially when loved ones?? or something feels hard in the community. I offer it when traveling or when I’ve returned, for myself or for others. I ask questions, I ask for guidance when especially when I do community-based work around sexual violence, like campaigns such as Take Back The Night. I remember once, Helen Pelletier put it so clearly, “Tobacco connects you”. From medicine walks and being in ceremony with Jazmin Romaniuk and with folks participating in Walking With Our Sisters, I feel a tremendous sense of community and connection. There is exciting momentum for Stephanie, Helen, and Jazmin. Their personal growth since the time that I have met them is profound, seen and felt, and physically tangible in the healing work they do and what they share in creating community.

These relationships, the stories, my memories and reflections layered upon each other in my mind’s eye, fully before me as I joined classmates in the Indigenous Governance and Leadership class to visit the sugar bush in April.

To give us context for our visit to the sugar bush, Damien Lee came to speak to our class. He disclosed that he was adopted and claimed by the community of Fort William First Nation and acknowledged his whiteness, giving us as students the opportunity to accept what he was sharing with us as bullshit or a perspective to work from. Stephanie MacLaurin was our guide, as we stepped gently along sticky snow to arrive and be part of the sugar bush process. Before this, Damien’s mother met up with us at the top of the mountain (anemki wajiw) to give us bannock and tea. In class, we discussed some initial thoughts as a class when it came to approaching the sugar bush and I shared that my question is: “How can I prepare?” “What are my responsibilities?”

This is a question I keep returning to, beyond the classroom. I think about it when consultations with stakeholder groups of people are discussed in media. As Damien highlighted, Europeans believed that Anishnaabe people had no laws, no governance. Anishnaabe have been seen as ‘inferior’ and ‘savages’. Christians themselves broadly viewed that their mission was to save.

This past year, I thought about my responsibilities as a student and the space I would take as for most students, this was their first experience in the sugar bush and I have a connection with Stephanie and Damien prior to this class.

With Damien, our class openly discussed how we approach the sugar bush and he offered us history, theory and a perspective to really help us understand the sugar bush as a form of governance. I reflected on our class discussion, my intentions with taking this class, and my friendship with Stephanie and reminded myself that if I make mistakes, I would hold myself accountable. I brought a tobacco offering; Stephanie shared about the mother tree that is wrapped in cloths of different colours, which ceremony took place for the tree and trees being tapped. She showed us how to tap and the collecting process. I allowed myself to be present, and I appreciated the morning as it unfolded.

‘The Land Is Ceremony’—Erin Marie Konsmo, Native Youth Sexual Health Network. This quote sums it up for me. The land tells us stories. The maple trees, as Damien and Stephanie share, tell us when they are ready and show us; there is natural law if we acknowledge it. Leanne Simpson references Basil Johnston and windigo stories to talk about hunger for natural resources and over-exploitation. With the sugar bush, it’s so amazing to see that this is a grassroots, community-driven initiative. Leanne Simpson captures this when she says that the “real gift was in the making, and that without love, making just wasn’t possible”. Resurgence.

This year, visiting the sugar bush felt even sweeter. I see the women and two-spirit teachings and leadership. I hear about and see how collective is growing, how the process is in making mistakes, owning up but giving yourself kindness, how skills-sharing is constantly happening and how dedicated and caring people are and all the gifts of the sugar bush within, and beyond it. With leadership, as Damien shared—its’ an emergent style. No one person is the leader. Each person has opportunity to learn, practice and acquire ongoing knowledge and sap is medicine.

Through individual and collective effort, the work of chopping, collecting dead wood, values, teachings, stories and ziiwaagmide— sweet brown syrup is possible and is shared. It is undeniably good, as Damien said. This was the starting point for him—its goodness.

It felt really peaceful, relaxing and good to go to the sugar bush as a class. For me, I had visited prior with invitation from Damien Lee to assist him in collecting. I also visited during the boiling process, on a few occasions. For example, one time I remember Ash had taken two fat Canadian geese and he started to process the geese by taking feathers, scraping the skin, revealing the roughness and roasting a bit. I heard stories about Ryan and Stephanie hunting geese and then folks with knowledge of roasting, sharing that in very organic way. I also recall from Damien’s blog Zoongde where you can find his writing piece titled “Indian in a Jar” on settler colonialism and about boundaries being broken between an instructor, Damien and Gail who had been working hard in the initial stages to revitalize the sugar bush and sap production for future generations.

As Damien makes the point, writing sugar bush as just culture negates the leadership and governance of what I observed, participated and experienced over the two years. Damien sharing his framework was a powerful moment that I felt in my body. Treaty constitutionalism: he drew a diagram and posed what kind of permissions, process, protocol would one go through when it came to mining or fishing as examples.

In this moment, as he drew – I could sense in an unexplainable way what he was referencing. e.g. drawing information from the land, the wisdom of ancestors, from clan, from Aadzookuazag sacred stories, from Confederacy, Creation and observing natural laws versus hunting and fishing regulations which would start with regulatory assessment, consultation, land, education training, sector agreement/direction, ministry of mines, Parliamentary province of Ontario section 92 constitution jurisdiction and the Canadian state.

There are dimensions beyond the page and the economical system that is different from the Anishnaabe way of governance. Competition doesn’t work. Being present is paramount to relationships and requires work and commitment. Values and intentional decisions matter.

What is a community? How did I come to feel so connected and why did I take this course? Some of the answers came through as I read Chapter 4 of Leanne Simpson’s Dancing on Our Turtle’s Back. I think I will start with learning the ‘nish word, mino bimaadziwin. Living a good life.

How do we do things in a good way?

How do we take up more space?

How is sugar bush source of governance?

I have shared my reflections, observations and personal experience at this time. I feel like through creative process like making art with other people I will learn next, Chibimoodaywin – spiritual visioning. Leanne Simpson highlighted Nishnaabeg mobilization. What part can I play in reconciliation? What individual commitment and actions going forward can I step into even though I might mistakes? What vision can I tap into?

Jayal Chung
Jayal Chung is a queer and Chinese woman, born and raised in Thunder Bay, ON. A self-taught visual and spoken word artist, she is passionate about arts, community organizing and community building, advocacy, making zines, and co-hosting Queer Radio Hour on CILU 102.7 FM.

At the End of a Beginning

Illustration of many small flowers coming from one stem

by Mina Ramos

Content Warning: Abortions 

For the last year, most conversations with my friends have been about babies. I mean let’s be real, we spend our fair share of time talking about dismantling white supremacy, the dreams we have for the future and making a ton of jokes no one else thinks is funny. In between though, it always comes back to babies. Who is having them, who we are having them with, when we are having them, and how we will raise them.

 Up until pretty recently, anytime the conversation turned to baby talk I would shut off. Even though I loved to play with kids, the thought of having a child made me feel sick; uneasy. I remember when I was dating someone who wanted to be a doula. I wanted to be supportive, but when she would talk about how excited she was, I would change the subject. I felt bad, but the thought of her helping deliver a baby made me panic. Any talk about childbirth made me panic. I was set on the idea that I would never give birth. Instead, I would be everyone’s favourite Auntie and I was okay with that.

I had been pregnant once. When I was 19 years-old. I got an abortion only days before the average cut off point which is twelve weeks in Canada (some clinics will perform abortions up to twenty-two weeks though). Although at the time, I knew it was okay to have an abortion and had the support of my immediate family; it was an experience that haunted me for several years.

I will always vividly remember the night I found out I was pregnant. It was my first year of university and I was living in residence. My boyfriend was still living in the town we grew up in. The night I found out, I had only been in school for three weeks. Our residence was small; three floors to be exact. I lived in a “Living Learning Centre” called International House. You had to apply to get in and it was supposed to be a house of “diverse cultures.” It ended up being mainly white students studying International Development or what I call “white people wanting to save People of Colour.” It was an interesting experience to say the least.

The night I found out, someone on the first floor was having an, “I wear my sunglasses at night” dance party in their room. I was sitting on a toilet, in the washroom on the second floor. I could hear and feel the music from the party. I held the little plastic stick in my hands and stared at the two blue lines.

|| = Positive.

The stick in my hand made it that much more real. I remember crawling into bed, not bothering to turn on the light and starting to cry. Someone knocking on the door and asking why I wasn’t downstairs. I tried to make my voice sound as natural as possible and told them that I was just tired. The reality is that I had already known the moment my boyfriend pulled his dick out from inside of me and realized that the condom had broke. We had spent the whole day drinking and I remember laughing and saying; “Well, let’s hope it’s too drunk to know it’s way.” As soon as the words left my mouth I knew. As if the statement had started the process.

|| = Positive.

The plan had been to take the morning after pill but when I woke up the next morning I remembered it was a holiday and the pharmacy in my neighbourhood was closed and the busses were not running. We lived in a suburb outside of town and my mom didn’t understand why I needed the car. I was too ashamed to tell her why.

|| = Positive.

I started to notice pregnant women everywhere I went. Pregnant bellies in the foods that I ate; pregnant bellies as shapes in buildings. I remember my dad, who has an incredible gift of knowing when things are awry in my family asked if everything was okay. I told him things were fine. He said he had awoken from a dream that morning and knew something was wrong with one of our family members. He wondered if it was me. I told him not to worry.

For the first time I felt anxiety. Like a pile of bricks had fallen on my chest and I didn’t know how to take them off.

|| = Positive.

The next few weeks were a mixture of ups and downs. At the time, I was so excited to be in university; something that hadn’t felt real to me at the height of my drug use in high school. I wanted so badly to fit in. I was used to being around drug users and dealers. All of a sudden I was surrounded by people who had never thought about using drugs. People who talked real nice, wore Birkenstocks, were vegetarian and wanted to “change” things. I had this warped thing going on where I wanted to be like them but already felt like I was different and had this big secret I didn’t think they would approve of.

|| = Positive.

When I told my parents they were surprisingly supportive but told me to keep it a secret until I made a concrete decision. They were still ashamed. I told them that I would be keeping the baby. My boyfriend and I had quit using hard drugs together and I felt that our bond was strong enough to raise a child together. Although I was scared, I felt a weird exhilaration. I would smoke weed and lie in bed and talk to my baby. I couldn’t believe I had a little human growing inside of me.

|| = Positive.

I started to go home for appointments. Started getting morning sickness. My new friends wondered why I was going home so often. I told them I had an ulcer to explain why I couldn’t party and why I was sick so often. My boyfriend couldn’t handle the stress of it all and started using again. The day he took oxycontin with my brother after we went for my ultrasound, I started to feel small. He would show up drunk on weekends and wanted to have sex. I would push him away. Told him that I needed him to be sober. That only made things worse.

|| = Positive.

One morning I woke up and realized I couldn’t do it. Couldn’t picture myself in my 600 student classes with a pregnant belly. Couldn’t picture myself having a child with someone who was still a child. To be real, I still felt like a child too. I didn’t know myself yet. As much as I had grown to love the being inside of me, I wanted to know how to teach it about the world. I didn’t think this was possible when I didn’t even understand myself, let alone everything else.

|| = Positive.

The day before my abortion, my boyfriend’s mom called me and begged me not to go through with it. She said my boyfriend loved me and wanted to have the child with me. She said that she would help us raise it. That was the day I stopped loving him. I couldn’t love someone who didn’t understand where I was coming from.

|| = Positive.

At the clinic, the nurse asked me several times if I was sure I wanted to go ahead with the abortion. I wanted to slap her. As if I hadn’t thought about it thoroughly. Waves of sadness swept over me as I layed on the operating table. Faces with eyes poking out from behind surgical masks stared down at me. I didn’t know these people. The room was too white, too sterile; devoid of emotions. Didn’t my baby and I deserve a better ceremony to say goodbye?


As soon as they took my baby out of me I felt empty. Like the shell of a human. I went home and smoked with a friend who didn’t have a clue. When he left I curled into the fetal position and whimpered, alone.

I couldn’t sleep. When I did, I had nightmares. I was anxious all the time. I felt like I had to confess something to the universe but I was choked for words. I thought I felt this way because of what I had done. That I had selfishly killed something I loved. I dreaded my boyfriends visits. Made excuses not to see him. Got closer with the girls on my floor. Started to talk a bit about my abortion. Always in a veil of secrecy. One friend who was particularly close suggested I sleep beside her. That it might help with the nightmares. She would leave the door of her dorm unlocked and I would stay with her. I always felt safe in her arms. I broke up with my boyfriend and my abortion became a distant memory.


Years passed, and I thought I was fine but something nagged at me. I couldn’t pinpoint what it was. My life had changed drastically. I came out as queer. My “close” friend from residence had awoken something inside of me that had always been there but had been dormant. I began to surround myself with queer people and started to explore my relationship to being racialized. Made more friends of colour. Friends who had beliefs I had always felt at the core of my heart but never had the words or the space to express what I felt.


I started to talk about my abortion. Realized that some of these friends had also had abortions. It dawned on me that if I respected these people so much who had gone through the experience of abortion I might not be the monster I thought that I was. I also noticed that some people were not traumatized by their experience like I was. Our conversations helped me to understand that so many things impact the way that you feel about your experience with pregnancy and abortion. My experience had been one filled with stigma and a fear of judgement. Even when I told people it was always in secret. I realized my experience at the clinic was radically different than clinics like Planned Parenthood. Although they offered the service, they were not trained to support someone emotionally, through an abortion. Because of this, my procedure had been one of anxiety and stress. I also learned that there were other ways of undergoing abortions that didn’t involve a clinic at all. That herbal abortions were a very real option that some friends had either done by themselves or with the support of a herbalist.


One day I was sitting in a workshop by Robin Rose Bennett, a white herbalist from New Jersey. The workshop was focused on the plant commonly known as Queen Anne’s Lace or Wild Carrot. Queen Anne’s Lace is an incredible plant because it can act as a contraceptive but can also help with getting pregnant depending on how it’s used. During that workshop she said something that I will never forget. She was talking about abortions and said that they are always difficult for the body because bodies that have vaginas are still biologically geared to have babies. That it is a shock to the system when we are forcing our bodies to do the opposite of what it was intended to do and that we need to soothe our bodies so we can trust ourselves to open up to an invasive procedure like an abortion.

She also talked about unborn babies in a way I had never heard of before. Bennett explained that all souls in the universe exist indefinitely; because they are souls. If you choose not to birth that soul into the human world that soul does not die. However, for some who create a connection with that soul it can cause trauma because there is no process of grieving to acknowledge the connection that was lost through the abortion. I had never thought about it that way. Immediately a weight had been lifted. My baby was being held by the universe; waiting for the right time to be born on earth by whomever it was actually destined to be born by. The conversation I had felt choked for words was one I was supposed to have with that soul. To say goodbye on my own terms.


A year later I had the opportunity of also hearing Loretta Ross speak, an incredible Black woman who lead the reproductive justice movement in the 2000s. In 2004, Loretta held the largest march in US history with over one million people called the March for Women’s Lives.

Hearing her talk about openly about her abortion and her experience organizing had an indescribable effect on me. Her presence was one of strength and confidence; she was unashamed. In fact she was proud that she had been able to make a choice over her own body. It dawned on me that her abortion had paved the way for her destiny to speak publically about women’s rights to having supportive bodily autonomy. I started to think about my own abortion. How differently my life would have been if I had proceeded with the pregnancy. Although it was the hardest thing I had ever gone through, I realized my experience with pregnancy and abortion had actually been a blessing. A blessing. Through my abortion a different life path was created that actually brought me closer to myself. Brought me closer to my ideas, values beliefs. To a friend group I consider family and a community where I am daily inspired amidst the struggles.

Sometimes I wonder if my baby who knew I loved it from the very beginning brought that path to me knowing that if I did choose to have a child in the future I would be ready.

After Loretta’s talk, I started to have the ability of talking publicly about my abortion in conversation. I started to warm up to the idea of parenting although I did not want to have a child. It was an interesting experience as I sat in a queer parenting planning class with a former partner as we watched a home birth video. As I heard her half joke that she was re-thinking the whole pregnancy thing I had a strange thing hit me. I realized I did still want to give birth. That almost eight years later, my body is starting to feel ready; that I am starting to feel ready. I’m not entirely sure when this will happen, who it will happen with or how it will happen. I know that I am still growing, that I still have a lot to learn. That so far this experience has brought me closer to faith, to truly believing in higher powers and the ability to heal in ways I had never imagined were possible. Amidst my little doubts and fears that linger in my insecurities, when I am the most grounded I have a deeper sense of excitement for what is to come.

Mina Ramos
Mina Ramos is a queer mixed race Latina based out of Guelph, Ontratio. She is a radio broadcaster and is passionate about ideas, thoughts and issues that center on migration and the movement of people. She also enjoys listening to all kinds of music and occasionally dabbles in making music on her own.

2 Canes 2 Crips 6 Legs

An editorial essay on Disability art, healing justice, the hustle of the emerging marginalized artist.

by jes sachse

“We begin by listening. We are People of Colour, Indigenous people, disabled people, and survivors of trauma, many genders, ages and classes of people. We centre the genius and leadership of disabled and chronically ill communities, for what we know about surviving and resisting the medical industrial complex and living with fierce beauty in our sick and disabled bodies. We say no to the medical industrial complex’s model of “cure or be useless,” instead working from a place of belief in the wholeness of disability, interdependence and disabled people as inherently good as we are.”

– Healing & Health Justice Collective Organizing Principles, US Social Forum Detroit 2010

‘I have great immunities! I think it’s because I was born in a hospital,’ I say as you unlock the door of the apartment where your cat eagerly awaits our return.

‘What??’ you laugh in confusion.

 It was not what I meant. I remember fumbling with my words and eventually discarding them and hopping on your bed in playful distraction, hopelessly smitten in my first SDQ (sick and disabled queer) relationship.

I meant I was raised in a hospital. The mothership. Among others of my kind. Paranoid of cops and public transit officials trying to return me. One time wheeltrans slowly followed me for a whole block down Sorauren Avenue and I was like ‘aw shit! It’s happening!’ Turns out they were just looking for an address.

When I moved to Toronto with them big city dreams, it was from a smaller town nearby. Disability art was a new and burgeoning thing to me then, and to the Canadian scene, and I was eager to explore it. I resolved that in order to do that I needed to be around people that could grow me. I needed to know what was out there and I figured Toronto could tell me, with its rumours of other disabled queers.

This cold shoulder of a city has fulfilled its promise and then some. I’ve learned the art hustle of the emerging marginalized artist. Connection across disciplines, politics, and identities. Negotiations between steep rent and steeper poverty transformed into sweet poetry on the social media surface of me. I have made a home and it only took five years to get here.

Here for me is more literally the city’s southwest neighbourhood of Parkdale. I suppose Parkdale is as good a place as any to think about being disabled. Poverty and gentrification coming in from all sides. A place where scrappy meets yuppie in an elbow of streets just before the lake. Years learning the sidewalk dance of dodging the wheelie cart bubbies of a still very Polish Roncesvalles Village cuz no they don’t see your shared crip identities and they will RUN YOU DOWN.

The word disability has a lot of whiteness to contend with. It comes from institutions, which have an inherited colonial history: the medical industrial complex and the academic industrial complex.

I receive a lot of speaking engagements from academic institutions. The academy did not create disability art, but it did brand it. With the brand comes the decree of legitimacy. (I was once asked to give a presentation at a conference at Yale. It didn’t matter that no one paid me; it was Yale! Yaaaaale. Although when trying to board the campus shuttle, right on cue, I was asked if I was looking for the hospital shuttle).

I think I really did believe that a growing interest in disability art meant a growing care for disabled people. But that is a harsh untruth of being a marginalized artist contending with institutionalized power. With the apparent success of my own growing brand, I feel a growing emptiness. Hunger pangs that the McD’s value menu never seems to fill, despite repeated attempts at slinging toonies at the problem.

In a Canadian art context, marginalized identities ask for commodification in order to sustain an emerging artistic practice, while the work produced is often valued for only that: its marginalized quota. In the process of naming oneself over and over as marginalized artist, for funding, for work, for survival, an oppositional isolation is deeply felt. As though that is all one’s work is or is doing: marginalizing.

I can remember my first review in NOW Magazine, during my very first solo show for CONTACT Photography Festival. The images spanned the work of two years of vivid, visceral, queer and erotic digital self-portraiture; early photographic attempts at visually locating myself across my identities and communities. Although positive, the paragraph written about the series amounted to ‘These photographs show sachse just living life!’

Since that time, I have been given several platforms to speak from. And yet I still long for the missing care in my work’s curation. Disability art has in many ways revealed itself to exist to legitimize the very whitewashed disability studies academy. The disability studies academy will engage with disabled artists insofar as they prove of value to scholarship.

This problem is further perpetuated by organizational funding structures like the Ontario Art Council’s project grant specific disability art, which insists on a full disability roster (of almost circus-like variety) in order to be considered. If the entire slew of the projects participants are not disabled, the project does not qualify, which is a forced segregation having nothing to do with craft or medium.

Sadly, disability art is not inherently healing justice, as the spaces it takes up do not centre care or healing, but commodification. I have at times made bad art that speaks to non-disabled feminists before because it meant getting heard from at all; the ache for intimate artistic engagement is real and fuels the work of survival of artists working from the margins.

Thursday, March 24th, 2016. It’s late. I just left Lynx, horizontal on one of black pleather couches in the lobby of OCAD (Ontario College of Art and Design), spoons(1.) low and on the phone with their Vancouver sweetie.

1. Spoon Theory

The word disability has a lot of whiteness to contend with. It comes from institutions, which have an inherited colonial history: the medical industrial complex and the academic industrial complex.

I receive a lot of speaking engagements from academic institutions. The academy did not create disability art, but it did brand it. With the brand comes the decree of legitimacy. (I was once asked to give a presentation at a conference at Yale. It didn’t matter that no one paid me; it was Yale! Yaaaaale. Although when trying to board the campus shuttle, right on cue, I was asked if I was looking for the hospital shuttle).

I think I really did believe that a growing interest in disability art meant a growing care for disabled people. But that is a harsh untruth of being a marginalized artist contending with institutionalized power. With the apparent success of my own growing brand, I feel a growing emptiness. Hunger pangs that the McD’s value menu never seems to fill, despite repeated attempts at slinging toonies at the problem.

In a Canadian art context, marginalized identities ask for commodification in order to sustain an emerging artistic practice, while the work produced is often valued for only that: its marginalized quota. In the process of naming oneself over and over as marginalized artist, for funding, for work, for survival, an oppositional isolation is deeply felt. As though that is all one’s work is or is doing: marginalizing.

I can remember my first review in NOW Magazine, during my very first solo show for CONTACT Photography Festival. The images spanned the work of two years of vivid, visceral, queer and erotic digital self-portraiture; early photographic attempts at visually locating myself across my identities and communities. Although positive, the paragraph written about the series amounted to ‘These photographs show sachse just living life!’

Since that time, I have been given several platforms to speak from. And yet I still long for the missing care in my work’s curation. Disability art has in many ways revealed itself to exist to legitimize the very whitewashed disability studies academy. The disability studies academy will engage with disabled artists insofar as they prove of value to scholarship.

This problem is further perpetuated by organizational funding structures like the Ontario Art Council’s project grant specific disability art, which insists on a full disability roster (of almost circus-like variety) in order to be considered. If the entire slew of the projects participants are not disabled, the project does not qualify, which is a forced segregation having nothing to do with craft or medium.

Sadly, disability art is not inherently healing justice, as the spaces it takes up do not centre care or healing, but commodification. I have at times made bad art that speaks to non-disabled feminists before because it meant getting heard from at all; the ache for intimate artistic engagement is real and fuels the work of survival of artists working from the margins.

Thursday, March 24th, 2016. It’s late. I just left Lynx, horizontal on one of black pleather couches in the lobby of OCAD (Ontario College of Art and Design), spoons2 low and on the phone with their Vancouver sweetie.

We’d gone shopping for art materials. We were both running creative writing workshops around that time and were looking for ways to stretch our modest budgets into the nicest supplies. One hour in a stair filled supply store later and all 2 canes 2 crips 6 legs of us were TIRED. Like, need to sit down somewhere on a ticking clock kind of tired. Initially, I had offered that we go to The Rex after, due to its close crip proximity. I know the area like the back of my claw hand. Filed under: ‘A place to sit and jazz.’

Wheeltrans had messed up and wouldn’t be arriving till 10:30pm. But when we reached the bottom of the ramp Lynx, in their Capricorn rising steadfast charm, stopped and announced ‘Nope.’ Which is how we found ourselves camped in the university’s lobby instead.

‘Do you have a [phone]charger?’ they ask, a chuckling metaphor of our current energy levels.

Surprisingly I did. We find a nearby bench and corner with an outlet.

With hours to go before their ride, we seize the opportunity to hang out. Scatter their new supplies on the well-lit concrete floor for a future social media post to promote #BlackSpoonieSpeak, a workshop by Lynx Sainte-Marie, trying to sculpt the aesthetic jusssst right for Insta.

The hustle.

(It feels like this great secret that when two or more spoonies who centre care with each other come together, access needs don’t actually double but decrease, because bodies inform each other. A deep balance of limits & desired outcomes.) 

At 9:30pm, after twenty different conversations & a relocation to the black pleather couch, Lynx insists that I start home. My body has begun its nightly shut down. I’ve taken to referring to it as ‘kitten hour.’ If I don’t get on transit within kitten hour I will be too sleepy. Falling asleep in public is an unsafe thing in the world.

At the stop, it starts to rain. Streetcars crawl toward me in the great damp distance of Queen Street, their green-lit antennae making a Gatsby out of me. It aches of unfulfilled promise. As access wages, the same ancient stress on my bones so begins again the calculation of steps to home. The wince of what happens when home was other people. The funerals step onto the streetcar with you, sidle into front seat to rest; blue, sideways, a marker of loss incomplete. Pain, but also Love.

jes sachse
jes sachse is a Toronto-based poet, artist & curator obsessed with disability culture. Living across the blurred lines of whiteness, poverty, lifelong disability, genderfluidity and madness, they are currently working on their first illustrated novel, Gutter, which will portray these dilemmas through a multi-modal narrative form, reflecting at once on both a crip navigation of contemporary culture, and the permeation of traumas in spaces of invisibilized violence.