A History of Anti-Racist Organizing at the University of Guelph

by Mina Ramos

In the summer of 2017, the Ontario Public Interest Research Group (OPIRG) – Guelph  launched the People’s History Project with the goal of creating a digital archive that holds the history of social movement building in Guelph, Ontario (Dish With One Spoon / Mississauga of the New Credit traditional territories). To start off the project, I decided to begin to document racial justice organizing carried out by and for racialized students at the University of Guelph, a predominantly white institution in a predominantly white community.

It comes as no surprise that the rich history of anti-racist student organizing is largely unacknowledged. 

Above: Protest in the UC for the National Day of Divestment in South Africa on March 21st, 1979

As an institution that ranks fourth on Maclean’s magazine’s list of top universities and boasts “Changing Lives, Improving Lives” as its slogan, it certainly doesn’t benefit the University for racialized students to know the history of ongoing racial discrimination and administration’s broken promises, or the successes of student organizing and the erosion of some of those gains over time. 

What follows is a timeline of racial justice organizing at the University of Guelph in recent decades. Though currently incomplete, it is my hope that this ongoing project can offer racialized students a resource that can inform future organizing.

It’s important to note that though I use the term “racialized students,” the majority of the organizing documented here has been led by or involved Black students. Additionally, I have yet to research or conduct interviews with regards to Indigenous students’ organizing, so that critically important history is missing from this timeline.


1977 – Michael Clarke, a white university student, returns from 3 years in Sierra Leone where he worked as a teacher through an NGO called CUSO. He is moved by his development work in Africa and is appalled by the South African Apartheid Regime and Canada’s involvement in this regime. Although South African Apartheid has been in legislation since 1948, organizing against South African Apartheid in Canada only begins to gain traction in the mid-1960’s.

Michael wants to demonstrate to Canadians how Canada is implicit in this regime. He also wants to organize to disrupt the Canadian and South African economy, who are both benefiting from South African Apartheid. He researches the concept of divestment and contacts the African National Congress (ANC).

Alongside his life partner Suzanne and a colleague at the university, they align themselves with the ideologies of the African National Congress and begin to organize an event in Peter Clark Hall, with speaker John Saul from York University, to talk about South African Apartheid. They make a sign at the event which reads “Guelph Campaign for Divestment in South Africa”, and have a sign-up sheet for people interested in getting involved.

November 11th thru 15th 1978 – The African Student Association (ASA) hosts a week long conference called “Africa Week” which highlights the resistance to South-African Apartheid amongst a series of other topics involving African empowerment, economics, autonomy and self-representation. The “Guelph Campaign for Divestment in South Africa” is officially formed after the conversations that come out of the conference. The newly founded organization is made up of white students, who work very closely with the African Student Association. This is largely attributed to the fact that all of the ASA students are international students who do not want to put their status at jeopardy, as well as the fact that the majority of these students are in mathematics or science and cannot contribute the same amount of time to the campaign. The campaign joins OPIRG Guelph as a working group and sets out the following goals:

  • Put on a series of events which raise awareness on the regime of apartheid
  • Educate Canadians on how they and the government of Canada are implicit in apartheid
  • Finding ways to assist in the process of change ie. raising funds, divestment…etc
  • Getting individuals to join the movement

A National Day of Action for divestment is set for March 21st which the campaign plans to take part in. Members of the campaign plan to call on students and organizations to withdraw from the 5 banks involved in lending money to the South African government ie. CIBC, TD Canada Trust, RBC, Scotiabank and BMO. The date of March 21st is chosen because it is symbolic to when the Sharpeville Massacre occurred in 1960 in South Africa.

From January leading up to the Day of Action, the campaign calls bank managers and trust company managers to get their positions regarding investment in South Africa, they create informational posters and pamphlets, begin circulating a petition for disinvestment of the university, hold information tables, show movie screenings, and host fundraisers.

During this time, Michael Clarke joins the Senate as a representative of the Graduate Students Association with the sole purpose and strategy to bring up a motion for the university to endorse divestment as a means to urge the Board of Governors of the university to divest.

March 20th 1979 – The University of Guelph  student senate passes a motion that endorses divestment and recommends to the Board of Governors that the university should divest. The amount of money held by the university in banks is around $85-$90 Million at this time.

March 21st 1979 – The National Day of Action for Divestment takes place. There is a march organized in the University Centre (UC) and student activist Ben Loevenstein chains himself to the front door of the CIBC located in the UC. Over 250 students withdraw funds, and organizations including the African Student Association, the Photo Arts Club, the Biological Science Student Council, CUSO, OPIRG, the politics club, and the West Indian Student Association all withdraw. In total $180,000 is divested on that day. The National day of Action is seen as a wide success.

April 26th and 27th, 1979 – The Board of Governors is set to vote on whether or not to divest the University of Guelph’s funds. The Board of Governors votes to not divest despite the huge amount of pressure from the campaign. Organizers are crushed. Many stop organizing, get back to school and/or graduate and the movement dies down.

Early 1980s – A new wave of students are on campus and after taking classes led by Professor Clarence J Munford on Black History, Precolonial Africa, African politics…etc,. They want to get involved in organizing in some way (1.)

 Among them is a student named Gayle Valeriote who approaches OPIRG and begins organizing against South African Apartheid as an OPIRG working group under a new name: the South African Interest Group (SAIJ). The new group is again a predominantly white group who continues to work very closely with the African Students Association. At this time the tactic of organizing changes. The group, who is taking action under the direction of the African National Congress (ANC) moves away from divestment and towards boycotting South African products instead; primarily wine. They host boycotts and pickets, and organize anti-apartheid awareness events and fundraisers.

1. Although this is the first time Clarence J Munford is mentioned, it is important to note that Munford is a bit of a legend at the university. At this time and until he leaves the University of Guelph, Clarence J Munford is widely regarded as the go-to for black students on campus to express concerns and to voice frustration about racism on campus. He is the only one at this time teaching classes relating to Black History and radical African politics.

Among them is a student named Gayle Valeriote who approaches OPIRG and begins organizing against South African Apartheid as an OPIRG working group under a new name: the South African Interest Group (SAIJ). The new group is again a predominantly white group who continues to work very closely with the African Students Association. At this time the tactic of organizing changes. The group, who is taking action under the direction of the African National Congress (ANC) moves away from divestment and towards boycotting South African products instead; primarily wine. They host boycotts and pickets, and organize anti-apartheid awareness events and fundraisers.

1981 – The Latin American Solidarity Group is formed as a working group of OPIRG by two chilean political refugees, Augustine Lobos and Goly Medina, who are living in Guelph. At the time, there are civil wars and dictatorships all across Latin America. They want to raise awareness about the human rights violations and repression occurring in Chile and in the rest of Latin America. They also want to fundraise and send donations to communities that need them. They operate for 13 years and in that time organize music shows, coffee houses, speaking panels, attend protests and also work in solidarity with other groups and raise many issues affecting other countries and communities through their group. They also work very closely with the African Students Association and the South African Interest Group.

1982 – Students from the of the South African Interest Group approach the administration asking to confer an honourary degree to Nelson Mandela for his work with the African National Congress in fighting against South African Apartheid. Although this is largely a symbolic gesture, they want the university to take a formal stance against South African Apartheid through this action. The university administration denies the request saying that they cannot confer an honourary degree to someone who is in prison.

June 4th 1986 – After a lack of support fro the university to confer an honourary degree to Nelson Mandela, SAIG takes matters into their own hands and organizes an alternative convocation which will take place the same day as the regular convocation on the other side of Johnston Green. They decide that they will create their own honourary degrees and give them to Desmond Tutu, Nelson Mandela, Dorothy Nyembe and Ahmed Kathrada. Over 100 students attend the alternative convocation and members of the ANC accept the degrees on behalf of these individuals.

1990 – The Race Relations Association (formerly the multicultural club) is created by a faculty member named Leon Hall. The group is open to all racialized students, faculty members and administration who want to discuss and raise issues related to racism on campus, visibility, representation, policy and space. They try to bring attention to issues happening outside of campus as well and connect them to the racism occurring on campus and in Guelph generally. The Oka crisis and killing of Dudley George spurs conversation around colonization and racism against Indigenous people in Canada. They also begin acknowledging police brutality towards Black Canadians and anti-black racism occurring in different parts of Southwestern Ontario.

Members of the group also attend actions outside of Guelph. One former member recounts how members of the association attended the Yonge Street Riots in 1992 in Toronto, as well as the protests that came afterwards.

During this time Clarence J Munford is also working with the Race Relations Association, and independently to bring speakers to give lectures on campus. One of the biggest speakers Clarence J Munford brings is Stokely Carmichael, a Trinidadian born civil rights activist from the US.

It is important to note that during this time there is an exceptional amount of Trinidadian students studying at the University of Guelph, and as a result, this time is seen as the height of the West Indian Students Association. However, one past student that I interviewed highlighted the distinction that it was often students born in Canada who were engaging in critical discussions on race and racism in Canada, while international studen were more focused on hosting cultural events and parties and did not necessarily engage in this dialogue as much.

During this time the Black Women’s Society is also created and serves as an open space for black students to specifically talk about issues affecting black women in Canada.

March 6th 1990 – Students protest the speaking event of widely known white supremacist Paul Fromm, whose right wing organization C-FAR (Citizens for Foreign Aid Reform) booked the space called The Albion under false pretenses. They find out about the event after a student places an unclassified ad in the Ontarion the week before. The Albion denounces the event, but under the guidance of student activists, the Albion gives away all of the tickets so that student organizers can take up all of the seats during the event. As Fromm is speaking the students unanimously turn the chairs around and turn their backs on him. Things get heated but there is no physical violence. Students from OPIRG, the Race Relations Association and the Guelph International Resource Centre all attend and the protest is seen as a widespread success to curbing racism in the city. As a result, the Albion issues an official statement stating that they are against all forms of racial discrimination.

An Anti- Apartheid picket in Guelph in the 1980s

Above: An Anti- Apartheid picket in Guelph in the 1980s

June 1990 – Members of SAIJ travel to Toronto to meet with Nelson Mandela during his cross Canada speaking tour, after his release in February. During this month, community members and students at the University of Guelph also travel to Ottawa to protest South African Apartheid by calling for the closing of the South African embassy in solidarity with Black South Africans fighting for their right to vote.

1992 – A subcommittee of the Presidential Advisory Committee on Educational Equity begins discussing a race relations policy for the university. At this point, there is a Human Rights Advisor named Indira Ganase Lall working at the university, but no human rights policy exists at the university.

During this time, a Canadian Graduate Educational Equity Survey demonstrates that in Canadian universities 30% of students of colour are discriminated against based on their skin colour, 51% based on their race, and 46% based on their ethnicity.

Out of this growing awareness of racism on campuses across Canada, the Presidential Task Force on Human Rights is created in Guelph. Clarence J Munford is accredited to being one of the strongest backers of this policy and sits on the Task Force. There are also members of the Race Relations Association on the Task Force as well and old members of the South African Interest Group.

In 1993, the Task Force is renamed to the Presidential Task Force on Anti-Racism and Race Relations. They meet once a week from January to May, and realize that is crucial to not only create a policy but release a report on the realities of racism on campus and to highlight the experiences of students of colour on campus. Many students are pushing for this taskforce and one former member jokes that they would have people knocking on the door wondering when it would be released. She adds that the process took such a long time because they wanted to make sure they had covered all of their tracks and created a useful document for the university to actually implement changes.

When the report is finished, it is dense and breaks down understandings of race, racism, and how it plays out in universities. It outlines that these issues are the result of systemic racism, white privilege, and eurocentrism at all levels of the university. It also gives a historical timeline that demonstrates the different racist laws that have shaped Canadian policies, economy, culture, society…etc. It is the first document ever created at the university that demonstrates how racism plays out in universities, and shares specifical in-depth examples of the racism students have experienced on the University of Guelph campus.

Many recommendations are made and go into great detail as to how these recommendations can be implemented. Some main recommendations are:

  • The formation of an overall human rights office
  • That at least one counsellor of colour is hired and one Indigenous counsellor is hired
  • That enrollment must reflect the racial diversity of the country and that the recruitment system is monitored to eliminate systemic barriers to accessing university
  • That the admissions Committee members be required to attend seminars on racism, systemic racism and inclusivity
  • That space and funding be allocated to the Race Relations Commission for the creation of a Student Resource Centre for racialized and Indigenous students and that funding should allow for a permanent paid employee to coordinate the Centre
  • That a core course be developed on human rights issues as soon as possible to become a permanent course offering
  • To assess the curriculum in different departments in regards to racism, as well as having the curriculum reviewed with input from students of colour and Indigenous students so that there is a wider range of racial and cultural issues covered in class.
  • That all course descriptions should be reviewed for accuracy. If the course doesn’t match its description it should be renamed ie. Topics in the History of Women should be renamed Topics in the History of Western white Women if it is only about white women to be consistent.
  • Creating a monitoring system to track employment equity and that the practices are actually being followed, evaluate the ability of candidates for faculty positions to teach courses on the basis on anti-racism and in a cross-cultural context
  • To ensure that representation of people of colour and Indigenous people does not fall below current levels; vacancies should be filled by a qualified person of colour or Indigenous person
  • That one full-time-equivalent Advisor be appointed to assist the current Human Rights Advisor in dealing with complaints of a racial nature
  • A guideline for a systemic review of all of the University’s services and programs and a ten year implementation plan
  • That the following groups attend an anti-racist training annually: President, Vice-President, Deans, Academic Advisors, Board of Governors, Academic Councils, Management Advisory Groups, Program Counsellors and Departmental Faculty Advisors, Graduate Coordinators, Student Housing Administration and University College Project

In order to have accountability with the report, the Task Force asserts that a follow up report be made in 1995 to assess the completion of the suggestions. 

They want this report to be made accessible to all students, faculty and administration (2.)

2. At this point in my own research I am unsure if this follow up report was made

July 1993 – The Anti-Racism and Race Relations Task Force report is published. It is printed in the Ontarion and individually, and is distributed all over campus. Many former students comment that this Task Force causes an uproar in dialogue and a denial of racism on campus from the campus administration, including the university president of the time, William Winegard.

1994 – As a result of the recommendations of the taskforce, the race relations association is given a space and is transformed into the CJ Munford Center (named after Clarence J Munford). However there is no paid employee for the space and instead a collective is formed for the center.

October 18th 1995 -University of Guelph Human Rights Advisor Indira Ganese Lall and Human Rights Assistant Sharon Harris, quit after only being offered month-to month-contracts instead of permanent position. Lall, who amassed most of the personal stories of racism on campus for the Taskforce, finds the offer offensive in light of her contributions. Both staff also leave as a result of their frustration with how human rights policies are being carried out/not being carried out on campus.

1996 – The Human Rights and Equity Office opens. Although students and faculty have been pushing for an office like this, they are outraged that an individual by the name of Ralph Agard has been hired following the departure of Indira Ganase Lall and Sharon Harris. Ralph Agard is widely known in Toronto as a perpetrator of sexual assault and students feel that it is an insult to what they have worked for to have him placed as the director of the office. A huge expose is written about Agard in the Ontarion and the ribbon cutting is protested by several racialized students. A sit-in at the Human Rights and Equity Office is planned but Ralph Agard is quietly dismissed before this ever happens. Ralph Agard is replaced by the current Assistant Deputy Minister of the Ministry of Education, Patrick Case.

February 1997 – The President’s office is occupied for a week by students seeking justice for cutbacks to education. This action is part of a wave of student activism against cutbacks, and similar occupations occur at the University of Toronto and York University. At this time groups of colour get involved in the occupation and join up with other organizations that are predominantly white. Both groups address racism on campus and connect this to the cutbacks and how they affect people of colour.

Mid 2000’s to late 2000’s – Rose Mcleod is hired by counselling services to give counselling support for black students. She works out of the CJ Munford centre and provides informal counselling support. Her hiring is also a result of the Taskforce on anti-racism. One former student describes that Rose Mcleod was instrumental to the functioning of the CJ Munford Centre and its growth at that time. Not only did she provide counselling support, she helped to direct students to appropriate offices depending on what services they were seeking, set up weekly discussions at the Centre and helped to facilitate collective meetings.

Despite being the heart of the Centre, the university does not take appropriate steps to secure funding for her position and organizations like GRCGED, the CJ Munford Centre and counselling services are left to seek out grants to pay for her position. Eventually the university administration decides that her position is not justified because of the informality of her work. Students at the CJ Munford centre organize to keep her position and go through all of the official channels including setting up a meeting with student affairs and more specifically the Associate Vice President Brenda Whiteside to convince the administration to find funding for her position to continue. There is also talk about reviving the Taskforce and creating an up to date report; however this is not followed through with. Despite their countless meetings and efforts, Rose’s contract is not renewed and in 2013 she leaves the university and the CJ Munford Center is again functioning without a paid staff.

Black On Campus march across campus on 2015
Black On Campus banner drop in the UC, 2015

Above: Black On Campus march across campus and banner drop in the UC, 2015 

Nov.18th 2015 – Along with 3 other universities, Black students at the University of Guelph hold an action in solidarity with Black students protesting at the University of Missouri and Yale University in the United States. With less than 24 hours’ notice, student organizers Galme Mumed, Savannah Clarke and George Umeh bring together over 100 students to stage a campus wide march. This is the first time in the history of the university that a march organized and attended by mainly Black students addressing anti-black racism has ever taken place. The majority of the Black students in attendance are from the CJ Munford Centre. Black students are encouraged to write out their experiences of racism on placards and share their ,m before the march. The march takes place through the entire campus and ends in the Office of Student Affairs where protestors confront Brenda Whiteside for her complacency in dealing with systemic anti-black racism at the university. Although the action is initially seen as a solidarity event, organizers realize that the demands put forth by students in Missouri are similar to what is needed at the University of Guelph.

Overnight this action becomes the talk of the entire university. Extreme racist backlash is received online through facebook pages like “Overheard Guelph”. The students who organized the initial action secure funds from on-campus organizations and hire an informal counsellor to help with the stress that Black students are dealing with post-action. In the midst of this, organizers also roll out their own set of demands which they present to the University president Franco Vaccarino, Brenda Whiteside and the assistant vice-president Jane Ngobia. The demands are as follows:

  1. Discuss and change the underrepresentation of Black administrators, faculty and teaching staff with the goal of increasing the percentage of black faculty and staff members.
  2. Address the underrepresentation of Black students in all programs.
  3. Establish mandatory equity training for all faculties, students, governors, and all other administrative bodies. This entails mandatory anti-oppression training for all persons employed by the University, and an equity breadth requirement for all students.
  4. Increase the number of scholarships and funding resources available to black and Indigenous students.
  5. Establish counseling and mental health services on the U of G campus that are culturally appropriate and representative for addressing the mental, emotional, and psychological needs of black students. At the U of G, there is only one Black counselor available that understands the mental health needs of Black students.
  6. That the administration take leadership under the CJ Munford Centre in order to properly support them in implementing the anti-racism taskforce. In addition funding a full time position under the taskforce that is created and overseen by the CJ Munford Centre students.
  7. Develop a plan to establish, adequately fund and support a standalone Black, African & Caribbean Studies Department.
  8. Implement free education for Black and Indigenous students.

The demands set out in 2015 are strikingly similar to those of the anti-racism taskforce which the University administration itself asked for yet did very little to implement any of the recommendations.

Instead of addressing these demands head on or revisiting the taskforce (which goes into great details as to how the administration can implement changes), the university administration decides to have their own discussions with Black students and holds 40 interviews with Black identified students. Through this, they create their own report which highlights what students organizers have already said and come up with broad strategic plans with lots of fluff to make the university more inclusive. There are very little tangible goals. Most of the demands initially set out by Black students are not acknowledged at all, including those centered on more scholarships, mandatory anti-oppression training, free education and actually paying someone to implement the anti-racism taskforce of the 1990’s. Instead, they create a full-time position in support of cultural diversity which will be held within the Office of Intercultural Affairs in Student Life. It is interesting to note that there was never funding made available for Rose Mcleod during her stay at the university but funding is immediately made available for another administrative staff outside of the CJ Munford Centre.

During this time the CJ Munford Centre change their name to the Guelph Black Students Association to be more visible on campus.

This is presently where the timeline ends. However there is so much work to be done to not only fill in the blanks on the resilience and organizing of racialized students as well as the intricacies of how the administration has managed to escape responsibilities.

Currently, the funding has run dry for this project; however the aim is for it to be an accessible multi-media digital archive that will serve as a tool and guide for future generations of racialized students looking to organize at the University of Guelph.

Mina Ramos
Mina is a mixed race queer who is based out of Brampton ON. She is passionate about ideas, thoughts and issues grounded in resistance movements of all kinds and the intricate connection to spirituality but specifically organizes in the realm of migrant justice.

Brand NewBeing

By Queen Tite

LEGACY: something given/received from an ancestor or from the past

HONOUR: a person of superior standing

I have been left with such valuable gems from my ancestors. Those I knew infused me with great stories, recipes, culture, and royal regalia. Those within, built a great path for me to follow. This is my legacy that I now pass on to those who are coming and have come after. I am now their ancestor. It is now my own story to tell. My own culture to pass on. My own duty to honour that legacy I was birthed into and value. That legacy I wear daily, proudly, unchanged. This is my testament to the “Hybrid of the African Diaspora’ that I AM.

As a youth my Nigerian, Yuroba Grandmother used to wrap my head in the most beautiful gele (headwraps) and send me to elementary school. I felt ROYAL! Abundant with color and purpose! She taught me about my lineage, my root, my foundation in Africa from which I originally came. She showed me by way of adornments, the beauty of my natural legacy. I learned that at times we need not make grand gestures, but subtle, confident, silent, movements can make the biggest impacts. And so, I went to school with my jeans and t-shirt  like the rest, but amplified with lineage, culture, and pride, wearing my ancestors on my head, headwrap style, unlike anyone but myself. I stood as a Nubian princess, long before culture was cool. Covert segregation and racism existed in my school time.

Yet I stood firm in my black beauty. Quietly, confidently, yet Grand AF!!! This was that moment I realized I received a gift from my ancestors. Past Grandmothers had done this to my Grandmother and her Grandmother and all the Nubian women who came before. The different styles and materials were my lineage to embrace, own and now share.

This lesson of confidence, of self love, of black love, of birthright, I pass on to the next generation. As I am soon to enter into my fourth decade of existence and wisdom, I take my place and duty as en elder and an ancestor to my community. I adorn youths, teens, adults, elders, queer folks, really anyone wanting to become reintroduced to ones ancestors through Art. I channel them, I carry the, I conjure them into existence, so they may live within us ALL. I see the God(dess) in me, I see it in you too!

I am proud to introduce to you:

‘Brand NewBeing’

Creative Director: QueenTite Opaleke

HeadWraps/Stylist: NATTY – Hair Art Roots

Purses/Wallets: Handpainted by NATTY – Hair Art Roots

Photographer: QueenTite/Prevail Media

Tribal Paint: Aureo Forson

  1. Culture Is So Fly – Muse: Kianna NATTY Purse: Back of ‘African Goddess
  2. Adorned in Color – Muse: Gabriella Headwrap: Black Sugar NATTY Art: Eye of Horus Pot NATTY Purse: ‘African Goddess’
  3. Joyful – Muse: Gabriella NATTY Purse: ‘Tribal’ Headwrap: Black Sugar NATTY Art: Africa Pot
  4. Princess to Queen – Muses: Keisha & Divine Tribal Paint: Aureo Forson MUA: Dominique Greene
  5. Crown – Muse: Lindeway Photographer: Prevail Media Tribal Paint: Aureo Forson MUA: Dominique Greene
  6. Brand Newbians – Muses: Dom, Aureo, Lindeway, Dele- O, Kamal, Divine, Keisha, Shamin Photographer: Prevail Media Tribal Paint: Aureo Forson MUA: Dominique Greene

I’m a winnipeg born, west coast grown, toronto based multidisciplinary artist. I AM; a black, proud, queer, Hybrid. My roots are laid in art, activism, education, black liberation, poetry, love, and in constant pursuit of more love. When I’m not busy changing the world, you can find me devoted to my personal projects which include; Co – Founding Prosthetics For Foreign Donation & owning Black Heir.

Instagram and Snapchat: @missqueentite

What’s inside the Box?

by Janine Carrington

So the question has been put out there: What do we do to honour those who have gone before us?

August 16th 2017: Enter me.

I am what I call a Comicographer or a comic biographer. A comicographer is an artist that illustrates people’s lives by way of comics. So when I read this question I took it to mean what do we, in the year 2017, do differently in this regard with a special emphasis on the words 2017 and differently. I am fascinated by life stories and I believe every life is phenomenal and everyone has a story. When this topic came up I was on the brink of answering this very question. My father, Martin Daniel Carrington, died almost exactly two years before the call for submissions for this issue. When I heard about this call I was just about finished working on the first of many projects designed to honour the deceased. So my response was easy. To honour the one who had gone before me, I had created a thirty page graphic novel called Carrington.

My fourth task was to get his message across. In writing the story I sought to explain his point of view in that special way specific to comics using the mighty thought bubble. Thought bubbles expose readers to the logic that is often be obscured by action. And in this case, in a way that wasn’t possible when my father was alive

And my last task was to make Carrington into a platform for documenting his life. This of course involved creating a timeline and collecting photos. It also involved unearthing surprising facts.

Being able to illustrate his experiences in chronological order gives us readers insight into what he had to deal with. Through this we also learn how to deal with certain situations and how we have it better or worse.

All valuable information

Once all that was done, I was left with this great true story. Now what was I supposed to do with it? Of course it was time to call upon our good old friend technology. We are lucky enough to live in a world that has made the miracle of self publishing a reality. Specifically for the comicographer it means joyfully roger rabbiting through a magical land where producing any number big or small of professionally bound books is a reality. For People of Colour it means no longer needing to rely on large white owned publishing companies for the content that we consume and suffering the indignities of poor, mis and non representation. It means access to content that includes the truth!

 So Carrington, a true to life tale of adventure, love, happiness, conflict, integrity, passion, miracles, struggle, joy and all of that stuff was taken to the printers.

Be Happy, the introduction to Carrington, was actually a printed card and that we gave away to touched memorial service attendees, sympathetic neighbours and everyone who offered condolences.

Carrington the new version is currently being re-written to incorporate some interesting facts that surfaced after the original edition was created. It will be printed and distributed and will be available on Amazon.com shortly. All proceeds going to the Alzheimer’s Society Canada.

Next up was the digital realm. A tiny silver 16gb standard and micro usb keychain houses the following files: Images sized for Facebook and Instagram, A PDF version of Carrington and a PDF of Be Happy and hangs jauntily beside my keys and lucky mermaid charm.

Now with the quasi superhero Carrington soaring out into the world via print and social media, it was time for his memory to find a prominent place in my home. It was my duty to invest time and thought into creating something beautiful that would be his new physical representation. So, as is the practice of serious comic collectors everywhere, I put my new comic in a box. Not a morbid box, like a coffin or an urn. I set about creating a box you’re not afraid of. A magical box that’s full of wonder. A box that you could imagine a cool benevolent spirit coming out of when you open it. And when the box is opened you share what’s inside. You say things like “Here, take a comic home you can read it on bus” or “Here’s a card, give it to your mom for me” For Carrington I made a simple box that fit his spirit. I called this box in homage of the language of the country where it was made “La Caja” (spanish for “The Box”).

So now with the legacy of Martin Carrington, artist, athlete and entrepreneur cheering me on from a prominent place in my home, I’ve taken to the metaphorical streets with the aim of making a living creating this box and story for anyone who is game. In the future, I see a society where every home has a version of “La Caja” in the same way they might have a family portrait.

I also envision a society with “La Caja” files on every device. Where anniversaries of deaths are commemorated by posting comic illustrations on social media platforms. Where the unveiling of “La Caja” is a reason for families to come together. I see little children who know and like the story of their ancestors as much as they do the characters of their favourite YouTube heroes.

The lives of our dead have never been better.

To support, donate on the La Caja Comics fundraising campaign !

Janine Carrington
Janine Carrington is an artist born in To-ronto, Ontario who specializes in illustra-tion. Taught the basics of drawing at anearly age by her father and continued herartistic education at the Etobicoke Schoolof the Arts. For the moment she is basedin Costa Rica updating her portfolio withpieces inspired by travel, beauty, love, work and family.

Dear Sambong

Rice Moon Sorcerer

By: shaina agbayani

I keep looking for confirmation of my ancestry in books, and then realize my body, vessel of earth&ancestors&spirit, is the first & most truthful book.

chapter 1

**I have no book to tell me my an-sisters are queer

**my body is the first(last) and most truthful book

**I am the queer an-sister

**heirloom seeds of rice are to be hidden(planted-saved) deep in earth, harvest always latent(ready to bloom)

**i am the first(last) seed

**i am siya who binds – plants(hides-saves) – the last(first) sheaf

chapter 2

**i have no book to tell me my an-sisters fast in kinship with earth&spirit (full moon ritual)

**my body is the first(last) and most truthful book

**i am the queer an-sister, fasting in kinship with earth&spirit(full moon ritual)

**heirloom seeds, buried deep in earth, are to be collected(preserved-offered) for future an-sisters

**i am the first(last) seed-saver

**i am siya who binds – preserves-offers(collects) – the last(first) sheaf

chapter 3

**one book(thickspine) tells me my an-sisters offer woodwind hymns to spirit world(new moon ritual)

**my body is the last(first) and most truthful chapter

**i am the queer an-sister, fasting in kinship with earth&spirit (full moon ritual), offering woodwind hymns to spirit world (new moon ritual)

**an-sisters(past&future), buried deep in earth(growing amongst us) are to be summoned(sung&watered) through butterfly songs

**i am the first(last) seed-singer

**i am siya who binds – summons(water-sings) – the last(first) sheaf

chapter 4

*i once had a vivid dream that ancestral alphabets can be danced

**one elder(longspine) tells me (deep inky voice, azul blood written on tree) baybayin can be danced in pangalay

**my body is the last(first) and most truthful chapter

**i am the queer dream of my an-sisters, elder dancing ancestral alphabets, singing(watering-summoning) new moon hymns, saving(preserving-offering) full moon seeds, planting(hiding-saving) heirloom harvests

**butterfly songs, vibrating deep in earth(resonating high above us) are to be danced(dreamt) in prayer

**i am the first(last) seed-dancer

**i am siya who binds – dances(dreams-prays) – the last(first) sheaf

Chapter 6

dear rice-moon sorcerer(sambong)

you have already sung your dreams


our bodies

queer earth

ancestral temples

they lay ready


on sheaves of rice(heirloom harvest)

hymns around which we dance(ancestral alphabets)






the first, last sheaf


Sha is a femme fermentation fairy & singer of Moon Karaoke gi ed to be living in Tkaronto by way of Ilocus Sur, Mindoro, Quezon, Batangas, Romblon, and many other lands eluding/defying categorization that have nurtured her an-sisters&ancestors. Sha invites you to reach out & connect if you feel called at sha.sambong@gmail.com

Ayelen’s Arrival

Scene of performers Lido Pimienta, Ximena Huizi and Manuel Rodriguez Saenz dancing and singing in traditional clothing and face paint. The text reads "El Renacer no es facil tu y yo nos conocimos donde la oscuridad imploro mi llegada re elegi eres producto mio y yo tuyo momento de sangre, carne y amor"

By: Fiya Bruxa

Above: Scene from Ayelen featuring performers Lido Pimienta, Ximena Huizi, Manuel Rodriguez Saenz, and costume design by Shalak Attack. Photo by Akipari. 

Ayelen, a love story in the midst of mining exploitation, in which the only way to find peace was to heal open wounds. Ayelen was a script I wrote and directed by piecing together images of spirits, animals and scenes that had appeared in my dreams. It was a story that trespassed dimensions and arrived in this realm to be heard. It was a journey manifested into magical realism.

Over a span of five years, a female eagle came to visit me in dreams. Her name was Ayelen. She always arrived when I least expected her, sometimes months, even years would pass without hearing from her. Little by little, as moons passed and I slept, she came to tell me her story. By the time her last visits came around, she spoke so clearly that I could no longer deny her voice. And so began the process of gathering all that she had shared with me and writing it down.

In a back and forth dance between the dream world and this world, began the transcription of ephemeral imagery. And because dreams are not binary, nor dialectical, I simply had the task of revealing them in written form. Ayelen spoke; the first step to creating this story was simply to listen. Between colourful wings and tied wings, cries and freedom, she told me her story of trees and rivers, of caves and skies, of love and loss. The challenge here was not knowing if I had chosen the best literal interpretation of the abstract images I had witnessed while asleep. I simply had to trust that the story would manifest in its most authentic state.

I chose to weave the dream imagery into a tapestry that also included factual research reflective of this realm planet earth, more specifically the mining industry. It is here that the dream images of caves and birds were woven together with mining exploitation. Dreams are not defined in morality, and therefore my intention with Ayelen was also not a moral one. Ayelen was simply a poetic reflection of our humanity in the context of our ever lasting obsession with mining and the effects it inevitably has on our ecosystems. Ayelen was a manifestation of oppression, love and healing.

We are a frenzied society validated by our utility, where our happiness is measured in economic terms. We move full speed ahead with consumption, and appease our egos with every purchase we make. With a constant outward gaze, whether it be via consumption, commodifying our “success”, or obsessively giving ourselves labels in order to categorically feel empowered in the gaze of others, we often don’t let ourselves sit still and reconnect. We are told to move quickly and to produce quickly, in order to be constantly validated. Since it is difficult to commodify authentic spirituality, we are also taught to ignore the ephemeral, the magical, the esoteric. Yet, there is something priceless and infinitely reflective of love, when we trust a creative journey.

Above:“Kemé” by Fiya Bruxa, 2014, from the painting series Ayelen [

In a timeless space of dreams, where utility is obsolete, we may find magic that awakens our centre. With no rational explanation other than simply listening to an ephemeral dream world, a vibration is felt, a fire is lit, and a story is told. Ayelen was this vibration, this wave that shook an equilibrium and by doing so brought healing. I use the word healing, because I felt my inner growth in relation to the creation of this story. I was also witness to the emotive feedback from audience members who expressed healing from watching the production of this story. Being classically trained in theatre, and having worked for years in the industries of theatre, television, and film, I am aware of the formulas, of the rational calculations, and of the formatting that is required to satisfy industry norms. And yet, when Ayelen arrived she was not the status quo. She came as medicine, as a healer. She did not come as a rational package or linear storyline. She came in abstract form. And she did not give up, returning time and time again, until her story had manifested in this world. It is this essence of unexplainable fleeting magic that is a reminder that medicine comes to us in different forms.

We all travel to the realm of dreams and witness unique images, and if we so choose to embrace this journey and share that vulnerable state with others, something magical can happen. Sometimes we have to trust that creation falls outside of time, utility, and commodity. It is delicate, and we must be careful, as with all creation, that it contribute to good medicine, so that we may all heal together. En un mar de sueños, donde todos los dormidos, con ojos cerrados y almas despiertas, viajamos por dimensiones surrealistas, es posible lograr escuchar los susurros de verdades eternos y sanar nuestras heridas.

Thank you to the numerous dreams, and to the various theatre companies, festivals, artists and elders that have supported this script. Thank you Alameda Theatre, Aluna Theatre, Native Earth, Nightwood Theatre, Criminal Theatre, SummerWorks Festival, Caminos Festival and Theatre Ontario, Rosa Laborde, Solange Ribeiro, Ximena Huizi, Lido Pimienta, Marcelo Arroyo, Ohm Shanti, Manuel Rodriguez Saenz, Andre du Toit, Shalak Attack, Bruno Smoky, Brandon Valdivia, Omar Cito Perez, Rodrigo Ardiles, May Truong and Ale Monreal. Thank you Ayelen for trusting me with your story.

Fiya bRUXA
Fiya Bruxa is an international award win- ning visual artist, actress, lmmaker, and writer. Her artistic vision pays homage to those who have, or continue to, overcome adversity.

Our Continued Survival

hand holding various seeds

by Terrylynn Brant

It will soon be time to gather the seeds in preparation for winter storage. There will be songs to sing, prayers to be said, thanks to be given and dances to be danced as we continue to hold seed ceremonies for the gifts of creation.

Wa’tkwanonweraton sewakweko! I pay greetings and respect to all of you who are reading my article today. I am Sera;sera (Meadow Lark), a traditional Seaedkeeper of the Mohawk Nation. In english, I am Terrylynn Brant, Mohawk, Turtle Clan and I garden at my home on the Six Nations Territory in Southern Ontario. I became a Seedkeeper, one who ensures that the family lineage of seeds is put forward for the coming faces, because of my sacred relationship with plants. I have gardened my whole life and learned my craft through relationship with family, friends, plants and the Creator.

Every spring, the ancestral blood that runs through my body is awakened by the stirring of Grandmother Moon, the one who controls all life by timing births and energizing the waters. We owe a great deal to her regulation of creation and in our humble way need to understand her effects on us as humans. So even when you think you have chosen a certain path, believe me, Grandmother is the guide. I mention her specifically today because her guidance is a key part of my life journey. I was gifted to be a person of the plants. Gardening is my passion and I have spent a lifetime growing and enjoying their company. As a Haudenosaunee person I have learned to follow our ceremonial cycle which is based on the agricultural cycle of plants. We hold ceremony through the year, honouring the various stages in agriculture such as MidWinters, Sun and Moon, Maple Time, Planting Time, Strawberry Time, Green Bean Harvest, Green Corn Harvest, Releasing the Hunters, to name some. It is important that as Haudenosaunee people we fulfill our responsibility to the Creator by thanking the various entities for continuing to fulfill their responsibility and help feed and heal the Nation.

While I do follow permaculture around the world and appreciate how it is making people relearning gardening in a natural way, I have not left my indigenous roots behind. I still remember the indigenous practices of my ancestors and hold them in high regard both spiritually and practically. This has kept me on the path of being a Seedkeeper.

I carry seeds from my family lineage that have been with us for as long as we can remember. These seeds grow the basic foods that have sustained our families for many generations. It is very difficult work to mentor seeds and keep the diversity in them alive. These seeds are handed down from generation to generation and have become not only a part of the food on our plates but also our medicine cabinets, our spiritual guides and healers of our minds when necessary.

As we move away from our “corn villages”, or a way of life that had corn and plants as the heart of our social systems, we see our people drifting away, further into communities of mass food production. This movement is leading to the breaking down of our traditional “corn villages”. Our societies have all the tools necessary to keep them vibrant and alive, we just need to grab onto them again.

I have seen the loss of our indigenous agriculture in my community but am also seeing the people’s return to our healthy foods and social systems. This is why I garden. I work to keep our seeds available for the day our community members want to pick them up again. It is sad when I visit the local corner store and can’t find any of our foods to buy. Everything is processed from foods grown hundreds of miles away. The recipes of the old foods are getting lost to this generation simply because the food is no longer there for them to purchase and growing for many today seems to be beyond their capacity. We need to grow again.

I am currently in year four of a seven year growing cycle. In our way of agriculture, seven years is a cycle. It is a life time in the soils that we till, after seven years we need to dramatically energize and revitalize our soils as it goes into its next cycle. I began this new garden which I call Mohawk Seedkeeper Gardens as a location to grow our original seeds in greater quantities. I have been able to feed my family with my smaller family location but as I too grow into a new cycle in my life, I am ready to share seeds on a bigger scale.

I grow many corn, bean and squash varieties which are staple foods in the lineage of the Haudenonsaunee. These foods hold the beauty of lineage and spirit within them. When we eat our foods we enjoy their flavour and cherish the age old recipes of our grandmothers. Many individuals have come to understand the benefits of eating organic whole foods, now we need to move towards eating and growing heritage foods from heritage seeds. Each seed has a story to tell, one of extreme resilience and spirit. Many seeds have been carried in the pockets of their keepers to new lands and gardens around the world. Today I am working to share my seeds and growing practices with any who are interested in taking this journey on.

I have been working to increase my seeds to establish a Six Nations Seedbank. It is time to ensure everyone has a place to locate our beautiful sacred seeds. As my new seed garden is underway I have been sharing my knowledge of seeds through lectures, class visits, workshops and Seedkeepers Gatherings. I am determined to spread seeds and encourage all to participate in some level in growing, storing and preserving their own foods.

My next phase will be to establish a sustainable living centre for individuals and groups to come to for learning. I hope to establish model gardens, cooking classes, Indigenous grocery store, cafe and general learning and honouring space for Seedkeepers. It is my hope to build a centre as soon as the summer of 2018.

Last summer I had the opportunity to work on the building of an Earthship here on Six Nations. I came to know Mike Reynolds and his amazing team of builders. Mike is the inventor of the original Earthship and has established the Earthship community in Taos, New Mexico which I visited this summer. It is an amazing near zero carbon community of eighty Earthship homes. So inspiring to see how we can live in harmony with our earth if we just try. This amazing community has given me the inspiration to build an Earthship facility to house Mohawk Seedkeeper Gardens. All the learning and sharing between the First Nations people and settler peoples needs a place free of politics and governments for exchanging knowledge and growing into the people we want this country to have.

I welcome anyone who is interested in indigenous gardening, heritage seed saving, Earthship building and simple ways of living lightly on Mother Earth to contact me for more information. If you would like to be a volunteer at Mohawk Seedkeeper Gardens or perhaps be involved in the Earthship build or would like to make a donation to the build, please contact me and together we will see what we can create for the faces yet to come.

Our ceremonies are not complex but do take a commitment to ensure they are “put through”. I look forward to ceremony time as a gardener and Seedkeeper as an acknowledgement of the gifts from Creation. Throughout the season you can find me in my garden tending to plants or foraging in the forest, our first garden.

Today we have many individuals who take courses or do independent research on what today’s gardeners call Permaculture. This trend in gardening encourages companion planting, organic methods of growing, food forests and working with the powers of observation to ensure healthy plant growth. While the permaculture movement has familiar names and faces that helped popularize it, its principals were observed and borrowed from indigenous gardeners around the world.

Terrylynn Brant
Será:Será, Terrylynn Brant is Mohawk, Turtle Clan and a Traditional Seedkeeper who teaches gardening and sustainable living at Mohawk Seedkeeper Gardens on Six Nations. She promotes Haudenonsaunee heritage seeds and cultural eating. Her passions are Seedkeeping, extreme gardening, beekeeping and Grandmothering.

email: terrylynnbrant@live.ca



By Boi (boh-eh) Beting

Here lies a silence
that crept into my flesh
It seeks deeper union
with my exiled heart
From head to foot
It conquered my being
with no signs of leaving
But I won’t be beaten
be swayed or be enslaved
by the gift of comforts and chimes
or its sweet lullabies
or its gift of emptiness
Silence in a consciousness
unwritten, almost unspoken
in this part of the West
thus here my body hides
but my spirit soars or strives
My body and spirit breaks
into vast distance and time
as I watch the winter skies
as My Spirit returned to villages
hearing Indigenous cries
Everyday my heart departs
Embrace you all in my past
though engulfed with silence
to the fight I pay with full reverence
for a just peace in our land

“Boi” means a womxn tribal leader in one of the tribes living at the foot of Mt. Apo, the highest peak in the Philippines. Boi B was uprooted from her roots at the age of seven and since then onwards, she lives a lifelong struggle to live and adapt with the mainstream community through which she earned an education and has been heavily involved in human rights related works.In her mid-thirties she returned to her own tribal communities,started the cultural regeneration movement and through legal process, lead her people for their right and protection of their ancestral domain claim.After that she served as volunteer worker for other tribes in other localities, in order to be with them

in their fight for land and Indigenous rights, and facilitate food and social services to Indigenous peoples affected by armed conflicts or civil war. Their struggle today for land and self-determination is just a continuation of the centuries of struggle of their ancestors in Southern Philippines.

After 30 years of working for and working with Indigenous Peoples (IP) communities, human rights advocates and peace advocates, Boi B has again been uprooted under the current political turmoil. She intends that the next generation of community IP leaders will replace and continue our work to protect the land, preserve their identity, and sustain peaceful communities. This next generation of leaders, she believes, can negotiate their way effectively if, like her, they will also educate themselves with mainstream education. Both knowledge of the traditional and mainstream will help these new leaders sustain the tribe’s struggle for existence. Thus, Boi B calls for support to send young adult Indigenous community leaders to university so that they will be more equipped with skills and knowledge to serve their communities. Let’s help her do that.

You can make donations to Boi B:

  •  Please write cheques to “Support For Migrant Workers” Contact: Guelph-based migrant worker support group Fuerza/Puwersa at Fuerza.Puwersa@gmail.com for mailing address.
  • Buy any Luyos MaryCarl track on bandcamp and all funds will go towards Boi B’s

Zaangwewe Magoonday Waawaashkeshi: Jingle Dress Deer

by: Michel Dumont

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

Michel Dumont
My name is Michel Dumont. I am a Métis from Thunder Bay,ON. I recently made a piece of faux taxidermy entitled Zaangwewe-magooda.

Dancing with Bones in Dark, Feminine, Magical Realms

by Zainab Amadahy 

Note: This article is excerpted from my nonfiction work-in-progress exploring the benefits of invoking ancestors to the building of cooperative and supportive relationships across marginalized communities. In recognition of the wondrous variety and complexity of gender identities, this work uses “they”, “them” and “their” to replace gendered pronouns.

Darkness is a feminine place. The womb, the tomb, the butterfly’s chrysalis. Places of birth, rebirth and transmutation. Reawakening the Divine Feminine requires yielding to the darkness, the wild and the unknown. It means relishing the wind in your Medusan locks as you dance under the protection of Kaliikada Nvdom (Full Moon), rather than slithering in caves prowled by Perseus.

From what many societies that came before ours have left behind and/or brought forward, it appears we once had an intimate, beneficial and satisfying relationship with the feminine forces of darkness and the beings that reside within. The Kemetic (ancient Egyptian) Book of the Dead, the Popol Vuh of the K’iché civilization of Guatemala, and the centuries-old Kanaka Maoli (Indigenous Hawaiian) practice of Lomilomi healing are examples of how cultures, then and now, have interacted with the dead. In these cultures ancestors do not lie in rest. They are active, vibrant participants in the realm of the living. In these communities, there was, and is, no definitive separation between the dead, the living — and the yet-to-be-born.

However, if Hollywood movies plotted around zombies, mummies and vengeful ghosts are any indication of mainstream beliefs, the dead are to be feared.  To die is to decay, disintegrate, and be by dark, chaotic, incomprehensible and uncontrollable forces; feminine forces that have, over the centuries, been demonized.

Mainstream culture holds that in the eternal dance between syntropy and entropy, structure and decay, life and death, one wants to be partnered with the former. Light, order and organization feel, after all, more predictable. Controllable. Masculine. The male forces of authority and control are often confused with safety and security.  Travel bans, walled borders and militarized policing are considered preferable by some to the alternative of toppling the wealthy and powerful, who engineer war, poverty and injustice, from their golden perches. Star Wars fans cheer for the heroes of light and disdain the dark side of the force. The Brazilian flag that flew over the 2016 Olympic games promises that progress comes with order (ordem e progresso), a phrase based on philosopher Auguste Compte’s quote: “Love as a principle and order as the basis; progress the goal.” Notice how “love” was left out of the equation. The flag was adopted in 1889, one year after Brazil abolished slavery and sought, as a settler colonial nation built in large part by stolen Africans, to consolidate its borders on stolen Indigenous lands. It was an order of sorts, based on white supremacy and colonization. But was it progress? And for whom?

In disorder one finds the impulse to challenge established norms, to transform, to create something new and wondrous. Perhaps it is disorder that informs the progress we seek. After all, with disarray one can counter rigidity. In messiness one is released from the fatigue that results from a compulsion to maintain the sterile.  Even decay is sustenance for some.

From stories and art around the globe, we get the idea that light and dark, order and disorder, life and death, align with divine concepts of good and bad or at least desirable and undesirable.  At first glance we might imagine the paradigm of yin and yang as antagonistic forces, which, in reality, compliment each other to provide meaning and balance.  As many a sage has observed, life loses its significance without the inevitability of death. The dark, the feminine and the magic are labeled as evil but some of us thrive in magical realms. We are inspired and motivated by the darkness. We reclaim the Divine Feminine with full, prior and informed enthusiasm. If that frightens, maybe it’s time to let go of the fantasy that humans could or should order the world.  No one is in control.

And yet everyone is.

Assigning meaning to one’s relationships with the world enables complete control over one’s experience of them. In the spaces between relinquishing the need for control and infusing the events of life with a satisfying purpose, one finds self-empowerment.  In fully realized self-empowerment there is no need for control over anything. There is only the desire to grow and create.

As harmonies result from the combination of consonant and dissonant musical threads, the forces of light and dark can be enlisted to create wondrous beauty. Hence, invoking the dead into our lives can heighten our joy and help us manifest our aspirations.  We can dance with bones collectively and reap many benefits from doing so.

Cultivating relationships with ancestors, in any of the myriad forms of our cultural, spiritual and personal practices, can offer opportunities for physical, mental, emotional and spiritual growth.  In these times when our fear of difference and otherness has been deliberately and methodically heightened to new levels, Dancing with Bones further offers much-needed inspiration, and perhaps the motivation, to build peaceful and fulfilling relationships across communities, lands and histories.

The term “cultivating relationship” covers the gamut of interactions that can range from just thinking about ancestors, to remembering, to learning about, to intentional communication with, or to allowing memories to be released through intricate movements of the dance. One’s belief system will impact their relationship to ancestors, as will intentions and purpose in cultivating relationship. Or not. There is no desire here to convince anyone to change their beliefs. However, it is worth noting that beliefs determine the substance of experience; impose limitations on or expand experience; inform one’s story about experience; contextualize experience; and often determine whether there is an awareness of experience at all.  Now that we have medical technologies like fMRIs (functional magnetic resonance imagers), GSR amps (galvanic skin response amplifiers) and SQUIDs (superconducting quantum interference device – very sensitive magnetometers) we know that the body constantly reacts to stimuli of the mind isn’t consciously aware of. In applying these technologies to understand what happens when we interact with our ancestors, much has been learned, including the measurable wellness benefits of any number of practices.

At the same time we celebrate this reframed knowledge, it’s important to recognize that, in addition to fearing the darkness, everyone harbors an anxiety of being defined and limited by the past. That anxiety imposes boundaries on beliefs, imagination and capacities.

Anxiety over confronting or uncovering events from the past further inhibits one’s ability to see themself as interconnected and interdependent. This keeps us from recognizing beauty in the fact that we impact and are impacted by each other, even across space and time. Such anxiety deters us from engaging in conversations across space, time and social locations even though such discussions can help us expand as individuals, as communities and as a species.

Furthermore, it is intrinsic to the human condition, whether you believe the ancestors are dust in the wind or a grouping of fond memories, worm food or stories on a shelf in the Cosmic Library, non-existent or omnipresent, there is a great deal to be gained by connecting to the idea (or entity) that generates the highest levels of anxiety, for therein lies the greatest potential for healing both inherited trauma in the body and the frayed strands of the webbing that connect all of life.

To anyone who wants the to live peacefully in the present, dancing with bones, can bring you the transformative healing you seek, thus enabling you to invest with abandon in your relationships. In turn, engaging with your relations (plant, animal, cosmic and 2-legged) can increase your self-knowledge, self-acceptance and self-love. After all, how can you know yourself as generous, loving and compassionate without practicing these on another?  The inherent outcome of peaceful intentions and cooperative relationships across communities are the natural byproduct, if not the core, of community wellness born of right relationships among its individuals, which in turn is based in personal empowerment. And, there are roles for ancestors to play at every level.

Zainab Amadahy
Based in peri-apocalyptic Toronto, Zainab Amadahy is an author, screenwriter, self- empowerment facilitator, professional development consultant, researcher and educator. Her background in medical and photovoltaic technologies, as well as community service in the areas of Indigenous knowledge reclamation, curanderismo, non- pro t housing, women’s services, migrant settlement and community arts, inform her work. Links to Zainab’s articles, essays and other literary work can be found on her website.

Rooting Down & Wading Deep

Some reflections on healing and transformation

by Jessica Jurgutis

 While my Mom was dying she told me a story about trauma and loss that gave me insight into the struggles I was having writing my dissertation. I was reminded of this months after her death when I couldn’t write—I was struggling to disentangle myself from family dynamics that were deeply harmful to me. Her story taught me about my emotional connection to my writing and foreshadowed that the depths and undercurrents of the confusion, disorientation and loss that I felt couldn’t be ignored. She was guiding me to what I didn’t want to look at or feel, even at a point when I had been actively working with my therapist for a number of years.

 As soon as she was gone the only thing that felt good was being outside: feeling the embrace of wind, the support of earth and soil underneath my feet, beginning to build relationships with the plants and flowers, and all the life that I could feel with me. I had been trying to find my way back here for years but I felt so restrained and there were so many barriers and anxieties for what the forest would show me about myself. I knew I had to return. I believe this was one of my Mom’s gifts to me in her passing.

When I returned to Medway Creek (now called Medway Valley Heritage Forest), where I spent so much time as a child, I hoped it would feel familiar and comforting, but it was more like I was re-entering a memory from another life. Things seemed so different and were not quite in place, and yet I could roughly orient myself, though that certainly didn’t prevent my partner and I from eventually getting lost. I knew one of the rough routes I used to travel, but there were large gaps that made it difficult to navigate. There were places on the trail where this felt like a different place entirely and then out of nowhere I would see the tree whose branches braided and tunneled. Some of my earliest, happiest and most formative memories were being in Medway Creek because Mrs. Norman, my grade one and two teacher, always used to take us here. Being here I noticed the stunning beauty, strength and warmth of embrace that even barren trees offer us simply because you can see the intricacies of how each branch winds and curls, cradles and bridges alongside the others. I remembered how this was a tree that everyone was always drawn to; the one that everyone always wanted to stand with and under. I wondered about my classmates and why they loved this tree. I wondered how many of them have spaces in their lives when they can feel in ways that this tree offered them.

Medway Creek runs off the northern fork of the Askunessippi. In Anishnaabe, ‘Eshkani-ziibi’ means antlered river. London and most of Southwestern Ontario is the traditional territory Ojibwa, Odawa and the Neutrals, and the Chippewa of the Thames, Munsee Delaware, and Oneida Nation of the Thames are each located approximately 30 kilometers south(west) of the city on the shores of the river. According to the Upper Thames Conservation Authority, the land surrounding the river had once been severely depleted by settlers through aggressive farming and logging practices, and by 1900 public swimming pools were being constructed because the water was so polluted. What is now commonly known as Medway Valley Heritage Forest was permitted to re-naturalize after 1945 and has since been deemed a protected and environmentally significant area since the 1980s when residents protested the construction of a sewer line through the forest.

As I got older I asked for nature books of bird and plant species and I began to bring them to the forest on our class walks. I began trying to locate parts of the landscape (specific leaves, mosses, etc.) in my books, and was sometimes successful, but more often than not I couldn’t match the plants and animals with the categories and images provided. I became frustrated and remember thinking I didn’t know how to find the ‘right’ characteristics in order to locate and match the parts of the landscape with the species in my book. Where I once felt passion for all the different kinds of life in the forest, I soon felt overwhelmed and that my work wasn’t helping build a relationship with this place. As years passed, and as detachment and numbness set in, my desire to be with the forest faded. The less alive I felt, the more distant the forest became. Over time I suppose I continue to circle back to similar questions, and to a place not far from where I started.

The river was re-named the Thames at roughly the same time that the fork was proclaimed as the desired future capital of Upper Canada in 1792, before Lieutenant-Governor John Graves Simcoe ever arrived in the area. In her book, ‘A Field Guide to Getting Lost’  Rebecca Solnit suggests that more often than not settlers never did understand where it is that they were and instead tried to reconstruct their surroundings in the image of what was left behind, often with a great deal of disregard for those whose land they were on, and the reciprocal relations to be upheld through the treaties and agreements that were established between indigenous and European nations. Housing development began in 1960 in Sherwood Forest neighbourhood.

Sto:Loh Nation poet and author Lee Maracle cautions settlers that their first obligation is to get to know the land they’re standing on, what was here before, and how people took care of the land. When we attach ourselves to land, as she reminds us, we are also making a commitment to it. But for settlers, our attachment to land often means erasing the agency and life force of the land, water and other living beings that make our lives possible. Relating to land as wild and therefore, in need of taming and control, is connected to relating to the land and as property and commodity to use for our benefit and profit. In these ways of relating to land it becomes an object that is always acted upon (politically or otherwise). It also becomes a source of danger that needs to be subdued and corrected. In her piece, ‘Nogojiwanong: The Place at the Foot of the Rapids’ Leanne Simpson talks about how damming projects shackle and constrain the water as a life force, and therefore the life force of the land and Nishnaabeg grandmothers, mothers, aunties, sisters, and daughters. Maracle and Simpson’s words remind me of how central healing relationships to land is to healing relationships with ourselves and each other. As a white settler, who is also a queer femme with working class roots in steel worker and immigrant families, this work may look differently, but it is still my responsibility to actively work to undo the systems I benefit from, since they are also the systems that are to blame for the ways I have experienced violence and loss.

In re-tracing my steps back to Medway Creek I think I hoped to find something and someone I recognized, but it was when I found myself pulled in and a part of the forest that I realized what I was most looking for was a state of being from a time when I felt alive, unafraid, curious, uninhibited, safe and loved. Like most moments of deep learning this caught me by surprise and challenged how I was trying to relate to the world around me. How did I learn to desire certain ways of knowing and relating to land? How did I learn to distrust relationships at the expense of categories and labels and what parts of me were lost to these colonial knowledges of exclusion, control, authority and harm? How was the harm I experienced and that I learned to perpetuate enabled through these ways of coming to know the land and myself?

It remains impossible for me to conceive of my childhood neighbourhood and earliest sense of self, passion and purpose without Medway Creek, though those memories were lost for a very long while—not lost as in gone, just forgotten. I could talk about the education system and how we seldom create spaces to learn alternative pedagogies and generate our own sustained connections to the natural environment, our communities and to ourselves, or recognize it enough as a space of deep teaching and learning through diverse ways of knowing. Or about how my class would not have had access to a natural space within walking distance if Medway Creek had not been “permitted” to re-naturalize as part of a larger urban development strategy. But the forest and river were only ever deemed deserving of protection long after the land had been settled and so much violence perpetrated, and even in spite of this the land and river are still being actively harmed.

London’s history has been marked by repeated floods and serious threats to its ecological diversity as a result of increasing numbers of chemicals, pollutants and other waste being dumped into the river. And though it remains resilient and significant conservation efforts have been underway for decades, the river and ecologies it sustains within and beyond the forest remain under considerable threat. Ironically but perhaps not surprisingly, in 1947 the Upper Thames River Conservation Authority was established with the directive to protect people and property from flooding with a proposed solution of eight damming projects, only three of which were ever completed. Currently the struggle to protect the water continues through the fight against Line 9 as a danger to the water supply and life it sustains, as well as a violation of treaty rights. The Chippewa of the Thames and other indigenous nations have been on the front lines of the struggle to protect the land and water, of which we are all beneficiaries.

In the summer of 2014, Gale Cyr, an Anishinaabe Elder who generously shared her teachings as part of the Walls to Bridges facilitator training at the Grand Valley Institution for Women (wallstobridges.ca), affirmed that we can always re-live our memories and the deepest parts of ourselves in our stories, and that through this we can access something of ourselves that we hold most dear. We can come back to these stories differently, and can tell them differently each time as a way to return to and reimagine ourselves and our relationships. Gale’s teachings and the experiences and insights that were shared in our circle helped me to return as a way forward. As I listened and realized the possibility in Gale’s story—the way she re-enacted and embodied the story as she told it and brought us with her; the way she transformed the space of the prison itself—I noticed that I could not remember a moment in my life where I’ve felt so hopeful.

Gale’s teachings and our circle taught me that it is in the re-living that affirms what is past is not gone and that we can always carry what we most cherish forward on our journeys. For the pain, I like to think that every so often a big breath, soothing breeze, quiet moon, invigorating wave, or loving friend helps me to remember it, or hold it, and maybe every so often to release it. Anishinaabe Metis poet and writer, Gwen Benaway has said that we can’t always heal, but perhaps we can at least gain a sense of comfort out of coming to know ourselves. Noticing the transitions and transformations of the life around me helps me to notice and trust these very same cycles in myself.

Medway Creek and the Walls to Bridges classroom share one thing in common: they are the only places in my educational experience where I have ever truly felt valued as a whole person. They have been the spaces I have experienced the kind of aliveness that I can feel growing inside me, through the walls and cement, and seeping down deep. It’s possible that in re-living and re-telling the stories we hold most dear that something can be restored, or found, just not in the ways I thought. Not in the sense that it can be fully recovered as though the damage can be undone, or that if you dig deep enough you will find yourself unscathed. In some sense then they no longer remain only memories, or even stories in the conventional sense in that they always offer us deep insights and a choice in the present. What path will we walk and who and what will we bring with us on our journeys?

These many teachers have helped me trust that there may be something about getting lost, or relating to loss that offers us abundance and a window into the ways life itself and all we have always hinges on what can be no longer. It is these teachings that have made it possible for me to orient myself in this body and on this land and which continue to allow me to ground myself in the past and present as a way forward. If we are always in relation to place and all the life that surrounds and teaches us, then lost and loss both take on new meaning. Sharing our stories offers the chance to create new paths that may not be familiar, but will take us to that which we need most. Sometimes creating new paths requires retracing our steps. After all, and in the case that it’s comforting to consider, a path seen or felt is just the impression of something or someone that used to be there. I feel that being in those places connect us to collective work and legacies much bigger than ourselves. When all else fails, I imagine us together again, walking in the forest

Processed with MOLDIV

Jessica Jurgutis
Jessica Jurgutis is an educator, writer, and gardener based out of the traditional ter- ritories of the Haudenosaunee and Anish- naabeg (Hamilton, Ontario).