by kahsenniyo williams
She came running in the room frantic and doubtful. She said, “Mom I think I got my period.” Despite me giving her teachings on this day, this moment since she was little, I could hear the insecurities in her voice. Her words echoed in ancestral tones. “Mom, I think I got my period,” she repeated. These words began a continental movement in my life. It was like the earth cracked and shifted for us to reveal the new road, the new path and journey for us. Womanhood. It is important for me to acknowledge that her muttering these words meant a change not just for my daughter and I, but for our community, the aunties, her sisters, the grandmothers and all of the women in our lives. I certainly did not raise this child alone. Numerous wonderful, powerful and loving women worked together with me and my husband to create this little girl that was standing in front of me. This meant change for all of us.
I had been preparing for this beautiful moment for a long time. I stayed up nights wondering to myself and the ancestors “how do I as an Indigenous mother in 2017 bring my daughter into womanhood given everything my people have lost”? I knew that we as Haudenosaunee had to have some sort of ceremony or way of doing this, prior to contact. Unfortunately, it had, for the most part been lost in the dust and avalanche of colonization. Stripped from our way of life during the residential school era. If you take a child from their home to colonize them, you remove child rearing practices. Fundamental to those practices is the ways in which we transition our young people into adulthood. The ceremony, the process. At some point the sacredness of this time was gone. The residential school era forced shame and humiliation on us as a whole. It turned this once beautiful time in development into an secretive embarrassing time. This presented huge challenges for me as a mother. It felt as if my daughter was in front of me, her arms extended with a basket in her hands, waiting for me to fill it. And I was standing in front of her empty handed, with nothing to offer her. Not only was it necessary for me to do the work of overcoming the colonial shame of my womanhood and body, but I also had to overcome the shame of not having the cultural knowledge. The reality of being a mother with no tools or knowledge given to me of how to do this thing was often at times overwhelming. I often reflected on how young people are transitioned into adulthood today and was bothered. Today the first drink, the first time having sex, the first-time smoking weed. I didn’t know much other than I didn’t want any of these as the marker for my daughter’s transition into womanhood.
I spent time exploring and seeking answers on how to do this, in a way that felt good for me, my daughter, our family and our community. I spoke to knowledge holders, grandmothers, men and women. I talked to kids and I had countless conversations with the women in my life. I even went to Akwesasne (a Mohawk territory) to learn from them.
Here are some key points I learned.
This time in a person’s life is crucial to their development. It is a time that we as caretakers of these beings (not just parents) should hold our young people the closest. Today our youth hit a certain age and we often let them go. Off to explore and develop on their own, with very little supervision or guidance. This colonial mentality goes against all logic. We must intentionally and lovingly bring our sons and daughters into adulthood. We must put intentional lessons in front of them to shape them, to give them guiding principles and values. We must give them challenges and healthy obstacles to overcome.
Just because I did not receive these teachings does not make me an inadequate mother. The shame I felt around this was not mine to carry. It is far more beneficial to do somethings instead of nothing. We need to be brave and we need to make space for our own knowledge and intuition in transitioning our young people. We need to call upon the knowledge in our circles. To hold up mothers, fathers and community. We need to collectively put these young people at the centre of community during this time in their lives.
Culture that is alive grows and changes to meet the needs of the people. This concept is necessary for the revitalization of Indigenous child rearing. It requires the openness to make mistakes and create somethings new out of the old. It requires being bold and prioritizing the children here today over our own trauma and egos. If we continue to function from a place of fear and secrecy we will lose the little that we have and ultimately our children will miss out.
Her birth into this world was my birth into motherhood. A process that is never ending. With winding roads up mountains, through valleys and flat lands.
My daughter was the first woman in my family in generations to get some sort of intentional community-based transition into womanhood. Being that this was the first time in generations and that my daughter has struggled with self-esteem we had a big celebration. There were women from all corners of the world who attended. We had a full moon ceremony in her honour. This was an inter-generational affair. We ate, sang songs, shared stories of womanhood, gave words of encouragement and wrapped her in our love. This was true healing, for all of us. All of these women who in their own ways had been robbed of a similar experience. Although we were there for her, we healed parts of ourselves. On this night she would start her berry fast. A yearlong ritual fasting. To teach her about commitment. So that she would experience the satisfaction of following through. To teach her about self-regulation and temptation. So that she could have the experience of dealing with wanting something but knowing that it’s not the best decision for her. How to say NO. To teach her to listen to her body and what she is craving. For her to know that her body belongs to her. To teach her about sacrifice. To give her the security of knowing that a community is surrounding her and keeping her accountable. To give her a sense that her decisions should be purposeful. So that she knows the moon and berries are there for her.
It is yet to be seen the long terms effects this will have on her. But I know as the person who is teaching and guiding her that I have reference points of times she learned all of these different teachings. I keep bringing her back to those moments and have a feeling that I will throughout the next several years. This journey is just beginning. She has more process and challenges that will intentionally be put in her path before we can fully welcome her into the circle of women. But it is comforting to know that we are on our way.
Kahsenniyo Williams is a mother, poet, spoken word artist, and community organizer. She is from the
Mia Ohki is a Metis Japanese-Canadian artist, born in Connecticut, USA, and raised in Alberta, Canada. She presently lives and works between Edmonton and Calgary, AB. Mia primarily illustrates with