A mother and daughter talk, ceremony, cultural resurgence, and finding their voices.
By Danielle Boissoneau & Chyler Sewell
Illustration above by Eli WiPe
What is it anyway, this reproductive justice?
Can these words describe the actions of our day to day life if we don’t know what they mean? What about the places in which we fight to survive with our babies in our arms while excavators dig into our mother, the earth?
Reproductive justice is something that I’ve always found difficult to define. And because of that, I imagine that it’s something that doesn’t really have an ultimate definition. Maybe justice is found in the lived experience.
What about when we decide what our experiences will be, do you think we can do that?
I’ve always been told that I could do anything. That same idea applies to anyone in the world; and if that thing that they want to do is be able to live their definition of reproductive justice, then they can do it.
I don’t know . . .
The way I look at it, I see my kids as my gifts. Reproductive justice is when I can make sure that my gifts are cared for and loved and supported. It’s when my kids can learn the language and be able to define their own roles in ceremony because they know how to communicate with spirit. I think it also has to do with the land and the water, because if we aren’t protecting these life forces, what reproduction is going to happen? Really?
I’ve been taught that the land and the water are necessary for survival. This concept has followed me from school, to home, to ceremony and back again. Without reproductive justice, would the water in our lakes and oceans and rivers still flow and would grass and plants and trees still grow from the ground?
But I think that we’re alive during really sacred times. I think that we’re the ones who can create change because we’re here, now. So when I bring you to ceremony and you learn how to sing songs in our language, even if it’s awkward and weird, you’re still hearing it and processing – i think that’s reproductive justice.
It’s when we reproduce our knowledge, maybe it’s when we have to fight to be able to recreate our knowledge, too.
In school, I often find myself feeling like having this sacred knowledge is a burden, when it really shouldn’t be. I know that I’m different and that the way that I experience things isn’t the same as everyone else, and that fact scares me.
The idea of being able to reclaim space and be able to pass down the stories I’ve been told and the teachings that I’ve learned is exhilarating!
Do you feel like the world can be a place that you create?
Honestly, the idea of creating this world anew is scary too. And I know that I wouldn’t be able to do it alone. That type of life-altering change is for communities to decide upon and make for themselves, and where life long relationships are born.
Totally! I guess what makes it hard is that so many of us have been disconnected through residential schools, the reserve system and the removal of our ancestral food sources. Everyone’s on different pages now.
Recognizing the fact that we’re on different pages is a good place to start, though, right? Because then we can begin to help each other remember the ways that we’ve lost.
Yea! And that’s reproductive justice too! Like when I did my Berry Fast when I was 33 years old … it’s a different page than Anishnaabek who grow up in ceremony. It took me a long time to find my page.
But then there are those who aren’t confident in the pages that they inhabit. Because of the systematic removal of our ceremonies and the idea that they aren’t ‘normal’, I know that I’m not often very comfortable occupying the page that I’m on. I feel like people look to me for guidance because I’ve lived most of my life practicing ceremony. And I try to give that guidance, but I’m also still looking for guidance myself . . .
That’s something eh. So wise and so young. What contradictions we carry as survivors of genocide. I’ve become totally comfortable with occupying pages. I’m kind of like – this is who I am and even if you don’t like it, the only thing that will make me do is shine brighter. Maybe my part in reproductive justice is making space for my babies to shine too.
Mothers are awesome in that way. The way I understand it is that they work hard to be the best that they can be, in order to pave a path for their children. This type of work is something that I deeply admire, and hope that I can someday do too.
So maybe there lives the reproductive justice – in the spaces between darkness and light, where birth and rebirth happens over and over again. Maybe it’s the places when we sit in ceremony or by the water or on the frontlines to tarsands expansion projects. It’s where we remind the next generation that they are here for a reason and maybe that reason is to turn this world upside down so that our people can live right side up once again.
As beautifully contradicting as ever . . . I think that the justice is not only in reminding the next generation, but also raising them in those ways – to believe in themselves, to know themselves, to know where they’ve been and to be confident in who they are. I know that I’ve personally struggled with this concept, but I’m doing better in finding my voice.
We’re in this together.
Danielle Boissoneau is Anishnaabe kwe from Garden River, Ontario. She currently resides in Hamilton, Ontario where she enjoys smashing hetero-normative patriarchy while decolonizing her heart, mind, body and soul. Danielle is a walking contradiction.
Chyler Sewell is an Anishinaabe-kwe writer from the Great Lakes. She is an aspiring writer who enjoys spending her free time creating fantastical worlds, while also learning and experiencing things that will help her guide her four younger siblings later on in their lives.
Eli is queer artist residing in Toronto. They are an aspiring illustrator and writer. You can contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org. Check out their bigcartel: piscesprincx, or their instagram, twitter and tumblr by the same names