This is How the World Keeps Going

Black and white print of woodblock carving. Image is of a lady of liberty in black dress holding a feather and candle. It reads "lady (parts) liberty's ground swells

by Daniella Robinson

Artwork: Lady Liberty by Leigh Brownhill

The impacts of colonization are insurmountable. It is impossible to totally quantify and qualify the damage that brutalizing colonial processes continue to do to Indigenous peoples and communities, both in Canada and around the world. When I close my eyes, I try to imagine what it would feel like to know that Indigenous lives are valued by the Canadian nation…this is a struggle for me.

I am Bigstone Cree and Italian, was raised in an Italian Catholic environment and learned about my Indigenous heritage through work and volunteerism with Indigenous organizations. Prior to beginning my undergraduate degree, I had little knowledge of Indigenous culture. I visited my Cree side of the family in Western Canada yearly, but we never really talked about ‘being Indigenous’ or what this meant. When I started my undergraduate degree, I connected with the Aboriginal Resource Centre on campus and began my journey to learn more about my heritage. I learned about numerous topics: the history of residential school, the 60’s scoop, relationship-building between Indigenous communities and non-Indigenous allies, racism and sexism built into Canada’s Indian Act and its impact on communities, the creation of the reservation system, educational discrepancies between on and off-reserve schools, and Indigenous experiences of poverty, food insecurity and poor housing infrastructure across Canada. I was inundated with information about issues faced by people I was really beginning to think about as kin, and I began to feel a rage and sadness that I wasn’t sure how to navigate. This feeling continued as I got more involved in community-driven work and volunteerism.

How can you possibly be accountable to the First Nations, Métis and Inuit families who were torn apart in the name of ‘progress’? Or to the communities who never saw their children again after the 60’s scoop and residential schools? How do you quantify the effects of linguicide? Cultural genocide? What can we do to protect Mother Earth when we have pipelines being pushed through unceded territories? How can we heal with our communities when we know Indigenous women are overrepresented as victims of sexual violence, human trafficking and homicide?

Still, we persist and we resist.


I am a survivor of sexual violence. I pursued a PhD in Human Sexuality to work through my own experiences of trauma and to hold space for imaginings of a better future. Though I am by no means an expert on healing and recognize that everyone is on their own path, I know that I would be nowhere without my support systems. Even during the darkest parts of my journey, I had safe places to stay, a good education, shoulders to cry on, and friends that lit my cigarettes when I was too shaky to do it myself.

My heart breaks for all the women and girls who have to contend with the awful feelings that come with being violated, abused, and taken advantage of because of their open and trusting hearts. I get angry knowing that when women try to escape this violence, they are often turned away from overcrowded and underfunded shelters that are already full. My heart breaks again when I read about what some of our women have had to do in order to support themselves and their families because the options available are so scarce.

It can be difficult for us to move away from the traumatic narratives we are attached to, but we do. I am inspired by brilliant Indigenous artists who produce beautiful pieces on decolonial love and sexuality (check our RJ Jones. They’re amazing!), producers who spend hundreds of hours creating beautiful messages of affirmation and strength (shout out to Jason Jenkins of Going on Dreams!), and writers who name systems of power and shout them down (The Marrow Thieves by Cherie Dimaline).

I want to end this submission with a quote that speaks to the beauty of gratitude and community. Braiding Sweetgrass is a beautiful book and Robin Wall Kimmerer is a phenomenal storyteller.  

“Of all the wise teachers who have come into my life, none are more eloquent than these, who wordlessly in leaf and vine embody the knowledge of relationship. Alone, a bean is just a vine, squash an oversized leaf. Only when standing together with corn does a whole emerge which transcends the individual. The gifts of each are more fully expressed when they are nurtured together than alone. In ripe ears, and swelling fruit, they counsel us that all gifts are multiplied in relationship. This is how the world keeps going” – Robin Wall Kimmerer, Braiding Sweetgrass

I lean into these inspirations in awe and with wonder, as they gently but firmly remind me to be less self-critical and to be the strong kwe I know in my heart that I am.

Black and white selfie of Daniella Robinson. Daniella is smiling with closed lips.

Daniella Robinson is a Bigstone-Cree and Italian sister, daughter, partner and student. She is completing a PhD in Human Sexuality through the California Institute of Integral Studies, and intends to write an intervention-focused dissertation that centers the needs of Indigenous women. This article is an adaptation of a paper she wrote for her program.

Black and white headshot of Leigh Brownhill with a closed lip smile

Leigh Brownhill is a writer, editor and teacher who makes and uses art in her scholarly books, journals and articles. Both art and research have in turn deeply informed her lifelong anti-colonial ecofeminist activism.

Community Spaces

A Conversation with LAL

By Adabu Brownhill

     As a Queer black gender bending person, I live for spaces that center Queer and trans racialized people. Living in Canada those types of spaces are hard to find, sometimes impossible to find, unless you live in a bigger city with a diverse population. I actually moved from Guelph to Toronto just to be able to have access to spaces that are primarily for folks of colour and Queer and Trans people. Unit 2, a well-known community space in Toronto, run by two radical artists, specifically changed my entire perspective on safe and inclusive spaces. My introduction to Rose and Nic/LAL was life changing as they have an incredibly beautiful concept of community and hold their community down in ways I’ve never seen before. I interviewed rose about Unit 2, which is her loft apartment where she lives with her partner Nic. They live there, make music there and open their home to an entire community of Indigenous, Black, POC and Queer and Trans folks. They’re two of the most amazing, badass people I’ve ever met and they’re a huge inspiration for me and many other folks.

First off, the word ‘community’ is really trendy these days. what does community mean to you?

Hmmmm that’s hard.

      I mean our community (Nic and mine aka LAL), is pretty interesting and diverse so it’s kind of all over the place from queer/trans folks to straight folks (and in between) from BIPOC to allies, artists to academics…so my sense of community is always changing or I’m always learning how to make community more meaningful and how to support it.

    Community to me means treating people like family or chosen family. sometimes you don’t like them or they piss you off but you find ways to love, and forgive them (or not), or you love them just cuz.

     I think community means to forgive each other, have compassion and try our best not to come at each other but i to understand if we do from time to time, cuz we are all dealing with so much shit and pain and trauma.

     I believe community means to have each others you back, so if you need something then I’m there for you and I will drop what I got going to support. If you need food or cash or housing then we are here to support, and vice versa.I think lot of people talk about community, but really they are looking out for themselves, this annoys the crap of me but I have to learn not to get upset and allow people their own path.

What are ways that you build community?

    I build community mostly through word of mouth, through other relationships and also just being open to the universe (you def have to pay attention when you do this as well!). I def build through our arts/community space, like Unit 2. A lot of folks contact us and find out about what we are doing through friends and such We end up building community through the space, both performers and community members. We def build through music as well and art and social justice. I mean def have an online community but the community is very much connected to our ‘in life’ community, it’s just a continuation of how we work in the ‘non virtual world’.

    I think I also support a lot of folks, either with their art or lately been trying to be supportive one on one with folks who need some support and help. This is a very different way to build community cuz it’s one relationship at  a time but it’s also super important. I don’t want my job or my arts practice to get so busy that I don’t have room for folks nor do I want my art to be the only thing i really focus on. Life is my Art so community building is def part of this.

You’ve turned your home into a community space. How did that start?

Well, I got tired of the scene in Toronto, not being able to do what we wanted, always bowing down to corporate types (not always of course!) but just wanting to something different. It started off as just us trying to run some parties and provide space, and we slowly realized how there wasn’t enough safer space for Q/BIPOC folks and accessible space in terms of economics, and ability. Again we hadn’t really thought of any of this when we started and luckily (well it’s not really luck!), we got a space that was pretty accessible (the main space), and as we learned more about what folks needed, Unit 2 just began to shape itself. It’s been six years! and we’ve learned a lot and continue to learn and share space. The hope is to make it a full time community/arts space and get more people involved who want to create a DIT (Do It Together) vision. Big ups to Toyin Coker, Ange Loft, Kevin Jones, Juli(e), Ki, Cherish Blood, all the volunteers, and other folks who have lived at Unit 2 and supported and helped shape the vision of Unit 2!

 What do you find challenging when it comes to community/community spaces?

      It’s a lot of work. Wow so much work (laughing) and though we love it we def need some help for sure. We are reaching out more and more cuz we are burning out and we got a new album coming out so we can’t always run things for like nine hours plus set up and cleanup!

     It’s also a lot of energy work, cuz I’m basically keeping track of the room and the energy and vibes. From the outside it may look like we are (Nic, the volunteers, promoters and I) partying but really we are very much aware of what’s going on, in order to keep things safer.

     I used to be worried about all different communities coming together but now I’m feeling like this a great way to build trust, eat, dance, smoke, whatever before we start to do political-based work. 

    It’s also challenging to get folks to believe in DIT spaces, but people are craving for it. Just getting people to work together can be challenging but thus far it’s been pretty easy, just a lot of time and energy goes into this shit.

What are some cool QPOC (queer people of colour) community spaces that you know of in Toronto? Can you mention some outside of Toronto?

Blocko for sure, not a physical space but def Block (Black contingent of Pride) have been creating space for years!

There’s Double Double land for concerts, though I’m not that familiar with them and are building with them slowly now, but April is mad cool. 88 days has been building space/shows for years within Black queer shit. Outside of Toronto there’s loads, QPOC in Winnipeg, who we just connected with are doing amazing things and we are just beginning to find more Q/BIPOC space throughout Canada. Yes Yes Y’all has been doing parties for a while and d’bi young’s Watah school as well. In the US there’s tonnes from Allied Media conference in Detroit to DIY spaces in Oakland. we are planning a tour in the US are reaching out to folks. In Seattle there’s folks like Moni Tep and Black Constellation folks and My Parade has a DIY Q/BIPOC concert space in their home. There’s a lot in the US for sure and we are just beginning to build with folks. Brooklyn boihood in NY as well have been doing some wicked things. Just found out about Boys of Bangladesh but haven’t been able to connect yet (out of Dhaka). Black Lives Matter is doing a whole lot and in Toronto is working on a Freedom school for Black youth. Il nana is creating dance spaces for QBIPOC folks in Toronto, Crafty Queers is also doing some amazing work. The Drag musical creates space for BIPOC youth create Drag performances, and Native Youth Sexual Health Network is doing some amazing work, oh there’s also Children’s Peace Theatre! Gosh, there’s a bunch!

What advice can you give to people who are interested in organizing some sort of community space ?

Be patient, work with people who you trust and want to build with. Don’t get too ego’d out and allow things to unfold and build organically.Get people involved to support and do what you love. If you don’t love it, then don’t do it cuz it will burn you out. Ask for help when you need it and be open to feedback and making changes! don’t get into this power ego shit. work from a place of community and try your best not to let personal biases get in the way. Listen to people and don’t be afraid to try new shit. Try to make stuff accessible in all ways and reach out to communities, build bridges not walls! Take breaks when you need and be honest about what you can and cannot do! Be transparent or learn to be transparent, and share information and money!


Adabu Brownhill
Adabu Brownhill (DurtyDabz) is a Black/Mixed, Queer, FemmeBro dedicated to fighting for Mother Earth and the Liberation of Black & Indigenous Peoples and All People Of Colour. She is a badass DJ as well as a passionate gardener. She strives to decolonize agriculture in Ontario and create farming/gardening spaces that are fun and kool for racialized folks. She dreams of a farm where People Of Colour be chillin’, bumpin hella beats, planting seeds, harvesting herbs and eating gourmet meals while making jokes and enjoying each others company. She draws inspiration from radical underground artists such as Junglepussy, Destiny Frasqueri (Princess Nokia), Jay Boogie and Le1f. Her favorite foods are spicy meat and fresh fruits and vegetables.

LAL
In the late 1990s, LAL introduced a political edge to the electronic underground, bridging the gap between art and social justice. They have carved out a strong diasporavoice in the Canadian music scene, which remains largely unexplored by mainstream media. They are queer / straight, black / brown, Asian and West-Indian and they are a mix of hiphop, techno, downtempo and international sounds. Unit 2 is their home and DIT (do it together) art and community space they run out of Toronto with friends. The space is mandated to support Q/BIPOC communities and our allies.