Family, Food and Future

black and white sketch of white mustard plant

Reclaiming What Was Lost

By Wanda Taylor

I was barely nine years old when my mother handed me that very first chunk of bread dough. I have watched her toss those ingredients into the same wooden bowl for as long as I could remember. I never saw a tattered recipe card or any handwritten instructions; she simply knew. “I just eye it,” she’d say whenever I asked her how she knew.

Then I would watch her hands go to work, twisting and tightening the sticky dough. With force and determination, she would blend the ingredients, both dry and wet. I would lean in close to the bowl to inhale the earthy smell of yeast. I would peek under the dishcloth a hundred times while the dough was left on the counter to rise in the thick brown bowl. Each time I checked it would be higher and wider, like magic. After what felt like forever, my mother would return to the kitchen to slide some butter in and around two deep loaf pans. Then she would rip the dough down the middle and shape them into smooth round mounds. 

I could never contain my excitement knowing that as soon those golden loaves were sliced I would get the first piece, caked in melted butter and homemade strawberry jam. However, that excitement paled in comparison to the joy (of participating in the process? baking with her? learning to bake? finally working the dough myself?). She had allowed me to figure out and measure the ingredients. She would say, “You’ve watched me long enough. It’s time.” She was going to teach me, like her mother taught her, and like she’d taught my sisters.

I glanced up at her each time I added a new ingredient, searching for approval. She would just smile and watch. “You have to learn by doing,” she said. “If you do it right, the bread will taste good. If not, you will have wasted all my ingredients.” In translation: do not waste those hard-earned ingredients.

Once they were mixed, I held both hands out as my mother placed half of the sticky dough into my tiny palms. It spilled over my hands as I guided it to the sprinklings of flour that she’d placed on the table in front of me. I mimicked her hand motions as she kneaded and worked the dough. When she pushed, I pushed. When she pounded, I pounded. When she flipped, I flipped. Once it had risen, she laid her dough in one loaf pan, and I tucked mine into the other. There was a definitive difference in her perfectly rounded hump to my bumpy, lumpy mount (mound?). But when the loaves emerged from the oven, there was no distinction. It was like the lessons she taught me about Black people in Nova Scotia and their unique connections to the land. There was no distinction between the two. 

Being Black from Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, our relationship with food and tradition was steeped in our connections to the land; this traces all the way back to our ancestors’ journey from slavery in the south, and then their ancestors’ journeys from Africa through the transatlantic slave trade. Every step of the way, those connections were threatened or severed by injustice and insecurity. Yet somehow, their attachments to land (so vital to their soul and to their survival) continuously transformed and thrived as they adapted to those surroundings both forced and chosen. 

As a sixth-generation Canadian, it wasn’t until I was an adult that I came to fully understand the depth and spirit of the historical journey of my ancestors. Many equate their connections to land only with the cruelty of slavery and plantations. But these connections run much deeper than that. On the rich and fertile soils of West Africa, villagers lived, worked and ate off the land. They had exceptional skills in cultivation, preservation and meal preparation. But during the experience of slavery between the 16th and 19th centuries, our people were forcibly stolen from those lands and the foods they held strong connections to. Although they landed on US soil unclothed and afraid, they carried inside them the power of what they knew, the determination to recoup what they’d lost, and the will to survive and adapt.

“I learned to cook at nine years old, and I taught my children the traditions that my mother taught me. My hope is they will also teach their children. This is how our African connections with food and earth will continue to survive.”

Food migration was an important aspect of the transatlantic slave trade, but it often goes unnoticed and is rarely mentioned in scholarly conversations about slavery. Crops like rice and okra (previously nonexistent in the US) were brought over on slave ships by the Europeans and cultivated by highly skilled enslaved people, whose hard work helped to grow and shape southern US cuisine. However, like everything else, enslaved people never received the credit. In fact, their contributions have virtually been eliminated from history. 

Through oral history, traditional teaching, and the passing down of these unique skills, descendants have quietly managed to preserve that groundwork that was laid and kept the food connections from Africa alive. Rice, yams and dumplings are often seen as foods that originated in the US, yet they originated in Africa. It was those slaves who cooked for their masters that developed and carried on those recipes that are now considered American staples. 

For example, Gumbo, thought to be a dish native to Louisiana, originated from Africa. Okra (called Ki’ngombo in Angola), along with a tomato base, was used to thicken the sauce of this dish. The current Louisiana staple also contains okra and tomato base, along with seafood, sausage, rice and spices. Dumplings, a staple in Black East Coast households, were perfected by enslaved Africans on plantations in Trinidad and Tobago. While dumplings were also a common European dish, their current uses are adaptations that were created, cooked and perfected by enslaved Africans and then later by Black servants in the US.

Still, many of us remain unaware. Even my mother was unaware of the significance of what her ancestors carried and how they shaped the cuisine of the US south, and the Canadian East Coast.  My mother, a woman whose words often harked back to the old days, couldn’t comprehend the depth of the injustice done to Africans as their legacy of food was erased from history and memory. Their skill in the fields and in the kitchen not only set the groundwork and built an empire of food security for these places, but shaped what became known as staples to its inhabitants. Almost nowhere can you find any credit given to these displaced Africans for their skillfulness and technique. Ironically,  the Black community in these areas and others are more likely to face challenges with food insecurity than many other communities?) . We must look closer at why that is. 

In the case of my ancestors, and countless others who escaped the plantations and headed north to Canada, (those who were part of the two major migrations from the US, and those who arrived on Canadian soil as freed Blacks), their food traditions made those voyages with them. However, food security did not. The injustice of being used for your skill but never benefiting from the fruit of your talents goes unnoticed even as scholars and historians write about and talk about slavery. Even when society demands we forget about the past, even as the world pretends that Africans had nothing to offer to North America. That the foods brought over on European slave ships did not change the landscape of America’s and Canada’s cuisine. That we should leave the pain behind. And that we should ignore the power of what our ancestors carried in their souls and poured into their food. 

For Indigenous Black people in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick (many of whom are descendants still residing in the very communities their ancestors cultivated hundreds of years earlier) food continues to be a very important part of the culture. Upon their arrival to Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, ancestors were forced to adapt to a new environment including harsh weather and rocky soil, conditions that were not conducive to cultivating suitable crops. Because they were often granted land that was of poor quality, they faced numerous challenges. However, once again, they rose to the occasion using their extraordinary skills in farming and planting. They passed down their knowledge to their children — they taught them to farm, and how to distinguish which herbs to find in the woods for medicine. They educated them on the art of preserving, cooking, and hunting. This was their survival, and it’s what carried them through the next couple hundred years. Yet today, Black folks on the Canadian East Coast disproportionately struggle with food insecurity and, in many cases, lack of access. Food injustice remains commonplace in many minority communities. Our history with food remains obscure.

While many are unaware of their origins, food remains the main guest at traditional weddings, funerals and other Black East Coast gatherings. Certain dishes containing ingredients such as black eyed peas, rice, okra and yams are adaptations from African cuisine and form the basis for some of the most popular dishes enjoyed by Black folks on the East Coast. Favourites like rice pudding (called sombi in Senegal) have been adapted over centuries and  invoke the same fondness as they did for the villagers who prepared them centuries ago. Our food has adapted over time, according to climate, availability, and lifestyle. It continues to be the heartbeat that unites our community.

I learned to cook at nine years old, and I taught my children the traditions that my mother taught me. My hope is they will also teach their children. This is how our African connections with food and earth will continue to survive. I don’t think my mother understood the depth of what she was imparting upon us, her children. I don’t think we understood the magnitude of what she was feeding our souls. Our African ancestors carried the secrets of traditional African cuisine deep in their spirits. They journeyed that passion all the way to the US, even during forced assimilation and struggle. Their legacy did not end there, as many would believe. Those who journeyed to the North, and those who left its shores in the 1792 exodus to journey to Sierra Leone, West Africa, are the beneficiaries of the passion and soul that travelled across countries and continents and survived. That same unshakable passion and soul is our link to the Motherland, and that lies in the heart of every soul food dish we share and prepare. 

headshot of Wanda Taylor, a black women, with curly-coily hair smiling.

Wanda Taylor is an author and Acquisitions Editor currently serving as Mentor in
Kings College’s MFA Creative Non- Fiction Program. Wanda is a former television producer and has written for various publications, including Understory Magazine and Atlantic Books Today. With backgrounds in journalism and social work, her writing reflects her passion for justice.

Lost Seeds

black and white illustration of maple pods

By Vanessa Ong

Illustration by Thaila

ma ja.
(good morning Grandma.)

peeping through the blinds,
I see the hazy morning skies,
a bowl of sweet black sesame oatmeal,
little sips of delight.

ma wuo keu takjeu
(Grandma, I’m going to school.)

unwrap the sticky plastic,
chả on white bread, no crusts,
“what -is- that?”
hold back the tears,
wrap, wrap, wrap.

jo ni leu bho jiat?
(why didn’t you eat?)

carry two extra chairs to the dinner table,
arrange six pairs of chopsticks,
delicately engraved red and green characters all lined up,
call everyone to jiat beung,
grandma’s pride written on her face.

ha kiang.
(So good.)

egg tarts are a sweet treat,
flakey crusts and a buttery custard,
share a taste with your school friends,
spat, spat, spat.

wuo bho toe kuong.
(I’m not hungry.)

silent meals,
chowing down as the chopsticks click clack,
three generations in one another’s presence,
we were peace.

ho jiat, bho nang jai!
(If it were tasty, nobody would know!)

cycles of attachment and of shame,
hiding your language and hiding your food,
your culture’s a memory,
now, who are you?

wuo mzai.
(I don’t know.)

Vanessa Ong is a Teochew-Chinese- Vietnamese-Canadian WOC, living and working in Kitchener, Ontario. She is a sometimes-poet, gardener, and interdisciplinary researcher, currently exploring connections between food, gentrification, and sense of place in Downtown Kitchener. As cofounder of Littlefoot Community Projects, she is interested in building a decolonized food justice movement, which addresses difficult topics like affordability, just sustainabilities, land sovereignty, intergenerational trauma, and cultural loss. She spends her time overthinking and curling up in bed when the too-muchness of life takes hold.


Illustration of many small flowers coming from one stem

by Finn Stuart-Seabrook

 Every time a new story unfolds
So many think they've heard it all before
The tragedy, the heartbreak, the suffering
The love, the joy, the warmth
But we are not one story on repeat
We are lifetimes, generations, eternities
Endless stories woven into the chronicles of our existence
Scrawling out the experiences of our lives not as fanservice for their pity, but as inspiration for those to follow

Yes, there is tragedy, heartbreak, and suffering

Yes, there is love, joy, and warmth

But we are not just a list of emotions meant to entice the viewers
We are a spider web of lives built to catch those falling from the pouring skies of society
We are teachers, keepers of history and tradition
Pillars of love and light in a building riddled with hate on the verge of collapse
They try to diminish our worth
Value us using language far too simple to encapsulate our otherworldly intricacy
But we are ethereal
Ethereal because our story is woven in the stars
Each lifetime adding to the intricate webbing of the
… Something

Filled sky
Stardust whispering our loses to the cosmos themselves
The sun tells our future, each ray of light kissing the gentle skin of sacred bodies
Sacred because each body is a temple

Host to history and future
Adversity and prosperity
Loss and love
Each body represents all that has been given by those before us
And all that has yet to come
Each body holds our horrors but also our hopes
And the sun follows each crack in the skin of this fragile temple as it maps out the way to our long-fought peace
Something that seems so untouchable

But when our history is held by the stars and our future written by the sun
Nothing is ever out of reach

Finn is a queer, trans, neurodiverse creator with a pension for whimsical but thought provoking language. They incorporate aspects of their experiences into their writing as both a method of decompressing and educating. They hope to create better spaces in society for marginalized folks through their work as a creator and educator.

When We Grow Together

by Jamie Holding Eagle

Food culture can be a road to health and healing. However, work cannot stop there.

Diabetes is a chronic health condition disproportionately affecting poor, of colour, and Indigenous communities. In the Upper Midwest of the US, the prevalence rate of Type II diabetes is almost twice as high in the Indigenous population (13%) than in the white population (7%). However, the death rate is six times higher (North Dakota Diabetes Report, 2014). The rates are similarly high among Canada’s First Nations (Diabetes- First Nations and Inuit Health Canada, 2013).

Type II diabetes is a preventable disorder. Type I diabetes is an autoimmune disorder, where the body destroys the insulin-producing cells of the pancreas. Type II occurs when the body cannot produce enough insulin to break down sugar in the body. Over time, the body produces less and less, leading to long-term issues like kidney, eye, and nerve damage (North Dakota Diabetes Report 2014). Type II is influenced by diet, whereas Type I is genetic. Diabetes was relatively rare among Indigenous populations. Satterfield et al. wrote, “Many elders remember a time when there was no word for diabetes in their language because the disease was almost unknown… A word pronounced SKOO yah wahzonkah, which links words for ‘sick’ and ‘sweet’ can be found in a Dakota dictionary published in 1976” (Satterfield, 2014).

The increase in diabetes is associated with a number of factors, including land displacement, boarding school trauma, and poverty. For generations, Indigenous communities hunted, fished, and gardened. The fresh food combined with the physical activity associated with such practices served to promote health. The shifts in community structure from villages to reservations, than reservations to urban areas disrupted family connections. Children sent to boarding schools returned to their families, speaking different languages and preferring different foods.

Food is another major factor, whether related to access, education, or resources. If you know you should eat better, is there an affordable source of fresh produce nearby? If you know how to cook, do you have the utensils and dishes to do so, as well as a refrigerator in which to store leftovers? Many people now live in what are called food deserts, which refers to an area with a lack of grocery sources.  Often, a convenience or liquor store may be the closest store, neither of which generally stock fresh produce beyond bananas or apples.

Food insecurity is the term used to refer to the issues impeding the ability to access affordable and healthy food. The World Health Organization defines the converse, food security, as “when all people at all times have access to sufficient, safe, nutritious food to maintain a healthy and active life”. One step further than that is food sovereignty, which refers to culturally appropriate foods as determined by the community. Food sovereignty values the connection between community health and food. Food justice is an umbrella term that incorporates all levels of the food system, from farmers to chefs to families and servers.

It is estimated that food travels an average of 1500 miles, which can be an uncertain variable when oil prices fluctuate, as well as contributes to carbon emissions. Building a local food system can help assure that access is more reliable. It also reduces environmental impact.


Current food initiatives across Indian Country are focused on rebuilding food systems in a way that draws on culture. Dream of Wild Health, in Minnesota, teaches young people how to grow and culture traditional foods. The Sioux Chef, Sean Sherman, is a chef out of Minneapolis who cooks using pre-colonial foods. Rowen White, a Mohawk seed keeper, grows ancestral seeds through the Sierra Seed Cooperative and uses sustainable practices, which she passes on through a series of classes.

I have worked with a volunteer-run group dedicated to building community through gardening. Volunteers and New American families work together during weekly meetings. All work is done by hand, no chemicals are utilized, and it is an intergenerational effort, with whole families attending.

The families are refugees from various areas of strife around the world, from Iraq to Rwanda. The Upper Midwest, with its extreme winters, can offer a sort of culture shock. Just those two factors alone, let alone language barriers, post-traumatic stress disorder, and the very stress from displacement, can have a negative effect on mental health.

The gardening program has been successful. It has grown from one garden to four within the city. Thousands of pounds of produce are grown each year. Many families participate and more attend each year.

Access to land and access to gardening can do wonderful things for the health of a community. Gardening promotes physical health, it can help make new friendships, and can provide families with fresh food. With diabetes at epidemic levels, healthy food can make a major difference in health.

However, in the long-term, a major paradigm shift will need to occur. Community gardens cannot fill in the gaps left by violence, income inequality, and inadequate access to resources. A community garden can help bring a community together, but not if neighbors are afraid of police violence. A community garden can help a mother make new friends in her neighborhood, but what about the mothers fleeing their own community gardens?

And so, if you are a food justice advocate, we cannot separate ourselves from Black Lives Matter. If we care about how people eat for community health, we must care that they are dying. Similarly with the Syrian refugee crisis. As Native folks, we are living through the generational reverberations of land displacement, violence, and family disruption, as is reflected in our high rates of diabetes. We can help rebuild our own community’s health while not turning a blind eye to suffering elsewhere. It should never be one or the other. We know firsthand that crisis we experience impacts our grandchildren. My grandmas taught me that all elders were to be respected like grandparents, and so right now, there are children like our children in danger, and there are grandmas and grandpas in danger, too.

I will end on this note. I am from the Mandan Hidatsa Arikara Nation of North Dakota. We have been through some interesting times, to say the least. We lived through several waves of smallpox in the 1800s, killing many, sometimes in hours. The accounts are nothing short of horrific. One of the things that haunted me the most was the isolation and sense of abandonment. I feel a sense of grief for them for having gone through that, as I do for other incidents. But, I don’t feel a sense of vengeance. The strongest feeling I get is the one that says, no one should ever go through that alone, ever again. When I see other people living through that violence right now, as their homes are destroyed and their children are dying, it’s the same feeling: no one should ever go through this alone, ever again. We all deserve to eat healthy food and we all have the right to be safe in our communities and to live free of fear.


Diabetes- First Nations and Inuit Health Canada

North Dakota Diabetes Report

Satterfield, D., Debruyn, L., Francis, C., & Allen, A. (2014). A Stream Is Always Giving Life: Communities Reclaim Native Science and Traditional Ways to Prevent Diabetes and Promote Health. American Indian Culture and Research Journal, 38(1), 157-190. doi:10.17953/aicr.38.1.hp318040258r7272

World Health Organization: Food Security 


Jamie Holding Eagle
Jamie Holding Eagle is an enrolled member of the Mandan Hidatsa Arikara Nation of North Dakota. She is completing a Master’s of Public Health and is specializing in American Indian Health. She has worked in food science research and believes cultural connections are a vital part of food and public health.


a black and white illustration of a goldfish with a blue background

by Amai Kuda

For each of us, the process and timing of political awakening is different. My mother named me Salmon, she said I looked at her like a judge when I was a baby, so I think that process happened quite early for me. By the age of six I decided I could not eat my best friends, who at the time were some goldfish, so I became a vegetarian. Within a few years I was putting up my own hand-made ‘Go Vegetarian’ posters around the neighborhood. Although, I confess I am no longer vegetarian, I am thankful that my early relationships with animals taught me about empathy, spiritual connection and how to fight for things that mattered to me. I also attended an alternative school that encouraged us to write advocacy letters, and so at eleven years old I was writing to NASA decrying their vivisection practices, and contacting Nelson Mandela to critique post-apartheid South Africa’s continued employment of White police officers who had actively oppressed Black people during the apartheid regime. Having a mother who taught me about the political realities of our people, both past and present, was certainly a critical part of my awareness and engagement as well.

Then I went to a feminist all girls school where I was both empowered to have a voice as a young woman, but was also punished by some White teachers who were disconcerted by a little Black girl, albeit a light-skinned one, having academic gifts in math and science. When one such teacher, named Susan, accused one of the school’s few Black students of stealing a watch and the Principals called the police on this fourteen year-old girl, I decided to organize a walk-out.  The Principals then had to answer to us, the student body, for how they had reacted to our schoolmate. It turned out that the teacher had tormented that same student all year long, even inviting other students’ to ridicule her in class. I learned from a young age that in White so-called ‘progressive’ circles we, Black and Brown folk, were far from safe.

From grades ten to twelve I went to Weston Collegiate Institute, a high school resembling a prison where two thirds of the student body were people of colour and the majority of the teachers were White. They had no pretentions of ‘progressiveness’ and I observed the policing of Black students’ bodies and ways in which young Black people were miseducated. I listened to the Fugees and Dead Prez. My best friend and I performed Lauryn Hill, Bob Marley and Mahalia Jackson songs in duet at Black History shows, and I made my peers uncomfortable when I sang “Strange Fruit.” When I noticed the double standard that allowed Jewish or Muslim students to wear religious head-coverings, but barred young Black women, like myself, from wrapping our heads as part of a longstanding spiritually-rooted tradition, I created a petition to protest this injustice. It was during this time that I really clarified my own views about the problems of institutional education. I found the learning environment oppressive, from the rigid schedule and the constant grading, to the rows of desks and fluorescent lighting. I found it unfair that our education should be in the hands of people that didn’t love us and, often, even despised us.

Despite this unfriendly environment, I did learn a lot. I took anthropology and learned about the Yanamamo, the Bunyoro and the San peoples.  My readings confirmed my hunch that land-based/Indigenous societies seemed to have much healthier ways of doing things, and problems of homelessness, imprisonment, poverty, environmental degradation and racism were non-existent when these Indigenously living peoples were left to their own devices. In these societies where people were organized into smaller communities, one was not educated in cold institutions, but by one’s community members. One was not ruled by a distant stranger that one had never met. One knew where one’s food came from and where one’s waste went.  I learned how each Indigenous society had a complex spiritual tie to the earth that allowed them to live in relative balance. They were not perfect, but to my mind their ways of life were a far cry above the soul-sucking, oppressive, environmentally destructive path that our society was taking. I decided my career goal was to become a hunter-gatherer.

I pursued this goal to the best of my ability at the time. I spent a summer at Curve Lake First Nation with a family friend, Alice, so that I could begin to learn from the people whose land I was on about how to live in a better way with the land. I had begun visiting Curve Lake with my mom when I was about thirteen years-old. It was during discussions with Alice’s kids, who were mixed Anishishinabeg and White, that I realized that being mixed didn’t make one less Black or less Native. I realized that identifying with one’s marginalized identity was a kind of resistance.  So in the summer after I finished high school I mostly spent my time volunteering at the Curve Lake daycare centre and hanging out with the woods and lake there. Then I had an opportunity to spend a few months up in Red Lake with Alice’s daughter’s family. During my time with her family I did housework to earn my keep, and volunteered a bit with a local Indigenous youth group, but I actually spent most of my time in the bush. I had always loved the woods and during this period I determined that the trees were to be my main teachers. I learned to listen to them, and to connect to my own ancestors through them. This practice has been my source of guidance and wellness ever since.


Although I was keen to continue pursuing my career path as hunter-gatherer/tree-talker my mom was pretty keen for me to get my butt back in school. I was not to squander the opportunity that our ancestors had fought so hard for. So, having been granted scholarships to cover my tuition, I attended Trent University, which I had selected because there was lot of bush on the campus. I planned to camp out in the woods the whole time. I even took a tent and all my best woods clothes and everything, but then my Granny warned me that I would surely be raped if I slept outside alone. Having had this idea firmly planted in my head I conceded to sleeping in my dorm and just spent as much of the daytime as possible in the bush. I continued to learn from the trees and they guided me to pursue my commitment to social justice by working in solidarity with the Indigenous peoples’ of Turtle Island.

It was at Trent that I met Laura Hall and re-met Urpi Valer-Pine, the two Indigenous women with whom I co-founded the group Seven Directions. Urpi had, in fact, been one of the brown students who was also tormented by the same Susan teacher at the feminist all girls’ school.  Although, we had not been friends in middle school, all these years later we discovered that we shared a commitment to social justice, particularly Indigenous rights and gender equality.  So we formed a group. We hosted Decolonization Discussions and consulted with Indigenous elders about what decolonization could actually look like and how we could best contribute to it. We also fundraised for Indigenous groups fighting for their land, like the Secwepemc in BC and I took the bus out West to do some front-line land defending with Cheam First Nation.  I learned a lot in my time at Trent. I actually created my own degree specializing in ‘Decolonization: Indigenous Cultural Reclamation in Turtle Island and Africa.’ The program included Native Studies and African studies courses as well as a self-directed study course on genealogy and another on the role of religion in the colonization of Africa.

After three years spent exploring ideas of decolonization, consulting with local Indigenous community members and working in solidarity with land-rights struggles, Seven Directions began working towards the creation of a centre for decolonization. The idea was to buy land and establish a space where Indigenous peoples and allies could relearn their  land-based traditions and learn to live according to the treaties.

It took us some ten years to pull together the money to buy the land, which we finally did in 2013, and today we’re still working on building the infrastructure for the centre. Last year the group was able to host a first Hide Tanning workshop for the local Indigenous community with a grant we received. However, we found that it was a challenge to bring large groups into the space without sufficient resources to accommodate them. We’ve had to go back to fundraising so that we can create the necessary infrastructure, such as a big kitchen and showers. We are working on building both physically, emotionally and spiritually. We are still learning how to share space so we can function as a healthy community, while also developing relationships with the local Algonquin and Metis communities. the center.

As we work through the challenges of building an alternative to a colonial way of living, I am sometimes frustrated by how slow the process is. I know patience is a virtue, but at times I panic when I look up from this work to see how incessant and tireless the forces of destruction are as they tear up the earth in the name of profit, displacing our peoples and gunning us down or jailing us if we resist.  I am terrified that there will be nothing left by the time we relearn how to live in a good way. Perhaps it was in answer to these worries that I dreamt one night about riding a bus where I could not distinguish between people and baggage. In another part of the same dream I was with some Batois people, my ancestors, and we were learning the names of plants as we walked up a hill.  I woke up with thoughts of the Montgomery bus boycotts in my mind and I knew that we had to get off the bus! I felt that those of us who believed in a different way of doing things had to engage in a boycott as powerful as that of the Civil Rights movement. So I started plotting. After many conversation with Black, Indigenous and POC activists who seemed on a similar page to myself I wrote the Call Out below.

The Call Out is a work in progress. At present it is being revised to be more reflective of the Indigenous voices in our movement.  The movement itself is a work in progress. But I have to say I’m proud of some of that progress. Due to the overwhelming support from community members, we already have a website and a beautiful flyer that serve to educate people about how they can take steps towards creating a more just world. We’ve held three powerful actions that at once feed and honor spirit while, simultaneously resisting oppression. All this has happened in only a few months. We have many great social justice groups within the coalition already and we are building steadily all the time.  I know this revolution that we dream of will not happen overnight, and I know that we have to take time to do things in the right way, rather than rushing forward to our death, as the wise ones say. But I also know we are in a powerful moment and timing is everything. I know that my job is to listen closely to the guidance of my ancestors whether they speak through trees or dreams. I must keep my feet planted firmly on the soil and offer thanks and water daily in the constant flow of reciprocity. In doing so, I can play my role, not unlike like the salmon who performs the ultimate sacrifice to make way for future generations.


Amai Kuda
Amai Kuda is a Toronto based singer/songwriter, community activist and the mother of a young child. The name Amai Kuda means “mother to the will of the creator” in the southern African language Shona. Amai Kuda is a co-founder and co-coordinator of three organizations, Moyo Wa Africa, Seven Directions and R3, dedicated to the decolonization of African peoples and to indigenous solidarity respectively.Daughter of the internationally awarded writer, Nourbese Philip, who has used her work to speak out about all kinds of injustice, Amai Kuda grew up going to demonstrations and listening to her elders passionately discuss the history and future of African peoples. Her first music video, All My Fine Shoes, was part of The Reel World Film Festival 2010 and in October of 2011 she launched her first CD called ‘Sand from the Sea’, an indie release which she produced herself.

Earthships & Sovereignty

A photo of car tires filled with sand

by Kahsenniyo Williams

My family and I have spent the last year and a half of our lives dedicated building our home, asserting our sovereignty and raising the coming generation. Building our family home is massive deal for us as a young family. We aren’t building just any house though. We are building an Earthship. Not everyone has heard of them tho so let me explain a little bit more. Simply answered an Earthship is a home made from mostly recycled material that is off grid and self regulates the interior temperature. Amazing right!! There are a few key components of an Earthship so here’s a bit of a bigger explanation:

Components of an Earthship

1) Tires!!!

Lots and lots of tires! Said tires are pounded full of dirt using a sledge hammer and lots of muscles. These tires are pounded in place,stacked and layered like bricks these tires are used to build the back and side walls of the house.

2) Window Wall

The entire south facing wall of the house is windows. The reason for this is simple; heat. These windows are placed south facing to provide heat to the house through the sun. Shining low in the winter sky and high in the summer this provides perfect heating to the house.

3) Thermal Mass

Thermal Mass is anything that holds onto heat. So I’m talking things like stone, concrete and dirt. The thermal mass is packed throughout the house (dirt in tires, floors, some walls) and works in conjunction with the window wall. Sun shines in through the windows in the winter and beams in on all the thermal mass of the house to heat it up. In the winter these houses will maintain of temperature of 20 to 22 degrees Celsius (which is room temperature-ish). The entire tire wall is also cocooned in a hill of dirt to help insulate it. The house is positioned and designed to miss any direct summer sunlight coming into the house, as the sun is very high in the sky. With the sun not shining directly into the house this allows the thermal mass to maintain a cool temperature.

4) Greywater System

The entire house is run of a greywater system by collecting rainwater, and snowmelt runoff from the roof. All of the water collected from the roof is directed into a big water tank (which is buried in the giant dirt hill). When a tap is turned on in the house this is where the water comes from. Once it goes down the drain it is then directed into a grey water planter inside the house. A natural spring filtering system is recreated in the planter and the water is cleaned out through this process.This will also water our plants we will grow inside. Once it has completed the filtering it is then pumped up into a second tank. When we flush our toilet and do laundry the water will come from the second tank. This will allow us all the luxuries of running water without the wastefulness.

5) Solar energy

The entire house is run off of solar panels that are placed on the south-facing roof. It is completely possible to run your entire house off of solar electricity. For us we will be using all of the solar energy we create and not selling it back to the power company.

These houses can be a solution to many environmental issues we have today. It really is a process to come to the decision to actually do it, tho. When the reclamation of our lands boarding Caledonia began, I was 16 years-old. I felt so strongly in what my people were doing, This is where I was introduced to the concept of sovereignty. I was so angry for a long time and the potential destruction of the land was devastating to me. The theft of our lands was infuriating. These feels lingered and grew in my life for many years. All I really wanted was for my children to not have to suffer because of the decisions that we were making today. I wanted to leave something for my grand children and their grandchildren.

I spent a lot of my life asking permission to be sovereign, demanding to be recognized as sovereign. Through a series of ridiculously difficult lessons, I eventually realized I don’t have to ask for permission to be sovereign. And that sovereignty is about much more than protesting and demanding our voices be listened to. My sovereignty lives in my bones. It lives in the way that I live my life on a daily basis. It is about actually being independent from Canada, producing our own food, our own clean energy, taking care of each other, and working with the younger generations to raise them with teachings.

I had first heard about Earthships a decade ago. Since then building and living in one has been the dream. When my husband and I decided we were actually going to build, we spent roughly two years of hardcore researching and putting a game plan together. We watched countless youtube videos and read every book and article we could find. The technical design is all by my super amazing husband (who has also been an Ironworker for fourteen years and is in general a handyman). Me, on the other hand, I had never picked up a hammer in my life, other than a few attempts to put together some Ikea furniture which ended miserably. Basically me and physical labor had never really met before this experience. The thought of sweating it out pounding tires was pretty scary. However it felt that our values and daily living were not aligned, and Earthships seemed to be a significant way to bring those two things together.

A great thing about Earthships is that there isn’t a ton of skilled labor involved. If you can swing a sledgehammer or use a shovel you can help build. Our children have been a huge part of the building process. They pound tires, fill buckets, grab tools and help out anywhere they can. We have discussed regularly throughout the process about why we are doing what we are doing. We want to raise them with a connection to their land, food, water and community. We want to show them that it is possible to live your life and walk gently.


Kahsenniyo Williams
Kahsenniyo is from the Mohawk Nation, Wolf clan. She is a spoken word poet and writer. Her work is centered around indigenous issues. Outside of being an artist she is a mother and wife. Together with her family she is currently building an Earthship and community/family farm on Six Nations.

There Will Be Elders

By Chief Coker

There will be elders. There must be. For decades I have been working to build space for them; and the knowledge of them; and the significance for them. People keep asking me what I think we should do. When we start talking we go big picture. Our vision: green oasis land sites and beautiful homes with animals and people co-existing. Its a lovely lush and abundant view. We talk picking it apart and end up calling out the technologies we need to build this vision. We then end up identifying multiple inputs required to support this vision, all to end up where I sigh and say. “So now on to grow our eldership! For without elders we will not have the strength and tactics to see change through.”

Change is coming! I swear it. Positive changes that will allow us to celebrate everyday in ways that make sense to the individual. Through food justice and social justice we have academia pulling apart definitions and understanding positive and negatives effects of our current system. What strikes me is that the very things these youth are going to school to understand has been detailed in major movements in history.It’s gaining traction now that conflict is in everyone’s face but it has always existed on the scale it exists now.

We are past the tipping point. What a shame we (the dominant culture) did not give this fact the weight it deserved. Which begs the question why the “F” is the dominant culture still the dominant culture? There is proof in the history of the dominant culture of the people’s conflict and experience with oppressive bully-like tactics. No wonder we are where we are now. Those who protest and resist feel like they are in a headlock by the system. Just like a bully the system has got us awkwardly bent over struggling to be free. We now have even more work to do since people have been living like this for over fifty years and apparently, that’s all it takes to be set in people’s minds as the only option. As if fifty is a significant chunk of time. Nevermind my culture, Yoruba, with over 11000 years of rich culture, successful and sophisticated was destroyed to accommodate a bully culture. Shame! Here in the western part of the world, it appears that as we continue to identify what is needed in our communities as we work to improve them. However, we only seem to give the solutions limited energy. We understand what we should do for the most part. Voting with our dollar at local stores versus big box store. Eating locally produced organic food and learning about our own and other indigenous cultures. We strive to be disciplined and then we make a compromise we sometimes do not even know we have made. In turn, reinforcing the head lock we find ourselves. The argument can be made that it is because we are building up to change. Building up to action. Rising up. By building, I mean, we are building momentum connecting the pieces through projects and actions. Building to present a holistic message which will result in change. The building blocks are the projects and events we create. The mortar is made of the events and happenings. The doors are presented by those who know how to interconnect these things so that others can see the structure. I also have the image of five fingers on a hand building its strength to become a first. First, we add the pinky, then the other fingers one by one, then we have to teach them to close. We build up to this. Each project represents a finger, each happening teaches the muscle to close, each unified message represents the first.

But there are many out there that see things coming. They see it years, even decades in the making. They can tell you what it really turns out to be in the end. Failed systems and broken promises. Further oppression and disparity. “Elders.” Not meaning the aged. Community elders. We know that we need to conserve and understand what is going on in our world. Not for lack of caring, we just fall short of the NEEDED input. Our current culture is so consumed with the day to day that we do not even have time to build changes into our lives. How is this? Yes, this current system and its markets are huge. It is in every corner. We can not help but see it. A lot of us try to change for our own health. Us parents often have to shelter our very youth from it so we don’t have to un-teach them later. The current capitalistic; make, money money! Moving on up and all that culture is choking us blind while kicking our offspring in the temple.


Why are we reluctant to change in the western countries? Why do we wish to “develop” other countries like the west? Knowing the harm why would we want to see the big box stores everywhere? More things to buy and throw away? WHY?

You would think that our mission as a large diverse conscious population was to ignore natural laws. Ignore things like health and diversity unless it makes us money, have children and offer them little substance, build homes that cover all of the arable land and acquire things that take us further into this sickness? And even if you do not want to live like that; and that is not your mission, how would you know that you had a choice by the way the current systems tentacles are sprawled out everywhere?

Let’s acknowledge how difficult it seems to live sustainably, flagging income ability and race. However, those are learned barriers not real barriers. When those with the access to sustainable lives can tell you that it is cheaper and more accessible. The addictions are on the social, not the spiritual and ecological. Granted there are some real challenges when our cities are constructed to isolate us, when marginalized just means lack of good resources and when the current constructs by which we all live enable the oppressors to target their oppression. Then the food coops, free seeds libraries and culturally appropriate gatherings become inaccessible for entirely different reasons than want. It’s not for the lack of want, it’s not that the communities want bad food because even when people do have access to good food and sustainable choices, maybe the land that they have access has been poisoned or there are toxins in the ground.

Yes, alternatives are here. They have been. Now more can see it on social media. Some see it but will need to learn to first stop hurting themselves in order to start healing.  Turn away from addiction. A social rehab. A downside is that with all the alternative “Options” out there people plug in and invest into non sustainable solutions. Our elders could tell us that certain things have been tried before. Some methods have failed before or are dangerous solutions. We have lost touch so deeply with our own wisdom and with our elders that even the solutions we hurriedly present end up needing to be tested again and again. Time lost. While our best practices are finally reluctantly dusted off and reanimated. When we finally hear our ancestors and Elders guidance. Success!

Once we do we see very quickly how swift we can be. Our elders are a gift for our continuance. They are governance on the local level and our communities’ historical records. Research should start with elders. So many people in many places need to learn many things. Things Elders know and have lived to share with us. We in the west get a fast track with Permaculture tools. Designed to aid the transition of the Western culture into one that allows for diversity and equality. Simply put the change we want. Which keeps me coming back to the reality that without elders we are in the dark clinging onto these tools. It’s even more dangerous for us with these power tools in the dark. Elders are needed to come shed some light on the process. In our Permaculture villages especially here in Toronto, we have them. So let’s note for the sake of all of us in these many movements, at the many frontlines, there will be elders!

Chief Coker
Chief Coker is Toronto’s only active teacher who uses the knowledge of permaculture, traditional Yoruba culture and progressive social and food justice skills. Students and community members around Chief Coker recognize them as a passionate woman of colour with a strong social consciousness strongly linked to their Nigerian and Jamaican backgrounds. Students arrive en masse to learn from Chief Coker and to work on their ground breaking projects. They have been awarded with a Food System Leadership award in Toronto and Elders awards for their work with African youth in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA). As a disciplined curator and humanitarian Chief Coker continues to provide eyewitness testimony with their skills in journalism and performance-based art to the struggle for those pushing back against oppressive forces. A sensei of Shodan ShotoKan Karate and dedicated mentor and elder in the PGTA village and GTA communities, Chief Coker leads a team of Leaders in action through projects and events around the world intended to better our leadership and cultivate healthy communities. They are dedicated to community and they put their direction and motives into words with their saying, “Positivity is Power.”

Reclaiming myself within a sea of systemic sabotage

By Danielle Boissoneau

We didn’t just end up here. It’s taken hundreds of years to create the conditions that leave us drowning in our own fear and sorrow. The seas where we step on each other to get some air and relieve the drowning sensations of being in over our heads are slowly drying up.

We were thrown. Tossed aside fitfully from our places in the pines, where we would sit under shady stylings of trees, hundreds of years old, because our bodies are the land. They picked us up and tried to move the earthly beauty from its roots. They had to pull hard, you know, because roots like ours aren’t easily removed.

So, they started to call us names and turn the men against us and tell us that parts of our people weren’t people anymore. But that still didn’t work, so they started to steal our children. Sometimes our children are our mothers and sometimes we have to work even harder to reclaim the spaces between then and now, but every day is a site of intervention in the act of reclamation.

Because this sea has waves and tides that flow with violence and hurt. The systemic sabotage that we are living with are deliberate creations meant to drown us while we struggle to survive. Because we float with deliberate levels of care and compassion, because the currents that direct the seas are actually ours, let’s choose to reclaim our divine connections to the waters. With a breath of life-giving power, I’ll dive deep down into the sensuous sea that has been systemically designed for my demise.

These currents are ours, you know. And when I wind through the water with whispery intention, the flow of the water, the seas become mine. No longer, can the empty storms created by systems of sabotage control the way the waters flow. They’re ours again.

And when I hold that power in my hands, I know it’s not actually mine, but it’s something that I’m a part of, so with every sense of my being, I’m reclaiming my power by directing the currents of change. Refusing to wash ashore, I’ll ride the waves of discontent until it’s all swirled away and we can swim in harmony with each other once again.

It’s quite simple, you know. But not in a simplistic way because these systems are so strategically set in place. It’s when we know, and feel, and harmonize our power in connection with ourselves, with each other and with the land and the water that we become inextricably alive. When we dance, when we sing our lives into existence, when we rage against tumultuous tides, it is then that we reclaim our power and our freedom. 

These systems have nothing on us, let’s be real. Since my first ancestor descended from the skies, thousands of years since then, that power has run through our veins. So, don’t forget who you are. You come from somewhere. Hold the land and let the power run through your fingers and reclaim the erotic, life-giving power with dimensional grace and strength.

It’s already inside of us, We just have to do it.


Danielle Boissoneau
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.

Our Constellation of Traumas

by Melisse Watson

Article and Artwork by Melisse Watson


When you feel sad, what does it taste like? I woke in the night with a bitter mouth and a dry throat from not caring enough to brush my teeth the evening before. That taste reminded me of sadness…not a memory; more of a familiar presence. With eyes cloudy, I watched the windows through which I imagined stars in a still night sky. No moon. Just the taste, the awareness, the reminder. The discouragement. I got up to drink it down, and as I swallowed, I couldn’t track the luke-warm temperature all the way down like you can with ice water. 

Ice water hurts my teeth I remember, so does hot tea. And I don’t like that all-the-way-down feeling anyway. I down another glass, tongue raw and upset with me. That reminder. Then I feel the water forming a new body inside of me, like a hard rain that pushes the edges of a creek to a lake, a swelling. It took with it the taste but not the feeling; I reconsider: Sadness doesn’t live as a taste on my tongue. I feel it in my stomach; that stillness, fullness, uncomfortable – that I could swallow and no longer give it a thought, even if sadness lead to my teeth falling out. I wanted to map other places that weren’t what they seemed. Other multi-dimensional, multi-verse maps to seeing myself better, like: anxiety in my hands, or the breaking of my own boundaries as an aching in the thighs deep as marrow.

In sharing many conversations with community around trauma; whether in passing or in disguise, reflection or in overflowings, I have heard and witnessed the anchors and burrows that trauma creates in our bodies, in some of our disconnect with spirit, and our quality of emotional and mental wellbeing. When I sat that night and asked myself what I would reclaim, what came to me was a map of sorts. Similar to the way I imagine a surgeon has a map of the inside of a body in their mind’s’ eye, or a chiropractor with a map of one’s bones, a cartographer or astrologer or traditional knowledge keeper – a map of the stars. A father, a map of the most certain way to keep his daughter safe – ‘map’ does not hold with it enough substance to describe the reclamation I imagined. I reconsider: not a map at all. Not drawn with elevation or terrain or roadways – but sets of places that connected and intersected one another, unmarked, without a legend for anyone else to see but yourself. I watch myself draw a line from my lack of self-esteem to my arched posture, with another pause between the two to name my fear. As the lines join points in pencil from my organs to my bones to my joints to the space around me and to each other. I reconsider; ‘constellation’ is much fuller and is responsible for reaching to hold the condensed light to the vast darkness. The ways we may reclaim our trauma and with it, ourselves, lies in the design and existence of the universe, and the patterns and connections that have lead those who migrate and journey home since the beginning – whenever and however we began.

Another reminder comes forward;

It has been two nights in a row without sleep, listening to and willfully feeding my addictions, leaning out the window to watch the night and to feel out these new body parts and transplants and fusions. Parts and connections that can reside outside of oneself, at any length and distance. Parts of oneself that can transform and shapeshift and awareness points like stars that sometimes take hundreds of moments to realize. A reconsideration of responsibility to oneself, and to others – two, four, six legs and more. Imagine, if you felt fear in all one hundred of your legs and they still carried you-you’ve got to have respect for that. And as a respectful gesture to ourselves – to the selves that battle patriarchy, phobias, ‘isms and skisms. Even with the capacity to be harmful to others (and we all have that capacity), we swallow the first stones. Always carrying them for miles before spitting them up. I see you. I see us.
I reconsider; maps have been made to tell a means by which we will find what we are looking for if we follow it’s guidance.

The whereabouts of people, places, elevation, dead ends.

Maps in textbooks that make the south smaller in scale so as to teach more than geology

Maps of our bones and body systems that are either able-bodied, or sick — no intersections, no autonomy

Maps of our genetic code, what washroom to use and how to have sex.

Maps of where our families came from except for the maps that they burned or buried with us.

And maps that tell us how to get to happiness, stability, how to put pieces together, fix what is broken, maps of manuals and each individual critical washer and bolt that are only manufactured in scarce, inconsistent, inaccessible amounts.

And if you do not have the map, then you will be lost.

I am tired,
I am tired,

I am tired,

I have been up for two nights now, and two days,
Exhausted for well longer than what the map of good self-care would say

What about when we don’t have access to these directions?
What about when we experience harm and there are no roads marked to bring us back from them?

What happens when I don’t feel love in my heart when I really reconsider love,

What if I feel love in my fingertips because they have such sensitivity, and reach, and motion?

And in my kidneys, because they are so unprotected.

I reclaim the ability to feel, name and indicate with a point and line with no legend for anyone. So that I may understand myself better. So that I may treat myself better. So that I may care to brush my teeth and not wait until I’m so thirsty to have water. And go to bed. Go ahead and design the constellations of your being; of yourself entirely, not just the weight. Reconsider all the ways we are told our trauma has to be designed to be valid. I consider that boundary crossing.

I keep tracing those points with my fingers, counting steps so I can see when complexities push up against them, maybe see them coming. What is the texture of being compassionate to yourself? In my case, reaching to feel for it (fingertips or kidneys) would reveal to myself enough. That, and not having such an obscenely dry mouth.

Note to self:

Draw a kidney, instead of a heart, on all letters and thank you notes from now on.

Melisse Watson
Melisse (Coyote) Watson is a polyracial Black-Cherokee identified queer artist driven by the capacity for art to provoke and contribute to social justice, community building and healing within systematically oppressed populations. Melisse is a multi-disciplinary artist and transformative justice community animator who began their arts practice in visual arts and poetry. Since, they have mounted an award-winning piece “I Was Born White” in the Toronto Fringe Festival, performed with Ballet Creole, Ill Na Na Dance Company and Drawing With Knives Co. Melisse has been inspired and determined to build a culture of rehabilitation, community restoration and shifting a paradigm of oppression through the arts.

Accessing Embodied Ancestral Knowledge

by Zainab Amadahy

When intuition was all we had, we trained, developed and honed it. But as The Divine Masculine tilted into patriarchy, intuition lost its value. We were encouraged to trust only the measurable, tangible and reproducible. We stopped investing in the intuitive. Our skills deteriorated. Our trust waned. Perception yielded to science. Our instincts receded in favor of ideas that separated us into disconnected individuals living in a survival-of-the-fittest competition.

Above Artwork by Jayal Chung 

This process occurred in different ways around the world. For most of us, colonization imposed a Eurocentric worldview that ridiculed and discounted the notion of even valuing, much less reclaiming ancestral knowledge. At the same time, Indigenous knowledge were often reframed, re-storied and fed back to us as “science”. Now researchers are columbusing  (“discovering”/rediscovering) there are profound and verifiable truths to our diverse wisdom traditions and that ancestral knowledge either resides in or can be accessed through our body. In this article, we will explore some of those findings and I will leave you with a simple process for accessing ancestral wisdom.

Before we proceed, consider these questions: What is ancestral knowledge? Is it quantifiable facts and information? Wisdom to guide the use of knowledge? Insights into the nature of our perceived reality? Is it all that and more? Furthermore, the word “ancestral” suggests we are accessing information from the past. But the linear (and even cyclical) passage of time is only an illusion, a consequence of our existence in a material/physical world. Given this realization can we access information from what we perceive as the future; from our descendants? I can’t answer these questions for you but they come up for me as I research what my body knows/remembers/catches. My answers to these questions are not static or easily pinned down. They move like an undulating snake, assuring me that what I don’t know is immeasurably vast. Nevertheless, I welcome this opportunity to share what I think I know.

I’ve intersected with concepts of inherited knowledge in Buddhism, Hinduism, Indigenous African, diasporic African, First Nations, Maori, and Kanaka Maoli (Native Hawaiian) wisdom traditions. There are, of course, many more teachings from other traditions. Often that knowledge is encoded in metaphor, allegory and subtext. Many wisdom traditions encourage experiential learning but beliefs always colour one’s experience. The rational, logical, analytical mind can’t easily access, comprehend, quantify and categorize information that comes in subtle, symbolic forms. The scientific method requires the reproduction of measurable, repeated, and clearly defined outcomes before it will declare any experience as “real”. Unique, personalized, diverse and inconsistent experiences that can only be interpreted by the experiencer do not lend themselves to scientific investigation.

However, you don’t have to quantify or otherwise make experiences tangible to extract their value. As Malidoma Somé (Dagara, Burkina Faso) has noted in The Healing Wisdom of Africa, “The more intense an experience, the more likely indigenous people are to leave it in the language in which it came rather than to discuss and dissect it with words. It is almost as if discussing diminishes what is being discussed. Villagers feel that words conquer experience, dislodging experience from its rightful place of power. So unless powerful experiences and ideas are addressed poetically, or with proverbs, people don’t want to take the risk of losing in a fog of words what they have struggled so hard to acquire.” Likewise, reductionist scientific inquiries that dissect and verify experience related to ancestors can diminish its power and significance. Hence, we must ask ourselves if the scientific story of reclaiming embodied ancestral knowledge has its limits.

Given that many spiritual and cultural paradigms have varied and effective ways of understanding, acquiring and applying ancestral knowledge you may have no need of the science. However, you can choose to add scientific stories to your personal and cultural understandings.

The Science of Ancestral Knowledge: Epigenetic Inheritance and Biofield Studies

There are two areas of research that can enhance our understandings of accessing embodied ancestral knowledge: 1) epigenetic inheritance and 2) biofield studies. Epigenetic inheritance is now well accepted by establishment scientists. Many peer-reviewed articles in recent decades show that social and physical environment impacts how our genes express themselves and that the traumas and chronic stress suffered by our ancestors can impact the form and function of our bodies and mind. Essentially our body produces proteins in response to our physical and social environments. These proteins will inform how genes express themselves.

We’ve known about the impact of the physical environment on our genes for some time. Toxic chemicals, gamma radiation (x-rays) and ultraviolet light provide unfortunate examples of how the external environment can adversely impact our genes. At the same time, we know that healthy food, adequate exercise and time spent in pristine natural environments also impact our genes in the direction of wellness and longevity. 

Relatively new information in the world of epigenetics illustrates that your reaction to your environment will also produce biochemicals that impact your genetic expression, for better or worse. Ancestors who were raised in nurturing, healthy, loving environments and lived lives of relative safety and privilege likely had many experiences that enabled their bodies to produce biochemicals that promoted wellness and resiliency. Thus, they were able to pass down physical and genetic attributes that promote wellbeing in their descendants.

Ancestors who were enslaved, forced to attend residential school, grew up in war zones or suffered forms of abuse lived for extended periods (if not their whole lives) in a state of chronic stress. Their bodies produced biochemistry that reflected and exacerbated their stress-filled, unsafe lives. Those molecules, in turn, shaped their bodies, mind and genes. These ancestors can easily have passed down a genetic legacy that predisposes their descendants to chronic stress and illness.

At the level of DNA, recent discoveries by cell biologist Glen Rein are further illustrative. DNA is the material located in the cell’s nucleus that makes up the chromosomes and genes. Rein found that “positive” emotions expand the DNA molecule, making it more resilient and consequently better able to contribute to healing and wellness. “Only the love-based emotions stimulate DNA to decompress so that messenger RNA can access codes for healing”. On the other hand, contractive emotional states compress the DNA helix, “severely limiting access to genetic information necessary for healing as well as evolution”.  (“Effect of Conscious Intention on Human DNA”, Proceedings of the International Forum on New Science, Denver, Colorado, October 1996 

While the limitations and specifics of epigenetic inheritance are still being investigated, the science is broadly accepted because it can be explained in terms of molecular interactions. Nevertheless, there is still recognition of what ancient wisdom traditions have known for millennia: that our bodies contain inherited physical, emotional and mental information. On the other hand, biofield studies, which focus on the conversation between energy fields, is less understood in mainstream circles.

According to “Biofield Science and Healing: An Emerging Frontier in Medicine”, (Global Advances in Health and Medicine, November 2015) the term biofield was coined in 1992 at a US National Institutes of Health conference, where it was defined as “a massless field, not necessarily electromagnetic, that surrounds and permeates living bodies and affects the body.” The National Institutes of Health and several pharmaceutical companies are currently investing in research that will map the body’s bioelectromagnetic fields in the hope of better understanding how frequencies of light, sound or other forms of electromagnetism impact and interact with the body.

In Vibrational Medicine (March 2001) Richard Gerber, MD defines biofield as “the energy field that surrounds and interpenetrates the physical body. The biofield is made up of magnetic and electromagnetic energies generated by living cells.” My definition of the biofield is that it’s a collection of energy fields, some produced by and others interacting with the body. Biofields can be influenced by and also influence the structure and function of a living body.

When I started reading about biofield research, I couldn’t help but note the parallels between the theoretical science and wellness paradigms offered by many wisdom traditions. According to several researchers in the above-referenced journal, “Biofield concepts are rooted in indigenous schools of medicine, as evidenced by ‘whole medical systems’ practices such as Chinese, Tibetan, Native American, African and Ayurvedic medicine”.

The DNA molecule resides in every living cell of your body and has its own biofield that vibrates to its own signature frequency. Some scientists have described this vibration as a “theme song”. Since your ancestors are represented in your DNA you could say, metaphorically, that their songs weave your biofield. Singing, drumming and/or dancing life into existence are common motifs in the creation of stories of many cultures. These artistic practices are also employed in ceremonies and rituals that connect with ancestors. Such activities reflect a pre-colonial understanding of very sophisticated knowledge.

There are many aspects of biofield science that I find relevant to recovering ancestral wisdom. Among decades of research findings that biologist Rupert Sheldrake points to, is evidence of what he calls a “morphogenic” field that organizes and stores information in the universe, including that which comprises our physical bodies. Knowledge stored in the field can pass from one generation to the next. This has been shown to happen in animal species such as lab rats where if you teach one generation a skill, such as how to run a maze, their offspring will learn that skill faster. In fact, each generation increases the speed at which the skill is learned. As these findings began to be repeated it was learned that a direct genetic link to the previous generation was not needed for the rats to learn faster. What rats mastered in London could be passed on to the next generation of the same species in Japan, Mexico or anywhere.

Studies controlling for social and environmental conditions also began producing multi-decade-long studies suggesting the same thing: that each succeeding generation of humans has the capacity to learn at a faster rate.

Biofield and consciousness studies, admittedly controversial, have spawned a lot of theorizing about memory and knowledge being located outside of the brain; that there is a network of interacting energy fields containing universal knowledge and that our bodies and brains can act as filters of that information in order for us to have a human experience in the physical world. This theory suggests that the processes and protocols of many ceremonies, rituals and practices (breathing, meditation, chanting, drumming, etc.) aimed at reclaiming ancestral knowledge might be about opening the body’s filters to allow information already in the morphogenic field to drip through into our conscious awareness. 

From biofield theory, we can further speculate that, if our physical bodies are, at their core, nothing more than a collection of energy fields interacting with each other, death does not destroy the information contained in those fields. In addition, each of us inherits information from in those fields, specifically 50% from each biological parent. (This percentage comes from the fact that 50% of our genetic information is inherited from each parent and genetic information at its core is an energy field). The information that comprises any individual is timeless, eternal, and maybe that is what you access through rituals, ceremonies, practices and the dreamtime. Then again, some of it, most certainly, resides in your own biofield. Yet other information might be called in from the cosmic fields with which we interact.

This emerging science begs the questions of who we are connecting with when accessing ancestral wisdom and does it matter? Do all ancestors belong to everyone? Does a genetic connection matter? Are we able to access information from other entities in the universe? Again, I urge you to experiment and see what your body tells you.

Bringing Ancestral Knowledge Back Into our Bodies

While some of these newer scientific stories align with some ancestral wisdoms, we have to understand that, in comparison to the wealth of cultural and spiritual knowledge, the scientific story is a very tiny file in a vast collection of data.

Science aside, my own experiences attest to the human capacity to “catch” knowledge we were never given in any formal way. I carry several cultural, scientific and intuitive stories about how that happens and you are welcome to develop or learn your own stories. My purpose from here on is to share what I’ve learned about ways to access ancestral knowledge, whether stored, filtered by or otherwise accessed through the body.

Some of the cultural protocols around connecting with ancestors are very precise and specific. If you prefer to use these practices and work with knowledge keepers, it certainly doesn’t hurt. At the risk of disagreeing with some folks, I don’t happen to believe these protocols are essential to connecting with ancestral wisdom. This is evidenced for me by the many times I’ve been able to do it outside of the prescribed practices of one culture or another and by the anecdotal evidence, others have done the same. This happens with dreams, meditation, drug-induced and other experiences. I’ve even been known to catch a download or two in the middle of my swim workout.

At the same time, cultural practices that have been in use for centuries, and served communities perfectly well for millennia, can definitely help you connect. They can also provide a level of emotional safety if you harbour any anxieties about interacting with the “dead”. Furthermore, ceremonies and rituals practiced in community can be far more powerful and significant in terms of outcomes. The land on which the ceremony takes place, the experience and skills of ritual leadership as well as other factors can also provide an enhanced connection. So, the choice is yours.

I am not qualified to share any culturally specific protocols around accessing ancestral knowledge through body-oriented process. Nor do I feel the written word is the best way to do that. What I can share is one small practice of my own design that I use and teach.

The initial step in any processes is always to set intentions. Intention-setting is a two-step exercise: First, decide why you are entering into the process. What is your desire, aspiration or goal? What outcome(s) are you looking for? Do you need help or clarity? Do you want to learn something specific? You can clarify your intention and help your focus by writing it down.

The second step is to remain open to whatever shows up. Drop your ideas about what you want and be willing to accept what comes. Trust that the beings/energies you’re interacting with understand what you want and what is behind that want, as well as how much growth is needed before you get to a place where you can handle what you want.

The step after setting up an intention is to breathe. In Power up Your Brain neuroscientist Dr. David Perlmutter and medical anthropologist Alberto Villoldo (also a self-described shaman) wrote about how hyper-oxygenation can stir up memories. Perlmutter used a hyperbaric chamber in one of his experiments but there really isn’t any need for expensive equipment to generate similar results.

There are many breathing patterns that will increase the oxygen content in your body. The simplest one is to breathe deeply and continuously (no breaks between inhales and exhales) for a time. In a group exercise I’ll go for 4-7 minutes but if you’re on your own go for as long as you like. Often what happens is that folks begin remembering stuff they’ve forgotten or haven’t thought about in a while. These can be pleasant or anxiety producing. What can also happen is a sense of vague discomfort that isn’t attached to any specific memory but is felt in the body. At the same time you might feel highly energized and giddy. This is normal and desirable. Sometimes you won’t have a conscious awareness of memories you stir up because it didn’t happen in your lifetime but your body remembers (or accesses) the event.

Once you’ve excavated the memories you can calm your body by switching to a breathing rhythm that relaxes the involuntary nervous system. My favorite aligns with a 4-4-8 rhythmic pattern. Find the rhythm of your heartbeat, inhale for four beats, hold for four and exhale for eight. Repeat until you relax. This rhythm maintains the highly oxygenated state while calming anxieties or excess energies. When you are sufficiently calm you can revert to a comfortable breathing pattern and lay quiet for some moments, noticing what arises and falls in the body. In this state the “knowledge” can trickle in at its own pace in its own unique way.

Practice this technique regularly and it will get easier. You might find that once you’ve initiated the process, the revelations, information and wisdom can land at any time in a variety of ways. Many teachings tell us the ancestors are always trying to communicate with us. Whether you take this literally or metaphorically my hope is that you enjoy the process of connecting to the knowledge.

In the end, please remember that science discovers because it must see before it believes. Intuition creates because it believes what it cannot see and all creations reside in the timeless morphogenic field.


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-profit 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:

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