We Need More BIPOC Co-Ops

black and white photo of a grocery bag that reads "peope's free food program" between a women's legs

Highlighting Successful Black-led Food Cooperatives in the U.S

By: Ciana Hamilton

Food co-ops are one way BIPOC communities can reclaim food sovregnity whilst resisting problematic food systems. Cooperatives are owned and operated by groups of people or members. Members typically pay a small, one time, membership fee which allows them access to shop at the store, elect board members and provide input on products and services. One of the biggest impacts Black or Indigenous run food co-ops can have — is the ability to keep money within the community. Food Cooperatives do exist in Canada, but many remain inaccessible to the communities that need them the most. Here are three success stories of Black-led Food Co-ops operating in the U.S.

Mandela Grocery Cooperative 

Mandela Grocery, a Black-owned and led food co-op, has operated in West Oakland California for the last ten years. The full service grocery store is a worker-owned cooperative and provides fresh, high-quality food for residents in the community. Mandela Grocery prioritizes sourcing its food from Black and Brown farmers and strives to strengthen the community by providing an array of wellness resources. “We intentionally support businesses run by people of color because we are deeply committed to creating opportunity for interdependence in the food space, where POC entrepreneurs generate livable incomes that support their families.”

Check out Mandela Grocery here: https://www.mandelagrocery.coop/

Central Brooklyn Food Co-op

The Central Brooklyn Food Cooperative (CBFC) started in 2013 and is a member owned and operated food store located in Brooklyn, New York.The mission at Central Brooklyn Food Co-op is to collectively break down social barriers that prevent access to healthy and sustainable foods. Much like Mandela Grocery, CBFC prioritizes purchasing food from local farmers of colour. CBFC has a membership open to all and acts as a skill sharing hub to educate folks on nutrition and ways to overcome oppressive food systems. 

Check out Central Brooklyn Food Co-op here: http://cbfood.org/

Detroit People’s Food Co-op

The Detroit People’s Food Co-op (DPFC) is a full service grocery store set to open in 2020. DPFC is going to be Black led (not completely Black owned) with an elected board of directors. DPFC is striving to provide Detroit residents with access to healthy food and strengthen the food system within the Black community. DPFC will prioritize locally grown food in order to provide economic growth to Detroit’s fragile economy. 

Check out Detroit People’s Food Co-op here: https://detroitpeoplesfoodcoop.com/


A black and white portrait of Ciana smiling with her mouth closed. She is a 20 something black woman with dreads. She is wearing a winter coat, scarf and has a sunglasses ontop of her head.

Ciana Hamilton is a happy nappy freelance creative writer & journalist. When she’s not writing she can be found doing fun shit with her kids.

Spreading Food Knowledge

illustrations of various food. Sweet potato, eggs, lettuce, coconut oil, mushrooms, berries

By Ciana Hamilton

Eating well doesn’t have to mean spending lots of money. It’s a common misconception that healthy food is costly food and this false narrative can be a contributing factor to household food insecurity. One step to liberating yourself from oppressive food systems is learning about how food nourishes your body, how to shop for fresh foods, and how to prepare simple healthy meals. For me, years of surviving on little money forced me to learn how to shop and cook for myself. I was tired of spending money (that I didn’t have) on take-out or eating heavily processed ‘easy’ meals. I wanted to share what I’ve learned with folks who may find themselves wandering aimlessly in the produce section at the grocery store, or the person who avoids cooking because they were never taught how to cook.

Kitchen Essentials

First things first, you have to have the right set up and tools. Buying kitchen supplies doesn’t have to be expensive. Gather a few at a time and check out places like thrift stores, dollar stores or clearance sections at department stores. Here are some bare-bones basics to get you started: 

  • Set of knives
  • Cutting board
  • Can opener
  • Spatula, cooking spoon
  • Mixing bowl
  • Vegetable peeler
  • A medium-sized saucepan, frying pan and baking sheet
  • Tin foil (parchment paper or beeswax wraps work well too)

Cooking oil 

You will almost always need some sort of oil in order to make a decent meal. Trust me, you don’t want to make scrambled eggs with a dry pan. Your best option is going to be Extra Virgin Olive Oil (EVOO). Olive oil is high in healthy fats like omega 3 and 6 as well as monounsaturated fats. A bottle of EVOO can last a long time, so if you can, spend the extra money. Another great cooking oil is coconut oil. If your diet allows, butter or ghee are also great alternatives to oils and add extra flavour to most dishes. Avoid cooking oils such as vegetable oil and canola oil. These cooking oils are usually much cheaper but they are heavily processed and unhealthy.

Onions and Garlic 

There are very few recipes that don’t call for either onion or garlic. Having these two ingredients on deck at all times is crucial to making food that is full of flavour. 

How to shop: Buy a head of garlic every time you do groceries, you won’t regret it! You can also buy pre minced garlic that you keep in the fridge. Big time saver. Yellow and white onions offer the most flexibility; you can use them in just about any recipe due to the mild flavor. Red onion is cool too but tends to be sharper in taste and can be really noticeable in meals. 

How to store: I always keep my onions and garlic in a cool dark place. If you only use half of an onion, wrap the remaining onion in either tin foil, wax paper or plastic wrap. Put it in the crisper of your fridge and it will last an extra week. 

Canned and Dry Goods 

Buying canned or dried pantry items is a great idea if you’re on a budget and need groceries with a long shelf life. 

How to shop: For dry foods, it’s best to shop at a bulk store. Buying dried bulk goods is perfect if you live alone or only need a small quantity of something. Things like rice, pasta, beans, coffee, spices, flour, sugar and more can be found at most bulk stores. You can buy as much or as little as you want!  Be mindful when shopping in bulk — it can add up quickly. Remember to weigh your items to get a better idea of how much it will cost before going to the register. You can also bring containers from home to reduce your use of single-use plastic bags.

For canned food items, always check the ingredient lists for any weird or sketchy-sounding preservatives. Most canned items will have preservatives but there should not be a ton listed on the ingredient list. Always a good idea to check the sodium content as well as the expiry date. Canned items such as diced tomatoes, beans, tuna, and soups are great pantry items.

How to store and prepare:

You can store dry food in glass jars, plastic containers or keep them in the bag you purchased it in. You can start to get into the habit of using containers from other items like glass pasta sauce jars or large yogurt containers to store your dry goods. For canned items such as beans, it’s always best practice to rinse them well before cooking or consuming (mention why — sodium content?). Canned soups are easy to make since it’s typically just heat and serve. 

Spices and Seasonings

One of the hardest things for me in the kitchen was building up my spice rack. It’s something we often forget about but spices are absolutely paramount to cooking.

How to shop: Basic spices can be found at major grocery stores and are usually reasonably priced. Some staples you want to have are: salt, black pepper, cumin, ginger, curry powder, Italian seasoning, chili powder, paprika and turmeric. For recipes that call for more specific seasonings, hit up that bulk store and buy what you need for the meal you’re making.

Rice

Rice! Once you get this basic meal down, you can only go up from there. Your first pot of rice might be a bust but don’t fret, it will get easier and soon it’ll become easy! 

How to shop:

Buying rice seems like it would be straightforward but there are many different varieties of rice. It can be intimidating if you don’t know some basics. Rice can be divided into three main categories: long-grain, medium-grain, and short-grain. Long grain rice types are light and fluffy while short-grain rice tends to be thick and sticky. Different types of rice have different flavour profiles as well; basmati rice tends to be slightly nutty in flavour while jasmine rice is subtle and sweet. The type of rice you choose should be determined by what meal you’re making. If you’re going for a curry or a dal, basmati is best. If you’re looking to do a simple rice and beans or fried rice, you want a white or brown long-grain variety.

How to prepare:

This is a basic guide and different kinds of rice will have different directions, but as a general rule, remember these tips:

  • Rinse your rice under cold water for about 30 seconds; it makes a difference.
  • Your base cooking ratio is always one cup of rice to two cups of water.
  • Using a medium sized saucepan, you always want to bring your water to a boil first before adding the rice. 
  • Once your rice is in the pot with the water you want to get it to a steady simmer before reducing the heat to low. 
  • Always cover the pot with a lid and don’t take it off. 
  • Set a timer, depending on the cooking instructions. You always want to set a timer.
  • A little water in the pot after the rice is cooking is ok. Let it stand for at least five minutes before serving.

Salads 

You can make a bomb salad in no time. I love making a big salad because I can get really creative. Salads don’t have to be boring; add ingredients like nuts, cheese, dried fruits, croutons and protein to take your salad to the next level.

How to shop:

General rule, buy greens that are dark coloured or have purple/red leaves. These kinds of greens include: mixed green varieties, spinach, arugula, radicchio, chard and kale. Lighter varieties of lettuce are nice and crispy, but far less nutritious. It’s always best to buy greens that look fresh. Avoid prepackaged salads that have yellow, brown or wilted leaves. 

Storage and Preparation:

Spend the time to wash your greens before using them. Your salad dressing is what will make or break your salad, so spend time finding a good dressing recipe and invest in the ingredients. If you’re buying ready-made dressing, check the sugar content. You can make a basic dressing with simple ingredients like olive oil, balsamic vinegar, lemon juice, salt and pepper.

Cook in batches

Forget everything you remember about leftovers. I promise they aren’t horrible. Cooking big meals that will give you leftovers is the most efficient way to prepare food. It’s unrealistic to try and cook a brand new meal every day. Plus, a lot of food tastes better the next day once the flavours have had a chance to settle. Big batch meals can be made on a day you have extra time or you can invite friends over to help you cook and everyone can take some home. 

How to shop:

For a big batch recipe, make sure you are getting enough ingredients. Buy extra if you are unsure. Make a list or have a copy of the recipe handy. You will most likely need a big pot or a slow cooker.

How to prepare 

Set the time aside to cook. Have the recipe visible. Make sure your kitchen is tidy and start with the most tedious of tasks which is usually washing, peeling and chopping vegetables or making any sort of sauces. Put on some music and put love into your food! 

Some ideas for big batch meals: 

  • Rice and beans 
  • Curries 
  • Soups and Stews 
  • Chili 

Build a Bowl

We’ve all heard the hype around “Buddha Bowls” and although some restaurants and stores sell pre-packaged bowls, making a bowl is super simple, cheap and allows you to experiment in the kitchen.

How to shop

Think about ingredients you like and how to combine them. Rice, quinoa, shredded kale or lettuce make a great base for any style of bowl. Then start to think about layers. It’s best to choose ingredients that can cook all at the same time; this way you are not preparing a bunch of different things. My bowl go-to’s are usually sweet potatoes, beets, squash and brussel sprouts. Next, choose a protein. Tofu, chicken strips, beef, eggs, you get the idea. Now the most important part, sauce! Any bowl will need some kind of sauce or dressing to go with it.You can make a basic spicy mayo with just mayo, sriracha and a little lime juice!

Meat and Protein Sources

Your body absolutely needs protein, it’s no secret.  Whether you eat meat or not, it’s important to include a protein source to your meals in order to truly satisfy hunger and give your body what it needs. 

How to shop: If you’re an omnivore, choose a simple meat to start. Lean ground beef or ground poultry is a great starting point. Beans and tofu are great alternatives. Extra firm tofu is the way to go and can be prepared in a variety of ways. Eggs are another excellent protein option and very accessible.

How to prepare: For ground beef/poultry, you can find a recipe to follow or just wing it with some chopped garlic, onion, seasonings and vegetables. To put it simply, you want to heat a pan, put your meat in and break it up with a cooking spoon.You’ll know it’s done once it’s all browned and no pink remains. Drain any extra oil from the pan and season as desired. For tofu, I often find it easiest to bake, but you can fry tofu in some oil with some seasonings. Often underrated, eggs are super healthy and provide tons of protein. You can prepare eggs in a variety of ways: fried, omelettes, quiches, frittatas, hard/soft boiled and of course, scrambled.  

Nourishment 

It’s important to understand how your body processes food and what kinds of nutrients your body needs from food. As a starting point, you want to remember a few things. Your body speaks to you in many ways. If you ate breakfast in the morning but are hungry again shortly after, your body is trying to tell you something. Ensure that each of your meals contains a balance of carbohydrates, protein and healthy fats. Your carbs will give you energy throughout the day, but if you load up on heavily processed carbohydrates like bread and pasta you will feel a midday crash. Your energy sources should come from rice, oats, or vegetables like sweet potatoes. Your body uses protein in many ways. Protein is important for your bones and muscles as well as for repairing your body when it needs to. Finally, you want to incorporate healthy fats whenever possible. Healthy fats are amazing for your brain and were traditionally eaten to keep the body warm and full. Nuts, avocados, olive oil, peanut butter, full fat yogurt or milk are great examples. 

Cooking can be a very spiritual thing— it’s meant to be. You are preparing something your body needs with your hands and your heart. There is no shame in preparing basic meals that aren’t fancy or Instagram worthy. Put love and intention into every meal you make, even if it’s just scrambled eggs and toast. Your body, mind and spirit will thank you.


A black and white portrait of Ciana smiling with her mouth closed. She is a 20 something black woman with dreads. She is wearing a winter coat, scarf and has a sunglasses ontop of her head.

Ciana Hamilton is a happy nappy freelance creative writer & journalist. When she’s not writing she can be found doing fun shit with her kids.

Recipes

Illustration of various breakfast ingredients to make a "deluxe breakfast sandwich" Text reads "Avocado & Egg Toast"

A Small Collection of The Peak Collective’s Favourite Meals.

By: The Peak Collective

“Deluxe Breakfast sandwich” Illustration by SoySuki

Ciana’s Spanish Style Rice and Beans 

Easy. Vegetarian. Budget-Friendly.

What you need:
-  1 ½ cups of rice (long grain works best)
- 2 cups of water
- 3 cloves of garlic, minced 
- Half an onion, chopped
- Half a jar of salsa, about 1 cups (mild, medium or spicy whatever you like!)
- 1 can of black beans (rinsed and drained)
- 1 Tbsp Oil (olive oil is best, but use whatever you have)
- 1 tsp of salt, pepper and cumin* (optional)
Directions:
- Add oil to saucepan over medium heat.  Add your chopped onion and saute for 5 mins until translucent.
- Add rice. Stir. You want your rice to be nice and covered with the oil and onion. 
- Add garlic.
- Add water, beans, salsa and spices. Bring to a boil then simmer for 25 minutes covered.
- Serve! Eat plain or with toppings like cheese, avocado or protein of your choice. You can also add to a tortilla and make it burrito style.

Mina’s Pico de Gallo aka homemade salsa 

Easy, Vegan, Budget Friendly

What you need: 
- Two large tomatoes
- One white onion
- ¼ cup fresh cilantro
- One jalapeno 
- 1 teaspoon salt 
- One lemon

Directions:
- Dice the tomatoes
- Mince the onion - if it is a small onion use whole, if it is a big onion use half 
- Add the salt and juice from the lemon and crush up the mixture with your hands until the juice is released from the tomatoes 
- Mince the jalapeno and add it to the mixture 
- Mince the cilantro and at it 
- Stir together and eat with nacho chips or on top of rice!

Hauwa’s Deluxe Breakfast Sandwich 

Easy, interchangeable ingredients, budget-friendly!

What you need:
Bagel
Herb & garlic cream cheese 
Avocado
Tomato
Onion
Bacon
Egg
Hot Sauce
Salt & Pepper


Directions:
Toast bagel
Slice tomato into 2 thin slices 
Cut avocado and scoop out half 
Slice onion thinly and saute 
Fry 2 eggs in the same pan as onion for taste!
Cook bacon (or meat alternative)
Spread cream cheese on bagel, add avocado, tomato and onion slices
Add eggs and bacon on top 
Add hot sauce and salt & pepper to taste

Enjoy!!

Add or remove ingredients to your preference or dietary restrictions.
Some alternatives I enjoy are: smoked salmon, melted cheese,
spinach, hot peppers etc.
And you can make it vegetarian, vegan or gluten free! Yum!

Temi’s Amazing Spaghetti

Easy. Interchangeable Ingredients. Budget-Friendly

What you need:
Spaghetti as much as you need 
1 of each: red, yellow, green and orange bell peppers.
Add other veggies you like, I love the flavour of celery in this!
Half an onion
1 scotch bonnet, 2 if you tryna feel the heat
1 large clove of garlic
1 jar of spaghetti sauce
Seasoning and herbs: salt, cayenne pepper, thyme, basil,
curry powder and 1 knorr (bouillon) cube. 
Protein of your choice or none. I usually use shrimp or stewing beef.
For this recipe we’re using stewing beef. 
Cooking oil


Directions:
Chop onions, garlic and bell peppers and beef into your preferred size.
Throw that spaghetti in some boiling water
You can use a different pan for this step but if you’re too lazy to do dishes
like me then just wait till your spaghetti is ready. Drain your spaghetti and
keep it aside. Then put some oil in the pot and wait till it’s hot. 
Put the beef in and when it’s sizzling throw in the garlic,
onions and scotch bonnets. Stir for about 2 minutes, add bell peppers and
let simmer with the lid for 5 minutes.
Add the pasta sauce and seasoning to your liking.
Make sure you taste it so it’s not bland when you’re done.
When it tastes right add in the spaghetti and a lil bit off water
so it doesn’t dry out and turn the heat just below medium.
Mix it all together and let it be till the water dries out and
the spaghetti is the level of softness you like. If it is not then add some more water bro. 
That is all, enjoy your meal!

Bonus! Roasted Curried Cauliflower

Easy. Vegan. Budget-Friendly 

What you need:
1 large cauliflower 
1 tbsp of olive oil
1 tbsp of curry powder 
1 tsp of cumin
1 tsp of salt and black pepper 
Optional:1 tsp chili flakes or cayenne pepper 


Directions:
Set oven to bake at 350
Cut the cauliflower into small or medium size florets 
Add to florets to large mixing bowl
Add oil, curry powder, salt, pepper, cumin and chili flakes (if using) to the bowl.
Mix the cauliflower well so all pieces are covered with spices and oil
Spread cauliflower evenly onto a baking sheet 
Put in oven and roast for 25 minutes or until cauliflower has crispy brown edges 
If you like spicy, drizzle some sriracha on top once it’s cooled down!

Sanctuary in Canada: What You Need to Know

A black and white photo of a family in front of their town with large arms holding them. It reads "Sanctuary cities now"

Research by Sanctuary Canada

Written by Ciana Hamilton

Illustration provided by 2019 Justseeds Artists’ Cooperative

Canada has four official Sanctuary City designations, which allows someone to access most city services without being questioned about their immigration status. Municipalities across the country, big and small, are continuing to join the Sanctuary City movement and although big cities like Montreal, Hamilton and Toronto are trying to alleviate the fears around deportation, the Sanctuary City designation does not protect the most vulnerable refugees from deportation.  

Sanctuary cities are new but the offering of sanctuary, for those in the most need, is an ancient practice. It is important to not confuse the two. Before the hype of sanctuary cities, the term ‘sanctuary’ was reserved for when a person or family would seek refuge in a church or place of worship. Churches were (and still are) able to provide a special kind of sanctuary or protection since they are seen as institutions outside of government laws. This type of sanctuary still exists today and here’s a basic guide of what you need to know about sanctuary in Canada.  

So, what is Sanctuary? 

Sanctuary is support and protection that is given to an individual or family by a church or place of worship. Refugees may seek sanctuary if they are at risk of unjustified deportation back to a country where they will face persecution, violence or death. In Canada, the last 30 years of sanctuary cases have been resolved peacefully. Churches review sanctuary requests on a case-by-case basis and not everyone who seeks sanctuary is granted sanctuary. The ultimate goal of sanctuary is to have a safe outcome for an individual or family facing deportation. 

Formal vs. Informal  

Sanctuary comes in two forms, formal and informal. Formal sanctuary takes place in a church; this type of sanctuary comes with the complete support and safety from the church congregation. Someone in formal sanctuary needs to remain in the church until his or her status has been resolved. Informal sanctuary is sanctuary offered outside of a church. A network of support systems holds this type of sanctuary together, but because the person or family is not staying in a church they are more vulnerable to arrest and deportation. Locations for informal sanctuary are undisclosed in order to keep the families protected. This type of sanctuary can still have the backing of the church but not the same type of protection. 

Who can go into sanctuary? 

Sanctuary is often reserved for the most serious of cases. There is a process that the church goes through in order to decide whether or not a particular situation requires sanctuary. One of the biggest deciding factors is to determine the level of immediate danger to a person or family in their country of origin. The church must verify and have evidence that there is, in fact, ‘extreme danger if deported’. The congregation must also ensure that all persons seeking sanctuary do not have anything in their personal history that could void the church’s practice of sanctuary (arrest warrants, criminal charges etc). Anyone can approach a church and inquire about sanctuary but it’s important to know that churches take sanctuary very seriously. 

Could sanctuary be for you? 

If reading this you feel that sanctuary could be an option for you, a family member or friend – here are some tips for further investigation. The Canadian Sanctuary Network (www.sanctuarycanada.ca) is a network of volunteers who are advocating for refugee claimants whose statuses have been wrongfully rejected. On the website is information about how sanctuary works, a detailed description of the process a church takes in order to determine sanctuary and other resources. Not all churches can offer sanctuary but most churches can help guide a family in the right direction.  

Keep in Mind 

It is important to remember that the congregation of the church must take a number of factors into consideration to ensure that sanctuary would be the best option for an individual or family. Sanctuary requires a long-term commitment from both the church and the family. Once a person is in sanctuary, the process is often described as isolating and emotional. Sanctuary is one of the last options a church can offer however, many churches are able to provide additional support for migrants who are facing deportation. 

What You Wear

illustration of a moon with floral inside

An Interview with Riley Kucheran

by Ciana Hamilton

When we think about ways to create paths of cultural healing, we must not ignore the very basics of culture. Things like art, food, medicine and language need to be restored and brought back to a place of admiration if we expect true healing to occur. Clothing is no exception. Today, Indigenous fashion designers have begun to make a powerful shift in reclaiming pieces of lost Indigenous culture. Riley Kucheran devoted some time to speak with The Peak Magazine about his work around the revival of Indigenous cultures by honouring the legacies, and diversity, of Indigenous clothing.

Can you introduce yourself and tell me a about your current project, Fashioning Reconciliation?

I’m an Ojibway PhD student from Biigtigong Nishnaabeg studying Indigenous fashion design resurgence at Ryerson and York University in Toronto.

In 2016, I was hired by the School of Fashion at Ryerson to work on Fashioning Reconciliation. Initially it was a three-hour lecture and panel in an undergraduate fashion course open to the broader Ryerson community. The project has transformed into a community-based project to share truths about the role of clothing in colonization and to mobilize Indigenous resurgence with fashion design.

We still hold annual events at the School of Fashion that continue to uplift Indigenous perspectives on cultural appropriation and Indigenizing the fashion industry, but these conversations are now happening across Canada and around the world. 

Fashioning Reconciliation has grown to reflect and shape my PhD research based on the relationships I’ve cultivated in the Indigenous fashion community. It’s now an upcoming edited collection and symposium. The book will fill a gap in literature on the history and contemporary context of Indigenous fashion in Canada and beyond, and the symposium is going to coincide with Indigenous Fashion Week Toronto 2020.

This issue of The Peak is centered on Healing Legacies, with a focus on decolonizing and mending cultural trauma. How does Indigenous clothing shift from being targeted by colonizers to being a tool to create a resurgence of Indigenous culture?

To explore how fashion was used as a weapon during the attempted cultural genocide of Indigenous people, I did some archival research that shaped the core of my upcoming dissertation, “Decolonizing Fashion.” I found that the role of clothing was used as a tool for assimilation: children entering the residential school systems were stripped of their cultural clothing and made to appear closer to a Western ideal, if properly clothed at all. This process was carefully photographed and documented, and was used as propaganda to sell cultural assimilation as a “successful” venture in Canada. There is inherent power in telling this truth, in revisiting these archives, in finding examples of children resisting this process, in order to clear a path for counter-narratives and resurgence. By engaging with contemporary Indigenous fashion designers, who are often revisiting their own ancestry and history, we can begin to heal and move forward. Indigenous fashion is holistically sustainable and community minded, and when designers create from an Indigenous perspective, it uplifts everyone.

Indigenous Fashion Week Toronto had its first year in 2018. Why is it important to create a platform where only Indigenous fashion is highlighted, celebrated and respected?

There is systemic inequity and a rigid hierarchy in the fashion industry that works to exclude marginalized fashion designers, particularly Indigenous designers. The exclusion is followed by commodification and appropriation of Indigenous designs; a direct result of the colonial framework we are living in. A counter-narrative was critically needed, particularly in Toronto. Indigenous Fashion Week Toronto, led by Sage Paul, is about carving an alternative path to amplify these voices beyond the Euro-centric lens of the broader fashion industry. Gathering is so critical for the resurgence of Indigenous culture—for decades it was illegal for Indigenous people to gather under the Indian Act—but now we can gather, strategize, mobilize, and build our own Indigenous fashion systems.

Outside of the world of high-profile fashion design – how can everyday Indigenous folks reclaim lost culture through clothing?

Design and dress practices, whether customary or every-day, are generational in many communities. Clothing is passed down and it often comes with teachings that were typically lost in the process of colonization. I think everyone can try and reconnect this way—by going through our families closets and recycling or upcycling what’s already been made. I also think that purchasing less fast fashion and trying to be mindful of sustainability is also inherently Indigenous and reconnects us with our culture: dressing should be ceremony.

Reclaiming culture can mean anything from finding a way to relearn traditional skills and apply them in a new context, to buying and supporting Indigenous-made designs that you feel connected to. or even simply having conversations with the communities you have access to. You can share memories, stories, and feelings on clothing practices and making.

How does one, who is non-Indigenous, support Indigenous clothing/art?

Creating safe spaces for conversation, fostering long term reciprocal relationships, and understanding the work that goes into each piece is crucial. Supporting Indigenous designers and makers is number one. When purchasing Indigenous products, ask yourself: do you know the maker of what you are buying? Are the profits supporting the artisans or designers themselves? Luxury and fast fashion companies often incorporate Indigenous iconography or designs in their collections and outsource the labour to cut costs without considering Indigenous artisans that work tirelessly to make sustainably-minded garments or accessories that hold meaning in every stitch, shape, or bead. Support them, not multinational companies.

What do you hope to see as a result of your work around Indigenous culture and fashion?

I hope to continue working on structural changes and cultural resurgence, or providing the resources and opportunities needed for Indigenous fashion designers to receive the recognition they deserve. I’ve had many difficulties but also privileges in life, and I want to mobilize universities and education to the benefit of community. I hope to nurture and support the Indigenous fashion movement, and educate people about this crucial history and the beautiful future that awaits.

Riley Kucheran is an Ojibway PhD student from Biigtigong Nishnaabeg studying Indigenous fashion design resurgence at Ryerson and York Universities. He’s the Indigenous Advisor in the Yeates School of Graduate Studies and an active community member in Toronto. His research called #FashioningReconciliation is based in the Centre for Fashion Diversity and Social Change

Ciana Hamilton is a happy nappy freelance creative writer & journalist. When she’s not writing she can be found doing fun shit with her kids.

Plant Your Seeds, Watch You Grow

black and white picture of book cover. It has a sketch of two black farm workers. It reads "Farming while black: Soul fire farm's practical guide to liberation on the land by Leah Penniman forward by Karen Washington

A book review of Farming While Black

by Ciana Hamilton

When I first got my hands on Farming While Black, I felt my soul rejoice. I have always felt a strong connection to land; whether it’s a long walk in the woods or growing a zillion tomatoes in my garden. Something in my soul sets on fire whenever I find myself intertwined with the earth. Even though this love of land comes naturally for me, I can’t help but feel misplaced, disconnected and even hurt whenever I attempt to foster a stronger bond with Mother Earth. From the moment you open Farming While Black you can feel the dedication, energy and love that Leah Penniman poured into this book. In its most practical form, Farming While Black is a hands-on how-to guide for everything to do with tending to the land. Once you begin to dive deeper though you realize it is so much more than a generic farmers guide. Farming While Black is 16 chapters of beauty, colour and testimony. It is as pragmatic as it is reflective of Black peoples’ history, connection and rehabilitation towards farming.

Penniman described Farming While Black as the book she wished she had growing up. Throughout the chapters, she seamlessly integrates her years of farming expertise with her personal journey of finding true liberation working on and with the land. Chapters such as, “Finding Land and Resources” explores different points of access to land, whether it is leased, communal, bought or through a land trust.  In chapter six, you can find vital information on crop planning, transplanting seedlings and days to maturity for a variety of herbs and vegetables. In each of these more practical chapters, Penniman includes UPLIFT subsections that draw connections to African ways of farming and present day uprising within Black communities. In one chapter, “Feeding the Soil”, one UPLIFT section speaks on African Dark Earth, a highly fertile and dark soil that was created 700 years ago by women in Ghana and Liberia. Farming While Black is easily the best book for Black (Indigenous, Brown, Latinx) folks who feel the duality of detachment and yet, the desire to build skills in farming.

For most of us, it doesn’t take much to get outside and get our hands dirty. There is nothing really stopping Black people from contributing to urban community gardens or being involved with farm internships. But where the work gets tricky is when it comes to repairing the internal damage that many Black people carry as a result of slavery. In short, slavery has destroyed our relationship with land. That pain I sometimes feel towards land, is a pain that is felt by most Black folks across Turtle Island. It is the same pain that is shared with our Indigenous cousins and others who have been displaced at the hands of colonialism. It is the pain we often try to bury; and in an attempt to forget, we sabotage ourselves from regaining identity through something that has been in our history for centuries. There is no question that even Leah Penniman felt this distorted disconnection when she first began her journey of farming. The history of Black connection to land has been greatly misconstrued to fit a narrative of white supremacy. We are perpetually told and reminded that our only real connection to farming was when our ancestors were enslaved, exploited and forced to endure hard labour. Rarely is there a discussion around Black farming prior to slavery or Black farming after slavery.  Rarely is there any discussion on African culture and how intertwined our African relatives were with nature, land and crops. The space that Penniman dedicates towards healing our land legacies in Farming While Black is what sets this book apart from any other farmer’s how-to guide.  Chapters such as: Honoring the Spirits of the Land, Plant Medicine, Cooking and Preserving and Healing from Trauma are the parts of this book that invite readers to dig deep within themselves and recognize where healing needs to begin. In “Healing from Trauma “ Penniman said, “Many of us have confused the terror our ancestors experienced on land with the land herself, naming her the oppressor and running toward paved streets without looking back. We do not stoop, sweat, harvest, or even get dirty, because we imagine that would revert us to bondage.” What makes Farming While Black a book of true deliverance, are the constant reminders from Penniman, and all those at Soul Fire Farm, that farming is in our blood. Whether it is through the UPLIFT sections throughout the book, the wealth of knowledge (old and new) or the beautiful photographs of Black, Brown, Indigenous and Latinx folks working harmoniously on the land, Farming While Black is the reminder that our history in slavery will not erase our history of land stewardship.

I am a descendant of African heritage. The women in my family were farmers, caretakers and keepers of the Earth. Farming While Black is my awakening to remember and honour my ancestors. With every shovel of dirt, every seed planted, every vegetable harvested, I vow to never forget that they were proud people of the land and today, so am I.

Ciana Hamilton is a happy nappy freelance creative writer & journalist. When she’s not writing she can be found doing fun shit with her kids.

Missing Links

The Injustices Surrounding Prenatal Care in Canada

by Ciana Hamilton

Reproductive Justice isn’t a term that many people understand. And maybe that’s the first part of the problem. In contrast, abortion rights seem to be interpreted more easily; does a woman in Canada have the right to terminate her pregnancy? Yes. Does this mean Canada gets an A on reproductive justice? Not really.

Canada is one of the countries where abortion is legal; a woman who decides to abort her pregnancy in Canada has no legal restrictions. However, accessibility to abortion clinics can vary from province to province. If a woman chooses to abort her pregnancy but is unable to access an abortion clinic where does that leave her? Reproductive justice is the framework that gives an individual choice over their reproductive health, but puts the responsibility on governments to provide accessible care to accommodate those choices.

In 1994 a group of black women from Chicago recognized that there were other important reproductive issues, besides abortion, that were affecting women in their community. This group of women created the term Reproductive Justice. They called themselves the Women of African Descent for Reproductive Justice and their goal was to give black women a voice and a platform outside of the mainly white, middle class, women’s rights movement. Almost twenty-five years later the term is known worldwide and represents Indigenous Women, Women of Colour and Trans People.

Today many people of marginalized communities face reproductive injustice and oppression. Access to safe, compassionate prenatal care where both medical and cultural needs are met, doesn’t always happen. Women and families are not being given access to resources and information in order to make informed choices; community services are not accessible and their voices are not being heard. In Canada, Aboriginal women face the most significant inequality around maternal care, especially those in remote communities. Women of colour, women living at or below the poverty line, teen mothers, LGBTQ families and HIV positive women also face the reality of reproductive inequality when seeking care. There appears to be two crucial factors when discussing reproductive justice: inaccessible midwives and a lack of representation in the healthcare system.

Midwives

For many women, the first time their reproductive health is spotlighted is when they become pregnant. This was true for me, being pregnant for the first time at 23. I did not even know that I had reproductive rights. As a young, black, woman from a low-income home, I felt the system was stacked against me from the beginning. I did not have a family doctor and was nearing my second trimester without receiving any regular prenatal check-ups. I remember initially wanting a midwife but was unable to access one in the city I was in. I remember going to a walk-in clinic and practically begging the doctor to refer me to anyone who could provide prenatal care for my baby and me. She did not. Eventually, with some family help, I got in with a team of obstetricians. I was initially relieved, but quickly realized the type of care I would receive was nothing like I imagined. I got basic treatment; none of the doctors cared to know my name. None of the doctors asked if I had a birth plan. I was not given options or choices. I was handed requisitions for tests and sent on my way. I didn’t know who would deliver my baby until the day of delivery. Reflecting on my experience with my first child, what sticks out for me was my desire to have a midwife and being unable to access one. I didn’t know much about midwifery but I felt like a midwife would be the obvious choice for compassionate, trustworthy and respectful care.

Midwifery has gained traction over the years, going from a misunderstood hippie alternative to the more natural, inclusive option. In fact, more parents are continuing to seek out care from midwives. According to the Better Outcome Registry Network or BORN, in Ontario between 2014-2015, midwives cared for 15% of all births in the province. It also helps that midwifery services are covered by OHIP. And, although there has been an increase in the amount of midwives providing care, there still seems to be a lack of midwifery services in the communities that need it the most. If given the choice, I strongly believe most women, specifically marginalized women, would choose to be cared for by a midwife. However, if midwifery services are inaccessible in their community, then there is no choice.

In early December I sat down with Martha Aitkin, a registered midwife in Guelph who has been practicing for 21 years. She believes there are some key differences between care from a doctor and care from a midwife. “The way we organize and the way we give care gives us a lot more time. Time with women and their families to get to know who they are and what is important to them. Time to answer their questions and share information to allow them to make their own decisions about their care.” Aitkin adds, “if a person has a midwife then they have a known care provider, someone they have had a chance to develop a relationship with – someone that they trust. That enhances the safety of their care.”

Pictured above from top to bottom: Martha Aitkin and Nicole Barrette

The midwifery model of care is beautifully simple. Give women choice. Give women a safe space to ask questions, review options and be vulnerable. Give people who identify as LGBTQ+ an inclusive space that is accepting and easily adaptable to non-binary lifestyles. Provide access to materials that can educate and inform families about choices around parenting.

Midwives also provide in home, postpartum care up to six weeks following the birth. For women in the far north, such as Nunavut, extended postpartum care within their own community could be extremely supportive. These women could potentially receive extra support around breastfeeding, diagnosis and treatment of postpartum depression, as well as incorporating traditional medicines for physical healing. Martha spoke about her experience providing care for Inuit women in Nunavut, one of the places that still suffers the most reproductive injustice in Canada. “Most women in Nunavut have to go far away, separate from their families to other cities – Edmonton, Winnipeg, Yellowknife to have their babies. They could be gone for a month to six weeks separated from their other children and the rest of their community. That’s an injustice as far as I’m concerned and the solution as far as I can see is the growth of midwifery services provided by Inuit people for Inuit people.” Martha is right; one possible solution for many Indigenous women living in remote communities across Canada is the growth of midwives in their communities. Imagine the possibilities, women would have access to a midwife close to their home, receive regular prenatal care and be able to deliver their babies in an environment where they feel safe.

When I became pregnant with my second child, I knew I wanted my experience to be different. I wanted to exercise my reproductive rights to the fullest. I wanted to be cared for by a midwife. I wanted an un-medicated homebirth. I wanted to breastfeed. Luckily, I was able to access and get what I had hoped for. I was cared for by two midwives in Guelph, I had a completely non-medicated home birth and I have proudly breastfed my daughter for more than a year. My second experience completely changed my views on reproductive care and reproductive choice. My voice was heard and my choices were respected. Instead of being told to take certain tests, I was asked. I felt empowered and valued as a parent. A part of this empowerment came from the quality of care I received by other women. My midwives were women who respected the autonomy of pregnancy and parenthood. We worked as a team to strategize the safest maternal care and delivery for me. They ensured that I always felt comfortable with any procedure or test that needed to take place. Ultimately, the connection between my midwives and I grew much deeper than I could have anticipated. And as a result, I felt safe.

Representation

If we are looking at ending reproductive injustice than we need to look at equal representation amongst care providers. Midwives provide a piece of that representation; they represent the power and beauty that is a woman birthing a child. They represent the diversity in methods of care. They represent open spaces for different family dynamics. However, midwives are in high demand and in short supply. Not having equal representation in the healthcare system for a marginalized person creates an automatic distrust and assumption that those providing care – the doctors, the nurses – don’t understand the issues that a vulnerable person might face. Representation doesn’t begin and end with healthcare professionals; doulas, childbirth educators, lactation consultants and patient advocates also need to be included to represent the diversity of the people receiving care.

Two years ago I began volunteering for Women Everywhere Breastfeed (WEB), a volunteer run program out of the Guelph Community Health Centre. The cafe offered by WEB is held weekly and is aimed at anyone in the community who may be facing challenges around breastfeeding and who is looking for accessible support from their peers. The program is coordinated by Nicole Barrette, an advocate for reproductive justice, who is deeply invested in ensuring that her work remains inclusive of all people who are needing support during their parenting journey. Nicole is also a birth and postpartum doula and has been for 11 years. She has first-hand experience with the layers of stigma that marginalized women and families face from health care providers when receiving reproductive care. One group we talked about were parents who identify as LGBTQ+, specifically Trans people. “There’s a lack of gender diversity acknowledgment – not everybody who has a baby is identifying as a woman. We talk about breastfeeding/chestfeeding at the WE Breastfeed program.

Chestfeeding, the term Nicole mentioned, is an example of how interchangeable language can be used to make a program more representative of all parents who may choose to attend. Chestfeeding is a term that could be used by a Trans masculine or gender-non-conforming parent. It simply takes out the word breast for a parent who is using the milk from their body   to feed their child, but because they do not identify as a woman, the term breast [may?] conflict with their gender identity. Most hospitals and doctors’ offices have information promoting breastfeeding, and the term breastfeeding is almost always used. WEB is one of the only places I’ve seen that includes terminology that would be representative of Trans parents.

If we are looking for ways to end reproductive injustice, then we must allow communities to represent themselves in the healthcare system. Reproductive justice starts at the grassroots level- people with diverse backgrounds and experiences need to be at hospitals, clinics or community centres offering advocacy services and providing basic resources to educate people.

Collective efforts need to be put forth to educate, empower and equip those who are victimized by Canada’s accessible, but oppressive health care system. The Women of African Descent created the term and set the stage for an open and honest discussion around reproductive injustices faced by marginalized women. It is up to us to demand a change from a system that needs to be held accountable.


Ciana Hamilton
Ciana Hamilton is a freelance writer based out of Guelph,Ontario. She respectfully honours Turtle Island as sacred Indigenous lands. Her work leans towards creative non-fiction and she enjoys writing about issues surrounding advocacy, justice, feminism and cultural ancestry.