School – to – Prison Pipeline

illustration of the school to prison pipeline complex

How does the education system and the school-to-prison pipeline contribute to the over representation of black people in the Criminal Justice system?

by Chinwe Nwebube

The school to prison pipeline is a term used to describe the push of students out of schools and into prisons and represents a failure in our current education system. Black students are disciplined more harshly and often achieve lower marks due to disparities in teaching and treatment. Therefore, the school to prison pipeline can be considered a leading factor in the overrepresentation of black folks within the prison system. At its core, the school to prison pipeline is a result of the education system’s inability to meet the needs of its students. Specifically, the presence of anti-black racism in the education system has resulted in the large flow of the pipeline. Anti-black racism is global, insidious, and pervasive. It is the hate and fear of black people which in turn, drives national politics. This increases the representation of black people in prisons. Due to a system that is fundamentally driven by the dehumanization and exploitation of black bodies, there is a lack of effective and unbiased systems within the school. Ultimately there is a disparity between the degree of discipline between white and black students. A school system rooted in anti-black racism, discriminatory discipline and discrepancies in quality of education are factors that will be further examined in order to understand the role the pipeline plays in moving black youth directly to juvenile facilities and prisons.

School System Rooted in Anti-Black Racism

Critical race theory states that racism is a “normal and ingrained feature of our landscape” because racial privilege and related oppression are deeply established from both our history and our law (Brewer and Heitzeg 2008). The legal formation of race has produced systemic economic, political and social advantages for whites (Brewer and Heitzeg 2008). The abolition of slavery did not abolish the hidden racism in the law, but rather, created new methods of redirecting the law in favor of whites (Brewer and Heitzeg 2008).

The ideal instructor in society is one that has the ability to teach without bias or influence from the educational systems; One that would provide equal and substantial instruction to all students. Evidently this is not the case, as societal hierarchies and power dynamics based on race play too strong of an influence. The majority of instructors today in the United States are white women. These instructors often enter the education system with preconceived notions regarding students of colour and of low socioeconomic status (Irizarry 2010). Their curriculum reflects this idea and reinforces these stereotypical identities rather than challenge concepts of discrimination and oppression (Irizarry 2010). Due to this traditional Western mindset, many teachers are aversively racist. Aversive racists claim that they do not hold prejudice based on race however subconsciously feel unease towards people of colour (Irizarry 2010). Since instructors are unaware of their ineffectiveness in the classroom, it is difficult for change to occur in these institutions. The products of aversive racism in the classroom are disparities in the discipline and teaching of white students compared to students of colour.

Discriminatory Discipline

The school to prison pipeline flows in one direction. When black students are involved in the criminal justice system, it is difficult for them to re-enter the education system. There are policies set in place that encourage police presence at schools as well as harsher tactics, and automatic punishments that result in suspensions (Teaching Tolerance 2015). These “tough on crime” policies are large contributors to the flow of the pipeline (Teaching Tolerance 2015). Studies show that African Americans have a higher chance of suspension, expulsion and arrest than white students (Kim, Losen and Hewitt 2010, 34-50). Black students only make up 16% of the overall juvenile population in the United States yet make up 45% of juvenile arrests (Kim, Losen and Hewitt 2010, 34-50). When students of colour and white students commit the same offence, students of colour have a higher chance of being suspended, expelled or arrested for committing the same act (Kim, Losen and Hewitt 2010, 34-50). For example, in 2006 the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed a lawsuit on behalf of Native American students claiming discriminatory discipline towards these groups of students (Kim, Losen and Hewitt 2010, 34-50). They alleged that it is was three times more likely for a Native American student to be suspended and twelve times more likely for them to be reported to the police, than a white student (Kim, Losen and Hewitt 2010, 34-50). The ACLU found many instances in which discriminatory discipline occurred (Kim, Losen and Hewitt 2010, 34-50). For example, a Native American student was arrested for putting a white student in a headlock and stating “he would break his neck”. However, a white student told a Native American girl that he wanted to “kill Indians” and see her “blood all over” and was not arrested (Kim, Losen and Hewitt 2010, 34-50). In another example, regarding the case of Sherpall v. Humnoke School District No. 5, the federal court found that the Arkansas school district discipline system was racially discriminatory (Kim, Losen and Hewitt 2010, 34-50). Teachers in Arkansas referred to black students as “niggers”, “blue gums”, and “coons” (Kim, Losen and Hewitt 2010, 34-50). It has been argued that higher rates of expulsions for students of colour may correlate to high rates of bad behaviour in school (Skiba et al. 2002). If so, the disparity in punishments would not be of racial bias (Skiba et al. 2002). Since there have been no such studies investigating this theory, one cannot argue that high rates of disruptive behaviour is valid reasoning for the disproportionality in punishments (Skiba et al. 2002).

The aversive racists placed in a teaching position, though subconscious, feel unease towards students of colour. These teachers have preconceived notions of blackness being threatening and dangerous due to an inherent fear of black people. This has been reinforced through a singular narrative that describes a monolithic black experience. They have a deep rooted fear of black students: a result of our country being built on the foundation of anti-black racism. In order to eliminate the threat of black students in the school permanently, they are lead into prisons by any means possible. As previously discussed, this includes more tough-on-crime policies and harsher disciplinary action. The close surveillance of poor black neighborhoods by police is a strategic way to target these communities and schools. As a result of white supremacy, black folks live in conditions that have made them more vulnerable to criminal activity and arrest. Discriminatory discipline can be considered a leading contributor to the school to prison pipeline ultimately resulting in a higher incarceration rate of black individuals. Discriminatory discipline is only a factor because of the creation of aversive racists due to an anti-black racist rooted education system. If anti-black racism could be eliminated from the education system, it is possible to greatly decrease the overall flow of the pipeline.

Discrepancies in Quality of Education

Higher incarceration rates are a combination of “tough-on-crime” policies in the criminal justice system and a lack of quality education that provides needed skill for employment (Hammond-Darling, Williamson, and Hyler 2007). Hirschi’s control theory states that society is a set of institutions that act to control and regulate rule-breaking behaviour (O’Grady 2011, 88-115). If an individual is bonded to society and conventional activities, they will not engage in crime (O’Grady 2011, 88-115). People abide by the law because they are tied to conventional society by social bonds; Social bonds are the degree to which an individual is integrated into the ideals and social ties of the community (O’Grady 2011, 88-115). The weaker the social bonds, the more likely an individual is to engage in crime (O’Grady 2011, 88-115). The lack of involvement in conventional activities results in a higher chance of crime participation (O’Grady 2011, 88-115). Unemployment due to a lack of education will decrease the degree to which an individual is involved in these conventional activities (O’Grady 2011, 88-115). As a result, one is more likely to engage or be exposed to criminal activity (O’Grady 2011, 88-115). Studies have shown that schools with large populations of black students have fewer resources than schools serving mostly white students (Hammond-Darling, Williamson, and Hyler 2007). Minority students are often segregated within schools and are targeted more as a result (Hammond-Darling, Williamson, and Hyler 2007). Many of these schools are so overpopulated that they have a more complex schedule that shortens school days and school years (Hammond-Darling, Williamson, and Hyler 2007). Exclusion from the classroom disrupts the student education and removes them from a structured environment, which can increase the likelihood for deviant behaviour (Kim, Losen and Hewitt 2010, 34-50). The most unequal education system lies in the United States as it provides students with significantly different learning opportunities based on social status (Hammond-Darling 2005). For example, Goudy Elementary School in Chicago which served mainly African American students, used fifteen-year-old textbooks, did not have any science labs, art or music teachers, and had two working bathrooms for 700 students (Hammond-Darling 2005). In the neighbouring town of New Tier that is 98% white, they provided its high school students with superior labs, up to date technology, multiple gyms and an Olympic pool (Hammond-Darling 2005). Also in 2001, students in California’s most segregated minority school were five times more likely to have under qualified teachers than those in predominantly white schools (Hammond-Darling 2005). Attention to these systematic differences is vital to improve the overall education system. If people do not recognize that students have different realities based on their social status, policies will continue to be created on the notion that it is the students, not the school circumstances that are the root of the unequal education.

White supremacy is the belief that white people should control society due to the belief that they are superior to all races. It is critical to also note that this belief of superiority is upheld by different systems of oppression such as patriarchy, capitalism and heteronormativity1. As mentioned previously, racial privilege and related oppression are ingrained features of our history and therefore are ingrained features of our present. White people dominating our society includes them dominating our education system.

1. A worldview that promotes heterosexuality as normal or preferred sexual orientation. The way in which gender and sexuality are separated categories based on a hierarchy.   

As a result, it is predestined that whites should have a better education than all other races. This includes better teachers, teaching facilities and materials. Education lays the foundation for the direction of people’s lives; it is necessary for social, political and economic participation. Since the system is created in order for white people to have the best education, they are technically the only race “fit” to participate in society. That leaves the rest, namely the black population, uneducated and therefore unable to participate. With this criteria, only one system is deemed “appropriate” for black individuals to contribute to: the prison system.

The school to prison pipeline is a main contributor to the over-representation of black people in the prison system. There is a discrepancy between the degree of discipline and quality of education between white and black students. Programs are being put in place in order to abolish the structure of the education system. For example, the Cradle to Prisons Pipeline is a campaign to reduce detention and incarceration by increasing support and services that are a necessity for children (Children’s Defense Fund 2015). This includes access to quality early childhood development, education services and accessible health and mental health programs (Children’s Defense Fund 2015). The Black Community Crusade for Children (BCCC) also aims to dismantle the pipeline through education by expanding programs like Freedom Schools designed for black students (Children’s Defense Fund 2015). The Black Lives Matter movement also inspires communities to fight against the school to prison pipeline as an example of structural racism (Rethinking Schools 2015). When oppressive power structures that are structural and institutionalized are ignored, the over representation of black people in prisons is normalized (Brewer and Heitzeg 2008). When the law ignores racism, black people continue to be abused, manipulated and exploited while the structural persistence of racism is ignored (Brewer and Heitzeg 2008). In society it is important that we aim to establish equity as opposed to equality. Equality disregards power dynamics that are prevalent in society (ie. white supremacy, anti-black racism, etc.) and seeks to treat everybody the same. We must learn to recognize and navigate through these relationships. Ultimately the school to prison pipeline is rooted in anti-black racism. This must be fully addressed and eradicated to fix the system permanently.

References

Brewer, Rose M., and Nancy A. Heitzeg. 2008. “Racialization of Crime and Punishment: Criminal Justice, Color-Blind Racism, and the Political Economy of the Prison Industrial Complex.”American Behavioral Scientist 51(5): 625-644.
Children’s Defense Fund. 2015. “Cradle to Prison Pipeline Campaign”. Last Modified November 2015. http://www.childrensdefense.org/campaigns/cradle-to-prison pipeline/?referrer=https://www.google.ca/
Gender and Education Association. 2011. “What is heteronormativity”. Last Modified November 2015. http://www.genderandeducation.com/issues/what-is-heteronormativity/
Hammond-Darling, Linda., Joy A. Williamson., and Maria E. Hyler. 2007. “Securing the Right to Learn: The Quest for an Empowering Curriculum for African American Citizens. The Journal of Negro Education 76(3): 281-296.
Hammond-Darling, Linda. 2004. “The Color Line in American Education: Race, Resources, and Student Achievement.”Du Bois Institute for African American Research 1(2): 213-246.
Irizarry, Jason M. 2010. “Redirecting the teacher’s gaze: Teacher education, youth surveillance and the school-to-prison pipeline.” Teaching and Teacher Education 26(5): 1196-1203.
Kim, Catherine., Daniel J. Losen., and Damon T. Hewitt. 2010. The School-to-Prison Pipeline: Structuring Legal Reform, 34-50. New York: New York University Press.
O’Grady, William. 2011. “Classical Sociological Explanations of Crime”. In Crime in Canadian Context: Debates and Controversies, Second Edition, 88-115. Oxford University Press: Toronto.
Oxfrod Dictionaries. 2015. “Heteronormative”. Last Modified November 2015. http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/heteronormative
Rethinking Schools. 2015. “Black Students’ Lives Matter: Building the school-to-justice pipeline.” Last Modified November 2015. http://www.rethinkingschools.org/archive/29_03/edit293.shtml
Skiba, Russel J., Robert S. Michael, Abra C. Nardo., and Reece L. Peterson. 2002. “The Color of Discipline: Sources of Racial and Gender Disproportionality in School Punishment.” The Urban Review 34(4): 317-342.
Teaching Tolerance. 2015. “The School-to-Prison Pipeline.” Last modified March 2013. http://www.tolerance.org/magazine/number-43-spring-2013/school-to-prison

Black and white Headshot of Chinwe smiling

Chinwe Nwebube is a second year Nigerian-Canadian student majoring in Human Kinetics at the University of Guelph. She currently acts as the Communications and Promotions Officer on the CJ Munford Centre Collective, a center for racialized students on the University of Guelph campus. After witnessing the outburst of racism that took place after an on campus rally in the fall, she was motivated to further investigate institutionalized racism. This resulted in her writing this essay about anti-black racism within the education system and its contribution to the over representation of black people in the prison system.

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.

References:

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.

Work Hard, Stay Bumble

two men cutting down small trees and plants

by Timothy Paule and Nicole Lindsey

Timothy Paule and Nicole Lindsey are the power couple bringing buzz to, the city of Detroit in a pretty sweet way. What started as a cold, has transformed into a social enterprise, as the two playmakers are making bold strides with their nonprofit.

Together, the pair create urban bee farms, where the community is able to experience, firsthand, honeybees, conservation and their role in our ecosystem. Visitors to the hives, also have the incredible opportunity to see the inner workings of a honeybee hive, and even sample raw honey from the hive. Located on the eastside of Detroit, Michigan, The Detroit Hives is purposed to bring diversity and cognizance to bee awareness and rebuilding inner-city communities, introducing Detroit as a great place for honeybees.

Since launching in 2017, the urban bee farmers have been revitalizing the Detroit community through operating hives on vacant lots. The Hives’ team saw an opportunity to not only beautify the city but create health alternatives for the community. By housing honeybee hives in recently vacant lots, the organization achieves a Triple Bottom Line Solution (TBL) with environmental, social, and financial gains towards the sustainability of the community, the organization, and the environment.

Typically ridden with trash and debris, vacant lots are key contributors to common allergy issues as well as the negative stigma on the city. Although this was a challenge, Paule knew the risks and found it important to own the land utilized, to put it to good use. With all of the new traffic coming into the city, there is an importance in remaining localized. With assistance from the Detroit Land Bank, Paule and Lindsey were able to acquire their first land plot. Being a part of the city, the two know exactly where the city needs development. Encouraging others to invest in the community, the Hives’ team thrives on the importance of localization.

In occupying vacant lots, the organization is able to provide a healthy home for bees. For over 20 years bee researchers have reported massive bee die-offs, starting in the 1990s. In spring of 2013, the issue gained national buzz when a study showed that by spring, the average beekeeper loses about 45% of their bees. The widespread use of pesticide, climate change and the advent of extraneous pests, diseases and loss of habitat has caused the huge declination in bees. Most plants rely on bees and other natural pollinators to produce natural foods.

As bees require ongoing care season to each season, the team checks on them frequently, but observing their needs and fulfilling them. Monitoring the hive activity takes up a good percentage of the beekeeping process. They organize beekeeping tasks by the season, setting the bees up in spring to harvest honey, and preparing the hive for winter. This cyclical process ensures that the bees are healthy and happy to do their environmental duties.

As the environment changes, it is imperative for Paule and Lindsey to remain abreast of new information and education in beekeeping. They strive to spread this knowledge with the community, aiming to shift deep rooted fears about bees. For many people, honeybees are associated with wasps, often confusing people, perpetuating fears of the extraordinary creatures. The team continuously aims to cultivate a new outlook on bees. By educating the community on honeybees and their importance, a familiarity and appreciation can potentially be formed uprooting the fear of bees and their negative connotations. By spreading this awareness, the benefits of honeybees and their delicious honey are also emphasized.

Honeybees are amazing for the environment, the insects pollinate the plants and produce that we consume regularly. By pairing with other local businesses and nonprofits in environmental development, like, Detroit’s Peace Tree Parks, the bees are able to pollinate the plants and produce of these local gardens, producing food free of herbicides and pesticides. Dedicated to sharing the fruits of their labor with the community that they serve, the Hives’ team passes out the produce to their neighbourhood, providing healthy alternatives to the snacks/foods, normally, accessible in Detroit.

Honey itself has a plethora of health and healing uses that, when localized, leave astonishing results achieved in health issues such as pollen allergies, diabetes, and even weight loss. The honey is also great for skin, hair, healing wounds, and is an excellent source of antioxidants. To expand their reach, The Detroit Hives has partnered with, Detroit restaurant, Slows BBQ. The local staple uses a percentage of The Detroit Hives’ honey to create a signature Honey BBQ sauce. As both entities expand, the opportunity for reach expands as well.

The team is also working with the Detroit Land Bank for expansion. The goal is to purchase an acre per year. As they buy more land, the green land will be transformed into an environmentally stable space. For a larger impact, the Hives’ squad is currently transforming a vacant parking lot into a community greenspace. Partnering with the local beekeeping associations, The Detroit Hives are bringing the first ever beekeeping workspace to Detroit. Inviting other beekeepers to space, the social enterprise creates a hive of it’s on, sharing responsibility, resources, and profitability allowing for longevity across the board.

Furthering the importance of localization to the sustainability of the organization and community, Paule and Lindsey partner with local businesses to create revenue for all. Forging genuine relationships, as The Detroit Hives grow, the opportunity to create jobs becomes possible.

With all of the successes of the organization, Paule and Lindsey remain incredibly down to earth, continuing to place their focus where it’s most needed; the community. Their motto, “Work hard, stay bumble” epitomizes the efforts of this team, proving that their philosophy works. Knocking out goals left and right, The Detroit Hives’ team is single handedly improving the state of Detroit ecosystems, literally, from the ground up.


 

Timothy Paule and Nicole Lindsey
Timothy Paule and Nicole Lindsey are the power couple bringing buzz to, the city of Detroit, in a pretty sweet way. What started as a cold, has transformed into a social enterprise as the two play makers are making bold strides with their nonprofit. Together, they create urban bee farms, where the community is able to experience, firsthand, honeybees, conservation, and their role in our ecosystem. Visitors, to the hives, also have the incredible opportunity to see the inner workings of a honeybee hive, and even sample raw honey from the hive. Located on the Eastside of Detroit, MI, The Detroit Hives is purposed to bring diversity and cognizance to bee awareness and rebuilding inner-city communities introducing Detroit as a great place to “BEE”.

I Believe Survivors & Tent City Actions Merge: What Community Healing Can Look Like

by Eddie Jude

On March 24th, 2016, the day of the verdict for the Jian Ghomeshi sexual assault trial in Toronto, I was at the Black Lives Matter occupation, Tent City, outside police headquarters. The fifteen day occupation sought justice for Andrew Loku, a Black man who was shot and killed by Toronto police. The person next to me read out the live tweets of Ghomeshi’s acquittal and judge’s comments on the (lack of) integrity of the witnesses. When I heard that he wouldn’t be convicted, I didn’t even bat an eyelash. I literally felt nothing. At one point I said I didn’t want to hear anymore and so the person stopped reading out loud and we both went on with our day. I knew from the start that Ghomeshi would never be charged, because if most ordinary men never get charged let alone convicted for sexual assault, then what were the chances that this B-list celebrity would?

A month prior, singer Kesha was told by a judge that she’d have to fulfill her recording contract with her label, which meant continuing to work with producer, Dr. Luke, who was also her rapist. A week before that the vocalist of a punk band called Bleed the Pigs put out a public statement saying they’d been assaulted by their bandmate, who, once confronted, dipped out of the band and ghosted off to tour with another one of his projects. Back in January, the world erupted into arguments over whether or not David Bowie was a rapist for having had sex with a teenager.

Every day my online news feed is filled with more and more breaking news about men in various entertainment scenes and industries who assault women, femmes, and gender nonconforming people. What stays the same with every story is that people will say or do almost anything to hold up the reputations of these men no matter how many survivors come forward. Over thirty women say they were drugged and raped by Bill Cosby, each having an almost identical story, and yet people still believe that these women are corroborating. I never really understand what people think survivors have to gain going to criminal court because literally the only people making money are the lawyers and pretty much the only people on trial are, well, seemingly the survivors.

All this goes to reiterate, that the day Ghomeshi was declared not guilty, I felt nothing. It all unfolded exactly as I had expected it to; the survivors were humiliated, their stories discredited, their privacy breached; Ghomeshi never took the stand once, and then he walked free. Rape culture ran its course and subsequently, no justice was served.

That same day, survivors and protesters alike congregated at Old City Hall to express their support to the trial’s witnesses at the ‘I Believe Survivors’ rally. At first I was stunned that these women would show their faces after what they had just gone through, but then I remembered that when I was raped, I got up the next day and life continued as usual. The world doesn’t stop when your abuser walks free. You just try to avoid them and hope that you don’t get raped again in your lifetime. Maybe you see a counselor or a therapist. Maybe you become an advocate for survivors everywhere. Maybe you develop Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) brought on by your assault, or re-traumatization from your trial. Maybe you seek an accountability process from your community and they react with indifference or silence. Maybe you write about it. Maybe you do nothing.

Healing is an ongoing, messy, and non linear process that often feels lonely and isolating because of people’s unwillingness to accept the experiences of survivors as truth. Many survivors choose to heal alone and in silence because when we do speak out, we are rarely believed. Sometimes healing alone is not a choice, but the only actual option.

During the I Believe Survivors rally, we began to march from Old City Hall up Bay Street to Tent City in the rain and sleet, where Black Lives Matter TO (Toronto) were waiting to greet us. The police officer who killed Andrew Loku had also been acquitted of all charges. So our two causes joined forces and Tent City became a cacophony of hundreds of echoing screams and chants, ‘we believe survivors’ intertwining with ‘Black Lives Matter’. Alexandria Williams of BLM TO screamed over and over again that she believed us; her yells hitting a pitch that caused her voice to crack, as if the spark ignited inside her was erupting into flames. Having someone repeatedly say they believe you while you stand with hundreds of other survivors is a magical and transformative moment of healing. The combining intersections of racism, colonialism and patriarchy; misogyny and rape culture in this space felt like an important moment in history, and I was honoured to be able to witness and heal from its energy.

The merging of these two actions demonstrated that solidarity within our movements not only bring us closer to justice, but also shape our ability to heal in public, and as a community. There is transformation in healing together because capitalism wants us to remain solitary and alone. We break that silence by recognizing our own voices and the voices of others; in believing each other. By telling the stranger next to you that you have their back; by crying on the shoulder of the friend standing next to you. To feel mother nature’s rage alongside you, as she showered the city in days of endless rain and snow while Tent City and the Ghomeshi trial proceeded.

In the moments that these actions physically merged, space was carved to hold and cradle our collective grief as the rain showered us, and I felt truly nourished. With gratitude, I would like to thank Black Lives Matter Toronto and the organizers of the I Believe Survivors rally for providing us with such an exemplary example of what community healing can look like.



Eddie Jude
Eddie is a writer, musician, community artist and educator living in Toronto. They write zines under the moniker Late Bloom and are a collective member of the Toronto Queer Zine Fair. You can find more of their work at www.eddiejude.com.

Within & Beyond The Sugar Bush

by Jayal Chung

Over the years, through participation in a few sweatlodges, ceremonies, and in paying attention, I have learned about the practice of offering semma (tobacco). It has been foundational to my sense of being grounded, my connection, and understanding my relationship to this land as my birthplace in Thunder Bay on Fort William First Nation Robinson-Superior Treaty territory as a Chinese Canadian woman. It is being in friendships, and connecting with resilient Indigenous women who have shared generously with me that I witness and find so much healing and community with.

I have learned to set down semma or give it as an offering to say meegwetch, especially when loved ones?? or something feels hard in the community. I offer it when traveling or when I’ve returned, for myself or for others. I ask questions, I ask for guidance when especially when I do community-based work around sexual violence, like campaigns such as Take Back The Night. I remember once, Helen Pelletier put it so clearly, “Tobacco connects you”. From medicine walks and being in ceremony with Jazmin Romaniuk and with folks participating in Walking With Our Sisters, I feel a tremendous sense of community and connection. There is exciting momentum for Stephanie, Helen, and Jazmin. Their personal growth since the time that I have met them is profound, seen and felt, and physically tangible in the healing work they do and what they share in creating community.

These relationships, the stories, my memories and reflections layered upon each other in my mind’s eye, fully before me as I joined classmates in the Indigenous Governance and Leadership class to visit the sugar bush in April.

To give us context for our visit to the sugar bush, Damien Lee came to speak to our class. He disclosed that he was adopted and claimed by the community of Fort William First Nation and acknowledged his whiteness, giving us as students the opportunity to accept what he was sharing with us as bullshit or a perspective to work from. Stephanie MacLaurin was our guide, as we stepped gently along sticky snow to arrive and be part of the sugar bush process. Before this, Damien’s mother met up with us at the top of the mountain (anemki wajiw) to give us bannock and tea. In class, we discussed some initial thoughts as a class when it came to approaching the sugar bush and I shared that my question is: “How can I prepare?” “What are my responsibilities?”

This is a question I keep returning to, beyond the classroom. I think about it when consultations with stakeholder groups of people are discussed in media. As Damien highlighted, Europeans believed that Anishnaabe people had no laws, no governance. Anishnaabe have been seen as ‘inferior’ and ‘savages’. Christians themselves broadly viewed that their mission was to save.

This past year, I thought about my responsibilities as a student and the space I would take as for most students, this was their first experience in the sugar bush and I have a connection with Stephanie and Damien prior to this class.

With Damien, our class openly discussed how we approach the sugar bush and he offered us history, theory and a perspective to really help us understand the sugar bush as a form of governance. I reflected on our class discussion, my intentions with taking this class, and my friendship with Stephanie and reminded myself that if I make mistakes, I would hold myself accountable. I brought a tobacco offering; Stephanie shared about the mother tree that is wrapped in cloths of different colours, which ceremony took place for the tree and trees being tapped. She showed us how to tap and the collecting process. I allowed myself to be present, and I appreciated the morning as it unfolded.

‘The Land Is Ceremony’—Erin Marie Konsmo, Native Youth Sexual Health Network. This quote sums it up for me. The land tells us stories. The maple trees, as Damien and Stephanie share, tell us when they are ready and show us; there is natural law if we acknowledge it. Leanne Simpson references Basil Johnston and windigo stories to talk about hunger for natural resources and over-exploitation. With the sugar bush, it’s so amazing to see that this is a grassroots, community-driven initiative. Leanne Simpson captures this when she says that the “real gift was in the making, and that without love, making just wasn’t possible”. Resurgence.

This year, visiting the sugar bush felt even sweeter. I see the women and two-spirit teachings and leadership. I hear about and see how collective is growing, how the process is in making mistakes, owning up but giving yourself kindness, how skills-sharing is constantly happening and how dedicated and caring people are and all the gifts of the sugar bush within, and beyond it. With leadership, as Damien shared—its’ an emergent style. No one person is the leader. Each person has opportunity to learn, practice and acquire ongoing knowledge and sap is medicine.

Through individual and collective effort, the work of chopping, collecting dead wood, values, teachings, stories and ziiwaagmide— sweet brown syrup is possible and is shared. It is undeniably good, as Damien said. This was the starting point for him—its goodness.

It felt really peaceful, relaxing and good to go to the sugar bush as a class. For me, I had visited prior with invitation from Damien Lee to assist him in collecting. I also visited during the boiling process, on a few occasions. For example, one time I remember Ash had taken two fat Canadian geese and he started to process the geese by taking feathers, scraping the skin, revealing the roughness and roasting a bit. I heard stories about Ryan and Stephanie hunting geese and then folks with knowledge of roasting, sharing that in very organic way. I also recall from Damien’s blog Zoongde where you can find his writing piece titled “Indian in a Jar” on settler colonialism and about boundaries being broken between an instructor, Damien and Gail who had been working hard in the initial stages to revitalize the sugar bush and sap production for future generations.

As Damien makes the point, writing sugar bush as just culture negates the leadership and governance of what I observed, participated and experienced over the two years. Damien sharing his framework was a powerful moment that I felt in my body. Treaty constitutionalism: he drew a diagram and posed what kind of permissions, process, protocol would one go through when it came to mining or fishing as examples.

In this moment, as he drew – I could sense in an unexplainable way what he was referencing. e.g. drawing information from the land, the wisdom of ancestors, from clan, from Aadzookuazag sacred stories, from Confederacy, Creation and observing natural laws versus hunting and fishing regulations which would start with regulatory assessment, consultation, land, education training, sector agreement/direction, ministry of mines, Parliamentary province of Ontario section 92 constitution jurisdiction and the Canadian state.

There are dimensions beyond the page and the economical system that is different from the Anishnaabe way of governance. Competition doesn’t work. Being present is paramount to relationships and requires work and commitment. Values and intentional decisions matter.

What is a community? How did I come to feel so connected and why did I take this course? Some of the answers came through as I read Chapter 4 of Leanne Simpson’s Dancing on Our Turtle’s Back. I think I will start with learning the ‘nish word, mino bimaadziwin. Living a good life.

How do we do things in a good way?

How do we take up more space?

How is sugar bush source of governance?

I have shared my reflections, observations and personal experience at this time. I feel like through creative process like making art with other people I will learn next, Chibimoodaywin – spiritual visioning. Leanne Simpson highlighted Nishnaabeg mobilization. What part can I play in reconciliation? What individual commitment and actions going forward can I step into even though I might mistakes? What vision can I tap into?


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.

At the End of a Beginning

Illustration of many small flowers coming from one stem

by Mina Ramos

Content Warning: Abortions 

For the last year, most conversations with my friends have been about babies. I mean let’s be real, we spend our fair share of time talking about dismantling white supremacy, the dreams we have for the future and making a ton of jokes no one else thinks is funny. In between though, it always comes back to babies. Who is having them, who we are having them with, when we are having them, and how we will raise them.

 Up until pretty recently, anytime the conversation turned to baby talk I would shut off. Even though I loved to play with kids, the thought of having a child made me feel sick; uneasy. I remember when I was dating someone who wanted to be a doula. I wanted to be supportive, but when she would talk about how excited she was, I would change the subject. I felt bad, but the thought of her helping deliver a baby made me panic. Any talk about childbirth made me panic. I was set on the idea that I would never give birth. Instead, I would be everyone’s favourite Auntie and I was okay with that.

I had been pregnant once. When I was 19 years-old. I got an abortion only days before the average cut off point which is twelve weeks in Canada (some clinics will perform abortions up to twenty-two weeks though). Although at the time, I knew it was okay to have an abortion and had the support of my immediate family; it was an experience that haunted me for several years.

I will always vividly remember the night I found out I was pregnant. It was my first year of university and I was living in residence. My boyfriend was still living in the town we grew up in. The night I found out, I had only been in school for three weeks. Our residence was small; three floors to be exact. I lived in a “Living Learning Centre” called International House. You had to apply to get in and it was supposed to be a house of “diverse cultures.” It ended up being mainly white students studying International Development or what I call “white people wanting to save People of Colour.” It was an interesting experience to say the least.

The night I found out, someone on the first floor was having an, “I wear my sunglasses at night” dance party in their room. I was sitting on a toilet, in the washroom on the second floor. I could hear and feel the music from the party. I held the little plastic stick in my hands and stared at the two blue lines.

|| = Positive.

The stick in my hand made it that much more real. I remember crawling into bed, not bothering to turn on the light and starting to cry. Someone knocking on the door and asking why I wasn’t downstairs. I tried to make my voice sound as natural as possible and told them that I was just tired. The reality is that I had already known the moment my boyfriend pulled his dick out from inside of me and realized that the condom had broke. We had spent the whole day drinking and I remember laughing and saying; “Well, let’s hope it’s too drunk to know it’s way.” As soon as the words left my mouth I knew. As if the statement had started the process.

|| = Positive.

The plan had been to take the morning after pill but when I woke up the next morning I remembered it was a holiday and the pharmacy in my neighbourhood was closed and the busses were not running. We lived in a suburb outside of town and my mom didn’t understand why I needed the car. I was too ashamed to tell her why.

|| = Positive.

I started to notice pregnant women everywhere I went. Pregnant bellies in the foods that I ate; pregnant bellies as shapes in buildings. I remember my dad, who has an incredible gift of knowing when things are awry in my family asked if everything was okay. I told him things were fine. He said he had awoken from a dream that morning and knew something was wrong with one of our family members. He wondered if it was me. I told him not to worry.

For the first time I felt anxiety. Like a pile of bricks had fallen on my chest and I didn’t know how to take them off.

|| = Positive.

The next few weeks were a mixture of ups and downs. At the time, I was so excited to be in university; something that hadn’t felt real to me at the height of my drug use in high school. I wanted so badly to fit in. I was used to being around drug users and dealers. All of a sudden I was surrounded by people who had never thought about using drugs. People who talked real nice, wore Birkenstocks, were vegetarian and wanted to “change” things. I had this warped thing going on where I wanted to be like them but already felt like I was different and had this big secret I didn’t think they would approve of.

|| = Positive.

When I told my parents they were surprisingly supportive but told me to keep it a secret until I made a concrete decision. They were still ashamed. I told them that I would be keeping the baby. My boyfriend and I had quit using hard drugs together and I felt that our bond was strong enough to raise a child together. Although I was scared, I felt a weird exhilaration. I would smoke weed and lie in bed and talk to my baby. I couldn’t believe I had a little human growing inside of me.

|| = Positive.

I started to go home for appointments. Started getting morning sickness. My new friends wondered why I was going home so often. I told them I had an ulcer to explain why I couldn’t party and why I was sick so often. My boyfriend couldn’t handle the stress of it all and started using again. The day he took oxycontin with my brother after we went for my ultrasound, I started to feel small. He would show up drunk on weekends and wanted to have sex. I would push him away. Told him that I needed him to be sober. That only made things worse.

|| = Positive.

One morning I woke up and realized I couldn’t do it. Couldn’t picture myself in my 600 student classes with a pregnant belly. Couldn’t picture myself having a child with someone who was still a child. To be real, I still felt like a child too. I didn’t know myself yet. As much as I had grown to love the being inside of me, I wanted to know how to teach it about the world. I didn’t think this was possible when I didn’t even understand myself, let alone everything else.

|| = Positive.

The day before my abortion, my boyfriend’s mom called me and begged me not to go through with it. She said my boyfriend loved me and wanted to have the child with me. She said that she would help us raise it. That was the day I stopped loving him. I couldn’t love someone who didn’t understand where I was coming from.

|| = Positive.

At the clinic, the nurse asked me several times if I was sure I wanted to go ahead with the abortion. I wanted to slap her. As if I hadn’t thought about it thoroughly. Waves of sadness swept over me as I layed on the operating table. Faces with eyes poking out from behind surgical masks stared down at me. I didn’t know these people. The room was too white, too sterile; devoid of emotions. Didn’t my baby and I deserve a better ceremony to say goodbye?

[DEATH]

As soon as they took my baby out of me I felt empty. Like the shell of a human. I went home and smoked with a friend who didn’t have a clue. When he left I curled into the fetal position and whimpered, alone.

I couldn’t sleep. When I did, I had nightmares. I was anxious all the time. I felt like I had to confess something to the universe but I was choked for words. I thought I felt this way because of what I had done. That I had selfishly killed something I loved. I dreaded my boyfriends visits. Made excuses not to see him. Got closer with the girls on my floor. Started to talk a bit about my abortion. Always in a veil of secrecy. One friend who was particularly close suggested I sleep beside her. That it might help with the nightmares. She would leave the door of her dorm unlocked and I would stay with her. I always felt safe in her arms. I broke up with my boyfriend and my abortion became a distant memory.

[HEALING]

Years passed, and I thought I was fine but something nagged at me. I couldn’t pinpoint what it was. My life had changed drastically. I came out as queer. My “close” friend from residence had awoken something inside of me that had always been there but had been dormant. I began to surround myself with queer people and started to explore my relationship to being racialized. Made more friends of colour. Friends who had beliefs I had always felt at the core of my heart but never had the words or the space to express what I felt.

[HEALING]

I started to talk about my abortion. Realized that some of these friends had also had abortions. It dawned on me that if I respected these people so much who had gone through the experience of abortion I might not be the monster I thought that I was. I also noticed that some people were not traumatized by their experience like I was. Our conversations helped me to understand that so many things impact the way that you feel about your experience with pregnancy and abortion. My experience had been one filled with stigma and a fear of judgement. Even when I told people it was always in secret. I realized my experience at the clinic was radically different than clinics like Planned Parenthood. Although they offered the service, they were not trained to support someone emotionally, through an abortion. Because of this, my procedure had been one of anxiety and stress. I also learned that there were other ways of undergoing abortions that didn’t involve a clinic at all. That herbal abortions were a very real option that some friends had either done by themselves or with the support of a herbalist.

[HEALING]

One day I was sitting in a workshop by Robin Rose Bennett, a white herbalist from New Jersey. The workshop was focused on the plant commonly known as Queen Anne’s Lace or Wild Carrot. Queen Anne’s Lace is an incredible plant because it can act as a contraceptive but can also help with getting pregnant depending on how it’s used. During that workshop she said something that I will never forget. She was talking about abortions and said that they are always difficult for the body because bodies that have vaginas are still biologically geared to have babies. That it is a shock to the system when we are forcing our bodies to do the opposite of what it was intended to do and that we need to soothe our bodies so we can trust ourselves to open up to an invasive procedure like an abortion.

She also talked about unborn babies in a way I had never heard of before. Bennett explained that all souls in the universe exist indefinitely; because they are souls. If you choose not to birth that soul into the human world that soul does not die. However, for some who create a connection with that soul it can cause trauma because there is no process of grieving to acknowledge the connection that was lost through the abortion. I had never thought about it that way. Immediately a weight had been lifted. My baby was being held by the universe; waiting for the right time to be born on earth by whomever it was actually destined to be born by. The conversation I had felt choked for words was one I was supposed to have with that soul. To say goodbye on my own terms.

[HEALING]

A year later I had the opportunity of also hearing Loretta Ross speak, an incredible Black woman who lead the reproductive justice movement in the 2000s. In 2004, Loretta held the largest march in US history with over one million people called the March for Women’s Lives.

Hearing her talk about openly about her abortion and her experience organizing had an indescribable effect on me. Her presence was one of strength and confidence; she was unashamed. In fact she was proud that she had been able to make a choice over her own body. It dawned on me that her abortion had paved the way for her destiny to speak publically about women’s rights to having supportive bodily autonomy. I started to think about my own abortion. How differently my life would have been if I had proceeded with the pregnancy. Although it was the hardest thing I had ever gone through, I realized my experience with pregnancy and abortion had actually been a blessing. A blessing. Through my abortion a different life path was created that actually brought me closer to myself. Brought me closer to my ideas, values beliefs. To a friend group I consider family and a community where I am daily inspired amidst the struggles.

Sometimes I wonder if my baby who knew I loved it from the very beginning brought that path to me knowing that if I did choose to have a child in the future I would be ready.

After Loretta’s talk, I started to have the ability of talking publicly about my abortion in conversation. I started to warm up to the idea of parenting although I did not want to have a child. It was an interesting experience as I sat in a queer parenting planning class with a former partner as we watched a home birth video. As I heard her half joke that she was re-thinking the whole pregnancy thing I had a strange thing hit me. I realized I did still want to give birth. That almost eight years later, my body is starting to feel ready; that I am starting to feel ready. I’m not entirely sure when this will happen, who it will happen with or how it will happen. I know that I am still growing, that I still have a lot to learn. That so far this experience has brought me closer to faith, to truly believing in higher powers and the ability to heal in ways I had never imagined were possible. Amidst my little doubts and fears that linger in my insecurities, when I am the most grounded I have a deeper sense of excitement for what is to come.


Mina Ramos
Mina Ramos is a queer mixed race Latina based out of Guelph, Ontratio. She is a radio broadcaster and is passionate about ideas, thoughts and issues that center on migration and the movement of people. She also enjoys listening to all kinds of music and occasionally dabbles in making music on her own.

Black Mental Health & Self Determined Futures

by Louise Boileau

A friend went to a youth shelter when it was cold. He was in distress, having a mental health crisis. He was told firmly to leave, or else they would call the police.

In July 2015, police arrived at subsidized housing unit at Eglinton West and Gilbert Ave, and murdered Andrew Loku within 20 seconds of seeing him. His house was a block up the street from Horizons for Youth, a shelter where my friend was living at the time.

The question has come to my mind helplessly many times: Where does a Black person in a mental health crisis go when they need help?

Left Illustration by Eli WiPe 

There is no safe place to go in this city when experiencing crisis where a black person will not be treated as a threat; including in one’s own home, be that a shelter or a private residence. It is a tired fact and one that requires urgent attention, that Black youth are treated as a problem in Toronto, on many institutional levels.

If reproductive justice is the ability to raise children in a community that is free from violence, it must also encompass mental health, and our ability to receive culturally relevant supports without being isolated or removed from the community, whether it be by child welfare, push out from school, incarceration or institutionalization.

 In the school system, Black youth experiencing anxiety, depression and trauma (which can manifest in many ways), are often summarized as having behavioural issues and are discarded. Expulsions as early as grade one show the incredible reach of anti-Blackness – that a child could be considered not worthy of an education and so lacking in hope for their potential that they should be isolated from their peers and “expelled” from opportunity. The treatment of Black students, and the problematization of Blackness at early ages is consistent with Black overrepresentation in the criminal system.

 Although Black communities represent 3% of the general population in Canada, we represent 9% of the prison population. People with mental health challenges are overwhelmingly filtered into the prison system. So, the chances of a Black person with mental health challenges spending timae in prison at some point in their life is extremely high. Furthermore, mental health challenges such as psychosis and paranoia are so extremely stigmatized, those who experience these symptoms are ostracized and isolated especially when they are most in need of support.

A Punitive Model Across The Board

When you begin to look at the methods of management in the education system, prison and hospital systems, the approach to Black students, youth and adults are very coordinated.

It seems that each uses a punitive approach to trauma, where Black people are being punished, ostracized and further traumatized for needing support, expressing anxiety, depression or distress, even though we are experiencing some of these things as a direct result of the hostile environment we are in.

In psychiatric hospitals in Ontario, there seems to be a chronic issue of overuse of force and restraints. On paper, restraints are meant to be used as a last resort measure. For those who are unfamiliar, to place someone in restraints is to secure them to a bed using straps. First, however, the person is forcibly sedated, sometimes by as many as 8 people (as a friend recounted), and then have their pants brought down so that they can be injected with a sedative in the buttocks. Then they are transported to a bed, and secured with the restraints for an unspecified period of time. A friend recounts being placed back in restraints whenever a nurse who didn’t like them would come back on shift. When she left her shift, they would be released. This is against standard protocol which dictates that restraints are to be used only in extreme situations, where staff either fear the “patient” will harm themselves or somebody else. So their discretion on using restraints lies on their perception of whether or not the “patient” is a threat. It is unreasonable to assume that anti-Blackness never plays a role in their decisions.

Placing a person in isolation is another approach, on paper, used to maintain “patient” or worker safety. However, I have also known it to be used in reaction to something a “worker didn’t like” about a patient, where the patient was then placed in isolation for a period of weeks, and was disallowed from contacting family or advocates. The use of isolation has drastic negative mental health impacts on any person, as has been documented in relation to the use of solitary confinement in prison and remand centres, where most of Canada’s imprisoned population are kept awaiting trial.

Remand facilities receive no resources or training in terms of caring for a person undergoing mental health challenges. Their primary go to, for the “safety” of the person imprisoned (the inmate), is to place them in solitary confinement. Furthermore, people are often denied their right to healthcare, medications or otherwise while in remand. The numbers and demographics of solitary confinement in Canada’s prisons and remand centres is not publicized, similar to the numbers and demographics of deaths inside both prisons and psychiatric institutions.

A Picture of The Mental Health System in Ontario

The mental health system in Ontario is a network of services and institutions, that follow two models intended to work together. The first is the the community based model which is meant to allow people access to support while staying within their communities. and The second is the institutional or medical model, which includes both inpatient and outpatient programs such as CAMH. The community model of mental health services is relatively new and certainly not perfect. Many services are rarely accessed by youth of colour, or and present services are often not culturally relevant.

Only two services in Toronto, that I am aware of, provide services focused on racialized people, and there is only one that provides counselling specifically for Black people in all of Canada. Across Boundaries, and The Substance Abuse Program for African Canadian and Caribbean Youth (SAPACCY) which runs as a program out of CAMH.

The SAPACCY program began in 1996 from community concerns over the amount of Black youth incarcerated for drug related crimes. It was proposed to the ministry and then amalgamated into the CAMH Queen and Shaw location. The SAPACCY program, due to lack of allocated resources is currently hanging on by a thread with only one counsellor with an unusually large caseload, and an even larger waitlist. The waitlist includes only those people who qualified for the services because they are in the catchment area. CAMH recently received a donation of $100 million. It appears they are determined to allocate these funds entirely towards “high-risk” research and the hiring of “top scientists,” in the midst of our current housing and resource crisis. What they intend to research, and how this is suppose to help anyone, I am unsure.

Toronto Police Services & The Mental Health System

The mental health system in Ontario maintains a tight relationship with Toronto Police Services (TPS). The Mobile Crisis Intervention Team (MCIT), which is intended to respond to mental health crisis, is a partnership between Toronto Police Services and participating hospitals. The team is a mental health nurse and a police officer (who may or may not be trained by the TPS in mental health awareness). To what extent they receive any training on de-escalation is entirely unclear. The Mobile Crisis team is only available between the hours of 6am and 11pm. TPS is usually the first point of contact for people undergoing mental health crisis. Police officers may bring the detained person to a hospital, where they will be kept for anywhere from an hour to several weeks if admitted. Or they may be charged with an offence and placed in remand.

To call the police in the case of a crisis, is to risk the death of yourself, your family member or friend. But this is the only option presented in a mental health related emergency. Even if a person calls the MCIT, they are still calling the police. There is little assurance that this is in anyway a safer option. At the many times I have made a list in my head of the greatest risk to my family members’ life, police interactions was always the one I feared most.

 The only route made available to access mental health care in crisis is the trauma of police services, and the trauma of psychiatric institutionalization. If we must cope with the pain inflicted on us by those systems that we are asked to call supports than we have very few options at all within the current structure of mental health care.

Community-Led & Self Determined Futures

Because of shame and exhaustion it is often difficult to seek out community or support services. Although we must teach ourselves how to navigate systems and how to survive, there is little space to share these tools with each other.

Intercepting the Pipeline to Prison is a project, lead by Black youth, to address the intersection of mental health, anti-Blackness and criminalization. It is a project created to share survival skills and strategies and to document our experiences. We have developed workshops in three streams: Youth Justice and Advocacy, Family and Community and Creative Solutions. The workshops provide skill building on safety tools for interactions with police, getting access to advocates while in remand, daily self care and coping methods, discussing mental health in our families, the ways we do support and advocate in our families and communities and how to strengthen them, and designing the kind of supports that we would like to see gain funding. In these community conversations we will have the opportunity to pool our knowledge and skills and create take-away resources for each other. The workshops are written from a lived experience perspective, with supports from our organizational mentors such as Legal Swipe. The Project also includes a short documentary interviewing Black youth on their experiences surviving, accessing services, living and creating.

We are creating spaces where we are able to talk about things we have never felt safe bringing up in mental health care spaces, institutional or otherwise: Anti-Blackness as we see and feel it in the mental health system, Caribbean perspectives on mental health, spiritual affliction, “pray it away” and stigma in the Church, spiritual or religious supports that we need, how the option of medication can be complicated by medical trauma, self-determination and the need for supports where people look you in the eye and understand you beyond the idea that you are an impossible problem.

 We believe it is within the community; friends, family, partners and chosen family that long-term support for mental health come from. And any service or support that a person seeks along the way should strengthen their chosen support circle.

 There are many directions to work in and issues to tackle; prison reform and abolition, deinstitutionalization, and the creation of Black-focused mental health supports that strengthen the community. There are conversations and actions happening now in regards to Anti-Blackness in the Peel Board lead by community, the scrapping of the SRO program (s/o to the many people who worked tirelessly for that), the Black Youth Action Plan, and the 10 year health accord that will see $1.9 billion allocated to mental health initiatives in Ontario over the next decade.

 It is a very important time to document our experiences, demand resources, and lead solutions as we connect the conversations on Anti-Blackness to mental health and the criminal system.

 If you are interested in getting involved in the project as a youth, mentor, interviewee, creative collaborator, researcher etc., or you have questions or comments, please feel free to get in touch by email at interceptingthepipeline@gmail.com or by phone at 647-207-9376. We are also interested in Indigenous community collaboration on the project.


Lou Boileau
Lou Boileau is a mental health advocate and writer of creative non-fiction and short stories. She works in the areas of youth work and food justice. She is based out of Tkaronto. Her work in mental health and advocacy is from lived experience, and family support caregiving.

Eli Wipe
Eli is queer artist residing in Toronto. They are an aspiring illustrator and writer. You can contact them at piscesprincx@gmail.com. Check out their bigcartel: piscesprincx, or their instagram, twitter and tumblr by the same names

Supporting pregnancy within Queer BIPOC Communites

Portrait of Kyisha in a headwrap holding her pregnant belly

By Kyisha Williams

The task of creating a just world involves many moving parts including us deciding when and how we bring life into this world. For queer people this is often a process that involves a lot of planning and support because the possibility of it happening ‘by accident’ is far less than in heterosexual communities. In racialized communities, specifically Black and Indigenous communities childbearing holds unique challenges because the way we parent and bring life into this world is heavily scrutinized and due to racism our processes are often interrupted, intervened in, etc. This limits the ability of Black, Indigenous and People of Colour (BIPOC) to seek professional and medical supports during their pregnancies, such as mental health supports for fear that the state may get involved/come into conflict with their lives.

In this context it becomes extremely important to be able to support individuals and families, (especially Black and/or Indigenous Queer people) who take on the hard work (full of physical, emotional and spiritual labour) of bearing children. Children themselves are important teachers in our movements that can push us forward with new ideas and methods to achieve the just world we dream of. We need them to survive! I’ve compiled a short list of things I have found helpful in my pregnancy and that others have shared was helpful in theirs in hopes that we can build strong communities of support for parents in our movements.

Although pregnancy is a common process in our world and not an illness or disability, as a chronically ill person I have noticed that many disability justice principles apply. Much of the support I have needed throughout my life when I’m ill and ‘lower functioning’ is quite similar to the kinds of support I’ve needed within pregnancy so keep this in mind – chances are if you’ve supported someone with disabilities, you’re familiar with these points.


  1. Offer support – don’t wait to be asked to support if you know that you have particular kinds of support you can provide.
  2. Be specific – Don’t worry that you’ll offend someone by assuming what people need. Instead offer support with a couple of specific examples of the kind of support you can provide
  3.  Try not to ask big blanket questions, like “what kind of support do you need” – brains of pregnant people at this time are pretty single focused and it can be hard to ask for support. It really helps if suggestions are made so that the person doesn’t have to think too much/deeply.
  4. Don’t make decisions for people – Often times we have a tendency to make subtle decisions for pregnant people such as “Oh, that person is probably too tired to go out to this event with us” and thus decide not to invite them. Pregnancy can be an isolating time where lots of fear come up about the radical changes coming up in the pregnant person’s life (especially if they are a new parent). These kinds of scenarios can heighten anxiety and triggers (such as abandonment) which can affect pregnant people’s emotional states so try to avoid this. Invite them to things you would otherwise invite them to and let them make the call on whether or not they’d like to go. They are the best judge of what they can and can’t do at this time. Also be flexible if they are late or need to cancel.
  5. Don’t assume support is already present. It’s easy to assume that people have support especially if they have an online presence and are sharing their story – don’t assume they don’t need anymore help because of this – if you can support it doesn’t hurt to check in.
  6.  Ask for consent before sharing stories – the pregnant person in your life might not want to hear your mom’s horrific pregnancy or labour story in which she almost died or if they are having a lot of nausea it might not feel great to hear about how your friend had none for 3 pregnancies straight. Everyone has different experiences (even the same person can have multiple radically different pregnancies) and unless they are asking they might not want to think about others experiences that are radically different from the experience they are having or they may not be ready to speak about certain things (for example: labour, c-section, etc.).
  7. When someone asks for something acknowledge the vulnerability it takes to ask (at the very least) especially if you can’t provide the support they are asking for. If this is the case; offer an alternative person or alternative task that might be able to meet a similar or different identified need. Many kinds of support are needed including Practical, Emotional and Spiritual (see below for specific examples). You should also ask if you can suggest other ways you might be able to support instead of just volunteering the other things.
  8. Don’t question or interrogate people’s experiences when they share them. For example “Why do you feel isolated?” – believe them, take a moment to think about how or why that may be true for them and then ask questions (preferably to other people) if you still have questions or are unclear.
  9.  Visit, check in, be present – This helps with or prevents potential isolation, loneliness, anxiety etc. that may be present.
  10. Don’t take things personally – If someone doesn’t want you to come by that day or to be in the delivery or birth room don’t take it personal – it’s their process to navigate and they deserve to be able to do that without having to navigate other people’s emotions

Don’t know what kind of support might be needed? Support can include (but is by no means limited to): Practical- Physical and Financial such as cooking, driving or getting something off the baby registry, babysitting, gifting a grocery gift card, household tasks, organization (meal delivery, care team, furniture, etc.) Emotional- talking, visiting, listening. Spiritual- lighting a candle for safe pregnancy and birth, sharing a ritual or meditation practice.

I hope you’ve found this helpful! Happy supporting!


Kyisha Williams
Kyisha Williams is a magical, Black, Queer, high femme, sex positive, artist and health promoter. working mainly in filmmaking and performing. They work around health within Black/queer/trans/racialized/criminalized/HIV positive/HCV positive communities. She is also a soon to be mom. For more information on Kyisha’s work visit kyishawilliams.com

Bringing Back the Flower Dance: An interview with Dr. Cutcha Risling Baldy

by Shabina Lafleur-Gangji

Recently I had the opportunity to interview Dr. Cutcha Risling Baldy, a Hupa, Yurok and Karuk woman currently working as an Assistant Professor of Native American Studies at Humboldt State University. I got the chance to ask her some questions about her upcoming book We Are Dancing For You: Native Feminisms and the Revitalization of Women’s Coming-of-age Ceremonies (which is set to be released this spring), and learn more about her work supporting the revitalization of Native American arts and culture.

Illustration above: Teach her by Mia Ohki 

S: First off I wanted to thank you for taking your time to do this interview. I recently came across an advertisement for the book and have been exploring your writing ever since. Do you want to tell our readers a little bit about your work both through academia and in your community?

B: My work focuses on Native people and communities to help tell the stories of our strength and resilience. I try not to separate the work I do in academia from the work I do in the community, although it is sometimes hard because of the way that academia expects certain kinds of discourse. I’m always thinking about how my work can show the important ways that Native people have always been foregrounding land and environmental based knowledge and how they have built a very long tradition of education and intellectualism that most people do not learn about in schools. My academic work is focused on elevating Indigenous voices and the work being done by Indigenous peoples on the ground. Some of the most important things that we can learn about how to build a future that is liberated from patriarchy, heteronormativity, and white supremacy should come from Indigenous teachings. Since the beginning of time we have been theorizing our worlds – so I know we have a lot to offer when it comes to addressing major issues that are part of this contemporary culture.

The work I do on the blog is trying to use humor to break down people’s ideas about Native peoples and issues. A little while ago a friend asked me what I thought were my most powerful tools that I have to continue the work we do to liberate and elevate our communities and I said “humor.” I’m always telling students that Native people are probably the funniest people I know, usually inappropriately funny, but people don’t learn that about us, or even see that in movies or on television. We laugh all the time. My grandma was always saying to me “everything is a funny story…later” and “if you can laugh at something it doesn’t have power over you anymore.” That’s how I feel about colonialism. Colonialism is counter-intuitive, doesn’t make a lot of sense and it is just dying to be the punchline in a joke. I’d like to think at some point I’ll find a way to bring a lot of humor into my academic work, but I haven’t done it nearly enough yet.

S: So, your book We are dancing for you, is about to be released this Spring. Can you talk to us a little about the book, about what inspired you to put these experiences into words?

B: The book came out of my personal experience with the revitalization movements for our women’s coming-of-age ceremonies in the Northern California region. When I was 12 years old I started menstruating and my mother offered to do a dance for me, but I refused. A lot of it was internalized ideas about menstruation being dirty or shameful, but it was also internalized ideas about “primitive Indians” and how they celebrate women. After I turned it down my mother continued to do work with the women in our community to bring this dance back. It was important to them to center young women so that we could teach our young women self-determination and self-worth. Part of the idea was combating our recent history of colonization that had targeted our women’s ceremonies for eradication, and part of it was also to empower the entire community by showing how we value gender equality and that young woman are an important part of our cultures and futures.

The more work I have done with Native communities and peoples the more I see how our Native feminisms were silenced by colonialism and that we are working now, not just to decolonize, but to decolonize in a way that dismantles patriarchy. When I started going to these ceremonies, and singing over these girls I wouldn’t have used these words to describe what we were doing, but the more I listened and learned and the more research I did in Native feminisms, the more I realized that our ceremonies were and continue to be an important praxis of decolonization. My original thought was “how can the women who did this work on the ground tell this story?” For too long, the story of Native people and Native cultures has been told by mostly white, male anthropologists and ethnographers. So I wanted to make sure that this story, one that is about our survivance and our resilience, was told through the voices and memories of our people. And this also becomes the theorizing and demonstration of what Native feminisms actually look like. Our cultures are about balance and equality and that’s feminism.

S: So often the ceremonies and histories of Indigenous people around the world are written about through a colonial and anthropological perspective. More often that not, these writings are deeply influenced by racist assumptions. Can you talk about the power of writing about stories from your own community?

B: You know, I grew up knowing who the anthropologists were that studied our communities. I could name some of them, including Alfred Kroeber (one of the most famous). And I knew what he said about our people – but almost in a joking way. We joked a lot about how wrong assumptions were about us. Many people think about our cultures and peoples as in the past, almost as if we stopped existing because we were not the “pure” Indians that were being described by anthropologists in their books. So I do think it’s important that now we are finding ways to tell our own stories and interpretations, using the knowledge we have to decide what the narrative of our cultures and histories are going to be.

What is interesting about revitalization movements like these, is that in our community the women actually used the anthropological research to help understand the ceremony. So while Kroeber was writing these things down because he believed that the people were dying, or that the ceremony was going “extinct,” instead, they became part of the record that would be used to revive the dance. That’s a powerful moment. We are not dying, vanishing Indians, we are revitalizing, living peoples. And these books don’t hold our dying, in the past cultures, they are part of our living cultures. I like to think (and I theorize in the book) that many of the Native people working with the anthropologists at the time envisioned that moment from the very beginning. So they didn’t buy in to the “you’re dying and should tell us stories so we can document them before you disappear,” instead they were thinking “one day our people will find these stories and these descriptions and I want them to be here for them when they do.” There are transcripts that I’ve read which are Native people saying just that, like in one case a woman offered a song and she opens it with something like “this is a Flower Dance song, it hasn’t been sung in a long time. I hope one day someone will sing it at a Flower Dance again.” And then we did. That’s not the story that Kroeber or other anthropologists were telling when they wrote and published their books, but that has always been the real story. That’s the story that we are going to tell.

S: How has the reclamation of this ceremony impacted the young people in your community?

It’s hard to summarize, because there are so many ways that the ceremony has affected young people. Some of the   young women I interviewed talked about how it showed them the amount of support they have in the community, so they felt like they could do anything and would always have people to help them. Others talk about how it gave them the confidence to do things that they might not otherwise do. People talk about how it demonstrated for them that women can be central to ceremony and that seeing women singing together showed them how much support we can give each other. At first when we did the dance many young women didn’t want to do it because it is usually done after a girl starts menstruating. They were worried about people knowing because of our western menstrual taboo. But now young women are planning for their dances their whole lives. They talk about them. They are excited for them. It has made people in the community excited for young women as they grow up. So instead of young women feeling ashamed about puberty etc. they are excited and happy. Most of the young woman I’ve seen who have gone through this ceremony are now doing amazing things, reaching for their goals in life, and making sure to pass along their own lessons to younger generations. I love that young people see women singing, because for a long time you didn’t really see women singing in our ceremonies. Now, you have young people requesting women to sing for them, or you have them complimenting women singers. These types of things change very quickly, I have found. For instance, when I was 12 and my mother offered to do this dance for me I said no because I was scared and didn’t want people to know about my period. After we did the first revitalized dance, young girls were still hesitant. Now we’ve been doing the dance for over 15 years, and guess what, this is just what we do. My daughter is 10, she’s never known a time when we didn’t dance for young women who had their first menstruation. She hasn’t known a time when we didn’t come together as a community to show young women how much support they have. She hasn’t known a time were we didn’t reach out and provide support for young woman as they move from being a child into being an adult. So in her mind, this is just who we are as Hupa people. That only took 10 years.

S: What kind of advice do you have for people wanting to revive ceremonies in their own communities?

B: I would say, start by listening. Go to as many elders and people as you can and just listen to their stories, their memories, their questions, their visions of what this could look like. Collect all the stories and memories and ideas that you can. Listen to them and then listen to the people who left their stories in the archives. It takes a lot of listening because you are helping to wake these stories up. All of the women I interviewed they kept saying all it took was to “scratch the surface.” They said “we just had to start going to people and hearing their stories and then another person came and another. We found one story in the archive and then another and another.”

The best advice for the archive is to read the books but also read the notes. Anthropologists and ethnographers usually kept detailed notes of their interviews. This is where you are going to really be able to listen to the words of those who worked to leave an archive behind. The notes are very often different (more detailed, more focused) than what is in the book. In some cases they can completely contradict what is in the book. So read the notes, read the transcripts. Listen to those stories.

And after you’ve started “scratching the surface” be open to what else comes your way. At first there were not very many songs that people had to sing, but that’s okay. We came and sang the three or four songs people knew. But then after that other people started remembering songs. Or other people started to get songs. I got a song once while I was making mashed potatoes. It just came to me. I started singing it and I couldn’t get it out of my head. Now I sing it all the time. So the women like to tell me,   you start this journey, and everything comes together, because these ceremonies have been waiting for us to search for them again. They’ve been waiting for us.

Anthropologists like to say they went “extinct” or “disappeared” but I like to think about what my mentor Ines Hernandez-Avila taught me. They never went extinct, they were just waiting for us. So we scratch the surface, and we listen for them, and they will come back to us.

The last thing the women told me was “just do it.” They said, start the listening, do the research, put some notes together and then just do it. Don’t wait for it to be the perfect time, just do it. After the first one there will be a second one and then a third one. You just have to do the first one. So, just do it.

S: How can people get a hold of your book?

B: You can pre-order it now on the University of Washington Press website or on Amazon. It will be released in May-June 2018. I know for sure it should be at the Native American Indigenous Studies Association Conference this year in Los Angeles, CA. I’ll also have a link to it on my website.


Mia Ohki
Mia Ohki is a Metis Japanese-Canadian artist, born in Connecticut, USA, and raised in Alberta, Canada. She presently lives and works between Edmonton and Calgary, AB. Mia primarily illustrates with black pen on white paper to convey ideas surrounding the social, feminine and cultural influences in her life, however her art is mostly influenced by her background, with Japanese and Metis culture frequently appearing in the subject matter.

Dr Cutcha Risling Baldy
Dr Cutcha Risling Baldy is currently an Assistant Professor of Native American Studies at Humboldt State University. Her research is focused on Indigenous feminisms, California Indians and decolonization. She received her Ph.D in Native American Studies with a designated Emphasis in Feminist Theory and Research from the University of California, Davis and her M.F.A in Creative Writing & Literary Research from San Diego State University. She also has her B.A. in Psychology from Stanford University. 

Bringing Birth Full Circle

by Cassandra Thompson

Our collaboration is our survival. It always has been. We are beings that require community and it’s support, to do all that we seek to achieve and create; from the seemingly minor tasks to major life-changing events. Turtle Island continues to be plagued by colonial oppression and conquest, the divisive techniques and tactics that our colonists have used to perpetuate a false survival structure of ‘individualism’, attempt to root themselves deeper in this land’s soil and in its peoples consciousness. We remember, however, in our soul memory, the need for a loved ones touch, the necessity for another’s helping hand and the urge for a compassionate vibration from folx in search of togetherness.

Illustration by Amir Khadar

We see the support of the community centered concept of ‘togetherness’ evidenced in the birthing structures that predated European settler regulations of midwifery in the 19th Century. We see it in the Grand “Granny” Midwives who used the resources they had been given access to, to create a safe, clean and relaxed birthing environment for whoever they were working with, black and white. These remarkable black womyn of the rural southern United States, would deliver the majority of the babies in their communities, many having delivered almost 90% of the babies in their communities before the regulation of midwifery, and subsequent erasure of the Granny Midwife tradition. These old-knowledge midwives took great pride in being able to support folx thru the process of carrying their children’s spirits through the veil to this life, otherwise known as, birth.

Birth was a process that rarely had access to a hospital in the rural South, so these black womyn who dedicated a major chunk of their lives to this work, had intervention and prevention techniques that consulted earth medicine for support, and trusted spirit to guide their hands. They respected the body’s inherent ability to give birth and knew the pregnant person would be more connected to that birth, if their agency and self-directed needs were respected and met. Doula work, or birth companion work, seeks to carry on this same tradition that our grandmothers laid out for our inheritance; including community in the birthing process.

The word ‘doula’ is a difficult word to claim, as it derives from a Greek word meaning ‘female slave,’ but is the most common term used for a ‘birth companion;’ a title that many more are claiming, who feel called to the work of supporting folx through birth. Trained in offering prenatal, birth and postpartum care, full circle birth companions are there to support you where a midwife is not able or allowed. Midwives are extensively trained to support all types of births, and see the pregnant person’s physical health & safety, and that of their baby, as the main priority. Though many IBPOC midwives recognize that emotional, mental and spiritual health will impact the physical state of a pregnant person, many are stretched too thin to be the sole resource for up to 40 pregnant individuals per year. That’s where birth companions come in. Guided strongly by intuition, spirit, earth medicine and compassion, birth companions can act as a support resource, not only for the pregnant person, but for the midwife, as well.

A birth companion’s main priority is creating a relaxed and affirming experience of birth and early parenting, for the pregnant person and their baby. This will often include discussion around spiritual experience, because birth is one of the biggest ones! As resistance to the currently regulated and colonial institution of birth that encourages ‘being told how to birth’ as opposed to ‘allowing the body to birth,’ birth companions will act as a support for basic needs that can lead to a more satisfied mental and emotional state for the pregnant person; for a lot of folx in Indigenous and black communities, we have an array of social impacts that are proven to decrease our access to safe, healthy and culturally relevant birth, in addition to shorter life expectancies after birth than non-black or non-Indigenous folx. These pieces, and the ways in which to mitigate them, need to be considered and acknowledged when supporting IBPOC folx at this right of passage. Birth companion’s of colour are often trained to do just that; bringing ancestral or old knowledge; evidence based, scientific information; an advocate’s voice and an intuitive sense that has been long respected by the teachings in our lineages as IBPOC folx.

Birth companion’s hold to the traditional experience of birthing, that included our family’s generations, our sistren, our closest friends and our community. Recognizing that although one’s body inherently knows how to birth, birth is not solely about birth. It is about death. It is about change. It is about confrontation of one’s Self. It is about the continuation of an ancestral herstory. It is about joy. It is about understanding pain. It is about healing. We cannot heal in isolation and we should not have to birth alone. We deserve to uphold the rituals of our ancestors and evolve them for our communities today. A major part of reproductive justice is having a birthing experience that self-directed, culturally relevant and inclusive of the community that will be present in the raising of that child.

Here are some supports that community can offer to support a pregnant individual who may not have access to a birth companion:

  • A healthy blood pressure level is considered less than 120 systolic and less than 80 diastolic; many black folx are reported as having a high blood pressure due to the systemic, institutional and individual effects of racism, therefore a blood pressure cuff is key in monitoring blood pressure to reduce chance of miscarriage, heart attack and stroke
  • A fetoscope is key in the late 1st and subsequent trimesters to monitor the heart rate of the baby when access to an ultrasound is limited

Prenatal vitamins can be accessed over-the-counter, but here are some ways to incorporate into your diet:

  • Protein: beans, legumes, lean meat, fish, poultry, egg whites, nuts and tempeh
  • Carbs: rice, whole grain breads, vegetables, potatoes
  • Calcium: salmon or sardines with the bones, sorrel, okra, onion leaves, spinach, yogurt, milk, cheese
  • Iron: mustard greens, moringa, kale, spinach, lean red meat, blue green algaes
  • Vit A: carrots, butternut squash, yam, cod liver oil, sweet potatoe.
  • Vit C: citrus fruit, broccoli, tomatoes, green peppers
  • Vit B6: bananas, whole grains, chicken and nutritional yeast
  • Vit B12: nutritional yeast, kombucha, kefir, kimchi, meat, fish and poultry
  • Vit D: sunshine, dairy, whole grains, cereals
  • Folic acid: collards, swiss chard, callaloo, dark yellow fruits, beans, peas and nuts
  • Fat: olive oil, coconut oil, whole-milk products, nuts, meats

When supporting someone with plant based remedies, it is necessary to have a non-judgemental perspective of an individual’s medicinal care choices to support their body. Included in this, is ensuring that the medicines you are offering do not interfere negatively with their established medicinal care routine and their body’s needs. If you wish to offer these medicines forward, be sure you are someone who has been offered this individual’s care and medicine routine.

Brew Instructions for teas:

  • steep ½ tsp of each medicine, per 1 cup serving, in boiling water for 15 mins and serve
  • Bay leaf is an ideal support medicine for those who have diabetes; use as seasoning in cooking.
  • Ginger, chamomile and peppermint tea will help reduce nausea, while the anti-inflammatory properties in ginger will reduce cramping; use ginger in cooking, as well as tea.
  • Lemon Balm tea will help to calm the nervous system and mind.
  • Blessed thistle, fennel seed, red clover and borage tea will aid in milk production for those who wish to chestfeed.
  • Red raspberry, cerasee vine leaf and nettle tea will help clear and tone the uterus, allowing for more ease with contractions and a less painful labor and help the uterus cleanse after birth. This are also useful in clearing the body after a miscarriage or the birth of a sleeping baby.
  • Blue cohosh tea can stimulate contractions and can clear the uterus when combined with burdock, after a miscarriage or the birth of a sleeping baby.
  • Lemon balm tea with rose, lavender, motherwort, verain, kava kava and st. john’s wort can help support someone experiencing postpartum depression; st. john’s wort is a contraindication for someone taking antidepressants and someone who is on T; for these folx, passionflower is a lovely alternative to offer.
  • Isolation is a major influencing factor on folx experiencing, or at risk of experiencing, postpartum depression; be present with the parents of the newborn – hang out, help out, ki-ki, and get on! Community is care.
  • If a sleeping baby is born, erecting an ancestor altar for them is a way for the family to continue recognizing and showing appreciation for their entrance into the parent(s) life, even if momentarily.
  • Calendula, shepherd’s purse (stops hemorrhaging), plantain leaf (all suitable for wound care), st. john’s wort and comfrey leaf ( both suitable for joint pains, external uterine massage, and in a hot, 6-weeks-postpartum bath) are key topical poultices, teas or oils to use for healing the perineum; shepherd’s purse, nettle and cerasee vine leaf teas are also key for decreasing postpartum bleeding.
  • Epazote or wormseed oil is wonderful for postpartum, full body massage on the person who just gave birth, while an olive oil infused with calendula, safflower or lavender can be ideal for maintaining the healthy vermix on baby’s newborn skin, while ensuring they can get clean. This can be combined with castile soap or black soap at 48 hours postpartum.
  • Keep sitting postures with the back straight, legs widened and on firm surfaces, to reduce back labor; if back labor occurs, having the pregnant person get on four legs and pressing in and down on the space where the tailbone is found, can assist with reducing pain
  • Dancing through birth can help reduce pain; bust a wine or work a twerk to bring baby into this world with less pain and definitely more fun
  • When baby starts to crown, if the pregnant person would like, guide their hand to their perineum to touch baby’s head, this way they can see just how close they are to meeting the new human they brought into this life!

 

Cassandra Thompson
Cassandra is a queer medicine womxn & full circle birth companion/doula, and the founder of Crystal Root & Conjure. Her writing has been published in Illustrated Impact, Briarpatch Magazine and The Peak’s Medicine Issue, along with being a regular contributor to Wear Your Voice Magazine’s ‘Healing & Magick’ column.

Amir Khadar
Amir Khadar is a non-binary West African multidisciplinary artist from Minneapolis Minnesota. For them, art is a space to rationalize their feelings as a marginalized individual, and ultimately facilitate healing from systematic oppression. Their artwork examines historical and contemporary issues facing the black community, as well as the nuances and beauty inside of being black.