Histories

Illustration of many small flowers coming from one stem

by Finn Stuart-Seabrook

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

Yes, there is tragedy, heartbreak, and suffering

Yes, there is love, joy, and warmth

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

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

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

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




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

Healing Through Connection to Land, Sky, Stars, and Ancestors

A black and white watercolour of a woman walking in water

By Stephanie Morningstar

Artwork by Zeena Salam

I wish I could say that I come from a long line of badass Onkwehonwe womxn, (which I do), but the image that statement evokes may be misleading in that there’s no legacy of deeply-held cultural knowledge in our story. In fact, our familial story has many fractures and deleted bits from the pervasive and seemingly universal interruption of colonization. There’s a lineage of cultural experience, but they’re dysfunctional experiences unique to Indigenous people- residential school, the 60’s scoop, loss of language and knowledge- experiences that alienated my family from our birthrights as Haudenosaunee. Those fractures informed my expression of healing, land, and body as a Haudenosaunee womxn in ways that are only now beginning to manifest and speak deeply to the resilience of my people. I want to share that resilience in my own story of deep healing that started where my people started- Sky World, and how that healing informs my life and connection to my ancestors and land today.

Sky World is all around us and within us, as we are all made of stars. It’s where our ancestors come from, where Awenha’i (Sky Woman) comes from, where she fell from. Awenha’i brought medicines and food when she came from Sky World. The first of these fruits was niyohontéhsha’ (Fragaria vesca/wild strawberry), known as the “Big Medicine” because of its powerful healing properties- enough to warrant its own ceremony, enough to welcome the beloved dead as they walk the pathway along the Milky Way, lined with niyohontéhsha’, back to Sky World.

The other reason I love the name “Sky World” is a little more personal. My mother’s parents lived far from the reserve our family comes from (Six Nations), having emigrated to the United States (Buffalo, NY) in the mid-1940s. My family didn’t have the connection to “traditional” Haudenosaunee culture, so there aren’t stories of aunties teaching me beading and dancing at the longhouse. In fact, they saw traditional culture as a backwards, mysterious, and dark history that we were told not to look into too deeply. My mom and aunties may not have taught me how to bead or make corn soup, but they did however teach me how to laugh- and survive.

My family wasn’t raised “traditional Longhouse,” because of the legacy of harm of the residential school system. My mother’s father attended the residential school known as “The Mush Hole” in Brantford, ON, and his experience there, along with the looming threat of the ‘60s scoop, informed my understanding of my identity in that he discouraged connections to our Indigeneity out of a necessity for survival. Because of this legacy, my family had to create other traditions to express our spiritual connection to each other and the land.

One of my favourite ways to spend time with my mother when she was still here on Turtle Island was to climb the one-story set of steps up to the top of a stone building at a nearby state park and Star Watch. We lovingly call this place the “Stone Tower,” because, well, it was stone, and a tower. One of the traditions we created was to designate the space of the Stone Tower as sacred, a place for rites of passage like blessing new babies and honouring the women of my family before transitions, and most of all, Star Watching.

It was my mother who taught me how to Star Watch and sparked my passion for learning about Sky World. Star Watching is a practice in patience and presence- the trick was to soften your focus just enough to let the periphery of the sky encompass your vision, and scan back and forth searching for anything that seemed to move, shine brightly, blink, or change colour. I was around 10 years old when my mother started becoming more active in her passion of exploring the possibilities of the universe and questioning the reality we are conditioned to believe. That curiosity and questioning led me down my own garden path as an herbalist/

I’m a western trained herbalist and trained a bit with traditional Haudenosaunee and Anishinaabe medicine helpers, experiences that helped me understand more about myself and medicine ways than I can ever begin to share. When I decided to start my own practice as an herbalist, I was indecisive at first about what to name my apothecary. I come to this name, Sky World Apothecary, the product of a childhood that was filled with what others might consider abnormal or strange, but to me was a vector for mystery and connection to something larger than myself.

As I have grown more familiar with my culture I began to recognize my own passion for inquiry, especially regarding Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK) of which Star Knowledge is a facet. When I heard the Sky Woman story, the Haudenosaunee creation story, I knew I had to pull that thread and see what emerged. I wanted to honour my mother’s memory when naming this new path in life, making medicine for those still here with us, while honouring my ancestors in the Sky World.

Ultimately, Sky World Apothecary finally came to me after a long day of hiking and learning and picking medicines with some fellow herbalists. I came home sore, sunburnt, and bug-bitten, full of bliss and scratches on my legs. As I lay in bed I felt something click open in my heart centre, something activating inside me. It felt pink and soft and vibrant. As I lay there, drifting down to sleep, I saw nothing but strawberries. Big Medicine from Sky World. I felt the call to honour my ancestors and my dream of healing people through (re)connection to the land started to grow.

I recently stepped into the role of the Co-Executive Director of the Northeast Farmers of Color Land Trust (NEFOC), a new organization dedicated to advancing land and food sovereignty for BIPOC folks in the North-Eastern region of the U.S. I knew this was my dream position when I read the Vision statement: “Working to advance land sovereignty in the northeast region through permanent, secure land tenure for Indigenous, Black, Latinx, and Asian farmers and land stewards who use the land in a sacred manner that honors our ancestors dreams — for regenerative farming, sustainable human habitat, ceremony, native ecosystem restoration, and cultural preservation.” Win!

NEFOC’s work is essential not only because our vision is dedicated to advancing land sovereignty, but because it’s doing it through a healing lens. One of the most insidious forms of colonization is the manifestation of lateral violence. We know the project of colonization is successful when the colonizers no longer have to expend energy to disrupt our relationships to each other and the land — when we do it to ourselves. This “divide and conquer” piece of the colonial project is exactly what we aim to collectively heal. Both Sky World Apothecary and NEFOC’s vision embody this at their cores. NEFOC is dedicated to repairing relationships with the Indigenous communities of the Northeast. Our goal as an organization is to restore right relationship to each other and the land, starting with listening to Indigenous leaders and people to hear and co-conspire with each nation on how to establish sovereignty.

I often go back to a statement made by Lilla Watson, an Aboriginal elder and activist from Queensland, Australia, who says it way better than I ever could: “If you have come to help me, you are wasting your time. If you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.” We need to establish solidarity as BIPOC earth workers and land stewards. This work isn’t about centering any one way of being, doing, and knowing. It’s about picking up our universal responsibilities as Indigenous people (and we are all Indigenous to somewhere) to steward the land as a relative, to remember our ancestors’ dreams and pick up our roles as future ancestors, and to do this, not just for the next seven generations, but for all generations to come. I want to acknowledge the work of those who have come before us and paved the way for what may seem like a fairly idealistic and radical concept: advancing sovereignty and transforming the concept of “ownership” of land to a collective agreement to pick up our responsibilities to the land as a relative requiring respect and careful, intentional, mindful, and sustainable stewardship so that all Faces to Come have equitable access to home, health, and happiness. To me, that is what achieving healing looks like.

Stephanie Morningstar (She/Her) OnΛyota’a:ka – Oneida, Turtle clan, Lotinosho:ni/Haudenosaunee & German/English ancestral lineages. Herbalist, scholar, student, and Earth Worker dedicated to decolonization and liberation. She is the founder of Sky World Apothecary & Farm, serves as a Leadership Council member for the New England Women’s Herbal Conference and the International Herb Symposium, and is the Co-Director of the Northeast Farmers of Color Land Trust.

Black and White portrait of Zeena in a black hijab and fur hooded coat. She is smilling with a closed mouth.

Zeena is currently living in her home town Najaf, Iraq. She is studying accounting at the University of Kofa along with pursuing an art career on the side. She enjoys painting and drawing pieces that relate to Arabian culture, nature, and landscapes.

The Mug

watercolor leaf

by Amir Al-Azraki

Edited by Sharon Findlay

(Um Kalthum music. Majeed enters. He sits on the same table holding a glass of Arag in one hand and a cigarette in the other.)

Majeed:

A poet’s tears, a glass, a story…

The residue of memories distilled in his drink.

Chugs it till he chokes,

the story spews forth…

A lifetime on the stage, for decades I have performed for crowds, the multitudes, for you! (indicates the audience and takes a drink from a mug)

I have embodied the grief and loss of Hamlet, the anguish of Othello…I sang for the revolution in Marat/Sade (2) (Sings)…and danced with Mack the Knife in The Three Penny Opera.(3) (Dances and sings)

Yes, I have been poor, destitute, in Ba’e Al-Dibs al-Faqir (The Poor Date Molasses Salesman), and also played a King in Al-Fiil Ya Malek Azzaman (The Elephant, Oh King of All Times). (4)

I have breathed life into these roles for audiences around the world…

Underneath it all…below the surface of these great roles…underneath these facades, I ask…who am I? (pause)

(sarcastically) “Son of Sumer and Babylon,” lost son of the “Cradle of Civilization…” Ruins!

Grief, loss, anguish…these are not strangers to me…they are my familiars…my closest companions…

Yes, over the years I have enacted the lives, the trials, the tribulations of others, of characters, but… where do I find my own voice?

Who hears it? Who cares? Who am I?

I am! I am…? (takes a slow drink, followed by a pause)

A fraud! A compilation of obsolete, worn out memories. (drinks) Memories and grievances…

After the war, I arrived in Canada hoping for, for…something better. If not happiness, happiness may be too much to ask for, then something…something stable, a place to build a foundation, a new future for what was left of my broken and battered family… (drinks and continues on in a reflective voice)

Yes, I arrived here…well, my body did; my heart, my mind, my soul crippled by the war we were fleeing. My hopes and happiness stamped out, crushed by the oppressive regime and by the American invasion that murdered my two dear sons (beat) …a father’s heart can never, never be whole again after such a loss.

Even so, to tell the truth, a tiny shred of hope did remain…a tiny spark in the depth and darkness of my despair. Yes, hope… not for happiness but for a measure of peace, quiet, for the possibility of building some kind of future for my remaining children…was I a fool? Am I?

Yes, an old fool. What followed after I landed in this ‘free’ country attests to my foolishness, my naiveté. Let me tell you how stupid I was…(pause and continues slowly) how I sold what remained of my pride, my soul, to the vultures and opportunists who used my tragedy to line their own pockets.

My life story, my deepest pain, become fodder for so-called artists and academics. Rich material to exploit at conferences, workshops, universities…they used details of my life to peddle their art…used me! I was used, disposable…another caricature like Hamlet or Othello, an imitation of life! But I? I? where was I located in their projects, their seminars…where was I when they held my story up for the analysis and dissection of students and academics and so-called artists? Exploiters who appropriated my life and my terror and my pain and my dead boys and made it their own! Deceivers! Who take for granted their own peaceful mundane existence, who’ve never feared for their safety and who know nothing, nothing?!? Where was I? Lost! Buried alive!

(deep silence, trying to collect himself)

Without realizing, fool that I am, I was tricked into performing a caricature of myself, of imitating my own life!

For my trouble, for my contribution, they presented me with a coffee mug, see it has the university logo on it…sold my soul for a mug. (Points to logo on mug)

I fill it with Arag, at least it’s good for something. (tops up mug from bottle of Arag and drinks)

I am alone. Night after night I sit with my mug, and try to make sense of it all. Everything is gone. That tiny last spark that I carried over here, that precious shred of hope imported all the way from the ruins of Iraq, hope for a better future, is now snuffed out…it wasn’t for me. I find no solace in my work or my family…

I contemplate my mug, fill it with Arag…fill it with my tears…I repeat the same stories, count the same losses, bewail the cruel injustices of this world until I think even this mug is tired of my lamenting. Who wouldn’t be? I am tired of myself! My family and friends have heard it all before a million times but still I cannot stop telling the story…of my imprisonment…imprisonment then, in a prison…and now in ‘free’ Canada…the internal prison of isolation and hopelessness.

(takes a slow drink)

I sleep sometimes. Sometime I have vivid dreams…they’re not nightmares exactly although they are confusing…scattered impressions of a past life; the voices of the south birds’ singing, explosions in the distance…the scent of myrtle and ambergris in my mother’s scarf…the smell of gunpowder…the swirling dabka dance and the dance of torture…What a life…

Sometimes I am overcome by nightmares of violence and destruction that pursue me relentlessly through the night…I wake disoriented, weeping, cursing it all. Then I ask myself, how long can I carry on? How long? Even my family…my wife, my children are becoming strangers. “You always smell of Arag” she complains… disgusted. Our children don’t even speak Arabic any more and I refuse to learn English. why should I?

I thought I had already lost everything but there were still a few things left to go…

Of course they all think they know what is best for me: get busy, get a job, go give a seminar, do a play, learn English, do a monologue about your pain and inner conflict….! Ha! (laughs ruefully)

I am an actor, this is my craft and sullen art. I will play my part.

Cheers. (holds up mug)

“I dreamt I was a fugitive
Hiding in a forest.
The wolves in a distant country
Hounded me through black deserts and over rough hills.
My dear, our separation was torture.
I dreamt I was without a home,
Dying in an unknown city,
Dying alone, my love, without a home.”

(Majeed exits. Edith Piaf’s ‘Non, je ne regrette rien’)

Footnotes:

  1. The play is inspired by a true story of an Iraqi artist who lives in Kitchener, Waterloo.
  2. Marat/Sade was written in 1963 by German dramatist and novelist Peter Weiss
  3. The Three Penny Opera was written in 1928 by German playwright Bertolt Brecht in collaboration with Kurt Weill
  4. Both plays were written by Syrian playwright Saadallah Wannous.

Amir Al-Azraki is an Assistant Professor of Arabic language, literature, and culture (Renison University College, University of Waterloo), lecturer of Arabic language (SOLAL, U of G), Theatre of the Oppressed practitioner, and playwright who works seamlessly across cultures to highlight and facilitate discourse and interchange through his work. Among his plays are: Waiting for Gilgamesh: Scenes from Iraq, Stuck, and The Widow. Al-Azraki is the co-editor and co-translator of Contemporary Plays from Iraq.

Black Women, [Inherited] Mental Health and Healing Art

black silhouette of elderly black woman with a headwrap on

by Gloria Swain

When I was first diagnosed with a chronic illness along with the deaths of loved ones, I felt my world falling apart. I fell into a deep dark emotional state for several years. The treatment for my physical illness took a toll on my body which naturally added more stress to my mental health. Finally, I was officially diagnosed with depression in 2004. After being on antidepressants for a few years and struggling with the long list of side effects -suicidal thoughts, anger, weight, hallucinations – I realized I needed a way out. I was on the edge and there was nowhere else to go but down. I was alone. And I felt invisible.

Black women are strong and resilient, but we are also human and mental illness does not discriminate. We are not strangers to depression, anxiety, bipolar or PTSD but Black women continue to suffer in silence because of the shame and stigma surrounding mental illness in Black communities. Growing up I suffered from undiagnosed depression. Being born in the late 50s, mental illness was unheard of and taboo, especially in the Black community. I was born and raised in the southern United States, at the end of segregation and the beginning of integration. My parents and grandmother refused to talk about their histories growing up in Alabama or South Carolina because of the violence and racism they experienced. It was too painful for them to speak on. Sometimes I wonder if they ever had an opportunity to heal. This is intergenerational trauma. Unexplained and unspoken wounds that are passed down to the next generation. When we don’t heal ourselves, we lack the tools to create healing for our future descendants. It’s difficult to talk about mental illness, especially if you’re a Black woman whose ancestors have suffered in silence for centuries because we are constantly told that we are strong. It’s even more difficult for Black women to seek help when the people who are advocating for mental health look nothing like us. Mental illness does not see race, sex, or economical status; yet, certain communities are routinely excluded from mental health conversations.

One day, while going through old photos, I found a picture of me as young girl painting. I remembered how art had brought me so much happiness. I started painting again and never looked back. Art was not only healing for me, but it also led me into researching my own history. I successfully traced my ancestors from Africa to Alabama, one of the largest states that took part in the U. S. slave trade. I learned there is a history of mental illness in my family as well as other illnesses that has now begun to take a toll on my body as I age. Being a descendent of African slaves in America I asked myself, what mental toll has slavery placed on Black people?

My art practice, together with my own lived experiences with intergenerational trauma, challenges the narrative of the strong Black woman and the shame associated with mental illness. My creative journey started at a very young age and it hasn’t stopped. Art pushed me to get back to school and today, at the young age of 60, I have completed my masters.

As a child, art was an outlet for my frustration of trying to fit in. Today, art is a part of my journey of healing. Through art, I face the traumas that come with intersecting histories of slavery, racism, and violence against Black women’s bodies. Through art, I am an activist; I strive to create art that opens discussions around social issues within the Black community. Through art I encourage connection; art brings folks together and moves people to change. Art has become a powerful tool with which I can find healing in my own pain.

Gloria C Swain is a multidisciplinary artist who uses art to explore the history of violence against Black women, the roots of Black mental health and intergenerational trauma. Her work is part of a social movement that seeks to raise awareness for Black female victims of police brutality, anti-Black violence and those who fail to warrant media attention.

Handling the Unpredictable

a illustration of the left and right brain. the right side is more free flowing and made of swirls and the left side is more rigid with straight lines. the background is blue.

Loss, Grief & Taking Control of Your Emotional State in a Masters Program

By Rose Conlin

I have been working on a Masters degree for the last two years, and it has been a great experience. I say this because I am automatically inclined to love school. The goal/success oriented structure of it, though trying at times, has always provided me with enough stability to go on about my daily life fairly easily. Unfortunately, as many colleagues of mine tend to do in post secondary education, we begin to perceive our education as the only facet of our lives. Performing research for and writing a thesis is a big obligation; however it doesn’t need to be all consuming. Especially when there are so many other facets of life that are uncontrollable and can throw themselves at you chaotically without any warning.

We arrive to a common struggle among Masters students, students; really anyone who is set upon a particular long term task and has difficulties finding balance with the other aspects of their lives. Last year (2018), the first year of my Masters program, was continuously plagued by personal life crises that were completely out of my control, for which I will present a brief and efficient list because that appears to be my best method of communication for this matter (as there is truly no way to accurately portray my feelings for this unfortunate series of events in any form of communication): in the beginning of the year my grandfather (closer akin to my father) passed away; my eldest brother attempted suicide for the first time around that same time, and again, and again, later throughout the year; my horse fractured his leg and I eventually had to make the decision to have him put down, after twelve years of having him in my life; the night before he was put down, I almost died in a car accident. After he was put down, I discovered another brother was attempting suicide and making reckless life choices. Surely you can see that these life events were an immediate distraction from my task of writing a Masters thesis.

And yet throughout this, I continued to try to work, research, and write. I continued to grow more deeply rooted in this systemic disappointment with myself and my inability to produce good work. I was so obsessed with grinding away at academic success that when each of these events took place, the levels of depression, anxiety, and this constant dread for terrible news, death, and dismay grew and grew. Eventually I snapped, after the events of my car accident and my horse’s passing.

There is an excellent way that people have described intense depression and loss: before you lost whatever it was that was dear to you, the world was colourful and vivid… but after loss, you lose any notion of the colour that makes that world so vivid. Your presence is physical, and you are aware of your surroundings but only at a basic level of function; engagement, enjoyment, and energy… they are all gone. Attempting to write a Masters thesis while this snap from life happens is truly a feat that I don’t think anyone could effectively accomplish- at least I know that I could not. I stopped my writing, I stopped my research,  I contacted my advisor and asked for an informal break from schooling to prioritize my mental health.

Unfortunately, even when I did begin working again, which was only a month after my accident, I was not mentally prepared to tackle the task ahead of me. The best way to describe this is that I was still in that discoloured state of mind. Yet the pressure that I perceived was upon me to perform constantly ate away at my confidence, self-esteem, and overall mental state. Because of this, the depression and anxiety became more and more consuming as time went on. Why? Simple- I wasn’t allowing myself to heal. I wasn’t giving myself lenience in the steps that I needed to take to heal. I wasn’t recognizing the validity of my emotions. It is truly incredibly the amount of pressure we put on ourselves to succeed academically.

Fast forward three months later. It was November and I was sick of feeling horrible and worthless about my inability to meet my academic expectations. I began to recognize the cycle that I was a part of – grieving over my losses, attempting to perform while being consumed by that grief, and grieving more over my perceived “inability” to perform effectively – and I broke it. Or at least the part related to school. That is the funny thing about grief; it never goes away, but you do learn how to manage it with time. However, the unhealthy cycle that happens when you are unable to fulfill your own high expectations is something that can be worked with. I began to recognize where my disappointment and depression was stemming from, and addressed it head on. I set a lighter schedule for myself, and more realistic deadlines so that I could ease back into research while addressing my own grief. To start this all on a positive note, I scheduled my tentative research trip to the Netherlands and used that as a great opportunity for a fresh start.

In the last three months since recognizing my cycle with depression and creating a realistic plan to resolve the issues that were in my control, I am proud to say that I have been able to focus once again on my research. Mind you, I often have minor episodes of doubt, insecurity, or ill thoughts towards my productivity. However, I do not allow them to consume me as they did before.Without such high expectations for production, I have found that my work is steadily improving in quality and quantity as time goes on. Being able to regain control over the academic facet of my life after my high expectations doomed me to such crippling depression and anxiety is a feat of strength that I can very easily say I am proud of.

What I learned from this experience is that life has a tendency to throw curve balls from every and any angle, and they will always be unexpected to some extent. I have also learned that in our daily work, goals, hobbies, and passions, we often hold ourselves to unrealistically high standards that we could never possibly succeed in reaching because they are created by us as a means to constantly improve. This perception can be very unhealthy if not kept in check; especially in times when loss, trauma, or tragedy happens and you must now juggle ten pressures instead of one, it is better to recognize your high expectations and inhibit their ability to tamper with your emotions more than life already is. School isn’t everything, don’t let your inability to perform in it while you are grieving or suffering in any way further consume your wellbeing.

Rose Conlin is currently enrolled in an MA in Art History and Visual Culture at the University of Guelph. Although her life goal is to become a professor, Rose also enjoys spending her time reading fantasy novels, painting, playing the Legend of Zelda, and having bubble baths.

A Journey Home

painting of a silhoutte of person rowing in a lake. the skies are pink and redish and the lake is purple and blueish

The Decolonizing Work of Nancy Rowe

By Xicohtencatl Maher Lopez with Nancy Rowe

It was with this idea that Giidaakunadaad, or Nancy Rowe, a Mississauga, Ojibwe, Bear Clan Kwe of the Anishinaabek Nation, founded Akinomaagaye Gaamik, also known as the Lodge of Learning. Akinomaagaye Gaamik is a grassroots initiative with a mission that began with the intention of bringing back culture to the people living on the Mississaugas of the New Credit reservation and other Indigenous peoples. The lodge also strives to educate not only Indigenous people, but all peoples who are interested in learning about Indigenous ways of knowing, of doing, of living, of history, of health and the environment. Akinomaagaye Gaamik began in response to a lack of access to cultural knowledge and teachings on her home reservation of New Credit, but stems from a twenty-five year journey of coming home to a culture that, thanks to colonialism and assimilation, was taken from her as it was from many other people on New Credit reservation.

“The lodge is all about decolonizing. Learn our language, our history, so we can defend our grandfathers and grandmothers. Learn how to live a good life. The big philosophy and principles in Anishinaabe is to live a good life. We have laws that say this is what you do to live a good life. You be honest, be kind, you share, you be loving. You incorporate this into your life. It’s not a poster on the wall called seven grandfathers, its something inside your being that says this is how to conduct yourself, to be a good human while you’re here. The other big piece of that was bringing Creator. Nowhere in that western way did they bring in Creation as that ultimate teacher.”

New Credit reservation is a small reservation, and in Nancy’s words is “about 5 concessions big, it’s not much land at all. There’s no water here either.” Located in a far corner of it’s neighbour reservation, Six Nations, the Mississaugas of the Credit have lived on this reservation since 1847. When speaking on the reasons why Akinomaagaye Gaamik was built, Nancy told the story of Rita Montour, a woman from her reservation who was nearing a hundred years old before she passed. Nancy said, “Rita, did you ever go to a traditional funeral? Did you ever hear Anishinaabemowin? I was asking her all these questions because she’s a hundred years old, and she can tap another 100 years through her grandmother and great grandmother. And we moved here in 1847, so her memory could go back that far. And she said she had never witnessed any kind of ceremonies here at New Credit.” She explains how there are two lodges built, one that was built eighteen years ago in the form of a large, stretched out tipi in which ceremonies are often held, and the other a wooden roundhouse, and that these lodges,  together, bring culture and knowledge that has “never been seen here on New Credit.”

Nancy Rowe decided to do something about this lack of cultural knowledge on her home reservation. Six years ago, Nancy, her husband and other collaborators built the lodge with the intention of attracting Elders of the highest caliber to New Credit in order to provide a direct knowledge transfer between the Elders and those who came to learn. “People were so excited for the lodge they would come and work for food. I would cook all day and the carpenters would build all day. We started in February and had it [the lodge] up and operational by April.”

Akinomaagaye Gaamik attracts many different people— from young school children to deputy ministers from the Government— all seeking to learn more about Anishinaabe ways of life, of seeing, of doing. The lodge hosts programming such as cultural workshops, Moccasin project workshops, and traditional ceremonies. Nancy says, “With permission from elders I share a little culture with them [settlers], not to make them Anishinaabe but to show them just how intelligent Anishinaabe is … We have been working to really position Indigenous knowledge at a higher level.” According to her, education revitalizes ceremonies, and the lodge “gives people exposure to this other world … people call it ceremonies, but it really is education.”

When asked what other kinds of work needs to be done in order for Indigenous people to heal from colonization, Nancy stressed the importance of education being brought to Indigenous people once again. “When I was done my degree with poli-sci, I was pissed, man … I have spent 48 years living under colonial rule. I’m a card carrying Indian, every day of my life is determined by Indian affairs, so I was mad … My teachings say you can’t stay angry, you’ll get sick.”

“If 99% of them [canadians] are ignorant to our issues, I want to bring them out of that [ignorance]. I didn’t want to be aggressive and say hey you’re a colonizer, did you know? You’re reaping the benefits of my land that my grandfathers shared with you. My strategy was I’m gonna teach them the truth … There’s an entire body of people here, suffering.”

Nancy Rowe is also one of the founders of the Da-Giiwewaat (So They Can Go Home) Moccasin project, which seeks to “bring attention to the contemporary genocide that’s happening right now in this country”. Nancy is referring to the canadian child welfare system, and how nationwide the child welfare system disproportionately targets Indigenous families. She says, “The operating policy of the government of canada is genocidal. They still wanna get rid of the Indian … They are after the bigger picture, which is the land.” She then references the statistics in Manitoba which show that 11,000 children are currently in care, and 90% of these children are Indigenous, or statistics such as the one that says forty Indigenous babies are taken from Manitoba hospitals each month. She explains that when one reads these statistics and analyzes the way the system is structured, one realizes quickly that “Indigenous children in the welfare system are basic income units, they keep that ministry operating.”

“I don’t want child welfare to be like residential school. Residential schools operated for 175 years. Child welfare has been around since 1945.” she explains. The destructive, oppressive nature of the child welfare system is what lead Nancy, along with other Indigenous women like Colinda Clyne, to start the Moccasin project. Nancy’s idea was that if Indigenous children in the foster care system were gifted baby moccasins as something to take with them on their journey through foster care, that when they grew older they could begin to question why they had these moccasins, and that this curiosity could spark their journey home. Thus came the name, Da-Giiwewaat, So They Can Go Home. In foster care, very few Indigenous children are able to retain their culture, as it is a system likened to the residential schools, and is a continuation of the Sixties Scoop, seeking to severe the ties Indigenous children have with their culture, their traditional ways of knowing, their language, their land, and their family.

The Moccasin Project, like Akinomaagaye Gaamik, is a shining example of what true action towards reconciliation can look like. Nancy says that the project works closely with educators who seek to highlight the issues of the canadian child welfare system by bringing Moccasin making workshops to classrooms and even to entire schools across the country. The project also fosters new relationships with community based organizations who wish to also support the project, such as friendship centers or community health programs. “It’s doing what it was intended to do, which was raise awareness for child welfare,” says Nancy, who made a promise to Cora Morgan, a First Nations Family Advocate from Manitoba who showed Nancy the grim statistics from Manitoba, that “wherever I go, I’ll talk about this”.

The final question asked of Nancy was on what futures and possibilities she saw for healing in the wake of colonialism, to which she stressed the utmost importance of Indigenous people learning their language and culture. “We can’t even understand our own world yet without our language.” To Nancy, true reconciliation means “putting back what was taken. Period.”

“Everything was taken from us. Our land, our culture, our language. In education, the job of educators and the system is to create opportunity for native children to access their culture and language … Those priests and nuns didn’t have any pity when they were taking that language from our children. We should have no limitations on how much it is gonna take to put that back.”

The importance of education plays a big role in true decolonization and reconciliation according to Nancy, who says, “If one child in the whole school wants to learn their language, then we must do whatever it takes for them to learn.” Assisting each and every individual Indigenous youth is where the role of educators and of the school system appears, and Nancy says that educators should do everything in their power to fully support Indigenous children on their journey home to their culture.


Through her impressive work throughout her own 25 year long journey home, Nancy exemplifies the actions that are necessary to begin the journey of decolonization and reconciliation on Turtle Island. Akinomaagaye Gaamik, the Da-Giiwewaat project, and her own personal convictions and actions are what is desperately needed across the continent to achieve these goals of decolonization and reconciliation to birth a healing legacy. She says of reconciliation, “I really do not see the level of reconciliation that we are going to require in order to put things back to the way they were”. To put things back to the way they were is to heal the traumas, to bring back as much knowledge as possible that has been lost over the centuries, to support future Indigenous generations by building the structures that will be necessary to help each and every individual Indigenous person on this long journey home to their land, language, culture and self- all of which the work Nancy has accomplished has assisted. “Put it back the way it was- that’s reconciliation. Put it right.”

Giidaakunadaad (The Spirit Who Lives in High Places) n’dizhinikaaz (is my name): Nancy Rowe is a Mississauga, Ojibwe of the Anishinaabek Nation located at New Credit First Nation, ON. Nancy holds an honors BA in Indigenous Studies and Political Science. She is an educator, consultant and a Traditional Practitioner of Anishinaabek lifeway’s, views and customary practices and is currently completing a Master’s degree of Environmental Resource Studies at the University of Waterloo.

Xicohtencatl Maher is a 2spirited Tlaxcaltecan Nahua and Newfie, born in Mexico and living currently on Anishinaabek territory. He is an activist, artist, writer, escuincle and shit-disturber, and in his free time enjoys mixed martial arts and going out on the land.

Reclaiming myself within a sea of systemic sabotage

By Danielle Boissoneau

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reclaim.


Danielle Boissoneau
Danielle Boissoneau is Anishnaabe kwe from Garden River, Ontario. She currently resides in Hamilton, Ontario where she enjoys smashing hetero-normative patriarchy while decolonizing her heart, mind, body and soul. Danielle is a walking contradiction.

Sick & Crazy Healer: Destroying Ableism in Healing

by Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha

We center the genius and leadership of disabled and chronically ill 
communities, for what we know about surviving and resisting the
medical industrial complex and living with fierce beauty in our sick
and disabled bodies. We say no to the medical industrial complex’s
model of “cure or be useless,” instead working from a place of belief
in the wholeness of disability, interdependence and disabled people
as inherently good as we are.

-from the 2012 Allied Media Conference Healing Justice Practice Space Guiding Principles 

I am a chronically ill and crazy intuitive healer and writer, and I cancel a lot. I’ve cancelled a lot my whole sick and disabled life, and I will continue to cancel- because I start puking or have a panic attack or my hips hurt so bad I can’t think- until I am dead.

I cancel on parties and appointments and life, but I also cancel on my clients.

I heal with this brilliant sick and disabled bodymind. This may sound cute, and trust me, it often really is, but it also means constant pleasurable and stressful labour to undo, oh, I don’t know, the entire impact of ableism and the settler colonial medical industrial complex on how we think about what healing is.

In 2015, I had a super canceling summer. I took the spring off of holding my intuitive healing practice because I knew I was going to be on tour with my book Bodymap. And then I fell in love, and I came home, and I moved to Brooklyn to be in the same city as the love that scared the hell out of me sometimes but which I knew was where I wanted to be.

And then I got sick. I got sick the way I do every July. The rhythms of my year mean that I make a big chunk of the money I need to live on in March through May, the season when colleges book writers and performers and workshop teachers for Take Back the Night and Women’s History Month and APIA Heritage and Poetry Month. Then in June, there is Pride, where you can sometimes make some money if you’re queer, and the Allied Media Conference, the queer people of colour lead grassroots media conference where I am usually doing workshops and healing in the practice space.

And this is all one disabled way of life. When I first got disabled I was too sick to work much at first, As I gradually worked my way back to being able to work some of the time for money, I figured out that 9-5 jobs would make me sick for months- I could work and sleep and get pneumonia, that was about it- but because my chronic illness ebbs and flows, labour that required short bursts of energy was more possible. I was mentored by other crip of colour artists who told me that you could work these gigs, and then you could collapse, and you’d maybe have enough to live on during the summer when the money wasn’t there.

So I work my ass off in March thru July, and after it’s all done, I get the flu. But at first, I say, it’s not so bad, it’s just a cold, I’ll take some yin chiao, it’ll last a day. Sometimes that works. But usually, it morphs and twists and turns, from throat to sinuses to phlegm to lungs. Sometimes it turns into pneumonia; often it turns into bronchitis. I have fibromyalgia, and my immune system is compromised, and I know this in every fiber of my being, but I also forget. Because it is, like most disabilities, a normal, everyday part of who I am. Because I use disabled magic to make impairments tolerable- all the magics of deep breathing, breaks, working from bed, prayer and on and on that chronically ill witches use to live our lives. Because I am surrounded, like every sick and disabled person, with constant ableism that tells us our disabilities aren’t real.

But still, I regularly get sick for two weeks from colds roommates swear they’re over, left on one of their dishes. I also use some of my sick and disabled magic to make it shorter. I have mullein and thyme and Buckley’s and codeine cough syrup and wild cherry syrup, I have hot sea salt baths and community ten dollar acupuncture and fluids, I have tons of homemade chicken soup in my freezer.

It gets better on its own time. It always does. And last summer, its own time was a month of canceling and rescheduling on clients. Sometimes more than once. And sometimes, lying in bed feeling bad, like a bad healer, like I was letting folks down. I had that big big whisper I have internalized from a lifetime of able bodied people and bosses being pissed when I was sick “again???” Of  federal disability laws and social disability laws never being enough to ensure my access needs- to be sick, slow and flexible- could be held. The whisper: Flake. Faker. Irresponsible. Weak.

The truth is, I am both strong and weak. My immune system is ‘weak’ if weak means vulnerable because it is working so hard to shore up my already stressed system. My mind is “weak” if what you mean is vulnerable and exhausted because it’s working so hard to deal with oppression, surviving severe childhood sexual abuse and being psychically open.

So maybe being disabled and crazy and a survivor makes me a better kind of healer in certain ways than folks who are abled. If you have to be strong as fucking hell to survive being disabled, sick or crazy under ableism, my bodymind is a crip Olympian, like all our bodies. It’s just not a strength the abled world gets. Sitting with reclaiming my disabled femme of colour bodymind means turning inside out the ableist colonial ideas of what healing, what a healer, what strong and good are.

Pro tips/ Pop quiz:

  • Those words: Sick. Disabled. Healer. Do you think of them in the same sentence? Do you think a sick, mad, Deaf, neurodivergent and/or or disabled person can heal?
  • Do you think we can only be healers if we are as able-bodied and normative looking and acting as possible, hiding our disabilities?
  • What do you think “healing” is? Do you think that it means becoming as close to able bodied as possible?
  • Do you think it is always sad or terrible to be sick or disabled?
  • Do you think that concepts of wellness are just “natural” and have always been about the same? Or do you think they are colonial and ableist? Do you think they shift?
  • Do you think everybody wants to be able bodied and neurotypical, and would choose it if they could?
  • Does healing justice mean to you that someday, no one will be disabled or sick because there will be no toxic waste and health care for all?
  • Do you know that disabled people have always existed, since there were human people? 

Are you aware that sick and disabled people have lots of skills, wisdom, our own thoughts about what our bodies want and need? That some of us want cure. Many of us want specific treatments. Many of us are in a daily practice of learning to love our bodyminds as they are. Which is sometimes made difficult by pain and impairment, but which is often made more difficult by the ableism of the world- everything from flights of stairs to no flexible work hours to toxic chemicals to there being only one accepted way of communication. (AKA, the social model of disability.)

For me, being a sick and disabled healer means grappling with all these questions- in myself, in my clients, and in other healers. Bumping up against and confounding the stereotype that a healer is healed, and healing is a static state, and a healer cannot be disabled, sick or crazy. It means bumping up against the image that a healer never calls in sick, a healer never says no, a healer is always there for you. It means sometimes running into woo woo ideas of the “wounded healer” or the “magical cripple” and fighting to carve out a space to be a healer who is a crip and who is indeed damn magic, but not the way those folks mean it.

It means confronting my own internalized ableism that whispershrieks to me that canceling is bad, that I am a “flake” or “unprofessional”- something many healers I know grapple with, disabled and not disabled.

I was talking the other day with another sick and crazy healer. They’d done a certain very intense politicized therapy program, but had a hard time practicing it because they got so overwhelmed by people’s stuff. That they needed to cancel and reschedule often. How could they be a responsible healer?

Here’s the thing: when disabled people get free, everyone gets free. And disabled people have a million things to teach non disabled/ temporarily able bodied healers. This is one of them. Because I believe that able bodied healers, and people who look for healing are also shackled by the idea of the infallible, always on healer. If the only healers, the only healed people, must be “perfect” and always “on”, well, most of us fail at healers.

Instead what if we try on the idea that sick and disabled bodies are normal. That healing needs to fit itself to us, not the other way around. Like that being sick or disabled is not a personal failing or a curse from God. Like that disabled people have existed as a normal part of the continuum of human existence since humans became human. Many precolonial communities had completely neutral terms for people with non normative bodies.

Like that seasoned crips have a million skills about making things accessible, working from bed, being flexible, allowing for lots of time for things to run late because Accessaride didn’t show up or someone had a panic attack. They are not the problem; the ableism of underfunded accessible transit is the problem. Access equipment, from a cane to a CPAP to herbs to pills to a stim toy, is gorgeous technology, not something to be ashamed of. Asking for help is not “weakness” and “independence” is not the only way to be strong. We have been taught that because the white supremacist capitalist colonialist ableist patriarchy has made us live in not-enough and has taught us that vulnerable and need are feminine and weak. But the WSCCAP is bullshit.

Like that stairs suck for just about everybody. (And chemical cleaners. And uncomfortable chairs. And expensiveness. And more.) And even if you can walk up them now, at some point, you won’t. Do you really want elders to stick around in communities of resistance, not dispensary from them? Disability access is one huge way to ensure that that happens.

I am lucky enough to have a disabled healer mentor, Dori Midnight. When I finally called up my psychic mom and confessed to her that I was having a case of the internalized ableism shame, she told me that when I cancelled, I was modeling disability justice and sustainability for my clients. I was showing them that it was absolutely ok for them to admit they were sick or panicked, to not force themselves to go further than their body minds wanted to go. I was actually being the opposite of a flake: I was being a very responsible healer, by healing when I had what I needed to give fully. I was creating a vision of healing that was full of disabled wisdom. It’s something that I want in all healing justice spaces, and for all of us.


LEAH LAKSHMI PIEPZNA-SAMARASINHA
Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha is a queer femme Burgher/Tamil Sri Lankan, Irish and Roma disabled writer, performer and organizer. The Lambda award winning author of Dirty River: A Queer Femme of Color Dreaming Her Way Home, Bodymap, Love Cake, Concensual Genocide and co-editor of The Revolution Starts At Home: Comfronting Intimate Violence in Activist Communities, she is a lead artist with disability justice performance troupe Sins Invalid and is currently nishing her new book of essays, Care Work: Dream- ing Disability Justice Culture and book of poetry, Tonguebreaker.

Cultivating a Healing Touch

Re-imagining and reviving hilot for current and future generations

 by Michaela Cruz

Throughout my childhood in the Philippines, my family looked to a womxn named Aling Fe to relieve us of any ailments. We called her the manghihilot which if translated to English means healer. She would find the knots in our bodies and massage it away with her tough calloused hands. It seemed to restore the balance in my young body. The practice and belief in a healing touch are central in the ancient Filipino medical system referred to as hilot. Analogous to Ayurveda and Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), the system also requires knowledge and use of medicinal plants. When I had flu-like symptoms my mother would bathe me in boiled water decocted with the skin of apple fruits, its leaves or twigs and citrus rinds. The heat and aroma gave me instant relief. I never questioned why she was doing this but later in life, I discovered that parts of apple trees are used in herbal medicine for anti-inflammation. Today when I think of my experiences with hilot I am grateful to womxn such as Aling Fe and my mother for passing down this traditional knowledge. I also realized that the practice of hilot as the giver or receiver requires empathy, a great deal of focus, reflection and prayer. I perceive these as guiding principles for the healing of our bodies as marginalized communities.

After completing my undergraduate in Plant Science, I was called to remember and reaffirm my experience with the teachings and gifts of hilot. Part of the calling was to honour the womxn who graciously passed down the teachings through their healing touch, healing energies, healing words and healing love. This reflection has since prefaced the rest of my life. I was prompted to assert something bigger than myself and to sustain the practices that have helped me through maladies, imbalances, fatigue and mental unrest. I decided to start a monthly workshop series that involves hands-on sessions on food and medicinal plants that grow in and around the urban landscape of Toronto. I thought that one way to start my journey of remembrance was to mend my relationship with the land I currently inhabit and to make connections with lives (human and non-human) that I share it with. The series was named Healing Hands because my long-term goal is to cultivate a healing touch within myself and perhaps others. I strongly believe reclamation of medical traditions involves realizing healing outside of Western medicine by unearthing experiences with ancient healing practices and incorporating them in our day to day. I hope to ensure the transfer of hilot to younger generations in its historical as well as reimagined form. I believe these sessions have the capacity to spark social and cultural innovation. Some of the Intentions/thoughts/ideas/goals include:

  • honouring indigeneity
  • growing/re-growing roots
  • unearthing erased histories
  • food as fuel/food as medicine/medicine as food
  •  recognizing and continuing our elders’ legacies
  • gaining more respect for the lands we inhabit
  • acknowledging settler privilege: walking lighter
  • reimagining the land before the urban
  • revealing our blind spots and unlearning
  • practicing unconditional gratitude
  • loving our beings and all other beings
  • nurturing solidarity
  • allowing us to reawaken our child-like sensibilities
  • cultivating our artisan/artist selves
  • a remedy for the week’s grind

To learn more about monthly workshop series please visit: www.facebook.com/events/334017973654915/


Micheala Cruz
Michaela Carmela facilitates the Healing Hands Botanical Workshop Series in Toronto. She is an aspiring grower with hopes to fuel and heal others through plants.

The Crows have lots to talk about

dark line illustration of a crow mirroring itself.

by Joce Two Crows Tremblay

I am a Two Spirit Transgender-blender and I come from a Land of Crows.

I am a Great Lakes metis of hybrid ancestries, including Kenienke’haka ~ Mohawk, Odawa, Migma, French and Ashkenazi, that we know of.

I am white appearing. My body is a battleground of colonization.

I am also a lifelong E(art)hworker and Land/Water Defender.

My Spirit name is Tékeni Tsó:ka’we Mashkikii Bimosewin ~ Two Crows Medicine Walker, a name in Kenienke and Anishnaabe moen. When Elder Blu Waters saw those Two Crows that day in the Sacred Fire held at Six Nations of the Grand River, her Tobacco offering yielded a name true to my core. So too, when Elder Ma-Nee Chacaby gifted me the Responsibility of taking on Medicine Walker, though scared to Hold it, I carry the significance with me deeply.

I was born (with my identical twin) a few minutes away from the place where Chief Tecumseh was slain in his final “rebellion” to resist land theft, and where the river of Crows flows incessantly. It might be the GMO, conventional industrial “Corn”, growing as far as the eye can see, that draws the Crows from far and wide. But they are also Birds of Death, respected (if feared) among many First Nations, as communicators with the Spirit world, and South Western Ontario is a Ghostland. The Ecocide that erased the Great Woodlands and Wetlands of the Great Lakes basin, as well as the Onkweonhwe, has haunted my life.

So the Crows have lots to talk about.

For one, our Relative O:nentse ~ Corn, the eldest of the Three Sisters of our Sustenance, for which the Haudenosaunee have held seasonal ceremonial dances and songs, has become a zombie like plant in the monopoly of Capitalist Agri-business. Adding insult to injury, these Longhouse people whose Ancestral bones lay beneath the ground, also brought O:nentse to this territory.

Who is singing to that Corn now?

This is an example of how the Land is held hostage within the dominating empire of settler “property”. Indigenous peoples once had freedom of movement like the seeds, flocks and herds. Colonial thought conditioned many to believe that relationship to the Land is dirty (in a bad way), stigmatizing the Peasantry aka peoples of the Land. In the so-called nation of Canada, only .01% of the total landmass is held in Reserve for Treaty Indians, which combined, cannot even fill one Navaho reserve (Bonita Lawrence). This reflects how much the state depends on stolen Native Land for its economy, all the “Free” Trade agreements considered, for the extraction and export of our natural resources. Severance of connection with Land, has been an insidious tool of colonial oppression, employed across the whole planet.

 

“Sell a country? Why not sell the air, the clouds, and the great sea, as well as the earth? Did Great Spirit not create them for the use of all our children?”

– Tecumseh, Shawnee Chief

Europeans had already 700 years of blood on their hands, for the recorded torture of 11 million Witches (The Inquisition), primarily of women and non-conforming peasantry. This approach to implementing dominion through Christianity, was applied here on Turtle Island via the ‘Doctrine of Discovery’, used similarly to disempower our Clan Mothers, Medicine & Two Spirit peoples (‘Witchcraft and the Gay Counterculture’, Arthur Evans). Suffering from displacement, epidemics and all out warfare, First Nations, Metis and Inuit peoples showed incredible resilience in retaining their Spiritual Teachings. That said, it cannot be underestimated how severely intergenerational traumas are still grieved. From broken Treaties to the Indian Act, the Stolen Sisters to the Residential school system, Sixties Scoop to MMIW (Missing Murdered Indigenous Women, Girls & 2S)… Native youth have tremendous weight on their shoulders, leading them to be among our most vulnerable. Loss of connection to Land, is also loss of culture (Cultural Genocide), as our Indigenous Knowledge base, languages and Ceremonies are all derived from relationship with the Land.

I had the Blessing of being raised on a working multigenerational small-scale family-run ecological farm, but didn’t realize how rare an upbringing it actually was. My mother and her Migma metis father both grew up there. Nearby is my father’s family farm. A descendant of rebel-rouser Chief Pontiac and of longtime Paysannat (French peasant) heritage, his father, my Pepe, is a proud farmer. His Mohawk metis mother is a bad-ass gardener, crafter, fisher-woman and bingo player. A Medicine woman in her own right, I learned a lot from her.  As a young Queer, gender non-conforming farm kid, in a fairly strict Christian society, wandering on the Land was literally my escape from suffocating alienation. My most favourite playground, on the Land is where I observed some of the most critical teachings in my life, such as diversity, inter-relation, synthesis, cycles, humility, transformation and Majïk in general. These experiences gave me the space to believe I deserved to exist in my body. Not to mention the true wonder of being held by a tree. The thing is, I’ve never felt judged by a tree, insect or any Relative, other than humans (though a squirrel or two have seemed to jeer at me). I recognize the blessing, all the more now that I live in the big city of Tkaronto.

 

“They came with their religion, stole our Land, crushed our spirit, and now they tell us we should be thankful to the lord for being saved”

– Pontiac, Odawa Chief

 

In the Creation Story, Atahensic ~ Skywoman fell from the sky, to the water world below, and in the ensuing heroic work of our animal friends, Turtle Island came to be. I’ve learned to respect through the various tellings of this story, that we humans are the youngest of all the Relatives. There’s of course Grandmother Moon, Brother Sun and all those Elder Relatives of the Cosmos. We owe a great deal to those oldest on Earth, the minerals, who over millennia were eroded by the elements, namely the great Winds of the Four Directions (East, South, West, North) and became the life providing substance we now know as Soil. Then came the micro-organisms, the plants, the animals (two & four legged, winged and finned) and lastly we Humans. In the Original Instructions which we adopted as the youngest, human people are meant to be Stewards of the Land. While we cannot eat oil-petrol, most adults today are aware of the term peak-oil, yet few have grasped the urgency of peak-Soil. Industrial malpractice has caused vast desecration/degradation of soil ecology, resulting in the loss of fertility across large tracts. Disturbed soil tends to be taken up by opportunistic non-native plant volunteers, who easily become noxiously invasive “weeds”. But one person’s weed is another’s salad, or Medicine, and pushing back gently against those dominant, out of balance plant Relatives, is a great metaphor and practice. As Treaty People, which we all are, we are subject to upholding those agreements. One of the earliest such on this territory, between the Haudenoshaunee and the Anishnaabe, was the Dish With One Spoon Wampum belt. This covenant illustrated that the Land and its resources are to be shared by all, and that when the bowl comes around, you take what you need, but always be sure there’s enough for others. Also, always keep the Dish clean. This is one of the ways I understand the concept of Right Relations, and not just with regards to our human relatives.

On my family farm we’ve been working for 30 years to leverage what resources we could, towards ecological restoration, with slow, but ever growing success. We’ve seen the return of hundreds of plants, insects and animal Relatives, most notably Osprey, Badger and Beaver. These might seem like little accomplishments, but healing overflowing grief is a life’s work. Elsewhere in the region, the few remaining Relatives are in a constant struggle for survival, trying to retain their habitats, under threat of ongoing human “developments”.

I’ve often pleaded with Humanity, into the night sky, “for the love of all things Sacred”?!

Our stories have been silenced, but not fully taken from us. When we practice our Ceremonies, especially on the Land directly, we can download with our Ancestors, our Blood Memory helping us to potentially channel our inherent Gifts, live in Right Relations and find our path in Bimaadiziwin ~ The Good Way (Zainab Amadahy). As a young adult I came to this city to study art, a vehicle to break the silence and come out of the closet. My transferable skills were tied to agrarian experience, so I worked in urban and near-urban ecological agriculture. I put in 5 years with a Holistic Master Gardener, co-created intergenerational community gardens across the city, stewarded the Spiral Garden with kids of all divergent abilities, studied permaculture and became a certified Organic Master Gardener.

Though I frequently found that it harmed my social status to identify myself as an E(art)hworker especially in the Art world, my social location did improve greatly. I’ve found a wondrous chosen family among QTBIPOC community, specifically those witchy ones who also find Sanctuary in the Natural world.

For the past 3.5 seasons I’ve been Stewarding Mashkikii;aki’ing ~ Medicine Earth, a Medicine Wheel Garden on an old Oak Savanah ridge, known as Gete Onigaming ~ Old Portage, running North along Davenport rd. There’s a real presence there. Primarily I’m digging into Indigenous Land Sovereignty with community members from organizations such as NaMeRes / Sagatay, Anduhyaun / Nekenaan, the Native Learning Center, Native Women’s Resource Center and Naadmagit Ki Group, to name a few. We grow Native food crops, like the Ancestral Three Sisters (Corn, Beans, Squash). Various  Medicinal plants, like the four Sacred Medicines (Tobacco, Cedar, Sweetgrass, Sage). We wildcraft / forage. We also grow seedlings that we distribute into community for Medicine gardens and for Native plant eco-restoration. This community based work has revealed the threads of an extensive spider web of Spirit. Aiming towards inclusive, accessible, safer and culturally appropriate E(art)hworking, with some of our most marginalized Indigenous people, I’ve seen just how Restorative this field of work can be. We practice Honourable Harvest (Robin Wall Kimmerer), share Stories, Knowledge, Ceremonies, Ancestral seeds, meals, Medicines and subtle strategies for shedding grief.

Decolonizing the heart and mind is no simple task. ReIndigenizing the Land, returning Native plant Relatives in order to create the habitats conducive to greater life, is the work of those who wish to Hear the Land, even the hungry ghosts. Collectively and collaboratively, through Indigenous governance, self-determination and non-pyramidal power structures, we can reclaim space. In fact, the more this work takes place, the more interest there is in restoring Land into Indigenous stewardship. I fully agree that ‘Truth and Reconciliation’ can only go so far, if Land isn’t Returned (Taiaiake Alfred). I hope in my lifetime to see Manoomin ~ Wild Rice growing in the re-established wetland borders throughout our extensive watershed, but until that time, we’ll know the waters aren’t healthy, because the rice will only grow where the water is clean enough, a marker of how far our work must go.

If any of this has resonated with you, please make an offering of Sema ~ Tobacco, our first Sacred Medicine, to the Land, in exchange.

Nia:weh, chi Miigwetch


 

joce tremblay
Joce Two Crows Tremblay is a two spirit, Great Lakes métis, artist, activist, night walkers, wonder wanderer, tree holder and lifelong e(art)hworker, co-creating in Tkaronto communities for nearly two decades.