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 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.