Keeping our Sisters Safe

woman in all white swimming underwater

by Naomi Sayers

Above: Untitled by Brendan Stephens 

Last October, Canadians across the country voted. The Liberals won a majority. If Canadians voted for the Liberals, the Liberals promised to launch a national inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls and two-spirit persons (MMIWG2S). Canadians voted, the Liberals won, and now, the party has initiated the first steps to launching a national inquiry.

As I write this piece, Cabinet Ministers just completed the inquiry design meetings in British Columbia. The Cabinet Ministers present at the meetings include the Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada, the Minister of Justice, and the Minister of Status of Women. Since the Ministers announced the first steps into the inquiry, many people were confused. How did they start the process so quickly? Who is involved in and how they are involved?

For me, as a survivor of colonialism and all of its violence including state/individual violence, I prefer to ask questions about how this inquiry process will change the system which imprisons Indigenous, Brown and Black bodies at alarming rates. How do we move beyond a system, the criminal justice system, which responds to the violence that causes the issue of missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls and two-spirit persons to persist? Conversely, how do we seek justice for missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls and two-spirit persons without validating or legitimizing a system which continues to imprisons Indigenous, Brown and Black bodies at shocking rates? Can we imagine a world without continued policing of Indigenous, Brown and Black bodies through criminalization of same? And, can we imagine a world without prisons which continue to inflict harm and violence in on Indigenous, Brown, and Black peoples’ lives and which continue to benefit white settler society?

Whenever I hear the police say they are seeking more funds to help protect the vulnerable, I know they are not thinking about Indigenous women, girls or two-spirit folks. Whenever I hear representatives of various levels of governments or representatives of non-profit organizations say they need more funds to help protect victims of violence, I know they are not thinking about Indigenous women, girls or two-spirit folks. When discussions of violence take place, oftentimes we forget about the people who exist within violent systems—the prison system.

For some people, justice translates to retaliation, an eye for an eye. For many families and friends of MMIWG2S, it means seeing people imprisoned away for life. A life for a life. The families/friends of MMIWG2S have every right to decide what is justice for their loved ones. Yet, in Canada, life does not life. Life means twenty-five years. And, sometimes it means less than that, similar to how white settler society values the lives of MMIWG2S: less than…less than human.

For me, as someone who has been in the system, justice means making a change to support the lives of those women, girls and two-spirit folks still living. Justice, to me, means responsibility. What are our responsibilities to each other? To our families? To our neighbors? To our communities?

Whenever another Indigenous woman, girl or two-spirit person is reported missing or found murdered, we tell the stories about how they were a family member or a community member. The media articles often quoting loved ones, “She was a mother, a daughter, a sister, a friend…” True. We all belong to a family or a community in one way or another. But how do we move beyond a system, the criminal justice system, which responds to the violence that causes the issue of missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls and two-spirit persons to persist? Often times, it is this same system which allows the violence to exist. So, instead of telling stories, Indigenous women, girls, and two-spirit folks are keeping secrets. Secrets of police violence. Are these the secrets we want to keep?

One way we can move beyond a system which responds to the issue of MMIWG2S is the very simple act of believing. Believe the stories that Indigenous women, girls, and two-spirit folks tell you when they are experiencing violence, including the stories of police violence, or after they experienced violence. Also, create the space for Indigenous women, girls, and two-spirit folks to tell their stories. A space free of judgment, shame and a space filled with love and trust. Trust that one will not tell their stories without their consent.

While I acknowledge that some people see a criminal justice response as the only response, because as it exists today, it is the dominant response. However, I cannot agree that it is the only response to the issue of MMIWG2S. I think there are many actions that communities and individuals can take tomorrow to help fight for MMIWG2S.

For instance, similar to justice, safety or keeping safe means many different things to people in different contexts. In one context, being safe may mean staying alone for a few minutes or a few days. In another instance, being safe may mean having a telephone conversation with a loved one, letting them know you are okay. So, safety can mean many different things and we can help keep each other safe in many different ways. When I think about safety, I think about what has kept me calm, breathing. It is the system who prefers I stop breathing, so I breathe.

Both individuals and communities can do some of the following to help keeping Indigenous women, girls and two-spirit folks safe:

  • Offer to give someone a ride or bus fare, if they need to get somewhere (if possible)
  • Offer to pick someone up or pay for a cab, if they need to get back home (if possible)
  • Offer to cook a warm meal, if they have been away for a long time
  • Offer a warm shower/bath
  • Offer to attend an appointment with them
  • Offer to help with groceries for a week
  • Offer to go for a walk with them

Even though these suggestions are not systemic changes to the criminal justice system which will end violence against Indigenous women, girls and two-spirit folks, I know that the small things have helped me get through the day and kept me safe—however, I chose to define safety for me in that moment. For members of over-policed/over-criminalized communities (i.e., sex workers), safety means not calling the police which often invites more violence into our lives. So, safety means never engaging with the criminal justice system. Ever. It is literally a life and death situation when our lives are threatened for simply existing.

It is no accident that the bodies who occupy the spaces in prisons are predominantly Indigenous, Brown and Black. It is not an accident that the bodies who are over-policed/over-criminalized are predominantly Indigenous, Brown and Black. So, how do we imagine a world without policing of Indigenous, Brown and Black bodies and without criminalization of same? And, can we imagine a world without prisons which continue to inflict harm and violence in Indigenous, Brown and Black peoples’ lives and which continue to benefit white settler society?

The people who work within the system are predominantly white settlers. They benefit from the imprisonment of Indigenous, Brown and Black bodies. They make a living off of the continued policing or criminalizing of same. So what if we asked questions about how the inquiry process will make change which prevents the continued imprisonment, or the continued policing or criminalizing of Indigenous, Brown and Black bodies? What if we asked for an investment into our communities, the same communities whose mothers, daughters, sisters, friends and family members who continue to go missing and murdered? What if we asked for an investment into our communities, the same communities who continued to be targeted with police violence? The same communities whose Indigenous women, girls and two-spirit folks keep secrets instead of telling their stories? The same communities whose same members occupy prisons at alarming rates? I want to begin to create the space where our people can tell stories instead of keep secrets. I want to begin to create the space where our people can feel safe, without judgment or shame. I want to begin to create space where our people can not rely on the system that continues to benefit white settler society through the imprisonment of our families/friends and that continues to benefit white settlers while they live and work on stolen Indigenous land. O’ Canada, our home on native land. Stolen Indigenous land.

If you believe the change is too hard to make, let me remind you that it’s simple: create the space, believe our stories, and realize the potential for a world without prisons. And, that should be our responsibility to each other and to our communities. 


Portrait of Naomi in a white blazer with her hand on her hip looking down

Naomi Sayers is an indigenous feminist and an Anishnaabe-kwe who writes at www.kwetoday.com. She is currently studying law at the University of Ottawa. Naomi is frequently asked to write about issues relating to missing and murdered Indigenous women. She is also regularly asked to speak on issues relating to violence against Indigenous women and sex work related policy. 

Book Review: Science of the Sacred

Picture of Nicole Redvers "Science of the Sacred" book cover. in smaller font it reads "bridging global indigenous medicine systems and modern scientific principles". There is an image of a stethoscope and eagle feather.

Book by Nicole Redvers, ND

Review by Shabina Lafleur-Gangji

I have been following Dr. Nicole Redvers’ work since she was awarded the Arctic Inspiration Prize for her work with the Arctic Indigenous Wellness Foundation, an organization dedicated to revitalizing Indigenous traditional healing services in the North. As an herbalist and a woman of colour, working to support the resurgence of traditional knowledge in my community, I found her work to get traditional foods into hospitals super inspiring. When it was announced that she was publishing a book, I knew I had to read it.

The Science of the Sacred: Bridging Global Indigenous Medicine Systems and Modern Scientific Principles explores the relationship between medical research and Indigenous healing practices from across the globe. Redvers draws on her knowledge from her education and experience as a Naturopathic Doctor and more personally, as a Dene woman. While reading her book, I found myself pausing again and again, taking in the strength of traditional knowledge and the depth of understanding that our ancestors carried.

In a time where so many people are so sick, it can be so very to place Western Medicine on either side of a dangerous binary of good or bad as Traditional Chinese Medicine tells us, there is no Yin without Yang. Meaning binaries are but an illusion in the everchanging cycles of life. This book allows the reader to see how Western Medical science is also part of this cycle. A system that was once so deviated from natural ways of knowing has slowly started to come full circle and back to our roots. Redvers conducts a very thorough examination of current medical research that affirms the knowledge of our grandmothers, showing us that the future of Western science is one that can work in harmony with our various traditional systems of knowledge.

What struck me the most about the book was how much overlap there is between our various cultures and healing practices and it became clear that our various ways of seeing the world are not simply different worldviews, but in fact, are different interpretations of a common truth. We are all connected by the ways we have observed the natural world.

Overall, I definitely recommend this incredible and well research piece and look forward to seeing more of Dr. Redvers work.

Shabina is a community herbalist and organizer working towards the liberation of all people.

What You Wear

illustration of a moon with floral inside

An Interview with Riley Kucheran

by Ciana Hamilton

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mental Health in the Legal Profession

A blue digital illustration of two ambiguous books. One is open and laying on a pillow the other closed.

by Naomi Sayers

This piece was first written when Naomi was an articling student and under a good character investigation by the Law Society of Ontario (“LSO”) as a result of her self-disclosures to the LSO. The LSO does not investigate all lawyer-licensee candidates. During that time, Naomi felt isolated and alienated from the legal profession given her experiences. To date, she stills feel isolated and alienated given the conversations around self-care and mental health fail to interrogate the ways in which colonialism and all of its misogyny and racism (and other isms) impact Indigenous law students to date. Naomi kept this piece in its original format, but she is now a lawyer. She still believes that LSO still has a lot of work to do in order to truly practice inclusivity. This represents Naomi’s views only and is not legal advice.

Self-care. It is one of those terms that seems to have been taken up by everyone and anyone. Sometimes it is used by people, organizations and institutions in an unintended way. One such way includes avoiding responsibility of systemic and institutional neglect over many years, decades even.

At the time I first drafted this piece, I was in Ontario’s lawyer licensing process. This means that I have graduated law school, applied to become a lawyer in Ontario, passed the lawyer licensing examinations, or as some of my friends have done, deferred the lawyer licensing examinations until after their articles. Completing your articles is the process of learning through doing. In laymen terms, it is like a co-op placement.

Throughout law school, I struggled. I struggled in the sense that I felt alienated and isolated from the discussions that were taking place in the classroom. This is not to say, however, that I did not do well. I felt alienated and isolated from the structure of law school. I did not see or hear about similar experiences that I went through within the classrooms. In one experience, where I enrolled in a course dedicated to social justice advocacy, I thought I would excel. I heard about how you could write an op-ed (an opinion piece that is either solicited by the editor of a major media outlet or that is pitched to a major media outlet by an individual who is not a regular contributor) or, if I recall correctly, how you could learn how to make submissions to parliamentary committees. In any event, it was a class where I already had done all the things in my advocacy work seeking to decriminalize sex work. It was also work that I continued to do throughout law school. The unique thing about this disclosure is in the fact that I went to a law school where many professors supported the complete abolition of prostitution all in an effort to save women like me, poor little indigenous women. But, I didn’t and I, most certainly, don’t need saving.

When I was articling, I was living in Toronto, completing my articles on Bay Street (almost every little middle-class white boy’s wet dream, chasing after his daddy’s footsteps) in a space that prioritizes health care, especially mental health care. However, for the profession as a whole, this does not always mean that they prioritize health care, despite saying otherwise.

When I was in law school, I kept hearing or seeing these self-care narratives literally everywhere. What was missing from these messages was the trauma-informed approach where self-care originates. For example, trauma-informed approaches acknowledge that each individual responds to their own experiences, including traumatic experiences, in unique ways. This means that sometimes your friend may prefer to be alone after expending their energy in negotiating a difficult conversation or another friend may require immediate support in the way of bonding over your choice of substance to alleviate the anxiety from a traumatic experience (Note: I am not encouraging different kinds of substance use; rather, it is about supporting an individual’s choice). Now that I am in the articling process, I see these same messages, “Practice self-care”. What is missing from these conversations, again, is the trauma-informed approach. Yet, this begs the question, can a profession support individuals from a trauma-informed approach when it has historically excluded (and arguably, presently excludes) individuals who have been regulated and policed out of the legal profession bylaws?

During the 1950s, the laws that prevented Indigenous people from hiring lawyers were repealed. This means that, throughout the time of Canada’s colonization (and continued colonization), entire generations of Indigenous communities were left without legal representation—at a moment in time when colonial Canada was passing laws that infringe on their rights. Yes, the concept of justice and the nature of Indigenous law does not always align with those of Canada’s views or concepts. However, the effects of these laws mean that an entire generation of people were literally erased, silenced and ignored during a critical point in the making and shaping of colonial Canada. This is not unintentional. While this article is not about the colonial context of Canada, it is important to understand parts of this history when talking about trauma-informed approaches to mental health care.

Mental health care and self-care discussions in predominantly white spaces translate to discussions about how a bubble bath can make you feel safe and warm. These conversations do not mean that we have conversations about how institutional racism and everyday microaggressions impact your physical health.

Trauma-informed practice is about embodying a range of principles that centre the needs, experiences and expertise of individuals who have experienced or continued to experience trauma in their lives. Trauma can range from a single occurrence to intergenerational trauma. A trauma-informed practice, ultimately, centers an individual’s control, choice and safety. It means that the individual attends to what will make them safe in that moment, by making the choices they can and in a way that they can.

When it comes to self-care, most institutions that have taken up these narratives inadvertently appropriating these terms in a way that, as I mentioned, avoids responsibility. First, institutions, like law schools or institutions who have a history of excluding racialized or Indigenous folks, that adopt a self-care approach without a trauma-informed approach tend to cause more harm. When I was law school, I reached out to a professor in law school after another professor stated that there were only two kinds of laws in Canada. This idea that there are only two kinds of law in Canada means that Indigenous legal traditions are never acknowledged. This erasure, again, means that Indigenous law students are left arguing their own existence. Then, when you have certain experiences being policed and regulated out of the profession, we have a different kind of conversation happening altogether. The question is no longer how much needs to be done to improve the diversity and inclusion of certain kinds of people. Rather, the question becomes what needs to change at an institutional and systemic level in order to address the barriers created by having honest conversations about institutional and systemic discrimination in the legal profession.

Recently, the regulator for Ontario’s lawyers mandated all lawyers to adopt a statement of principles. The statement of principles is one of many recommendations from the Racialized Licensees Report. This specific recommendation, along with the others named in the report, is meant to address the barriers faced by racialized licensees. However, the Report outlines that Indigenous licensees face “unique experiences” (The Racialized Licensees Report, p 8). The Law Society of Ontario (“Law Society”), as the Report states, “has a duty to maintain and advance the cause of justice and the rule of law, to facilitate access to justice for the people of Ontario and to protect the public interest” (The Racialized Licensees Report, p 11). In order to fulfill this duty, the Law Society must also ensure its policies, practices and programs live up to the values and principles of equality and diversity (The Racialized Licensees Report, p 11). One such policy and practice, however, includes their good character form.

While I agree with the rationale behind adhering to the good character standard, I question whether the Law Society’s policy and practice of adopting a form requirement across the board for all licensing candidates is truly an equality and diversity practice.

For example, when a licensing candidate applies to the Law Society, this candidate must disclose a range of things, including criminal convictions. However, question one on the good character form asks, whether the candidate has “been found guilty of, or convicted of, any offence under any statute” (Lawyer Licensing Process Policies, Part IV: Good Character). You must answer yes to question one if you have been found guilty or convicted under any statute. (Canadian Civil Liberties Association, p 1). The consequence of this question is that it has a wide reach for almost any person. For Indigenous people, this is troublesome.

Indigenous people who are convicted or found guilty of any offence under any statute (which does not seem to be slowing down at any rate) will have to answer yes to question one as outlined above, including those who have accessed the Gladue sentencing regime. The question, then, is not whether the Law Society is adopting equity and diversity principles in its policies, practices and programs. Rather, the question is whether the Law Society is engaging in systemic and/or institutional discrimination with its blanket form, applied across the board to anyone, especially regarding Indigenous people. Again, my issue is not the rationale behind the good character form; it is the practice of assuming that this form is applied equally in a fair manner. Sadly, the Law Society released a report on a review of its good character practices in early 2019 (Professional Regulation Committee, 2019). The facts for lawyer-licensee candidates from this report are as follows:

  1. Over a six-year period, the Law Society received 14,000+ applications from lawyer candidates with only two hundred candidates self-identifying as Indigenous.
  2. 10% of the non-Indigenous candidates answered yes to a good character question.
  3. 18% of the self-identified Indigenous candidates answered yes to a good character question.
  4. The report does not provide numbers for the Indigenous candidates who had their good character issues resolved at an initial step, at an investigation or at a hearing. The report does state that 80-90% candidates of those who did answer a good character question in the affirmative were resolved at the initial step and only 1-2% candidates went to a good character hearing.
  5. Presumably, 10-20% candidates went to a hearing.
  6. Since the number of self-identified Indigenous candidates who answer yes to a good character question is higher by 15-25% (5%-10% estimate based on item 3 above), it is safe to assume that 20-30% of self-identified Indigenous candidates went to a good character hearing.
  7. Based on the above assumption, it could be assumed that 40-60 self-identified Indigenous candidates out of 200 went to a good character hearing over a six-year period or approximately 10 self-identified Indigenous candidates went to a good character hearing each year over a six-year period.

With the conversation around the statement of principles taking place in Ontario, I cringe each time I hear or read about another lawyer impacted by racism trying to justify why this mandated recommendation is essential in ending barriers to racialized licensees. I also cringe when people assume that this is a free speech issue. Free speech for whom? It is most certainly not for the racialized or Indigenous licensees now almost being forced to write their stories, trying to convince everyone who doesn’t believe racism exists…. that racism exists!

It was only in the 1950s where laws that excluded Indigenous people from entering law school, practicing law or hiring lawyers were repealed (See Constance Backhouse, “Gender and Race in the Construction of ‘Legal Professionalism’: Historical Perspectives” in Adam Dodek & Alice Woolley, eds, In Search of the Ethical Lawyer (Vancouver: UBC Press, 2016) 126 at 133). Entire generations of Indigenous people were excluded from entering the profession. That is, people like my grandfathers and grandmothers prohibited from entering the profession—two generations ago. During that time, however, my community was surrounded by several residential schools. It is very unlikely that my ancestors would have even survived long enough, sadly, to enter law school. And, undoubtedly, Indigenous folks continue to be excluded from the profession for a range of other barriers.

But I survived and I am here.

I write this in the context of acknowledging this history of denying indigenous people the illusion of freedom to enter the profession. I also write to highlight the problems with the discussion around the statement of principles, as an alleged diversity and equity initiative.

These kinds of initiatives are a distraction from the issue of racism in the profession. Preventing people from having honest conversations about the real issue—racism—is how institutional and systemic discrimination works. They allow institutions and people to say, “Look at all the hard work we have done!” And, when you critique the initiative, you are the problem such as I have done in very public spaces and have been ostracized by more senior lawyers, including racialized lawyers.

As for the statement of principles, these initiatives are merely check box approaches to the problem. Perhaps, one day, we can all have a healthy conversation about institutional and systemic discrimination without racialized and Indigenous licensees and licensing candidates carrying the burden of retelling their stories.

Naomi Sayers is an Indigenous feminist and lawyer. She tweets under the moniker @kwetoday. Views are her own.

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.

Reconciliation Means Making Things Right

Black and white drawing of an indigenous person with their fist raised holding a traditional shield-like object in their other hand. They have a checkered cap on and behind the image reads "matriarch Camp 4 ever".

An Interview with Christi Belcourt

by Katherine Nixon

Artwork by bitty

After moving away from the city in 2000, Michif artist, Christi Belcourt, began to paint full time. Over time, she says the plants and land became her teachers and she began to understand the interconnectedness of everything in a deeper and more profoundly spiritual way. Her love for the earth and her people can be seen throughout all her work.

Currently, Christi working with the Onaman Collective to support the resurgence of language and land based practices.

Recently, I was given with the opportunity to ask her some questions about her work and how she sees moving forward.

Katherine: How has art helped you express your culture?

Christi: The worldview, which is commonly shared by many different indigenous nations across the globe, is that there are laws (which are natural laws) of the earth to which human beings must adhere to and be respectful of. And those observing those natural laws, and living in, as people would more commonly referred to, as living in balance with the earth, is what has sustained human populations and the earth and every other species since the beginning of time. But what has happened more recently is that we are seeing that, especially since the advent of the industrial age, is the human species has begun to believe they contain it, and control, the natural laws. And we are seeing the consequences of breaching that very sacred and spiritual balance that we have with the earth. And so this worldview is still held within Indigenous communities of common belief and practice, of the act of walking softly with the earth and needing to really be respectful and mindful of the spirits that exist all around us, in the land which we are privileged to live upon. And that we are dependent on everything else in the earth, and that nothing, absolutely nothing is dependent on us. And so the idea that we’re at the top of the food chain is actually quite opposite in reality, where we’re really at the bottom. And we are dependent on everything, and therefore it’s incumbent upon us to walk softly, and be respectful and gentle in the ways that we approach the earth. Which is in direct contrast to the systems that are governing the earth at the moment, which are based on capitalism, and basically taking from the earth and not returning anything; really believing that human beings are meant to be dominant over the earth. Which is a really predominantly Judeo-Christian belief, and a belief of other religions around the world, that have formed the belief systems of governments that are basically destroying the world. So combined with the capitalist system and the corporate structure of the world, we are seeing a rapid climate change and things that are happening that are creating poverty and suffering around the world through the capitalist model which is mostly disguised as democracy. So my paintings now are a reflection of the belief system that we need to be in balance with the earth and we need to respect things that sustain our life system on this planet, and the ecosystems in which they live. And so, I paint what some people might think are simply pretty flowers, but what I’m trying to really say is let us exalt the beauty of the earth and the way that she sustains us all, and let us respect that beauty as if it were our own son and daughter.

K: I know you were one of the inspirations for the Valentino designs. How was that for you? When the non-Indigenous populations of the world are watching and seeing your designs, how did that feel for you to get the message out there-through your artwork?

C: I think the message that was carried forward with Valentino was that the vast majority that would have seen the dresses, or the collaborative work, would not have also necessarily read the messages about the work, and they wouldn’t have necessarily understood that was what they were seeing. For the people who did the the time to maybe look a little bit further, or read some of the interviews that happened, they maybe would have got some of the messages. Y’know, people’s attention spans are very limited nowadays. And we’re oversaturated with media, and it’s hard to get messages out in a really deep and meaningful way.

But that said, it was fun to work with Valentino. Valentino: not the Valentino, but the designers within Valentino. And it was a pleasure to work with them. As far as fashion houses go, they have been rated #1 by Greenpeace for a number of years for their consciousness, I suppose, for wanting to move towards having all of their materials sourced sustainably. And they are conscious of that. They have been, unfortunately in more recent years, accused of appropriation of Indigenous designs, and this is really very sad and disappointing for me. Because it was one of the very clear, distinct questions that I had at the beginning; and I had made it clear that I didn’t approve of fashion houses who appropriated Indigenous designs. And I find that most of the big fashion houses that appropriate on a regular basis, seem to be completely tone deaf and ignore the concerns that are being brought forward by fashion designers that are working themselves in a more conscientious way.

K: What would be your hope for the future in terms of moving forward and looking more towards real and true reconciliation?

C: For me, reconciliation cannot happen without the return of stolen Indigenous lands. And it is that simple. When we look at what colonial governments did in the 1800s and into the 1900s, is they systematically went about the earth and removed Indigenous people from their lands. Not just in North America, but in so many other continents as well. And they wanted their resources. They wanted Indigenous people out of the way so they could have a free-for-all in the resources, and make themselves rich in the process. And over time, a lot of those colonial governments, such as the British empire, the countries themselves moved towards independence from England, but they left their colonial governments behind. So although they may have gained independence, it is the fact that Indigenous peoples were removed off of their land for their resources was never resolved. And it is most the issues that we face, as Indigenous people, are a result, a direct result, of those purposeful, tactical efforts to move us off the lands and to assimilate us, or in some cases outright eliminate us. And were are and still are experiencing and live everyday with the fallout of that reality. And we cannot fix it without having what was taken be fully restored. Which to me is our lands, and complete control over our lives and over our lands. And that would mean, perhaps, that I’m talking about separation. Maybe I’m talking about other countries. Many people get up in arms when I talk about that. They say “What do expect us to do, divide Canada up into 70 different little parcels?” And other people get quite hostile when I bring this up, they say “What do you expect us to do? All move back to Europe? We’re Canadian!” And of course, Indigenous people have never, ever been unreasonable. On the contrary, Indigenous people have been welcoming, they have been accommodating, and they have taken 400 years of abuse and genocide and still, they turn around and say they’re interested in reconciliation. So I think Indigenous people have proven through their actions how exactly peaceful and beautiful they are and how willing they would be to discuss models whereby we would have our land back, but there would still enough for Canadians to be able to survive and thrive. So to me this is what reconciliation truly is, is to put us on equal footing. Whereby our nations are equal with the Canadian nation. And then we can then begin to discuss a true relationship that is reciprocal. Right now we are not anywhere near a reciprocal, equal relationship; and this has very huge consequences on our lives, and on our children’s lives. And so, when I think about reconciliation, I think about land immediately, and what I would love nothing more than to see everyone who lives on this continent live in a way that has protections and where their children are able to thrive; where our languages and our people are really able to regain everything that was stolen and lost to us over time. So that, to me is reconciliation; is you return what was stolen, and you fix it and you make it right; and then you back off.

K: You mentioned about children being affected. I wanted to ask you about the Onamoan Collective that you started with Isaac Murdoch. Could you maybe go over some of the stuff that you guys are doing?

C: It is an initiative that is being done by the elders and some of the youth in the region; Isaac and I might be the more public figures but people mistakenly think that this is our thing, when it isn’t, it is really being driven by the youth in this area. And they are actively trying to regain and learn their language. It’s a language of community that’s trying to also regain some of the traditional knowledge around land-based living and practices. And so we started to build camps and put the infrastructure in place so that we could have space on the land in which we can dedicate more time to learning the language and learning the traditional skills. One thing that is a hardship on Indigenous people that are trying to do these practices is that 80% of the land mass in Canada has been deemed Crown land, and when they try to build camps, it’s really an issue of trying to have some land on which to do these things that is outside of reserve boundaries and in their traditional territories. And there are many examples of people being persecuted by provincial laws for trying to build camps within their traditional territories. For example, right now, Sylvia McAdam, who is a co-founder of Idle No More, built a camp with her brother on their traditional territory on their dad’s traplines; the province moved in a destroyed their buildings and took everything off the land, and have now charged her. And she is to appear in court in the coming weeks, for trespassing on her own lands. And this is the common treatment of Indigenous people when they’re trying to move back to their own land to exercise their rights on their lands and to be together with their family doing traditional practices. And this is the more common treatment than not. Again, it goes back to land, that we have the issue with the land, always. And this would alleviate a lot of problems, if we could have control of our own land without being imposed upon by the provincial and federal governments.

K: That’s so important, just acknowledging the fact that this land is Indigenous land and not Settler land.

C: Can I just say one thing there? I think that land acknowledgements are nice, but they are not enough. And I believe that as more people are sort of adopting land acknowledgements into their practices of their educational institutions and within governments, I think that if anybody reading this is currently doing land acknowledgements, I would also encourage them to begin to talk and push for their local and regional First Nation and Métis people to actually have physical land. So it’s not good enough to just acknowledge the land that we’re on, but we must also move towards giving the land back, and taking action in that direction; otherwise acknowledgements become nothing more than just empty words.

K: Is there anything else you’d like to add?

C: I think that a way also that we can move forward together in the spirit of reconciliation is to join forces against corporations and governments who are trying to ruin our water. So it means not turning a blind eye to areas in other regions where their water is threatened, but offering our support. Whether it’s financial, moral, or physical support on the ground, to create connected networks of advocates and people who will take action to protect our water. This is the biggest threat that is coming in the next decades … water for the coming generations. The corporations are happy to continue to pollute the earth. And they will avoid cities and big centres where frankly the population is high of people who come out to vote. So they will avoid those places; but they have no hesitation to go through smaller towns and to go through Indigenous communities to poison their waters because they don’t have the physical numbers of support that is needed. So if we want to move forward together, then we need to unite for the water, and force governments to stop giving favours to corporations and force governments to turn to green technology and invest in that, and not ask; because they’re not listening to the people. The corporations are really running the show and they’re running governments, and we need to wake up, and unite before it’s too late for the next generations. And this is a way I see that we can work together. We always say that water has no flag and that water has no race and it’s just the people coming together to help one another, and to make sure future generations have something good and clean for themselves as we did when we were growing up.

Christi Belcourt is a Michif (Métis) visual artist with a deep respect for Mother Earth, the traditions and the knowledge of her people. In addition to her paintings she is also known as a community based artist, environmentalist and advocate for the lands, waters and Indigenous peoples.

Katherine Nixon is the unassuming attendant of St James highschool by day, but in her spare time is a hell raising humanitarian. She has spent a lot of her life volunteering and advocating for human and non-human animal rights. Her work includes organizing solidarity events, creating relief packages for Refugees, winter-survival kits for Guelph’s homeless, and spending time volunteering at Hope House.

Black and White portrait of Bitty close mouth smiling with arms raised in a black shirt. They have on glasses and dark lipstick

My name is Bitty. I am two-spirit and I make art. I have maternal Coast Salish roots of Lkwungen, Quw’utsun and Lummi descent and paternal roots of mixed Irish, French and Euro ancestry. The art I contributed about Matriarch Camp is a piece I drew to fundraise to sustain camp and out of a deep respect and gratitude to Ma’amtagila grandmother Tsastilqualus Ambers Umbas and the young matriarchs, warrior womxn and salmon protectors who hold the space that is Matriarch Camp.

This is How the World Keeps Going

Black and white print of woodblock carving. Image is of a lady of liberty in black dress holding a feather and candle. It reads "lady (parts) liberty's ground swells

by Daniella Robinson

Artwork: Lady Liberty by Leigh Brownhill

The impacts of colonization are insurmountable. It is impossible to totally quantify and qualify the damage that brutalizing colonial processes continue to do to Indigenous peoples and communities, both in Canada and around the world. When I close my eyes, I try to imagine what it would feel like to know that Indigenous lives are valued by the Canadian nation…this is a struggle for me.

I am Bigstone Cree and Italian, was raised in an Italian Catholic environment and learned about my Indigenous heritage through work and volunteerism with Indigenous organizations. Prior to beginning my undergraduate degree, I had little knowledge of Indigenous culture. I visited my Cree side of the family in Western Canada yearly, but we never really talked about ‘being Indigenous’ or what this meant. When I started my undergraduate degree, I connected with the Aboriginal Resource Centre on campus and began my journey to learn more about my heritage. I learned about numerous topics: the history of residential school, the 60’s scoop, relationship-building between Indigenous communities and non-Indigenous allies, racism and sexism built into Canada’s Indian Act and its impact on communities, the creation of the reservation system, educational discrepancies between on and off-reserve schools, and Indigenous experiences of poverty, food insecurity and poor housing infrastructure across Canada. I was inundated with information about issues faced by people I was really beginning to think about as kin, and I began to feel a rage and sadness that I wasn’t sure how to navigate. This feeling continued as I got more involved in community-driven work and volunteerism.

How can you possibly be accountable to the First Nations, Métis and Inuit families who were torn apart in the name of ‘progress’? Or to the communities who never saw their children again after the 60’s scoop and residential schools? How do you quantify the effects of linguicide? Cultural genocide? What can we do to protect Mother Earth when we have pipelines being pushed through unceded territories? How can we heal with our communities when we know Indigenous women are overrepresented as victims of sexual violence, human trafficking and homicide?

Still, we persist and we resist.


I am a survivor of sexual violence. I pursued a PhD in Human Sexuality to work through my own experiences of trauma and to hold space for imaginings of a better future. Though I am by no means an expert on healing and recognize that everyone is on their own path, I know that I would be nowhere without my support systems. Even during the darkest parts of my journey, I had safe places to stay, a good education, shoulders to cry on, and friends that lit my cigarettes when I was too shaky to do it myself.

My heart breaks for all the women and girls who have to contend with the awful feelings that come with being violated, abused, and taken advantage of because of their open and trusting hearts. I get angry knowing that when women try to escape this violence, they are often turned away from overcrowded and underfunded shelters that are already full. My heart breaks again when I read about what some of our women have had to do in order to support themselves and their families because the options available are so scarce.

It can be difficult for us to move away from the traumatic narratives we are attached to, but we do. I am inspired by brilliant Indigenous artists who produce beautiful pieces on decolonial love and sexuality (check our RJ Jones. They’re amazing!), producers who spend hundreds of hours creating beautiful messages of affirmation and strength (shout out to Jason Jenkins of Going on Dreams!), and writers who name systems of power and shout them down (The Marrow Thieves by Cherie Dimaline).

I want to end this submission with a quote that speaks to the beauty of gratitude and community. Braiding Sweetgrass is a beautiful book and Robin Wall Kimmerer is a phenomenal storyteller.  

“Of all the wise teachers who have come into my life, none are more eloquent than these, who wordlessly in leaf and vine embody the knowledge of relationship. Alone, a bean is just a vine, squash an oversized leaf. Only when standing together with corn does a whole emerge which transcends the individual. The gifts of each are more fully expressed when they are nurtured together than alone. In ripe ears, and swelling fruit, they counsel us that all gifts are multiplied in relationship. This is how the world keeps going” – Robin Wall Kimmerer, Braiding Sweetgrass

I lean into these inspirations in awe and with wonder, as they gently but firmly remind me to be less self-critical and to be the strong kwe I know in my heart that I am.

Black and white selfie of Daniella Robinson. Daniella is smiling with closed lips.

Daniella Robinson is a Bigstone-Cree and Italian sister, daughter, partner and student. She is completing a PhD in Human Sexuality through the California Institute of Integral Studies, and intends to write an intervention-focused dissertation that centers the needs of Indigenous women. This article is an adaptation of a paper she wrote for her program.

Black and white headshot of Leigh Brownhill with a closed lip smile

Leigh Brownhill is a writer, editor and teacher who makes and uses art in her scholarly books, journals and articles. Both art and research have in turn deeply informed her lifelong anti-colonial ecofeminist activism.

Violence as Healing; Not All Will Agree

black and white sketch of regan de Loggans

By: Regan de Loggans

Above artwork by Grace Insoga

Pisa Aiukli
 
Okhissa tiwwi, Okhissushi akammi
Okhissushi tiwwi, Okhissa akammi
 
Ish Haklo ho? Sa Haklo ho?
…………….Chi Nukshopa ho?
 
Keyu, sa tikabih. Omba sa banna.
 
Okhissa tiwwi, Okhissa akammi
Sabbak acheefa sa banna
 
Open the door, Close the window
Open the window, close the door
 
Are you listening? Do you hear me?
…………….Are you afraid?
 
No, I am tired. I want rain.
 
Open the window, close the door
I want to wash my hands.

When considering legacies of healing, I become bitter and resentful. I do not find it fair that I am expected to heal myself and my community because of things done onto us by foreign bodies. I know that my reaction sounds selfish and righteous, but I expect better. I know resentful behavior can only lead to anger and sadness, but it is how I feel as an indigenous person forced to navigate a colonial world.

I am angry as I write this. Not for the opportunity but rather because the opportunity exists in the first place. I cannot be alone in this anger-But I might be. As an academic, I want to be reasonable and respond with intelligence. And hope that my intelligent rebuttal will empower others in their healing. But honestly, I’m fucking tired of that feeling. I resist colonialism everyday when I wake up by being alive in a world that was not meant to see my survival. But that is not enough. Waking up in a colonial and capitalistic world is still my reality; and it’s a reality I did not consent to.

Legacies of healing can be just as traumatic as colonial violence; It takes everything in all of us to function. And I know we are all exhausted. But spite keeps me going. I refuse to heel in front of the police who want my death or imprisonment, while on my land. I believe that resistance is inherently righteous violence against the oppressive institutions. And it is hard to live a violent life.

A past of violence and a reaction that is violent is my life and the life of any indigenous person who chooses to reclaim, resurge, and redefine. And I need others to acknowledge that healing is an act of righteous violence and reclamation of violence done onto oneself and others.

But violence against the colonial state is a tactic of survival, it is a refusal of heteropatriarchy, colonialism, possessiveness, and imperialism. “The Kwe Method” is what some have called it. And it is what I want my life to be defined by-The chosen refusal of oppression. I refuse to heal quietly or alone. MY legacy of healing is one defined by violence, done as an act of revolutionary violence.

It will be loud. It will be fueled by anger. And it will be uncomfortable for all that witness it.

Regan de Loggans (Mississippi Choctaw-Ki’che’ Maya) is a historian/art historian, curator community activist, and practitioner of radical witchcraft. They are one of the founders of the Indigenous Womxn’s Collective: NYC. They live in Brooklyn, on the traditional lands of the Lenni Lenape. Insta: @PhaggotPlanet

Reconciliation Can Only Be Achieved by Action

grahpic of black plants with red flower buds on yellow background

By Katherine Nixon with Justin Boehringer

Artwork by Bitty

“I still remember the smell of the cold metal inside the float plane. It took me far away from home and I was never the same after that”. There was a long silence. In a broken voice, the speaker went on, “They took my culture, they took my language, they took me from my family, my people, the animals, my land, everything I knew and loved.” In a sharing circle of other residential school survivors, this man spoke his truth for the first time in a room filled with family members, health supports and the public.

“There is not a human being on this planet that does not yearn for the deep reconciliation of the human spirit” – Chief Joseph, Hereditary Chief of the Gwawaenuk First Nation

Residential Schools were government- sponsored institutions run by churches with the primary purpose to integrate or assimilate Indigenous children into mainstream Christian, Euro-Canadian culture. It is estimated that 150,000 children were brought to residential schools, and 6,000 died as a result. Children were isolated, their culture disparaged, and removed from their homes, parents, and siblings. The school separated them by gender; many times the children were pulled apart from their siblings and friends. They were forced to speak English and punished for speaking their native tongue, even when writing letters to their family. The agenda to “kill the Indian in the child” and to colonize every aspect of their being began from the very moment they stepped foot into the schools.

Residential schools violated the children by cutting their hair, taking away a very crucial part of their identity. Traditional clothes were also taken, the children were given uniforms and new colonial names. The children of residential schools had their whole identity stolen by colonialism. They were forced to observe Christian practices while being told that their own traditional practices were savage and that their family was going to hell. Children were subjected to physical, emotional, and sexual abuse, causing decades of intergenerational trauma that is still seen today.

Truth and Reconciliation was a buzz phrase created by the government as a measuring stick for their attitude toward Indigenous people. We see the government constantly vocalize their apologies; but when it comes to reconciliation, actions speak much louder than words. While Justin Trudeau has Indigenous art and headdresses hanging in the background of his speeches next to the Canadian flag, the government is currently embattled in a lawsuit for denying survivors of residential schools reparation money as they only attended during the day. Known as Day Scholars, First Nations, Métis and Inuit who were forced, as children, to attend these schools say they suffered atrocities similar to those who went full-time. The Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement, the largest class-action settlement in Canadian history, has paid more than a total of $5-billion to residential school survivors.  Claiming it was “never that Canada never intended to ‘eradicate Aboriginal languages, culture, identity, or spiritual practices’” through the institutions. Denying experiences and harm caused by the colonial government and cherry picking who they deem worthy of their meaningless apologies. In this so-called “era” of reconciliation, it is quite troubling that Indigenous people are still being told their experiences weren’t valid or real and that a colonial government is going to dictate if their experiences at a residential school were traumatic or not.

Now, Indigenous lead organizations across Canada are actively leading initiatives to help heal their communities post-cultural genocide.

Spear-headed by Jo-Anne Gottfriedson, who was sexually abused by a priest as a child during her time at Kamloops Indian Residential School, Justice For Day Scholars is an initiative that is helping Day Scholars to be acknowledged as survivors and to validate their experiences, by moving forward to try and heal by getting some compensation and recognition. They want Canada to provide a large enough settlement for the bands where that money is put in trust. Then the bands decide what specific programs it needs to help their community. Over 100 bands have joined  the lawsuit, and it is set to go to trial in April 2019.

In British Columbia, the Indian Residential School Survivors Society has provided services to survivors for over 20 years. Originally focused on assisting with litigation processes for residential school survivors, the IRSSS has expanded to provide education services to Indigenous and non-Indigenous folks alike. The IRSSS is governed by a board of direct or intergenerational survivors from six regions of BC, and is supported by a staff of 20 professionals and 17 Elders who provide Cultural Support, most of whom are either Indian Residential School Survivors or Intergenerational Survivors. They provide culturally appropriate counselling and traditional healing done by a team of 17 Elders, as well as having a hotline for Residential School Survivors to call 24/7 and offer counselling services.  

Chanie Wenjack, misnamed by residential school teachers as Charlie Wenjack, was an Anishinaabe boy born January 19, 1954 in Ogoki Post on the Marten Falls Reserve. In 1963, at the age of nine, Chanie was sent to the Cecilia Jeffrey Indian Residential school in Kenora, Ontario. In 1966, at 12 years old, Chanie ran away from Cecilia Jeffrey in an attempt to reunite with his family, 600 kilometers away. Nine other students ran away the same day, but were all captured within 24 hours. Chanie’s body was found beside the railway tracks on October 22, 1966, a week after he escaped the school. He had succumbed to starvation and exposure. He had nothing but a little glass jar with several matches in his coat pocket. He fell victim to Canada’s legacy of colonization of Indigenous people; this was the end for Chanie but a birth to a legacy of healing.


Justin Boehringer, the Education Associate, who is a member of the Skeetchestn Indian Band of the Secwepemc (Shuswap) Nation at the Gord Downie & Chanie Wenjack organization, said that the foundation is an Indigenous-led non-profit organization whose main purpose is to educate about the true intergenerational trauma caused by the schools. They use Chanie’s story as a way to show what has taken place to the children of the First Nations. When asked about how Canadians are doing in terms of Reconciliation today, Justin  said, “I always like to say in terms of Reconciliation, Canadians are doing much better than yesterday but not as good as tomorrow. We’ve come a long way but have so much further to go. Right now, too many people see reconciliation as something that is optional or just a trend; in fact, it is every Canadian’s responsibility. It needs to become something that is normalized and not just an event. So, to get where reconciliation is a part of everyday life, we still have a long way to go.” He was then asked, “How can we create reconciliation?” and responded, “The Truth and Reconciliation Committee’s definition of Reconciliation is: ‘Reconciliation is about establishing and maintaining a mutually respectful relationship between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal peoples in this country.’ In order for that to happen there has to be an awareness of the past, an acknowledgment of the harm that has been inflicted, atonement for the causes, and action to change behaviour.” He listed some examples of what real Reconciliation looks like:

i) Honouring Treaties

ii) Acknowledging and letting go of the negative perceptions and stereotypes

iii) Acknowledging the past and ensuring that history never repeats

v) Learning about Indigenous history

vi) Recognition and support of the deep connections Indigenous Peoples have to the land

vii) Supporting the reclamation of identity, language, culture and nationhood

Chanie’s story is representative of the story of thousands of other residential school victims. His death in 1966 sparked national attention and the first inquest into the treatment of Indigenous children in Canadian residential schools, prompting ethical and moral questioning of the institutions’ culturally oppressive and abusive environments. Wenjack became a symbol of resistance to the power of Colonization in Canada.

In conclusion, Justin’s message to others is to realize that we can move forward in the right direction from this story by understanding that, although this is just one story of one boy at one school, it is representative of thousands of Indigenous children and each of their own unique stories. Learning about Chanie’s story is a great first step towards reconciliation that can inspire people to learn and do more. They ask people to not stop there; let Chanie’s story open your heart to more learning and action. The right direction is different for every person because everyone is at a different spot on their learning journey. The organization is always open to educate and encourages others to look into the tools they provide to help create the change they wish to see.


Justin Boehringer is a member of the Skeetchestn Indian Band of the Secwepemc (Shuswap) Nation.  After having completed the Indigenous Teacher Education Program (NITEP), he worked as a teacher in the Surrey School District in BC teaching English Language Learners and taking on the role of Aboriginal Advocate teacher. He is now an Education Associate at The Gord Downie & Chanie Wenjack Fund as an Education Associate.

Katherine Nixon is the unassuming attendant of St James highschool by day, but in her spare time is a hell raising humanitarian. She has spent a lot of her life volunteering and advocating for human and non-human animal rights. Her work includes organizing solidarity events, creating relief packages for Refugees, winter-survival kits for Guelph’s homeless, and spending time volunteering at Hope House.

Black and White portrait of Bitty close mouth smiling with arms raised in a black shirt. They have on glasses and dark lipstick

My name is Bitty. I am two-spirit and I make art. I have maternal Coast Salish roots of Lkwungen, Quw’utsun and Lummi descent and paternal roots of mixed Irish, French and Euro ancestry. The art I contributed about Matriarch Camp is a piece I drew to fundraise to sustain camp and out of a deep respect and gratitude to Ma’amtagila grandmother Tsastilqualus Ambers Umbas and the young matriarchs, warrior womxn and salmon protectors who hold the space that is Matriarch Camp.

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.