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.

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.

Together & Alone: Recovering Family Histories of Healing

a photo of small area of greenery on a beach with small human statue

by Tina Zafreen Alam

trees
the dead
stand stark and defiant
among the living
twisted, pale
limbs stretched skyward
still
in seas of lush green
naked, bare
together and alone

I ask questions. If I were to think of the most notable thing about me, it’s that I ask questions and that sometimes, these are the questions that no one else around me thought to, decided to, wanted to or was prepared to ask.

In March, I went to a free workshop on herbal medicine for stress and anxiety in hopes of finding ways to cope with a violent and oppressive school environment. The facilitator/knowledge-sharer spoke about traditional and Indigenous practices in general and gave us information about Ayurvedic traditions in particular.

I left the workshop with questions. Though I have a very limited and basic understanding of Ayurveda, I didn’t know if it was the practice that my ancestors in Bangladesh would have been connected to. So, I asked.

First, I asked my Mamoni (term of endearment meaning mother, dearest and what I call my mother’s second sister) and she told me I had an ancestor that was a herbalist. I then asked my Khalamoni (term of endearment meaning dearest maternal aunt and what I call my mom’s third sister) and my mother about it and everyone gave me different answers. Finally, I asked my Nannoo (my maternal grandmother) and she told me about someone who practiced traditional healing. It wasn’t until I checked back with my Mamoni that I realized that they were speaking of two different relatives. I set out looking to learn about one healer in the family and ended up hearing about two!

What follows are interviews with two family members on my mother’s side, my Nannoo and my Mamoni. I sent them both the same questions:

What is your name and your relationship to me?

Nannoo: My name is Hasna Begum and I am your maternal grandmother.

Mamoni: I am your maternal aunt. I have been very close to you, having lived with your family in Canada for a couple of years. And you lived with my family for a couple of years, your junior and senior years in high school, in Montreal and in New Haven.

What is your personal relationship with traditional healing practices or traditional medicine?

N: I have almost no personal relationship with traditional healing practices or traditional medicine. I am science oriented.

M: I have no formal connection to herbal or traditional medicine. I do usually have a tube of Arnica that I apply to myself and offer to others for minor aches or bruises. My maternal grandmother used to have an old wooden chest of small bottles of liquids and sugar balls that she would open to treat our minor cuts and bruises when we were kids. I found this chest very intriguing and was distressed to find it gone when my grandmother passed away.

Is there a particular name for traditional healing practices and traditional medicine that is practiced in the area now known as Bangladesh?

N: Yes, traditional medicine is still widely trusted and practiced in rural areas.

M: Yes, there are terms for traditional medicinal practices in Bangladesh. The first is Kobiraji, strictly speaking, herbalism, and the second would be loosely termed as Ojha, who engages in “jhara/pura,” or spiritualism mixed in with some herbal prescription. This is when the medicine man or woman would do incantations as well as a blow on people as part of the cure. Probably more to it but I have not actually watched one. I would say that about ninety-nine percent of Bangladeshis will have gone to one or other form of herbalist/spiritualist in their lifetime (just guessing here).

I heard that we have a family member who was a healer and herbalist, can you tell me her name, how she is related to us and what you know about her practice?

N: Her name was Zohra, my mother’s youngest sister. She was a healer and herbalist too! She often visited my mother, Rabeya, sometimes along with one male healer. They sat on a mat. Lit candles in the middle and meditated for hours before starting any treatment. They chanted some unrecognizable words and brought out herbs from their bundles for treatment of the patient in front. My response to these activities is skeptical!

M: My paternal great aunt (my grandfather’s sister) was such a person. I know very little about her except that when some member of her family was really ill, some herbs were revealed to her in her sleep by an angel and when she procured and prepared these, it is said to have cured the patient. My understanding is that this happened more than once.I do not know her name but, she was supposedly very spritely and smart and picked up lessons when her brothers were being tutored. As a girl, she would not have been tutored. She married and had four children, three boys and a girl. She died at childbirth after her last child, the daughter, was born.

Did you ever receive treatment from her or through her direction? And if so, can you describe what your initial concern was, what the treatment was and how you responded to it?

N: I, myself ever received any such treatment.

M: She was gone long before I was born.

Can you let me know how her practice was received or perceived by the rest of the family?

N: Most of the family members thought that the whole affair was fake and senseless.

M: I believe her family appreciated that her herbs helped her family member. Also, I do not think that it bothered anyone that this was ‘alternative’ medicine. I believe she was very well loved and I get the impression that she was what we would call an engaging and happy young girl/woman.

Have you yourself ever felt any personal connection to her practices or have any of your children (or grandchildren)?

N: My children received such treatment and sometimes got healed!

M: Strictly speaking, I cannot say that I have. My experience has not been medicine oriented. I have had strange dreams and urges to call home when there was no particular reason to but I have not sought out any of it.So here are two or three stories when my connection to my family seems to have driven me to make phone calls to my family only to find that there was grave news awaiting me. The first instance was in 1986 when I was away in Harare, Zimbabwe, doing field research. I lived in Montreal and was a graduate student at McGill University. Most of my family lived in Dhaka, Bangladesh. In Harare, my then husband and I were renting a room in the suburban home of a Mrs. Jackson. She had a phone, but it was not one that we had access to. Also, this was a time when people wrote letters and phone calls were difficult – especially as it was still required to go via long distance call assistant to make the connection. Also, it was a relatively costly venture.

Anyway, I felt the sudden need to call home to Dhaka. Mrs. Jackson was reluctant. She only rarely used the phone to make long distance calls herself. In the end, she gave in when she saw how desperately I wanted to make the call. Also we gave her about Zim twenty dollars in advance. This was way more than the call would end up costing her.

When I called, my father answered the call and told me that a shadow had been detected  the x-ray of his liver the day before.

The second story was when I called my mother in Dhaka from New Haven on the same day that she found a lump on her breast. This turned out to be benign.

Do you feel it’s important to pass down and chronicle these stories and traditions?

N: My ignorance is responsible for not giving much importance to this particular method of treatment. But I think, it may be important to pass down and chronicle these stories and traditions for the knowledge of social and cultural heritage of a particular region.

M: Yes, I do feel that these stories are good to relate to family and let them deal with them in their own terms. I know my ex-husband completely downplayed the spiritual aspects of my dreams but my sisters do seem to value them.

How do you feel about discussing and sharing this information?

N: I find this discussion and sharing interesting enough!

M: I do not usually tell these stories to people other than to close family. Since these are about my close ties to them.

My Nanoo had aunts on either side of her family who were practicing herbalists, though she only knew of the one she told me about, Zohra.

My Mamoni only knew of the other aunt, whose name we don’t know, because her grandfather (my great grandfather, who I called Senior) told her stories about his sister. But, my mother and my Khalamoni didn’t know about these stories and thought I had misheard or misunderstood when I asked about them. So, I wonder if she, like me, was asking questions no one else was asking. I know that she, like me and like our ancestor before us, receives messages in her dreams.

The very process of trying to find this information has been a painful example of how I personally have been forcibly and violently disconnected from direct access to my ancestral knowledge through colonization, assimilation, loss of language, genocide, displacement, migration, and the valuing of certain man-made ways of understanding the world (science) through simultaneously devaluing other ways of understanding the world (everything else). Yet, traces of those traditions live on in me and in my Mamoni, and maybe in other family members as well.

Whose knowledge is positioned as truth and fact? Whose knowledge is revered? Whose knowledge is taught? Whose knowledge is passed down? Whose knowledge is shunned?

The barriers I am facing might have started out as overarching structural forces, but they are being perpetuated by many factors on a personal level as well.

The information that we are given is often directly tied to the questions we ask and who we ask them of. If we want ties to our cultural knowledge, especially as Black, Indigenous, People of Colour or diasporic people that might mean a lot of digging for clues and work as these disconnections are here by the design and intent of white supremacy. The traumas and traditions of my family are buried somewhere beneath the surface and I am trying to uncover them, one question at a time, following the wisdom that already lives in my bones.

Tina Zafreen Alam
Tina Zafreen Alam is a poet and a member of the Bangladeshi diaspora living in Toronto. She looks to name and illustrate the ways that transgenerational and intergenerational trauma have marked her life, while also affirming the wisdom that has passed down along with it.

Where are We Now?

by Asam Ahmad

It’s January 2nd, 2018. I’m speaking with Loretta Ross on reproductive justice and what that means in 2018. So Loretta, I guess I’ll start simply by asking you just that: Where are things at with reproductive justice in 2018, and where do we need to go from here?

LR: I think we are in a very good place, because we are more determined, we are more visionary, we are more focused. So that’s always good. Now what we’re up against is a neo- fascist president in Donald Trump. We are facing incredible rates of maternal and infant mortality in communities of colour. Some of us are still in mourning because people are dying at very young ages. Erica Garner just died, very young, 27 years old, with a young child. So we’re up against repression but at the same time we are fierce and focused and determined. We are also kind of surprised, because the reproductive justice movement has not only built a movement of women of colour in the United States, but that it has travelled globally so that people are using the human rights framework for laying claim to bodily autonomy, freedom to determine their sexuality, if and when they’ll have children, how they’ll have those children, and claiming the rights to raise those children in safe and healthy environments. And so I keep getting astonished by the power and the reach of the RJ framework.

Definitely. Here in Canada as well it has been taken up a lot, especially by Indigenous women, and there has been a lot of organizing happening around reproductive justice and land sovereignty. You brought up Erica Garner. Can you speak more to how you consider her death an issue of reproductive justice?

LR: Well, first of all the fact that her father was brutally murdered by New York City police and did not receive justice, meant that she dedicated her life to making sure that somebody atoned for her father’s murder. That had to have had an impact on her as she dealt with her pregnancy and her other health conditions. And then there is the real question of whether or not she was able to really take care of herself post-partum. Was she able to get the adequate post-partum care that she deserved? 27 years old is too young to die. I guess any age is too young but as a new mother it is especially painful. And so I don’t have any facts but I have my suspicions about whether she was able to take care of herself and receive the care that she deserved. But I don’t have any suspicions about… I know for a fact, that the stress of losing her father to policebrutality had to have had an impact on her life and her pregnancy.

You spoke recently with The Nation magazine, and you stated that “when we created reproductive justice in 1994, it was for this political moment.” And you just spoke a little bit about the neo-fascist onslaught we’re facing right now. Can you expand on that a little bit?

LR: Well, RJ was created because Black women felt that any analysis of reproductive politics that didn’t include an analysis of white supremacy was inadequate and impoverished. So, given that we’re at this moment where white supremacy is a lot more visible to a lot more people than it has been in recent history, I think that’s part of the attractiveness of the RJ framework, because it looks unflinchingly at white supremacy and. We look at neoliberalism, at misogyny, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, we can make the list. But every marginalized social location doesn’t have an adequate analysis of white supremacy, and that I think is one of the strengths of this framework because we look explicitly at whose bodies are privileged and whose bodies are disadvantaged and why.

Right. Thank you. One of the things we’ve spoken about in the past is the difficulty of building solidarity across difference. Here in Canada there is beginning to be more of a focus on violence against Black people and also the violence that Indigenous women face on this continent. Often times, however, people consider those to be two separate issues. I guess I’m wondering how you feel about building solidarity across that kind of difference where both issues are so urgent and so pertinent but people can’t always see the interconnectedness.

LR: Well to answer, I’d probably have to start by looking at identity politics. Identity politics was a framework created in 1977 by the Combahee River Collective that was supposed to be used to determine what identities each person possesses. And how those identities are threatened by structures of oppression. Unfortunately, identity politics has become misused so that people think it’s just a statement of their identity and that they don’t have to pay attention to the structures of oppression that not only affect their identities but other identities. That is not the role of identity politics. You’re supposed to find out who you are and – now that you know – figure out what you’re going to do about it in terms of ending the entire matrix of oppressions. And so, I think it’s taken a bad turn into people finding and seizing on their identities as if their identities are the only ones that matter. One of the things I’m working on in collaboration with

you and others, like Alicia Garza, and others is trying to create a calling-in culture so that we understand that we cannot build a united human rights movement if we are busily micro- dividing ourselves in the face of fascism. The fascists don’t care about our micro-divisions except for how they benefit their intent to oppress and in many ways wipe us out.

I think that it’s really important for us to really be self-critical of where we’ve let identity politics create movement silos. And why these silos will not serve us to create a united movement against fascism.

Do you feel that identity politics is still a useful framework for moving forward?

LR: Oh, absolutely. Absolutely. You need to know who you are otherwise you bring your confusion to the movement. So yes you need to know who you are and you’re own social locations and the oppressions that affect you. But that is just the beginning step, that is not the end of the process and the problem is people see the process as the destination. The destination is full human rights for everyone, but in the process you have to find out who you are and have an assessment of what you bring to a multi-vocal and multi-identity struggle.

 You also have a book that was recently published. Do you want to big that up?

LR: Haha yes. In November 2017 I published a book with Feminist Press called Radical Reproductive Justice and it’s about how we can use the RJ framework in radically new ways to critique white supremacy and neoliberalism. It is an anthology with more than 20 authors and co-editors, and we talk about RJ through a lot of lenses, through the lens of trans issues, through the lens of indigenous issues, as well as African-American, AAPI, Latinx, on and on, so we show the elasticity of the RJ framework. It is available from Feminist Press in November 2017.

Thank you so much for making the time to speak with me, Loretta.

LR: Thank you.


Asam Ahmad
Asam Ahmad is a poor, working-class writer, poet, and community organizer. His writing tackles issues of power, race, queerness, masculinity, and trauma. His writing and poetry have appeared in CounterPunch, Black Girl Dangerous, Briarpatch, Youngist, and Colorlines. His poem “Remembering How to Grieve” can be found in Killing Trayvons: An Anthology of American Violence.

Loretta Ross
Loretta J. Ross is a co-founder and the National Coordinator of the SisterSong Women of Colour Reproductive Justice Collective from 2005-2012, a network founded in 1997 of women of colour and allied organizations that organize women of color in the reproductive justice movement. She is one of the creators of the term “Reproductive Justice” coined by African American women in 1994

Coming Home: An Interview With Tina Reynolds

by Savannah Taylor

I had the privilege of chatting with Tina for the second time for The Peak about her work with incarcerated and formerly incarcerated women in the state of New York. My intention upon interviewing her was to chat on what has led her to where she is today. Admittedly, I expected a play-by-play account of all the brilliant advocacy work she has done. However, what ensued touched on something much more beautiful and something many of us can relate to… Family and sisterhood.

Do you wanna introduce yourself and what you do?

Tina: I am the co-founder and chair of WORTH (Women On the Rise Telling Her Story), which is a volunteer organization that is led and run by currently and formerly justice-involved women. We’ve been around since 2008, and we’ve done some phenomenal things, like changing legislation and policy and bringing about laws that impact women who have experienced incarceration. Two years ago, I began working at The Child Center of NY to develop and implement A Vision for Tele-Visiting (AVTV), a program that offers the logistical, emotional, and wraparound support to assists families in maintaining meaningful relationships during a parent’s incarceration and preparing for a successful reentry into family and community life. We provide reentry support, family support along with youth activities, leadership development and tele-visits, as well as mental health support and wraparound services, such as job placement assistance and benefits counseling. The Child Center has a powerful community presence, reaching more than 26,000 children a year. It’s located in Queens, NY, which includes neighborhoods where the numbers of children impacted by parental incarceration are among the highest.   What better place to offer services to children with justice-involved mothers?

So WORTH, from what I remember from the last time we chatted, came out of your own experiences from being incarcerated, correct?

Tina: Yes! WORTH came out of the experiences that I had and many other women had from our incarceration. We came out of prison with a feeling that there was not much ready for us to become successful and remain out in the free world. So, we began by having conversations amongst ourselves to see how we could support each other and support our sisters coming home.

Did you wanna touch more on your new program that WORTH is focusing on now?

Tina: We are focused on our partnership with The Child Center to provide services through AVTV, which in turn focuses on mothers and children within New York State Facilities, for women in NYC who are housed in Bedford and Taconic correctional facilities. We also offer tele-visiting services within Rikers Island’s Rose M. Singer Center for women, where we offer services to families, youth, and mothers with children. There is this tele-visiting boom happening within the nation, and not all programs are thinking about the relationship between the child or family member and the justice-involved person. Here in New York, there are organizations like The Osborne Association, Hour Children, and The Child Center who always put the child first, and honour the relationship between the child and his or her parent.

It is important to offer supplemental services to physical visits–although it is very important for children to see, feel, and touch their parent through physical visits–in addition to offering families a safe space to heal and move forward with their lives. We have three sites in Queens and a tele-visit can basically be done every day. We facilitate visits in Bedford Hills and Taconic Correctional Facilities, as well as Rose M. Singer centre in Rikers Island 1.


1. Westchester, Bedford, Taconic and Rikers Island are all prisons located in the Tri-State Area

It’s interesting because the program originally started out with the focus on just the state facilities, but after talking with the CEO of The Child Center, Traci Donnelly, she agreed we should offer tele-visiting to women with children because there was the possibility of continuation of services if Mom was transferred up state. She also envisioned us working with youth and opening visits up to families.

Before you were with WORTH and before you started organizing, who was Tina? What was Tina up to?

Tina: (laughs) well that’s a long time ago. I really did not know who I was; I knew who I wanted to be, though. I knew I wanted to help women and children. I didn’t know how I was going to do it, so I became involved in an organization and began sharing my story about my experience as an incarcerated woman. I had been home for about 12 months? I began pursuing an undergraduate degree and raising my last two children and reuniting with my other children, changing my life through the love of others and being really grateful for being out. So my primary focus was on my family because I have seven children and I’d been out of their lives for so long. In the first 5 years, my efforts were to basically reunify with my own children. To establish a relationship with them or assist them with establishing a relationship with each other. They were raised by various family members throughout the tri-state area…so they were pretty much dispersed throughout New York and New Jersey. Reunification is difficult and challenging. I had to swallow my pride, be strong, give voice to my emotions, and remain humble. My main focus was for my children to have a relationship with each other, grow and live happy lives. I am happy my family stepped in and supported them through my incarcerations.

It sounds like you had a very solid foundation of focusing on your family unit. Did that carry over to your advocacy work and WORTH?

Tina: It certainly carried over. My family experiences through my incarceration and the unification process with my children certainly intersected with my work. I often found myself speaking with sisters who had experienced the same situations and the challenges of unification with their own families and children. They were facing the challenges of the choices their family members had made who were taking care of their children in their absence. So, I always wanted to make sure I focused on those issues in regard to reproductive health but also family stability once Mom came home. Because it’s so important! Mothers tend to think about their children during their incarceration. They think and wonder about their safety and who their friends are and whether they’re faring well and things that they have missed as far as conversations–as well as, the “firsts” in any child’s life; regardless of how old they are, there are always “firsts” that happen in your child’s life that you are definitely missing if you are incarcerated and you can’t get those times back. So, I’ve always been about doing the work but also realizing that there are challenges around re-establishing relationships with those you love. And continuing to strengthen those relationships as you are out, being true to yourself and asking your children to be true to themselves and coming up with some specific guidelines of how you would engage with them and how to be with them. Since you being there physically is such a big missing in their lives during incarceration, even if you see them regularly, speak with them regularly during your incarceration, you are still not there. Each one of my children are different people and each one of them have/had different needs. While they wanted me in their lives, there were certain things that they wanted from me and I had to realize my own limitations. Not always monetarily, but emotionally, because as I was growing through my process of being home, I was also growing through my process emotionally   of being the person who I am today. I hadn’t really spent that much time learning who I was, and so I could do things but I wasn’t attached to the emotion behind the things I did.   I wanted to be attached to the emotion; those were the most difficult challenges because I had spent so much time without feelings in order to survive in a very selfish and selfless world.

How do you feel like your communication/unification process has changed since you started your advocacy work to now?

Tina: Well, basically, so much has happened in my advocacy work in relation to my children. I’ve been an editor in an anthology, Interrupted Lives: Experiences of Incarcerated Women in the United States, where I shared a story about my last daughter and reuniting when she was 20 years old. Now, some 9 years later, she is in my life and she has three children and is married. My other children have gotten married. My daughters were married first and have strong and stable relationships with their husbands. My sons are not married yet. My children and I have always communicated, and my communication is unique to each child. I speak with some more than others. However, we have always communicated. It has transformed over the years into a relationship of dignity and respect and love. My advocacy work is all my children see and know I do, they observe my commitment and dedication to others.   They are an integral part of my growth. Advocacy is an integral part of my growth, sisterhood is a big part of who I am.

Do you feel like WORTH is a place for women to come and rebuild things that have been lost or forgotten while they were incarcerated?

Tina: So even WORTH has transitioned and transformed into something different. We closed our office in Manhattan a few years back and now we’ve been working specifically on this tele-visiting. . Our mantra has always been “once you’re a member of WORTH you’re always a member of WORTH” because it’s a volunteer organization. Women were inspired and moved towards gaining employment and seeking a higher education while volunteering at WORTH. It’s always been a volunteer program and because of our movement women have gone on and done different phenomenal things for themselves in their lives. They come back and touch base and we end up being in certain spaces together. We were able to join as a group of women to the National Council for Incarcerated and Formerly Incarcerated Women and Girls and the Formerly Incarcerated and Convicted Peoples Movement. It is always inspiring to meet so many women across the nation who have been impacted by incarceration and gone on to do phenomenal things. So, WORTH has grown as I have grown, and it hasn’t looked like something that I wanted in the beginning, but when things transform, it’s just like relationships with your children. You have this idea of how this relationship is going to be. It doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s gonna turn out like that. So, how do you adjust to the ways in which it does turn out and how can you keep moving forward knowing that that’s your position in the world and that’s the purpose you’ve been placed here for? So, through the transition of WORTH, in many ways, it’s not where we were before, but what can we look like in the future? So working within the prison now, we’re looking at it from a perspective of having leadership coming out of the facilities we are offering services in. Having the women come in and join us in this process and guide us from that place (because we’ve been home a lot longer) where they see the impacts of incarceration on themselves and their families being different within this world of social media and technology. We have to give folks that are coming out a safe space and a chance to be fully self-expressed.

How would you describe WORTH now then? Is it still a sisterhood?

Tina: It is still a sisterhood! It is always and will always be a sisterhood of women. There are so many women who have been a part of WORTH that it will never not be a sisterhood. Because of our experiences–some of us have experienced incarceration together, gone through education together or organized together. So, it will never not be a sisterhood… We are continuing the work moving forward, we’re just doing it differently. It’s sort of transformed into something else.


Tina Reynolds
Tina Reynolds is Co-Founder and Chair of Women on the Rise Telling HerStory (WORTH). WORTH is an association of formerly and currently incarcerated women who have been empowered by their own experiences while involved in the criminal justice system and beyond.  Reynolds has received a Master in Social Work from Hunter College and is currently an adjunct professor at York, CUNY in the Behavioral Sciences Department teaching “Impact of Incarceration on Families, Communities and Children” and Human Development.

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

by Shabina Lafleur-Gangji

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

Illustration above: Teach her by Mia Ohki 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

The Way We Speak: Conversations on Reproductive Justice

A mother and daughter talk, ceremony, cultural resurgence, and finding their voices.

 By Danielle Boissoneau & Chyler Sewell

Illustration above by Eli WiPe

What is it anyway, this reproductive justice?

Can these words describe the actions of our day to day life if we don’t know what they mean? What about the places in which we fight to survive with our babies in our arms while excavators dig into our mother, the earth?

Reproductive justice is something that I’ve always found difficult to define. And because of that, I imagine that it’s something that doesn’t really have an ultimate definition. Maybe justice is found in the lived experience.

What about when we decide what our experiences will be, do you think we can do that?

I’ve always been told that I could do anything. That same idea applies to anyone in the world; and if that thing that they want to do is be able to live their definition of reproductive justice, then they can do it.

How?

I don’t know . . .

The way I look at it, I see my kids as my gifts. Reproductive justice is when I can make sure that my gifts are cared for and loved and supported. It’s when my kids can learn the language and be able to define their own roles in ceremony because they know how to communicate with spirit. I think it also has to do with the land and the water, because if we aren’t protecting these life forces, what reproduction is going to happen? Really?

I’ve been taught that the land and the water are necessary for survival. This concept has followed me from school, to home, to ceremony and back again. Without reproductive justice, would the water in our lakes and oceans and rivers still flow and would grass and plants and trees still grow from the ground?

Nope.

But I think that we’re alive during really sacred times. I think that we’re the ones who can create change because we’re here, now. So when I bring you to ceremony and you learn how to sing songs in our language, even if it’s awkward and weird, you’re still hearing it and processing – i think that’s reproductive justice.

It’s when we reproduce our knowledge, maybe it’s when we have to fight to be able to recreate our knowledge, too.

In school, I often find myself feeling like having this sacred knowledge is a burden, when it really shouldn’t be. I know that I’m different and that the way that I experience things isn’t the same as everyone else, and that fact scares me.

The idea of being able to reclaim space and be able to pass down the stories I’ve been told and the teachings that I’ve learned is exhilarating!

Do you feel like the world can be a place that you create?

Honestly, the idea of creating this world anew is scary too. And I know that I wouldn’t be able to do it alone. That type of life-altering change is for communities to decide upon and make for themselves, and where life long relationships are born.

Totally! I guess what makes it hard is that so many of us have been disconnected through residential schools, the reserve system and the removal of our ancestral food sources. Everyone’s on different pages now.

Recognizing the fact that we’re on different pages is a good place to start, though, right? Because then we can begin to help each other remember the ways that we’ve lost.

Yea! And that’s reproductive justice too! Like when I did my Berry Fast when I was 33 years old … it’s a different page than Anishnaabek who grow up in ceremony. It took me a long time to find my page.

But then there are those who aren’t confident in the pages that they inhabit. Because of the systematic removal of our ceremonies and the idea that they aren’t ‘normal’, I know that I’m not often very comfortable occupying the page that I’m on. I feel like people look to me for guidance because I’ve lived most of my life practicing ceremony. And I try to give that guidance, but I’m also still looking for guidance myself . . .

That’s something eh. So wise and so young. What contradictions we carry as survivors of genocide. I’ve become totally comfortable with occupying pages. I’m kind of like – this is who I am and even if you don’t like it, the only thing that will make me do is shine brighter. Maybe my part in reproductive justice is making space for my babies to shine too.

Mothers are awesome in that way. The way I understand it is that they work hard to be the best that they can be, in order to pave a path for their children. This type of work is something that I deeply admire, and hope that I can someday do too.

So maybe there lives the reproductive justice – in the spaces between darkness and light, where birth and rebirth happens over and over again. Maybe it’s the places when we sit in ceremony or by the water or on the frontlines to tarsands expansion projects. It’s where we remind the next generation that they are here for a reason and maybe that reason is to turn this world upside down so that our people can live right side up once again.

As beautifully contradicting as ever . . . I think that the justice is not only in reminding the next generation, but also raising them in those ways – to believe in themselves, to know themselves, to know where they’ve been and to be confident in who they are. I know that I’ve personally struggled with this concept, but I’m doing better in finding my voice.

We’re in this together.


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

Chyler Sewell
Chyler Sewell is an Anishinaabe-kwe writer from the Great Lakes. She is an aspiring writer who enjoys spending her free time creating fantastical worlds, while also learning and experiencing things that will help her guide her four younger siblings later on in their lives.

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

Mending Wounds

An Interview with Suzie Miller of the Pen Pal Project

by Shabina Lafleur-Gangji

In 2006, a group of clan mothers in Six Nations decided to halt the construction of a subdivision on the Douglas Creek Estate in Caledonia. This chunk of land, along with the rest of Caledonia fall under Six Nations Territory that was promised to the Haudenosaunee people in the Haldimand Treaty of 1784. The government has refused to halt construction of the contested territory and this reclamation was a direct response to the continuous land theft.

The reclamation of the estate, also known as Kanonhstaton, sparked a lot of discussion around indigenous land rights and drew out hundred of supporters. Unfortunately, it also magnified the racism present and furthered the division between the people of Caledonia and Six Nations. This culminated in a multitude of instances of physical violence.

Suzie Miller, a school teacher in Six Nations witnessed this division and violence. As a mixed race woman, who had family on the reserve as well as in Caledonia, she felt she had a responsibility to mend relations between the two communities. She decided to start up The Pen Pal Project; an initiative aiming at connecting youth from both communities so that they could learn about each others histories and cultures in order to foster respect, care and understanding.

Recently I had the opportunity to learn more about the project and how it transformed the communities around her.

Shabina: So tell me how the pen Pal Project started?

My two communities were at war it seemed, it was…chaos.

I don’t know if you’ve seen the original videos but it was awful. So my concern was for the children and how they would perceive each other and in neighbouring communities across the river. You know people penpal across continents but you don’t think about penpalling across the river. The thing was people didn’t realize that Six Nations was even there. Some people didn’t even know they were next to the largest reserve in Canada and they didn’t know the history that we have in our treaties so how do we educate our people? I was like let’s get the children writing across the river; so Six Nations to Caledonia.

S: So how many youth are involved in the Pen Pal Project?

It started with two classes and it just grew. 2016 was ten years since the project started and we had 100 schools, so 2,500 kids involved. Every year we met and celebrated and that was really neat because the kids got to meet with their pen pal at the end of the year. It was a massive initiative, we had a wonderful bunch of people that contributed to this amazing project but it was like after ten years I thought,   “I don’t need to do this anymore, people can do this on their own. I don’t need to get them together”. It was a lot of work. People all around wanted to then start to understand First Nations people. I felt like I was always begging teachers from Six Nations and New Credit asking if they could pen pal and I didn’t think I had to keep doing that. I wanted it to go out with a bang rather then simmer and die out. It was an amazing thing – ten years – and then I figured I’d pass it off and see where people take it.

There are still lot’s of connections happening. A lot of people are still pen palling but I’m not coordinating it. I still do a bit but we’re doing different things. We’re connecting schools like we have some sister schools working together in Brantford and Six Nations and so it’s kind of morphed and evolved to connecting in different ways.

S: How were you hoping the Pen Pal Project would impact the youth involved?

The whole thing is really just linking classrooms you know, between Six Nations and our neighbours and that was the thing. The initial project was about your neighbours, it was about the people next to us. Something I’d really like to do is see Northern communities connecting with their closest neighbours where the kids would be going off to school when they reach Secondary school and they would have a relationship built from childhood. Because at the highschool level, Six Nations kids and New Credit kids they have to leave their community to go to highschool. I remember one of my students from grade 8, he got to grade 9 and he had met five of his pen pals. There was a familiarity when he went to highschool and had to leave his community. Even though it’s close here to leave, in the North, some kids have to move away to go to highschool. So if they could build a relationship and a sense of comfort with their neighbouring community that would help. So it would be nice to get into that. Let’s say Thunder Bay, they need a lot of help I think in understanding each other. Something like this could happen across Canada.

In Alberta we had a small community that was writing. There were four small reserves around this place called Grand Cash, Alberta and somebody from here went out there to work and so she started the project out there. They didn’t even know that there were reserves and they didn’t know that there were schools on the reserve and so they connected. Again it’s about your neighbours, knowing who your neighbours are and sharing your culture with your surrounding community. It was a simple project and simplest idea that grew into something beautiful.

S: Are you still involved with the project even though you are no longer coordinating it?

People still contact me for connections and things but I am just not formally coordinating and nobody took it over. It’s a lot of work, it came from my heart and I don’t think that anybody really could have taken it over to keep it going the way it was. We’re not formally connecting, it was ten years and in that time we did our logo, we did an overhead picture, there’s videos, we have our website, so we have communities still connecting in different ways and we are still documenting things on the website but I am not formally doing the connections anymore. Teachers are doing their own thing so I really don’t know. The concept of pen pals, people have taken it upon themselves so if they want to do it they will do it   instead of feeling pressured. Again, It’s a lot of work and already being a teacher is a lot of work so I want to let people who are committed to taking it over and doing it for themselves. I don’t need to do this anymore.

S: What are you up to these days?

I am working with Grand Erie District School Board so I am still doing a lot of linking of Indigenous culture. I am an Indigenous instructional coach so I am going into classrooms, I am teaching about our history, I am building community in classrooms and I am kind of bringing indigenous approaches into the classrooms to bring students voices forward in a healthy way. I am helping to build safe places plus I am sharing our ways of understanding the world which is all about equality, the circle, respect and giving thanks to Mother Earth. You know those basic concepts. I am doing this work in classrooms from kindergarten to grade 8.

A lot of this is happening in Brantford where we have a high Native population in the classrooms. So the kids see themselves represented and they can understand their history because a lot of kids don’t understand and a lot of their parents don’t know. A lot of cultural knowledge has been lost so I am really thankful that I can bring this into the schools. Because of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission it has to be taught in schools, people want to teach it but they are afraid because they don’t want to get it wrong. They want to honour the history as best as they can but they don’t know it. So I am one person who can help build that knowledge in the classrooms with the teachers and the students.

S: That is so important. I work with mostly settler youth and I talk to some about what they are learning in their schools and it seems so removed in a lot of ways. They get taught about things but on a really surface level and not on a nation specific level. It’s like they’re learning that residential schools happened and it was bad but they won’t talk about where they happened and what communities that are close by were affected.

And so we are lucky because we are doing that work in Grand Eerie and we should be being next to the largest reserve in Canada. I mean Six Nations students become Grand Eerie students in Secondary so it’s important. It’s also important to make sure that people understand that Haudenosaunee, we have our own history based on space and place. Just understanding that everyone has different teachings based on where you come from. You know the Inuit and their way of life and their beliefs will be different from ours. I will actually be talking about some of that next week because one of the teachers are showing a song by the Jerrycans; a music group from Iqaluit. It’s a song about the Northern lights and it is a beautiful song but yeah I am going to talk to them about the seal hunt. I have some seal jewelry so I am going to wear it and talk to them about that campaign to stop the seal hunt and how the seal hunt is a way of life for Inuit people. I want to allow people to imagine how long they have been surviving on the land and in their space and here we are interfering and judging. So understanding to not interfere in indigenous ways and understanding the indigenous ways based on where you come from and the specific land you are on.

I am trying to build that awareness not just on who we are as Haudenosaunee, but who are the Anishinabe and who are the Inuit and who are the Metis and what is this history that people just don’t know about. The truth of the history of Canada. But I always share it with a caring and kind heart. Always with the idea of let’s learn from the past and let’s not judge each other. I teach about the Two Row Wampum and how we are all represented on that. Even today that is still our treaty together. Children like to hear that. They think “I am represented on that, on that Wampum belt”

S: It allows them to play an active role in it. They should be playing an active role in it, settlers and indigenous youth. If you can see yourself in it, you see how to move forward.

Yeah you can see that we can do this. This is our treaty and it came before Canada and the United States were countries. So I teach that and I teach using the Two Row as two perspectives. This is how I teach about respect, as in I understand the world my way and you understand the world your way because that agreement came together with two worldviews that were probably not even understood at the time. So today it’s like, how do we have a healthy relationship with these two perspectives and honouring that the two perspectives are different but not having to interfere or change that. As in the way I understand things might be different and thinking how beautiful is that instead of thinking that someone else has to believe my way. It’s such a beautiful way to teach individual respect.

I am very lucky that I get to do what I do. I basically got to create my own job. It is a new position and hopefully it’ll get to keep going. But I mean, I think it’s pretty self-explanatory why these types of things are important. It’s so that people understand each other, the truth, the history and how we move forward. Because I think maybe the young people could come up with more solutions after they know because so far they have been denied and just not acknowledged. Somehow we have to move forward in a healthy way and acknowledge our past and our history so that we can move forward.

We talk about equity for all people. As indigenous people we are one group but how do we provide equity for all? In the school system how do we provide the healthiest education for all? I guess the awareness is starting, I mean of certain issues. Right now a lot of people know that first Nation children and schools have less funding for education and that we don’t even have healthy water.

So yeah, the increase of awareness of Mother Earth and where food comes from and being thankful. You know, all of the things that young people are really disconnected from. This work connects us back to the idea of giving thanks and being stewards of the Earth. I mean personally I didn’t know anything about my culture growing up, my mother didn’t know, my grandmother didn’t know. I’ve learnt just a little bit and I am trying to share that as much as I can because so much of it we just didn’t know. I mean it was against the law to practice our ceremonies. So teaching from the past. I remember somebody said well you know this happened in many different places in history and it’s like yeah that’s true but here we actually made treaties. We actually had an agreement. So that’s pretty interesting. It’s something that we can connect back to. We made this treaty together. That’s pretty neat. I think.

In terms of this work I can’t imagine what it would have been like if we didn’t do it. We’ve come so far. Caledonia’s high school has the highest Native population now. In 2006 kids didn’t want to go there, it was pretty scary. There was a lot of judgement and bad feelings. I think the project really helped the communities. The children taught the adults. Through the project they brought awareness of acceptance, non-judgement and historical truth. Moving forward you hear people say know better do better. So it’s like yeah now that we know better we do better.

Yeah, fingers crossed! I saw a little bit of the ugliness during the reclamation of Kanonstaton and it was terrifying. What you were doing and what you are still doing is so important.

Yeah at the time, since I am from both communities, it was really difficult to watch and hear both sides. From Caledonia you’d hear anti-Six Nations comments and in Six Nations you’d hear anti-Caledonia comments. They are both my communities that I am completely embedded in so it was awful. Sometimes you forget how bad it was. And if you were there you know and can only imagine what it was like for the people who live here and the people who were/are connected to both communities. I think it’s had an impact. We’re doing some research to get some stories from former pen pals and maybe doing some documented interviews to see how it’s had an impact on their relationships in their lives.

S: Well thank you so much for your time and sharing this with us.\


 

Suzie Miller
Suzie Miller Is an Indigenous Instructional Coach Grand Erie District School Board (Former Student Work Study Teacher-Indigenous Focused).I am a Caledonia resident, worked at Six Nations for 27 years, 12 years as Addictions Counsellor and 15 years as a classroom teacher.My mother was from Six Nations, Mohawk Wolf clan – my father was a businessman in Caledonia.I am the mother of two sons and have been married for 31 years.

Project Future is Now

by Savannah Clarke, Alana Siloch and Kaya DeCosta

                  We would like to give thanks to having the opportunity to work on the traditional territory of the Haudenosaunee, and most recently, the territory of the Mississaugas of the New Credit First Nation. The territory was the subject of the Dish with One Spoon Wampum Belt Covenant, an agreement between the Iroquois Confederacy and the Ojibwe and allied nations to peaceably share and care for the resources around the Great Lakes. This territory is also covered by the Upper Canada Treaties. Today, the meeting place of Toronto (from the Haudenosaunee word Tkaronto) is still the home to many Indigenous people from across Turtle Island.

Project Future is a six-month mentorship program run through the Children’s Peace Theatre, that celebrates the voices of Black and Indigenous artists while offering mentorship and tools for a new future. Working with an incredible line up of leading artists from multidisciplinary backgrounds (i.e. music, theatre, visual arts etc.), Project Future offers land-based creative development and permaculture earthwork. With mentorship and teachings from their elders, the young artists are given tools to grow both as individual and socially conscious artists. As the program culminated this past September, we sat down and reflected on a few of the workshops and teachings we experienced.

Permaculture with The Stop

The Stop Community Food Centre contributed permaculture teachings throughout the duration of the program. Joce Tremblay shared teachings on seeds, food justice and re-indigenizing food growth in the city. Joce also led members through The Stop’s extensive greenhouse, sharing knowledge about how to care for plants as well as how to interact with them. The Stop also led Project Future in an onsite planting project. Joce and Melisse provided seeds of the three sisters, corn, beans and squash, for us to plant. Over the course of Project Future, we watched the sisters grow and thrive. It was very much a reflection of our own growth as a collective. We cultivated land around Children’s Peace Theatre, which was the base of the program. Space was made to plant many different species indigenous to Tkaronto. While we planted, we learned about caring for plants through a more holistic approach and how to treat colonial plants that may be invasive but also have purpose.

Savannah: “One of the most beautiful things for me was talking to the plants, asking permission and giving thanks. We built such an intense relationship with them. Also, I was pleasantly surprised at how much learning about the land and caring for the land informed my writing process. We are so similar! Learning about these plants, their history and life force really grounded me and reminded me how small we are in this world.

Alana: “The Stop was beautiful, full of information about plants and seeds, the greenhouse they have is amazing and very well taken care of. As soon as you walk into the greenhouse the air is so pure and full of life. We got our hands dirty in the fresh soil, tasted some of the plant’s leaves, and connect with the plants. The staff made an amazing meal for us and the ingredients all came from their garden”.

Kaya: “I loved going to The Stop and receiving teachings on tobacco. We learned about how ancient of a plant it is and how plentiful it’s seed pods are. We also got to interact with corn that came from seeds passed down through many generations of selective planting. Being able to interact with a product of such ancient technology was quite spectacular.

Talking Treaties with Ange Loft Talking & Treaties Rehearsal and Performance

Project future first met with artist Ange Loft for her facilitation on Talking Treaties; a combination of history, visual arts, and an audio collage. First, we listened to some audio clips of Indigenous elders from the Tkaronto community speak on the One Dish One Spoon Treaty. While listening to the clips we made associations with symbols and words to later use when we created stamps. These stamps were a representation of what stood out to us, and they were used as a contribution to a prop in the Talking Treaties production. Through Ange’s facilitation we learned how to reuse someone else’s creation and transform it into a new creation. By tying all our creations about the disparities and betrayal with the Treaties put together, Ange used it as a symbolic prop in the Treaties production.

Project future also had the honour of being a part of the production and joined Ange and the production crew during rehearsal sessions. We were taught the choreography and performed the piece at Fort York for the Indigenous Arts Festival.

Alana: “It was amazing opportunity to learn how to create through the concept of recycling art. The concept of using everyone’s thoughts on the Treaties to be represented as one big symbolic prop speak to the audience.”

Savannah: Coming into the program late I was not able to take part in the first workshop with Ange Loft but I had the opportunity to be an extra body during rehearsals. It was such a privilege learning about the Dish with One Spoon treaty through the means of theatre. I thought a lot about how stories of this treaty are often told, what aspects are left out and who are usually telling them.

Kaya: The Talking Treaties production was so immersive and collaborative. It really inspired me to think more about community based projects and the diverse ways of storytelling. Being able to work so closely with such a powerhouse in the Indigenous arts community was a privilege.

INTRODUCTION TO DRAMATURGY WITH JILL CARTER

Jill Carter is an actress, performer and professor at the University of Toronto. She led us in several different performance and story weaving based workshops. Jill also led us on a walk around the UofT campus where several buried rivers are. On this walk, she shared the buried history of how colonization affected that area, as well as how it continues to thrive. She posed this history in relation to how Tkaronto is built on a system of rivers, which continue to run under it. In her workshops, Jill asked us to reflect upon our relationship to our bodies and land. She shared techniques for harnessing different energies in our body, and kinetically connecting with other bodies. These activities challenged us to abandon insecurities around using our voices and bodies to express our ideas. Jill also shared her extensive knowledge on story weaving and invited us to engage with each other’s ideas to strengthen them. Jill really helped us gain confidence in our ideas for the culminating festival.

Kaya: The rivers that are still running underneath the monstrosity of industrial Tkaronto give me hope. They to me are metaphors for the spirits of the land protectors and land warriors that remain strong against the colonial regime.

Alana: Walking around Tkaronto and listening to the knowledge, and answers to what was here before. This land has deep history from Indigenous nations. It was an honour having Jill shed her wisdom and knowledge on what the colonizers have buried. The rivers continue to run, if you listen closely you may hear them.

Savannah: In terms of our story weaving workshop, I remember leaving feeling so rejuvenated and reflected a lot on what it means to listen to my body when telling stories and what weaving means when collaborating with other storytellers. What aspects of our own stories we have in common? What  is different? How do we interpret each other’s stories? Also, I really wish I was there for that tour. I remember seeing a map of Tkaronto pre-colonization and being absolutely amazed at how many rivers had been built over.

Writing while Black/ Indigenous w/ Whitney French

Writer Whitney French facilitated two-part futurities, racialized writing workshop with Project Future. In our writing pieces, we reflected on connections with our ancestors, the land, and futuristic thoughts. We did different writing exercises, first Whitney would read out a word and we would have to write one word that pops into our head, after writing down a couple of words we chose 3 and made a sentence out of them. The second exercise we did was with the sentence “there are pyramids in my backyard”, it was interesting to see how everyone’s piece turned out. We also played a storytelling game where Whitney brought in a list of different fantasy plot settings and we rolled a die to create our own world where our stories would take place. We then all created our own stories based on this futuristic /fantasy world.

Alana: “I tend to stick to Westernized genres and plots (not on purpose), this workshop opened my mind to exploring new themes and ideas consisting of non-human shapeshifters”

Kaya: Whitney’s writing activities re-lit my fire in terms of writing. She reminded me how important it is to write, especially if it something you do to heal. Regardless of what you are writing, just start! Through writing, we can construct alternative narratives, futurist ones, that are often excluded from the canon.

Savannah: There is something so beautiful about envisioning a future separate from our current reality. In writing and Afro-futurism or Indigenous-futurism it can look like so many different things. These workshops affirm that our stories are relevant, important and essential. Even if we just write for fun and nobody but us sees our pieces, it’s still relevant.

Savannah’s Project Future Journal Entry                   July 13

I am the plant that adapts but needs to be very grounded to do so. Like a vine. It takes them a long time to get to where they need to be but they get there. They spend their whole life span getting as close to the light as they can (like in the tropics). The light for me is divinity and actualizing. The energy that drives me is to better understand myself. I must admit I’m not as hard bodied as my vine friends but like them I will “grow” and learn to adapt.

My roots

It grounds me

I swirl around the base

As i move towards the divine

We share so we can survive

I help others but my journey is my own

I need others but my journey is my own


 

Savannah Clarke
Savannah Clarke is a young performing artist. She has recently graduated with her undergraduate and is an alumni of the Watah Theatre. She is now currently growing her art form. Her art has always been attached to her identity as a black queer woman and she strongly believes that storytelling is essential for the movement of black liberation.  While she continues to unearth what her artistry can look like, she stays committed to connecting and understanding the integrity of its roots.

Kaya DaCosta
Kaya DaCosta is a mixed Black Indigenous multi-disciplinary artist whose work explores themes of identity, femininity and land connection. Her visual work draws inspiration from nature, hip hop and fantasy, providing eclectic styles from which to work with. Using bright colours, mixed media and obscure character design, Kaya’s work is a reflection of her experiences as a young woman of colour navigating through the world. Kaya is currently completing a Bachelor of Design degree at the Ontario College of Art and Design University.

Alana Siloch
Alana Siloch is an upcoming artist inspired by her Caribbean ancestors who constantly call to her. She sleeps, eats and breaths her Jamaican and Trinidadian roots. Alana is currently completing her undergraduate studies at Ryerson University in the Child and Youth Care Program. Alana see’s the potential the future generations have and hopes to be ally in fighting against social injustices for all people.

Re-envisioning Our Communities

blue, black and white illustration of 3 brown kids happily eating cupcakes

Facilitated by: Shabina Lafleur-Gangji 

Why are so many of our QTBIPOC (queer and trans black, indigenous and people of colour) spaces so often inaccessible to parents and kids? What do we need to do to change that dynamic? How do we build community and movements of inter-generational voices that don’t just simply leave people behind when they have kids? These were the questions I was asking myself and so I decided to explore these questions in a roundtable discussion with a few racialized queer/trans parents.

Shabina: Can you introduced yourselves?

LeRoi: I’m LeRoi and I’m an educator at Africentric Alternative School and an organizer for BlackLivesMatter Toronto. I have a two and a half year old whom I’ve single-parented since he was born…although I recently decided to start co-parenting with someone who has always been FAM to us.

QueenTite: I am QueenTite, owner of Natty (natural mobile salon), Co- founding director of PFFD inc, and creator of QTPOC – Toronto. I am single mother to 18 year old Ayomide and 7 year old Iahnijah of Nigerian/Jamaican Roots.

Akio – I am human rights activist and  a Mother of 8 year old multiracial child of Black and Métis heritage with one on the way

Amandeep: My name is Amandeep Kaur and I have two kids aged 2 and 4 years.

Shabina: How do you find navigating queer/trans spaces as a parent? Do you find most spaces are accessible to you?

QueenTite: I find navigating queer spaces as a parent kind of challenging. I am still new to the city, so I haven’t had much opportunity to explore…but I don’t find [queer spaces] really available. Finding events that are family-friendly have been challenging.

Akio: Navigating queer spaces as a parent is hard, as it often feels like I have to create the spaces for myself or fight to have the space accessible to me and my spawn. Which I often don’t have time or energy for.

LeRoi: I find navigating queer/trans spaces as a parent to be challenging sometimes. There are some queer Black events and spaces that I’ve gone to that have been really dope for bringing kids, but I feel like there’s a lot of emphasis on creating queer/trans spaces for youth and not much for older people…I think lots of times people don’t think of making events accessible to parents if they haven’t grown up with lots of kids in their life. Also in terms of community organizing spaces sometimes there is just no effort to accommodate parents. I’ve brought my kid to meetings before when he was really little and spent the whole time chasing him around the hallways of Flemington Park Community Centre while everyone just continued their conversation.

S: What have you found really helpful in making community spaces accessible to you?

QueenTite: I have found having ECE (Early Childhood Education) educators present to engage the youths is helpful and a room equipped with fun stuff.

Akio: Most spaces aren’t accessible to me nor any of my intersectionalities.

POC spaces aren’t sex worker positive, queer spaces too white and all of them are very clique-y and no one considers that parents have value and therefore they should have accessibilities for us. So Basically I have to A) create my own, or B) work with/fight with the organizers to create space that’s safe and accessible (found this easier in queer white spaces than queer POC spaces)

LeRoi: What helps to make spaces accessible to me is parties in the daytime. They have this dope party for BIPOC queers in Oakland where people turn up from like 2 to 8pm. I really wish we had that here. Cuz even if I get childcare to go out at night, nobody’s tryin’ to wake up at 7am with my son.

LeRoi: Yea, childcare being offered is helpful to me, but I also like when people just find ways to make spaces engaging for kids, like the other day I went to the book launch for “I Love Being Black”. They had a bunch of play-dough set up in one corner of the rooms for kids to sit and play. There was food like samosas and cupcakes…and there was a big chalkboard for kids to write about what they love about being Black. So in that way it was like kids were invited to be part of the event and to contribute. That was dope.

QueenTite: I’d like a community of willing affordable sitters also.

LeRoi: Yes to affordable baby sitters…cuz sometimes you can’t bring your kid to childcare at an event. If they have to nap or something and they wont sleep in a room full of people. Also I like when I bring my kid somewhere and people explicitly tell me not worry about him making noise or crying…then I feel like I can relax a bit more

QueenTite: Sometimes I don’t want to beg my child – I want me time to network and such. But affordable sitters are not accessible to me. Charging nearly fifiteen dollars per hour with no masters in parenting.

Amandeep: That event sounds amazing! and I wanted to agree with the point about more affordable sitters..

LeRoi: I feel like what actually ends up making events more accessible to me when there’s no childcare offered is friends taking turns kicking it with my kid..taking him outside to go crawl all on stuff or into the hallway to be loud…Other parents I know end up being the ones to do that lots of the time.

Akio: yeah, always.

LeRoi: Also people in my life who spend time with my son ‘cuz they want to build a relationship with him and ‘cuz they have privilege and time…

QueenTite: I know nobody so I don’t have that option… I haven’t entered any cliques, it’s just me. But yes what a blessing – and a necessity.

Akio: Yep, the folks that usually want to help with my child are usually white people.

LeRoi: Yeah, I’ve had that experience too…

Amandeep: Having more folks want to make the trip to where I live cuz they want to spend time with my kids doesn’t happen often enough. I am fortunate to have my mom and my sister on occasion but feel I don’t have any other friends to rely on now.. the dayjam idea sounds too good though..its being intergenerational, being able to connect in different parts of the city with other queers of colour and parents and knowing who is close by through friends of friends would be great to try and build this in more local and accessible ways.

Akio: I like to keep my circle small and tight cause I’ve seen how folks treat their own and I’m not trying to have my private business out there for the local queer 6 o’clock news. So often I go it alone and for the most part I’m okay with that. Hired help when it can be afforded works for me.

LeRoi: Yeah, I love that. There’s a queer Black BBQ during Pride that is pretty dope like that…there’s also Queer Black FAM JAM that has lots of kids roll up usually.

S: What do you find are common problems with things like child care at events?

QueenTite: Problems with child care – not enough variety in the space for the age ranges – emphasis on the very young – older kids get slightly less attention. No, disability based thought put into spaces to accommodate a variety of abilities/disabilities.

Akio: They are subpar, not age appropriate and often boring.

LeRoi: Sometimes I have found that there aren’t enough people working in the childcare room and the childcare room is kind of just like mayhem. People need to realize that for babies/young toddlers the ratio should be 1 adult to two babies. The other thing is I feel like there isn’t respect for childcare being a position that requires a lot of skill and experience. Sometimes the people doing childcare aren’t trained properly and they’re just like “winging it”. Like my ex put her son in childcare at this event once and the person doing childcare let him tape his mouth shut with duct tape

Akio: Duct tape!!!

LeRoi: hahahahaha

Akio: See I’d need bail money. But I digress…

Amandeep: omg yes LeRroi.. haha..

LeRoi: I think this points towards….for those of us who are Black …sometimes when childcare is offered by white people there is a bit of a cultural disjunct. Like, I don’t want my child running up and down, doing any and everything.

S: What do you think people need to address in order make community space accessible to parents and children? How do we build intergenerational spaces?

QueenTite: More family based activities – co planning with the expectations of including youths. Create the activities we aim to see. Ensure that we see family based activities for all. This convo and thinking proactively is apart of it. Create solutions to the problems. Remove obstacles. Break the cliques apart…collaborate and connect – get kids together at BBQ family based days etc..

Akio: Advance planning, Invest in resources (money, activities etc), engage parents, age-appropriate child care.

LeRoi: What we need more of I think is an effort to make events accessible…we need people (not just parents) to clap back when you see events posted that don’t offer any childcare. We need people to value us…so for example if you are doing community organizing and you are used to calling your meetings with no notice, during the evening you are not gonna get parents out…especially single parents. Daytime parties. People who are not parents being like…okay let’s tag-team. I’ll go to that event for the first two hours and then I’ll watch your kid so you can go.

Akio: We can’t even…Folks barely recognize intergenerational folks much less. The thought or actions to make spaces. We gotta break it all down and build up from scratch with accountability and transparency.

LeRoi: That can be true so much of the time. I have seen some really dope things in practice though. Like I saw this daycare one time that was housed in an an elderly care facility which was really, really cool. And the kids got to interact with elders all the time at “school”. I would be really interest in working on a project like that/creating a space like that.

Akio: If I had a dollar for eeverytime I took my time and energy to help start something only to have the jancrow them fly over and either shit on it or take it as their own but LeRoi that would be amazing. Depending on the space. Old people can be unapologetically racist. Speaking as a nurse.

LeRoi: I would be envisioning something specifically for Black community. I feel like BIPOC in Canada have a lot issues finding appropriate care for our elders and appropriate education for our youths. Both need dignity and programming that is Black centered. Also we need more things like the Radical Monarchs, BlackLivesMatter Freedom School…programs for kids to be engage in what we are building in our communities

Akio: Toronto Child Care collective here in Toronto But it didn’t have the right clique to gain momentum But the more we create spaces for us by us the better we will be.

LeRoi: Childcare collectives are really dope though. I remember there was one in Montréal that offered free childcare for families without status and for events and ting. Also, they would do a March Break camp that was really cool where kids would learn to DJ and stuff.


LeRoi Newbold
Leroi Newbold is an artist, community organizer and an educator at Canada’s first public Africentric school.

QueenTite
I’m a winnipeg born, west coast grown, toronto based multidisciplinary artist. I AM; a black, proud, queer, Hybrid. My roots are laid in art, activism, education, black liberation, poetry, love, and in constant pursuit of more love. When I’m not busy changing the world, you can find me devoted to my personal projects which include; Co – Founding Prosthetics For Foreign Donation & owning Black Heir.

Instagram and Snapchat: @missqueentite

Akio
Akio is a Single mom, Human Rights activist, Educator and Community Organizer.