Mental Health in the Legal Profession

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

by Naomi Sayers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But I survived and I am here.

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

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

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

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

We Are From Africa

A blue illustration of the African continent

By Donat and Lidia

We are from Africa
A continent yet so a country
The land of all
A mother of all
The land of lands
A temple for harmony
So peaceful yet so rightful
A continent that craves beauty
Yet filled with so much aestheticity
Garnished with abundant gold
Enthroned with ivory and silk
That’s our Africa
 
I am from East Africa
Where we love and cherish
Where our blood
Is a reflection of our flag
Where I am my brothers keeper
Where our anthems are blessings in disguise
Where I am from
The forbidden fruit
All of a sudden is not so forbidden anymore
East Africa! The jewel, the pearl
East Africa! Our golden trophy
 
We are from the horn
We are like lions
The pride of our own
The little star of culture
Shining deep in the heart of the continent
We seat strangers to the seas
Just as told by our Mediterranean
Just as told by our Red Sea
“The land of the barbarians”
Our peninsula…
The blessing you offer
Is the blessing you are
Shine no less brighter
But yet warmer.
 
I am from the south,
Amidst the greatness of Rustenberg
I dream of you at night
I dream of your light,
Your warmth,
Your compassion,
Is it still there?
The spirit of Ubuntu that captured our hearts
Is it still there?
Your rich soul that leads me through the road of Jozi
Oh my South Africa!
I dream of you at night.
                                                                                               

Donat and Lidia are grade 11 students at Our Lady Of Lourdes Catholic High School. They both left Eritrea at the age 4 and 5. Lidia went to Uganda and Donat went to South Africa. Donat immigrated to Canada on the 13th September 2018 and Lidia on the 24th April 2017. They are both cousins who love each other so much.

Violence as Healing; Not All Will Agree

black and white sketch of regan de Loggans

By: Regan de Loggans

Above artwork by Grace Insoga

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Iraq

Colourful drawing of faceless man in all white with a headwrap sitting cross-legged playing a middle eastern instrument resembling an Ektara

The Land of Fife, the Cradle of Civilization, and My Home

By Falah Hafuth with Sowsan Hafuth

Artwork by Zeena Salam

I am Dr. Falah Hafuth, born and raised in Baghdad, Iraq. I graduated from the University of Mosul in 1983 as a physician and have been practising medicine in Canada for almost 30 years. I left Baghdad in 1984 after working as a physician for only a short period of time through the Al-Kindi Specialized Hospital and the Iraqi National Centre for Cancer Research.


The reason I left Baghdad was because I didn’t want to participate in Saddam Hussein’s unjust war between Iraq and Iran. I chose to join the opposition political front who were for a democratic state and who tried to get rid of Saddam and eliminate the reign of dictatorship. Saddam’s regime was never for the people and was governing Iraq without a real free election. The elections that took place were administered by Saddam and his puppets and he was always the winner by a 99.9% vote. How lucky, right? His regime forced people to become members of his party, the Ba’ath party. He introduced a law subjecting anyone from other parties to death sentences, torture, and prison. He was engaging the country in very risky acts like attacking neighboring countries and waging the war between Iraq and Iran for 8 years, destroying much of the infrastructure of Iraq.


Everyone was subject to a certain degree of harassment from the government, especially if they weren’t participating in the government party and activities held by Saddam. These included the student unions, youth organizations, women organizations, etc. Anyone not a part of these would be considered an enemy and went on the notion of “if you’re not with us, you’re against us.” I didn’t believe in tying my life into these organizations or these people who were so ideologist, I believe in freedom and everyone being their own entity. With these thoughts and not publicly supporting Saddam, you became under surveillance and on the watch list of the secret police or by

Saddam’s organizations. People like me were targeted.

One night in 1980, someone had written:

يسقط صدام حسين

يسقط حزب البعث

الموت للدكتاتور
(Down to saddam hussein, down to Ba’ath party, death to the dictator) on the wall of the medical school. That same night me and my friends were staying late in one of the reading rooms to study. So, when the secret police discovered the graffiti on the school wall, they immediately took every student that was in that reading room that night to the secret police headquarters in Mosul. Those days in the headquarters of the secret police were the most difficult days in my entire life They were torturing us on a daily basis in so many ways to figure out who wrote it. Immediately they released the students who were collaborating with the Ba’ath party and student union, but kept the students who hadn’t been affiliated with those organizations. We payed this price for two months. I was able to feel the joy on the face of the interrogator when he saw us in pain, calling our nightly torturing session the “night party”. The interrogator would tie our arms to tables or behind our backs and extinguish his cigarettes into our hands. They would tie us to poles in cold rooms and leave us there overnight on a very cold ceramic floor and take our jackets and belts away so we couldn’t hang ourselves when we’re alone. They would throw cold water on us 2 or 3 times a night during the winter then whip us with electrical cables. They finally released me after I had written the graffiti slogan in a book to fill about 100 pages and decided my writing wasn’t the same…after two months. The only reason I didn’t drop out of medical school was because many of my classmates would spend time writing the lectures and summarizing everything for me and the others. They then helped teach us everything we missed when we were released. Even people I never met before did this for me. During my time in jail, I made my final decision to leave this regime as soon as I could become a doctor and support the movement against Saddam. I didn’t want any innocent soul to go through the same wretched torture I endured. So, after medical school I worked for one year in Baghdadi hospitals. I then left Baghdad (the central government area) to support the rebels in the provinces of Kurdistan (Northern Iraq).

Me and a friend were smuggled in the back of a car across checkpoints to the North of Iraq (Kurdistan), where the government had no control over the rural villages. Once we arrived at the villages and gained the trust of the rebels who resided there, they let us join them. We spent two and a half years with them. I was helping this opposition as a physician by treating the wounded, delivering babies, and doing whatever I could to help these sanctioned areas of Iraq. People in Kurdistan weren’t allowed to sell their products to the rest of the country and were isolated, unless they worked directly with Saddam’s government. So, I went on the back of my horse with my medicine bag and a couple of books, travelling as a mobile medical unit between villages in remote areas with the rebels. The government never knew we were a part of the rebels because we changed our identities (our names, our looks, etc.). If they ever found out who we were by a photo or anything, they would go after our families.
My journey ended with the rebels at the end of 1986 when Saddam started throwing chemical bombs into the remote villages of Kurdistan where the rebels used to take shelter. Everyone was dying, birds were dying, animals were dying. I remember thinking to myself that I never appreciated the beauty of the different types of colourful birds there were until I walked through one of the villages that got hit by a chemical bomb a few days earlier and all these birds were laying dead on the ground. At that time I realized that we can not fight a regime that is poisoning the air. I had then left Iraq with the rebels. We had nowhere to escape to other than going to the Iranian cities on the Iraq-Iran border.  

At Saddam Hussein’s time, there was a state, but under dictatorship. No freedom. Although, after the American invasions in 1991 and in 2003, the entire infrastructure of Iraq was completely demolished. All the governments that came after the last invasion in 2003 have been even more corrupt than Saddam. Iraq needs a real, transparent, free election without the involvement of America meddling in its affairs. In Iraq now, elections are a very poor tool for measuring democracy. A democratic country should have equal opportunity for everyone where equal services are provided to everybody. In Iraq, basic services are almost non existent; there’s no clean water, only a few hours of hydro a day, and the unemployment rate is high among young people. Although the oil production companies are doing OK, there is a shortage of oil to Iraqi people. It is very clear that America is not interested in helping people as much as they are interested in controlling the oil of our lands. They didn’t take care of the infrastructure that was destroyed by their very own American war machine.

It is clear the reason for invading Iraq was not to introduce democracy, neither was it because Saddam was a vicious dictator. It was for controlling the oil. Before the invasion, there were hundreds of ways to get Saddam out of power and save hundreds of thousand of innocent victims, but America chose to invade Iraq and take the lives of innocent peoples in such horrific ways. America’s behaviour after the invasion shows they have no interest in democracy and improving the life of the people in the Middle East. As long as the Middle East has the powerhouse of the world, being the largest oil reserve, the warmongers of the Western world will never let this area settle. Until either oil no longer becomes a hot commodity, or the peace and justice prevails in the world. Although, I don’t see either of these two things happening in my lifetime. This is the reality.

Real hope for freedom is dependent on many factors. The main one is that peace and justice will prevail around the world and the people of each country will contribute to it. If we have a government that looks after its own people by genuinely respecting our human rights and cooperating with each other on an equal basis, the international community will not let others take advantage and abuse the resources of our nation.

Young people everywhere have the most power in their hands for a better future. If they stick with the peace for their own country and other countries equally, we could defeat the peace disturbers and live in unity. We would pull the rug out from under the feet of those who are opportunists that want to take the resources of others. Standing in solidarity together to fix the entirety that is our world, not just your own world.

Iraq will always be a part of me; it is the only place where I do not feel like a stranger. I still think about it because that was my childhood, my life, my education. My family still lives there. And it can never be forgotten. I will take those memories to the grave with me. To be away from Iraq for so long has solidified my love of true Iraqi history and has increased my interest to study it more. I keep falling in love with Iraq again and again. I express my love of Iraq and the open wounds I have from being forced to leave through various forms of art like poetry and music that can easily remind me of my old life. Iraq to me will forever be the land of life, the cradle of civilization, and my home.

Falah was born in 1955 in Baghdad, Iraq. He graduated from Mosul Medical School in 1982 and moved to Canada in 1988. He was also the first president of the Iraqi Canadian Society in 1991 and he was the founder and current president of the Kitchener Waterloo Arab Canadian Theatre. He is currently practising medicine as an ER physician and in an urgent care clinic.

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

Awakening

a black and white illustration of a goldfish with a blue background

by Amai Kuda

For each of us, the process and timing of political awakening is different. My mother named me Salmon, she said I looked at her like a judge when I was a baby, so I think that process happened quite early for me. By the age of six I decided I could not eat my best friends, who at the time were some goldfish, so I became a vegetarian. Within a few years I was putting up my own hand-made ‘Go Vegetarian’ posters around the neighborhood. Although, I confess I am no longer vegetarian, I am thankful that my early relationships with animals taught me about empathy, spiritual connection and how to fight for things that mattered to me. I also attended an alternative school that encouraged us to write advocacy letters, and so at eleven years old I was writing to NASA decrying their vivisection practices, and contacting Nelson Mandela to critique post-apartheid South Africa’s continued employment of White police officers who had actively oppressed Black people during the apartheid regime. Having a mother who taught me about the political realities of our people, both past and present, was certainly a critical part of my awareness and engagement as well.

Then I went to a feminist all girls school where I was both empowered to have a voice as a young woman, but was also punished by some White teachers who were disconcerted by a little Black girl, albeit a light-skinned one, having academic gifts in math and science. When one such teacher, named Susan, accused one of the school’s few Black students of stealing a watch and the Principals called the police on this fourteen year-old girl, I decided to organize a walk-out.  The Principals then had to answer to us, the student body, for how they had reacted to our schoolmate. It turned out that the teacher had tormented that same student all year long, even inviting other students’ to ridicule her in class. I learned from a young age that in White so-called ‘progressive’ circles we, Black and Brown folk, were far from safe.

From grades ten to twelve I went to Weston Collegiate Institute, a high school resembling a prison where two thirds of the student body were people of colour and the majority of the teachers were White. They had no pretentions of ‘progressiveness’ and I observed the policing of Black students’ bodies and ways in which young Black people were miseducated. I listened to the Fugees and Dead Prez. My best friend and I performed Lauryn Hill, Bob Marley and Mahalia Jackson songs in duet at Black History shows, and I made my peers uncomfortable when I sang “Strange Fruit.” When I noticed the double standard that allowed Jewish or Muslim students to wear religious head-coverings, but barred young Black women, like myself, from wrapping our heads as part of a longstanding spiritually-rooted tradition, I created a petition to protest this injustice. It was during this time that I really clarified my own views about the problems of institutional education. I found the learning environment oppressive, from the rigid schedule and the constant grading, to the rows of desks and fluorescent lighting. I found it unfair that our education should be in the hands of people that didn’t love us and, often, even despised us.

Despite this unfriendly environment, I did learn a lot. I took anthropology and learned about the Yanamamo, the Bunyoro and the San peoples.  My readings confirmed my hunch that land-based/Indigenous societies seemed to have much healthier ways of doing things, and problems of homelessness, imprisonment, poverty, environmental degradation and racism were non-existent when these Indigenously living peoples were left to their own devices. In these societies where people were organized into smaller communities, one was not educated in cold institutions, but by one’s community members. One was not ruled by a distant stranger that one had never met. One knew where one’s food came from and where one’s waste went.  I learned how each Indigenous society had a complex spiritual tie to the earth that allowed them to live in relative balance. They were not perfect, but to my mind their ways of life were a far cry above the soul-sucking, oppressive, environmentally destructive path that our society was taking. I decided my career goal was to become a hunter-gatherer.

I pursued this goal to the best of my ability at the time. I spent a summer at Curve Lake First Nation with a family friend, Alice, so that I could begin to learn from the people whose land I was on about how to live in a better way with the land. I had begun visiting Curve Lake with my mom when I was about thirteen years-old. It was during discussions with Alice’s kids, who were mixed Anishishinabeg and White, that I realized that being mixed didn’t make one less Black or less Native. I realized that identifying with one’s marginalized identity was a kind of resistance.  So in the summer after I finished high school I mostly spent my time volunteering at the Curve Lake daycare centre and hanging out with the woods and lake there. Then I had an opportunity to spend a few months up in Red Lake with Alice’s daughter’s family. During my time with her family I did housework to earn my keep, and volunteered a bit with a local Indigenous youth group, but I actually spent most of my time in the bush. I had always loved the woods and during this period I determined that the trees were to be my main teachers. I learned to listen to them, and to connect to my own ancestors through them. This practice has been my source of guidance and wellness ever since.

 

Although I was keen to continue pursuing my career path as hunter-gatherer/tree-talker my mom was pretty keen for me to get my butt back in school. I was not to squander the opportunity that our ancestors had fought so hard for. So, having been granted scholarships to cover my tuition, I attended Trent University, which I had selected because there was lot of bush on the campus. I planned to camp out in the woods the whole time. I even took a tent and all my best woods clothes and everything, but then my Granny warned me that I would surely be raped if I slept outside alone. Having had this idea firmly planted in my head I conceded to sleeping in my dorm and just spent as much of the daytime as possible in the bush. I continued to learn from the trees and they guided me to pursue my commitment to social justice by working in solidarity with the Indigenous peoples’ of Turtle Island.

It was at Trent that I met Laura Hall and re-met Urpi Valer-Pine, the two Indigenous women with whom I co-founded the group Seven Directions. Urpi had, in fact, been one of the brown students who was also tormented by the same Susan teacher at the feminist all girls’ school.  Although, we had not been friends in middle school, all these years later we discovered that we shared a commitment to social justice, particularly Indigenous rights and gender equality.  So we formed a group. We hosted Decolonization Discussions and consulted with Indigenous elders about what decolonization could actually look like and how we could best contribute to it. We also fundraised for Indigenous groups fighting for their land, like the Secwepemc in BC and I took the bus out West to do some front-line land defending with Cheam First Nation.  I learned a lot in my time at Trent. I actually created my own degree specializing in ‘Decolonization: Indigenous Cultural Reclamation in Turtle Island and Africa.’ The program included Native Studies and African studies courses as well as a self-directed study course on genealogy and another on the role of religion in the colonization of Africa.

After three years spent exploring ideas of decolonization, consulting with local Indigenous community members and working in solidarity with land-rights struggles, Seven Directions began working towards the creation of a centre for decolonization. The idea was to buy land and establish a space where Indigenous peoples and allies could relearn their  land-based traditions and learn to live according to the treaties.

It took us some ten years to pull together the money to buy the land, which we finally did in 2013, and today we’re still working on building the infrastructure for the centre. Last year the group was able to host a first Hide Tanning workshop for the local Indigenous community with a grant we received. However, we found that it was a challenge to bring large groups into the space without sufficient resources to accommodate them. We’ve had to go back to fundraising so that we can create the necessary infrastructure, such as a big kitchen and showers. We are working on building both physically, emotionally and spiritually. We are still learning how to share space so we can function as a healthy community, while also developing relationships with the local Algonquin and Metis communities. the center.

As we work through the challenges of building an alternative to a colonial way of living, I am sometimes frustrated by how slow the process is. I know patience is a virtue, but at times I panic when I look up from this work to see how incessant and tireless the forces of destruction are as they tear up the earth in the name of profit, displacing our peoples and gunning us down or jailing us if we resist.  I am terrified that there will be nothing left by the time we relearn how to live in a good way. Perhaps it was in answer to these worries that I dreamt one night about riding a bus where I could not distinguish between people and baggage. In another part of the same dream I was with some Batois people, my ancestors, and we were learning the names of plants as we walked up a hill.  I woke up with thoughts of the Montgomery bus boycotts in my mind and I knew that we had to get off the bus! I felt that those of us who believed in a different way of doing things had to engage in a boycott as powerful as that of the Civil Rights movement. So I started plotting. After many conversation with Black, Indigenous and POC activists who seemed on a similar page to myself I wrote the Call Out below.

The Call Out is a work in progress. At present it is being revised to be more reflective of the Indigenous voices in our movement.  The movement itself is a work in progress. But I have to say I’m proud of some of that progress. Due to the overwhelming support from community members, we already have a website and a beautiful flyer that serve to educate people about how they can take steps towards creating a more just world. We’ve held three powerful actions that at once feed and honor spirit while, simultaneously resisting oppression. All this has happened in only a few months. We have many great social justice groups within the coalition already and we are building steadily all the time.  I know this revolution that we dream of will not happen overnight, and I know that we have to take time to do things in the right way, rather than rushing forward to our death, as the wise ones say. But I also know we are in a powerful moment and timing is everything. I know that my job is to listen closely to the guidance of my ancestors whether they speak through trees or dreams. I must keep my feet planted firmly on the soil and offer thanks and water daily in the constant flow of reciprocity. In doing so, I can play my role, not unlike like the salmon who performs the ultimate sacrifice to make way for future generations.


 

Amai Kuda
Amai Kuda is a Toronto based singer/songwriter, community activist and the mother of a young child. The name Amai Kuda means “mother to the will of the creator” in the southern African language Shona. Amai Kuda is a co-founder and co-coordinator of three organizations, Moyo Wa Africa, Seven Directions and R3, dedicated to the decolonization of African peoples and to indigenous solidarity respectively.Daughter of the internationally awarded writer, Nourbese Philip, who has used her work to speak out about all kinds of injustice, Amai Kuda grew up going to demonstrations and listening to her elders passionately discuss the history and future of African peoples. Her first music video, All My Fine Shoes, was part of The Reel World Film Festival 2010 and in October of 2011 she launched her first CD called ‘Sand from the Sea’, an indie release which she produced herself.

Erasure

By Anonymous

I wanted to erase every memory of him ingrained within the groves of my skin. My dress slipped to the ground and I slid into the tub. My fingers grabbed onto the crystal and slowly turned the faucet. Pushing the limit, I allowed the water’s heat to scald my skin. The heat did not delay from stinging my bareness. A crimson hue flushed my fairness. After some time, the skin grew accustomed to the water’s harshness.

The blades inched around my tips. I enjoyed the hardness of the metal in my hand. Grabbing my long strands, pulling my long strands, I carved. And I wounded. And I chopped the black, silk locks he once ran his fingers through. They fell onto the waves and drifted around me.

The purifier lathered between the gaps of my finger. I gradually rubbed it against my limbs. I wanted to purge his scent from every cavity. Every fracture. Every breach.

Frustrated, I scrubbed harder and faster, an anger was surging through every nerve. I scratched away at my weakness. My hands traced their way to the edges between my thighs and scoured. My nails scraped at the softness of my mounds. My fingers ripped at my unchaste lips. I clawed at every part of my existence that he corrupted. I grinded and chafed till the softness peeled away and revealed an unscathed surface. It was new and virgin.

Frustrated, I scrubbed harder and faster, an anger was surging through every nerve. I scratched away at my weakness. My hands traced their way to the edges between my thighs and scoured. My nails scraped at the softness of my mounds. My fingers ripped at my unchaste lips. I clawed at every part of my existence that he corrupted. I grinded and chafed till the softness peeled away and revealed an unscathed surface. It was new and virgin.

This unseasoned layer easily burned from the boiling water. Blood snaked just beneath its face. The blistering pain marking scars was inferior to the relentless feeling of a soiled soul. Then euphoria reigned over me. His presence no longer endured on my body. I felt forgiven. Felt recreated. Felt absolved. I had hated every fraction he ever touched, kissed, licked, or fucked… I collapsed lower onto the cruel steel and sobbed.

I finally erased the ubiquity of his violence within every fragment of my being.

3 Poems

Poems and artwork by Kamika Peters

Mealand

He slinks away in the night
And returns in his home on wheels
Bedding made of the devil's wrappers
A woman took an axe to his knee
He cut a woman's face
A scar across her eye
I stayed invisible
when I went to school with her son
He wants to see me
He says he'll pay
with cash
But he can't afford time wasted
I used to fight through her to see him
Arms soft like fresh bread
But strong
I would sing my song at the door
Pools for eyes
God
She's not in today
I would cry
Sit tight
I will be back
as quick as peanut butter
In a garage parking lot
during an Algonquin winter
He puts a lime in the cash box
For the wicked people dem
Bad mind people
be aware
But don't mind
He is going in
I might be 26 or 29
He might be 49 or 52
Either one of could be dead
More for me for him to miss
More of him for me to forgive
More of me for myself to forgive
During the time

Lily of the St. Micheal

She throws her napkin at me
I don't need to see inside
I know
It's filled with the usual
Chewed grape skins
She laughs at me
Soft lips over hard gums
Hard knuckles in the air
She asks me if I want a sandwich
And sticks out her tongue
I shriek for her
I laugh with her
I am a cackling hen
I love her
She calls me monkey
In any other context
Other than her love
I would be upset
She sings me a song
About a brown skin girl
She laughs at the end of the song
Always
After she's gone I realize
She changed the ending
As sweet as the sugar spoons
For her Orange Pekeo
To me
I miss her everyday

Nisam

Your mother twisted your words as if it was her tongue
Wove a narrative for you to be a saviour of which you never asked
Couldn't hold you unless she was upheld
Couldn't kiss you unless it was a spell
I am rooted in an understanding that I must convey to your foundation
To illustrate my love in words you should have learnt from birth
Nisam Mama

Portrait of Kamika

Kamika Peters
Kamika Peters is an odd, twenty-something years old budding multi-disciplinary artist who happens to be a black, queer, femme with disabilities born on Algonquin territory to West Indian guardians. Predominately self-taught and interested in exploring  complex truths in their identity, their trauma, and the oppressive paradigms that exist in their world using many mediums.

Healing is Already Happening: A Reflection

by Akua

I consider myself as a life long learner.

When my friend called me in emotional distress as I was writing this reflection, a number of things were going through my mind about her: empowered community worker, champion of human rights, supporter of Indigenous education, and a creative, innovative spirit. It became apparent that she was becoming deeply triggered – very deep past traumas coming to the surface, seemingly all at once, through events converging in an overwhelm of grief and emotion…While one part of me focused on staying present and centred as we spoke over the phone, another part of me was in a place of complete TRUST. A part of me knew, as we spoke, that whatever was coming up, was coming up for release and we needed only to make space for it. To be present, to make space for the body-mind wisdom arising (although it doesn’t always initially look that way initially). That part of me knew that healing was already happening. On my journey through my own healing and the study of what it means to heal, I’ve learned so much for which I am grateful. For what it’s worth, here are some reflections thus far.

Contrary to conventional notions we are nature, we are not other than or separate from it. Nature knows how to balance itself. From a healing perspective, we might see a disease, for example, involving the production of phlegm or pus as the organism of the body in its innate capacity, generating a response to imbalance. Some Naturopaths working with very physically ill children experiencing Autism will reassure the parents and rejoice when the child’s immune system finally gains the strength to generate a response, such as a fever.

We have a microbiome in this organism called the human body (or we could say it the other way round; this microbiome has us). Three to ten times more bacteria make up this organism, than the cells of the human body. When these cells and bacteria work in symbiosis, optimum health occurs. When there is disharmony ill health follows. Our organism is self regulating and self healing. We are nature.

We have a microbiome in this organism called the human body (or we could say it the other way round; this microbiome has us). Three to ten times more bacteria make up this organism, than the cells of the human body. When these cells and bacteria work in symbiosis, optimum health occurs. When there is disharmony ill health follows. Our organism is self regulating and self healing. We are nature.

Without the prescribed/conventional separation from the body, we see that when the mind is stressed, the body changes; the heart rate rises, blood vessels in the gut contract, the pH levels change, etc. Hans Selye(1), as quoted by Gabor Mate(2) in a talk I attended said “…the biggest stress is emotional, and the biggest emotional stress is being something you are not; not being who you are.”

We know the body-mind connection is real. Many of us feel it in our gut. And we know that many others consciously or unconsciously, follow constant media suggestions telling us our body signals and feelings must  be overridden with pharmaceutical chemicals.


1. Hans Selye coined the term “stress” in the 1960’s.

2. Gabor Mate is the author of When the Body Says No- The Cost of Hidden Stress

When we see ourselves as nature and understand nature’s capacity for balance, an intimate understanding of such processes of life give way to trust. When I was in rural and remote locations (Mennonite farms and Nunavut), it was consistently the case that the midwives I worked with had different parameters for length of labour. Anything over four hours was on the long end of the scale, whereas when I worked in urban areas, fifteen hours was on the long end of the scale and twenty-four hours was not unusual especially for first births.

A key difference appeared to be trust, grounded in an intimate relationship with the natural world and the trust and acceptance that comes from it. For many generations, Healers have known this intimacy with the processes of nature, and the trust and deep acceptance that comes from it.

A deeper study of the meaning of healing came upon me with the experience of debilitating disease. I started to realize that no amount of healthy eating can heal the self-limiting beliefs I carry within or the hardening of the heart; the closing of connection with that which gives me life and creativity from within.

I was so desperately ill and so adverse to seeking help from the conventional medical system. I had to go deeper and ask what was happening within my system (mental, physical, emotional,and spiritual). I had to reexamine my notions of the healer and what it means to heal. My conditioning started to reveal itself. Seeking healing and healers in my community also meant a review of history and culture. It meant realizing my own resistance to healing and to the healer within me. Healing means wholeness. Healing involves growth and change. I came upon healing modalities and healers that were completely outside of my previous radar – what appeared to be physical illness put me on a blessed path of education. My gratitude often goes out to those Healers who are often invisible to the conventional modern day consciousness.

Midwives and Healers have a similar role; they help to facilitate what is already happening. Nature knows how to balance itself. We are nature. Are we listening? Healing requires an unconditional acceptance – to see, to look openly. Healing involves safety, and healing is optimized in a caring environment which involves a deep acceptance grounded in the skill and experience that comes from mature work with the self and with others. I was privileged to come across healers that provided a sacred space born from their own work within. Since we are nature, healing is already happening, in nature the movement is constantly towards balance. “Healing always comes,” I was told by an angelic stranger on my travels in the Southern US and I would add that healing is already happening – we just have to get out of the way.

I like the three wisdoms described in the Buddha’s teachings (the third one being the most revered). There is the wisdom you hear about, the wisdom born of intellectual discourse, and the wisdom of your own experience (experiential wisdom –’bhavnamayi panna’). Healing is ‘direct experience,’ depending directly on one’s own capacity to open to it. My own healing brings me to a deeper connection with my ancestry, an integral connection with my natural environment, and healing brings me to a place that allows for the safety and the sacred space to grow and change.

In recent living history, the circumstances on this planet have become less and less hospitable to life. What this happens for the human organism, is called sickness and disease. And the body-mind knows how to heal itself as we learn to trust we learn to get out of the way. Healing is already happening. Nature knows how to come into balance. In the ancient language of the Buddha, Dhamma means Nature, Law, and Truth. The more we reclaim an intimacy with the natural world within us and as we develop the trust coming from this capacity for healing and balance, the more we see possibilities around us, and the more we become an active part of the process of change.

Today I received a message from my friend of many years who had called days before. “Thank you so much for your accompaniment on that wild ride that was my processing, it really reminded me that we do have the medicine within us and we can create that space for it to work…”


This reflection is in dedication to Robert Hinds of Pinnacle, a very successful, self sufficient community in Jamaica (a contemporary of the more known figure, Marcus Garvey in the 1930s). The community of Pinnacle did not bow down to the queen of England, which was a huge act of resistance at the time, when all over the world brutal colonialism was the order of the day. Robert was a community leader, a political and spiritual leader. Robert was known also as a Healer.

This reflection is also dedicated in gratitude to Mary Kate Brennan. Though she grew up in a Gailic speaking home, she would avoid discrimination by not claiming her Irishness. She would in her late years tell her daughter that she avoided claiming ‘the sight’ though she admitted to having it. It came through her anyway and healing came through her in the form of unconditional acceptance and love. Many unexpected faces showed up at her funeral with stories of great compassion and love (she and her mother had their own ‘underground railroad’ for orphaned children during the troubled times in occupied Ireland).

These examples and others are part of the healthy flora in my ‘microbiome’ on another level. We are nature and I trust that nature knows how to bring itself into balance. And I’m so glad I know now that healing always comes: it’s already happening within me.


Akua
Akua has been studying nutrition and health independently for over twenty years and stress and trauma for the past ten years. She has attended around 400 births in her studies and practice as a midwife.  Akua has received training in plant medicines, Chinese Medicine and other forms of natural medicine and through indigenous ceremony. She has received some of her most profound education on her travels. Akua recently has focused on the study of Autism.

Akua is drawn towards Healing Trauma and changing self limiting beliefs and has studied and worked primarily in this area for the past ten years. Her mother was born in England of Irish and English parents. Her father was born in Jamaica of African/Jewish and African/Arawak parents. 

contact: akuahinds@gmail.com

At the End of a Beginning

Illustration of many small flowers coming from one stem

by Mina Ramos

Content Warning: Abortions 

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

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

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

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

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

|| = Positive.

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

|| = Positive.

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

|| = Positive.

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

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

|| = Positive.

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

|| = Positive.

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

|| = Positive.

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

|| = Positive.

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

|| = Positive.

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

|| = Positive.

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

[DEATH]

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

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

[HEALING]

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

[HEALING]

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

[HEALING]

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

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

[HEALING]

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

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

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

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


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

2 Canes 2 Crips 6 Legs

An editorial essay on Disability art, healing justice, the hustle of the emerging marginalized artist.

by jes sachse

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

– Healing & Health Justice Collective Organizing Principles, US Social Forum Detroit 2010

‘I have great immunities! I think it’s because I was born in a hospital,’ I say as you unlock the door of the apartment where your cat eagerly awaits our return.

‘What??’ you laugh in confusion.

 It was not what I meant. I remember fumbling with my words and eventually discarding them and hopping on your bed in playful distraction, hopelessly smitten in my first SDQ (sick and disabled queer) relationship.

I meant I was raised in a hospital. The mothership. Among others of my kind. Paranoid of cops and public transit officials trying to return me. One time wheeltrans slowly followed me for a whole block down Sorauren Avenue and I was like ‘aw shit! It’s happening!’ Turns out they were just looking for an address.

When I moved to Toronto with them big city dreams, it was from a smaller town nearby. Disability art was a new and burgeoning thing to me then, and to the Canadian scene, and I was eager to explore it. I resolved that in order to do that I needed to be around people that could grow me. I needed to know what was out there and I figured Toronto could tell me, with its rumours of other disabled queers.

This cold shoulder of a city has fulfilled its promise and then some. I’ve learned the art hustle of the emerging marginalized artist. Connection across disciplines, politics, and identities. Negotiations between steep rent and steeper poverty transformed into sweet poetry on the social media surface of me. I have made a home and it only took five years to get here.

Here for me is more literally the city’s southwest neighbourhood of Parkdale. I suppose Parkdale is as good a place as any to think about being disabled. Poverty and gentrification coming in from all sides. A place where scrappy meets yuppie in an elbow of streets just before the lake. Years learning the sidewalk dance of dodging the wheelie cart bubbies of a still very Polish Roncesvalles Village cuz no they don’t see your shared crip identities and they will RUN YOU DOWN.

The word disability has a lot of whiteness to contend with. It comes from institutions, which have an inherited colonial history: the medical industrial complex and the academic industrial complex.

I receive a lot of speaking engagements from academic institutions. The academy did not create disability art, but it did brand it. With the brand comes the decree of legitimacy. (I was once asked to give a presentation at a conference at Yale. It didn’t matter that no one paid me; it was Yale! Yaaaaale. Although when trying to board the campus shuttle, right on cue, I was asked if I was looking for the hospital shuttle).

I think I really did believe that a growing interest in disability art meant a growing care for disabled people. But that is a harsh untruth of being a marginalized artist contending with institutionalized power. With the apparent success of my own growing brand, I feel a growing emptiness. Hunger pangs that the McD’s value menu never seems to fill, despite repeated attempts at slinging toonies at the problem.

In a Canadian art context, marginalized identities ask for commodification in order to sustain an emerging artistic practice, while the work produced is often valued for only that: its marginalized quota. In the process of naming oneself over and over as marginalized artist, for funding, for work, for survival, an oppositional isolation is deeply felt. As though that is all one’s work is or is doing: marginalizing.

I can remember my first review in NOW Magazine, during my very first solo show for CONTACT Photography Festival. The images spanned the work of two years of vivid, visceral, queer and erotic digital self-portraiture; early photographic attempts at visually locating myself across my identities and communities. Although positive, the paragraph written about the series amounted to ‘These photographs show sachse just living life!’

Since that time, I have been given several platforms to speak from. And yet I still long for the missing care in my work’s curation. Disability art has in many ways revealed itself to exist to legitimize the very whitewashed disability studies academy. The disability studies academy will engage with disabled artists insofar as they prove of value to scholarship.

This problem is further perpetuated by organizational funding structures like the Ontario Art Council’s project grant specific disability art, which insists on a full disability roster (of almost circus-like variety) in order to be considered. If the entire slew of the projects participants are not disabled, the project does not qualify, which is a forced segregation having nothing to do with craft or medium.

Sadly, disability art is not inherently healing justice, as the spaces it takes up do not centre care or healing, but commodification. I have at times made bad art that speaks to non-disabled feminists before because it meant getting heard from at all; the ache for intimate artistic engagement is real and fuels the work of survival of artists working from the margins.

Thursday, March 24th, 2016. It’s late. I just left Lynx, horizontal on one of black pleather couches in the lobby of OCAD (Ontario College of Art and Design), spoons(1.) low and on the phone with their Vancouver sweetie.


1. Spoon Theory

The word disability has a lot of whiteness to contend with. It comes from institutions, which have an inherited colonial history: the medical industrial complex and the academic industrial complex.

I receive a lot of speaking engagements from academic institutions. The academy did not create disability art, but it did brand it. With the brand comes the decree of legitimacy. (I was once asked to give a presentation at a conference at Yale. It didn’t matter that no one paid me; it was Yale! Yaaaaale. Although when trying to board the campus shuttle, right on cue, I was asked if I was looking for the hospital shuttle).

I think I really did believe that a growing interest in disability art meant a growing care for disabled people. But that is a harsh untruth of being a marginalized artist contending with institutionalized power. With the apparent success of my own growing brand, I feel a growing emptiness. Hunger pangs that the McD’s value menu never seems to fill, despite repeated attempts at slinging toonies at the problem.

In a Canadian art context, marginalized identities ask for commodification in order to sustain an emerging artistic practice, while the work produced is often valued for only that: its marginalized quota. In the process of naming oneself over and over as marginalized artist, for funding, for work, for survival, an oppositional isolation is deeply felt. As though that is all one’s work is or is doing: marginalizing.

I can remember my first review in NOW Magazine, during my very first solo show for CONTACT Photography Festival. The images spanned the work of two years of vivid, visceral, queer and erotic digital self-portraiture; early photographic attempts at visually locating myself across my identities and communities. Although positive, the paragraph written about the series amounted to ‘These photographs show sachse just living life!’

Since that time, I have been given several platforms to speak from. And yet I still long for the missing care in my work’s curation. Disability art has in many ways revealed itself to exist to legitimize the very whitewashed disability studies academy. The disability studies academy will engage with disabled artists insofar as they prove of value to scholarship.

This problem is further perpetuated by organizational funding structures like the Ontario Art Council’s project grant specific disability art, which insists on a full disability roster (of almost circus-like variety) in order to be considered. If the entire slew of the projects participants are not disabled, the project does not qualify, which is a forced segregation having nothing to do with craft or medium.

Sadly, disability art is not inherently healing justice, as the spaces it takes up do not centre care or healing, but commodification. I have at times made bad art that speaks to non-disabled feminists before because it meant getting heard from at all; the ache for intimate artistic engagement is real and fuels the work of survival of artists working from the margins.

Thursday, March 24th, 2016. It’s late. I just left Lynx, horizontal on one of black pleather couches in the lobby of OCAD (Ontario College of Art and Design), spoons2 low and on the phone with their Vancouver sweetie.

We’d gone shopping for art materials. We were both running creative writing workshops around that time and were looking for ways to stretch our modest budgets into the nicest supplies. One hour in a stair filled supply store later and all 2 canes 2 crips 6 legs of us were TIRED. Like, need to sit down somewhere on a ticking clock kind of tired. Initially, I had offered that we go to The Rex after, due to its close crip proximity. I know the area like the back of my claw hand. Filed under: ‘A place to sit and jazz.’

Wheeltrans had messed up and wouldn’t be arriving till 10:30pm. But when we reached the bottom of the ramp Lynx, in their Capricorn rising steadfast charm, stopped and announced ‘Nope.’ Which is how we found ourselves camped in the university’s lobby instead.

‘Do you have a [phone]charger?’ they ask, a chuckling metaphor of our current energy levels.

Surprisingly I did. We find a nearby bench and corner with an outlet.

With hours to go before their ride, we seize the opportunity to hang out. Scatter their new supplies on the well-lit concrete floor for a future social media post to promote #BlackSpoonieSpeak, a workshop by Lynx Sainte-Marie, trying to sculpt the aesthetic jusssst right for Insta.

The hustle.

(It feels like this great secret that when two or more spoonies who centre care with each other come together, access needs don’t actually double but decrease, because bodies inform each other. A deep balance of limits & desired outcomes.) 

At 9:30pm, after twenty different conversations & a relocation to the black pleather couch, Lynx insists that I start home. My body has begun its nightly shut down. I’ve taken to referring to it as ‘kitten hour.’ If I don’t get on transit within kitten hour I will be too sleepy. Falling asleep in public is an unsafe thing in the world.

At the stop, it starts to rain. Streetcars crawl toward me in the great damp distance of Queen Street, their green-lit antennae making a Gatsby out of me. It aches of unfulfilled promise. As access wages, the same ancient stress on my bones so begins again the calculation of steps to home. The wince of what happens when home was other people. The funerals step onto the streetcar with you, sidle into front seat to rest; blue, sideways, a marker of loss incomplete. Pain, but also Love.


jes sachse
jes sachse is a Toronto-based poet, artist & curator obsessed with disability culture. Living across the blurred lines of whiteness, poverty, lifelong disability, genderfluidity and madness, they are currently working on their first illustrated novel, Gutter, which will portray these dilemmas through a multi-modal narrative form, reflecting at once on both a crip navigation of contemporary culture, and the permeation of traumas in spaces of invisibilized violence.