A Journey Home

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

The Decolonizing Work of Nancy Rowe

By Xicohtencatl Maher Lopez with Nancy Rowe

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reclaiming myself within a sea of systemic sabotage

By Danielle Boissoneau

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Sick & Crazy Healer: Destroying Ableism in Healing

by Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pro tips/ Pop quiz:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


By Jaydene Lavallée

Generations of my family denied the blood that wound through their veins. It was both too light and too dark. The women in my family powdered their faces with flour. They gave up speaking Cree and Michif in order to hide in plain sight. When you have no land to call home, pushed from river bank to road allowance to government settlement, it becomes hard to remember that who you are is important. It’s not that they gave up, they fought for their lives in battles against the Canadian government even when they knew their stones and nails were no match for the encroaching army’s Gatling guns. My existence here today proves that my ancestors did not lose the Resistance in 1885 1.


1. The Northwest Resistance of 1885 was an armed conflict that arose when the Canadian government cut off rations to Métis who had been forced onto reserves in what is now Saskatchewan and Manitoba.


My family was always very politically Métis, but we were also Christians. I was told that I passed as white and that I was supposed to be grateful for this fact. We were taught to respect indigenous tradition, but that it was not for us. Yet the years Catholic priests spent beating these thoughts into my ancestors in residential schools were in vain because even as a child I knew there was something spiritual about being in the woods, the bush, the desert. I believed in magick. I believed in the trees.

I refused to be another generation of my family that suppressed our indigeneity because society privileged whiteness. I refused to allow the Métis fear of rejection from the indigenous community to

hold me back from rekindling the spirituality of my ancestors. I felt it was my responsibility. It took me years to nd the courage to start searching for what it all meant. On my journey, I constantly battled the voices which told me to give up, told me that what I was doing was futile.

You have no community, no clan, nobody will accept you. You’re too white. You know nothing, you have no teachings, you don’t even deserve them. You’re too white.

You are from nowhere.

How vicious we can be to ourselves. Last summer one of my white aunts told me that I “wasn’t as dirty as those other Métis”. Though I thrashed her with my tongue, I shamefully thanked her in secret for not calling me white. Her ignorance was palpable: that I would take it as a compliment to be so different from the same people I was trying desperately to nd myself within!

I did, however, and more than struggle through these times. I found it in the women, in my queer femmes, in my non-binary loves. In the indigenous women who welcomed me in because they saw that I was serious and that I was trying. But also in the astrologers, the herbal healers, and the witches. It was their love, their presence, their touch, their strength that fueled me.

And as I learned to identify and resist the colonial voices in my head, I learned to reject the patriarchy. I learned those two struggles were one and the same. For years I teased at women, especially white women, embracing witchy things. Yet were these folk not doing the same thing as me? Searching out a way to anchor themselves to something beautiful, finding a way to honour the life all around us. I was wrong. Even European histories have their own traditions if you go back far enough. As long as they tread lightly with respect and reflection, as long as they don’t contribute to harm through appropriation, I won’t tell those surviving gendered and capitalist-colonial oppression that they can’t seek out a connection to our Mother they nd in rocks or plants or the stars. Because patriarchy and colonialism seek to do just that. ey use the language of logic and science to discredit the intuitive, emotional, spiritual power of the feminine. I have more in common with a white witch than I do with an indigenous man who treats me like a walking womb and tells me it is my spiritual duty to bear children. Solidarity. 


A while back an indigenous woman reading my cards told me that my ancestors called out to me every day but that my fear and my skepticism held me back from hear- ing them. I opened myself to the possibility that they would lead me where I needed to go. I followed a trail of blood memories. I stood on the graves of my ancestors, only layers of dirt and skin separating our bones. I listened to the drum echo through the hearts of my sisters in a sweatlodge. I sat on the banks of rivers next to trees who still remember a time before there was a city in their midst. I offered semaa (tobacco) to the grandmothers. I laid by myself in the forest and heard the animals come to drink from the river near my head. I was reminded that encountering a deer fly on the trail can teach you humility in the same measure as a bear. Elders in all forms.

I choose to reject the cold politics that claim belief is a distraction from the work of revolution at hand. I respect the courage it takes to seek out and connect to the things that bring you meaning and power. Spirit – magick – is real because it exists in the spaces between us. It pulls us together. It holds us together. I honour you as sisters. As siblings.

And brothers if you choose to prove yourself as such.

My name is Jaydene Lavallée. I am Red River Métis Nêhiyaw-iskwêw. My ancestors lived along the banks of the Red River and then settled as a community in Meadow Lake after the Resistance.

maarsii & kinanâskomitin & miig- wetch & thank you for the love and power you bring into the world.


Jaydene Lavallée
Jaydene is a queer Métis-Cree woman living in Dish with One Spoon territory (Hamilton, Ontario) searching out places to channel all her love and rage.

Bringing the Black Disabled Artist to the Centre

By Kayla Carter

“Mija, you can’t live your life as if you aren’t disabled. 
Slow down take your time. Be gentle.”

A knowing “thank you” is what I offered her. Knowing what she really wanted, I entrusted her with a “gracias Abuelita’. After hanging up I rushed my way to the Queen and Roncesvalles to catch my street car, in the hopes that the diversion around Queen wouldn’t make me late. Sweating and anxious about conducting my first interview, I searched for the room in hopes that my sense of direction would save me from having to talk to anyone. A task that feels colossal in the face of my social anxiety. After finally finding the room, a sense of finding home came over me. 

I knew that the purpose of the interview was to interview the two of the most recent recipients of the Sharon Wolfe Artist in Residence position at Tangled Arts. However, the home that I felt was one that was filled with an urgency, tenderness, and a specificity that is born out of living and surviving lives that are intersecting and tangled, to say the least. After realizing that Gloria Swain (2016 Recipient) and I had met before at York University and receiving the most heart warming hug from mel g.campbell (2015 Recipient), we all sat down and started to catch up. Eventually, the topic of black art in Toronto came up. This is what followed…

mel begins by poetically speaking about their arrival at the themes that are strikingly present in their installation entitled point of origin which uses text and textile. One of the pieces entitled black matter excellence is embroidered with the names of people that have died and people that have fought for black liberation. mel speaks about their process of meditation on where memory is held in their body. The brilliance that comes from mel’s work is their delicious way of breaking down the assumptions that people have about labels and diagnosis’ around disability. Through their installation the understanding that diagnosis and how we experience our bodies are not by universal design is addressed.“A lot of assumptions get made and a lot of understandings get made about my needs and stuff that aren’t actually in line with how I am”. The intersection of time and being disabled are apparent in their work. With a precision and accuracy that begets mel’s understanding and genius of being black and crip, mel speaks about how one of their pieces looks at and honours the beauty of the central nervous system.

“I wish they understood the pain that goes onto the canvas. Ignore the paint. It’s the pain that goes on the canvas!” With stunning detail and brilliant insight Gloria goes on to explain her process of creation and how it is inextricably linked to disability, chronic illness and depression. “Sometimes I don’t even use a brush, I use my hands!”. She speaks to the fact that where, when and how she creates in tied to her understanding of her body. Part of the greatness of Gloria as an artist is her ability to create in ways that honour her experience as a black disabled female artist; as opposed to making a martyr out of herself. Gloria’s installation which is entitled Mad Room which uses text and visual art, speaks directly to intergenerational trauma, mental health within the black community. Gloria’s work engages disability and what it means to be a woman, with a precision and boldness that is born from being a black disabled artist who is not only practiced, but is deeply steeped in her work.

Insomnia by Gloria Swain


Insomnia by Gloria Swain,Self-Portrait #1 on Loom(in progress) by mel g. campbell

One of the things that quickly becomes apparent during our talk is that the experience of what it means to not only be a disabled artist but to be a black disabled artist is on the table. The cultural, political and social relevance of what it means to be a black disabled artist is an experience that is fully encompassing. Gloria brilliantly states “my art and my depression is political”. The political, social and experiential space of being a black disabled artist is one

that we soon come to realize is isolating, frustrating and exhausting to say the least. However, it should be stated very blatantly that the source of this isolation and frustration comes from the ableism, poverty, sexism, homophobia, transphobia and anti-black racism of the Toronto art spaces and wider society. The lack of understanding around funding and ODSP, makes it so that disabled artist can get grants, but can keep next to none of the grants. We speak about the expectations of the particular aesthetic of the black artist, leave little room for black disabled artists to create artist that is honest. So much so that aesthetic overshadows art. At one moment in the interview, I mentally checked out, so I could thank the goddess for the honour of being able to hold space with these artists.

Gloria’s and mel’s understanding of the means and mediums of creating as a disabled artist is something that must be more widely understood. In my opinion, these two artists are at the forefront of what is means to not only create, but to do so deliberately and shamelessly. mel and Gloria are facing, surviving , and thriving what most artists would never have to fathom dealing with on a daily basis. Their brilliance is not simply because their work is strikingly honest, deliberate and disarmingly beautiful. Their brilliance as artists comes from the fact that the work, energy, and life that is put into the career of being a black disabled artist is something that requires an infinite amount of brilliance. But above all a belief that the work that you are creating must be created. As someone who has had the honour of bearing witness to their work, I can say that there is a palpable breath, heartbeat and undeniable life in their work. This life is born out of having lived lives that produce work that can only come from magnificent artists such Gloria and mel. Towards the end of the interview, we started talking about the archaic tradition of making art, and how the legitimacy of art is still tied to said archaic tradition. Both of the artists explain that their process of making art is one that works for them because they cater their process to their own bodies. This act is revolutionary in a city like Toronto where struggle is romanticized, but those of us who experience intense struggle are not prioritized. Therefore the act of creating in ways and means that prioritize yourself as a black disabled/crip person is intrinsically and undeniably revolutionary.

After I say goodbye to mel and Gloria, I feel slightly abandoned. A feeling that comes every time I meet an artist or creative that I have a deep and unwavering respect for. A feeling that I know will pass. I rush to catch the approaching streetcar. As I anxiously try to find a seat, I think about the space that was just created. It was a space that I think all of us in the interview wanted, but did not know how much we actually needed.

As the streetcar pulls into Spadina station I think about how the themes that were brought up in the interview will be addressed. Will they remain in the confines of the Tangled Arts office? So to you the reader I ask: after reading this article how will you be prioritizing the experience, voice, and life of the black disabled artist? How will you bring us to the center?

Gloria Swain
Gloria Swain is a visual storyteller and multidisciplinary artist whose work stimulates an understanding of mental illness. She was 2016 Artist in Residence at Tangled Art & Disability and has shown throughout Toronto and is currently completing her Masters at York University. Her practice also includes work as a community arts facilitator and coordinator of art making spaces. She uses art to explore inter-generational trauma and healing.

Kayla Carter
Kayla Carter is a multidisciplinary artist, an educator, a healer and a lover. She is a Toronto based black, queer, disabled, femme who is of Jamaican, Cuban, and Maroon ancestry and believes that her existence is not accidental, but very deliberate.Her work focuses on ancestral and intergenerational trauma, shame, healing, queerness, race, gender, disability justice and what it means to be unabashedly human. As a healer, Kayla’s work focuses on mental health, self-care, self-love ancestral and intergenerational trauma, sustainable forms of healing, and radical reproductive justice/healing.

Hard as Femme

watercolour of cotton flower

By Anonymous 

I have followed a crooked line back
to her particular grace. The edges
of me untidy, tongue coarse as a burlap
sack. Hard. Learned prayers luscious
like rust, a pickup backseat fuck,
a husk of a tractor grill thick with smashed grasshoppers.
The more taboo things I do with my body
the less monstrous my body becomes soft
as the summer wheat scored through
by a highway back to where I was born.
We don't get the saints we need: we dream
them into being the way the cleft of a valley
welcomes the river. So a girl
dreams a femme who would get down
on her knees for her, whose heart
was the naked prairie and then the fire again,
who could muster concern for women’s pain
and other earthly things.
For me, she peels back the screen door
to savour a moth, resting; to hear
how the wind hushes in the fields.
How the air sizzles and cracks
like an acetate song as the sky gathers itself
and crickets croon in the old mother’s tongue.
She turns words of her first language in my open mouth
And falls like lightning into the cup of this night.

Our Constellation of Traumas

by Melisse Watson

Article and Artwork by Melisse Watson


When you feel sad, what does it taste like? I woke in the night with a bitter mouth and a dry throat from not caring enough to brush my teeth the evening before. That taste reminded me of sadness…not a memory; more of a familiar presence. With eyes cloudy, I watched the windows through which I imagined stars in a still night sky. No moon. Just the taste, the awareness, the reminder. The discouragement. I got up to drink it down, and as I swallowed, I couldn’t track the luke-warm temperature all the way down like you can with ice water. 

Ice water hurts my teeth I remember, so does hot tea. And I don’t like that all-the-way-down feeling anyway. I down another glass, tongue raw and upset with me. That reminder. Then I feel the water forming a new body inside of me, like a hard rain that pushes the edges of a creek to a lake, a swelling. It took with it the taste but not the feeling; I reconsider: Sadness doesn’t live as a taste on my tongue. I feel it in my stomach; that stillness, fullness, uncomfortable – that I could swallow and no longer give it a thought, even if sadness lead to my teeth falling out. I wanted to map other places that weren’t what they seemed. Other multi-dimensional, multi-verse maps to seeing myself better, like: anxiety in my hands, or the breaking of my own boundaries as an aching in the thighs deep as marrow.

In sharing many conversations with community around trauma; whether in passing or in disguise, reflection or in overflowings, I have heard and witnessed the anchors and burrows that trauma creates in our bodies, in some of our disconnect with spirit, and our quality of emotional and mental wellbeing. When I sat that night and asked myself what I would reclaim, what came to me was a map of sorts. Similar to the way I imagine a surgeon has a map of the inside of a body in their mind’s’ eye, or a chiropractor with a map of one’s bones, a cartographer or astrologer or traditional knowledge keeper – a map of the stars. A father, a map of the most certain way to keep his daughter safe – ‘map’ does not hold with it enough substance to describe the reclamation I imagined. I reconsider: not a map at all. Not drawn with elevation or terrain or roadways – but sets of places that connected and intersected one another, unmarked, without a legend for anyone else to see but yourself. I watch myself draw a line from my lack of self-esteem to my arched posture, with another pause between the two to name my fear. As the lines join points in pencil from my organs to my bones to my joints to the space around me and to each other. I reconsider; ‘constellation’ is much fuller and is responsible for reaching to hold the condensed light to the vast darkness. The ways we may reclaim our trauma and with it, ourselves, lies in the design and existence of the universe, and the patterns and connections that have lead those who migrate and journey home since the beginning – whenever and however we began.

Another reminder comes forward;

It has been two nights in a row without sleep, listening to and willfully feeding my addictions, leaning out the window to watch the night and to feel out these new body parts and transplants and fusions. Parts and connections that can reside outside of oneself, at any length and distance. Parts of oneself that can transform and shapeshift and awareness points like stars that sometimes take hundreds of moments to realize. A reconsideration of responsibility to oneself, and to others – two, four, six legs and more. Imagine, if you felt fear in all one hundred of your legs and they still carried you-you’ve got to have respect for that. And as a respectful gesture to ourselves – to the selves that battle patriarchy, phobias, ‘isms and skisms. Even with the capacity to be harmful to others (and we all have that capacity), we swallow the first stones. Always carrying them for miles before spitting them up. I see you. I see us.
I reconsider; maps have been made to tell a means by which we will find what we are looking for if we follow it’s guidance.

The whereabouts of people, places, elevation, dead ends.

Maps in textbooks that make the south smaller in scale so as to teach more than geology

Maps of our bones and body systems that are either able-bodied, or sick — no intersections, no autonomy

Maps of our genetic code, what washroom to use and how to have sex.

Maps of where our families came from except for the maps that they burned or buried with us.

And maps that tell us how to get to happiness, stability, how to put pieces together, fix what is broken, maps of manuals and each individual critical washer and bolt that are only manufactured in scarce, inconsistent, inaccessible amounts.

And if you do not have the map, then you will be lost.

I am tired,
I am tired,

I am tired,

I have been up for two nights now, and two days,
Exhausted for well longer than what the map of good self-care would say

What about when we don’t have access to these directions?
What about when we experience harm and there are no roads marked to bring us back from them?

What happens when I don’t feel love in my heart when I really reconsider love,

What if I feel love in my fingertips because they have such sensitivity, and reach, and motion?

And in my kidneys, because they are so unprotected.

I reclaim the ability to feel, name and indicate with a point and line with no legend for anyone. So that I may understand myself better. So that I may treat myself better. So that I may care to brush my teeth and not wait until I’m so thirsty to have water. And go to bed. Go ahead and design the constellations of your being; of yourself entirely, not just the weight. Reconsider all the ways we are told our trauma has to be designed to be valid. I consider that boundary crossing.

I keep tracing those points with my fingers, counting steps so I can see when complexities push up against them, maybe see them coming. What is the texture of being compassionate to yourself? In my case, reaching to feel for it (fingertips or kidneys) would reveal to myself enough. That, and not having such an obscenely dry mouth.

Note to self:

Draw a kidney, instead of a heart, on all letters and thank you notes from now on.

Melisse Watson
Melisse (Coyote) Watson is a polyracial Black-Cherokee identified queer artist driven by the capacity for art to provoke and contribute to social justice, community building and healing within systematically oppressed populations. Melisse is a multi-disciplinary artist and transformative justice community animator who began their arts practice in visual arts and poetry. Since, they have mounted an award-winning piece “I Was Born White” in the Toronto Fringe Festival, performed with Ballet Creole, Ill Na Na Dance Company and Drawing With Knives Co. Melisse has been inspired and determined to build a culture of rehabilitation, community restoration and shifting a paradigm of oppression through the arts.

Spying on the woman who birthed me

Black and white illustration fo apricot on a tree branch

By Ali R

i saw her again today
she was behind a fence
smoking a cigarette
in a faux leopard print
short fur coat
looking at nothing
except to bring
her cigarette to her lips
Heavily medicated by the
approved drugs now
Effectively captured
this too-wild woman
When i was a kid,
i thought i had
killed my mother
the neatly type-written page
that came with me
upon the shady birthday transaction
said she had cervical cancer
when she was pregnant with my twin and me
Which wasn't true:
she was a drug using
street level sex worker
who got knocked up
by an undercover cop.
She carried us.
Her warmth, her movements.
Two little fruits
connected thru a tree of life
These were East Hamilton fruits
Those berry bushes that persist
at the back of an industrial yard
or that apricot tree that stands
at the edge of the strip club's paved lot
It takes some hardness to grow in that kind of space
A jaw tightened in resolve, never laxed at a breast
They felt it best
if she didn't keep her kids, those
Well meaning folks
She had all the undesirable traits.
i lived much of my adult life like a junkie anyways
Without having to push it into my own veins
It's there still.
i pick at my skin in obsessions
and live in scarcity and fear
and desire of her
who i never knew outside of her
i'm still afraid of making any big movements
afraid to kick up trouble
less catecholamine cascades and vascular tightenings
it pulled me to to Vancouver in my early 20's
took supplies from the rich hospital on the north shore
to fervently 'fix' those ten times sicker
on the streets of the DTES
while walking home from night shifts
Not at all knowing
that i was also chasing your bones
the ghosts you left in your path
and with my sisters
scattered across this country
Even my most staunch altruism is rooted within.
so when i finally saw you
decades after we were surgically excised from you 
in premature haste
bored butcher surgeons mistaking
my twin and i for your demons
when i finally saw you,
you lived in East Hamilton again.
five minutes away from me
you could have been anywhere
You still walk the streets
with giant eyes
i saw you from the outside
for the first time,
around the same time as
i started to heal from within
time being on my side like that.


ari r
ali r is a poet who writes about finding her powers, her childhood memories, her birth mother and the power of queer love.

Accessing Embodied Ancestral Knowledge

by Zainab Amadahy

When intuition was all we had, we trained, developed and honed it. But as The Divine Masculine tilted into patriarchy, intuition lost its value. We were encouraged to trust only the measurable, tangible and reproducible. We stopped investing in the intuitive. Our skills deteriorated. Our trust waned. Perception yielded to science. Our instincts receded in favor of ideas that separated us into disconnected individuals living in a survival-of-the-fittest competition.

Above Artwork by Jayal Chung 

This process occurred in different ways around the world. For most of us, colonization imposed a Eurocentric worldview that ridiculed and discounted the notion of even valuing, much less reclaiming ancestral knowledge. At the same time, Indigenous knowledge were often reframed, re-storied and fed back to us as “science”. Now researchers are columbusing  (“discovering”/rediscovering) there are profound and verifiable truths to our diverse wisdom traditions and that ancestral knowledge either resides in or can be accessed through our body. In this article, we will explore some of those findings and I will leave you with a simple process for accessing ancestral wisdom.

Before we proceed, consider these questions: What is ancestral knowledge? Is it quantifiable facts and information? Wisdom to guide the use of knowledge? Insights into the nature of our perceived reality? Is it all that and more? Furthermore, the word “ancestral” suggests we are accessing information from the past. But the linear (and even cyclical) passage of time is only an illusion, a consequence of our existence in a material/physical world. Given this realization can we access information from what we perceive as the future; from our descendants? I can’t answer these questions for you but they come up for me as I research what my body knows/remembers/catches. My answers to these questions are not static or easily pinned down. They move like an undulating snake, assuring me that what I don’t know is immeasurably vast. Nevertheless, I welcome this opportunity to share what I think I know.

I’ve intersected with concepts of inherited knowledge in Buddhism, Hinduism, Indigenous African, diasporic African, First Nations, Maori, and Kanaka Maoli (Native Hawaiian) wisdom traditions. There are, of course, many more teachings from other traditions. Often that knowledge is encoded in metaphor, allegory and subtext. Many wisdom traditions encourage experiential learning but beliefs always colour one’s experience. The rational, logical, analytical mind can’t easily access, comprehend, quantify and categorize information that comes in subtle, symbolic forms. The scientific method requires the reproduction of measurable, repeated, and clearly defined outcomes before it will declare any experience as “real”. Unique, personalized, diverse and inconsistent experiences that can only be interpreted by the experiencer do not lend themselves to scientific investigation.

However, you don’t have to quantify or otherwise make experiences tangible to extract their value. As Malidoma Somé (Dagara, Burkina Faso) has noted in The Healing Wisdom of Africa, “The more intense an experience, the more likely indigenous people are to leave it in the language in which it came rather than to discuss and dissect it with words. It is almost as if discussing diminishes what is being discussed. Villagers feel that words conquer experience, dislodging experience from its rightful place of power. So unless powerful experiences and ideas are addressed poetically, or with proverbs, people don’t want to take the risk of losing in a fog of words what they have struggled so hard to acquire.” Likewise, reductionist scientific inquiries that dissect and verify experience related to ancestors can diminish its power and significance. Hence, we must ask ourselves if the scientific story of reclaiming embodied ancestral knowledge has its limits.

Given that many spiritual and cultural paradigms have varied and effective ways of understanding, acquiring and applying ancestral knowledge you may have no need of the science. However, you can choose to add scientific stories to your personal and cultural understandings.

The Science of Ancestral Knowledge: Epigenetic Inheritance and Biofield Studies

There are two areas of research that can enhance our understandings of accessing embodied ancestral knowledge: 1) epigenetic inheritance and 2) biofield studies. Epigenetic inheritance is now well accepted by establishment scientists. Many peer-reviewed articles in recent decades show that social and physical environment impacts how our genes express themselves and that the traumas and chronic stress suffered by our ancestors can impact the form and function of our bodies and mind. Essentially our body produces proteins in response to our physical and social environments. These proteins will inform how genes express themselves.

We’ve known about the impact of the physical environment on our genes for some time. Toxic chemicals, gamma radiation (x-rays) and ultraviolet light provide unfortunate examples of how the external environment can adversely impact our genes. At the same time, we know that healthy food, adequate exercise and time spent in pristine natural environments also impact our genes in the direction of wellness and longevity. 

Relatively new information in the world of epigenetics illustrates that your reaction to your environment will also produce biochemicals that impact your genetic expression, for better or worse. Ancestors who were raised in nurturing, healthy, loving environments and lived lives of relative safety and privilege likely had many experiences that enabled their bodies to produce biochemicals that promoted wellness and resiliency. Thus, they were able to pass down physical and genetic attributes that promote wellbeing in their descendants.

Ancestors who were enslaved, forced to attend residential school, grew up in war zones or suffered forms of abuse lived for extended periods (if not their whole lives) in a state of chronic stress. Their bodies produced biochemistry that reflected and exacerbated their stress-filled, unsafe lives. Those molecules, in turn, shaped their bodies, mind and genes. These ancestors can easily have passed down a genetic legacy that predisposes their descendants to chronic stress and illness.

At the level of DNA, recent discoveries by cell biologist Glen Rein are further illustrative. DNA is the material located in the cell’s nucleus that makes up the chromosomes and genes. Rein found that “positive” emotions expand the DNA molecule, making it more resilient and consequently better able to contribute to healing and wellness. “Only the love-based emotions stimulate DNA to decompress so that messenger RNA can access codes for healing”. On the other hand, contractive emotional states compress the DNA helix, “severely limiting access to genetic information necessary for healing as well as evolution”.  (“Effect of Conscious Intention on Human DNA”, Proceedings of the International Forum on New Science, Denver, Colorado, October 1996 

While the limitations and specifics of epigenetic inheritance are still being investigated, the science is broadly accepted because it can be explained in terms of molecular interactions. Nevertheless, there is still recognition of what ancient wisdom traditions have known for millennia: that our bodies contain inherited physical, emotional and mental information. On the other hand, biofield studies, which focus on the conversation between energy fields, is less understood in mainstream circles.

According to “Biofield Science and Healing: An Emerging Frontier in Medicine”, (Global Advances in Health and Medicine, November 2015) the term biofield was coined in 1992 at a US National Institutes of Health conference, where it was defined as “a massless field, not necessarily electromagnetic, that surrounds and permeates living bodies and affects the body.” The National Institutes of Health and several pharmaceutical companies are currently investing in research that will map the body’s bioelectromagnetic fields in the hope of better understanding how frequencies of light, sound or other forms of electromagnetism impact and interact with the body.

In Vibrational Medicine (March 2001) Richard Gerber, MD defines biofield as “the energy field that surrounds and interpenetrates the physical body. The biofield is made up of magnetic and electromagnetic energies generated by living cells.” My definition of the biofield is that it’s a collection of energy fields, some produced by and others interacting with the body. Biofields can be influenced by and also influence the structure and function of a living body.

When I started reading about biofield research, I couldn’t help but note the parallels between the theoretical science and wellness paradigms offered by many wisdom traditions. According to several researchers in the above-referenced journal, “Biofield concepts are rooted in indigenous schools of medicine, as evidenced by ‘whole medical systems’ practices such as Chinese, Tibetan, Native American, African and Ayurvedic medicine”.

The DNA molecule resides in every living cell of your body and has its own biofield that vibrates to its own signature frequency. Some scientists have described this vibration as a “theme song”. Since your ancestors are represented in your DNA you could say, metaphorically, that their songs weave your biofield. Singing, drumming and/or dancing life into existence are common motifs in the creation of stories of many cultures. These artistic practices are also employed in ceremonies and rituals that connect with ancestors. Such activities reflect a pre-colonial understanding of very sophisticated knowledge.

There are many aspects of biofield science that I find relevant to recovering ancestral wisdom. Among decades of research findings that biologist Rupert Sheldrake points to, is evidence of what he calls a “morphogenic” field that organizes and stores information in the universe, including that which comprises our physical bodies. Knowledge stored in the field can pass from one generation to the next. This has been shown to happen in animal species such as lab rats where if you teach one generation a skill, such as how to run a maze, their offspring will learn that skill faster. In fact, each generation increases the speed at which the skill is learned. As these findings began to be repeated it was learned that a direct genetic link to the previous generation was not needed for the rats to learn faster. What rats mastered in London could be passed on to the next generation of the same species in Japan, Mexico or anywhere.

Studies controlling for social and environmental conditions also began producing multi-decade-long studies suggesting the same thing: that each succeeding generation of humans has the capacity to learn at a faster rate.

Biofield and consciousness studies, admittedly controversial, have spawned a lot of theorizing about memory and knowledge being located outside of the brain; that there is a network of interacting energy fields containing universal knowledge and that our bodies and brains can act as filters of that information in order for us to have a human experience in the physical world. This theory suggests that the processes and protocols of many ceremonies, rituals and practices (breathing, meditation, chanting, drumming, etc.) aimed at reclaiming ancestral knowledge might be about opening the body’s filters to allow information already in the morphogenic field to drip through into our conscious awareness. 

From biofield theory, we can further speculate that, if our physical bodies are, at their core, nothing more than a collection of energy fields interacting with each other, death does not destroy the information contained in those fields. In addition, each of us inherits information from in those fields, specifically 50% from each biological parent. (This percentage comes from the fact that 50% of our genetic information is inherited from each parent and genetic information at its core is an energy field). The information that comprises any individual is timeless, eternal, and maybe that is what you access through rituals, ceremonies, practices and the dreamtime. Then again, some of it, most certainly, resides in your own biofield. Yet other information might be called in from the cosmic fields with which we interact.

This emerging science begs the questions of who we are connecting with when accessing ancestral wisdom and does it matter? Do all ancestors belong to everyone? Does a genetic connection matter? Are we able to access information from other entities in the universe? Again, I urge you to experiment and see what your body tells you.

Bringing Ancestral Knowledge Back Into our Bodies

While some of these newer scientific stories align with some ancestral wisdoms, we have to understand that, in comparison to the wealth of cultural and spiritual knowledge, the scientific story is a very tiny file in a vast collection of data.

Science aside, my own experiences attest to the human capacity to “catch” knowledge we were never given in any formal way. I carry several cultural, scientific and intuitive stories about how that happens and you are welcome to develop or learn your own stories. My purpose from here on is to share what I’ve learned about ways to access ancestral knowledge, whether stored, filtered by or otherwise accessed through the body.

Some of the cultural protocols around connecting with ancestors are very precise and specific. If you prefer to use these practices and work with knowledge keepers, it certainly doesn’t hurt. At the risk of disagreeing with some folks, I don’t happen to believe these protocols are essential to connecting with ancestral wisdom. This is evidenced for me by the many times I’ve been able to do it outside of the prescribed practices of one culture or another and by the anecdotal evidence, others have done the same. This happens with dreams, meditation, drug-induced and other experiences. I’ve even been known to catch a download or two in the middle of my swim workout.

At the same time, cultural practices that have been in use for centuries, and served communities perfectly well for millennia, can definitely help you connect. They can also provide a level of emotional safety if you harbour any anxieties about interacting with the “dead”. Furthermore, ceremonies and rituals practiced in community can be far more powerful and significant in terms of outcomes. The land on which the ceremony takes place, the experience and skills of ritual leadership as well as other factors can also provide an enhanced connection. So, the choice is yours.

I am not qualified to share any culturally specific protocols around accessing ancestral knowledge through body-oriented process. Nor do I feel the written word is the best way to do that. What I can share is one small practice of my own design that I use and teach.

The initial step in any processes is always to set intentions. Intention-setting is a two-step exercise: First, decide why you are entering into the process. What is your desire, aspiration or goal? What outcome(s) are you looking for? Do you need help or clarity? Do you want to learn something specific? You can clarify your intention and help your focus by writing it down.

The second step is to remain open to whatever shows up. Drop your ideas about what you want and be willing to accept what comes. Trust that the beings/energies you’re interacting with understand what you want and what is behind that want, as well as how much growth is needed before you get to a place where you can handle what you want.

The step after setting up an intention is to breathe. In Power up Your Brain neuroscientist Dr. David Perlmutter and medical anthropologist Alberto Villoldo (also a self-described shaman) wrote about how hyper-oxygenation can stir up memories. Perlmutter used a hyperbaric chamber in one of his experiments but there really isn’t any need for expensive equipment to generate similar results.

There are many breathing patterns that will increase the oxygen content in your body. The simplest one is to breathe deeply and continuously (no breaks between inhales and exhales) for a time. In a group exercise I’ll go for 4-7 minutes but if you’re on your own go for as long as you like. Often what happens is that folks begin remembering stuff they’ve forgotten or haven’t thought about in a while. These can be pleasant or anxiety producing. What can also happen is a sense of vague discomfort that isn’t attached to any specific memory but is felt in the body. At the same time you might feel highly energized and giddy. This is normal and desirable. Sometimes you won’t have a conscious awareness of memories you stir up because it didn’t happen in your lifetime but your body remembers (or accesses) the event.

Once you’ve excavated the memories you can calm your body by switching to a breathing rhythm that relaxes the involuntary nervous system. My favorite aligns with a 4-4-8 rhythmic pattern. Find the rhythm of your heartbeat, inhale for four beats, hold for four and exhale for eight. Repeat until you relax. This rhythm maintains the highly oxygenated state while calming anxieties or excess energies. When you are sufficiently calm you can revert to a comfortable breathing pattern and lay quiet for some moments, noticing what arises and falls in the body. In this state the “knowledge” can trickle in at its own pace in its own unique way.

Practice this technique regularly and it will get easier. You might find that once you’ve initiated the process, the revelations, information and wisdom can land at any time in a variety of ways. Many teachings tell us the ancestors are always trying to communicate with us. Whether you take this literally or metaphorically my hope is that you enjoy the process of connecting to the knowledge.

In the end, please remember that science discovers because it must see before it believes. Intuition creates because it believes what it cannot see and all creations reside in the timeless morphogenic field.


Zainab Amadahy
Based in peri-apocalyptic Toronto, Zainab Amadahy is an author, screenwriter, self-empowerment facilitator, professional development consultant, researcher and educator. Her background in medical and photovoltaic technologies, as well as community service in the areas of Indigenous knowledge reclamation, curanderismo, non-profit housing, women’s services, migrant settlement and community arts, inform her work. Links to Zainab’s articles, essays and other literary work can be found on her website: www.swallowsongs.com

Jayal Chung
Jayal Chung is a queer and Chinese woman, born and raised in Thunder Bay, ON. A self-taught visual and spoken word artist, she is passionate about arts, community organizing and community building, advocacy, making zines, and co-hosting Queer Radio Hour on CILU 102.7 FM.

Walking With Our Demons & Finding Our Way Home

A Crazy Half-Breed Femme’s Reflections on Mental Health & Reclamation

by Gesig Selena Isaac

 I cannot talk about reclamation without talking about its relationship to my mental health. For me, these things are intrinsically connected. I cannot talk about one without talking about the other. I think for a lot of us who are trying to seek out traditions and parts of our culture, and ourselves, this is true. It can be confusing, exhausting and sometimes very lonely. It can also breathe new life into our lungs and push us forward. Many obstacles can come between us and our culture; being estranged from blood family, unstable housing, being low income, mental health. There are also many ways we can seek out Reclamation; elders, community members, schooling (both formal & informal). Whatever way we choose, our e orts are both beautiful and valid. Mental health has very much shaped my path to Reclaiming.

Above: Rose Earrings beaded by the Author 

It has also taken a lot of time to get here; to seek out and find something that works for me. Reclaiming has been, more than anything, a creative outlet. I can tell you that for most of my life I carried around what I can best describe as a dam, weighted on my chest.

Holding back a barrage of water that needed to burst forth and ow. I knew something had to come out. ere was this limitless energy that I couldn’t necessarily name but knew was there. Sometimes in my mind, I visualized this energy as being a wooden chest that was waiting to get busted open.

My depression never was the cute kind. It was never the kind that could be transformed into something productive. I wasn’t making art about it. I wasn’t writing zines about it. I was very much in bed about it. And if not that, going to work and bursting into tears about it. When I think about what I’m going to write next I feel like a fraud. Sometimes, I feel like a fraud. Thirteen months ago I put my Crazy ass on medication. It helped. A lot. It blew up that dam and it busted open that chest. It helped me to see how my anxiety was manifesting in ways that I wasn’t able to realize, or even conceptualize, at the time. I knew it was holding me back but I hadn’t realized fully the extent it was doing so. I have Dreams now. Like, Real Live Fucking Dreams and goals and shit. Thirteen months ago if someone asked me what my life Dreams and Goals were I would have a) broken down and cried and curled up into a ball or b) fucking ran. I am not advocating for medication. I am talking about my own personal experiences. I am lucky. I know very well that this is absolutely not the experiences of most people who enter the world of Psychiatric medicine. I am telling you this because this has been a part of my path to Reclamation. I am invested in and committed to maintaining my Culture and Traditions in ways I am happy and very proud of. I do not know if I would have come to this place hadn’t I made that choice to medicate. When I write this I hear the voices of some herbalists telling me I just need to pull myself up by my “Spiritual Bootstraps” and “Stop feeling sorry for myself ” or “Depression is an ailment of the Spirit.” at’s fucking ableism and fuck that.

In the past year or so I feel like I have come to terms with that fact that mental health is an area in my life where I struggle. For a long time I was in a sort of pseudo denial about it and with that came a lot of anxiety and turmoil as to what my next steps in life might be. Today is my second day of school. I’m enrolled in an “Aboriginal Visual Arts” program at a Cra s College on the East coast. School for a long time was never something I had considered. I floated around for a very long time in cities where I felt out of place and inadequate. Finally, I honoured my Virgo rising self and finally, acknowledged and accepted that routine and a schedule might be one of the many things my crazy heart and brain may need. There were a couple of other schools I was previously interested in and frankly still am. Ultimately, I settled on the one I am in now because it is relevant to who I am as an Indigenous person. It is specific to where I come from geographically. e other schools were either in Northern Alberta or just outside of Yellowknife. rough making this decision a lot of questions came up for me like, What would it mean for a half-breed Mi’gmaq such as myself going to Northern Alberta to learn craft mean? My teachers wouldn’t be Mi’gmaq. My teachers would be Blackfoot and Metis or Dene. Would I have a place there?

I was in Toronto recently and there was an art show opening called ‘Indian Giver.’ It was a beautiful show. Later, I read an interview with one of the artists*, Sage Paul, she said: 

“Across Canada there are 500 different Indigenous nations. There are some commonalities but we’re all pretty different. So, for example, I would never use a headdress in any of my work because I don’t have a cultural connection to it. I have a feeling of protection over it but it’s not part of who I am or my nation… Our language and culture have been taken away from us so, for me, a lot of the artwork is one of the things that’s been constant… Clothing and textile identify who we are, especially because we are an oral culture. There are very specific c visuals that you can place to nations: the types of oral work on a mitten or moccasins, for example, can place us geographically.”


1. www.thefader.com/2016/06/08/setsune-fashion-incubator-toronto-indigenous-artists


Reading that helped solidify my decision. I understand the need to grab on to a Nation’s culture that isn’t yours when trying to navigate your way back to your own roots. These things can be cyclical. They can lead you back to yourself. But when given a chance to learn from your own people, about your own ways: take it. I want to know more about what it means to be Mi’gmaq. What makes us unique as a Nation. That being said, we all do what we can to get by in this Colonized world. Not everyone has access to the places they are from or money to go to school. Like I said before our efforts are beautiful and our efforts are valid

There were definitely a lot of “sexy” elements to going up North. Hide tanning and welding were both a part of the different curriculums. Having a chance to see the Northern lights was also a huge draw for me. In the end though I knew what the right choice was.

In class I learned of Maliseet scholar Andrea Bear Nicholas. She writes extensively of the ubiquitous dream catcher and Medicine Wheel. She is adamant that neither of these beliefs were ever apart of the Mi’gmaq teachings. She writes:

“To Mi’kmaq, Maliseet, and Passamaquoddy Peoples of the Maritimes:

It has been repeatedly brought to my attention how completely our people have been fooled into believing that the medicine wheel is somehow part of our traditions, especially our spirituality. While I had long had concerns about its origins, what woke me to the hoax was an event that occurred several years ago at a national conference of Aboriginal women scholars. It occurred when I raised the concern and prefaced my remarks with an apology to those whose tradition it might have been. Immediately a chorus went up with virtually everyone in the room saying loudly that it was not their tradition! And these were Aboriginal women scholars from across Canada!”


2. http://www.tobiquefirstnation.ca/treaties/MedicineWheelHoax2007.pdf


It is not a part of our oral traditions. These are important things for me to know. If I had sought out formal education at any one of the other schools I don’t think I would have heard of this. It is a part of my Reclaiming work to know what is and isn’t ours to pass on, to Reclaim.

The more we talk about our demons the more room is made for the good stuff. The stuff that feeds us. It can be vulnerable and messy at times but in the end I don’t think we have much other choice. Let’s honor our own processes, learn everything we can and share it.


Gesig Selena Isac
Gesig is a mixed race, half-breed Forest-Femme demon. She currently resides in wolastoqiyik territory.