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.

Dear Inninew: A Birth Story Across ‘Indian Time’ and Space

from the series: On Birth in the North: Reflections of Healing and Reclamation

by ᓂᐱ (Alyssa Gagnon)

Above: Moosehide vulva; culturally appropriate teaching tool for midwives educators across the spectrum. 

Dear inninew,

I’m combining modern clinical practice and traditional setting. Letting go of divides, solidifying my ability, and registering my capability in the eyes of governing body and adhering to institutional policy. But what about our actual bodies? Scarred. Brown. Lighter brown and white because of travelling men and a lady with a crown across the sea. Birth belongs on the aski (land). But the norm is evacuation between 36 & 38 weeks gestation and neglect of sacred location.

Flying out like niskwak (geese) only to leave other awasisak (children) with who? The pass system forced you to stay, confinement for birth takes you away, residential schools took the Indian out of the child, now CAS takes children away from the Indian. Currently caught between grannies and professors.

I’ll show you and them that I can make this better. A responsibility to protect the water – both outside on the land and inside of the wombs across reproductive spectrum. Proper risk assessment and ceremony – including medicines and the drum. I promise our conversations about ab[use] and substance use won’t drag on; I’m supposed to tell you that it’s poison, but how can I tell you that when the water you drink can’t be purified by boiling? Leaving for confinement – isn’t that prison? You sit there silent and compliant, while I write shit down [document] and make some calls because it’s a requirement. Well *@$& that. Let us be peacefully defiant because inninew you now have a choice. Our parents, grandpas and grannies didn’t though. Dragged to those schools and promised a good life, inninew please listen to my voice. Let’s get through this one together. It will build and then it will go. Just like those schools got built on land that we call home. Your cervix will open and memories of doors closing and schools burning will fly. Let’s get this baby to cry. Create our body parts out of moose hide and practice beading (suturing) on foam so that I can impress my preceptor and that kookom (grandma) who lives and breathes beads, and waves her bingo dabber in the air as she screams. I’m trying to plant seeds, restore and amplify our Cree laughter in this cold room. Our families aren’t broken, but the land I am learning on is still stolen. Remember that people are trying, and I’ll try to respectfully be outspoken. Somewhere along the east coast of the James Bay, my voice was ripped when bodies and minds were stripped. We still aren’t their prey and they don’t get to have say. I’m through with that shit. I’ll keep talking. I’ll keep listening. I’ll keep praying too – but not with my hands together and down on my knees like so many black robes told us to do. Inninew I’m telling you, just keep doing you. It’s your life. I’ll just palpate and auscultate the fetal heart rate, and call myself a midwife [one day].


Alyssa Gagnon
Alyssa’s spirit name is nipi (water). Her family is from the James Bay and she grew up on Taykwa Tagamou (New Post) territory. She is a First Nation Studies graduate from Western University, a third year student in the Midwifery Education Program here at Ryerson, an artist, and a mother to two young children.

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

The Resurgence of Indigenous Midwery

drawing of a city burning down while the sky women is pregnant

by Alyssa Gagnon

         My spirit name is nipi, which means water in Swampy Cree n dialect. The n dialect is spoken in various communities along the coasts of the James and Hudson Bay. The ancestral lands of my family are Fort Albany and Chisasibi along both sides of the James Bay coast, and I identify as a mixed-blood Cree iskwew (woman). My other name is Alyssa Gagnon and I am the mother to a sweet iskwesish (daughter) whose spirit name is masikisk (cedar) and to another chicheesh (baby) due to arrive at the end of December. I am a third year student in the Midwifery Education Program at Ryerson University in Toronto, Ontario.

From November 2015 to October 2016, I was the National Aboriginal Council of Midwives’ student representative and participated in community consultations with the Eeyou Itschee Midwifery File Cultural Working Group who worked to bring midwifery back to three Cree communities in northern Quebec: Chisasibi, Waskaganish, and Mistissini.

When I arrived in Chisasibi in July 2016, I stepped foot on the land where my nimushum (grandfather) is from and felt a sense of belonging. Not only did the land welcome me, so did family members I had not met before. More recently, I have become a member of the Association of Ontario Midwives’ Indigenous/Aboriginal Midwifery Advisory Council to offer an Indigenous student’s voice.

Like many Indigenous families in Canada, my family is no exception to the legacy of residential schooling. My grandfather, his siblings, and extended family members are survivors. This is the first reason why I pursued a career in midwifery – a solid and tangible way to support my People. I truly believe in blood memory and that the way we are brought into the physical world can affect our spirit for the rest of our lives. I believe in trauma-informed and culturally appropriate care for our People – care that is healing and land-based. As such, I relocated to Attawapiskat, Ontario for an eight-week placement and returned to Toronto at the beginning of November. Attawapiskat is a remote, fly-in community located on the west coast of the James Bay. Many moons ago, my auntie was born in a tent on this land probably near a trap line, one of the many modalities for sustenance by the Cree.

When I was a young child, I would travel to Moosonee on the Ontario Northland train with my kokom (grandma) when her brittle knees allowed her to be mobile. If we wanted to get fancy, we would take a freighter over to Moose Factory Island to walk around as rez dogs followed us hoping for handouts. At the age of 6 or 7, Moosonee is the place where I first met a midwife (little did I know). She was a kokom in her early 90s sitting with another kokom around the same age selling rosaries made up of moose hide and big beads on the side of a dirt road. In 2015 when I entered the midwifery program, I found out that this kokom I met more than 20 years earlier was indeed a midwife, but not the kind we see

toay. With my kokom being from Fort Albany and my nimushum (grandpa) from Chisasibi, my heart is entrenched into the aski (land) in and around the James Bay. I will always be a nomadic Cree and believe that birth was never meant to be a stagnant activity wrought with hospital confinement in low-risk situations.

For us, birth can be a meaningful catalyst for cultural ownership in lieu of historic and ongoing institutionalized and colonialist oppression. Indigenous health disparity is nothing new and Indigenous midwives are gatekeepers that support our People in navigating these hierarchal systems while peacefully resisting them.

There are many Indigenous midwives doing incredible things and I am humbled to call some of them, if not all of them, my mentors, teachers, and Elders. There is also a growing community of Indigenous student midwives who I am lucky to call friends. Be prepared Canada – there will be more of us working in every Indigenous community until every one of them has reclaimed birth as a sovereign act of cultural resiliency. Not only do midwives provide stellar clinical care, they bridge the gap between what colonization has done to this land and the bodies of our People. From what I have observed and learned so far, Indigenous midwives gracefully dismantle colonial systems that wish to maintain mechanisms that keep our birthing people compliant and dissatisfied with their health care. Land and body are inherently connected, and are not mutually exclusive phenomena.

More than 100 years ago, the work of Indigenous midwives was replaced with non-Indigenous, usually male doctors, who believed that birth was better suited to a hospital setting. Removing normal, low-risk birth from its traditional place on the land, and placing it in unfamiliar buildings further from home is yet another means to separate families. This instilled fear into our People who began to birth their babies void of ceremony and family members with the development of the evacuation policy in the 1960s. For years, traditional midwives have used, and passed on their knowledge to others within their communities, and outside of modern, Western channels.

Today, Indigenous midwives have been gathering together in order to bring back what is inherently ours: birth on the land. Now, the resurgence includes their ability to provide care within hospitals, and maintaining and opening practices across Canada.

Evacuation is a successful attempt by the federal government to institutionalize the birthing practices of Indigenous childbearing people. The Euro-Canadian bio-medical model perpetuates the socialization of the birthing process as something to be feared through monitored hospital containment even in low-risk situations. True reconciliation between the Canadian government and Indigenous people is only going to come about through the support of life givers. This requires new health care policies that implements the reclamation of Indigenous birthing systems that supports Indigenous childbearing people in determining their own perinatal care with proper referrals in high-risk situations.

I urge you to look up Neepeeshowan Midwives in Attawapiskat, Ontario, Seventh Generation Midwives Toronto, Inuulitsivik and Tulattavik health centres in Nunavik, Québec, the Rankin Inlet Birthing Centre (RIBC) and the Cambridge Bay Birthing Centre both located in Nunavut, the Fort Smith Health and Social Services Midwifery Program in the Northwest Territories, Kinosao Sipi Midwifery Clinic in Norway House, Manitoba, Tsi Non:we Ionnakeratstha Ona:grahsta’ Six Nations Maternal and Child Centre, Kontinenhanónhnha Tsi Tkaha:nayen located on Tyendinaga Mohawk territory, Kenhtè:ke Midwives, Kontinenhanónhnha Tsi Tkahà:nayen “they are protecting the seeds at the Bay of Quinte”, the midwives of Hay River Health and Social Services Authority located in Northwest Territories, K’Tigaaning Midwives located on Nipissing First Nation territory, and last, but not least, the Ionteksa’tanoronhkwa “child-cherishers” Homebirth Midwives located in Akwesasne, Ontario.

The provision of midwifery services is interwoven with the importance of keeping birth within communities. My hope for Indigenous midwifery to keep growing is informed by my own experience as someone who did not give birth on my land, but also in the narratives of birthing and parenting peoples that I heard through midwifery information gatherings that I have held on Taykwa Tagamou territory. My love of the land and my People motivates me to dream bigger and do more. A vision of mine is to contribute to the development of a community-based Cree midwifery education program, teach midwifery to people wishing to remain in their communities, and incorporate Cree language into the curriculum.

In June 2017, the federal government announced funding for Indigenous midwifery in Indigenous communities. It may not be enough, but it is a step in the right direction to true reconciliation between Canada and our People. Only by re-establishing connection to the land at birth, both for the infants, and those that birthed them, can we start reversing damage done by so many years of non-Indigenous medical policy. In Ontario, there are three university-based programs: Ryerson in Toronto, McMaster in Hamilton, and Laurentian in Sudbury. There is also a community-based training program located on Six Nations territory at the Tsi Non:we Ionnakeratstha Ona:grahsta’ Six Nations Maternal and Child Centre, which has traditional teachings and language embedded into their curriculum.

Indigenous midwives are primary health care providers who stay awake while the rest of the world sleeps. They provide clinical care, deconstruct patriarchy, liberate our lands and waters, and exceed our ancestor’s wildest dreams by bringing Indigenous babies into the world. As the only mushkegowuk student midwife, I am calling all Cree youth and those who are already nurses to consider becoming a midwife – we need you (I need you, ha!) However, people are working hard so that you will not have to leave your communities – as learners, life givers, and protectors of your families. One day, we will blossom further onto the land and there will be more midwifery practices along the coast of the James Bay, and even as far north as Peawanuck. There will be a return of kâkishkapikêshikêt (the one who cuts the cord) to all Indigenous communities.

Disclaimer: I do not represent any organization or institution mentioned in this article.


 

Alyssa Gagnon
Alyssa Gagnon’s spirit name is nipi (water). She grew up on Taykwa Tagamou Nation territory and her ancestral lands are along the James Bay coast. She is a mother, a graduate of Indigenous Studies from Western University, and a third year student in the Midwifery Education Program at Ryerson University.

Project Future is Now

by Savannah Clarke, Alana Siloch and Kaya DeCosta

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

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

Permaculture with The Stop

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

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

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

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

Talking Treaties with Ange Loft Talking & Treaties Rehearsal and Performance

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

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

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

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

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

INTRODUCTION TO DRAMATURGY WITH JILL CARTER

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

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

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

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

Writing while Black/ Indigenous w/ Whitney French

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

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

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

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

Savannah’s Project Future Journal Entry                   July 13

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

My roots

It grounds me

I swirl around the base

As i move towards the divine

We share so we can survive

I help others but my journey is my own

I need others but my journey is my own


 

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

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

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