Fathering

selfie of michael with his son smiling

by Michael Pyette

I really wanted to be a father. I was looking for somebody with a beautiful spirit, a beautiful home, smarts and strength. I had to feel she would look after our kid to the best of her ability. The only way I could really gage this is by how she treated me and those around her. I loved her for the way she treated my feelings and the way she lit up when I entertained her to the best of my ability. I fell in love with her and the forest she brought me to on one of our first meetings. I had my heart broken previously by a woman with kids. All of my stars were telling me that I needed to start my own family and she was where I wanted to. I was strangely really open and upfront about wanting babies.

We loved spending time in the woods. When we did find out we were pregnant, we both happily remembered the time we knew it happened. Women are beautiful because they let a man know how welcome he is. So I was very welcome that time. In my eyes, she is a home and when I deserve and need her I get to be near her.

My energy was hers to accept and grow. All I could do was feed her, keep her safe, well loved and entertained. The first baby was way easier. The second pregnancy while having our year and a half year old is one of the hardest things in my life yet.

As a pregnant woman, she has the right to eat whatever she wants, see whoever she wants and do whatever she wants. I look out for what I see as best for her, but what she does is a different story. Now that we have our son some of the best help I can give is looking after him. I am here to look after her while she is pregnant when she needs me. I won’t judge her if all she wants is pizza and chicken wings. I encourage her to eat the best ish around, and I rub her feet. I have also realized that alone time is sometimes the best gift you can give someone.

I am a protective man. I am a flawed man. Teachings from all over Turtle Island tell me that women are divine. They are in tune with the Earth and the Moon. She is in tune with the Sun and her Son. When I’m not in her orbit, I am learning to leave.. quickly.

She is creating, so I create too. She makes a baby, I make a tikanagan, a cradleboard. When she has rhythm, I sing. When she is loud, I dance. Maybe there are two spirits in us both. Whatever brings the best for everyone is what’s important. Our life is a fine balance and constant juggle. I am a hardworking clown.

I pray to the Thunderbirds. I pray to the Phoenixes. As a man, I fly. I zoom.. or I drive my car lots. Sometimes I land to lie near my nest. Sometimes I roam to provide. Sometimes I groom to heal. I hear and feel and I act. Sometimes I’m too quick, sometimes too slow.

I really feel the Sun. Lately, I wake up before sunrise because I feel him stir. It’s a good time to be creative or to get ready to hunt. It’s a good time for mischief. Some Haudenosaunnee teachings say a man isn’t supposed to hunt while the woman he accompanies is pregnant. I didn’t listen to that one.

I still got the deer. But she wouldn’t eat it. So began a whole bunch of other disagreements. Wise men say that the women are always right. It’s true. I was about to explain why, then I backspaced. Us men have to be magicians to survive. We need our darkness and mystery. That’s where we find the gifts that we bring back to those we love. And women need that too.

We gender our 18 month old son by calling him our son. But he wears all colours and has all kinds of dolls. He learns to wrestle, sing, draw, sweep the floor and clean up after himself. Attachment parenting is intense and rewarding. We both cuddle him in bed and change his diapers.

What we both agree is that we want to raise our kids close to the land. We want them to speak Kanien’ke:ha and Anishinaabemowin, languages that weren’t passed on to us. We spent a part of our summer up at Nimkii Aazhibikong, an Ojibwe immersion camp near Serpent River First Nation. Our baby lived in a tent with us while everything was being built. He watched us work and was spoken lovingly to by Elders. He sat by the fire and ate and laughed with us all. He even took his first step in a wigwam!

We pow wowed, listened to the wolves, watched the stars, made art, peeled logs, put a roof on a kitchen. We went swimming in a waterhole and explored sacred sites. It was ace. Sometime after we got home we found out there was another baby on the way. Yeah we kinda knew. And then the fun wound down for caretaking time.

As a mixed Dietsch and Michif man, I loved it in the North. There were lots of aunties to help with the babe and kitchen and I was there to work hard to set things up. My warrior spirit grew strong. I am glad our babies were there. She is Haudenosaunnee, and she wanted to go home. I had to follow my babies.

So we are in her territory now, where things began. It’s a place where I walk lightly as a guest. I can’t wait to build a tiny home and take whoever wants to come back up North. For now, I am within calling distance because I never know when they will need me. My kids deserve to have a dad when they need me. For now, I work and putter and play to keep myself calm as dads tend to.

I was given my teachings for how to be a father by my Dad. His low-Germanic nature is loyal, providing, stern and steadfast. Gently absent from work and available for what matters. My Métis Mother and Uncle are vivaciously entertaining, nurturing and playful. Spontaneous and sparky. I am really glad to be alive and looked after by both sides of my family. Raising kids is intergenerational work. Grandparents are an essential backbone to tiny lives.

What I’ve learned about Haudenosaunnee society is that women are amazingly powerful, and mothers especially so. I am glad for this. I put tobacco down and am glad my son has almost always been near his mother while he is young. Sometimes I was jealous that he loved her so much. But I realize that this leaves me free to wander, to build good things around them, and to bring comfort when they need it.

My son loves to swim with me, to wrestle, climb things. He loves to sing and he loves to drum because I take him out to do these things. He loves to visit our dog and sometimes he pulls us in the stroller or toboggan. He spends time with his uncles as well, who watch over and teach him. One day I will hunt with my son too. For now, we go on walks together. Good men are needed to help raise kids. It is everyone’s job and I’m glad I’m not the only one.

I’m glad for every minute I get to spend with him. Everyday is hard and I think about him and the next one to come. Having kids is like weights that tie us to this Earth and make us care. Everything I do they inherit. Almost everything we do he copies. He is a funny, smart kid. I am full of love and gratitude. I’d write more, but it’s getting hard. If you met him in person he’d make you laugh.

I wish you all happy babies, if you want them. Happy, healthy sex lives. Cuddles. Fertility if you need it. Deer in your freezers. Strength if you’ve already got kids. A clear head if you don’t have any. Laughter and song if you’re stressed. Kids are part of our struggles. Miigwech to everyone who has welcomed ours in unconventional community spaces, at rallies and in music making. So many smiles make him know he is loved. Babies are village medicine meant to be shared.


Micheal Pyette
Michael Pyette is Dietsch from Saskatchewan and Michif from Manitowaning, Manidominis. Born and raised in Tkaronto, Onta:rio, he roams around the countryside and urban ravines learning to rewild and resist. Art and ceremony are essential healers that teach us how to be in the world. He is thankful for all influences, teachers, family and friends.

Geographic Location of Birth as Reconciliatory Reproductive Justice

by Alyssa Gagnon & Sara Mai Chitty

As Indigenous people in Canada, the act of simply existing makes our bodies inherently political. Subjected to many injustices and traumas since First Contact, autonomy over our identities and bodies has been stripped away in an effort to control resources on Turtle Island, at the expense of our health and wellbeing. Traditional practices that once defined our communities have been overlooked or forgotten, replaced by government policies that reinforce stereotypes and misrepresentation, and assert cognitive imperialism over traditional healthcare practices, privileging Western healthcare models over wholistic care. These systems perpetuate cycles of under-education, under-employment, and poverty, instead of looking at ways to incorporate traditional knowledge and practice into healthcare programs for Indigenous peoples.

Illustration: The Supervolcano by Mia Ohki

In order to obtain reproductive justice for Indigenous childbearers living in Canada, it is crucial that people have access to services in their communities grounded in accurate culturally and trauma informed information, to make the best decision for their bodies and babies’ health and wellbeing. Let us also mention that the birth of our Indigenous babies and apprehensions are not mutually exclusive events; the latter of which happens far too often. It is an unfortunate truth and one that cannot be tackled in a single article

Midwifery is one such example of care that restores land-based birth practices that were eroded by Health Canada’s evacuation policy, introduced in the 1960s. Many childbearing people who were sent out of their communities to give birth at that time, under the assurance that they would be safer, lost their babies to the Sixties Scoop; were coerced into sterilization procedures in the 1970s 1.; and are to this day subjected to alienating and condescending treatment by uninformed healthcare providers, resulting in a perpetuation of mistrust and trauma surrounding Western medicinal practices 2.

Due to the inherently political nature of Indigenous bodies existing – colonial approaches to Indigenous healthcare have negatively affected the health and wellbeing of our People as well as the viability of communities to be able to provide culturally appropriate healthcare programs on site. The act of giving birth in remote fly-in First Nations is rare, despite the fact that Indigenous midwifery is a crucial component of healthcare in Canada where childbearing people should have the right to participate in and have access in their communities.

According to Indigenous midwife Stephanie MacDonald, there are numerous reserves in Canada, but the number of Indigenous midwives still not match that number. However, they [midwives] are working diligently to be recognized for their unique role in Canadian society 3.Through midwifery, Indigenous communities are reclaiming bodily autonomy, the right to give birth in their respective communities (rural and remote), and practice something that has happened since time immemorial – the ceremony of birth.

In Northern Ontario, many must travel away from their communities to give birth to their babies – often well before their due dates. The importance of geographic location and reclaiming birth has been addressed by several studies based in different parts of northern Canada. According to one study, successful birth in remote communities such as Nunavik, Quebec can be attributed to the knowledge and skill of Inuit midwives 4. A large number of people (91%) were evacuated outside of their communities to give birth before midwifery services were available. (4:235) Another study by Rachel Olson and Carol Couchie based out of northern Manitoba provides findings consistent with the importance of birth and its geographic location. The authors contend that place of birth is central to health care received by Indigenous communities in Canada5.

Karen Lawford and Audrey R. Giles’ literature review suggests that while the location of birth may seem trivial from a Euro-Canadian perspective, location of birth is a “component of identity for First Nations and invokes a responsibility and relationship to that land 6“. It is crucial that a community’s childbearing people have familial support in the perinatal period, which reflect qualities of culture and wellbeing, which is undoubtedly understood differently in the mainstream, biomedical model. Findings suggest that there is value in bringing birth back to northern Indigenous communities and should be supported by government policy.


1. Arsenault, Chris. Coerced sterilization of Canadian indigenous women in 70s widespread: researcher. Reuters [Internet]. 1 Sept 2015 [cited 19 Jan 2018].   Available from: https://www.reuters.com/article/us-canada-women-health/coerced-sterilization-of-canadian-indigenous-women-in-70s-widespread-researcher-idUSKCN0R12QM20150901

2. Leyland, Andrew et al. Health and Health Care Implications of Systemic Racism on Indigenous Peoples in Canada.   Indigenous Health Working Group of the College of Family Physicians of Canada and Indigenous Physicians Association of Canada: 2016.

3. MacDonald S. A historical and cultural view of Aboriginal midwifery in Canada. Essentially MIDIRS 2015;6(4):24-28.

4. Van Wagner V, Osepchook C, Harney E, Crosbie C, Tulugak M. Remote midwifery in Nunavik, Quebec, Canada: Outcomes of perinatal care for the Inuulitsivik Health Centre, 2000-2007. Birth 2012;39(3):230-237

5. Olson R, Couchie C. Returning birth: The politics of midwifery implementation on First Nations reserves in Canada. Midwifery 2013;29(8):981-987 

Lawford and Giles highlight that the relationship between health and land has not been taken into account by Euro-Canadian biomedical models of health 6. Janet Smylie and Billie Allan provide evidence that Indigenous people greatly benefit from community-based health initiatives, which help mitigate racism and improve health 7. It can be said that the implementation of midwifery services cannot be seen as a separate entity in the context of broader political processes and governmental relations, and that land-based care is a path to health and well-being in our communities.

For example, birth and the act of breastfeeding/chestfeeding are vital teachings in Anishinaabe culture. Leanne Simpson writes in Dancing on Our Turtle’s Back that breastfeeding is the very first treaty 8. Simpson writes: “Nursing is ultimately about a relationship. Treaties are ultimately a relationship. One is a relationship based on sharing between a [parent] and child and the other based on sharing between two sovereign nations. Breastfeeding benefits both the [parent] and the child in terms of health and in terms of their relationship to each other. And treaties must benefit both sovereign and independent nations to be successful 8.


6. Lawford K, Giles A. An analysis of the evacuation policy for pregnant First Nations women in Canada. AlterNative: An Int J of Indigenous Peoples 2012;8(3):329-342.

7. Allan B, Smylie J. First Peoples, second-class treatment: The role of racism in the health and wellbeing of Indigenous peoples in Canada. Toronto, ON: The Wellesley Institute. 2015.

8. Simpson L. Dancing on our turtle’s back. ARP Books: 2011;106-108.

The correlation between the disappearance of birth from the land and the failed treaties and relationships between First Nations and the Canadian government cannot be overlooked in this context. By removing life givers from the land and disrupting cultural practices, the Canadian government effectively disconnected generations of Indigenous people from their ties with the land and their understanding of treaties, relationships to each other, animals, the government and resource-sharing.

Simpson explains that treaties are about commitment and compassion. “It’s about the love of the land and a love for the people. And it requires support of your family and your community. Treaties cannot be maintained without the support of your family, your community, and ultimately, your nation 8.”

Childbearers in Indigenous communities, rural or urban, that do not have culturally-appropriate and trauma-informed prenatal, birth and postpartum care, risk the health and wellbeing of themselves and their baby. The government of Canada denies reproductive justice to Indigenous childbearers through “good intentions,” but erodes the very relationships and treaties it claims to support in this act.

Obstacles that midwives and healthcare providers face in offering this kind of care are financial, continuity of care, ongoing education and transience of healthcare providers. Midwifery care is available in very few remote First Nations in Ontario. For example, Neepeeshowan Midwives was founded by Christine Roy in Attawapiskat in 2012 to provide midwifery care to the community, a grassroots organization committed to bringing birth back to the land 9. In addition to continuity of care, informed choice and choice of birthplace are two of the core tenets of midwifery care in Ontario where, “midwives support the… [client’s] right to choose where… [they] give birth [and] … recognize the client as the primary decision-maker and facilitate the collaborative process of informed choice by: [m]aking a best effort to ensure the client fully understands all relevant information prior to making a decision 10.

Midwives are trained in obstetrical emergencies. However, physicians in remote communities may still have a valid concern in the event of the need to perform surgery (emergency cesarean sections) or blood transfusions in the case of severe postpartum hemorrhage. In the event of such emergencies, clients are medevaced to more southern centres (weather permitting). Due to these, and other concerns, many people still deliver in hospitals hundreds of kilometers from home. The Non-Insured Health Benefits Program (NIHB), First Nations and Inuit Health Branch, Health Canada and Ininew Patient Services (IPS) fund the flights for patients/midwifery clients for their confinement at around 36-38 weeks gestation 11.


9.National Aboriginal Council of Midwives. Aboriginal Midwifery Practices in Canada [Internet]. 2012 [cited 19 Jan 2018]. Available from: http://aboriginalmidwives.ca/aboriginal-midwifery/practices-in-Canada

10. The Ontario midwifery model of care. The College of Midwives of Ontario [Internet]. 25 Sept 2013 [cited 20 Jan 2018]. Available from: http://www.cmo.on.ca/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/The-Ontario-Midwifery-Model-of-Care.pdf

11. National Aboriginal Health Organization. (2008) Celebrating Birth – Aboriginal Midwifery in Canada. Ottawa: National Aboriginal Health Organization.

12. Payne, E. The residential schools of medicine. The Ottawa Citizen [Internet]. 26 Nov 2010 [cited 20 Jan 2018]. Available from: http://www.ottawacitizen.com/health/residential+schools+medicine/3889424/story.html

13. Ministry of Health and Long-term Care. Ontario Improving Access to Aboriginal Midwifery Care. Ontario Newsroom [Internet]. 2017 [cited 19 Jan 2018]. Available from:

https://news.ontario.ca/mohltc/en/2017/02/ontario-improving-access-to-aboriginal-midwifery-care.html

14. Indigenous midwifery. Association of Ontario Midwives [Internet]. 2018 [cited 20 Jan 2018]. Available from: https://www.on

Through this funding, clients are only allowed to bring one escort to attend the birth, and all others who want to attend must pay out of pocket, which is next to impossible considering how expensive it is. Despite any concern of risk factors, this policy removes choice of birthplace from clients, forces them to leave other family members, makes them have to strategically choose who will care for other children, if any, while they are gone, and it costs the federal government millions of dollars according to Elizabeth Payne’s The Residential Schools of Medicine 12. Let us not forget that these current government agencies responsible for the care of Indigenous peoples’ health on reserves still operates under the regulation of the Indian Act; a blatant piece of legislation that still erodes our existence.

Due to the hard work of Indigenous midwives, stakeholders, community members, and an increase in awareness, the Ontario government committed in 2017 to “improving access to culturally appropriate child and maternity care for more Indigenous people across the province 13.” Recently, centres able to provide culturally appropriate care in Ontario have been funded: Dilico Family Health Team Clinic in Fort William First Nation, K’Tigaaning Midwives on Nipissing First Nation Territory, Kenh:ke Midwives in Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory, Onkwehon:we Midwives in Akwesasne, Shkagamik-Kwe Health Centre in Sudbury, and the Southwest Ontario Aboriginal Health Access Centre in London, Ontario 14.  In addition to health centres and midwifery practices providing culturally appropriate care, perhaps funding could also be allocated to develop more community-based Indigenous midwifery education programs as well as train more second attendants and doulas.

As there are more than 200 reserves and settlements in Ontario alone, many still do not have access to information about delivering babies with midwives, let alone the option. As well, educational and financial obstacles within remote communities prevent many Indigenous people from pursuing careers in these fields, strengthening and build capacity in their communities. Improving health outcomes of Indigenous communities is complex in the way that the systemic deficiencies in many programs and services offered by the Canadian government perpetuate these issues.

If a governing body such as the Society of Obstetricians and Gynecologists of Canada (SOGC) put out a policy statement in October 2017 that supports the return of birth to rural and remote Indigenous communities 15, then physicians and other stakeholders should support it so long as the client is considered low-risk and that proper risk assessment is followed through as on-going basis. In urban centres, research toward improving Indigenous maternal and infant is under way.  For example, researchers received


15. No-251-Returning birth to aboriginal, rural, and remote communities. J of Obstet & Gynec Can Oct 2017;(251):e395-e397

16. Whalen J. ‘We can’t do it alone’: Indigenous maternal health program aims to address inequality of health care. CBC News [Internet]. 25 May 2017 [cited 4 Feb 2018]. Available from: www.cbc.ca/beta/news/canada/toronto/indigenous-maternal-health-program-1.4130303

$2.6M grant to improve Indigenous maternal and infant is under way. For example, researchers received $2.6M grant to improve Indigenous maternal and infant health. Funded through Merck Canada’s Merck for Mothers program and based out of Toronto, “Kind Faces Sharing Places: An Action Research Project for Indigenous Families During and After Pregnancy and Birth” aims to improve the health care outcomes for Indigenous populations, for which the mortality rate is up to 4 times greater than the national average. (16) Places like the University of Toronto’s Waakibiness-Bryce Institute for Indigenous Health, Seventh Generation Midwives Toronto, and Nishnawbe Homes have created a support network that is accessible to Indigenous families due to the program’s initiatives 16. A study by Angela Bowen titled ‘Bringing Birth Back: Improving Access to Culturally Safe Birth in Saskatchewan.

Indigenous people’s bodily health relies on the health of the land and positive relationships between folks responsible for their care. By fostering and maintaining relationships with the land through birth and breastfeeding/chestfeeding practices and teachings, Indigenous communities can improve health outcomes and treaty relationships with the government. This is where true reconciliation lies. The birth of our people is an overt opposition to all genocidal tactics historically and presently imposed upon us. With the support of our allies, interprofessional colleagues in urban centres, government funding, and our community members, we are slowly seeing a shift across the land. From coast to coast, reserves and off-reserve communities have slowly started receiving the care that they deserve. If Canada should want to uphold our treaty rights, let it begin with a fundamental piece of the puzzle – the birth of our People.


Alyssa Gagon
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.

Sara Mai Chitty
Sara Mai Chitty is an Anishinaabe journalist and a member of Alderville First Nation. She graduated with her master’s of journalism in 2015 and has worked for non-profit organizations training Indigenous and non-Indigenous community members in journalism practices in London, Webequie and Kasabonika Lake First Nation, Ontario. She is now freelancing out of London, ON.

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

How Organizers Can, and Do, Make Conferences Accessible for Parents and Caregivers

by Vikki Law

Originally Published by www.Rewire.News

 

I still remember the first Allied Media Conference (AMC) that my daughter and I attended. It was June 2008; I was in the final editing stages of my first book and wanted to start talking about resistance and organizing among women behind bars. My daughter, who was 7 years old and already experienced in children’s programming at various political events, was eager to check out the conference’s newly established “Kids’ Track” that offered a handful of age-appropriate workshops about different types of media.

So I pulled her out of school and we headed for Detroit to spend three days among media makers from across the country. While I attended a training for women of colour, she and the other kids learned about the basics of block printing. While I participated in a panel discussion about incarcerated women’s voices, she learned how to design and cut out stencils, then spray paint them safely wearing a respirator and latex gloves. In between these workshops, she and the other kids (and adults) had a chance to play and have unstructured fun. She cried when it was time to leave; she had made new friends, learned new skills, and had an amazing time.

We returned the next year and were amazed to see that the Kids’ Track had ballooned from three children (and an occasional baby) to nearly two dozen. Since then, the Kids’ Track has grown even more into the “Kids’ Practice Space,” with several workshops specifically for children.

The AMC isn’t the only conference working to ensure that people with children can attend. Though conference policies—and the conversations around them—continue to evolve, many recognize the importance of ensuring accessibility for parents, caregivers, and children, especially when organizing for social change. When this happens, it not only enables caregivers and kids to attend a conference, but sends the message that they are valued members of and contributors to larger movements.

The annual Civil Liberties and Public Policy (CLPP) conference, entitled “From Abortion Rights to Social Justice: Building the Movement for Reproductive Freedom,” is in its 31st year and has always provided child care.

“It’s not any harder than any other aspect of event planning,” Lucy Trainor, CLPP’s associate director, told Rewire. “It takes time and money to plan catering, it takes time and money to plan events, and it takes time and money to plan child care.” CLPP views accessibility as integral to its mission to fight for reproductive justice; thus, the conference not only offers child care, but also pays for speakers to travel with their children and, if necessary, pay for another adult to attend and help care for those children. “For us, it’s part of a larger commitment to access,” said Trainor, noting that the conference also provides financial support for speakers with disabilities to travel with their personal care attendants and language interpretation.

CLPP’s conference costs $285,000 to plan and produce. It takes place each year at Hampshire College in western Massachusetts, which provides in-kind support, such as classrooms and lecture halls for the conference, as well as year-round office space. The college also allows conference organizers to draw on students for child care, which limits those expenses to only a few hundred dollars for supplies. But, said Trainor, “even if you do have to pay for child care, you budget for it.”

Facing Race, a three-day biannual conference dedicated to racial justice, does just that. Organizers have made sure to include child care in their budget since the 2010 conference in Chicago.

“A huge number of people in Facing Race are parents and caregivers,” explained Rosana Cruz, the organization’s leadership action network director. As the conference grew from 1,000 attendees in 2010 to more than 2,000 in 2016 (plus a waiting list of 500), organizers have pondered how to grow to accommodate families and caregivers. “After each conference, we think, ‘That was great, but we can do better,’” reflected Cruz.

For instance, she recalled that the 2014 conference did not have a room for nursing or pumping. As any parent who has ever breastfed can tell you, nursing or pumping requires a space that is quiet; a refrigerator is needed to store breast milk. This year’s conference included a breastfeeding and pumping room. “We also bought screens for privacy and rented refrigerators,” added Cruz. For the 2018 conference, organizers are thinking about expanding to offer programming for children and youth similar to the AMC’s Kids’ Practice Space.

The challenge for Facing Race, which takes place at a hotel in a different city every two years, is ensuring that accommodations work for children and caregivers. “We need to secure a space in a hotel room that’s big enough,” explained Cruz. The size of that space dictates how many children can be in child care. Child-care costs also include paying licensed and insured child-care providers as well as renting cribs and a projector to screen movies when a quieter activity is needed. But organizers see these efforts as integral to building their movement: “What makes it accessible is what makes it a great conference,” Cruz said.

“It’s a little extra brainwork for people who have never had to think about this,” Cruz, who is the parent of a teenager, reflected. “But if you’re determined, this is just a given. Just like you’d value amplified sound or a keynote speaker.” Plus, when put into the context of the entire conference, child-care costs are negligible; for Facing Race, organizers say paying child-care workers and buying supplies makes up less than half of 1 percent of the total conference.

AMC, meanwhile, costs more than $400,000 each year. Child care and the Kids’ Practice Space are only a fraction of that price tag, costing $1,400 and $2,500, respectively. The value of not only accessibility, but creating relationships with future media makers and movement builders, goes far beyond that fraction, Morgan Willis, the conference’s program director, said.

“The money comes next,” said Willis. “Once you figure out what you want to do, then you figure out the money.”

The AMC has never encountered hesitation from funders about child care and kids’ programming costs, which are explicit budget lines. Willis noted that, when seeking funding, AMC organizers explicitly talk about how accessibility—whether for people with disabilities or people traveling with children—can be expensive. “We articulate to grant makers what we’re asking for and why,” she explained. “We’ve never had pushback around accessibility. Funders have responded extremely well to that.”

When the Allied Media Conference began, she said, “none of us had kids. We weren’t thinking of ways to include kids; we were in our 20s.” While the conference has always offered child care, she recalled that the parents and caregivers in attendance pushed them to do more to include the youngest attendees in conference goings-on.

As the years went on and the Kids’ Track evolved into the Kids’ Practice Space, conference organizers, in turn, challenged presenters to make their content more accessible. “What does it look like when someone with very little experience is in your space?” mused Willis. “That’s where we received the greatest amount of pushback, from people used to traditional forms of presentation.” The pushback didn’t last long; instead, what ended up happening is that considering the presence of younger attendees encouraged speakers to present information more clearly, making it more accessible to everyone who attended, regardless of age.

Unlike CLPP, the AMC is not connected to the university where it takes place each year. But, Willis said, Wayne State University has never balked at having child care or kids’ programming on site. Of course, there were questions and concerns about liability, reflecting what Willis described as “a conception of kids exclusively as a liability,” but the conference and university administrators worked through it.

It’s not just conferences centered on social justice that make accommodations for caregivers and children. When Natalie DeYoung Ricci was asked to read her essay about death at this year’s BlogHer, a conference for women in social media, she was pregnant and expecting her first baby to be born the day of the conference. Knowing that first babies often arrive later than expected, she said yes with the caveat that she might not be able to attend. Rather than write her off, the conference organizers agreed to include her. Furthermore, they offered to have her Skype in from the hospital if she gave birth earlier.

Ricci’s son was born a week early. She contacted the organizers and asked if she could bring him. Not only were organizers willing to accommodate the new mother and infant, but they encouraged her to take as many breaks as she needed, bring him on stage with her, and bring her husband to take the baby from her if needed.

Exhausted from giving birth four days earlier, Ricci only stayed for her session. She said that not only organizers, but attendees welcomed her and her young son. The experience inspired her. “This is my first baby,” she told Rewire. “To know that I could still have a professional life outside of being a mother meant a lot to me.”

The experience also set her expectation that other conferences will be as flexible. “It demonstrates goodwill towards inclusivity of families,” she said. “Many writers struggle. Child care is not always affordable, or even an option.”

BlogHer does offer child care for attendees. “It’s very key for us,” Jenni Ottum, the public relations director of BlogHer’s parent company SheKnows Media, wrote in an email to Rewire. “We actually have a digital storytelling and a media literacy program called Hatch that takes place live during our conferences so kids have a place to go where they learn while their moms do the same thing.”

Some conferences are already seeing children return as teens and young adults ready to participate in the larger conference goings-on. Trainor has seen people who initially came to CLPP as children with their caregivers returning to participate in the larger conference as adults.

About one-third of the children and youth who attend the AMC return the following years. And now, conference organizers are beginning to read workshop proposals from people who first came as young children.

“We reached an interesting challenge in 2015 where the content for the Kids’ Practice Space was so good that the adults were knocking down the door,” recalled Willis. The number of adults crowded out children from attending two of the kids’ sessions. Another conference organizer asked, “Can we ask some of the adults to leave so kids can get in?”

Recalling that particular scenario, Willis added, “With over 350 sessions, you’d think you’d find something that wasn’t for kids!” But the popularity of the workshops indicated the quality of the programming offered to children and youth.

“I’m sure that there will be a very short time before we’ll be seeing people say, ‘I was 12 at the conference in Baltimore or Dallas and now I want to present my own workshop,’” reflected Facing Race’s Cruz.

The organizers of Facing Race, AMC, and CLPP see accessibility for families with children not only as essential, but, as Cruz puts it, an act that “pushes back against the rugged individualism that is a hallmark of white supremacy. So it’s not, ‘I don’t have kids’ or ‘I don’t need translation,’ so why should I pay for this? It’s ‘I love this conference because people who are monolingual, people who are deaf, people who have kids can come here.’”

They also note that, while child care is offered, none of the conferences require children to stay sequestered in separate spaces. “We think children deserve to be in these [conference] spaces,” said Trainor. “It’s positive to have younger members participating in these discussions. Children are not a distraction.”


 

Vikki Law
Victoria Law is a freelance journalist focusing on intersections of incarceration, gender and resistance and the author of Resistance Behind Bars: The Struggles of Incarcerated Women. Her next book, Your Home is Your Prison, critically examines proposed “alternatives” to incarceration and explores creative solutions that truly end mass incarceration.

Where are We Now?

by Asam Ahmad

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

LR: Thank you.


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

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

Missing Links

The Injustices Surrounding Prenatal Care in Canada

by Ciana Hamilton

Reproductive Justice isn’t a term that many people understand. And maybe that’s the first part of the problem. In contrast, abortion rights seem to be interpreted more easily; does a woman in Canada have the right to terminate her pregnancy? Yes. Does this mean Canada gets an A on reproductive justice? Not really.

Canada is one of the countries where abortion is legal; a woman who decides to abort her pregnancy in Canada has no legal restrictions. However, accessibility to abortion clinics can vary from province to province. If a woman chooses to abort her pregnancy but is unable to access an abortion clinic where does that leave her? Reproductive justice is the framework that gives an individual choice over their reproductive health, but puts the responsibility on governments to provide accessible care to accommodate those choices.

In 1994 a group of black women from Chicago recognized that there were other important reproductive issues, besides abortion, that were affecting women in their community. This group of women created the term Reproductive Justice. They called themselves the Women of African Descent for Reproductive Justice and their goal was to give black women a voice and a platform outside of the mainly white, middle class, women’s rights movement. Almost twenty-five years later the term is known worldwide and represents Indigenous Women, Women of Colour and Trans People.

Today many people of marginalized communities face reproductive injustice and oppression. Access to safe, compassionate prenatal care where both medical and cultural needs are met, doesn’t always happen. Women and families are not being given access to resources and information in order to make informed choices; community services are not accessible and their voices are not being heard. In Canada, Aboriginal women face the most significant inequality around maternal care, especially those in remote communities. Women of colour, women living at or below the poverty line, teen mothers, LGBTQ families and HIV positive women also face the reality of reproductive inequality when seeking care. There appears to be two crucial factors when discussing reproductive justice: inaccessible midwives and a lack of representation in the healthcare system.

Midwives

For many women, the first time their reproductive health is spotlighted is when they become pregnant. This was true for me, being pregnant for the first time at 23. I did not even know that I had reproductive rights. As a young, black, woman from a low-income home, I felt the system was stacked against me from the beginning. I did not have a family doctor and was nearing my second trimester without receiving any regular prenatal check-ups. I remember initially wanting a midwife but was unable to access one in the city I was in. I remember going to a walk-in clinic and practically begging the doctor to refer me to anyone who could provide prenatal care for my baby and me. She did not. Eventually, with some family help, I got in with a team of obstetricians. I was initially relieved, but quickly realized the type of care I would receive was nothing like I imagined. I got basic treatment; none of the doctors cared to know my name. None of the doctors asked if I had a birth plan. I was not given options or choices. I was handed requisitions for tests and sent on my way. I didn’t know who would deliver my baby until the day of delivery. Reflecting on my experience with my first child, what sticks out for me was my desire to have a midwife and being unable to access one. I didn’t know much about midwifery but I felt like a midwife would be the obvious choice for compassionate, trustworthy and respectful care.

Midwifery has gained traction over the years, going from a misunderstood hippie alternative to the more natural, inclusive option. In fact, more parents are continuing to seek out care from midwives. According to the Better Outcome Registry Network or BORN, in Ontario between 2014-2015, midwives cared for 15% of all births in the province. It also helps that midwifery services are covered by OHIP. And, although there has been an increase in the amount of midwives providing care, there still seems to be a lack of midwifery services in the communities that need it the most. If given the choice, I strongly believe most women, specifically marginalized women, would choose to be cared for by a midwife. However, if midwifery services are inaccessible in their community, then there is no choice.

In early December I sat down with Martha Aitkin, a registered midwife in Guelph who has been practicing for 21 years. She believes there are some key differences between care from a doctor and care from a midwife. “The way we organize and the way we give care gives us a lot more time. Time with women and their families to get to know who they are and what is important to them. Time to answer their questions and share information to allow them to make their own decisions about their care.” Aitkin adds, “if a person has a midwife then they have a known care provider, someone they have had a chance to develop a relationship with – someone that they trust. That enhances the safety of their care.”

Pictured above from top to bottom: Martha Aitkin and Nicole Barrette

The midwifery model of care is beautifully simple. Give women choice. Give women a safe space to ask questions, review options and be vulnerable. Give people who identify as LGBTQ+ an inclusive space that is accepting and easily adaptable to non-binary lifestyles. Provide access to materials that can educate and inform families about choices around parenting.

Midwives also provide in home, postpartum care up to six weeks following the birth. For women in the far north, such as Nunavut, extended postpartum care within their own community could be extremely supportive. These women could potentially receive extra support around breastfeeding, diagnosis and treatment of postpartum depression, as well as incorporating traditional medicines for physical healing. Martha spoke about her experience providing care for Inuit women in Nunavut, one of the places that still suffers the most reproductive injustice in Canada. “Most women in Nunavut have to go far away, separate from their families to other cities – Edmonton, Winnipeg, Yellowknife to have their babies. They could be gone for a month to six weeks separated from their other children and the rest of their community. That’s an injustice as far as I’m concerned and the solution as far as I can see is the growth of midwifery services provided by Inuit people for Inuit people.” Martha is right; one possible solution for many Indigenous women living in remote communities across Canada is the growth of midwives in their communities. Imagine the possibilities, women would have access to a midwife close to their home, receive regular prenatal care and be able to deliver their babies in an environment where they feel safe.

When I became pregnant with my second child, I knew I wanted my experience to be different. I wanted to exercise my reproductive rights to the fullest. I wanted to be cared for by a midwife. I wanted an un-medicated homebirth. I wanted to breastfeed. Luckily, I was able to access and get what I had hoped for. I was cared for by two midwives in Guelph, I had a completely non-medicated home birth and I have proudly breastfed my daughter for more than a year. My second experience completely changed my views on reproductive care and reproductive choice. My voice was heard and my choices were respected. Instead of being told to take certain tests, I was asked. I felt empowered and valued as a parent. A part of this empowerment came from the quality of care I received by other women. My midwives were women who respected the autonomy of pregnancy and parenthood. We worked as a team to strategize the safest maternal care and delivery for me. They ensured that I always felt comfortable with any procedure or test that needed to take place. Ultimately, the connection between my midwives and I grew much deeper than I could have anticipated. And as a result, I felt safe.

Representation

If we are looking at ending reproductive injustice than we need to look at equal representation amongst care providers. Midwives provide a piece of that representation; they represent the power and beauty that is a woman birthing a child. They represent the diversity in methods of care. They represent open spaces for different family dynamics. However, midwives are in high demand and in short supply. Not having equal representation in the healthcare system for a marginalized person creates an automatic distrust and assumption that those providing care – the doctors, the nurses – don’t understand the issues that a vulnerable person might face. Representation doesn’t begin and end with healthcare professionals; doulas, childbirth educators, lactation consultants and patient advocates also need to be included to represent the diversity of the people receiving care.

Two years ago I began volunteering for Women Everywhere Breastfeed (WEB), a volunteer run program out of the Guelph Community Health Centre. The cafe offered by WEB is held weekly and is aimed at anyone in the community who may be facing challenges around breastfeeding and who is looking for accessible support from their peers. The program is coordinated by Nicole Barrette, an advocate for reproductive justice, who is deeply invested in ensuring that her work remains inclusive of all people who are needing support during their parenting journey. Nicole is also a birth and postpartum doula and has been for 11 years. She has first-hand experience with the layers of stigma that marginalized women and families face from health care providers when receiving reproductive care. One group we talked about were parents who identify as LGBTQ+, specifically Trans people. “There’s a lack of gender diversity acknowledgment – not everybody who has a baby is identifying as a woman. We talk about breastfeeding/chestfeeding at the WE Breastfeed program.

Chestfeeding, the term Nicole mentioned, is an example of how interchangeable language can be used to make a program more representative of all parents who may choose to attend. Chestfeeding is a term that could be used by a Trans masculine or gender-non-conforming parent. It simply takes out the word breast for a parent who is using the milk from their body   to feed their child, but because they do not identify as a woman, the term breast [may?] conflict with their gender identity. Most hospitals and doctors’ offices have information promoting breastfeeding, and the term breastfeeding is almost always used. WEB is one of the only places I’ve seen that includes terminology that would be representative of Trans parents.

If we are looking for ways to end reproductive injustice, then we must allow communities to represent themselves in the healthcare system. Reproductive justice starts at the grassroots level- people with diverse backgrounds and experiences need to be at hospitals, clinics or community centres offering advocacy services and providing basic resources to educate people.

Collective efforts need to be put forth to educate, empower and equip those who are victimized by Canada’s accessible, but oppressive health care system. The Women of African Descent created the term and set the stage for an open and honest discussion around reproductive injustices faced by marginalized women. It is up to us to demand a change from a system that needs to be held accountable.


Ciana Hamilton
Ciana Hamilton is a freelance writer based out of Guelph,Ontario. She respectfully honours Turtle Island as sacred Indigenous lands. Her work leans towards creative non-fiction and she enjoys writing about issues surrounding advocacy, justice, feminism and cultural ancestry.

Rites of Passage

by kahsenniyo williams

She came running in the room frantic and doubtful. She said, “Mom I think I got my period.” Despite me giving her teachings on this day, this moment since she was little, I could hear the insecurities in her voice. Her words echoed in ancestral tones. “Mom, I think I got my period,” she repeated. These words began a continental movement in my life. It was like the earth cracked and shifted for us to reveal the new road, the new path and journey for us. Womanhood. It is important for me to acknowledge that her muttering these words meant a change not just for my daughter and I, but for our community, the aunties, her sisters, the grandmothers and all of the women in our lives. I certainly did not raise this child alone. Numerous wonderful, powerful and loving women worked together with me and my husband to create this little girl that was standing in front of me. This meant change for all of us.

Illustration above: Quiet girls are seeds 2 by Mia Ohki 

I had been preparing for this beautiful moment for a long time. I stayed up nights wondering to myself and the ancestors “how do I as an Indigenous mother in 2017 bring my daughter into womanhood given everything my people have lost”? I knew that we as Haudenosaunee had to have some sort of ceremony or way of doing this, prior to contact. Unfortunately, it had, for the most part been lost in the dust and avalanche of colonization. Stripped from our way of life during the residential school era. If you take a child from their home to colonize them, you remove child rearing practices. Fundamental to those practices is the ways in which we transition our young people into adulthood. The ceremony, the process. At some point the sacredness of this time was gone. The residential school era forced shame and humiliation on us as a whole. It turned this once beautiful time in development into an secretive embarrassing time. This presented huge challenges for me as a mother. It felt as if my daughter was in front of me, her arms extended with a basket in her hands, waiting for me to fill it. And I was standing in front of her empty handed, with nothing to offer her. Not only was it necessary for me to do the work of overcoming the colonial shame of my womanhood and body, but I also had to overcome the shame of not having the cultural knowledge. The reality of being a mother with no tools or knowledge given to me of how to do this thing was often at times overwhelming. I often reflected on how young people are transitioned into adulthood today and was bothered. Today the first drink, the first time having sex, the first-time smoking weed. I didn’t know much other than I didn’t want any of these as the marker for my daughter’s transition into womanhood.

I spent time exploring and seeking answers on how to do this, in a way that felt good for me, my daughter, our family and our community. I spoke to knowledge holders, grandmothers, men and women. I talked to kids and I had countless conversations with the women in my life. I even went to Akwesasne (a Mohawk territory) to learn from them.

Here are some key points I learned.

This time in a person’s life is crucial to their development. It is a time that we as caretakers of these beings (not just parents) should hold our young people the closest. Today our youth hit a certain age and we often let them go. Off to explore and develop on their own, with very little supervision or guidance. This colonial mentality goes against all logic. We must intentionally and lovingly bring our sons and daughters into adulthood. We must put intentional lessons in front of them to shape them, to give them guiding principles and values. We must give them challenges and healthy obstacles to overcome.

Just because I did not receive these teachings does not make me an inadequate mother. The shame I felt around this was not mine to carry. It is far more beneficial to do somethings instead of nothing. We need to be brave and we need to make space for our own knowledge and intuition in transitioning our young people. We need to call upon the knowledge in our circles. To hold up mothers, fathers and community. We need to collectively put these young people at the centre of community during this time in their lives.

Culture that is alive grows and changes to meet the needs of the people. This concept is necessary for the revitalization of Indigenous child rearing. It requires the openness to make mistakes and create somethings new out of the old. It requires being bold and prioritizing the children here today over our own trauma and egos. If we continue to function from a place of fear and secrecy we will lose the little that we have and ultimately our children will miss out.

Her birth into this world was my birth into motherhood. A process that is never ending. With winding roads up mountains, through valleys and flat lands.

My daughter was the first woman in my family in generations to get some sort of intentional community-based transition into womanhood. Being that this was the first time in generations and that my daughter has struggled with self-esteem we had a big celebration. There were women from all corners of the world who attended. We had a full moon ceremony in her honour. This was an inter-generational affair. We ate, sang songs, shared stories of womanhood, gave words of encouragement and wrapped her in our love. This was true healing, for all of us. All of these women who in their own ways had been robbed of a similar experience. Although we were there for her, we healed parts of ourselves. On this night she would start her berry fast. A yearlong ritual fasting. To teach her about commitment. So that she would experience the satisfaction of following through. To teach her about self-regulation and temptation. So that she could have the experience of dealing with wanting something but knowing that it’s not the best decision for her. How to say NO. To teach her to listen to her body and what she is craving. For her to know that her body belongs to her. To teach her about sacrifice. To give her the security of knowing that a community is surrounding her and keeping her accountable. To give her a sense that her decisions should be purposeful. So that she knows the moon and berries are there for her.

It is yet to be seen the long terms effects this will have on her. But I know as the person who is teaching and guiding her that I have reference points of times she learned all of these different teachings. I keep bringing her back to those moments and have a feeling that I will throughout the next several years. This journey is just beginning. She has more process and challenges that will intentionally be put in her path before we can fully welcome her into the circle of women. But it is comforting to know that we are on our way.


Kahsenniyo Williams
Kahsenniyo Williams is a mother, poet, spoken word artist, and community organizer. She is from the mohawk nation and the wolf clan based in Six Nations.

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

In Our Own Words

Re-writing the Dialogue on FGM

By Galme Mumed

Let me start off by saying a few things about myself. My name is Galme Mumed and I am 24 years old. I was born in what is known as Ethiopia. I came to Canada when I was 8 years old after my mom sponsored me. While I was in Ethiopia I was raised mostly by my grandmother in a small village called Karamile. Once I moved to Canada I grew up in Toronto, specifically Scarborough and moved to Guelph to study International Development at the University of Guelph. I recently graduated and am now living back in Toronto.

Even though I was born in Ethiopia, I am specific about identifying as an Oromo woman instead of identifying as Ethiopian. Ethiopia is a colonial state that exists on the oppression and genocide of Oromo people, who are the indigenous people of Ethiopia, and so it is important for me to make this distinction.

Getting into my experience with FGM (female genital mutilation), I actually got the procedure done right before I came to Canada. I think my grandmother strategically did it because she knew that I would be coming to Canada. I think she kind of panicked and made me go through the procedure because she didn’t want me to leave without me getting cut. A lot of women in my culture believe that if a woman is uncut she is unclean and no one will marry her. I think she wanted to protect me and for me to carry my culture going into this new place that would be so different than where I came from. I have always remembered everything from the procedure but it was never explained to me why it was happening or the reasons why it was done. There was never a conversation about it.

When I came to Canada I kind of just lived my life and forgot about it. It wasn’t even a thing. I just figured it was something that happened that one time. I didn’t think it was something that was going to follow me or something that made me different than other women. It wasn’t really until high school that I thought about it for the first time. In grade 10 I started having an intimate relationship with a girl. We started off as friends and we were together all of the time and eventually we were a thing. When we first started getting intimate, I realized that things were different. Obviously I know that every vagina looks different but hers had extra parts that mine just didn’t have. In terms of the clitoris I was looking at hers and was like woah what is this. That was really the first time I made the connection.

You know in the movies when someone sits there and their whole life is rewinding and replaying? That’s what it felt like. In that moment I rewound back to that day that I was cut and was like, okay, that’s what that was. When they held me down and did that all those years ago it was because they were removing this thing.

Before this moment I used to watch shows that had survivors of FGM who would talk about their experience and I always use to feel bad for them. I never made the connection that it had also happened to me. Once I realized what had been done to me, I told the person who I was with at the time but she didn’t really know how to respond because it was something that she had never really heard of it. No one else knew. It was overwhelming because all of these thoughts started coming in. Being in high school you are very limited to the information you have about this stuff and it is mostly just from what people tell you. So I was thinking that I’d probably never feel pleasure sexually or be able to have a good intimate relationship with anyone. Later on I found out that this wasn’t actually true but at that time I believed all of those things because that was the information that I had access to.

So I started to do research. I was googling everything. At that point I didn’t even know that there were different stages or levels of FGM. Like sometimes the lips get sewn together, sometimes there is complete removal of all of your parts. It was so much information. Googling it was helpful in some ways but the problem was that most of the information was coming from white people who were going into these communities and creating a specific narrative. I mean I did find out that it was banned in countries all over the world including Ethiopia and that it was condemned by the UN but I was like if it is illegal than why is it still happening. A lot of things didn’t make sense. Finding out almost felt unfair because I was like well if it is illegal then why did it happen to me. It hit me that even though so much research was going into this issue; the policies were being passed and statements were being made by the UN, none of these things were actually reaching the communities that were doing FGM.

Also there were so many articles that just talked about the negative results of FGM. The fact that you’d never feel anything again after the procedure. I knew that they were doing it because they wanted to make sure people understood why it shouldn’t be legal but only having one narrative sucked for me as someone who had already had the procedure done. I’m sure it sucked for others too because it paints the picture that this is the only result you’ll have which is actually false information. A lot of it depends on the type of procedure you’ve had done.

Illustration below: Quiet girls are seeds by Mia Ohki 

Initially I did all of this research but after I graduated and got into university I kind of just stopped and continued to live my life. At some point I became intimate with someone again and felt like it was something I had to share. It felt like such a big thing and I was ashamed of it. I felt like I was missing something important and it just weighed on me. I also felt like any intimate experience I would go into I’d have to have this conversation which I didn’t really want to have. I didn’t want to keep having to be vulnerable with people. On any other day nobody would know but all of a sudden I am intimate with someone and am having to reveal this thing. I tried to forget about it but it was always something that was in the back of my mind.

One day I couldn’t sleep and was thinking about it all night. I got up and was like you know what, I am   going to start researching again and focus more on if something can be done to fix this. In highschool that had was actually my first thought but when I was researching, everything I found said that reconstructive surgery was impossible. That it was impossible to get your clitoris back.

So I just started over with researching. Eventually I found a website that talked about this doctor named Dr. Marci Bowers who is based in California. She is a trans woman who is a doctor who did a procedure to change her own sex. After that process she came up with this whole concept that there hasn’t been enough research done about the clitoris and re-constructive surgery to say that it is impossible. Basically she says that the clitoris is not just this small piece that once it is cut it is gone. It goes deeper into the sexual organs than the parts that you can see. Once you remove the scar tissue the clitoris would still be there.

She was basically proving all the people who said it was impossible wrong. I ended up watching a Vice documentary about this Somali girl who underwent the reconstructive surgery through Dr. Marci Bowers and it showed that the whole process was a success. After watching the documentary, I initially was like woah this works but then got a little bit hesitant and wondered if it was fake. You just never know with the internet. I ended up talking with a bunch of my friends to see what they thought and we realized that it was legit. My friend Shabina and I sent the organization an email and they explained to us that the surgery was free but that we had to pay to rent the room for the surgery and pay for accommodation, travel and a $500 deposit to book the appointment. Also one of the requirements was that I had to go and see a gynecologist to confirm that I had actually undergone FGM.   They had this requirement because girls were showing up to get the procedure but actually still had their clitoris intact. Because it is something that is never talked in our communities, they had thought they had been cut when they hadn’t. So to tackle that they now had this requirement.

Going through the process of getting a note from the gynecologist was a rough experience for me. I went to the university campus clinic to get a referral for a gynecologist and even just trying to explain to them why I needed the referral was awful. They didn’t know how to respond to what I was telling them or what to do and here I am already feeling awkward because it’s the first time I am saying this thing out loud to anyone outside of my close friends. So the whole thing made me feel more uncomfortable because I had to repeatedly explain what I needed. There was a lot of back and forth and finally they gave me the referral.

Going to the gynecologist was even worse. I went with two of my friends Mina and Savannah who came into the room with me to support me. The gynecologist was really just supposed to examine my vagina and give an assessment of whether I had or hadn’t been cut. At first I was excited because he was Muslim but then I remembered that a lot of this stuff has to do with men in our culture not thinking we are clean if we don’t have the procedure. Even though he is a doctor and has gotten an education here, he still thinks like that. Basically it turned into him saying I didn’t really need the surgery. He was insinuating that it was purely for the purpose of having pleasure which wasn’t really necessary in his eyes and that I could still pee without issues and give birth with what I had so I was fine. My friends and I started to argue with him in his office that it wasn’t up to him to decide, his job was just to give an assessment and in the end he just refused to write out the referral.

I ended up emailing the organization and explaining what had happened and how the gynecologist had treated me. They responded saying that if I could just take a picture of my vagina and send it to them that that would be okay. I was approved right after they received the picture.

The next thing was raising the money for the surgery. Shabina suggested I start a GoFundMe. So she made the page and at that point my name was not mentioned because I wasn’t really ready for that so it was anonymous.

Through the GoFundme, this reporter named Jayme Poisson contacted Shabina. She said that she was trying to do a story on FGM in Canada. At first I was like, hell no. I didn’t want my name out there and everyone in my community to know all of these aspects of my life. Plus generally I am so against the media and how they move. It’s just such a complex and touchy subject so its like if it’s going to be done it has to be done properly and with a lot of care. I didn’t know if I was ready to do that.

Shabina did some researching on the reporter and realized she had done some reporting on police brutality in Toronto, carding and BLMTO and had done a good job. So that kind of changed my mind and I decided I would give it a chance.

When I was thinking about it something hit me. I was thinking back to high school and remembering that when I was researching, I never saw women who looked like me. There were never any black, Muslim, East African women who grew up in this culture here in Canada and were publically talking about it. So I felt like I needed to do this and that this was a part of my journey. I was like, this isn’t a coincidence that this opportunity is happening when I am a lot older and understand my sexuality and body a lot more. I wanted to do it in case there was another girl just like me waiting for someone just like her to shed light on this. I was worried I would get some backlash but I dunno at the same time I trusted that my community would really see my story and understand.   I felt like it was about time that we controlled the narrative and that it would happen with us talking to each other and that this would be the only way that people would want to start talking about it.

I talked to the reporter and she let me know that I would have a lot of power in creating the narrative, that she wasn’t looking to demonize my culture and people and that nothing would get released without my approval. So I started to think about it and how I would present this issue in a way that was complex and created a real conversation around FGM.

I feel like I was able to achieve that and once the article did come out this girl from Ottawa who wants to stay anonymous reached out to me. She had grown up here and is in her second year of university. When she was 13 she went back home to Somalia to visit her family and they cut her. I ended up going to Ottawa to meet her and she’s actually now done her own story anonymously and has a GoFundme for her surgery. It was cool because for the story I was just supposed to be there to support but then I actually got to interview her for the story and the reporters just listened. It was very beautiful. Now I am helping her with her GoFundme and we text each other. Her GoFundme hasn’t been moving as quickly as mine, she is not part of the community that I am so she hasn’t reached her goal but hopefully she can still reach her goal.

One time I was at a restaurant eating with some friends and as we were walking out these older Oromo men came up to me and were like we are so proud of you, we are so happy you are one of our own. It was a few weeks after the article had come out and he had the article in his bag and said he had been walking around with it. So many older immigrant East African women were not only happy I was shedding light on it but also the way I was talking about FGM while showing respect for my community and my people. One of my friends’ mom told me this was the first story that she really connected with.

Before all of this, me and my mom weren’t talking (we have a complicated relationship), but after the article she reached out to me and left me a message saying that it takes a lot of courage to come out and talk about this. She said she was really proud of me and said she didn’t know that it impacted me the way that it did and let me know that she would stand beside me in anything I needed. She was just so supportive about this thing coming out. She also felt like we need to stop walking on eggshells about FGM, that the practice should be stopped but for that to happen it means we need to be actively talking about it.

None of this would have happened if I didn’t do the article and work to be honest and complicate the narrative. It feels so good because my people are always the ones being demonized and it’s like just because people don’t circumcise women in Canada doesn’t mean that men here treat women any better. Patriarchy is everywhere, it has affected every part of the world. It’s not just a Muslim and African problem. If anything we learnt gender inequality from the colonizers…

I hope that the dialogue continues in this way. I want to hear more of us taking control of the narrative. I want to hear more of us talking about our experiences about ourselves instead of being studied. Right now most of the research and conversation is being led by people who don’t even know anything about our culture. It makes a huge difference when you hear the experience of someone who has actually gone through it. Why is it always people who study it have the most to say about it? It’s also so crucial to mention that all of these NGOs like UNICEF are so big on making it illegal and eradicating FGM but they have their own agendas. A lot of the reasons why they create this narrative is to justify Islamophobia and anti-blackness. I feel like the more that you tell people look how Muslims are, they are so barbaric we need to save these women. It justifies them going in and invading and doing what they’ve always been doing. It’s the same narrative as when they went to go colonize black people in the first place. It allows them to justify going in and taking all of our resources with the guise of helping but like I said their policies are not doing anything on the ground to begin with.

All in all this a family issue so it should be handled that way.

In terms of resources, through my experience and the research that I have done, Canada has a long way to go. To begin with, they need a doctor here who will do this type of surgery. I shouldn’t have to travel all the way to California. There are surgeries like this in France, in Kenya, the UK why not Canada. Apparently there is a doctor in Toronto who was trying to start it here but for some reason it has been a lot harder for him to set up. For me, I was very lucky that I am very well connected in a lot of communities which helped me reach my fundraising goal but not everyone has that. I know a lot of people want this surgery but could never afford to go to the states or might not have papers to get there. If we could even have people who are trained to deal with women who are FGM survivors in the healthcare system, or more affordable resources that people can seek out that would be good too. Things like sex therapy specifically for FGM survivors so that people can have a different relationship with their bodies or just therapy in general. Ideally there could be some sort of organization that people can connect to that has a physical space. Even if you have something as simple as training gynecologists and doctors so that they know how to respond when someone comes to them that is an FGM survivor.

There is just nothing right now so anything would help

Link for Ottawa Woman’s GoFundMe 


Galme Mumed
I was born in Hararge Oromia. I came to Canada when I was 8 years old but my heart and my memories are still in Hararge Oromia. I believe I am here in Canada for a reason and have a purpose to serve both here and in my home. I am proud to call myself Oromo and Muslim and Black. I feel like my ancestors have left me with many teachings and gifts that I’m constantly trying to listen to. I am a revolutionary because that’s the legacy I was born into.

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

Dreaming mothers, mothering dreams: The Birth of The MOCHA Project

By sydanie

From time of birth, black and brown women are often raised to develop the fundamental skills needed to perform feminized labour and maintain the survival of our communities. We, just as often, become mothers before we learn to love ourselves and others in ways that are healthy, gratifying and supportive to ourselves. Balancing dreams, desires and responsibilities on little rest and support, is an unfair lesson stitched into our minds, recognized and remembered from quite some time ago. As a “natural” result of migration, and the systemic dismemberment of black and brown families, many traditions and practices specific to the different stages of young black and brown womanhood and motherhood, have frayed; become changed and lost.

I ponder sometimes, on the wisdom hidden within the silent and secretive nature of my grandmother, wishing I could sit with her thoughts and tap into her wealth of knowledge that is rightfully my own. Wondering what undying traditions died with her or remain silent in the heart of the elders in my family still living.

    Growing up, I had a really unhealthy and hurtful relationship with my mom which, surprisingly enough, set the precursor for a long line of abusive relationships, both platonic and intimate, which lead up to the one that brought the birth of my daughter. I had, up to that point, been an artist slowly moving along my journey of self discovery/awareness and/or “consciousness” in my life and work, so the birth of my daughter, which immediately follow with a deep postpartum depression, made me begin to meditate on and strategize around, my mother wounds. My relationship with my mom was the center of my universe for my entire life, yet the full impact of her abuse never showed itself until I became a mother. Between my damaged relationship with my mother and her family, along with the undying friction between my co-parent and I, I was left with minimal support in my daughters infancy. Everyday was a war on slope. Everything was hard. I don’t remember having many friends back then and if I did, I didn’t have the strength or language to articulate my needs. Throughout my different stages of postpartum depression, I took careful note and made sense of my situation as it relates to my individual experience with systematic oppression. “My lack of access to resources and support is directly connected to the family and poverty, I was born into”; this was (and currently is) the bottom line and the main thought that kept circling through my mind, only tormenting me more as I lived it everyday. My daughter and I and our need for community, created obstacles in my self development that I continue to struggle to navigate.

Early in my pregnancy, while working with some women in my community, I had pitched the concept of an community art circle for mothers of colour and the thought was met with excitement. The slow development of the program plan would eventually allow young black and brown mothers to use the creative space and mediums to help them transitioning and adjusting to motherhood. For as long as women have had to balance their careers and parental duties, there has been a fundamental need for communal support for families; it takes a village to raise a child, they say, and it is not as though this concept is foreign to me. I grew up with a village, as dysfunctional as it may have been at times. Though many of those who made up my village as a child are either no longer in my life or no longer with us, their lives, love and protection is something I value and cherish yet fear I’m failing to create for my daughter in the faint rhythms of isolation that roll into my timeline and lifestyle. Some might say its selfish, but the driving force behind my goals derive from a very deeply personal space and strength, to bear light onto the trembling of my own individual needs as a mother still young, and learning. The maintenance of our mental health, the survival of our children and the hope for generational healing, depends on the purposeful and intentional restorative rebuilding of our community that I deserve to be a part of.

As I found myself grasping for straws in a community that I still continue to adjust myself around, I understood the importance of holistic community care for black mothers and families and birthed the idea of The MOCHA Project. The Mothers Organized in Community Healing Arts Project began in 2016 as a 9 week mommy and me art program for black and brown mothers, with optional child care, food and transportation. All workshops were co facilitated by other black and brown mothers and that shifted the space in a powerful and positive way every time. When the women felt in control of their space and experience, it developed its own energy that even in the smallest groups, was still flowing, moving and active. Providing this space in my community for the first session was a challenging, yet amazing and fulfilling experience. The connections I made with the participating mothers and mothers in my community who work diligently to make safer spaces like this exist, affirmed my journey into holistic community arts and healing. It is important for the folks in our communities be allowed to heal and be healed in the spaces where they are from; black mothers, queer folks, poor folks all need to have access to spaces and alternative education, where we can be equipped with the skills to heal ourselves and each other. As The MOCHA Project enters its second year, I reflect on being initiated into motherhood and black womanhood through my desire to heal and care for, myself and my community. We are so often caught in perpetual states of need and lack, because of shame we are taught to feel for being human. We are subject to constant states of crisis, trauma and government sanctioned disease and have no safes space to be the people we become as result of the system. As our communities affirm decades worth of work and research in black and intersectional feminism, more folks are creating and maintaining the spaces for themselves, by themselves as a means of resistance and generational healing.


sydanie
sydanie is rapper, mother, writer, event planner and host, art facilitator and founder of The MOCHA Project; a 6 week peer art therapy group for black and brown mothers to use the art as a means of self expression and to initiate self healing. This past summer Sydanie released her most recent EP Stillwater, and currently working on her next project titled “999”, due for a spring release. Instagram, Twitter, Soundcloud: @sydanieee

3 Poems

By: Tenille K. Campbell

Illustration by Mia Ohki 

#962

your skin
smells of smoked salmon
tasting of tradition
culture
and land
you make me
gush
like rivers wild
I want you to explore
me
I want you to taste me
ride my river
feast from me
discover how I taste
like ceremony


#969
your fingers lace in mine
as you tell me about the hunting trips
shooting a moose
the ache in your shoulders
as you carve and carry flesh
from muskeg to campfire
to home to the cardboard-laden
kitchen floors of grandma’s and mama’s
aunts and cousins
sharp knives
glistening under weather beaten hands
as they finish
what you started
you lift my hand up
kiss my open palm
I tingle
wondering if you know
what kind of hunting
I’m doing right now

Tenille K Campbell
Tenille K Campbell is a Dene/Métis poet and photographer from English River First Nation, located in Northern Saskatchewan. Author of #IndianLovePoems, she is a firm believer is positive sexuality, sipping tea with her aunties and cousins, and is currently learning naughty words in many Indigenous languages – because decolonized love, ya’ll.

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

Words of Wisdom from the Grandmothers in Three Movements: Past, Present and Future

watercolour of cotton flower

by Karen L. Culpepper 

(With a Lyrical Soundtrack from Jill Scott)

Content note: This Article discusses sexual violence and abortion 

Past: Once upon a time…

To the indigenous grandmothers of African descent that survived the middle passage, to the Black women and girls who endured the horrors of slavery in the US and to the grandmothers of the Jim Crow era, like Recy Taylor, who did not receive reproductive rights or justice, we welcome your presence. You endured the burden of physical cruelty, mental torture and psychic attacks, a resonance that is coded, and sometimes expressed, in the present day by way of intergenerational transmission of trauma. May you continue to share your stories from the other realm, so that we may continue to acknowledge your experience in this realm

“Tell me how you feel if I was, if I was gone.

Tell me how you feel.

What if I was gone forever?”

How It Make You Feel

– Jill Scott

“I believe if slavery would lasted much longer the negro race would have depopulated because all the negro womens they had become wise to this here cotton root. They would chew that and they would not give birth to a baby. All of their Masters sho‘ did have to watch them, but sometimes they would slip out at night and get them a lot of cotton roots and bury them under their quarters. If they could just get enough that root to get one flower that was enough to do what they wanted it to do” ~Dave Byrd of Texas, an ex-slave, recounts his experience of cotton root bark, Federal Writers‘ Project of the Works Progress Administration (WPA)

Baby I am not sure I can put into words the horrors of slavery. It was brutal and inhumane. The slave owners were primitive savages. What kept me in the midst of it all, you ask? Two things: the wisdom of the ancestors and love.

Don’t ever forget: you are the descendant of brilliant African people enslaved in the United States. Those white folks did not know a thing about the crops we cultivated in South Carolina. We were brought from Africa specifically for our knowledge of agriculture, but folks don’t usually claim that as fact. We created fertile ground for crops like tobacco, indigo, rice and cotton. While we worked the land, we planted seeds of hope, strength and possibility and watered those seeds with our blood, sweat and tears.

I give praises to the ancestors because ironically we were the growers of the very plant spirit medicine that allowed us to have sovereignty over our bodies. I was told stories as a young child about how Mandingo woman had established a deep relationship with cotton root bark to regulate reproductive outcomes such as preventing and terminating pregnancy.   Honestly, we would have had cotton in the United States whether they liked it or not because my Mama told me a story of how some of the women tucked all kinds of seeds in their hair before they were stolen from the Motherland. Who would have thought that the plant we worked with year ‘round would enable our bodies to be the site of resistance?

As a young enslaved woman, I found myself at the intersection of providing physical labor and the expectation to reproduce, literally create more property. My Mama tried to protect me as best she could. One day while Mama was off completing a task, the Master’s wife, Miss Betty, encouraged her son to rape me, which he did. I was so ashamed. I jumped up, fixed my clothes and went back to watching the youngers. I didn’t have the courage to tell Mama. The next morning when I went to the big house, Miss Betty forced me to drink a concoction of black haw (Viburnum prunifolium) to ensure the arrival of her grandchild because Mama knew all about plants from catching babies with Big Mama.

About a month and a half later, Mama witnessed the concoction routine as she prepared breakfast. She pulled me aside and without saying a word, I burst into tears and hung my head in shame. Mama knew my truth. Although she was devastated, she just held me close and kissed me on my forehead. Little did Miss Betty know, cotton root bark is a force to be reckoned with and I had seen it in action many nights when Mama would help other women terminate a legacy of suffering. She gave me a decoction of cotton root bark and cotton seeds that night and within a few hours, I delivered a huge formed clot. Mama laid hands on my womb space and gave me another tea to tone down the bleeding because we had to be up in a few hours. She was off to the river to perform a ritual and release my baby back to the Earth. Mama held me all night.

From that day forward, Mama taught me everything she knew about plant spirit medicine and had me chew on cotton root bark every day moving forward. We were emancipated a few years later. I stopped chewing on that root bark once I met my beloved. I never knew choosing to love someone could be such a beautiful act of resistance. He held my hand and treated me so gently. I had never had that before that moment. I never wanted to have a baby before meeting him. His love kept me here and he gave me something so sacred to love: your great, great grandmother.

Present: 45: A menace to society

“I wonder if I gave you diamonds out of my own womb, would you feel the love in that or ask why the moon? If I gave you sanity for the whole of humanity, had all the solutions for the pain and pollution. No matter where I live, despite the things I give, you’ll always be this way.”

Hate on Me – Jill Scott

“A BOLD vision for reproductive justice means trusting Black women to determine our future.”

– Monica Simpson, SisterSong

Matter is neither created, nor destroyed. Same script, different cast, new day. Has much changed in the realm of reproductive freedom and sovereignty when it comes to the bodies of Black women and girls? The same wicked frequency of white supremacy and privilege is alive and well today. The only thing that has changed about plantation life is that the “Last Plantation” is in the center of Washington, DC.   White men are STILL making critical decisions about women’s bodies through the creation of legislature and by eliminating funding to programs that directly impact their ability to make safe, critical choices about their own bodies.

Can Black folks and other folks of colour in the United States truly ever feel whole and complete under the suffocating frequencies of capitalism and corruption? To be Black in America is to exist in the presence of racial and economic injustice and emotional, mental and spiritual harm. Is it possible to show up in our unique totality on a land that never considered our ancestors equal, whole, complete human beings? These are the days of truth, you know. One lesson we’ve learned from 2016 is however folks are show up these days–believe them.

Donald Trump, also known as 45 by those in resistance, is a chief teacher of this lesson. We cannot believe his word, but we can believe his intent. He is a threat to the very fabric of the United States and he is a threat to humanity, particularly in terms of Black women’s reproductive justice. Based on an article in the Huffington Post, over the course of one year, Donald Trump has restricted $8.8 billion in US foreign aid funding for international health programs that provide or even mention abortion. For young women and girls in Kenya, this means no access to condoms, no access to safe abortions (unsafe abortions are a leading cause of death), no access to family planning, no access to cancer screening and no access to antiretroviral medication in a country with a very high HIV population. The impact is swift and evident with young women in Kenya returning to clinic sites pregnant, some even suicidal and many resorting to unsafe abortions.

Here in the US, the impact of stress on Black women’s health is the root of many health negative phenomena. According to a recent piece from National Public Radio (NPR), Black mothers in the US die at three to four times the rate of white mothers, one of the widest of all racial disparities in women’s health. And according to recent data, in some areas, like New York City, Black mothers are 12 times more likely to die than white mothers.

Unfortunately this phenomena was embodied and expressed through the loss of activist, Erica Garner. Erica lost her father, Eric Garner, who suffered from asthma, to senseless police brutality after a New York Police Department Officer used an unauthorized chokehold. Erica had give birth to her son three months prior to her death and had suffered from the effects of an enlarged heart. According to the New York Times, “an asthma episode precipitated a major heart attack.”

What was the “seed” that caused Erica’s death? Most likely a combination of racism, stress, grief, and compassion fatigue. Compassion fatigue is a phenomenon that I have observed consistently in activist spaces where folks align themselves with the suffering of others. It often shows up as literal fatigue and can express as apathy, depression, anxiety and contributes to the erosion of vitality in activists. As a member of the Oxalis Collective here in Washington DC, we thrive to create and curate healing spaces for activists. We have worked with a reproductive justice organization to educate and introduce healing justice as a framework. This framework provides a container of principles that encourages healthy, whole activist communities and sustainable movement spaces.

Future: Possibility (For the sake of the youngers)

“When I wake up, everything I went through will be beautiful.” When I Wake Up – Jill Scott

“I am rooted in radical organizing traditions that always call on spirit and ancestors to allow us to root our political work in a much larger frame of how are we transforming on a cellular level what oppression has done to us, individually and collectively. And how will we not just survive but heal and be well and create new ideas or renew?” – Cara Page

Wise grandmothers, our elevated ancestors. We give thanks for your presence. We give thanks for the container you have created for us all. Thank you for keeping your torch lit in dark times. Thank you for showing us the way and passing along your wise teachings.

I am dreaming of a world that affirms all lives.

A world where folks can all love who we choose.

A world where we acknowledge our wretched past history and through community ritual, atone for our destructive past aggressions.

A world where folks acknowledge their privilege and leverage that knowingness to work towards justice, conscious allyship and the radical distribution of resources.

A world where the bodies of people of colour are not a canvas for harm and trauma.

A world in which access to information and economic power is not granted to the few.

A world where we cultivate a connection with all living beings, plants and creatures.

A world that encourages community and economic empowerment through entrepreneurship that is rooted in models that are sustainable.

A world where we our foods sources are fully disclosed and consist of healthy, ethically grown sources and accessible food markets.

A world that weaves in healing justice as a foundational tool to bring light and healing to our experiences, triggers and traumas in this realm and generations forward and back.

A world where we are safe in a space of our design called home.

Grandmothers, we need your guidance and protection now more than ever. May we channel your firmness and unwavering will to live. We know in our hearts that you did not survive for us not to live our best lives. May our dreams be big enough to hold us all.


Karen Culpepper
Karen L. Culpepper is a clinical herbalist in the Washington DC area. Karen’s unique herbalist contribution centers on the ways in which plant medicine can support deep healing. Her particular focus areas are intergenerational trauma and its impact on physiology and vitality. She can be reached at embracingrhythm27@gmail.com.