Plant Your Seeds, Watch You Grow

black and white picture of book cover. It has a sketch of two black farm workers. It reads "Farming while black: Soul fire farm's practical guide to liberation on the land by Leah Penniman forward by Karen Washington

A book review of Farming While Black

by Ciana Hamilton

When I first got my hands on Farming While Black, I felt my soul rejoice. I have always felt a strong connection to land; whether it’s a long walk in the woods or growing a zillion tomatoes in my garden. Something in my soul sets on fire whenever I find myself intertwined with the earth. Even though this love of land comes naturally for me, I can’t help but feel misplaced, disconnected and even hurt whenever I attempt to foster a stronger bond with Mother Earth. From the moment you open Farming While Black you can feel the dedication, energy and love that Leah Penniman poured into this book. In its most practical form, Farming While Black is a hands-on how-to guide for everything to do with tending to the land. Once you begin to dive deeper though you realize it is so much more than a generic farmers guide. Farming While Black is 16 chapters of beauty, colour and testimony. It is as pragmatic as it is reflective of Black peoples’ history, connection and rehabilitation towards farming.

Penniman described Farming While Black as the book she wished she had growing up. Throughout the chapters, she seamlessly integrates her years of farming expertise with her personal journey of finding true liberation working on and with the land. Chapters such as, “Finding Land and Resources” explores different points of access to land, whether it is leased, communal, bought or through a land trust.  In chapter six, you can find vital information on crop planning, transplanting seedlings and days to maturity for a variety of herbs and vegetables. In each of these more practical chapters, Penniman includes UPLIFT subsections that draw connections to African ways of farming and present day uprising within Black communities. In one chapter, “Feeding the Soil”, one UPLIFT section speaks on African Dark Earth, a highly fertile and dark soil that was created 700 years ago by women in Ghana and Liberia. Farming While Black is easily the best book for Black (Indigenous, Brown, Latinx) folks who feel the duality of detachment and yet, the desire to build skills in farming.

For most of us, it doesn’t take much to get outside and get our hands dirty. There is nothing really stopping Black people from contributing to urban community gardens or being involved with farm internships. But where the work gets tricky is when it comes to repairing the internal damage that many Black people carry as a result of slavery. In short, slavery has destroyed our relationship with land. That pain I sometimes feel towards land, is a pain that is felt by most Black folks across Turtle Island. It is the same pain that is shared with our Indigenous cousins and others who have been displaced at the hands of colonialism. It is the pain we often try to bury; and in an attempt to forget, we sabotage ourselves from regaining identity through something that has been in our history for centuries. There is no question that even Leah Penniman felt this distorted disconnection when she first began her journey of farming. The history of Black connection to land has been greatly misconstrued to fit a narrative of white supremacy. We are perpetually told and reminded that our only real connection to farming was when our ancestors were enslaved, exploited and forced to endure hard labour. Rarely is there a discussion around Black farming prior to slavery or Black farming after slavery.  Rarely is there any discussion on African culture and how intertwined our African relatives were with nature, land and crops. The space that Penniman dedicates towards healing our land legacies in Farming While Black is what sets this book apart from any other farmer’s how-to guide.  Chapters such as: Honoring the Spirits of the Land, Plant Medicine, Cooking and Preserving and Healing from Trauma are the parts of this book that invite readers to dig deep within themselves and recognize where healing needs to begin. In “Healing from Trauma “ Penniman said, “Many of us have confused the terror our ancestors experienced on land with the land herself, naming her the oppressor and running toward paved streets without looking back. We do not stoop, sweat, harvest, or even get dirty, because we imagine that would revert us to bondage.” What makes Farming While Black a book of true deliverance, are the constant reminders from Penniman, and all those at Soul Fire Farm, that farming is in our blood. Whether it is through the UPLIFT sections throughout the book, the wealth of knowledge (old and new) or the beautiful photographs of Black, Brown, Indigenous and Latinx folks working harmoniously on the land, Farming While Black is the reminder that our history in slavery will not erase our history of land stewardship.

I am a descendant of African heritage. The women in my family were farmers, caretakers and keepers of the Earth. Farming While Black is my awakening to remember and honour my ancestors. With every shovel of dirt, every seed planted, every vegetable harvested, I vow to never forget that they were proud people of the land and today, so am I.

Ciana Hamilton is a happy nappy freelance creative writer & journalist. When she’s not writing she can be found doing fun shit with her kids.

Violence as Healing; Not All Will Agree

black and white sketch of regan de Loggans

By: Regan de Loggans

Above artwork by Grace Insoga

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Awakening

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

by Amai Kuda

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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


 

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

Earthships & Sovereignty

A photo of car tires filled with sand

by Kahsenniyo Williams

My family and I have spent the last year and a half of our lives dedicated building our home, asserting our sovereignty and raising the coming generation. Building our family home is massive deal for us as a young family. We aren’t building just any house though. We are building an Earthship. Not everyone has heard of them tho so let me explain a little bit more. Simply answered an Earthship is a home made from mostly recycled material that is off grid and self regulates the interior temperature. Amazing right!! There are a few key components of an Earthship so here’s a bit of a bigger explanation:


Components of an Earthship

1) Tires!!!

Lots and lots of tires! Said tires are pounded full of dirt using a sledge hammer and lots of muscles. These tires are pounded in place,stacked and layered like bricks these tires are used to build the back and side walls of the house.

2) Window Wall

The entire south facing wall of the house is windows. The reason for this is simple; heat. These windows are placed south facing to provide heat to the house through the sun. Shining low in the winter sky and high in the summer this provides perfect heating to the house.

3) Thermal Mass

Thermal Mass is anything that holds onto heat. So I’m talking things like stone, concrete and dirt. The thermal mass is packed throughout the house (dirt in tires, floors, some walls) and works in conjunction with the window wall. Sun shines in through the windows in the winter and beams in on all the thermal mass of the house to heat it up. In the winter these houses will maintain of temperature of 20 to 22 degrees Celsius (which is room temperature-ish). The entire tire wall is also cocooned in a hill of dirt to help insulate it. The house is positioned and designed to miss any direct summer sunlight coming into the house, as the sun is very high in the sky. With the sun not shining directly into the house this allows the thermal mass to maintain a cool temperature.

4) Greywater System

The entire house is run of a greywater system by collecting rainwater, and snowmelt runoff from the roof. All of the water collected from the roof is directed into a big water tank (which is buried in the giant dirt hill). When a tap is turned on in the house this is where the water comes from. Once it goes down the drain it is then directed into a grey water planter inside the house. A natural spring filtering system is recreated in the planter and the water is cleaned out through this process.This will also water our plants we will grow inside. Once it has completed the filtering it is then pumped up into a second tank. When we flush our toilet and do laundry the water will come from the second tank. This will allow us all the luxuries of running water without the wastefulness.

5) Solar energy

The entire house is run off of solar panels that are placed on the south-facing roof. It is completely possible to run your entire house off of solar electricity. For us we will be using all of the solar energy we create and not selling it back to the power company.

These houses can be a solution to many environmental issues we have today. It really is a process to come to the decision to actually do it, tho. When the reclamation of our lands boarding Caledonia began, I was 16 years-old. I felt so strongly in what my people were doing, This is where I was introduced to the concept of sovereignty. I was so angry for a long time and the potential destruction of the land was devastating to me. The theft of our lands was infuriating. These feels lingered and grew in my life for many years. All I really wanted was for my children to not have to suffer because of the decisions that we were making today. I wanted to leave something for my grand children and their grandchildren.

I spent a lot of my life asking permission to be sovereign, demanding to be recognized as sovereign. Through a series of ridiculously difficult lessons, I eventually realized I don’t have to ask for permission to be sovereign. And that sovereignty is about much more than protesting and demanding our voices be listened to. My sovereignty lives in my bones. It lives in the way that I live my life on a daily basis. It is about actually being independent from Canada, producing our own food, our own clean energy, taking care of each other, and working with the younger generations to raise them with teachings.

I had first heard about Earthships a decade ago. Since then building and living in one has been the dream. When my husband and I decided we were actually going to build, we spent roughly two years of hardcore researching and putting a game plan together. We watched countless youtube videos and read every book and article we could find. The technical design is all by my super amazing husband (who has also been an Ironworker for fourteen years and is in general a handyman). Me, on the other hand, I had never picked up a hammer in my life, other than a few attempts to put together some Ikea furniture which ended miserably. Basically me and physical labor had never really met before this experience. The thought of sweating it out pounding tires was pretty scary. However it felt that our values and daily living were not aligned, and Earthships seemed to be a significant way to bring those two things together.

A great thing about Earthships is that there isn’t a ton of skilled labor involved. If you can swing a sledgehammer or use a shovel you can help build. Our children have been a huge part of the building process. They pound tires, fill buckets, grab tools and help out anywhere they can. We have discussed regularly throughout the process about why we are doing what we are doing. We want to raise them with a connection to their land, food, water and community. We want to show them that it is possible to live your life and walk gently.


 

Kahsenniyo Williams
Kahsenniyo is from the Mohawk Nation, Wolf clan. She is a spoken word poet and writer. Her work is centered around indigenous issues. Outside of being an artist she is a mother and wife. Together with her family she is currently building an Earthship and community/family farm on Six Nations.

kawôtinikewin

By Jaydene Lavallée

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

 


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

 

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

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

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

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

You are from nowhere.

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

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

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

 

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

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

And brothers if you choose to prove yourself as such.

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

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


 

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

Rebuilding our Relationship with the land

Indigenous eagle storytelling artwork that reads "learn from the past, prepare in the present, to defend the future."

By: Beze and Vanessa Gray

Our homeland is more than the reservation system forced onto my ancestors across our traditional territory. Land is sacred, and this is especially important to acknowledge when multinational companies carelessly contaminate the environment we all share through colonialism and toxic chemicals. Our family and community are Anishinabe people from the Aamjiwnaang First Nation in Treaty 29 territory located near Sarnia, ON. The Canadian government continues to use violence to inherently disconnect us from our land and it’s our responsibility to protect it using our traditional culture and language. Our culture and language survive through land based teachings.

Our teachings offer lessons of honesty, humility, and truth that connect our bodies to the land.  We take what we need and offer tobacco to give back to the land to acknowledge when we take anything and to give thanks. Canada is established through resource extraction and land theft. When industry forced their way onto our territory to extract oil in the 1880s, the land was stolen through Canada’s Indian Act system that segregates us on reserve lands. Colonization takes on many destructive forms and acts like a virus endlessly taking from mother earth. Industry created an empire from our stolen land. Instead of using oil as we did once, oil quickly became the foundation of Canada’s national identity. The petrochemical industry on our Territory expanded and changed the relationship between our people and the land. These threats to our traditions and culture immediately created the apartheid state between settlers and indigenous people. This is clearly visible when the City of Sarnia enacts class violence through Victorian houses just down the road from our reserve that we were not allowed to leave from. The Canadian Justice system was created to protect colonial capitalism and white supremacy. The present day reserve boundaries of Aamjiwnaang are substantially smaller than our original territory. Our homeland is seen as an industrial resource, not a residential place where more than 800 people currently live. This racist notion is how companies justify putting an above ground pipelines so close to our homes.

Aamjiwnaang is completely surrounded by industry with over 60 facilities in the 25km radius. The highest polluting facilities are within 5km of the community. The first company to start operating a refinery was Imperial Oil. Canada’s Chemical Valley currently holds 40% of Canada’s petrochemical industry [1]. Accumulating pollution has been collecting and contaminating Aamjiwnaang for over 100 years. In our community everything is polluted, including the land, air, water, and people. We are the grandchildren of the generation who survived Canada’s attempted genocide. Our responsibility to the land is carried on from the strength of our intergenerational knowledge. Even when we grow up surrounded by industry, we will always find our way back to the land through our songs, drums and ceremony. The warning signs found along the creek in Aamjiwnaang were put up to keep us from exposing ourselves from the toxic chemicals that flow from industry into the water. Even though Canada tries to forget its violent history, we still experience the cumulative effects such as cancer and high numbers of stillbirths and miscarriages. There’s a constant stress of the emergency sirens of the community going off from spills or leaks.

Not only do we worry about our health and safety on the daily, but our medicines are exposed to the chemicals in the air. Healing is the most important part of our survival as land and water protectors. We need time on the land to rebuild and sustain our relationship with the land. This includes our seasonal responsibilities such as collecting food and medicines. Our Wiigwams teach us that we all have a role to play in sustaining our communities. In a time when everything can be made easier by new technologies, the land will always provide for our needs. Our traditional dip net fishing is made from cedar trees because it’s the lightest to carry and can last for generations, you can buy a metal net that can last with care but is more likely crushed or bent easily if left in the river. Our load isn’t a light one to carry, we pick up where our ancestors left us to move forward and hopefully thrive. The land is alive and deserves to be honored with ceremony.


 

Beze and VANESSA Gray
Vanessa Gray and Beze Gray are Anishinaabe siblings from the Aamjiwnaang First Nation located in Canada’s Chemical Valley. Co-founders of Aamjiwnaang & Sarina Against Pipelines.

Vanessa is a land defender and environmental justice researcher with the TRU at the University of Toronto.

Beze identifies as two spirited and studies Anishinaabe mowin and traditional land use with Meesiingw.

L’eau Est La Vie, Water is Life:

black and white illustration of women rowing in a bayou with various sea creatures and animals surrounded them. It reads "water is life. stop the bayou bridge pipeline"

Fighting the Bayou Bridge Pipeline in Louisiana

by Anne White Hat

The Atchafalaya Basin in southern Louisiana is the largest river swamp in North America and one of the most productive wetlands in the world. Its 885,000 acres provide habitat for a vast array of wildlife, including half of the continent’s migratory waterfowl. 

Since time immemorial, people have centered their life-ways on the Basin: from the indigenous Houma and Atakapa-Ishak nations, to the Cajuns and crawfishermen who came later.  It is a special place where land becomes water, where life flourishes as it pours into the sea. But the Atchafalaya Basin is under attack. Corporations are ramping up the development of oil and gas infrastructure in its waterways. Large access canals and pipelines dredged through the swamp have fundamentally altered its geology, disrupting the north-south water flow and creating sedimentary build-up that fills natural bayous, preventing the Basin from serving its natural role as a floodplain. In addition to dams (constructed by the oil industry), some parts of the Basin have two kilometers of man-made canals for every one kilometer of natural bayou.

All of this meddling has impaired water quality, destroyed wildlife habitats, and wreaked havoc on the livelihoods of crawfishing communities. The last few years have seen serious floods hit communities throughout Louisiana, and the flooding will only get worse as the Atchafalaya Basin continues to wither. Our state is losing an acre of coastal wetlands every hour.

The last thing we need is another pipeline through the Basin. Yet that’s exactly what Energy Transfer Partners (ETP), the company behind the Dakota Access Pipeline, is proposing.

They’re calling it the “Bayou Bridge Pipeline,” but we call it a threat to everything we hold scared — and it’s already under construction. Its proposed 162-mile length will cross an astounding 700 bodies of water, including Bayou LaFourche, a critical reservoir that supplies the United Houma Nation and 300,000 Louisiana residents with clean, safe drinking water. This not only violates the sovereignty of the Houma and other nations, but it also threatens sacred mounds and traditional “marker trees” (ancient Cypresses) along its path.

Furthermore, the pipeline would destroy our economy by adding to the already enormous problems that pipelines have created for the crawfishing industry, which supports thousands of good jobs. By ETP’s own admission, the Bayou Bridge Pipeline would create only 12 permanent jobs. It’s clear that this project only serves the needs of industry, at the cost of more of our precious wetlands, with unforeseeable impacts on flooding throughout the entire state of Louisiana. This pipeline is incompatible with humanity’s goal to limit emissions and stop climate change. It is incompatible with the belief in our hearts that water is sacred, and water is life.

To fight this pipeline, we have formed the L’eau Est La Vie Camp, a frontline resistance camp. L’eau Est La Vie means “water is life” in French, and the camp is backed by a coalition of indigenous nations, water protectors, local landowners, crawfishermen, faith-based congregations, and environmental groups. Holding space in the traditional territory of the Atakapa-Ishak Nation, which we have entered with their blessing, our camp serves as a home-base to monitor the proposed route, build relationships with nearby landowners, and reclaim land under the vision of a just transition and sustainable future.

We are targeting the Bayou Bridge Pipeline and the company behind it, ETP, with both legal interventions and strategic non-violent direct actions. With lessons learned from allied pipeline resistance efforts, we are appealing the permits awarded by the Army Corps of Engineers and Louisiana Department of Natural Resources, alleging that these groups have failed to consider irreparable harms to both the Atchafalaya Basin and the coastal community around St. James Parish in southern Louisiana. We are also fighting in court to receive public records regarding communications between the companies behind this project and our local sheriffs, as well as with the governor of Louisiana.

Our coalition is working to develop and implement Louisiana Water Protector Training for every person that joins Camp, as well as folks in communities across southern Louisiana. Water protectors are trained to look for specific Energy Transfer Partners construction permit violations and report them to the appropriate agency. We also provide a comprehensive overview of the Bayou Bridge Pipeline and environmental history as well as laws regarding waterways. To date, nearly 100 water protectors have been trained and monitoring is being coordinated amongst our coalition via Signal app and Facebook reporting, with daily-on-the-ground updates provided by L’eau Est La Vie water protectors. This strategy builds internal power and also sends a strong message to ETP: Louisiana isn’t as friendly to oil and gas as they have been told.

In a recent exploratory excursion, we noted and took samples of Louisiana’s old-growth “legacy” Cypress trees in the Atchafalaya Basin. These trees are estimated to be more than 400 years old and are often referred to as the “Noah’s Arc” of the wetlands because they are home to wildlife during storms and high waters. While the number of these old growth trees that lie within the Bayou Bridge Pipeline’s route is unknown, its 75-foot wide right-of-way will permanently destroy at least 940 acres of these wetlands.

In addition, water protectors also discovered a work-site where construction crews had cut the fencing on the property easement and left it open. A horse was found entangled in the barbed-wire. They were able to free the mare, and our online petition garnered nearly 75,000 signatures in just 3 days calling for ETP to be charged with animal cruelty.

ETP is also the same company behind the notorious Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) and also hired Tiger Swan, the private security firm that committed horrendous human rights abuses at Standing Rock. Tiger Swan applied for their license to operate in Louisiana but were denied due to our coalition organizing efforts. They have appealed. Meanwhile, the Louisiana’s Governor reportedly told the Baton Rouge Advocate that “another pipeline traversing the Atchafalaya Basin” wasn’t going to keep him up at night.

The collusion and apathy of our leaders is unacceptable. As we inch closer every day to a real climate catastrophe, it is up to water protectors and the people we stand with to shut down these projects by any and all non-violent means.

We are striving to create the systems of change necessary for a drastic shift towards clean energy, challenging systems of oppression within the Deep South at the heart of oil and gas country. By launching L’eau Est La Vie Camp as a home-base on the route of the proposed Bayou Bridge Pipeline, we have opened avenues of direct action, strategic organizing, and political resistance. We envision this land becoming a space devoted to multi-generational skill shares, radical art creation, activist retreat space, and everything else needed in a just transition toward a clean energy economy throughout the Gulf Coast region.

Oil and gas companies often build their infrastructure in Louisiana because they expect acquiescence from the people. Their industries have been long intertwined with our livelihoods; we have, sadly, come to see their infrastructure in our bayous and swamps as normal. But Louisiana is rising to challenge that situation. Folks are standing up to say “no more.” Inspired by the example of our relatives at Standing Rock, as well as those resisting Kinder Morgan’s TransMountain project in Canada, we are building community around defence of the sacred. We will not let them take our Basin and the life that flourishes there.


 

Anne White Hat
Anne White Hat is a member of the Aśke Gluwipi Tiośpaye of the Sicangu Lakota Nation from Rosebud, South Dakota. She is a mother and herbalist living in New Orleans, Louisiana and serves on the Advisory Council for L’eau Est La Vie Camp, a project of Louisiana Rise.

Tiny House Warriors: Secwepemc Cultural Resurgence and Resistance

black and white of protestors standing with their fist up by their tiny house. text reads "tiny house warriors"

By Ruby Smith Diaz

Land defender Kanahus Manuel explains how ten tiny houses can help stop a pipeline.

 Can you introduce yourself?

 I’m Kanahus Manuel, of the Secwepemc nation and Warrior Society and Tiny House Warriors: Our Land is Home.

Tell us about the Tiny House Warriors project.

Tiny House Warriors: Our Land is Home is a project to build ten tiny houses that will be placed strategically on the path of the Kinder Morgan Pipeline to assert our Secwepemc authority and our Secwepemc decision-making on our lands. Our people got together in a historic gathering last summer, and the consensus was that there is no consent for this pipeline. That’s what we’re standing on right now — that declaration of our people, as well as our ancestors, that said never cede, never surrender our territories. This is the power that we’re standing on by going out and putting these homes on our territories.

What inspired you to launch this specific form of resistance against the Kinder Morgan Pipeline?

We looked at all the different issues that we are facing as Indigenous people. This project is not just to stop the pipeline. It is to create a solution to the housing crisis that all of us are facing, not just our community– it’s for people in the activist community, people within my own immediate family to learn [alternative building skills] to better our movements. Right now we’re doing the interior decorating of our first tiny house, and that one’s going to be deployed very soon. The second one is our elders’ tiny house and it’s built on a 24’ trailer. We wanted it to be a little bit bigger to accommodate elders. We want to have it in a very beautiful pristine part of our territory, where elders can come and be protecting the land and the sacred area that we chose to make that stand. The elders’ house is also going to be the language immersion place, because all of our language teachers and elders say we’re going to lose our language if it’s [only taught] in the classroom.

And so everything is based on the land. There’s [so many] different reasons why we chose to build tiny houses. First of all, right now, Indigenous people are stuck on this 0.2% of reserve land– meaning that if you calculate all the Indian reserves of Canada, it makes up 0.2% of the land base. Not even 1%. So the other 99.8% of our traditional territories is being developed, [is subject to] industrial resource extraction that has been happening since contact. Mining and pipelines are some of these things that are threatening our territory. Our people, although we have always been pushed onto the 0.2%, we still maintain current use traditional use on our territories including berry picking, medicine harvesting, and sacred fasting areas. We still depend on clean water as a main part of our ceremonies. In order for us to conduct our sacred ancient ceremonies, we need clean water, and so there’s going to be many different impacts on our traditions by having that pipeline going through, and that’s why people are opposed to this pipeline.

People are looking at tiny houses as a solution in a housing crisis globally. So that’s another reason why tiny houses became a way for us to make a stand. We’re building our homes, the land is our home, and we’re connecting those dots for people that don’t see the earth as our home. Our land is going to be a really beautiful area;  we’re looking at doing some intensive gardening. These are things that Wolverine* (“Wolverine was a Secwepemc elder and land defender, Gustafsen Lake who passed away in 2016”)  has taught us and [folks from] the other resistance camp* (Unistoten) has taught us too. Some will live, some will die and the strong ones will survive, so we need to start producing our own food. And so with Tiny House Warriors, Ruby, we don’t want to just be setting up camp, to just be another Standing Rock where we’re going to make our last stand right there. No, we want to build villages, we want to build hope, we want to build our dreams and imagination and creativity. We want food, beautiful homes, clean water, language, culture, dance, songs.

We even want entrepreneurship for our young people. We want some kind of economic interest. We have economic interest in every tree that is coming off of our territory, everything that’s being transported through our territory right now. I’m sitting here looking at the Trans Canada Highway, as millions of dollars [worth of resources] are being transported through here. When we were figuring what homes we were going to establish on our territory we chose to go with tiny houses because they’re fast, because the rest of the country is landlocked. The Trans-Canada and CPR crosses Neskonlith Indian Reserve, crossing our own natural transportation corridor, the river.   Transporting every raw product across our homelands: Cars, coal gas, heavy machinery, military equipment, tires– the same corridor that is linked to the alberta tar sands that we are also fighting. They need these transportation corridors to come through our lands, in order to get things to the global market. I’m looking at a truck full of oil or gas, that’s going by right now as I speak, while our little 0.2% holds some of the most impoverished communities.

So Tiny House Warriors is giving hope to the nation that we can leave the reservations, and exclusively occupy traditional territories. We can go out there and say we are upholding our own laws, and our own rights to self determination; we can say no to projects like Kinder Morgan and Canada must respect that. Right now, Canada is violating our rights by [Trudeau giving] the federal “ok” to go through with this pipeline. But he doesn’t have our consent. So there’s many different people involved in this violation of international Indigenous and human rights right now.

To back up little bit: obviously the tiny houses are mobile projects. What do you think is the benefit of having this kind of specific resistance that are literal homes on wheels, instead some other traditional structures that have been built on the territory in the past for similar purposes?

As Secwepemc people we’ve always been tiny house living and so building this type of structure is nothing really different for us. We’ve built traditional underground pit houses, we’ve built cord wood houses, we’ve built all kinds of alternative and traditional housing. These homes are sacred sanctuaries cause our homes are the whole basis of our family life and who we are as Secwepemc people. We’ve had cedar bark lodges, we’ve had houses that are the most advanced architecture for our lands. We want to build underground traditional homes; when we’re figuring what homes we’re going to establish on our territory, we chose to go with tiny houses because they’re fast. You can get the shell of the whole house up in 2 or 3 days and have someone actually living in there while you continue to work on it. Our goal is to establish hundreds of pit houses and traditional homes on our territory cause I know personally how it is to live in an underground traditional pit house. You know, my partner built one for us and I raise my children in there. [The pit house] gives you more than you’ll ever imagine– a sense of how it was to live in the past. For instance, living in one structure that’s round, you don’t have walls, you don’t have rooms that separate your children from the parents. You’re all in one family, you have to learn how to collectively live together in a small space. That’s an art, that’s a very necessary art right now. How we’re going to live together as a people.

And so we’re building tiny houses now to stop this pipeline. Our goal is to have ten tiny houses on our territory along this 518 km pipeline route, but not stationary. We have them on wheels so we could be mobile out on our lands. We’ve always been a nomadic hunter and gatherer society and that’s what we do during the winter: we follow the seasons, we follow the food. Some of our people haven’t even been to these pristine areas where this pipeline is being proposed. Huckleberries, blueberries, medicines, fresh game, there’s so much out there that’s at risk right now that needs protecting.

Beautiful. So that gives people the opportunity to actually make connections with those sacred places and with those traditional areas in ways that other structures maybe wouldn’t have allowed for. That’s awesome. How were you able to find resources to lead this project?

 Resources are the number one thing that we need in our movements right now, and we’ve been blessed to have made contacts with people who have big networks. Naomi Klein put out a call for donations to LEAP* ( https://theleap.org/give-tiny-house-warriors/) and they were able to secure $16,000 and then LUSH was able to give a big chunk of money as well, the cosmetic company. Now we’re selling Tiny House Warrior Volume One, a music compilation of artists that have come together to donate songs that are on this album. We’re selling this album on Bandcamp for $10 minimum donation. So we’re trying to find creative ways and sources that could help sponsor these tiny houses that doesn’t compromise our principles.

We’re going to be launching a bigger online fundraiser for a spring building camp– we’re hosting a 14-day building camp and hopefully make three or four tiny houses during that time. We’ll need approximately thirty or forty skilled builders to come out to assist, some of them could be labourers. We need five, we’re calling them conductors, but like foremen or crew bosses, that can help.

I’d like to also say that there were volunteer builders that came and volunteered all of their skills to build these tiny homes. Melina had secured some funding as well to solarize the tiny houses that were being built during the [last] spring building camp.

Incredible. On that note, how can people find out more?

We have a website, TinyHousewarriors.com and also we have a facebook page, and the Bandcamp page. And if you google Tiny House Warriors, a lot of news articles will come up and you can get educated in that way too. We had some other famous people, like Leonardo DiCaprio, that post Tiny House Warriors’ photos and information on Instagram. So there are people that are learning about the project and I’m sure that we’re going to be able to collectively come up with the resources to be able to complete all ten [tiny houses]. We’ve built three and we have enough raised for the fourth one, so we’re looking for funds for six more of them. We’re learning a lot as we go along, and you know, the tenth one is going to be like, boom. It’s going to go up like that, so we’re hoping to have these all out by summer.

Amazing. What has been the biggest obstacle that you’ve found during this project?

There’s many different obstacles that you’re faced with as grassroots organizers. Some of them are around funding. [Often it’s] these established organizations that have tax deductible status or non-profit status that are able to raise funds here in Canada. We don’t have that, we’re a grassroots organization, so a lot of our funding needs to be received from non-mainstream sources. That’s why we are dependent people, through crowd-funding and such, to support this project.

I don’t want to have to go too much into it, but for us here at the Secwepemc nation, we’ve had three of the Secwepemc chiefs who have already signed with Kinder Morgan and actually received money, cash deals, from them. And just to help people to understand they’re a federally funded native organization I would call it, more than a band council. People really need to be clear about who they’re putting their support behind: who the grassroots people are, who the tribal people are. We really need support from people who understand where Indigenous people hold the title to our lands; amongst all the 10,500 Secwepemc people that exist in the world that are in on Secwepemc territory– collectively, we are the ones that have a say in our lands. We collectively hold that title to the land, not one elected chief and council can make a decision about our lands. So these are some of the other obstacles, is being able to explain to everyday Canadians the internal politics that go on behind the scenes. As the grassroots people, we really need the support behind us because that’s one of the biggest obstacles we’re facing too in our territories.

Many long term projects and social movements have the tendency to quickly lose people along the way due to disinterest or burnout. However, it seems that you’ve been able to pull together enough people with sustained interest to complete three houses so far, and more planned for the summer. What do you think is different about this project that has helped keep people motivated and committed to help?

It’s the urgency. And just the dire crisis that this planet is in right now. We see the climate change in our everyday harvesting practices. We see the climate change through the wildfires that ravaged our lands last summer. We see that happen in our berry patches and our medicine areas. We see the urgency around standing up now. We know that if this pipeline pushes its way through, the Alberta Tar Sands is going to increase dramatically in size and impact more of our people in the north, our own relatives that are there around the Tar Sands. With the people that we are working with, it’s a life– I don’t want to say it’s a lifestyle, but it’s the way we live. We aren’t saying, oh my daughter’s gonna grow up to be a doctor or a professor, you know. It’s like, we already knew, you can’t turn back and once you wake up in the matrix there’s no going back. You know that the rest of society is fake. And it’s based on non-documentation of our title and our rights to our lands. We should be able to have our homes in the most pristine areas of our territory and that’s where we’re going with our tiny houses. We want people to see that no, you’re not meant to live by the Trans Canada highway, you’re meant to be up there in the beauty of your lands. That’s why they’re ripping all this stuff to drive through the Trans-Canada highway. Everything is based on the lands; you can’t have society without the land. Everything, the whole consumer capitalist society, is based on these resources, on these lands.


 

Ruby Smith – DIAZ
Ruby Smith-Diaz is an afro-latina person born in Edmonton- amiskwacîwâskahikan (ᐊᒥᐢᑿᒌᐚᐢᑲᐦᐃᑲᐣ). Since graduating, with a degree in education, she has found her passion working as a youth facilitator, multi-disciplinary artist, video editor, and body positive personal trainer. Throughout all of her projects, she is deeply invested in the dignity and identity of individuals and supporting them in developing the sense of self-worth and integrity that will make them agents and animators of change in the world, according to their most fierce imaginings.

Kanahus Manuel
Kanahus Manuel, Secwepemc and Ktunaxa, is member of the Secwepemc Women Warriors Society (her unceded Territory lies within so-called British Columbia, Canada), a mother of 4 and a twin , she was born into Indigenous Resistance and Land Defence, coming from a high-profile political family known for bringing their fight for their Traditional Territories and homelands into the spotlight from the local to the international level.  Kanahus’ inheritance of the land struggle has led her to spearhead many Indigenous frontlines. Kanahus is traditional birth keeper, traditional tattoo artist and warrior.