Central Urban Metis Federation Inc. (CUMFI) hosted a Metis cultural gathering, celebration & fundraiser on Sept. 28th-30th in Saskatoon, SK.
I was invited to attend the Metis Days Gala Fundraiser held at the White Cap Dakota Casino on September 29th. It featured an Indigenous art auction and silent auction to support CUMFI’s programs for families residing in Supported Living Homes.
At this event, it was a pleasure to meet 60’s Scoop Survivors, Betty Ann Adam and Dr. Jacqueline Maurice. This past summer I read Dr. Maurice’s book, The Lost Children: A Nation’s Shame based on her own experience as 60’s scooped child placed in the child welfare system at one-month-old. She uses her childhood trauma of being placed in many foster homes from birth to fifteen years old to explain the de-spiriting of Aboriginal children, defined as the “process whereby Aboriginal children and families have experienced institutional, structural, cultural, psychological, emotional and spiritual oppression and trauma resulting in Aboriginal children, families, and communities moving away from their balance and spirit of well-being (Maurice, 2014, p.v).
Her experiences of being “in-care” were used for her Ph.D. dissertation and she includes a research methodology chapter that I found fascinating. She uses an “autobiographical and auto-ethnographical approach to examine in a systematic manner the institutional construction and textual production” (p. 75) of her own government and medical documents, and personal childhood journals that chronicled her traumatic childhood. Her qualitative methodology allowed for decolonizing and alternative methodologies – throughout the book she uses Indigenous stories, values and culture. For example, she uses many Indigenous ways of knowing and concepts such as, “All my relations” and charts on the beliefs and values of Aboriginal family life to explain the devastation of the 60’s scoop (pp.27-30).
One chapter is dedicated to her “first-hand account as [a] long-term foster child during the duration of the Adopt Indian-Metis program (AIM)” (p.175). It is heartbreaking reading her personal narratives as a child struggling to understand the sexual abuse she endured from her foster father and brother-in-law, and the subsequent behavioral problems, self-harm, and suicide attempts as a teenager.
It is also filled with hope, forgiveness, and accounts of healing by other 60’s scoop survivors. One personal interview that touched me, as an Indigenous adult adoptee, was 60’s scoop survivor Terry’s search for her origins and identity. After speaking with her biological Uncle on the phone she “remember[s] going home that day and looking in the mirror because it was confirmed, because I had asked him, are we Metis, are we Cree, are we Saulteaux, I didn’t know. And he said, ‘we call ourselves Cree Saulteaux,’ and I went home that day, and I looked in the mirror, and I said to myself, ‘oh yeah I really do look Indian.’ So it was just this validation, which was tremendous'” (p.213).
An indigenous award-winning journalist for the Star Phoenix, Betty Ann and I spoke about that validation after searching for and finding our biological families, both of whom reside in Yellowknife. We talked about our common experience as Indigenous adoptees both placed with non-Indigenous families – physically never having someone that looked like us growing up, wondering about our cultural origins, and if our biological family member would have similar personality traits. You can view Betty Ann’s experience reuniting with her biological family in the documentary, Birth of a Family. You can watch the first time she meets her biological siblings – two sisters and one brother! The synopsis states they were “removed from their young Dene mother during the infamous Sixties Scoop, separated as infants and adopted into families across North America.”
I also wrote about my personal adoption/reunion journey for the YellowkniferWomen Warriors newspaper column, Finding one’s ancestral homeland and culture. (Email me if you’d like the pdf electronic version).
After I took this picture of the three of us, Dr. Maurice stated it made her emotional. When I look at this picture I see three Indigenous women that were displaced from our communities, asking the question, “Whose little girl am I?” (p.174). We found our way back to our families and our land. We’ve been blessed with a spiritual healing based on discovering our identity and connecting to our origins. I felt incredibly grateful to be sitting at this table with Indigenous women that could identify with my story and had used their stories to create awareness and understanding of the 60’s scoop.
Dr. Maurice is available for Sixties Scoop Community engagement activities, curriculum development and/or presentations/storytelling. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Women Warriors Review of Yoga and Meditation Class
“Omg! I loved it!! I had the best sleep ever and would most definitely do it again.” Clarissa
“Yoga and meditation was a perfect way to ending my evening. I haven’t had a good sleep in such a long time. The best part was coming home with no shoulder pain. Thanks for the stress-free evening!” Amanda
“Yoga was a challenge it was first for me it was different and would do it again now meditation was totally AMAZING I loved it and would do it again thank you appreciate it .” Grace
“We need this in North Battleford (NB).” Niska (former WW’s participant now living in NB).
Upcoming Newsletter Feature
I’m excited to share several exciting upcoming features for our newsletter. I am currently in university and do not have the time to dedicate to a weekly newsletter; however, I have asked a guest writer, Brandy-Lee Maxie, an Indigenous journalist to write an article on her personal experience accessing health care services for her son, who has type I diabetes. As well, our U of C grad student, Megan Sampson will share insights on her Master’s thesis on food security in Lloydminster with our WW group from last November. Finally, I’ll start sharing Women Warriors Wednesday profiles from the Onion Lake Cree Nation group.
If you have any questions about the program or would like to contact me for follow up information please email: Shelley@womenwarriors.club.
MA thesis learnings from our University of Calgary grad student, Megan Sampson
It has been one year since I travelled to Lloydminster to conduct ethnographic research with the Women Warriors program. I will soon defend my MA thesis based on the results of that work, which explored the dietary practices of Indigenous women in the program. While in previous newsletters I’ve been able to describe the methods, goals, and preliminary trends from this study, today I am able to offer a more complete picture of the ample learnings participants offered.
This research is grounded in Indigenous feminist literature1to explore the interplay of social and structural factors impacting Indigenous women’s wellness. Two main tenets of Indigenous feminist theory apply most directly: 1) Indigenous women’s experiences of marginalization and gendered inequality are distinct and rooted in colonization. Colonization remains intact in living legislation, having persistent impacts on Indigenous women’s health, wellbeing, and material realities; 2) Indigenous women have the leadership, knowledge, and skills to produce lasting change and resist oppression. Both of these truths are evident in the food practices and experiences of the women in this study.
Socio-political factors related to colonization have produced food insecurity among Indigenous peoples in the territory where Lloydminster now resides2. Trauma and the impacts of residential schools have also impacted dietary practices. Some participants in the study were residential school survivors, and they described how it felt to be separated from their culture, including traditional diet:
The food they gave us was pathetic. They gave us rotten food back then. And we came from a system of wild meat– you know, the good food. And then we get thrown into a system where it’s not so good [. . .] So, times have changed, but the memories still linger. It’ll take time. Some people eat because of comfort, because it’s a comfort food. . . It’s not because they want to eat to be a diabetic. It’s what they’re trying to feed because of what they didn’t have. . .
Others described intergenerational effects:
L: Well, for me, I used to be overweight. And I’ve been battling with weight my whole life. And, growing up I’ve often wondered why my parents never said anything to me. I was getting chunkier and chunkier [. . .] And maybe it’s because of how my dad grew up—he grew up in residential school—that he just wanted to let me have everything, because he didn’t have it. . . He couldn’t be with his parents. So, I think he was just trying to spoil me and my sister—does that make sense?
Another challenge described by participants was the high cost of healthy foods. It is important to consider that the socio-economic realities of Indigenous women have been shaped by colonial and gendered violence, for example in sexist legislation engrained in the Indian Act3. Some participants reported fear of running out of food before they had money to buy more or feeling unable to afford to eat healthy. Even for participants who reported feeling financially secure, economic considerations often played a major role in what foods they consumed. Out of 8 participants who took part in a social network mapping activity, it was revealed that collectively they shared meals (at least once a week) with a total of 57 other individuals (an average of about 7 each). This often required considerable financial planning. For those from Onion Lake Cree Nation or rural surrounding areas, the cost of travel to and from the city for groceries, and the high cost of produce at convenience stores, posed added economic burden.
Personal food preferences (or the food preferences of children, grandchildren, or partners) were sometimes described as interfering with nutrition and chronic disease management. Behavioural-level, “lifestyle”-based health analyses have been criticized for “victim blaming”, as individuals whose choices are constrained by larger socio-political and environmental factors are blamed for their own adverse health. In the context of this research, it was evident in participants’ narratives that food choices and preferences revealed much about broader structural realities:
B: When I was younger we didn’t always have food to last us until the next time we were getting money. So basically we just had to eat what was provided to us. . . So it would have been a lot of starchy foods like potatoes and soups. . . I ate a lot of macaroni [. . .] That’s the only way I learned how to cook for my own family. [My daughter’s] in university, and she’s overweight. She’s carrying on the same habits that I kind of taught her.
* * * Residential school. . . that kind of led me down a different path. When I was on reserve, I didn’t gain weight. But the minute that I was in the residential school the weight came. I started getting fluffy. [They fed me] breads, lots of breads and fatty foods. So when I came home after residential school, that’s the way I preferred to eat. For some 40 years I struggled with weight because I couldn’t maintain the way I was eating.
Despite these barriers, food practices were also sites of cultural resilience, leadership and creativity. Despite concerted assimilationist efforts by settler society, a large majority of the women involved in this study reported consuming traditional foods (mostly meat from wild game). Several described active efforts to seek out, prepare, and share traditional foods, for reasons including their economic feasibility, health benefits, and cultural value. One participant was a foster parent who taught other foster parents in her community how to prepare traditional meals to promote cultural competency. Others described various ways that actively connecting or reconnecting to their culture through food benefitted themselves and their families:
So I’m just now, since from last year getting back into eating raw vegetables and, um, dry meat and, you know traditional food like duck [. . .] I’m really liking the way I eat right now. It’s really pulled me back from the brink of something. I thought I was going to have a heart attack, you know, if I didn’t stop eating the way I was eating. Yeah, so I’m trying. I’m teaching my grandkids and my kids, you know, like “you have to eat differently”.
In a couple of cases, participants went to impressive lengths to self-provision. One participant was able to combat household food insecurity, which she had struggled with for years, through converting her yard into a vast home garden and building a smokehouse to prepare wild meat. Having minimal experience with gardening or traditional food practices in her past, these feats were a source of immense pride. It was evident that passing these knowledges on to her children helped to empower them and her alike:
My biggest pet peeve is ‘oh cooking is for girls’. People and their strong gender beliefs that ‘oh because you’re a male you don’t need to know how to do this’. But what if you find out that you don’t like girls? What if you find out that you like boys, then what? What if he was raised the same way as you and doesn’t know how to do these things? Who’s going to cook, who’s going to clean? So, I like to teach my boys. My boys help me garden and help me weed. Like, come on, my son grew a watermelon!
I do not mean to suggest such self-provisioning is feasible for all Indigenous families struggling with food insecurity. Rather, what these activities demonstrate is the extensive actions Indigenous women are already taking to nourish their families. Every woman involved in this study, through various means, actively sought better health for themselves and their families on a daily basis (hence why most enrolled in Women Warriors). The question for those designing health programming or initiatives to promote Indigenous women’s health should be how to support them in such endeavours and provide the tools to overcome structural barriers. Prescriptive top-down approaches that fail to account for such barriers are discernibly limited.
I would like to thank Shelley for featuring me in her newsletter, and for being a friend and mentor at every stage of this project. Thanks also to Sonja Wicklum, Rita Henderson, and both Dolores Pahtayken and Elder Verna Buffalo Calf, who served advisory roles. Above all, thank you so much to the women who generously participated in this study.
A few of many works to consider if interested in learning more about Indigenous feminism: Anderson, Kim. A Recognition of Being: Reconstructing Native Womanhood. Toronto: Women’s Press, 2016. Green, Joyce. “Taking Account of Aboriginal Feminism.” In Making Space for Indigenous Feminism, 20–32. London: Zed, 2007. Suzack, Cheryl. “Indigenous Feminisms in Canada.” NORA: Nordic Journal For Women’s Studies23, no. 4 (December 2015): 261–74. https://doi.org/10.1080/08038740.2015.1104595 Suzack, Cheryl, Shari M. Huhndorf, Jeanne Perreault, and Jean Barman, eds. Indigenous Women and Feminism: Politics, Activism, Culture. Vancouver: UBC Press, 2010. Guerrero, Jaimes. “‘Patriarchal Colonialism’ and Indigenism: Implications for Native Feminist Spirituality and Native Womanism.” Hypatia18, no. 2, 2003. Fiske, Jo-Anne. “Child of the State, Mother of the Nation: Aboriginal Women and the Ideology of Motherhood.” Culture12, no. 1 (1993): 17–35. Fiske, Jo-Anne.“By, For, or About? Shifting Directions in the Representations of Aboriginal Women.” Atlantis25, no. 1 (2000): 11–27.
Bourassa, Carrie, Kim McKay-McNabb, and Mary Hampton. “Racism, Sexism, and Colonialism: The Impact on the Health of Aboriginal Women in Canada.” Canadian Woman Studies24, no. 1 (2004): 23–30. Kubik, Wendee, Carrie Bourassa, and Mary Hampton. “Stolen Sisters, Second Class Citizens, Poor Health: The Legacy of Colonization in Canada.” Humanity & Society33, no. 1–2 (February 1, 2009): 18–34. https://doi.org/10.1177/016059760903300103.
Jamieson, Kathleen. “Sex Discrimination and the Indian Act.” In Arduous Journey: Canadian Indians and Decolonization, edited by J. Ponting. Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1986
Jaeden’s Facilitator Profile
Jaeden is a member of Onion Lake Cree Nation. She has one son, 16 month old Jaelin. She is also employed as a Child & Youth Care Worker.
Why you applied to be a Woman Warrior Facilitator: I applied for the position because it really stood out to me. I love the idea of bringing woman together in my community. Especially that it’s about living a healthier lifestyle, we can all depend on each other to help one another. However, I’d like to become more skilled in being a leader to others. I feel as if the knowledge will also help me in living a better and healthier lifestyle. I’ve always wanted to be someone who helps others, in any way possible! One of my other main reasons I applied is because it would be a wonderful experience for myself. And perhaps help me figure out what I’d like to pursue in my carrier.
Types of physical activity you enjoy (ie) Member of a sports team: I enjoy any kind of physical activity. I am open to trying new things all the time. I’m currently playing in a woman’s volleyball league. Volleyball is my favourite sport, although I love every other sport.
Twelve Weeks to Healthy Living September 25th – December 11th.
On September 13th I welcomed our new OLCN facilitator, Jaeden Carter, our program and research coordinator, Alicia Oliver, and our backup facilitator and community health representative, Lori Lewis into my home for a full day of facilitator training.
Onion Lake Cree Nation applied for and obtained the funding that our program has received for the past two years (2016-2017) from the Alberta Government Recreation and Physical Activity Grant Program. It is our first on reserve program with the first session starting September 25th and ending December 11th. This program is full with a total of 35 registered participants. The next session begins in January so please call Alicia at the Onion Lake Health Centre to register 306.344.2330.
For the past year, the participants have requested the program be moved to Onion Lake to reduce the barriers of transportation, driving costs, time on the road, especially in the winter and childcare issues. Every Tuesday evening at 7 – 8:30 pm the participants will gather at Kihew Waciston Gym for a variety of exercise classes, nutrition education, and a talking circle to discuss health and wellness.
Please see below for the tentative October schedule. The first class on September 25th will include community Elder, Rose Watchmaker sharing traditional teachings on balance and wellness. Our first fitness instructor is an OLCN member and a graduate of the Indigenous Fitness Leadership Certificate, Tara Waskewitch.
I am currently enrolled in university and I will not be participating in the program. My first priority is completing my degree, but I will be offering support to the facilitator through weekly phone calls.
I am also reducing our newsletters to a monthly edition due to my time constraints. If you are interested in weekly updates please follow our Facebook group.
Winter Warmth Donations for the Kids
Two weeks ago I met with a few ladies from Onion Lake to discuss hosting a winter gear fundraiser. Vera, a former WW participant, mother of five children, ages 14, 13, 11, 9 and 1 and a full-time employee at Native Justice tells me there are approximately 1600 kids on reserve. She shares there is an urgent need for winter clothes for kids and demonstrates the vulnerability of these kids through a personal story.
She knows an Elder acting as a guardian for her grandchild and is not getting supplemented for childcare costs. The Elder is surviving on a fixed pension and cannot afford the extra expenses that taking care of a child requires such as new winter clothes.
Another WW participant and school counselor at Eagleview Comprehensive High School, Brenda tells me about the high school kids that fall through the cracks. They are forced to couch surf because their home environment is not safe and their basic needs are not being met, such as winter jackets or boots. The teachers and counselors often buy mitts and toques from their own personal wage and supply them to kids in need. They do what they can to help, but the need is greater than what they can fill.
As I stare out my window today in disbelief of the early snowfall, I think of my kids on the playground without winter gear. This morning at 8:30 am I did not expect them to need winter toques, mitts, jackets, ski pants and boots in September. I imagine all the caregivers of children today that are scrambling to find suitable winter clothing. I also know many kids will be forced to go without, trying to bundle up with multi-layers of sweaters and extra pairs of socks in sneakers.
Vera and I are collecting next to new, new and cash donations for children’s winter clothing. We would like to provide a wide variety of winter gear from baby snowsuits to adult jackets for the high school students. We are NOT a non-profit and cannot provide charitable tax receipts. We can be fully transparent about how we spend the cash donations. In the next newsletter, I will post pictures of what we purchase with any cash donations. I hope by next year we can partner with a non-profit and provide a charitable tax receipt.
We will dispense the needed winter gear through school staff. Any remaining winter gear will be shared at the Women Warriors group on Tuesday evenings.
If you are willing to make a donation please contact me for pick-up in Lloydminster. Shelley@womenwarriors.club.
Vera emailed all the departments in Onion Lake to set out donation bins at their offices.
Please etransfer Vera at email@example.com. She will provide you with a receipt and we will keep a spreadsheet of donations for accountability. Every dollar will go towards purchasing winter gear for kids.
We would like to send a HUGE thank you to Brixton Shoes for their generous donation of winter boots (pictured below).
The lazy days of summer are coming to end. I’ve had a wonderful summer full of adventures with my three daughters – we spent a month in Yellowknife – and we have returned to our home in Lloydminster, Alberta. Our school start date was September 4th and this year I’ve prepared for a child in kindergarten, Grade 2, and Grade 4.
Over the years I’ve developed a four-stage plan of attack scheduled over the last two weeks of August. It can be overwhelming for my wallet and my nerves to do everything the week beforehand. I am sharing my back-to-school strategy and the associated costs so that I can create awareness of the emotional and financial investment that back-to-school requires on behalf of parents.
Above all, I recognize that I am in a privileged position with the benefit of support systems. I can afford to purchase new school supplies, clothes, and extracurricular activities for my daughters. I’m disclosing my costs with the aim of evoking change within our social and education systems by addressing the first barrier for parents when it comes to education, back-to-school expenses.
Stage 1: Register children for September programs.
The registration fee for my three daughters in Girl Guides, Brownies, and Sparks was $364. The registration fee for fall/winter weekly half-hour piano instruction was $560. My oldest two daughters musical theater program was $950. Fall swimming lessons for the youngest two was $84. A grand total of September programs with payment required upfront $1, 958.
Stage 2: Purchase clothes and shoes.
I released my three excited fashionistas’ on the Children’s Place clothing store. I allowed them to each pick two pairs of pants and two shirts each for a total of $154. Their shoes purchased at Sketchers were a total of $180. A grand total of clothes and shoes $334.
Stage 3: Purchase school supplies and pay school fees.
Most schools now send out the option of purchasing school supplies through them with an online payment method. My friend with four children has done this option multiple times and has been disappointed with the quality of the school supplies. I decided to do the old-fashioned let them pick their own supplies. After an hour of shopping, and questioning my sanity we spent a total of $250. In addition, I owe $115 for school fees including project/activities and agendas. A grand total of school supplies and fees $365.
Stage 4: Haircuts and colors.
Fortunately, I am a licensed hairstylist so I cut and color my daughters’ hair at cost. The trend for kids right now is rainbow hair that usually requires two different sets of foils: one to lighten the hair, and one to apply the vibrant colors such as purple, pink, and blue. Haircuts for children usually range from $15-$30. Multiple sets of foils with three colors range from $60-$150. If I were to bring my three girls to a salon for a haircut and rainbow color I would be charged approximately $300.
Drumroll for the total cost of back-to-school for my three daughters…….$2, 957.
I have not charged for my emotional labor including organizing their schedules or going to the store to watch them model cat t-shirts. Furthermore, I have more spare time than most parents to enact this back-to-school strategy because I do not work a full-time job (other than the tremendous effort it requires to parent my children).
Like the majority of parents, my wallet and stress levels have an inverse relationship. The financial stress of education begins in August before the school year has begun.
There are members of our Women Warriors group fundraising to purchase supplies and clothes for their children. I have compassion for their struggle – single income households with three to five children – that do not have the extra cash for these expenses.
The logistics of payments could be worked out to be a monthly payment or my suggestion of a lump sum payment in August that allows parents to set their children up for a successful school year.
The intergenerational cycle of poverty is broken, Lumborg states, “because the programs increase the intensity of child investment in school as well as child time in school.”
“In addition to positive schooling outcomes, these transfers have lowered the poverty rate, improved the nutritional status of poor households, and have increased the proportion of children receiving vaccinations and other health services.”
For the naysayers yelling, “Socialist idealist!” at me, I yell back, “Pay now or pay later!”
Pay now for children to get their education or pay later when they become a burden on the social systems because they are uneducated. An uneducated adult will cost the social system a great deal more than my $3000 back to school investment.
This past summer I went back to Yellowknife to heal from a broken heart. A family members addiction had me deeply troubled, and I needed a break. A break from giving to others because my cup was empty. Between my family member’s addiction, finishing my university studies, parenting three young children, writing my newsletter and Yellowknifer news column and making arrangements for the expansion to Onion Lake, I was done. If you would have stuck a fork in me I would have deflated like the turkey in National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.
I decided to take the summer off to spend with my girls and my family. It was the best form of medicine. I did not schedule a single thing for myself to do, except following the advice of Maria OneSpot’s WW profile, “To wake up with the sun because it is who we are as a spiritual people to rise with the sun.”
And I wrote. Every morning I sat on the balcony of our condo, overlooking the Great Slave Lake, and I filled three 250 page Hilroy notebooks with all my grief, sadness, hopes, dreams, and future plans. Somewhere between the last week of June and the first week of August I recovered.
I believe that the Great Slave Lake assisted in my healing. Even though I was not physically on the water, the view calmed me and gave me strength.
I share my experience with the healing properties of water because I want to honor all the Indigenous women that sacrifice for our waters. Indigenous women are water protectors. For those Indigenous women that have taken on the role to educate on the spiritual properties of water and to teach people to respect and honor water, I thank you.
This past week, a friend and former member of Women Warriors told me that community members from Onion Lake Cree Nation were doing a water ceremony at the bridge. I told her next time I would like to join. She replied, “The more people we get to pray for the water the stronger our prayers will be. The land and water are for everyone – we have to keep the waters clean.”
In the meantime, please check out the amazing work of Autumn Peltier, an Anishinaabe teen and water protector nominated for the International Children’s Peace Prize.
The following is my Yellowknifer article published August 8th, 2018. It provides both non-Indigenous and Indigenous understanding on the healing properties of water. If you want a more in-depth understanding of Indigenous women’s roles as water protectors please read this article, Water Song: Indigenous Women and Water.
For the past month in Yellowknife, I rose early in the morning, sat on the balcony of my condo in Northern Heights and inhaled the fresh air and spectacular view of the Great Slave Lake. I felt at peace watching the pink glow of sunrise, and the calm waters.
This past week I read a Global news article, “Science confirms that living near a large body of water makes us calmer and healthier.” Curious as to how bodies of water increase our well being, I set off an extensive Google search.
The term, blue space is used to describes places that have visible water such as lakes, rivers, and coastal waters. Yellowknife is surrounded by blue space including the Great Slave Lake, Yellowknife River, and the many small-scattered lakes visible from the air.
The research pertaining to blue space, explained by marine biologist, Wallace J. Nichols in his bestselling book, Blue Mind: The surprising science that shows how being near, in, on, or under water can make you happier, healthier, more connected, and better at what you do, states that water promotes mental health and happiness.
He continues: “Water can provide a long list of benefits for our mind and body, including lowering stress and anxiety, increasing an overall sense of well-being and happiness, a lower heart and breathing rate, and safe, better workouts. Aquatic therapists are increasingly looking to the water to help treat and manage PTSD, addiction, anxiety disorders, autism and more.”
I’ve also learned being near water boosts creativity, can enhance the quality of conversations and provides a backdrop to important parts of living — like play, romance and grieving.
“All of this depends on these waters being safe, clean and healthy, of course,” states Nichols.
First Nations have known the spiritual and health benefits of water for millennia. The Assembly of First Nations website honors the traditional teachings of water and declares it as the giver of all life. (Disclaimer: I do not have the authority to share cultural teachings of water. Please consult your local Elder to learn about the traditional teachings in your area).
“Water is the most life-sustaining gift on Mother Earth and is the interconnection among all living beings,’ it reads.
“Water sustains us, flows between us, within us, and replenishes us. Water is the blood of Mother Earth and, as such, cleanses not only herself but all living things. Water comes in many forms and all are needed for the health of Mother Earth and for our health. Water gives us the spiritual teaching that we too flow into the Great Ocean at the end of our life journey. Water is the home of many living things that contribute to the health and well-being of everything not in the water.”
As part of Old Town’s Ramble and Ride on August 3rd-5th, I booked a floatplane scenic tour with Air Tindi. The special deal, $80 per adult and $60 per child, was the perfect ending to our vacation. It was awe-inspiring to view Yellowknife and surrounding area from an aerial perspective. The most surprising aspect was the vastness of the Great Slave Lake – it stretched as far as the eye could see.
An interesting fact on the Spectacular NWT website is that the lake is roughly the same size as the country of Belgium. Also, that it is North America’s deepest lake and could easily drown the CN Tower.
Viewing it from the air made me realize how integral the Great Slave Lake was to daily life, including the activities of boating, fishing, paddle boarding, and float planes and how everyone is reaping the benefits of living near it. The Great Slave Lake allows for a unique feature of Yellowknife – people living on houseboats on Yellowknife Bay. The five communities that live on its shores – Yellowknife, Hay River, Fort Resolution, Lutselk’e, and Behchoko – are all blessed to be near its healing powers.
This past semester I undertook my own research project as part of my research methodologies course through the University of Athabasca. My exploratory study gathered preliminary information on smoking and cannabis behaviors, attitudes about upcoming legalization, opinions on community-driven tobacco interventions, and characteristics of the population, composed of participants from Women Warriors.
As part of my research, I interviewed my friend, Gift Madojemu, MPH, Health Promotions Specialist, Tobacco Project Coordinator, Battle River Treaty 6 Health Centre. After our phone interview in April, she invited me to attend a tobacco and cannabis workshop the health center was hosting on June 18th.
The workshop was hosted by two medical experts on addictions: clinical scientist, Dr. Peter Selby, Addictions Division & Director, Medical Education, Centre for Addictions and Mental Health (CAMH) & Rosa Dragonetti, Teach Manager & Manager for Nicotine Dependency Service with the center.
He shared the difference between traditional tobacco and commercial tobacco, “traditional tobacco is highly acidic and cannot go into the lungs when inhaled, whilst nicotine must be alkaline to get into the body, which is done by adding ammonia to commercial tobacco.”
The most important information I took away on commercial tobacco abuse is the effects of exposure to tobacco in pregnancy.
Dr. Selby stated, “Seven thousand chemicals get concentrated on the fetus and result in babies being born smaller due to lack of oxygen and nutrient supply. In terms of mental effects, there are earlier behavior problems in children. For male children, there is a direct correlation between cigarette smoke exposure and antisocial behavior. For the female fetus, they are born with fewer eggs, which may lead to fertility issues later in life, and they reach menopause earlier, by at least one year, which also affects their heart health.”
Dr. Selby stated, “Each day 100 people die from smoking-related illnesses. First Nations experience twice the rates due to their socioeconomic and educational disadvantage.” He highlights that for Indigenous peoples in the North these statistics did not exist pre-colonization because “tobacco is a completely imported illness and disease.”
Also, he stated we must assess how to conduct tobacco interventions and cessation with Indigenous peoples. “Taking away a substance that people use for self-soothing – will they replace it with something more harmful?”
The majority of attendees at this conference, approximately 90 of us, were there to learn about cannabis and its impact in our communities. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau recently announced implementation for the cannabis legalization law is October 17.
Two Indigenous attendees at this event shared their personal experience with unhealthy marijuana use during their 20’s, which robbed them of their ambition and culminated in lost years of their life. They did, however, seek help returned to school and became leaders in their community. They both shared their worry over the vulnerability of young people in their community
Dr. Selby stated, “The capture rate of cannabis addiction is very low, about 8-10% of the population develops an addiction to cannabis. Adolescents are at the highest risk of addiction – their brains are vulnerable, which is why it’s important to push use as far out as possible. It is the daily exposure that is the most important factor for addiction. We can prevent kids from getting addicted for life by developing innovations to reduce harm.”
My main insight from attending this workshop is the importance of community connection and open communication with youth to prevent addiction. The harm reduction strategy we need to adopt for our youth includes delaying use, particularly before age 16, and learning how to talk to them without judgment. A valuable resource you can access for cannabis education and youth is the Cannabis Talk Kit: Know How to Talk With Your Teen.
I am from Tsuut’ina Nation and I self-identify as Sarcee. I grew up on reserve and moved to Calgary Sept 2017 to continue my studies at the Alberta College of Art + Design (ACAD) Bachelor of Arts, 2nd year.
Maria is a student and story transcriber for the Tsuut’ina Language Commission. She is a loving Aunty to 6 nieces and nephews. She joined Women Warriors to participate in a program aimed at indigenous women only, and learn more about personal fitness and nutrition in a group setting.
Types of physical activity you enjoyed at Woman Warriors: I loved to concentrate on my form in the boot-camp, on the choreography in the Zumba course, and my stance in the kickboxing.
Amount of time you exercise daily or weekly: If I do not do 30 mins of activity a day which I try to do, then I skip a day and do 30 mins every couple of days.
Are you a member of a gym, in a sports team, or do fitness at home?I wish there was a gym that was directly for the Woman Warrior program…. I would go to it! I missed out on sports in my life, but always wanted to be a part of a team. So far, I only do fitness at home.
How do you schedule fitness into your day (i.e. get up early to workout): I have to get doing it. I make sure I have water near me to hydrate, and I start with a warm up on my treadmill. I up my speed by the last 15 minutes of 30 minutes, and then after that I do floor work on my yoga mat. I watch a show on Netflix on my laptop, and I try to do my work out before an hour long episode ends. Sometimes, I watch two 30 minute episodes if it’s a short series.
Name one daily practise you do to show self-love (i.e. meditate, journal):I have been journaling since I was young, keeping track of my feelings and going back to them when I need to remember a feeling. Over time I get to see how much I have changed or grew! I also take time to shower and applying cream on after. I pay extra care with cream on my feet, it is the best way I honour my body. I heard once, that the feet are the ones that ‘carry’ us all day, and to massage them gives your whole body a root source of good feelings (especially after a hard day’s work!)
Your favorite treat or meal: I love having a smoothie as a treat, with frozen fruits and greens like avocados, kale, spinach, celery, cucumber. For a meal, it is spaghetti with a splash of hot sauce.
Your philosophy on healthy living: My dad told me some good advice he learned from his dad, and his dad’s dad. He said, “Wake up with the Sun. It is who we are as a spiritual people to rise with the Sun.” To get a proper sleep is my philosophy along with this, it gives me an internal clock on the inside which feels natural.
Words of inspiration for women trying to get healthy or more active:Whatever your age, or body shape you are, seek to ‘find the joy’ in your own body. This will lead you to a happiness in your own skin that will shine from the inside out. When you feel good about yourself, it shows on the outside.
On the 10th anniversary of the Government of Canada’s apology for the Residential School system and its legacy, I would like to share with you how I honor survivors and how I teach my daughters ages 8, 7, and 5 about reconciliation.
Last summer we visited the Glenbow Museum in Calgary to view Indigenous artist Kent Monkman’s exhibition Shame and Prejudice: A Story of Resilience. It features paintings dedicated to the colonial history of Canada, including a graphic depiction of Indigenous children being forcibly removed by RCMP, priests and nuns to be taken to residential school. It is titled, The Scream and you can view it on kentmonkman.com.
When we arrive at the painting I watch my girls closely to see how they react to the violence. The RCMP officers, priests, and nuns are ripping children from their parent’s arms, and I can feel the agony of the parents and siblings being torn apart. I hear the crow overhead cawing amongst the screams, and crying – confusion and panic fill the painting. I see the older kids running for their lives into the bush.
There is a lone RCMP officer standing calm, feeling justified with his shotgun. Is he going to shoot the parents that refuse to give up their children? Is he going to shoot the children that run? Why does he need a gun against defenseless women and children?
My eight year old stands close, head tilted and arms crossed looking at the mother being held back by two RCMP officers, her hair is being ripped from her head, while a priest carries off her child still in diapers.
“They were taken from their mommies and daddies and not allowed to see them?” asked my then six-year-old.
“Yes, and they were not allowed to speak their language and their long hair was cut off. The adults in charge verbally and physically abused some of the children. Sometimes they were separated from their brothers or sisters, and they had to be brave all alone. Sometimes they did not have enough food to eat. Some of them tried to run away back to their families. It was lonely and sad for them.”
I did not include the fact many of those children never returned home from residential school, and they were buried in unmarked graves, with no explanation or details given to their parents.
They were also too young for me to explain the sexual abuse and the horrific corporal punishment including the use of electric chairs, as described by St. Anne residential school survivors.
Or the fact that my own grandmother, their great-grandmother, was a residential school survivor and had contracted tuberculosis there, as was the fate of many children in these schools.
I did not tell them that the government knew these children were suffering and dying from preventable diseases:
“The high death rate of the children was a concern of the Chief Medical Officer for the Departments of the Interior and Indian Affairs, Peter Bryce. Bryce released hisReport on the Indian Schools of Manitoba and the North West Territories in 1907. The report provided grim facts regarding the devastating effects of tuberculosis on the children, 24 percent of the children, within the first 15 years, had died.”
When they asked who took the children I told them the facts: the Government of Canada, the RCMP, and several different churches including the Roman Catholic Church.
I tell my girls that it is our responsibility to remember the history of residential schools and that the Government of Canada admitted they were wrong to forcibly remove Indigenous children from their parents and strip them of their culture. Also, that Indigenous people still suffer from the mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual abuse incurred in residential schools.
I tell them that reconciliation is about truth, and making amends for Canada’s painful past. Also, that residential school survivor’s voices must be central to this work.
At the Truth and Reconciliation Commissions, closing ceremony Chief Wilton Littlechild stated, “I know that reconciliation will not occur in one lifetime. It will require future generations to know our story and take on the duty of reconciliation. We need to educate our youth, and create the tools and put them in place so that our children and our children’s children can use them…there are no easy answers, no magic wand to speed up the reconciliation process.”
The most important contribution I can make to reconciliation is to educate my daughters on Canada’s colonial history, it’s forced assimilation of Indigenous peoples and the responsibility of the Canadian government to make amends. It is my hope that this next generation of Canadians will be more compassionate citizens with the skills to build respectful relationships.
The future that I envision for my daughters is free from racial intolerance. It includes a government that respects the human rights of every single Canadian. It is a Canada where hypocrisy does not go unnoticed, but we forgive daily those that trespass against us. Now that’s something I can high-five about!
Women Warriors Yellowknifer News Column. Printed May 16th, 2018
As cannabis legalization looms the questions surrounding safe usage, distribution and the stigma of drug usage is a swirling debate of misinformation and fear. As a leader of a health promotions program, I wanted concrete information and guidelines to share with my Women Warrior participants.
I used my connections through Women Warriors to the University of Calgary and interviewed Dr. Rebecca Saah, assistant professor in the Department of Community Health. Her research is focused on youth cannabis use and the public health policy implications of cannabis legalization in Canada.
Substance Use & Criminalization
Dr. Saah said all demographics of Canadians smoke pot and an important reason for legalizing cannabis is, “the harms of criminalizing the drug have outweighed the benefit. It is an ineffective use of law enforcement and the courts, and the fact is this stigma is not benign.” She’s referring to the fact that being charged with the possession of marijuana carries the same or similar consequences as more problematic substances such as meth, cocaine, heroin, and fentanyl. “The harms to people from cannabis use are considerably lesser than substances such as cocaine or tobacco. All drugs should not be treated the same.”
Dr. Saah discussed how having a criminal record carries life-long consequences including the inability to cross the border to the US or not being able to work with children or vulnerable populations. For example, not being able to coach your child’s sports team.
In addition, People of Colour and Indigenous peoples have been over policed and stigmatized regarding pot use and/or possession by law enforcement and the courts. The Vice.com article, “Black and Indigenous people are overrepresented in Canada’s weed arrests” states, “Indigenous people in Regina were nearly nine times more likely to get arrested for cannabis possession than white people during that time period. Meanwhile, black people in Halifax were more than five times more likely to get arrested for possessing weed than white people.”
While Ottawa debates granting amnesty for past convictions, the damage of a criminal record and the social stigma of being a convicted drug user or dealer has disproportionately affected minority groups. The incoming cannabis legalization means an important discussion on how to change the dialogue surrounding the stigma of substance abuse and why the war on drugs has been racialized.
Dr. Saah directed me to an expert in the field of race, crime and criminal justice, Dr. Owusu-Bempah, assistant professor at the U of T. In a recent article authored by him, Cannabis Legalization and Equity in Canada, he states, “minor cannabis offences can also serve as a “gateway” into the criminal justice system for people who become “known to police,” which increases their chances of further criminalization and social marginalization.”
Education: Harm Reduction
Saah’s main goal during this time of cannabis legalization is harm reduction meaning learning about cannabis and its effects, safer ways of using it, and educating people on what is permitted and not permitted in the legal framework. People using cannabis now and buying it from an illicit source, get little to no information about what they are consuming. This is of particular concern in regards to the THC content of cannabis (the psychoactive ingredient that produces the ‘high’).
In terms of retail outlets, specifically that sell alcohol and cannabis at the same location – which will be the case in Yellowknife – Saah said it’s a controversial issue in public health.
“People think separate is better but we don’t have a lot of good research on the effects when alcohol and cannabis are sold together. It is assumed that it will encourage co-use of the substance, and in Ontario, they have gone for separate state outlets. There are dissenting opinions in the public health research community – some people don’t think it’s a problem, but some do.”
Consumption methods of cannabis include smoking, vaporizing, infused edibles and sublingual products, which is the application of the product under your tongue. The Canadian Cannabis survey, released December 2017 states, “smoking cannabis was the most common method of consumption with 94% reporting this form of use, another 34% using edibles, 20% vaporizing using a vape pen, and 14% vaporizing using a vaporizer.” From a harm reduction perspective, vaporizing is a safer mode of use than smoking because there is less risk of lung irritation and respiratory problems.
“Edibles can’t be bought from a store. The federal government has been cautious about not including them in the current framework because initially when legalization rolled out in Colorado this created problems for with inexperienced users and accidental pediatric ingestions because they allowed for candy. We will probably never allow for candy. We’re going to start without edibles and see how it goes. The Federal legislation leaves this open so they can grandfather it in later without passing a new bill,” she said.
As far as trends in consumption, “We are moving from smoking to vaping, and other ways of consuming like sublingual oils that people use medically because many people don’t like the smell and want to use discreetly. What we found in Colorado is that edibles take over 50% of the market share and I think especially with older people that are interested in using for chronic conditions like pain and insomnia, they will not be smoking in their homes. Consumers will be looking for an oil or a capsule they can consume.”
Public health concerns center on the accidental ingestion of cannabis products by pets or kids. “It’s a place of education, and it’s the same practice we use for alcohol. We keep it out of the hands of children, and take precautions in the household.”
Youth & Cannabis
The Canadian Cannabis survey states that young people are the predominant users of cannabis. The reported usage over the past twelve months for respondents “aged 16-19 years and aged 20-24 was 41% and 45% respectively” and “the average age of initiating cannabis use was 18.7 years.”
“I wish we were as concerned about the impact of poverty, violence and early childhood trauma on the teenage brain as we are about cannabis and youth usage,” said Saah. There is a need for public education surrounding the implications of cannabis use by young adults.
“The research is there – while there are some real risks, we can’t say they are causal, and we can’t attribute all of the harms to cannabis alone. We know there is a relationship between heavy and early use of cannabis in bringing on schizophrenia in people that are vulnerable, but we can’t say it’s only cannabis. The safest thing to say is that early-onset use and frequent use are risks for brain and mental health and for longer-term problematic use of substances. It’s the same for alcohol and tobacco – if you’re starting using these things in early adolescents like 13 or 14 years old, it’s a risk for development.”
Saah said a better question to ask surrounding early youth usage is, “what’s going on in these kids’ context that they’re starting these substances at 13. There are probably other risk factors that are wrapping around them. I would like to see more ways to strengthen teen resiliency in family and community rather than a focus on cannabis per se. I think making cannabis legal will open up the conversation for youth, not overnight but over time and erode the traction that the illicit market has.”
Saah said the best way to educate youth on cannabis legalization and health implications is, “face-to-face interaction and open discussion. I think it’s not so much about getting the health facts accurate as it is about having an open mind and talking to young people about what they see as the benefits and risks. This is what we do with sexual education and to protect against unwanted pregnancy or talking about consent. Think about our model for sexual education and could we do the same thing around cannabis?”
Cannabis & Indigenous Women’s Health
An important part of cannabis legalization is consultation with Indigenous communities about potential business opportunities as growers and distributors of cannabis. Eagle Feather News reported that “The Saskatchewan government announced in early January that 60 Saskatchewan communities will be issued permits to sell cannabis after it becomes federally legalized in July 2018. Three of those 60 communities are Onion Lake Cree Nation, Lac La Ronge Indian Band, and Peter Ballantyne Cree Nation – the only three First Nation communities chosen by the province.”
There are many benefits for First Nations interested in joining the cannabis marketplace. As Chief Pasap states in this article, Cannabis is coming and some Indigenous communities want in, “The economic development side [will] create jobs. There are profits that could go to addiction awareness, sports programs, financing other businesses, and poverty reduction,” he said. “The benefits of cannabis are becoming a local distributor for medical users, getting rid of drug dealers and dealing with cannabis that is laced with other drugs and quality control.”
On March 19th and 20th, Cheryl Maurice, CEO of Digital Buffalo held a conference about Indigenous inclusion in the hemp and cannabis industries. She said it was well attended by First Nations leaders looking to partner with business leaders in the cannabis industry. Cheryl said, “our mandate is to partner with local First Nations and promote entrepreneurship.” If you are interested in learning more about cannabis business opportunities please contact Cheryl at the email above.
My experience as the facilitator of an Indigenous women’s health promotions program is that cannabis will be an important tool for improving Indigenous women’s health outcomes. One of the most requested resources in the program was mental health support. Now that the threat of incarceration has been removed, I posit that Indigenous women will be more open to accessing marijuana for their health needs including anxiety, PTSD, depression, and chronic pain/illness.
In addition, the revenue from cannabis sales on-reserve could improve Indigenous women’s social determinates of health such as high levels of unemployment and poor housing making it difficult for Indigenous peoples to stay in their home communities. In order to improve their life situation, they are forced from their reserves to an urban setting, cast away from their social safety net. This dislocation interrupts their sense of identity and feelings of belonging to a community and causes an increase in social anxiety.
The aspect of legalization I’m concerned with is educating participants on the legal framework to keep them safe from incareration and criminal charges. This Regina Leader-Post article has some informative do’s and don’ts of legal cannabis. Also, many of our participants have asked about youth usage and long-term effects of cannabis. These questions are guiding me as I create my tobacco/cannabis survey and decide what to put in the appendix.
A poem to celebrate all the amazing and inspiring Mother’s in our communities.
I see you.
The tired eyes.The leaky breasts.
Yawns escape as we talk. Three hours of sleep.
A cocktail of hormones and emotions.
How is it possible to be drunk on love with borderline depression?
No one told you it would be this hard.
Growing a human and shedding your skin.
I see you.
The tired eyes.
Groundhog Day Year Three:
Changing diapers, saying no, snacks, naps, and play dough.
There is no glamour in eating leftover food off the kitchen table
And potty training.
You question your sanity and if the Mom brain is permanent.
No one told you about the mind-numbing repetition.
Nurturing a human and longing for the past.
I see you.
The tired eyes.
Trouble at school, attitude and frustration.
You must be doing something wrong because you’re at a loss.
Your child is wandering away from you.
It’s like a guiding a mountain climber with a match.
You can’t see all the danger and you feel responsible for their demise.
Guiding a human and letting go at the same time.
I see you.
Looking in the mirror at a body that doesn’t feel like your own.
Droopy breasts, stretch marks, Mom stomach.
A body that grew, nurtured, and guided a child to life.
I see you.
The beauty of a Mother’s soul.
You gave and received a gift greater than yourself.
If only you could love yourself the same way your child does
A Story of Unrequited Love
(This story was featured on May 2nd in the Women Warriors Yellowknifer news column).
Last week I received a last minute invite from my dad, the President of the North Slave Metis Alliance (NSMA), Bill Enge to attend a two-day Indigenous law conference in Vancouver starting April 25th. It was a welcome reprieve from the eternal winter in Alberta; I live in Canada’s only border city, Lloydminster, where the news reported in mid-April a record-breaking number of cold days this winter – 167 consecutive days of minimum temperatures at or below zero degrees.I did not have to be coerced into fresh coastal air, green grass, sunshine and the entertaining conversations with my dad and Uncle, Arnold Enge. I arranged childcare, postponed my university studies, and hopped on a plane for the city of amazing wine, food, culture, and beauty.
The highlight of the law conference, and the reason that the NSMA board, including Marc Whitford, and Bob Mercredi were all in attendance, was prominent Vancouver based Metis lawyer, and great-grandniece of famed Métis leader Louis Riel, Jean Teillet was presenting on Metis law cases from across Canada. She included in her presentation the NSMA Bathurst caribou lawsuit win against the N.W.T and the latest win in October 2017 of the federal and territorial government’s failure to properly consult NSMA on land claim negotiations.
Bill was in his glory as he quizzed Jean on legal definitions and Metis rights after her presentation. You could tell she was hesitant to answer some of his more controversial law questions – the moderator intervened on her behalf before anything too dicey rolled across the stage and the lawyers, including Crown prosecutors and government officials ducked for cover.
After the presentation Jean strolled up to Bill and chided him for speaking above everyone’s head, as few people have the amount of Metis legal experience and knowledge that both of them do. Personally, I think she didn’t want to answer his questions in a room full of lawyers and was using avoidance tactics to divert controversy – that’s why she’s paid the big money!
The best part of their exchange was Bill posing with Jean for a picture, his arm wrapped around her shoulders, as he professed his admiration for her law skills. I laughed as I snapped a photo of her begrudgingly standing beside a giant Metis guy wearing shorts at a law conference. I admit that Bill doesn’t always have the most professional garb in the room, but when it comes to Metis rights, activism, and the law, you’ll be hard-pressed to find anyone more passionate.
I suspect Bill will never find another Metis woman after his own heart and as well versed on Indigenous law, and Metis rights as Jean; however, it is unrequited love. It still doesn’t deter him from getting a picture with her any chance he gets, and gushing about her afterwards.
I posted their photo on Twitter and tagged her in it. The next day she liked the tweet and I texted Bill to tell him the exciting news. He replied, “I love that photo with her…I think I’ll frame it…she’s my hero.”
My lesson after this law conference and Bill’s enthusiasm, regardless of Jean’s ambivalence, is that passion will get you far in life, and while Jean was a little annoyed by Bill’s questions, and his persistence, I think she has hard earned respect for his legal knowledge and passion for Metis rights. I know I do, and it’s always fun to watch him in action.
As Bill’s birthday present I think I’ll make a Jean Teillet collage of all their photos together and frame it. I’ll send Jean one to her University of British Colombia campus office with a personal invite to visit us in Yellowknife. After all, the NSMA made legal history with our recent lawsuit win, and she acknowledged the importance of it at this law conference – we must be doing something right!
I’m also working on an appendix for our manual that includes tobacco/cannabis education for our Women Warriors participants. I will be attending a workshop in North Battleford on June 17th hosted by Battle River Treaty 6 Health Centre. The guest speakers, are Centre for Addictions and Mental Health, CAMH, faculty members –Dr. Peter Selby and Ms. Rosa Dragonetti.
The Onion Lake Cree Nation Women Warriors program has been postponed until September.
Please contact me through email if you have any questions about the Women Warriors program. Shelley@womenwarriors.club.
I am currently busy finishing a research methodologies course through the University of Athabasca, but I will do my best to answer all inquiries or direct you to my collaborator, Dr. Wicklum.
PS. To all the researchers on my email list – I have just started to learn how to research and I CANNOT believe the amount of consideration that goes into every detail. Also, I am extremely biased. LOL! Happy researching everyone!
Losing weight is soul-crushing; it involves deprivation, shame, and guilt. Most weight loss programs, fads or diets require restricting calories, omitting food groups from your diet, and the sting of failure every time you step on that scale and it fails to reflect your monumental efforts of deprivation. This leads to a downward spiral of negative self-talk and damages your self-worth. When your scale becomes the measure of your self-worth, you will be defeated no matter what the number.
The secret to my weight loss and why I’ve managed to lose 65 lbs and maintain my weight loss over the course of thirteen years and three pregnancies is not an answer most people would expect. It wasn’t Jenny Craig, or Weight Watchers, or the Atkins Diet, or the cabbage soup diet, or the Ideal Protein diet, or weight loss pills like Hydroxycut. Of course, over the years I tried some of these programs, but like most “dieters” I’d lose the weight and it would come back.
My weight loss was soul work. It was healing from childhood trauma, learning self-love, and reframing my relationship with my body. No weight loss coach or points system can do this work. It involved going to therapy, digging up and processing all the painful memories of my mother fat shaming me, being bullied at school, and my hateful thought process about my body.
It was the realization that fad diets and pills were my forms of punishment for hating myself. It was also healing my relationship with food and learning how to use food, not as a coping mechanism, but as a healing force in my life.
In the Women Warriors program we use the Medicine Wheel teaching because, through my experience, I learned good health is about the interconnectedness of our mind, body, and spirit. It is the teaching that without balance in all of these areas, we can never be healthy. When I only focused on the physical aspect of my well being – my weight – I was never successful in keeping it off.
I love the traditional cultural teaching that women are sacred life-givers, and we need to honor our bodies; our bodies are a celebration of our strength and the inherent beauty of our roles as Mothers, sisters, daughters, and aunties.
These teachings are in juxtaposition to popular cultures view of deprivation, and whipping ourselves into the ideal body aesthetic – thigh gaps, six-packs, and as a recent Cosmo headline states “#Buttgoals Shape an Epic Ass in just 8 Minutes a Day.”
As a mother of three daughters ages 8, 6, and 5, I am aware of the importance of role modeling and teaching healthy habits. My collaborator on Women Warriors and obesity expert, Dr. Wicklum states you should never put children on a diet or restrict what they eat, such as limiting carbohydrates.
I eat the food I expect my girls to eat including fruits and vegetable at every meal, and I teach them that food is fuel for our body. Also, I bring them with me to the running track. I make it a fun experience and I talk about how we’re building muscle and gaining strength. Finally, I never use the word “fat” and I never make negative comments about my body or other women’s bodies.
A core message that we share with our participants is that the process of losing and gaining weight is very complex. We should never oversimplify this process or judge others based on their weight. Also, my weight loss is the exception and not the rule. There are many anecdotal stories of weight loss that are misleading and harmful. For example, extreme weight loss stories from the contestants of the Biggest Loser.
Today, I’m grateful for this journey because it fuels my passion – providing free fitness classes, and nutrition education, with an emphasis on holistic health with Women Warriors. This quote by George Leonard rings true for me every day: “The work we do on ourselves is the work we do on the world.”
This column appeared in the Yellowknife newspaper on April 2nd, 2018. You can subscribe and view stories from the North on their website: Northern News Services.
Updates on Onion Lake Cree Nation (OLCN) Program
Thanks to all our Women Warriors in the Lloydminster and OLCN area for your patience as we set-up the Women Warriors OLCN program. I posted this message on April 6th to all past participants on the facebook group to explain why it’s taking longer than usual to begin the program this year:
I wanted to let you know that we’re almost at the finish line of setting up the program. Due to the fact that we’ve moved from Lloyd to Onion Lake means some extra steps in the research process including ethics. Ethics is the process where researchers must adhere to a code of conduct and the First Nations must have control over the data that is generated from this program.
This process includes letters of support from Chief and Council, a safe storage place for the data controlled by OL and the on-reserve ethics committee must review the project. It’s a safeguard against outsiders coming into your community and mining the reserve for data, then leaving and never coming back to inform the community of what they found.
As most of you know, I was not a researcher when this program started (which is the reason I returned to university – so that I can be involved and informed) and I’ve been learning along the way. I like to tell all of you so you know what’s involved in projects like Women Warriors. I wish it was quicker, but we’ve made progress and hopefully, we’ll start in May!
Patient Advocacy & Navigating Health Care
Indigenous women have been described as facing a “double-burden” – for being discriminated against as a woman and further for being Indigenous. If we add weight bias, defined by the Canadian Obesity Network www.obesitynetwork.ca as “the negative stereotyping of individuals living with obesity,” some Indigenous women experience a triple burden. It is important to be aware of these concepts to understand the dynamics at work when Indigenous women access services, programs, or health care.Some people may feel scared to see their doctor and confront their health issues. Please keep in mind that Indigenous women may be deterred from seeing their doctor due to their anxiety about systemic racism within the healthcare system, or made to feel bad about their weight or health issues.
Often people in positions of authority, like a doctor, can make women second-guess themselves. They may leave their doctor’s appointment feeling insecure about their ability to effectively communicate and/or feel it is a waste of time to seek help from someone who is not culturally sensitive.
The best way to prepare them is to have a discussion about their previous experiences:
Do you get the help you are seeking when you visit your family physician?
Have you had a negative experience with the medical system?
Have you brought along a family member to support you at your doctor’s appointment?
What would make you feel prepared to have a good visit with your family doctor?
Remind them that a family doctor is on a set schedule of appointments and that they may feel rushed when they visit them. If this is the case, they should tell their doctor all of their concerns and then prioritize them and, as necessary, talk to their doctor about setting up multiple appointments to address all of their health concerns.
Over the past two years of creating and facilitating the Women Warriors 8 Weeks to Healthy Living Program, I have heard many stories from participants regarding racism within the health care system and their frustration receiving quality care as an obese patient. The primary purpose of our program is to provide free fitness classes and nutrition education with an Indigenous focus. Our secondary function is to help participants connect with health care professionals, and teach participants to become their own best advocates within the healthcare system.
The above information was from my podcast interview with Dr. Sonja Wicklum, co-founder of the Women Warriors program, family medical doctor, and clinical assistant professor in the department of family medicine of the University of Calgary.
In our podcast interview, she states, “I tell my own patients that our system is not set up for long visits as a rule. If you have multiple questions prioritize them and then if the answers take a significant amount of time for the first few, then book back for the next week and ask more questions. Your physician will have no problem doing that. I think you have to have an element of practicality about our health care system.”
Please view this article, based on the research by Dr. Lindsay Crowshoe, family doctor and associate professor at the University of Calgary’s department of family medicine & Dr. Rita Henderson, department of family medicine (both researchers on Women Warriors).