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Anger, Education & The Power of Motherhood: Indigenous Women Transforming Systems

On Thursday, February 7th Megan Sampson (who completed her MA on Exploring Indigenous Women’s Dietary Practices with the Women Warriors Program: Social Determinants and Resilience in Seeking Wellness) and I attended the Indigenous Knowledge Public Lecture Series: Dr. Carrie Bourassa presented by ii’ taa’poh’to’p, the University of Calgary’s Indigenous Strategy.

I’m taking a break from my rigorous and jam packed study schedule to share our latest Women Warriors news. I’m reducing the newsletter to a monthly edition due to time constraints – three university courses, planning a summer research project with ethics, and motherhood have occupied all my time.

I did, however, manage to take four days off February 7th-10thto visit Calgary and attend Dr. Carrie Bourassa’s lecture at the downtown University of Calgary campus. I interviewed Dr. Bourassa for the Women Warriors podcast approximately a year and a half ago, but it was my first time meeting her in person.

As I listened to her presentation on how Indigenous women have been historically devalued and targeted through colonial policies, such as the Indian Act, residential school, and forced sterilization, I felt a common theme emerge. It came to me through my conversations and experiences with Indigenous female leaders and the participants of Women Warriors.

Anger. Education. The Power of Indigenous Motherhood.

Dr. Bourassa, the first Indigenous woman to be appointed as Scientific Director of the Institute for Indigenous Peoples’ Health spoke of the anger she felt during her undergrad degree in political sciences learning about all the ways the government and colonial institutions have attempted the cultural genocide of Indigenous peoples.

The novel, Making Space for Indigenous Feminism by Green (2007) (1) shares many essays on how colonial legislation has targeted Indigenous women (First Nations, Metis and Inuit) making us the most marginalized and vulnerable population on Turtle Island. Ebert’s article, Being an Indigenous Women is a “High-Risk Lifestyle” highlights the ongoing violence against Indigenous women via the Indian Act:

The Indian Act of Canada is a powerful and still operating instrument of colonialism and patriarchy. The Act has made Indigenous women legal nullities, place them outside the rule of law and the protection and benefit of the law and taken them from their families. In so doing, the Act has produced or heightened the risk of harm in the lives of Indigenous women. When non-Indigenous commentators allude to the “high-risk lifestyles” of Indigenous women, they usually mean to imply that the women engage in prostitution. But, in fact, the lives of all Indigenous women are high risk, thanks to the instrument of colonialism in the Indian Act. The violence that permeates the lives of Indigenous women in Canada today is largely the result of the Indian Act, which functions to make Indigenous women a population of prey (p. 69).

When I first learned about the Canadian government’s purposeful targeting of Indigenous women, it was 2009 and I was in a room full of Indigenous female students in Professor Isabel Altamirano-Jimenez’s Native Studies 380: Challenging Racism and Stereotypes. It was a disheartening course and I remember a self-identified Inuit student coming into the classroom telling the prof that she couldn’t bring herself to read the coursework any longer; her family, friends, and community were the face of those stereotypes, violent narratives, and horrifying statistics we were forced to read.

For example, the racist stereotype “squaw” was a result of the Indian Act. Eberts (2007) (2) traces the origins of this stereotype and how violence against Indigenous women is justified through it.

The Act’s criteria for registration as an Indian emphasized the cultural expectation that women’s sexuality be contained within the patriarchal institution of Victorian marriage. A woman’s destiny was to follow her husband in virtually all respects. If somehow a woman managed to elude those Victorian conjugal confines, she was viewed as a dangerous but degraded personage: the squaw. The stereotype of the “squaw” is described by Metis scholar Emma Laroque as a being without a human face who is lustful, immoral, unfeeling and dirty. Because of this stereotype, Indigenous women are assaulted, raped, and murdered with scant protection from law or law enforcement (p. 71).

This class also taught us the consequences of our marginalization based on colonialism, sexism and racism that Bourassa, Mckay-McNabb & Hampton (2004) (3) identify as the matrix of oppression:

Aboriginal women have a lower life expectancy, elevated morbidity rates, and elevated suicide rates in comparison to non-Aboriginal women (Prairie Women’s Health Centre of Excellence, 2004). Aboriginal women living on reserves have significantly higher rates of coronary heart disease, cancer, cerebrovascular disease and other chronic illnesses than non-Aboriginal Canadian women (Waldram, Herring, and Young, 2000). A significantly greater percentage of Aboriginal women living off reserve, in all age groups, report fair or poor health compared to non-Aboriginal women; 41 percent of Aboriginal women aged 55-64 reported fair or poor health, compared to 19 percent of women in the same age group among the total Canadian population (Statistics Canada) (p.23).

Furthermore, Indigenous people’s social determinants of health reflect major disparities including “higher levels of substandard and crowded housing conditions, poverty, and unemployment, together with lower levels of education and access to quality health-care services” (4).

Our anger about our systematic oppression and its consequences are justifiable. It can serve to motivate. But it is also a low level vibration that repels people. Angry people don’t have longevity. I had this conversation with my beautiful friend and strong Indigenous female role model, Stephanie Harpe at the Indigenous Women’s Justice Forum in November in Edmonton. She told me that everything she does comes from a place of love – that’s where true transformation resides. I believe as Indigenous women we all go through a stage of anger, and that we use it to motivate us to the next level. This next level requires forgiveness and the power of love.

Last year I attended a Reconciliation event in Lloydminster with keynote speaker, Mary Culbertson, the first Indigenous woman to act as Saskatchewan’s Treaty Commissioner. In her speech, she stated she spent many years in anger, and then became motivated to change systems and leave a legacy of reconciliation for future generations. In this Star Phoenix interview she states that during law school while working on residential school claim with Sunchild Law in Battleford the truth that struck the hardest was:

“It’s your own people. Knowing that they suffered so much, you get angry; you get sad. It’s a roller coaster of emotions when you first get exposed to the truth of what happened. I don’t think anything in our communities cannot be linked to the harms from residential schools from that era.” Culbertson’s empathy and understanding for Saskatchewan’s Indigenous people increased tenfold during the claims process. She’s solemn as she explains: “What did they go home to? Not having parenting skills, not showing people how to love, not showing their children love, or drowning the shame and the hurt of what happened to them in alcohol or drugs or abandonment.”

In the midst of witnessing and experiencing oppression there comes a realization that the only way to help ourselves and others is to dismantle the system and rebuild it to be inclusive of marginalized peoples. Breaking down systems of racism and privilege require education, most likely the highest level of education possible in any area. In Dr. Bourassa’s speech she states she was resistant to entering her Ph.D. program with a baby and then and a case of tuberculosis, but her knowledge and skills were needed. She stated in her speech “research is transformational” and we, as Indigenous women, are needed in these spaces.

The challenge of breaking down colonial systems, which is the role of any Indigenous female leader in any institution, is that White people are benefiting from its power and privilege. The CBC article, Dear Qallunaat (white people) by Sandra Inutiq, the first Inuk woman in Nunavut to pass the bar exam and the current chief negotiator for the Qikiqtani Inuit Association’s Tallurutiup Imanga Inuit Impact and Benefit Agreement, shares why addressing systemic racism, that has been encoded in every system in our society and embedded in our way of thinking, is a monumental task. She states, “You have been socialized to be unconsciously invested in racism and there are many ways that you are willfully ignorant or racist. One is not exempt from racism because they are simply “a good person.” All white people are racist to some degree because they are born and raised in a system made by white people, for white people. Let that sink in!”

Black, Indigenous, and People of Colour (BIPOC) are the most adept at naming intersecting oppressions and the way that power works in the favour of White people because it is a constant daily battle. It is also exhausting to be “the first female BIPOC” such as Dr. Bourassa or Mary Culbertson or Sandra Inutiq. Blogger Martha Tesema explains this social phenomenon in her blog post, Why We Need to Talk About—and Recognize—Representation Burnout. She defines “representation burnout” as being the only person of a particular identity in an environment. It can be present in a variety of ways:

Sometimes, it looks like entering a room and immediately recognizing that you have to do triple the amount of work to be seen as an equal, despite your experience. It may show up in your life when you feel like you need to leave certain parts of yourself out of the room to be taken seriously. Other times, it’s the pressure—either placed on yourself or projected on you—to speak on behalf of a community because you’re the only one in the room. Or sometimes, because of ableism, it’s the frustration of not being able to even get in the room at all.

Moreover, being the “First Indigenous female leader” of any colonial institution or government position is sometimes more about window dressing for reconciliation than actually addressing systemic oppression or inequitable access. For example, the lawsuit filed by Angelique EagleWoman who was hired as dean of the Bora Laskin Faculty of Law at Lakehead University. She was Canada’s first Indigenous law school dean and she sued Lakehead University citing “they actively undermined her while also exploiting her to raise money and attract aboriginal students.”

Or the most recent political controversy with Jody Wilson-Raybould, the first Indigenous female Minister of Justice and the Attorney General of Canada that resigned from her position after allegedly being pressured by Trudeau not to prosecute SNC-Lavalin for fraud. The White male Prime Minister silencing his Indigenous female Minister of Justice is the living embodiment of colonial power and oppression on behalf of the Canadian government against Indigenous peoples. By the way, there was an absolute lack of cultural sensitivity and insult to Indigenous women on behalf of White male political cartoonist this past week. Two cartoonists depicted Trudeau beating up a bound and gagged Jodi Wilson-Raybould in a boxing ring. Violence against women is never funny or warranted.

Dr. Bourassa ended her speech with the acknowledgement that she broke the cycle of intergenerational trauma in her family – her daughters’ grew up in a healthy household. But then she stated something that all BIPOC mothers recognize – her children will still be subject to systemic racism and colonial spaces, unless we rally to change these systems.

Throughout my conversations with Indigenous female leaders and the participants of Women Warriors there is always one binding thread that gives me hope and motivates me to continue my work with Women Warriors and finish my studies. The burning desire for something better for our children, and the willingness to do whatever it takes to create that reality.

In closing, I believe it is the power of Indigenous motherhood that will transform these colonial systems and spaces. Turnpel as cited in Green (2007) (5) states:

It is commonly known that the future of our nations depends upon the strength of our women…we must be the hearts of our people…We do no want to become part of a movement, which seeks equality men…Women are at the centre. We are the keepers of the culture, the educators, the ones who must instruct the children to respect the Earth, and the ones who ensure that our leaders are remembering and “walking” with their responsibilities demonstrably in mind” (p. 47).

This column is dedicated to all the amazing Women Warriors that I have the priviledge of meeting and sharing stories with. Thank you for teaching me how to walk strong.

References

  1. Green, J. A. (2007). Making space for Indigenous feminism. Black Point, N.S. : Fernwood Pub., c2007. Retrieved from http://0-search.ebscohost.com.aupac.lib.athabascau.ca/login.aspx?direct=true&db=cat01422a&AN=aucat.b1188643&site=eds-live.
  2. Green, J. A. (2007). Making space for Indigenous feminism. Black Point, N.S. : Fernwood Pub., c2007. Retrieved from http://0-search.ebscohost.com.aupac.lib.athabascau.ca/login.aspx?direct=true&db=cat01422a&AN=aucat.b1188643&site=eds-live.
  3. Bourassa, C., Mckay-McNabb, K., & Hampton, M. (2004). Racism, sexism, and colonialism: the impact on the health of Aboriginal women in Canada. Canadian Woman Studies, (1), 23.
  4. Greenwood, M., de Leeuw, S., & Lindsay, N. (2018). Comment: Challenges in health equity for Indigenous peoples in Canada. The Lancet391, 1645–1648. https://0-doi-org.aupac.lib.athabascau.ca/10.1016/S0140-6736(18)30177-6.
  5. Green, J. A. (2007). Making space for Indigenous feminism. Black Point, N.S. : Fernwood Pub., c2007. Retrieved from http://0-search.ebscohost.com.aupac.lib.athabascau.ca/login.aspx?direct=true&db=cat01422a&AN=aucat.b1188643&site=eds-live.

Check out our new T-shirts modeled by the owner of Beautylife, Trysta! To order please email Shelley@womenwarriors.club. Colours: Black, heather navy, camo, purple, charcoal, and orange. Sizes: XS to 3XL. Price: $30 up to XL. An additional $1 per 2XL and $2 per 3XL. Shipping within Alberta is $4.

 

Thursday, Feb. 7th I attended the Calgary Women Warriros Forest Lawn location (l to r): Facilitator, Loretta, myself and facilitator, Darcie. I am excited to announce that our facilitators Loretta and Tia (facilitator of our Village Square location) have been invited to attend and present the Women Warriors program at the CIHR’s Idea Fair and Learning Circle held on June 18-20, 2019 in Montreal, located on the traditional unceded territory of the Kanien’keha:ka (Mohawk) people.

 

Our class on Feb 7th was self-defense with world champion Taekwondo fighter/instrutor and fight cheographer, Sunny Singh. We learned some quick and effective moves to break free from an attack from all angles, front/back/on the ground. “The body is science” Sunny kept repeating showing us all the weakest points to attack.

 

Women Warriors Onion Lake Cree Nation program last week was War (a variation of turbo-kick/boxing) with Kim. It was a good core workout between all the kicking and punching. Our round circle discussion was about barriers to physical activity after a two-week break due to a water main break and extremely cold weather. The ladies asked me for a self-defense course after viewing the Calgary photos so I lined up Logan Dyck to instruct Krav Maga on April 2nd, our last day of class.

 

We are hosting a knowledge translation event on Wednesday, April 3rd at the Lloydminster Servus Sport Centre in the OTS room at 6 pm. Dr. Sonja Wicklum and our Masters student, Megan Sampson will be presenting our research findings to all our past and current participants. It is a catered event and kids are welcome as we have rented a field house. Please RSVP me to attend: Shelley@womenwarriors.club

 

I won a scholarship from the Alberta Writers Guild for my Yellowknifer articles and poetry, which are based on some of my Women Warriors newsletters! I share this award with you because the Women Warriors newsletter has been integral to my own growth as a writer, and I’m grateful for our audience – every single one of you! Press release here.

 

If you have any questions about the program or would like to contact me for follow up information please email: Shelley@womenwarriors.club.

Freda, Forest Lawn Location

Freda, 42 lives in Calgary, Alberta (Treaty 7 Territory) and identifies as Metis. She is a full-time student and she has three beautiful children and one grandson. She states, “I am blessed to have my children and grandson and being a Kohkom is a wonderful feeling.”

I joined this program to meet other women in community that have similar goals towards health and fitness. The program also offers information about healthy eating and nutrition and this will help me change my bad eating habits. This also gives me an opportunity to pass on this knowledge to my family and friends about nutrition and healthy eating. I enjoyed the step class and self-defense and another favorite part for me is when we smudge and have a talking circle at the end of class. I try to exercise 2-3 hours per week and I am a gym member and I use my exercise bike at home at least 2x per week. One daily practice I do to show self-love is to get up in the morning and write in my gratitude journal. I even ask my children what they are grateful for and I write their responses in my book. My favorite treat is a chocolate dipped cone from DQ.

Her philosophy on healthy living and message to women trying to get healthy or more active: I refer to the medicine wheel and apply these teachings to my life. It is important for me to focus on all the four directions, as this promotes balance in my life with living a healthy lifestyle. When you commit to living a healthy lifestyle it will improve your mental health and it will reduce your risks of getting chronic diseases. When you first start making changes in your diet and exercise routine try set small realistic goals and gradually increase them overtime. This will help you stay motived and you will be consistent with maintaining your goals. Living an active lifestyle has so many positive outcomes and benefits that will improve your overall health.

Rebecca, Onion Lake Cree Nation

Rebecca, 28 is a member of Onion Lake Cree Nation (Treaty 6 territory). She is employed full-time as a licensed practical nurse. She is a mother of two beautiful daughters, Raya (5 years old) & Carly (1 years old).

Rebecca joined Women Warriors to be a better role model for her daughters and sisters, self-care, nutrition information, and to socialize and support fellow women in the community. The types of physical activity she enjoyed at Women Warriors include the relaxation from yoga, the fun, laughter and smiles from Zumba, and the sweating from WAR. She is also active in sports playing in a women’s volleyball league in the fall/winter and a women’s fastball and Slo-Pitch team in the summer.

Her daily self-love practice is to smudge and pray. She states, “I haven’t always done it, but lately I’ve noticed I needed something for me. It has been helping with my emotional and spiritual health. That little moment of me time.” Her favorite cheat meal is pepperoni pizza.

Her philosophy on healthy living and message to women trying to get healthy or more active:

I have always loved this quote by Winston Churchill, ‘Your mind is a powerful thing. When you fill it with positive thoughts, your life will start to change.’ Apply this to every moment in your life and you will get through it. Women carry the greatest burdens in a family and it is tough to overcome moments, as long as you remain positive, you will have a positive learning experience. That applies to your health as well. Being a mom, full time job, and taking care of the household is a lot but in order to have a healthy active family, it has to start with the heart of the family. Take it day by day. Start small and keep going. There will be setbacks, but just keep trying. It is better to get up and try than to say if only.

Brandy, Village Square Leisure Centre Location

Brandy, 35 lives in Calgary Alberta (Treaty 7 territory) and identifies as First Nations. She is employed full-time as a hairstylist, aesthetician, lash technician, and entrepreneur. She is a mother of three children, Brayson (12 years old), Brennen (11 years old), and Braelyn (8 years old).

Brandy joined Women Warriors to get reconnected into the community with a mindset of health and fitness. I wanted to also learn more about nutrition and looking into further pursuing personal fitness goals.

The classes I have enjoyed so far are the Step Classes, Dance and Yoga. It’s also inspiring to have a class where my children can play Basketball and have access to programs the Calgary Village Square Leisure Centre provides. Since attending the program it has been easier to achieve the goals of proper nutrition and making time to exercise 2-4 hours a week. With Calgary community supports in place of the Calgary recreation passes, myself and my children have access to all sports and fitness activities including the weight room, pool access and drop in programming citywide. Scheduling personal fitness time can be challenging with a busy lifestyle, but by maintaining a nutrition journal and meal prepping I have made better nutrition and health choices. My daily practices include staying hydrated –  H20 is the key to self-care – through out the day and before I sleep I am constantly drinking water. My favorite indulgence is cheesecake with champagne – my ultimate slice of heaven!

Her philosophy on healthy living and message to women trying to get healthy or more active: Take care of your mind, body and spirit with a balanced and healthy lifestyle. True Beauty is achieved from within. I encourage anyone to start a small fitness/nutritional goal, stay focused to see the results. Anything in this universe is achievable and more programming like this is needed for our women in our communities – I am looking forward to becoming a trainer to help achieve this goal!

January Newsletter

Women Warriors Podcast

Lisa Graham is the Provincial Coordinator for Justice and Solicitor General Victim Services, Government of Alberta. She is tasked with identifying and filling the gaps in services for families who are suffering through having a loved one who is missing, including making services available in a culturally safe way to all. Lisa’s sister, who is First Nations, went missing in 1999 and against all the odds was found alive in 2015. Lisa’s lived experience has informed all the professional decisions she has made for herself throughout her career. Before moving to Alberta to work with families of missing persons she spent eleven years as a Coroner conducting death investigations in Vancouver and had the honour of walking beside families through some of the hardest days of their lives.

You can listen to the episode here.

 

 

On today’s episode Lisa shares:

  • Her role as the Provincial Coordinator, Missing Persons & Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women’s Initiative, Justice & Solicitor General, Government of Alberta.
  • Common myths of missing persons.
  • Social media post breaking myths of murdered and missing Indigenous women.
  • Her personal experience of her older sister going missing in October 1999.
  • How her sister becoming a missing person altered her career path.
  • Becoming a coroner in British Colombia so she could locate her sister.
  • Her experience with ambiguous loss and how to process it.
  • The history of ambiguous loss pioneered by Dr. Pauline Boss.
  • Her advice for people experiencing ambiguous loss and for friends and family supporting those going through this journey.
  • Her reunion with her sister in 2015. Learning that her sister had been taken against her will.
  • How to support people that have been through extreme trauma.
  • The Safer Community Initiatives.
  • Creating the free Aware 360 phone app.
  • Response center located on Gitxsan First Nation– Indigenous women volunteers answering emergency calls.
  • Email Lisa to be registered for the Aware 360 app. Email: Lisa. Graham@gov.ab.ca
  • Family Information Liaison Unit, Department of Justice, Government of Canada (Canada wide).
  • Alberta Family Information Liaison Unit– provides emotional and culturally relevant supports. Phone: (780) 643-9092 or the Government of Alberta’s toll-free service at 310-0000.
  • Contact Lisa for presentations in your community. Phone: (780) 644-5733 or email: Lisa.Graham@gov.ab.ca
  • Gathering for families of MMIP Feb 28th-Mar 2nd2019 in Calgary. Lead organizer Elizabeth Fry Society Calgary.

Please share this episode on social media using the following:

Women Warriors Podcast: Lisa Graham on Missing Persons, Ambiguous Loss & Saving Lives with the Aware 360 App. #MYActionsMatter #16DaysofAction #EndGBV #EndViolence

National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence against Women is about remembering victims; it is also a time to take action. Listen as guest Lisa Graham shares a free app to download to keep you safe. #December6 #WeRemember #MYActionsMatter

The Family Information Liaison Unit offers connections to counselling, spiritual support and Elders for those people missing a loved one. Learn more it on the Women Warriors podcast. #GBVStrategy #EndViolence #EndGBV

Women Warriors Podcast: Learn about the Safer Communities Initiative – Everyone has a right to be protected wherever they are! Download the free Aware360 app on any smartphone. #Safety #MyActionsMatter #16DaysofAction #EndViolence #December6


Graduates of the City of Calgary Women Warriors Pilot Program April-May 2018.

Calgary Women Warriors dates and locations are as follows:

Tuesday nights – Jan 8 – Mar 5th

Village Square Leisure Centre
2623 56 St. NE

Thursday evenings – Jan. 10 – Mar. 7th

Forest Lawn Activity Centre (behind Bob Bahan Aquatic and Fitness Centre)
4812 14 Ave SE

To register: Joleen (403) 366-3994.

Onion Lake Cree Nation Women Warriors Class. October 2018

Onion Lake Cree Nation dates and locations are as follows:

Tuesday nights – Jan 15th – April 9th 

Kihew Waciston Gym
Onion Lake Cree Nation

To register: Alicia (780) 870-0773

CBC Radio One Link

The National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence against Women

Today, December 6th marks nearly 30 years since 13 female students and a female administrator at l’École Polytechnique de Montréal were murdered because they were women. The Status of Women Canada website states that December 6th, “represents an opportunity for Canadians to reflect on the fact that women in Canada, and around the world, continue to face disproportionate levels of violence each and every day.”

I have made a daily effort to post on social media about the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence, which started on International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, November 25 and ends on International Human Rights Day on December 10.

When CBC reporter, Nichole Huck pre-interviewed me for the Blue Sky radio show she asked, “What are some barriers to Indigenous women getting healthy?”

I responded, “Violence.”

When I started facilitating Women Warriors summer of 2015 I was naive about the amount of daily violence perpetrated against Indigenous women and how it manifested in their health.

Three years later – many first-hand accounts of violence – and my answer to improving Indigenous women’s health is advocating for gender-based violence awareness and prevention.

Why is gender-based violence a public health issue? Please read this interviewwith the University of Alberta, assistant professor Dr. Stephanie Montesanti.

Women who suffer violence are more likely to experience:

  • Injuries,
  • self-harm,
  • fatal outcomes like homicide or suicide,
  • depression, post-traumatic stress disorder or anxiety disorders,
  • unwanted pregnancies,
  • miscarriage, stillbirth, pre-term delivery and low birth weight babies,
  • alcohol, drug or tobacco misuse, and
  • sexually transmitted infections, such as HIV.

The gender-based violence statistics for Indigenous women include:

  • 1,017 women and girls identified as Indigenous were murdered between 1980 and 2012.
  • 4.5 times higher: the murder rate of Indigenous women compared to other women in Canada.
  •  Indigenous women are almost 3.5 times more likely than non-Indigenous women to report experiences of intimate partner violence.

Monthly, I receive either Women Warriors facebook messages or emails from Indigenous women that are experiencing violence. I think the reason they contact me is that I’m a visible advocate for Indigenous women and I exist outside of institutions. I always clarify that I am not a professional counselor or social worker, or connected to Victim Services or any type of human rights organization, yet they keep writing.

I’ve become very efficient at directing women to online resources. And to directing them to community resources – if they exist, which in many rural and First Nation communities there is nothing. Or sometimes they refuse to access mental health supports or visit the health clinic because of stigma and worries about being related to the health professionals on reserve.

It is apparent to me, as a Metis woman in rural Alberta that has been at the grassroots level of health promotions for three years, and fielding messages from Indigenous women across Western Canada that there is a lack of culturally relevant supports and services for Indigenous women.

For now, while I finish my BA degree and hone my research skills, I hold space for these stories because sometimes all these women need is for someone to listen. I recognize my value as a  woman that is a stranger that lives outside of their community. I also know that reading these stories makes me a better human being, a more compassionate advocate, and a highly motivated university student. I know that my power as an advocate for Indigenous women comes with my credentials.

This past month I reviewed and edited an Indigenous mother’s #MeToo submission for a writer’s call focusing on Indigenous women’s stories. Her story was heartbreaking – full of gender-based violence, and sexual assault –  as so many of the women that contact me are. But the end of her story was full of healing and hope. She wants to help other women heal and be a good role model for youth.

I would like to recommend her to all of you for speaking engagements and cultural teachings. Her name is LaBrea Harris and you can find her bio and contact information below.

On this day take ACTION to end violence against women. I have provided two resources – the podcast interview with Lisa Graham and information for guest speaker, LaBrea Harris. Tell every single woman you know about the Aware360 app – it could save their lives. Be part of the action to end gender-based violence by inviting women that have experienced it into your community and listening to their stories.

LaBrea Harris does speaking engagements revolved around domestic violence, being a survivor of sexual abuse and childhood trauma, cultural teachings and empowering youth.

LaBrea Harris is an aspiring Aboriginal artist from Thunderchild First Nation, Saskatchewan. She is one of the lead singers and composers of her family’s Women hand drum group “Dowkesiko” (their first CD was released in June of 2014). Her songs consist of traditional and modern round dance and healing songs. She loves to sew and finds it therapeutic. Her hobby consists of beading, sewing traditional regalia, ribbon skirts and ribbon shirts (just to name a few). She participates in cultural events throughout the year, and spends her summer taking her family to various traditional gatherings.

She is currently in the Child and Youth Care Diploma Program at Lakeland College in Vermilion, Alberta. She has completed her addictions training through the Nechi Institute in St. Albert, Alberta. She also has completed her training as a life coach from the Certified Coaches Federation.
LaBrea has volunteered to work with youth, where she helped guide and mentor them through traditional singing and drumming. She has been a guest speaker, representing the youth at round dances in Saskatchewan and was invited to speak against Domestic Violence at a gala in the city of Edmonton Alberta.

Her presentations integrate the teachings she received from mentors, elders and through her life experience. Her goal is to motivate and inspire youth to change direction, regarding healthy choices and lifestyle by creating awareness and implement positive outcomes.

LaBrea is on her healing journey and maintains her sobriety through spiritual holistic healing and healthy lifestyle choices. She has presented on issues such as bullying awareness, self-esteem, domestic violence and Aboriginal based teachings that include mental health utilizing the medicine wheel. The heart of the workshops presented includes traditional drumming and singing, where she sings with her partner pow wow, round dance and healing songs.

Contact LaBrea through email: Harrisl12.lh@gmail.com Phone: (780) 920-0767.

Treated, Not Dying: Surviving Canada’s Healthcare System (Part 2 of 2)

By Rhonda Kronyk

You can also download this entire 2 part newsletter as a PDF by clicking here.

Many of us have it within our power to make changes – even when we don’t realize we have that power. 

For starters, we can lobby universities, health care providers, social agencies and hospitals to invite Indigenous researchers, policy advisors, decision-makers and knowledge into health care education and management. And I don’t mean invite people to take on meaningless roles where their knowledge and perspectives are effectively ignored. I’m talking about meaningful positions where the issues Indigenous patients face in the health care systems are addressed. Not endlessly studied. Addressed. They need to be positions where Indigenous input leads to the deep changes that must happen to change the statistics.

It sounds so simple – just ask and it will happen. The reality is we know it won’t be that easy. But the more people phone their MLAs and write letters to hospital administrators and universities, the more those institutions will begin to take notice. Right now, making these changes are low on their priority lists. We have to change that and the only way to do so is to make our voices heard and make change a priority.

And Indigenous people can advocate for each other. If a friend or relative is struggling to access medical care, the community might need to come together and make sure that person gets looked after.

I know that none of this should be necessary. I know it shouldn’t be on the shoulders of Indigenous people to change the system. Frankly, there should be no need to change a system that supposedly treats everybody equally. But that’s not the reality. And that means that we can’t wait for somebody else to do the work.

For myself, I’m in somewhat of a unique situation. I’m a settler/Dene woman with skills that allow me to come at this from a different perspective.

I’m a member of the Indigenous Editors Association and we’re working to decolonize the Canadian publishing industry. It’s been rewarding to watch the industry work with us by supporting us on many levels. Meaningful change is beginning to happen.

This experience has caused me to look at my work from a different perspective. I generally edit and proofread fiction and non-fiction manuscripts by Indigenous writers. But what if I were to expand that work? What if I were to approach the medical profession as a whole with an offer to help them publish articles that respect Indigenous Peoples and cultures? I think that doing so might be a way to bring about change from within because some of the doctors and researchers writing articles will begin to rethink the ways they treat Indigenous patients.

I’m not being naïve about this. We know that some non-Indigenous people in Canada will never change and their racism will continue to negatively impact people. But even small changes, frustrating as the slow pace of change is, will begin to make a difference. And if we can teach people that changing their approach doesn’t mean giving up their use of western medicine but simply means opening themselves to new perspectives, change will begin to spread throughout the system. And just maybe Indigenous people will stop dying in hospital emergency waiting rooms.

I know I’m not the only one who has found a way to use my skills to find ways to bring about change. I’m curious about your ideas about how to fix a badly broken system.

Last week’s Part 1 of 2 Treated, Not Dying: Surviving Canada’s Healthcare System. 

You can also download this entire 2 part newsletter as a PDF by clicking here.

Rhonda Kronyk is a settler/Dene writing, editing and grant consultant. She lives on Treaty 6 lands in her adopted city of amiskwaciwâskahikan (Edmonton). As a member of the Indigenous Editors Association, she is working to change the Canadian publishing industry to ensure books that are respectful of Indigenous Peoples and culture are published. You can find her on her website or contact@rhondakronyk.ca. Follow her on twitter @ThisAndThatYEG


News stories pertaining to racism within the Canadian health care system:

  1. Grieving Inuit families blame racism of health-care workers for deaths of loved ones.
  2. Brian Sinclair: A man was ignored to death in an ER 10 years ago. It could happen again. 
  3. New report highlights racism in health care.

Listen to my interview with Dr. Bourassa on how racism impacts health and the importance of cultural safety in the healthcare system.

 

The Indigenous Women’s Justice Forum had ample opportunity for round circle discussions and networking. Everyone at my table had interesting perspectives on the criminal justice system. I made some great connections with attendees and I’m looking forward to the IAAW publication from this conference. Please review the free resource guide they handed out at the conference, Our Breaking Point: Canada’s Violation of Rights in Life and Death.

 

My friend and full-time employee of the IAAW, Stephanie Harpe (right), Project Coordinator (Adult Women’s Leadership) hosts a group for friends and relatives of Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women. Please contact IAAW for more information. You can listen to Stephanie’s personal story on our podcast interview Stephanie Harpe on Intergenerational Trauma, Healing & Advocating for MMIW.

 

Last week, November 7th & 8th I attended the Indigenous Women’s Justice Forum in Edmonton. It was hosted by the Institute for the Advancement of Aboriginal Women (IAAW) and it was an informative and transformative experience hearing from the speakers. I am planning a special podcast episode with a speaker from this conference, Lisa Graham, Provincial Coordinator – Missing Persons, MMIW Initiative, Justice and Solicitor General, Government of Alberta.

 

Our University of Calgary MA student of Cultural Anthropology, Megan Sampson (follow her on twitter) presenting a poster about her ethnographic research with Women Warriors at Obesity Week in Nashville, Tenn. on November 11-15th.

 


Calgary Women Warriors Updates

 

The City of Calgary will be offering Women Warriors at two different locations in January: Forest Lawn Activity Centre and Village Square Leisure Centre. In order to engage the community and attract participants, they are offering teaser sample sessions. Please review the poster above for details and register for the SAMPLE session with Joleen (403) 366-3994.

Women Warriors Calgary 8 Weeks to Healthy Living Programs are scheduled for the following dates and times:

Tuesdays
Jan 8th – Feb 26th
Village Square Leisure Center
2623 56 St NE
6:30-8pm

Thursdays
Jan 10th – Feb 28th
Bob Bahan Aquatic Center
4812 14 Ave SE
6:30-8pm

You MUST register in order to participate. Please share with your friends and family.


Please direct all inquiries about the Women Warriors program to my email: Shelley@womenwarriors.club. As the co-founder of this program, I am happy to address any questions. Dr. Sonja Wicklum and I are the only contacts to discuss hosting this program in your community. Thank you.

Treated, Not Dying: Surviving Canada’s Healthcare System (Part 1 of 2)

By Rhonda Kronyk

You can also download this entire 2 part newsletter as a PDF by clicking here.

If you watch television, you’ve probably seen ads about the symptoms of a stroke and how to minimize the damage. The most important thing is to get help as quickly as possible. But, if you’re Indigenous in Canada, that help may not come in time.

We’ve all seen the headlines about the lower quality of care Indigenous people receive in Canada’s health system. We also know that women in general receive lower quality care than men – their concerns are often ignored and, until recently, health studies almost exclusively focused on men.
That means that in health care systems, as in so many systems in Canada, Indigenous women often face significant barriers to accessing the care they need and have a right to.

On an intellectual level, I knew the stories and statistics. Elders die in waiting rooms because medical staff assume they are intoxicated. Children are forced to fly from northern communities for medical care without their parents because of government policies. Women are forced to go to southern communities by themselves to deliver their babies alone. The systemic racism that Indigenous people encounter daily in Canada’s health care system has high prices: emotional and mental deterioration, negative physical health effects, even death.

But I had only learned of the stories through the news. I wasn’t personally affected by them. While I always felt empathy towards those affected and anger at the system, I didn’t know how to do more than express my disgust.

Then my work as an Indigenous editor brought home just how deep the problem is.

Fellow editors sometimes ask for my advice when they have questions about how articles or stories about Indigenous people are written. They might be concerned that the language is inappropriate or need to know about whether to use certain words.

I was recently sent excerpts from an article that was being submitted to a medical journal. My friend was concerned about the language and wasn’t sure whether it would be a problem. She recognized that there were underlying issues but wanted some feedback.

As far as grammar, there wasn’t really anything to worry about so I updated some of it to current usage. That was the easy part.

The problem came when I began to read the sections that my friend thought had deeper problems. And she was right. Without the doctor intending it, the article almost oozed subtle (and not so subtle) racism.

The article wasn’t about medical procedures. Rather, it was about treating Indigenous patients. Patients that he saw as uninformed and unwilling to listen to him even when their lives depended on it.

One of the biggest problems with many doctors who work with Indigenous people is their refusal to see alternatives to western medicine. And this doctor was no different. His attitude was that patients who wanted to work with him while using traditional medicine were backwards. He didn’t use that word, but his meaning was clear. He could or would not see any alternatives to his treatment. Even worse, I suspect he wasn’t even willing to discuss the topic with his patients.

This matters. The most recent numbers I could find were from several years ago. But between 2001 -2012, the health status of Indigenous adults across Canada deteriorated from 22% to 18%. I have two big issues with this statistic. First, a drop in health status by 4% in the 21stcentury is intolerable and devastating. But what I found even more shocking was that 22% is the baseline. How can any country accept this low number and not do everything in its power to change it?

Whether by design or accident, our health care system negatively impacts Indigenous Peoples. Health care on reserves and in northern Canada generally falls below what communities need. Non-Indigenous doctors and nurses sometimes don’t understand how to build the community relationships that will make it possible for them to effectively treat patients. Or they come for short-term contracts that don’t give them the opportunity to make those relationships.

Those who stay and become part of the community may have to deal with a shortage of supplies or the equipment they need to treat emergencies and more serious illnesses.

In urban areas, many doctors who treat Indigenous patients won’t even attempt to understand cultural differences. They don’t recognize that seeing a patient for 10 minutes every few months will not build the trust that is needed between an Indigenous patient and their doctor. Without that trust, some Indigenous patients will naturally go back to traditional medicines that have healed for thousands of years.

An even more inexcusable issue in urban settings is health care professionals who allow their prejudices to determine how they treat Indigenous patients. The result? Assumptions that Indigenous patients are drug addicts who only want painkillers to feed their addictions. Or deciding that patients who come to emergency departments are simply sleeping off a drunk and refusing to see if they have a deadly infection or are having a stroke. Or maybe believing that patients are looking for handouts and taking advantage of the medical system.

The result? Some of these patients die while sitting in emergency rooms waiting for somebody to care enough to look after them. Or they are sent home with serious medical conditions and later suffer serious, life-changing health problems. And yes, we know this happens to non-Indigenous people as well. But those cases are much rarer than those where Indigenous Peoples health care is ignored.

And the parts of the article I read for my friend were no exception to this issue of neglect brought on by stereotyping Indigenous patients. The doctor was subtly critical of his Indigenous patients who didn’t trust his advice on cancer treatment. Given his language, I can imagine that he might not take the time to fully explain his treatment plan. Rather, I can picture him telling his patients what they would do and then getting frustrated when they questioned him. Was this what happened? I don’t know. But I do know it is the reaction many minorities communities get whether it is in medicine, banking or education. Our systems are designed to favour western ideals to the detriment of all other perspectives.

I’m tired of hearing these stories. I’m tired of people dying because they are seeking medical help as an Indigenous person. I’m angry that those with the power to change our systems refuse to do so.

Sometimes I feel helpless in the face of that anger. But my experience with this particular article taught me something important.

Next week’s newsletter, Part 2 describes Rhonda’s calls to action regarding discrimination in the Canadian medical system.

You can also download this entire 2 part newsletter as a PDF by clicking here.

Rhonda Kronyk is a settler/Dene writing, editing and grant consultant. She lives on Treaty 6 lands in her adopted city of amiskwaciwâskahikan (Edmonton). As a member of the Indigenous Editors Association, she is working to change the Canadian publishing industry to ensure books that are respectful of Indigenous Peoples and culture are published. You can find her on her website or contact@rhondakronyk.ca. Follow her on twitter @ThisAndThatYEG

In gratitude of Rhonda’s time spent on this article for Women Warriors, a small donation was made to the non-profit organization, Books With Wings – Supporting Literacy in remote First Nations communities.


News stories pertaining to racism within the Canadian health care system:


Dr. Wicklum with Dr. McGregor at the Health Research Caucus Event, Parliament Hill, Tuesday, October 30th. There were fifteen researchers from across Canada invited to discuss northern and rural health research, including our rural research with Women Warriors.

 

Our University of Calgary graduate student, Megan Sampson is excited to present her ethnographic study conducted last fall in Lloydminster with Women Warriors at Obesity Week in Nashville, November 11th-15th. Please follow her on twitter for updates @mbsampso.
Halloween Zumba with Onion Lake Cree Nation participants and fitness instructor, Rita!

Calgary Women Warriors Tentative Dates

Graduates of the City of Calgary Women Warriors Pilot Program April-May 2018.

 

Programs
Tuesdays
Jan 8th – Feb 26th
Village Square Leisure Center
2623 56 St NE
6:30-8pm

Thursdays
Jan 10th – Feb 28th
Bob Bahan Aquatic Center
4812 14 Ave SE
6:30-8pm

Teasers
Thursday November 29th
Bob Bahan
4812 14 Ave SE
6:30-8pm

Tuesday December 4th
Village Square Leisure Center
2623 56 St NE
6:30-8pm

The teasers are designed to introduce the program into the community and recruit participants for the Jan – Feb programs. Details about registration with contact information to follow.

The next Onion Lake Cree Nation program begins January. Please inquire with Alicia Oliver at the Onion Lake Health Centre for registration: alicia.oliver@onionlakehealth.org.

 

I have a new project that I’m working on for my Advocacy From the Margins course through the University of Athabasca. Haikus about Indigenous women as leaders as a form of activism. I’ll share the project in the newsletter when I’m finished

Onion Lake Cree Nation’s Urban Poling Group

Nordic Walking with Vera Cardinal

Vera Cardinal, my friend and former participant of Women Warriors is starting her own urban poling group on reserve. Planned start date is Monday, October 29th. Free to join – the urban poles are provided and include a free pedometer.

Last Tuesday, October 16th Dr. Sonja Wicklum and I went to Onion Lake early so that I could instruct Vera Cardinal on how to urban pole (also known as Nordic Walking). She was interested in joining the Women Warriors program, but due to time constraints could not commit to every Tuesday evening. She is a busy mom of five children, ages 14, 13, 11, 9 and 1 and a soon-to-be Mom of six in February! She is also a full-time employee at Native Justice.

She told me she wanted to get more active and commit to healthy eating for her sixth pregnancy because of weight gain and edema (fluid retention in her hands and feet) during her last pregnancy. In addition, she stated on a social media post, “I felt my self-esteem go down and I hated how I looked. I have a body type that easily puts on weight. It’s a journey for me and at times it’s hard but I’m glad I’m choosing to live a healthier lifestyle. As much as I put my children first I have to put my myself there too. Self-love is a journey and I’m willing to reach my goals no matter how long it takes.”

Vera decided to commit to a 30-day challenge: 30 minutes of daily activity and an increase in fruits and vegetables. I even talked her into trying hummus, but she didn’t appreciate the flavor I recommended; there is always a trial and error process with new foods.

She posted on facebook about her healthy eating journey, “Ever since I gave up chips, potatoes, pasta, ice cream, fast food, fried foods, chocolate, white bread, soda pop, juice, cakes, donuts, cookies, and candy my energy has been way up more than before. I feel good about more things – I don’t feel bloated after I eat. I even feel good in my thoughts.”

Within one week, and at 24 weeks pregnant she lost six pounds from healthy eating and 30 minutes of urban poling walks per day. I want to highlight that Vera’s medical doctor is fully aware of her healthy lifestyle challenge and on her last visit she posted that, “The Dr. is happy that I’m eating better and doing the challenge.”

Vera’s social media posts about her health journey and her daily urban poling sessions started to peak the interest of women in her community. When she messaged me to state, “I have some ladies interested in the walking club too” I was proud of her efforts and excited about her forming her own group.

Vera’s advertisement for her urban poling group states, “We are here to encourage one another to promote healthy lifestyles. To help prevent diabetes and also other sickness and diseases that are common within our First Nations communities. We can all work together to help take care of each other. Please message me if you are interested. I have a set of 10 poles and I can teach you all how to use them.”

My additional comments to her post include, “Urban poling is a great way to improve posture, strengthen your core, burn 20-40% more calories and gain arm tone. A great exercise for all levels from beginner to advanced. The poles are provided. Includes free pedometers, and an incentive of a Women Warriors t-shirt for the first person to reach 10, 000 steps. Socialize and get in shape!”

To join Vera’s urban poling group please instant message her on facebook: Vera Lynn Cardinal. I will be joining the first class to make certain everyone has the right technique and answer any questions about urban poling. If you are interested in purchasing your own urban poles please contact me: Shelley@womenwarriors.club.

Our instructor of Bootcamp last week, Rita (right) posted on social media: I coached the #WomenWarriors tonight… love the strength and power they bring…I have to give props to this little Woman Warrior!! She totally killed the workout….pushed all the way through… her T push-ups were on fire!

 

Women Warriors Calgary April/May graduating class.
This past Wednesday, October 24th we had a meeting with City of Calgary Village Square Leisure Centre social worker, Jody Forbes, and Aboriginal Community social worker, Bev Renaud. We are excited to announce that the Women Warriors program will be expanding to a second location this coming January. The two locations will be Village Square and the new site of Forest Lawn Hub. Details to follow.

 

Women Warriors Calgary (April-May 2018) – Sharing Circle with participants.

 

My friend, Jannica (right), a woman with many titles including a documentary filmmaker, and I are planning a project together about the importance of digital health services in Saskatchewan as the closure of Greyhound bus routes in rural areas leave marginalized and vulnerable Indigenous people unable to access healthcare services. She is attending the 2018 Infoway Partnership Conference taking place November 13-14, 2018 in Montreal, Quebec. The conference takes place during Digital Health Week (November 12-18, 2018) which celebrates the difference digital health is making in the lives of Canadians.

 

On my last visit to Calgary for the ARP meeting in Siksika on October 11th and 12th, I had the pleasure of visiting Dr. Micheal Lickers and Dr. Jennifer Leason. I want to thank them for inspiring me with their story of mentorship and always encouraging me to pursue my passion for Indigenous women’s health to it’s fullest expression. In this photo Michael is showing Jennifer his bound PhD dissertation.

 


Next week’s newsletter is special guest writer and editor, Rhonda Kronyk. I met her at the Edmonton Writing Stick conference June 2017 and we have kept in contact through Twitter. I asked her to write a piece pertaining to Indigenous women’s health and she replied:

I personally haven’t had any issues. But if you’re interested in a side story that is related…

I’m an editor who specializes in working with Indigenous stories. A colleague recently asked me to review parts of a manuscript she was editing by a Calgary doctor that was going to be published in a Canadian journal. I was shocked when I read the excerpts she sent me. The writing used stereotypes of Indigenous people who wouldn’t seek out health care or listen to medical advice. He embodied systemic racism in medical care in almost every sentence my friend sent me. I could tie that in with news stories about Indigenous people being ignored in health care. Add to that the fact that women’s issues are often not taken seriously and Indigenous women face a double whammy.

I’m currently trying to revive the Indigenous Editor’s Circle for exactly this reason – until Indigenous people are involved in more aspects of publishing, this kind of writing will continue to fill popular books and academic books and journals.  

Amanda Lameman

My name is Amanda Lameman and I am 41 years old from Onion Lake Cree Nation.

I self-identify as a proud Cree woman from the Treaty Six Territory.

I am an Undergraduate student at University nuhelot’ine thaiyots’i nistameyimâkanak Blue Quills.
I have been blessed with seven children and five grandchildren.

I joined Women Warriors because I wanted to have a support system to help me get on track toward a healthier life. Everyone knows that it’s hard to achieve goals when you don’t have a positive support and for that reason I am thankful that I heard of Women Warriors. Some of the physical activities I enjoyed at Women Warriors are yoga and meditation because I believe these are great ways to reducing stress.

Being a full-time student, mother and wife makes it hard for me to exercise daily but I go to the school exercise room when I have the time. Smudging, meditating and journaling are my ways of showing self-love.

My favorite meal is moose meat, potatoes, vegetables and gravy. My philosophy to healthy living is to balance all aspects of the medicine wheel, keeping positive thoughts, getting enough sleep and drinking lots of water. Through my own struggles I realized that everyone is different, and we must learn to trust our own bodies and therefore not everything will work for you.

The first step toward healthy living and an active life is to love yourself first and loving your surroundings will get easier after that.

Be the Mom Who Heals Future Generations by Healing Herself

By Brandy-Lee Maxie

Brandy-Lee Maxie is a Nakoda Assiniboine Journalist working with The Discourse, uncovering stories about the impacts of the Oil & Gas industry on Indigenous communities. She is a storyteller, entrepreneur and mother of three from the White Bear First Nations in Saskatchewan. Photo credit Angela Fama for The Discourse.

I often overshare my life on social media, but I do it for various reasons. It’s a great tool to have a voice and be visible in a world where indigenous women don’t really have a voice and continue to be practically invisible to society.

Growing up, I noticed a lack of representation or even misrepresentation for indigenous people in the media. Many indigenous communities were limited to the books and resources that were available to them on reserve and what they are being exposed to in the media. Issues like indigenous health and wellness, culturally significant stories and indigenous history were seldom shared in mainstream media. We were limited to resources for various crises’ that indigenous communities continue to face as they are tucked out of societal view. Issues like diabetes, addictions, suicide, and poverty are so prevalent in indigenous communities, they are all intertwined and they can be traced back directly to residential schools, genocide and colonization.

I’m sure Canada is not yet comfortable discussing their inhumane treatment of the original peoples of this continent, so now we pour out all our stories on social media for the world to see. Many of us pour out our souls for other Mothers facing the impacts colonization just like we are, in hopes to connect and walk side by side through this journey.

I am a Mother of three lovely children, two of who are living with chronic illness. My heart hurts everyday, I cry alot and I’m always in a doctor’s office or in an emergency room. I also share custody and so when I’m not the only one taking care of them, I’m torturing myself obsessing on the Internet about their illnesses; researching to find a cure. I also obsessively worry, especially during cold and flu season and I pray alot.

Through the years I also discovered myself in this process, because I had to figure out how to keep myself together in order to do everything I needed to do on a daily basis to provide and care for my children, and myself. I learned about self-care, fitness, ceremony and what works best for me to stop an anxiety attack. Let’s face it, having sick kids is the one thing you wish you could control the most but you can’t and you have to accept it everyday. We all want to make our children better, take their every pain and sickness from them. But when you can’t, that adds a degree of mental illness to your already full plate (anxiety, insomnia, and stages to acceptance). All of that pain and anxiety you feel as a Mother to a child living with chronic illness, that’s unconditional love.

I believe our children choose us before we are blessed with them and mine chose me because I am strong enough to walk this journey with them, and because my love for them is stronger than anything in this world. They teach me everyday to understand that no matter how hard my day is, someone else’ day is harder.

My first-born son got sick almost immediately; he had the chicken pox at just two months old. We didn’t even have time to get his immunization shots, little did we know at the time that this would be the first of many trips to the ER. He had eczema, and then he was diagnosed with asthma. Following that, he started having life-threatening allergies and he kept getting lung sick with bronchitis and a few rounds of pneumonia. At the age of four, he had a bout of pneumonia accompanied with near renal failure. He once got mono and they thought he had leukemia – I never in my life would have imagined that I would be so relieved that he had mono. He got shingles at the age of nine and nearly lost his eye. Then they tell me he has an immune deficiency disease which is why he catches almost everything he comes into contact with. Thank Creator he is growing out of most of his illnesses like his allergies and asthma.

We endured many years of racism in the health care system and we could have had an earlier diagnosis for certain things if we were taken seriously about how sick he was. Trust me on this one, get yourself an advocate on speed dial as well as a network of supports that you can call – family, friends, colleagues, medical team, etc.

My second born son was picture perfect healthy and was always a very loveable and active child. Then one day when he was five years old I took him to the Doctor because he was rapidly losing weight, drinking alot of water and peeing every hour. He got really sick because they believed he could wait the weekend out to see a Doctor, so after throwing up, losing his eyesight temporarily, and going into a diabetic coma he was taken to RUH in Saskatoon. They said, “His sugar was 35!” I felt the whole room go under water, I couldn’t hear, I couldn’t breathe, and that feeling didn’t lift for over a week.

Just like that my baby had Type 1 diabetes and before I could even breathe again, a social worker was standing in the room and they wanted to know if I had food and beds at home. I went full-blown mama bear mode. I became an expert on making sure I never lose my children to the system; I became a hell of a Mom to deal with when predatory systems start encroaching on my sick children, questioning my ability to carry out my maternal duties. I started stacking up the supports again, gathering resources, becoming the expert in his disease and an expert in my new role as not only his Mother but functioning as his pancreas too.

With the help of his Mama and Poppa, he is living quite healthy, happy and well adjusted to living with diabetes. He was also diagnosed with a heart condition called supraventricular tachycardia (SVT), which hasn’t bothered him too much yet, but is expected to be a problem when he is a teenager. We are also preparing for that part of this journey.

I have many theories as to why my children are sick, like the fact that I grew up bathing in mercury-poisoned water. But no answers, so I just keep researching potential causes, potential cures, and diets. Anyone who is navigating the health care system with a child living with chronic illness, I recommend you find your indigenous healthcare advocates, line up your support, become an expert on your child’s illness, and take some time to care for yourself.

As indigenous women, we don’t just carry our families, we carry our nations. My family is not abnormal in a country that normalized poisoned waters for indigenous communities and medical experimentation on indigenous women and children. Asking why your loved ones are sick can really take you down a wormhole of historical facts that they do not teach in Canadian schools. TRUTH has to happen before reconciliation – it is our time to tell our truth and it is Canada’s duty to RECONCILE. Don’t be afraid to go down that wormhole and enter into that healing journey with your family.

Remember that self-care is more than bath bombs and spas; it also means taking care of your mental health. It is far too easy for the system to chew up and spit out a single mother who is struggling with her own demons. But also know the power that is indigenous mothers’ and remember what that means for our nations. Be her. Be the Mom that scares an oppressive system – the one who heals future generations by healing herself.

Brandy-Lee Maxie is one of the reporters participating in The Discourse’s Local News Fellowship. The fellowship aims to support sustained coverage of issues related to energy and the environment in communities underserved by the media. You can view her articles on her Facebook page, BrandyLeeMaxiejournalist. She is also an entrepreneur and creator of a Professional Fitness training (Warrior style Bootcamps & POWFit™ powwow inspired Dance Fitness). Please view her Facebook page AB ORIGINAL Health & Fitness. 

Brandy-Lee with her sons

 

October 12, 2018. Dr. Wicklum and I had the opportunity to present the Women Warriors program to medical professionals, mostly family doctors that work on reserve at the fall Alternate Reimbursement Plan (non fee for service) at Blackfoot Crossing, Treaty 7, Siksika Nation. We were grateful to connect with medical professionals that are passionate about Indigenous health and improving health outcomes.

 

After our ARP meeting, we were invited to the River Ranch for cultural teachings from a member of Siksika and a delicious dinner of moose meat soup and bannock. Thanks to Dr. Daniel Edgcumbe for connecting us with the lead organizer of the ARP, Dr. Ellen Toth, MD, FRCPC, Medical Leader, Indigenous health program, Alberta Health Services – North.

 

October 16, 2018. Dr. Wicklum and I participated in Bootcamp fitness class with instructor and owner of Determined Bootcamp in Lloydminster, Rita Ermine. Dr. Wicklum also delivered a 15-minute nutrition education class to participants.

 

Rita (right) instructed her first Boot Camp class on her mom, Theresa Dillon’s (center) home reserve of Onion Lake Cree Nation. Her Mom, a Grade 9 teacher at Frog Lake came to watch us and was beaming with pride. Our WW facilitator, Jaeden was a former student of Theresa’s.

 

October 17, 2018. Dr. Wicklum, Alicia Oliver, RDE for Onion Lake Cree Nation and I presented the Women Warriors program to health professionals at the Meadow Lake Tribal Council (MLTC). It consists of nine member First Nations – you can view them here. Thanks to the following health professionals for meeting with us: MLTC dieticians, Cassie and Tammy, community health rep, Mary, Registered Nurse, Armand, and health director, Savannah. We’re excited about our potential partnership with MLTC.

Parliamentary Health Research Caucus Event to
Highlight Northern and Rural Health Research in Canada

Dr. Wicklum has been invited to speak with Parliamentarians in Ottawa about Women Warriors and our research over the past three years in Lloydminster and currently in Onion Lake Cree Nation.

The press release for the event states:
Research Canada and the Parliamentary Health Research Caucus are hosting an invitation-only reception to introduce Parliamentarians to fifteen of Canada’s leading northern and rural health researchers from across the country, the majority of whom are women, who will discuss the challenges of providing health care to Canada’s remote and isolate regions. We are thrilled to be able to profile the ground-breaking research being conducted all across Canada and by several Indigenous researchers in their own remote communities. 
 
Rural Canada is about 20% of the employed Canadian workforce, one-third of the Canadian population and over 90% of the nation’s territory. Many rural communities in Canada are facing demographic, ecological, economic and social challenges due to geographic and social isolation, depletion of natural resources, boom-and-bust cycles in primary industries, chronic high unemployment, out-migration of the young, population aging, environmental decay, inadequate or deteriorating municipal infrastructure, etc. These problems have profound implications for the health and well-being of northern, Indigenous and rural Canada. This Parliamentary Health Research Caucus Reception on Northern and Rural Health Research in Canada can contribute to existing knowledge on rural, northern and Indigenous health and help to enhance sustained support for this area of research in Canada.

Date:               October 30, 2018, 3:30 p.m. – 6:30 p.m.

Where:            Speaker’s Lounge, Centre Block, Parliament Hill

Who:                Fifteen leading experts from across Canada will discuss their research under three areas of prevention research.

You can view the 15 invited researchers on the Research Canada website.
Dr. Wicklum’s presentation will include a slideshow featuring photos and videos of our WW community from 2016-2018. I encourage everyone to view the Youtube video.