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Metis Cultural Days

Central Urban Metis Federation Inc. (CUMFI) hosted a Metis cultural gathering, celebration & fundraiser on Sept. 28th-30th in Saskatoon, SK.

Metis Days Gala (l to r): Myself, journalist Betty Ann Adam, & Dr. Jacqueline Maurice. We all had much in common- scooped/adopted out because of our heritage.

 

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.”

Betty Ann also discussed her experience as a 60’s scoop survivor in the Star Phoneix column, Scooped: How I lost my mother, found my family, recovered my identity. For this article, she won the Canadian Association of Journalist 2017 award for best text feature.

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: jackie.m.maurice@gmail.com

Betty Ann Adam is engaged with Sixties Scoop Sharing Circles beginning in Saskatchewan October – November.


Thanks to Lindsay Isbister, organizer of the models for the art auction for featuring the Women Warriors brand! The models are holding my favorite original piece of art – contemporary Louis Riel!
Orange Shirt Day Pancake Breakfast on Sunday, Sept 30th was a well-attended reconciliation event! Here I am with my friend, Jannica and her daughter, Mya (far left), Cpl. Karen Pelletier (centre), acting Aboriginal Advisory NCO/community engagement coordinator, F Division, Prince Albert, and my three daughters, Aubrey, Kayla, and Harper.

 

October 2nd, WW’s Onion Lake Cree Nation class featured beginner yoga and meditation with sound bowls.

 

 

Meditation instructor, Tara Harty states, “I am a Pranic Energy Healer. I balance my energy and clear the room before I start. Then I go through and balance each individual to help them better relax and absorb the vibrations. The vibrations from the bowls and the sounds vibrate right through your body and remove blocks and tension.”

 

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.

Dietary Practices of Indigenous Women

MA thesis learnings from our University of Calgary grad student, Megan Sampson

July 2017 – Visiting Wwom Warrior participant, Ashley and her huge garden at Onion Lake Cree Nation. (L to R): Ashley, U of C summer student Elsy, and Megan.

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.

For any additional information, please contact me at mbsampso@ucalgary.ca
Megan’s previous contributions to our newsletter include Food Security & Needs in Lloydminster and a two-part series on Lloydminster Plains History.

NOTES AND REFERENCES:

  1. A few of many works to consider if interested in learning more about Indigenous feminism:
    Anderson, KimA 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.
  2. 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.
  1. Jamieson, Kathleen. “Sex Discrimination and the Indian Act.” In Arduous Journey: Canadian Indians and Decolonization, edited by J. Ponting. Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1986
September 25th – Our first Onion Lake Cree Nation (OLCN) class. (L to R): Myself, Jaeden and Alicia Oliver, RD, CDE and WW program coordinator for OLCN.

 

Sept. 25th – Jaeden and Alicia conducting a round circle discussion.

 

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.