Woman Warriors Newsletter

Be the Mom Who Heals Future Generations by Healing Herself

By Brandy-Lee Maxie

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.

Siksika, Alberta
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.