Cannabis & Indigenous Women:
A Series of Health Stories

Destigmatize and Decolonize

One of the projects that I’ve been working on is Indigenous women’s health promotions and education on cannabis. I first became acquainted with this topic when I conducted a survey and interview with Women Warriors June 2018 for my Sociology 366 Research Methods in the Social Sciences on Concurrent Use Commercial Tobacco & Cannabis Interventions. I also interviewed Dr. Rebecca Saah about cannabis legalization for my May 2018 Yellowknifer news column, Keep Calm & Legalize On (Dr. Saah Interview) + Cannabis & Indigenous Women’s Health and June 2018 I wrote about my attendance at the Tobacco & Cannabis Workshop with Dr. Peter Selby from the Centre of Addiction and Mental Health. This past semester, for WGST 303 Women’s Health I wrote a health promotions unit on Pregnancy & Breastfeeding and Cannabis because it was a requested resource for the Women Warriors program (I plan to share it in the next newsletter). I feel compelled to do a series on cannabis because during a time of crisis people use substances to cope with their trauma and I want to ensure they have safe usage guidelines. Also, there exists a gap in the literature on culturally relevant, harm reduction approaches to delivering cannabis education to Indigenous women[In full disclosure I do not use cannabis or THC products and I have no vested interest in promoting their usage.)

Over the next two months I’ll feature five stories written by Indigenous women about their personal health stories and heart wisdom surrounding cannabis usage, cannabis medicine teachings, and/or their thoughts about cannabis and Indigenous communities. It is our hope that these personal stories help to destigmatize and decolonize Indigenous women’s use of cannabis. In a serendipitous wink from the universe I realized April 20th or 4/20, also known as “Weed Day” was upcoming as I planned the release of this cannabis series. Our first cannabis story released on the national holiday to celebrate cannabis – 4/20/2020 – is by guest writer, Brandy-Lee Maxie on Cannabis & Motherhood: Shattering Stigmas.

Cannabis & Motherhood: Shattering Stigmas
By Brandy-Lee Maxie

With cannabis legalization in Canada, there has been an increase in openly pro-cannabis individuals. But for one demographic (Mothers), judgement and criticism doesn’t cease even with legalization. Unfortunately much of this criticism comes from people who have little to no knowledge of cannabis in general, and who also seem to be experts in parenting your children whom they have never met. But more Moms are openly consuming or advocating for cannabis despite the judgement, and a lot can be learned from some of them.

While we transition into a cannabis friendly society, please understand that lack of understanding of cannabis as a medicine, 95 years of prohibition and negative propaganda has been the fuel behind a lot of these stigmas. More than likely a cannabis Mom has done so much research on cannabis, out of necessity to defend their pro-cannabis homes, that you may actually benefit from their expertise. I am one of those mothers who spent much of my life researching it, using it and trying to help others understand the medicine behind the stigma.

I started to use cannabis at a young age to battle anorexia, insomnia, anxiety and depression. It was recommended to me as I was a mere 90 pounds for a few years and unable to eat a full meal to save my life. I began to have health issues due to the anorexia, like heart palpitations, stomach and mental health issues. One day I smoked a joint with a friend and ate the best meal of my life, followed by the best sleep I had in what felt like years. It also seemed to calm my anxiety and gave me an overall sense of relaxation that I never knew I could feel. So even at a young age, I viewed it as medicinal. That is not to say I didn’t abuse it in those years, using it recreationally when I wasn’t needing it medicinally. But I lived and I learned.

As I got older and went through some trauma due to domestic abuse, racism and crisis, I began to see the benefits that it had on my mental health and persistent pain that came with serious injuries. Despite the harsh criticism I was met with by my family, my community and the society that deemed this a drug comparable to heroine, I stood my ground. It is a hard path to walk when the slightest slip up could lead to apprehension of my children, as we have seen happen to many young parents throughout the years. But I still saw a medicine, one that could possibly help my people come off of hard (often prescription) drugs, help with trauma work and chronic pain management which often leads to addiction to the opioids.

Due to the stigma attached to my image being pro-cannabis, I was passed up on many opportunities in life. I was shunned out of many circles, including ceremonial and intellectual. Although I knew I always had so much potential, I knew I was intelligent and ambitious, I was often seen as just a stoner. I often wonder if I was being judged on my own personal short comings in life or if I was being judged based on a stigma. I persisted anyways because being able to function through trauma and be able to parent my children was what really mattered.

Legalization allowed me to legally acquire a wider range of products to meet my medicinal needs. Instead of getting a surprise sativa strain of cannabis to combust, which would actually increase my anxiety and keep me up, I can now ask specifically for an indica strain of cannabis infused chamomile tea or a indica dominant hybrid strain of chocolate to get through the day.

We all possess an endocannabinoid system within our bodies and even for people who are anti-cannabis, there could be some medicinal benefits in cannabis use if they needed it. Maybe they are diagnosed with cancer and wish to shrink tumors down to an operable size. Or a loved one develops seizures due to epilepsy and could benefit from CBD oil like Charlotte’s Web. With the prohibition lifted, we are able to study in a medical setting the affects, good and bad, of cannabis on various illnesses and ailments.

As I get older and learn more about what my body needs, I have nearly quit recreational use, especially during this pandemic. I have almost no desire to be “high” as I try my best to keep my Type 1 diabetic child healthy during these scary times. However, due to the increase in anxiety and uncertainty and triggered trauma that I have had to sit with during quarantine, I still use cannabis almost daily. I choose to use more CBD products, which is a non-psychoactive hemp product that helps me with inflammation and anxiety. While I don’t feel the need to be “high” at the moment, I still consume low dose THC once a day to manage the pain and anxiety. THC is the psychoactive component that brings on the intoxication feeling that has lead to cannabis being mislabeled, wrongfully prohibited and is the culprit for the stigma of the entirety of this wonderful plant medicine.

As a mother, I still practice safe storage of my medicines just as I would with a bottle of tylenol, anti-depressants or even vitamins. Also as a mother with two sons living with chronic illness, I consider the pharmaceutical medications that they will require throughout their lifetimes and I would much rather understand safer alternatives for when the time comes that my child suffers diabetic neuropathy. There are 483 compounds in the cannabis plant, and we have been judging it based on one component, while starving our communities of safer alternatives to pharmaceuticals. On this 4/20, let’s celebrate the millions of men, women and children who are living their best lives because of it. Let’s not forget all the cannabis Moms (and Dads) parenting to their full potential because they are not debilitated by illness, addictions and trauma.

Brandy-Lee Maxie is a Nakota Assiniboine mother of three from the White Bear First Nations. She is an entrepreneur, an artist, and a journalist/storyteller, but will also put her life on hold to live in a resistance camp from time to time. If you are interested in contacting Brandy-Lee for freelance work please email me: Shelley@womenwarriors.club and I will connect you.

Collective Trauma & Coping:
Spiritual Practice
By Shelley Wiart

Today marks the fifth week of our pandemic social distancing. Everything has changed. We cannot fully articulate how our lives will look post-mortem Covid-19, but we all recognize a before and after life. We all have a moment of realization of the gravity of our situation. Mass death and world economic collapse are the daily running headlines. The destructive nature of this pandemic is always in the back of our minds whispering fear and doubt into our collective consciousness. We feel the collective grief, suffering, and fear in the atmosphere.

We are struggling to come to terms with the life altering terror of Covid-19, our invisible enemy. It is an enemy of stealth and mind games destroying our relationships, our ability to connect, and our hope for the future. Our day-to-day activities have become complicated and anxiety inducing. Going to the grocery store feels like a gamble with our lives. I don’t attempt to connect to strangers on my walking path or at the store, instead taking a wide berth and passing them as quickly as I can. My Mama bear instincts are on high alert – I’m worried about the impact of this pandemic on my three daughter’s future.

Today Canadians are in a collective state of trauma as yesterday the worst mass shooting in our history claimed the lives of 16 people in rural Nova Scotia. I was meditating in the park yesterday afternoon when a headline alert popped up on my phone notifying me of this tragedy. It took my breath away and I felt a trauma response in my body – a numbness and tuning out. My condolences to the Canadians that have lost their loved ones from this unthinkable act of violence. Also, let us never forget Constable Heidi Stevenson that lost her life in the line of duty.

On Friday night I had a dream about seeking out a trauma therapist for myself. It was a request to find a trauma therapist not only for myself, but also for the collective. Dreams, visions, and signs are messages from Spirit that are yours to decipher and decide the best way to use them, or share them. All the events in my life involve learning about trauma and coping strategies: Last Thursday I had a Zoom conversation with Métis author and academic, Jesse Thistle about his book, From the Ashes where he admitted to working with a trauma counsellor while writing his book; I’m taking an online course, Indigenous psychology reading and practice facilitated by two Indigenous psychologist, Dr. Duran and Dr. Eynon; and, I’m enrolled in a university course on Feminist Crisis Counselling.

I could list ten coping strategies and explain each one in detail, but the practice that is most powerful for me is spiritual. It is being in nature and connecting to Mother Earth, laying tobacco on the ground (only if I am alone and sometimes I don’t have any), and prayer. I was taught by an Elder to pray in the format of prayers for yourself, then your children, then your partner (spouse) and your family, then friends, community, country, and all of humanity. To expand on the power of this spiritual practice I’ll share some insights from Indigenous academics, Absolon and Mitchell, and Elder A.J. Felix from the Turtle Lodge Central House of Knowledge.

Mitchell’s (2018) book, Sacred Instructions states “one of the most important things we can do for ourselves, our children, and the future of the planet is to decolonize our minds and ways of life” (p. 93). Mitchell (2018) states part of this process involves reconnecting with Mother Earth:

Colonization undermines our capacity for self-determination and self-sufficiency. It does this by taking us away from the gifts provided by the Earth and making us dependent on the trappings of the colonial economy. If you review the historical record, you will see that the people targeted for colonization were self-sufficient, and most often living in harmonious balance with the natural world. After colonization, these same people were reduced to poverty and dependence on the colonizer. When we lose our connection to the Earth, we lose our freedom, and we lose our ability to survive (p. 104).

Indigenous academic, Kathleen Absolon (2011) states that tobacco is one of our sacred medicines:

Tobacco (semaa) is a sacred medicine and is used to recognize spirit. Our ancestral ties and our spiritual ties are so strong that even if a person has just a drop of Indigenous ancestry, there’s still a bloodline and Spirit connection, and Spirit might find its voice through that person somehow in some way, and so we have to be really careful and respectful of that understanding (p. 60).

We all have the ability to access our inner wisdom, but as Sherri Mitchell (2018) shares in her story about trying to find her inner teacher, it is a process:

At first I went to my elders to see if they could give me the wisdom that I longed to have. Though they were able to give me a great deal of valuable insight, they couldn’t give me the connection that I was craving. The one day I decided I would just ask the inner teacher to come forward and tell me what I most needed to know. I invited the inner teacher to give me a sign, one that I would easily recognize and understand. I asked it to come to me in my dreams, to walk in the front door, to send the message through the animals or some other source. I asked over and over again, in every way that I could think to ask, and still there was nothing. In frustration, I went to one of the elders that I had been working with and explained what I had been doing. She listened, and then she laughed at me for a long time. When she was done laughing, she told me, “You have to stop asking and be quiet if you want an answer.” So I got quiet and began to listen, but even my listening was active. In my mind I was searching for something, reaching and grasping. It wasn’t until I was able to truly let go and just be present with silence that I finally got my answer. It wasn’t some profound statement or divine guidance. All I heard was, “I’m with you.” It was enough. From there our relationship began to develop. I learned to sit in the silence and feel the presence of the inner teacher all around me. I learned to recognize my teacher’s voice and understand the tugging feelings that let me know when she was calling me. I began to decipher the subtle signs that she was sending me out in the world and to recognize when she was speaking to me through others (pp.148-149).

Prayer is an integral part of the teachings that Cree Elder A.J. Felix shares in his video recorded at the Turtle Lodge. He shares a song and four gifts (starting at 7:46). His instructions are wherever you go you give the four gifts away to whomever you talk to, which is why I’m sharing the four gifts in this newsletter.

1) Pray. Pray with sincerity and make it to the point.
2) When you pray, cry. Mean it. Don’t just rattle off a prayer. If you want it bad enough for your kid, your wife, your friend, you’ll cry.
3) Never go around trying to buy luck. Don’t go and buy something that will hurt someone else. Don’t try to buy success. You can hurt your home, hurt yourself and your family by buying.
4) Now that you’re a praying person, a crying person, watchful of your life and lifestyle, you’re going to be successful. You’re going to be ok. You’re not going to have fear because you’re doing these first three things. Now that you’re ok be humble. Don’t go boasting around because you’re ok. Share your wealth, share your food, and share what little bit you got with those that really need it bad and you’ll be ok.

I shared my spiritual practice as an Métis woman in hopes it will help people manage their trauma responses. I do not speak as an authority on Indigenous cultural or spiritual practices. This is the practice that works for me and gives me access to my inner wisdom. Thank you for reading and please let me know if you have any comments or questions through email: Shelley@womenwarriors.club

References

Absolon, K. (2011). Kaandossiwin: How we come to know. Winnipeg, Manitoba; Fernwood Publishing.
Mitchell, S. (2018). Sacred Instructions: Indigenous wisdom for living spirit-based change. Berkeley, California: North Atlantic Books.