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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on twitter @ThisAndThatYEG
News stories pertaining to racism within the Canadian health care system:
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.
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.
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 email@example.com. 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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
Central Urban Metis Federation Inc. (CUMFI) hosted a Metis cultural gathering, celebration & fundraiser on Sept. 28th-30th in Saskatoon, SK.
I was invited to attend the Metis Days Gala Fundraiser held at the White Cap Dakota Casino on September 29th. It featured an Indigenous art auction and silent auction to support CUMFI’s programs for families residing in Supported Living Homes.
At this event, it was a pleasure to meet 60’s Scoop Survivors, Betty Ann Adam and Dr. Jacqueline Maurice. This past summer I read Dr. Maurice’s book, The Lost Children: A Nation’s Shame based on her own experience as 60’s scooped child placed in the child welfare system at one-month-old. She uses her childhood trauma of being placed in many foster homes from birth to fifteen years old to explain the de-spiriting of Aboriginal children, defined as the “process whereby Aboriginal children and families have experienced institutional, structural, cultural, psychological, emotional and spiritual oppression and trauma resulting in Aboriginal children, families, and communities moving away from their balance and spirit of well-being (Maurice, 2014, p.v).
Her experiences of being “in-care” were used for her Ph.D. dissertation and she includes a research methodology chapter that I found fascinating. She uses an “autobiographical and auto-ethnographical approach to examine in a systematic manner the institutional construction and textual production” (p. 75) of her own government and medical documents, and personal childhood journals that chronicled her traumatic childhood. Her qualitative methodology allowed for decolonizing and alternative methodologies – throughout the book she uses Indigenous stories, values and culture. For example, she uses many Indigenous ways of knowing and concepts such as, “All my relations” and charts on the beliefs and values of Aboriginal family life to explain the devastation of the 60’s scoop (pp.27-30).
One chapter is dedicated to her “first-hand account as [a] long-term foster child during the duration of the Adopt Indian-Metis program (AIM)” (p.175). It is heartbreaking reading her personal narratives as a child struggling to understand the sexual abuse she endured from her foster father and brother-in-law, and the subsequent behavioral problems, self-harm, and suicide attempts as a teenager.
It is also filled with hope, forgiveness, and accounts of healing by other 60’s scoop survivors. One personal interview that touched me, as an Indigenous adult adoptee, was 60’s scoop survivor Terry’s search for her origins and identity. After speaking with her biological Uncle on the phone she “remember[s] going home that day and looking in the mirror because it was confirmed, because I had asked him, are we Metis, are we Cree, are we Saulteaux, I didn’t know. And he said, ‘we call ourselves Cree Saulteaux,’ and I went home that day, and I looked in the mirror, and I said to myself, ‘oh yeah I really do look Indian.’ So it was just this validation, which was tremendous'” (p.213).
An indigenous award-winning journalist for the Star Phoenix, Betty Ann and I spoke about that validation after searching for and finding our biological families, both of whom reside in Yellowknife. We talked about our common experience as Indigenous adoptees both placed with non-Indigenous families – physically never having someone that looked like us growing up, wondering about our cultural origins, and if our biological family member would have similar personality traits. You can view Betty Ann’s experience reuniting with her biological family in the documentary, Birth of a Family. You can watch the first time she meets her biological siblings – two sisters and one brother! The synopsis states they were “removed from their young Dene mother during the infamous Sixties Scoop, separated as infants and adopted into families across North America.”
I also wrote about my personal adoption/reunion journey for the YellowkniferWomen Warriors newspaper column, Finding one’s ancestral homeland and culture. (Email me if you’d like the pdf electronic version).
After I took this picture of the three of us, Dr. Maurice stated it made her emotional. When I look at this picture I see three Indigenous women that were displaced from our communities, asking the question, “Whose little girl am I?” (p.174). We found our way back to our families and our land. We’ve been blessed with a spiritual healing based on discovering our identity and connecting to our origins. I felt incredibly grateful to be sitting at this table with Indigenous women that could identify with my story and had used their stories to create awareness and understanding of the 60’s scoop.
Dr. Maurice is available for Sixties Scoop Community engagement activities, curriculum development and/or presentations/storytelling. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Women Warriors Review of Yoga and Meditation Class
“Omg! I loved it!! I had the best sleep ever and would most definitely do it again.” Clarissa
“Yoga and meditation was a perfect way to ending my evening. I haven’t had a good sleep in such a long time. The best part was coming home with no shoulder pain. Thanks for the stress-free evening!” Amanda
“Yoga was a challenge it was first for me it was different and would do it again now meditation was totally AMAZING I loved it and would do it again thank you appreciate it .” Grace
“We need this in North Battleford (NB).” Niska (former WW’s participant now living in NB).
Upcoming Newsletter Feature
I’m excited to share several exciting upcoming features for our newsletter. I am currently in university and do not have the time to dedicate to a weekly newsletter; however, I have asked a guest writer, Brandy-Lee Maxie, an Indigenous journalist to write an article on her personal experience accessing health care services for her son, who has type I diabetes. As well, our U of C grad student, Megan Sampson will share insights on her Master’s thesis on food security in Lloydminster with our WW group from last November. Finally, I’ll start sharing Women Warriors Wednesday profiles from the Onion Lake Cree Nation group.
If you have any questions about the program or would like to contact me for follow up information please email: Shelley@womenwarriors.club.
MA thesis learnings from our University of Calgary grad student, Megan Sampson
It has been one year since I travelled to Lloydminster to conduct ethnographic research with the Women Warriors program. I will soon defend my MA thesis based on the results of that work, which explored the dietary practices of Indigenous women in the program. While in previous newsletters I’ve been able to describe the methods, goals, and preliminary trends from this study, today I am able to offer a more complete picture of the ample learnings participants offered.
This research is grounded in Indigenous feminist literature1to explore the interplay of social and structural factors impacting Indigenous women’s wellness. Two main tenets of Indigenous feminist theory apply most directly: 1) Indigenous women’s experiences of marginalization and gendered inequality are distinct and rooted in colonization. Colonization remains intact in living legislation, having persistent impacts on Indigenous women’s health, wellbeing, and material realities; 2) Indigenous women have the leadership, knowledge, and skills to produce lasting change and resist oppression. Both of these truths are evident in the food practices and experiences of the women in this study.
Socio-political factors related to colonization have produced food insecurity among Indigenous peoples in the territory where Lloydminster now resides2. Trauma and the impacts of residential schools have also impacted dietary practices. Some participants in the study were residential school survivors, and they described how it felt to be separated from their culture, including traditional diet:
The food they gave us was pathetic. They gave us rotten food back then. And we came from a system of wild meat– you know, the good food. And then we get thrown into a system where it’s not so good [. . .] So, times have changed, but the memories still linger. It’ll take time. Some people eat because of comfort, because it’s a comfort food. . . It’s not because they want to eat to be a diabetic. It’s what they’re trying to feed because of what they didn’t have. . .
Others described intergenerational effects:
L: Well, for me, I used to be overweight. And I’ve been battling with weight my whole life. And, growing up I’ve often wondered why my parents never said anything to me. I was getting chunkier and chunkier [. . .] And maybe it’s because of how my dad grew up—he grew up in residential school—that he just wanted to let me have everything, because he didn’t have it. . . He couldn’t be with his parents. So, I think he was just trying to spoil me and my sister—does that make sense?
Another challenge described by participants was the high cost of healthy foods. It is important to consider that the socio-economic realities of Indigenous women have been shaped by colonial and gendered violence, for example in sexist legislation engrained in the Indian Act3. Some participants reported fear of running out of food before they had money to buy more or feeling unable to afford to eat healthy. Even for participants who reported feeling financially secure, economic considerations often played a major role in what foods they consumed. Out of 8 participants who took part in a social network mapping activity, it was revealed that collectively they shared meals (at least once a week) with a total of 57 other individuals (an average of about 7 each). This often required considerable financial planning. For those from Onion Lake Cree Nation or rural surrounding areas, the cost of travel to and from the city for groceries, and the high cost of produce at convenience stores, posed added economic burden.
Personal food preferences (or the food preferences of children, grandchildren, or partners) were sometimes described as interfering with nutrition and chronic disease management. Behavioural-level, “lifestyle”-based health analyses have been criticized for “victim blaming”, as individuals whose choices are constrained by larger socio-political and environmental factors are blamed for their own adverse health. In the context of this research, it was evident in participants’ narratives that food choices and preferences revealed much about broader structural realities:
B: When I was younger we didn’t always have food to last us until the next time we were getting money. So basically we just had to eat what was provided to us. . . So it would have been a lot of starchy foods like potatoes and soups. . . I ate a lot of macaroni [. . .] That’s the only way I learned how to cook for my own family. [My daughter’s] in university, and she’s overweight. She’s carrying on the same habits that I kind of taught her.
* * * Residential school. . . that kind of led me down a different path. When I was on reserve, I didn’t gain weight. But the minute that I was in the residential school the weight came. I started getting fluffy. [They fed me] breads, lots of breads and fatty foods. So when I came home after residential school, that’s the way I preferred to eat. For some 40 years I struggled with weight because I couldn’t maintain the way I was eating.
Despite these barriers, food practices were also sites of cultural resilience, leadership and creativity. Despite concerted assimilationist efforts by settler society, a large majority of the women involved in this study reported consuming traditional foods (mostly meat from wild game). Several described active efforts to seek out, prepare, and share traditional foods, for reasons including their economic feasibility, health benefits, and cultural value. One participant was a foster parent who taught other foster parents in her community how to prepare traditional meals to promote cultural competency. Others described various ways that actively connecting or reconnecting to their culture through food benefitted themselves and their families:
So I’m just now, since from last year getting back into eating raw vegetables and, um, dry meat and, you know traditional food like duck [. . .] I’m really liking the way I eat right now. It’s really pulled me back from the brink of something. I thought I was going to have a heart attack, you know, if I didn’t stop eating the way I was eating. Yeah, so I’m trying. I’m teaching my grandkids and my kids, you know, like “you have to eat differently”.
In a couple of cases, participants went to impressive lengths to self-provision. One participant was able to combat household food insecurity, which she had struggled with for years, through converting her yard into a vast home garden and building a smokehouse to prepare wild meat. Having minimal experience with gardening or traditional food practices in her past, these feats were a source of immense pride. It was evident that passing these knowledges on to her children helped to empower them and her alike:
My biggest pet peeve is ‘oh cooking is for girls’. People and their strong gender beliefs that ‘oh because you’re a male you don’t need to know how to do this’. But what if you find out that you don’t like girls? What if you find out that you like boys, then what? What if he was raised the same way as you and doesn’t know how to do these things? Who’s going to cook, who’s going to clean? So, I like to teach my boys. My boys help me garden and help me weed. Like, come on, my son grew a watermelon!
I do not mean to suggest such self-provisioning is feasible for all Indigenous families struggling with food insecurity. Rather, what these activities demonstrate is the extensive actions Indigenous women are already taking to nourish their families. Every woman involved in this study, through various means, actively sought better health for themselves and their families on a daily basis (hence why most enrolled in Women Warriors). The question for those designing health programming or initiatives to promote Indigenous women’s health should be how to support them in such endeavours and provide the tools to overcome structural barriers. Prescriptive top-down approaches that fail to account for such barriers are discernibly limited.
I would like to thank Shelley for featuring me in her newsletter, and for being a friend and mentor at every stage of this project. Thanks also to Sonja Wicklum, Rita Henderson, and both Dolores Pahtayken and Elder Verna Buffalo Calf, who served advisory roles. Above all, thank you so much to the women who generously participated in this study.
A few of many works to consider if interested in learning more about Indigenous feminism: Anderson, Kim. A Recognition of Being: Reconstructing Native Womanhood. Toronto: Women’s Press, 2016. Green, Joyce. “Taking Account of Aboriginal Feminism.” In Making Space for Indigenous Feminism, 20–32. London: Zed, 2007. Suzack, Cheryl. “Indigenous Feminisms in Canada.” NORA: Nordic Journal For Women’s Studies23, no. 4 (December 2015): 261–74. https://doi.org/10.1080/08038740.2015.1104595 Suzack, Cheryl, Shari M. Huhndorf, Jeanne Perreault, and Jean Barman, eds. Indigenous Women and Feminism: Politics, Activism, Culture. Vancouver: UBC Press, 2010. Guerrero, Jaimes. “‘Patriarchal Colonialism’ and Indigenism: Implications for Native Feminist Spirituality and Native Womanism.” Hypatia18, no. 2, 2003. Fiske, Jo-Anne. “Child of the State, Mother of the Nation: Aboriginal Women and the Ideology of Motherhood.” Culture12, no. 1 (1993): 17–35. Fiske, Jo-Anne.“By, For, or About? Shifting Directions in the Representations of Aboriginal Women.” Atlantis25, no. 1 (2000): 11–27.
Bourassa, Carrie, Kim McKay-McNabb, and Mary Hampton. “Racism, Sexism, and Colonialism: The Impact on the Health of Aboriginal Women in Canada.” Canadian Woman Studies24, no. 1 (2004): 23–30. Kubik, Wendee, Carrie Bourassa, and Mary Hampton. “Stolen Sisters, Second Class Citizens, Poor Health: The Legacy of Colonization in Canada.” Humanity & Society33, no. 1–2 (February 1, 2009): 18–34. https://doi.org/10.1177/016059760903300103.
Jamieson, Kathleen. “Sex Discrimination and the Indian Act.” In Arduous Journey: Canadian Indians and Decolonization, edited by J. Ponting. Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1986
Jaeden’s Facilitator Profile
Jaeden is a member of Onion Lake Cree Nation. She has one son, 16 month old Jaelin. She is also employed as a Child & Youth Care Worker.
Why you applied to be a Woman Warrior Facilitator: I applied for the position because it really stood out to me. I love the idea of bringing woman together in my community. Especially that it’s about living a healthier lifestyle, we can all depend on each other to help one another. However, I’d like to become more skilled in being a leader to others. I feel as if the knowledge will also help me in living a better and healthier lifestyle. I’ve always wanted to be someone who helps others, in any way possible! One of my other main reasons I applied is because it would be a wonderful experience for myself. And perhaps help me figure out what I’d like to pursue in my carrier.
Types of physical activity you enjoy (ie) Member of a sports team: I enjoy any kind of physical activity. I am open to trying new things all the time. I’m currently playing in a woman’s volleyball league. Volleyball is my favourite sport, although I love every other sport.
Twelve Weeks to Healthy Living September 25th – December 11th.
On September 13th I welcomed our new OLCN facilitator, Jaeden Carter, our program and research coordinator, Alicia Oliver, and our backup facilitator and community health representative, Lori Lewis into my home for a full day of facilitator training.
Onion Lake Cree Nation applied for and obtained the funding that our program has received for the past two years (2016-2017) from the Alberta Government Recreation and Physical Activity Grant Program. It is our first on reserve program with the first session starting September 25th and ending December 11th. This program is full with a total of 35 registered participants. The next session begins in January so please call Alicia at the Onion Lake Health Centre to register 306.344.2330.
For the past year, the participants have requested the program be moved to Onion Lake to reduce the barriers of transportation, driving costs, time on the road, especially in the winter and childcare issues. Every Tuesday evening at 7 – 8:30 pm the participants will gather at Kihew Waciston Gym for a variety of exercise classes, nutrition education, and a talking circle to discuss health and wellness.
Please see below for the tentative October schedule. The first class on September 25th will include community Elder, Rose Watchmaker sharing traditional teachings on balance and wellness. Our first fitness instructor is an OLCN member and a graduate of the Indigenous Fitness Leadership Certificate, Tara Waskewitch.
I am currently enrolled in university and I will not be participating in the program. My first priority is completing my degree, but I will be offering support to the facilitator through weekly phone calls.
I am also reducing our newsletters to a monthly edition due to my time constraints. If you are interested in weekly updates please follow our Facebook group.
Winter Warmth Donations for the Kids
Two weeks ago I met with a few ladies from Onion Lake to discuss hosting a winter gear fundraiser. Vera, a former WW participant, mother of five children, ages 14, 13, 11, 9 and 1 and a full-time employee at Native Justice tells me there are approximately 1600 kids on reserve. She shares there is an urgent need for winter clothes for kids and demonstrates the vulnerability of these kids through a personal story.
She knows an Elder acting as a guardian for her grandchild and is not getting supplemented for childcare costs. The Elder is surviving on a fixed pension and cannot afford the extra expenses that taking care of a child requires such as new winter clothes.
Another WW participant and school counselor at Eagleview Comprehensive High School, Brenda tells me about the high school kids that fall through the cracks. They are forced to couch surf because their home environment is not safe and their basic needs are not being met, such as winter jackets or boots. The teachers and counselors often buy mitts and toques from their own personal wage and supply them to kids in need. They do what they can to help, but the need is greater than what they can fill.
As I stare out my window today in disbelief of the early snowfall, I think of my kids on the playground without winter gear. This morning at 8:30 am I did not expect them to need winter toques, mitts, jackets, ski pants and boots in September. I imagine all the caregivers of children today that are scrambling to find suitable winter clothing. I also know many kids will be forced to go without, trying to bundle up with multi-layers of sweaters and extra pairs of socks in sneakers.
Vera and I are collecting next to new, new and cash donations for children’s winter clothing. We would like to provide a wide variety of winter gear from baby snowsuits to adult jackets for the high school students. We are NOT a non-profit and cannot provide charitable tax receipts. We can be fully transparent about how we spend the cash donations. In the next newsletter, I will post pictures of what we purchase with any cash donations. I hope by next year we can partner with a non-profit and provide a charitable tax receipt.
We will dispense the needed winter gear through school staff. Any remaining winter gear will be shared at the Women Warriors group on Tuesday evenings.
If you are willing to make a donation please contact me for pick-up in Lloydminster. Shelley@womenwarriors.club.
Vera emailed all the departments in Onion Lake to set out donation bins at their offices.
Please etransfer Vera at email@example.com. She will provide you with a receipt and we will keep a spreadsheet of donations for accountability. Every dollar will go towards purchasing winter gear for kids.
We would like to send a HUGE thank you to Brixton Shoes for their generous donation of winter boots (pictured below).
The lazy days of summer are coming to end. I’ve had a wonderful summer full of adventures with my three daughters – we spent a month in Yellowknife – and we have returned to our home in Lloydminster, Alberta. Our school start date was September 4th and this year I’ve prepared for a child in kindergarten, Grade 2, and Grade 4.
Over the years I’ve developed a four-stage plan of attack scheduled over the last two weeks of August. It can be overwhelming for my wallet and my nerves to do everything the week beforehand. I am sharing my back-to-school strategy and the associated costs so that I can create awareness of the emotional and financial investment that back-to-school requires on behalf of parents.
Above all, I recognize that I am in a privileged position with the benefit of support systems. I can afford to purchase new school supplies, clothes, and extracurricular activities for my daughters. I’m disclosing my costs with the aim of evoking change within our social and education systems by addressing the first barrier for parents when it comes to education, back-to-school expenses.
Stage 1: Register children for September programs.
The registration fee for my three daughters in Girl Guides, Brownies, and Sparks was $364. The registration fee for fall/winter weekly half-hour piano instruction was $560. My oldest two daughters musical theater program was $950. Fall swimming lessons for the youngest two was $84. A grand total of September programs with payment required upfront $1, 958.
Stage 2: Purchase clothes and shoes.
I released my three excited fashionistas’ on the Children’s Place clothing store. I allowed them to each pick two pairs of pants and two shirts each for a total of $154. Their shoes purchased at Sketchers were a total of $180. A grand total of clothes and shoes $334.
Stage 3: Purchase school supplies and pay school fees.
Most schools now send out the option of purchasing school supplies through them with an online payment method. My friend with four children has done this option multiple times and has been disappointed with the quality of the school supplies. I decided to do the old-fashioned let them pick their own supplies. After an hour of shopping, and questioning my sanity we spent a total of $250. In addition, I owe $115 for school fees including project/activities and agendas. A grand total of school supplies and fees $365.
Stage 4: Haircuts and colors.
Fortunately, I am a licensed hairstylist so I cut and color my daughters’ hair at cost. The trend for kids right now is rainbow hair that usually requires two different sets of foils: one to lighten the hair, and one to apply the vibrant colors such as purple, pink, and blue. Haircuts for children usually range from $15-$30. Multiple sets of foils with three colors range from $60-$150. If I were to bring my three girls to a salon for a haircut and rainbow color I would be charged approximately $300.
Drumroll for the total cost of back-to-school for my three daughters…….$2, 957.
I have not charged for my emotional labor including organizing their schedules or going to the store to watch them model cat t-shirts. Furthermore, I have more spare time than most parents to enact this back-to-school strategy because I do not work a full-time job (other than the tremendous effort it requires to parent my children).
Like the majority of parents, my wallet and stress levels have an inverse relationship. The financial stress of education begins in August before the school year has begun.
There are members of our Women Warriors group fundraising to purchase supplies and clothes for their children. I have compassion for their struggle – single income households with three to five children – that do not have the extra cash for these expenses.
The logistics of payments could be worked out to be a monthly payment or my suggestion of a lump sum payment in August that allows parents to set their children up for a successful school year.
The intergenerational cycle of poverty is broken, Lumborg states, “because the programs increase the intensity of child investment in school as well as child time in school.”
“In addition to positive schooling outcomes, these transfers have lowered the poverty rate, improved the nutritional status of poor households, and have increased the proportion of children receiving vaccinations and other health services.”
For the naysayers yelling, “Socialist idealist!” at me, I yell back, “Pay now or pay later!”
Pay now for children to get their education or pay later when they become a burden on the social systems because they are uneducated. An uneducated adult will cost the social system a great deal more than my $3000 back to school investment.
This past summer I went back to Yellowknife to heal from a broken heart. A family members addiction had me deeply troubled, and I needed a break. A break from giving to others because my cup was empty. Between my family member’s addiction, finishing my university studies, parenting three young children, writing my newsletter and Yellowknifer news column and making arrangements for the expansion to Onion Lake, I was done. If you would have stuck a fork in me I would have deflated like the turkey in National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.
I decided to take the summer off to spend with my girls and my family. It was the best form of medicine. I did not schedule a single thing for myself to do, except following the advice of Maria OneSpot’s WW profile, “To wake up with the sun because it is who we are as a spiritual people to rise with the sun.”
And I wrote. Every morning I sat on the balcony of our condo, overlooking the Great Slave Lake, and I filled three 250 page Hilroy notebooks with all my grief, sadness, hopes, dreams, and future plans. Somewhere between the last week of June and the first week of August I recovered.
I believe that the Great Slave Lake assisted in my healing. Even though I was not physically on the water, the view calmed me and gave me strength.
I share my experience with the healing properties of water because I want to honor all the Indigenous women that sacrifice for our waters. Indigenous women are water protectors. For those Indigenous women that have taken on the role to educate on the spiritual properties of water and to teach people to respect and honor water, I thank you.
This past week, a friend and former member of Women Warriors told me that community members from Onion Lake Cree Nation were doing a water ceremony at the bridge. I told her next time I would like to join. She replied, “The more people we get to pray for the water the stronger our prayers will be. The land and water are for everyone – we have to keep the waters clean.”
In the meantime, please check out the amazing work of Autumn Peltier, an Anishinaabe teen and water protector nominated for the International Children’s Peace Prize.
The following is my Yellowknifer article published August 8th, 2018. It provides both non-Indigenous and Indigenous understanding on the healing properties of water. If you want a more in-depth understanding of Indigenous women’s roles as water protectors please read this article, Water Song: Indigenous Women and Water.
For the past month in Yellowknife, I rose early in the morning, sat on the balcony of my condo in Northern Heights and inhaled the fresh air and spectacular view of the Great Slave Lake. I felt at peace watching the pink glow of sunrise, and the calm waters.
This past week I read a Global news article, “Science confirms that living near a large body of water makes us calmer and healthier.” Curious as to how bodies of water increase our well being, I set off an extensive Google search.
The term, blue space is used to describes places that have visible water such as lakes, rivers, and coastal waters. Yellowknife is surrounded by blue space including the Great Slave Lake, Yellowknife River, and the many small-scattered lakes visible from the air.
The research pertaining to blue space, explained by marine biologist, Wallace J. Nichols in his bestselling book, Blue Mind: The surprising science that shows how being near, in, on, or under water can make you happier, healthier, more connected, and better at what you do, states that water promotes mental health and happiness.
He continues: “Water can provide a long list of benefits for our mind and body, including lowering stress and anxiety, increasing an overall sense of well-being and happiness, a lower heart and breathing rate, and safe, better workouts. Aquatic therapists are increasingly looking to the water to help treat and manage PTSD, addiction, anxiety disorders, autism and more.”
I’ve also learned being near water boosts creativity, can enhance the quality of conversations and provides a backdrop to important parts of living — like play, romance and grieving.
“All of this depends on these waters being safe, clean and healthy, of course,” states Nichols.
First Nations have known the spiritual and health benefits of water for millennia. The Assembly of First Nations website honors the traditional teachings of water and declares it as the giver of all life. (Disclaimer: I do not have the authority to share cultural teachings of water. Please consult your local Elder to learn about the traditional teachings in your area).
“Water is the most life-sustaining gift on Mother Earth and is the interconnection among all living beings,’ it reads.
“Water sustains us, flows between us, within us, and replenishes us. Water is the blood of Mother Earth and, as such, cleanses not only herself but all living things. Water comes in many forms and all are needed for the health of Mother Earth and for our health. Water gives us the spiritual teaching that we too flow into the Great Ocean at the end of our life journey. Water is the home of many living things that contribute to the health and well-being of everything not in the water.”
As part of Old Town’s Ramble and Ride on August 3rd-5th, I booked a floatplane scenic tour with Air Tindi. The special deal, $80 per adult and $60 per child, was the perfect ending to our vacation. It was awe-inspiring to view Yellowknife and surrounding area from an aerial perspective. The most surprising aspect was the vastness of the Great Slave Lake – it stretched as far as the eye could see.
An interesting fact on the Spectacular NWT website is that the lake is roughly the same size as the country of Belgium. Also, that it is North America’s deepest lake and could easily drown the CN Tower.
Viewing it from the air made me realize how integral the Great Slave Lake was to daily life, including the activities of boating, fishing, paddle boarding, and float planes and how everyone is reaping the benefits of living near it. The Great Slave Lake allows for a unique feature of Yellowknife – people living on houseboats on Yellowknife Bay. The five communities that live on its shores – Yellowknife, Hay River, Fort Resolution, Lutselk’e, and Behchoko – are all blessed to be near its healing powers.
This past semester I undertook my own research project as part of my research methodologies course through the University of Athabasca. My exploratory study gathered preliminary information on smoking and cannabis behaviors, attitudes about upcoming legalization, opinions on community-driven tobacco interventions, and characteristics of the population, composed of participants from Women Warriors.
As part of my research, I interviewed my friend, Gift Madojemu, MPH, Health Promotions Specialist, Tobacco Project Coordinator, Battle River Treaty 6 Health Centre. After our phone interview in April, she invited me to attend a tobacco and cannabis workshop the health center was hosting on June 18th.
The workshop was hosted by two medical experts on addictions: clinical scientist, Dr. Peter Selby, Addictions Division & Director, Medical Education, Centre for Addictions and Mental Health (CAMH) & Rosa Dragonetti, Teach Manager & Manager for Nicotine Dependency Service with the center.
He shared the difference between traditional tobacco and commercial tobacco, “traditional tobacco is highly acidic and cannot go into the lungs when inhaled, whilst nicotine must be alkaline to get into the body, which is done by adding ammonia to commercial tobacco.”
The most important information I took away on commercial tobacco abuse is the effects of exposure to tobacco in pregnancy.
Dr. Selby stated, “Seven thousand chemicals get concentrated on the fetus and result in babies being born smaller due to lack of oxygen and nutrient supply. In terms of mental effects, there are earlier behavior problems in children. For male children, there is a direct correlation between cigarette smoke exposure and antisocial behavior. For the female fetus, they are born with fewer eggs, which may lead to fertility issues later in life, and they reach menopause earlier, by at least one year, which also affects their heart health.”
Dr. Selby stated, “Each day 100 people die from smoking-related illnesses. First Nations experience twice the rates due to their socioeconomic and educational disadvantage.” He highlights that for Indigenous peoples in the North these statistics did not exist pre-colonization because “tobacco is a completely imported illness and disease.”
Also, he stated we must assess how to conduct tobacco interventions and cessation with Indigenous peoples. “Taking away a substance that people use for self-soothing – will they replace it with something more harmful?”
The majority of attendees at this conference, approximately 90 of us, were there to learn about cannabis and its impact in our communities. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau recently announced implementation for the cannabis legalization law is October 17.
Two Indigenous attendees at this event shared their personal experience with unhealthy marijuana use during their 20’s, which robbed them of their ambition and culminated in lost years of their life. They did, however, seek help returned to school and became leaders in their community. They both shared their worry over the vulnerability of young people in their community
Dr. Selby stated, “The capture rate of cannabis addiction is very low, about 8-10% of the population develops an addiction to cannabis. Adolescents are at the highest risk of addiction – their brains are vulnerable, which is why it’s important to push use as far out as possible. It is the daily exposure that is the most important factor for addiction. We can prevent kids from getting addicted for life by developing innovations to reduce harm.”
My main insight from attending this workshop is the importance of community connection and open communication with youth to prevent addiction. The harm reduction strategy we need to adopt for our youth includes delaying use, particularly before age 16, and learning how to talk to them without judgment. A valuable resource you can access for cannabis education and youth is the Cannabis Talk Kit: Know How to Talk With Your Teen.
On the 10th anniversary of the Government of Canada’s apology for the Residential School system and its legacy, I would like to share with you how I honor survivors and how I teach my daughters ages 8, 7, and 5 about reconciliation.
Last summer we visited the Glenbow Museum in Calgary to view Indigenous artist Kent Monkman’s exhibition Shame and Prejudice: A Story of Resilience. It features paintings dedicated to the colonial history of Canada, including a graphic depiction of Indigenous children being forcibly removed by RCMP, priests and nuns to be taken to residential school. It is titled, The Scream and you can view it on kentmonkman.com.
When we arrive at the painting I watch my girls closely to see how they react to the violence. The RCMP officers, priests, and nuns are ripping children from their parent’s arms, and I can feel the agony of the parents and siblings being torn apart. I hear the crow overhead cawing amongst the screams, and crying – confusion and panic fill the painting. I see the older kids running for their lives into the bush.
There is a lone RCMP officer standing calm, feeling justified with his shotgun. Is he going to shoot the parents that refuse to give up their children? Is he going to shoot the children that run? Why does he need a gun against defenseless women and children?
My eight year old stands close, head tilted and arms crossed looking at the mother being held back by two RCMP officers, her hair is being ripped from her head, while a priest carries off her child still in diapers.
“They were taken from their mommies and daddies and not allowed to see them?” asked my then six-year-old.
“Yes, and they were not allowed to speak their language and their long hair was cut off. The adults in charge verbally and physically abused some of the children. Sometimes they were separated from their brothers or sisters, and they had to be brave all alone. Sometimes they did not have enough food to eat. Some of them tried to run away back to their families. It was lonely and sad for them.”
I did not include the fact many of those children never returned home from residential school, and they were buried in unmarked graves, with no explanation or details given to their parents.
They were also too young for me to explain the sexual abuse and the horrific corporal punishment including the use of electric chairs, as described by St. Anne residential school survivors.
Or the fact that my own grandmother, their great-grandmother, was a residential school survivor and had contracted tuberculosis there, as was the fate of many children in these schools.
I did not tell them that the government knew these children were suffering and dying from preventable diseases:
“The high death rate of the children was a concern of the Chief Medical Officer for the Departments of the Interior and Indian Affairs, Peter Bryce. Bryce released hisReport on the Indian Schools of Manitoba and the North West Territories in 1907. The report provided grim facts regarding the devastating effects of tuberculosis on the children, 24 percent of the children, within the first 15 years, had died.”
When they asked who took the children I told them the facts: the Government of Canada, the RCMP, and several different churches including the Roman Catholic Church.
I tell my girls that it is our responsibility to remember the history of residential schools and that the Government of Canada admitted they were wrong to forcibly remove Indigenous children from their parents and strip them of their culture. Also, that Indigenous people still suffer from the mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual abuse incurred in residential schools.
I tell them that reconciliation is about truth, and making amends for Canada’s painful past. Also, that residential school survivor’s voices must be central to this work.
At the Truth and Reconciliation Commissions, closing ceremony Chief Wilton Littlechild stated, “I know that reconciliation will not occur in one lifetime. It will require future generations to know our story and take on the duty of reconciliation. We need to educate our youth, and create the tools and put them in place so that our children and our children’s children can use them…there are no easy answers, no magic wand to speed up the reconciliation process.”
The most important contribution I can make to reconciliation is to educate my daughters on Canada’s colonial history, it’s forced assimilation of Indigenous peoples and the responsibility of the Canadian government to make amends. It is my hope that this next generation of Canadians will be more compassionate citizens with the skills to build respectful relationships.
The future that I envision for my daughters is free from racial intolerance. It includes a government that respects the human rights of every single Canadian. It is a Canada where hypocrisy does not go unnoticed, but we forgive daily those that trespass against us. Now that’s something I can high-five about!