Traditional Indigenous Kinship Practices at Home: Being Child-Centered During the Pandemic

In our traditional kinship systems, children were the at the center of the family system.

Everything we did was with, and for, the children.

Women had babies on their back, breasts, and hips while they were skinning and tanning hides, gathering water and wood, cooking, harvesting berries and medicine, and everything in between.

Older children often stayed with the kokums and moshums to provide that much needed extra support for them.

Children learned from our kinship systems. They learned from their mothers, fathers, aunties, uncles, kokums, moshums, and older relatives. They learned from the Land by being fully integrated and immersed into most processes and practices.

And the idea of children being seen as a disruption to daily living was non-existent.

During this pandemic, the invitation that exists is be mindful of that, and to make these concepts a way of life.

Be mindful of any thoughts or feelings that may come up that are oriented around seeing children as a disruption, an annoyance, or an inconvenience, when they’re home with you.

Because this style of thinking derived from residential schools and the forcefully implemented colonial education systems.

Due to this, our mindset from how we relate to children has also shifted dramatically.

Those systems have re-wired our brains to the point where it is seen as “abnormal” and as a “disruption” to have our children home with us, by our sides, watching, learning, living, and growing with us.

Collectively.

It is seen as an “interruption” to today’s colonially-washed down version of our kinship system, to have children in our homes, and on the land, with us, all day.

It is seen as an “annoyance” to hear the voices and laughter (or tears) of children as we do our best to balance working from home in the presence of children.

I get it, it’s tough. It’s challenging when you have a timeline to meet, deadlines to get to, and the needs of your child(ren) are overriding those deadlines and timelines. It is something that I struggle with every day with working from home and starting to home-school our daughter.

If you are a solo parent with limited support and multiple children, it must be challenging to get that needed 10 mins of “me time,” now more than ever with the pandemic and shut down of colonial education institutions. The invitation that exists is this: get creative.

If you are a disabled parent and the colonial education institutions was your respite or your much needed way to focus on what you have to do, the invitation is to build a support network, even if it’s online to start.

The important thing to remember is that we must begin to find new ways to help raise our children that don’t require a reliance on colonial systems.

“It’s tough.” “It’s tiring.” “It’s exhausting.”

Yes, it can be. Your points are valid.

And, in times of struggle, I often remind myself:

“Capitalism and colonial thinking will never super-cede the needs, wants, and interests of my child. Emotional, mentally, spiritually, and physically.”

And

“My child is not a disruption.”

Because the real disruption occurred when we began to think that sending our children to school was the better choice in the first place, rather than having them us with us, in the presence of our kinship systems, at all times.

The real disruption, that began this shift, happened when those priests and nuns stole our children away, attempting to annihilate the foundational systems we had in regards to our kinship systems.

The real disruption began when we started to see our children as “inconveniences” versus the sacred, future bearers and carriers of indigenous knowledge that had kept us alive for many generations.

And this shift, this disruption, this change, from child-centred child rearing, to adult supremacist/colonial child rearing, is what is continuing to maintain colonialism as the driving force within our kinship systems.

Capitalism and it’s systems are now leading how we live with, and relate to, the children in our lives. And it’s wreaking havoc on the very foundation of how we parent, how we discipline, and how we speak to, our children.

The reality is, adult supremacy and superiority believes that children in the home during work hours is an inconvenience or an annoyance.

One of the biggest misconceptions that adult supremacy and colonial parenting believes is that keeping children home from colonial, and often problematic, education systems will lead to poor socialization and isolation for the child(ren).

Yet, if you look at our traditional kinship systems, socialization was everywhere.

We had such intricately intertwined systems. These systems included kinship, socialization, love and belonging, and survival methods which encompassed, and was engrained in, our daily living.

A child involved fully with the routines of family would achieve socialization through being mentored by the adults on what their roles were, and how to fulfil them. The child would learn from older children about social games and activities which were often tied to their own growth and development, along with survival skills. The child would gain skills of self-discipline and survival, simply by being present to the many layers of work that had to be done in our communities.

The child would learn to stay focused and follow the traditional teachings instilled within them since being in the womb, through means of commitment and dedication to their cultural practices, sacred traditions, and elaborate mother tongues.

Yet, the shift and disruption attempted to erode all of that.

Because of the disruption, we are seeing something different.

We are now seeing the elation and excitement parents have during the end of summer holidays. The photos of parents celebrating that their children are gone for a larger part of the day, in a colonial system that maintains colonialism, oppression, racism, and child inferiority, the education system.

And we are seeing the humor at the expense of the feelings of children arise again during the quarantines from the coronavirus pandemic.

“Oh no! I’m stuck at home with my kids for two weeks! Send help!”

First of all, it will probably be more than two weeks based on what we do know about this virus. And second of all, our traditional kinship systems operated from the space that it was a blessing to be in the presence of our children continuously. That was the gift. And we honoured it as such.

Our kinship systems have shifted and changed so dramatically that we have long forgotten the importance of having children present for a majority of the day in our daily lives. We have forgotten the importance of play with the children. We have forgotten the important of always including children in the skills that we practice daily for survival.

So how do we dissolve this narrative that has become to normalized in our family systems?

How do we dissolve the idea and belief that children are not supposed to be home while we work?

How do we dissolve the normalization of the idea that children are a distraction to the more important adult perceived environment?

We engage.

We communicate.

We love.

We take a moment in times of feeling out of control and frustration, and we accept. We accept that we cannot control the emotions, behaviours, ideas, and outcomes of children’s behaviours. Just like they can’t control ours. To think that we can instantly places us in a place of supremacy and superiority over children. And our kinship systems are not about that.

To disrupt everything that the nuns and priests taught our relatives in those schools about adult-child relationships, and to disrupt what colonialism has taught us about what “successful” indigenous kinship looks like, we must:

1. Talk about the virus. Talk about what is happening in the world to your child(ren) in age appropriate languages. Use pictures if you have to. Create space for them to ask questions. Create safe spaces for them to feel their fear. If you’ve felt fear during it all- chances are, so have they. Tell them “I’ve been afraid too, and that’s ok.” Empathize. Remind them that even when you’re afraid, you can still be brave. And sometimes that you don’t have to be brave at all.

2. Ask yourself why you feel your child(ren) is a distraction to your work. Who taught you this belief? Where did it come from? Did it come from your parents? How does it feel to think of that? Where in your body do you feel it? Create safe spaces for yourself to move through these limiting and toxic beliefs in healthy ways, and do so in front of your children if you can. Because healthy healing means doing it openly, and authentically in front or family. To show them that there are healthy ways to heal.

3. Remind yourself, and your child(ren), of sanitation and cleanliness routines if you aren’t already doing that. In communities with limited access to clean drinking water, find ways to gather water from alternate methods. From the Land. Have conversations on why clean drinking water is important. Boil snow down if need be. Converse and preserve. And teach your child(ren) about protecting and honoring water.

4. Include the child(ren) in everything that you do in your daily lives, at age-appropriate levels. (ie: let your child help with dishes, even if they’re two-years old and take 5 minutes to dry one spoon or take your 1.5 year old to check rabbit snares with you.

5. Let the children lead. Provide moments in the day where the child(ren) decide what to do as a collective for a period of time. Show them that their ideas are important and honour them fully.

6. Put your phone away. For an hour. Two hours. And really PLAY with your child(ren). Kids and teens love to engage in play with you. Play dolls, build the LEGO castles, and make stories up. Even if it means asking your teen “hey, can you show me how to play your video game?” It makes such a difference.

7. Come up with creative, educational activities. Science with food colouring. Music lessons. Art. Pinterest has tons of ideas.

8. Land-based learning is essential. If you live on the Rez or in wide open spaces that are safe to have a relationship with the land during the pandemic, do that. Play on the Land in a way that reminds children how to love the Land. Explore. Ask questions. Create spaces for your child(ren) to ask questions. Sit and be still with your child(ren) to observe the Land.

9. Teach your child(ren) survival skills that you know. How to make a fire. How to cook outdoors. Skin and tan a hide. Situational awareness. How to cook in general. How to build a shelter. How to plant seeds (if you have any and can start planting indoors.)

10. Show your child(ren) how to be giving during this time. Drop food off for elders or single parent families at their doorsteps (as long as you have zero risk of having the virus.) Offer home cooked meals to those who may have not had the time or money to stock up on supplies. Let your children help you make the meal or pack the bag you’re donating. Or simply show your child(ren) the importance of checking in on family members through phone calls, facetimes, and text messages,

11. Ask your child(ren) daily which relatives THEY want to FaceTime or call to check in. Show them that kinship, during times of crisis, is fundamental to our survival.

12. If conflict arises in your home while you’re stuck at home, show the child(ren) in your life how to deal with conflict in healthy ways. Deal with your shit if you have to in order to avoid toxic and destructive behaviours being projected onto your child(ren).

13. Remind your child(ren) how much you love having them home. Show them through acts of affection, and love. Remind them that their presence is important, that they are not an annoyance. That their frustrations and any emotion they may be experiencing during this time is valid. That they are just as important as the adults in the house. That they matter.

14. Do not project any of your pain, out of control feelings, or frustrations onto your child. Do not blame the child(ren) for anything. If you do, do everything you can to make amends and apologize. And fix your behaviour. Children do not deserve to be the outlet for our fears and feelings of being out of control.

15. If your child(ren) begins to project their fears and emotions onto others, create safe spaces for children to feel. Children are not “acting up” and we don’t need to “find ways to deal with/manage our kid’s feelings.” We need to create safe spaces for children to feel. Vulnerability accepted spaces. Talk about emotions and options on what it would look like to feel those emotions in safe and healthy ways. Let the child lead the conversation and solve their own problems.

16. Teach your child(ren) life skills from healthy conflict to problem solving to healthy communication. By leading by example. Walk your talk.

17. Speak to your child(ren) as our ancestor’s spoke to their child(ren). Be mindful. Pray for your children. Pause and breathe if you’re frustrated. Mindfully respond to your child(ren) versus responding in reactionary mode. It will make all the difference.

18. If you need to, tell your child(ren) “I need space for a bit.” Give yourself that 5 minute moment to cry, breathe, and feel instead of projecting onto your child(ren). And most importantly

19. Be the parent colonialism never wanted you to be.

We must dissolve these concepts and ideas that minimize the presence and well-being of child(ren) in our lives.

Let’s undo what colonialism and residential schools have taught us about children and kinship.

Let’s revitalize what worked for generations in regards to our relationships with our children and our kinship systems.

Because that’s what indigenous kinship is really about.

By the children, for the children, and ultimately, with the children.

It’s valuable and important.

It worked for generations. So why wouldn’t it work today?

Artwork by: Chief Lady Bird

Ig: @chiefladybird

To the “Old Boys Club:” F*** your Patriarchy

It’s at every political “Indian” meeting.

It’s at the round tables, the dialogues, and the discussions.

Their behaviours are steeped in it. It’s in the way they speak, how they carry themselves, the way they look or stare.

Fundamentally, it’s the idea that because one is an indigenous male in colonial politics, camouflaged as “Indian politics,” then one has the right to treat women, specifically young indigenous women, as objects in toxic spaces.

It’s the idea that because an indigenous male is in a position of false colonially created power, they can speak to women how they want and when they want, even if women are uncomfortable, frightened, or feel threatened by their behaviour.

It’s even seen and heard at powwows – the emcee constantly cracking jokes that sexualize, objectify, and undermine women. And our children are hearing it, the normalization exists here.

The only time I went to the AFN Xmas gala it happened.

I was leaving to go back to my room for the night. I didn’t drink at the time (still don’t), and was leaving the lobby when I felt someone grab my wrist.

I turned to the side and saw this old Indian man holding onto my wrist.

He was probably in his late 60’s. He looked at me and said “come to my room with me,” with a lecherous look in his eyes.

I quickly pulled my wrist away from his grasp and said “no,” loudly. I looked around to see who was close by, and the people that were walking by were minding their own business.

“At least give me your number.” This old chief replied and laughed, he was obviously intoxicated.

By this time I was feeling scared and began walking away faster as he kept his eyes on my body, looking up and down.

I walked out quickly and texted some friends to let them know what happened.

I wish I got the name of that chief.

I also wish that these kinds of behaviours and mentality of the colonizer, the patriarchal one at that, weren’t normalized and accepted within these spaces.

Not one person stood up or said anything when the interaction, fuelled by patriarchy and sexual harassment, took place. Not the other chiefs walking through the hall and not even the other women who were walking by, blatantly ignoring the situation at hand.

However, it’s not surprising.

It’s not surprising because this particular group of Indigenous men have a name.

The “Old Boys Club.”

It should be the “Wannabe White Men Club.”

Or the “Turn Our Backs Against Our Nations to Comply to Colonialism Club.”

It’s within this “club,” more so this paradigm, where the “Indian” politics taking place are really just colonial politics disguised as “Indian” politics.

Go to any colonial, white, male-led political arena- the House of Commons for example, or any board for big companies, and the same behaviours will saturate the environment.

Patriarchy. Sexism. Dehumanization. Undermining women. Misogyny. And even white privilege.

Because even in this “old boys club,” white men are always bowed down to and praised, even after they have committed acts of genocide against our lands and our bodies.

Shit, it’s the “old boys club” who adorn these genocidal white politicians with head-dresses and appraises, smiling and cracking jokes like they are their bros.

Because that’s where these members of the club get their sense of belonging- by falsely belonging to colonial systems rather than to their own indigenous kinship systems and traditions.

The thing is though, the “old boys club” is made up of indigenous men who are doing everything they can to avoid feeling disempowered in any area of their lives. These men will do anything they can, and behave in any kind of way, to appease and abide by the colonizer and colonial norms. Even if it means threatening, undermining, and sexualizing our women.

Because if they don’t, they will no longer have their “bros,” or get their sense of belonging fulfilled by “the old boys club.”

Now, that’s not to take away the accountability that needs to take place for these men’s toxic colonial behaviours.

But, it does further normalize their behaviours.

Their behaviours have become so normalized that young indigenous women involved in these pseudo-political spaces will share stories of which “creepy” chiefs hit on them where, some behaviours of these chiefs more threatening than others. Young indigenous women will tell one another which ones to stay away from, in order to keep one another safe.

What is happening, and what has happened for generations since the process of attempted colonization began, is colonial patriarchy has worked to assimilate indigenous masculinities. This process has created this normalization within groups of indigenous men to dehumanize, undermine, objectify, and degrade indigenous women the same way that most white males do.

The outcomes of these behaviours are showing up not only in “Indian” politics either.

They are also showing up in our kinship systems where emotionally shut down fathers do everything they can to avoid their traditional roles and responsibilities as indigenous men within their family system. Instead of fulfilling their roles and responsibilities, they become busy complying and abiding to colonial narratives and norms of how “men” are to operate in the world, specifically in relation to their partners, their children, and to women around them. This leads to emotional shutdowns and the idea and belief that men and boys shouldn’t “feel,” and if they do, they are weak. Thus, comes the family breakdowns.

The outcomes of these behaviours are showing up in the false colonial structures of power and control between parents and children, where the belief is that parents are the only decision makers, and the voice of the child is non-existent, ridiculed, and never taken seriously. This can then lead to the dissolving of self-power, confidence, and self-esteem in children, furthermore maintaining a cycle.

Now, the “old boys club” aren’t the only ones to blame, though they are 100% responsible for the harm, trauma, and problems they are causing within the traditionally sacred relationship between men and women. Most of these men committing these behaviours are carbon copies of their colonial “masters” that surround their daily lives. Many of these men have layers of unresolved trauma and grief, and have never had anyone tell them “it’s ok to cry.” Many of these men have never taken one step in the direction of their “healing journeys,” and instead take 10 in the direction of colonialism.

The damage that is happening to our women by patriarchy, colonialism, and misogyny has gotten to the point where our women are saying “enough is enough.”

Rather than staying quiet in fear of being patronized and ridiculed, women are reclaiming their matriarchal roles and stating their truths for all the generations of women and girls before them who never had a chance to.

Our role as Indigenous women today is not just to speak the truth, but our roles are to also raise young boys in homes where it’s safe to feel all feelings, to carry the knowledge that being a boy means having important responsibilities such as honouring the girls and women in their lives, and protecting those girls and women if they ask, or need to be, protected.

Our role as Indigenous women is to practice vulnerability as ruthlessly as we can, to teach our young sons and daughters to be ruthlessly vulnerable themselves, no matter when and where.

Our role is to teach our sons what it really means to respect girls and women, and not just use it as a catch-phrase strewn throughout childhood.

Our role is to remind ourselves of our kinship practices that raised young indigenous men to fulfil who they were and where they come from 100%. To teach these boys to love the lands, and relate to women, the same way they do to Creator.

The weapons we have against the “Old Boys Club” come in the form of truth-speaking, authenticity, of raising young boys in spaces of vulnerability and love, and of rebirthing the systems of matriarchy that existed prior to colonization within our families, communities, and nations.

The things that we have, that the “Old Boys Club” don’t, is what will keep our nations strong.

Freedom from the cycles of colonially created trauma and behaviours will ultimately lead to the rebirth of generations of matriarchs and revolution in our kinship systems.

And that is something the behaviours is the “Old Boys Club” will never defeat, even with all the headdresses they give to colonialism.

Restore the Indigenous Matriarchy, dissolve the colonial patriarchy.

Artwork by: @chiefladybird & @auralast

Losing My Mother while Becoming a Mother: Grief and Motherhood

This is the most personal blog post I have ever written.

It shares my experiences of losing my mother while becoming a mother. It shares my experiences of grief, postpartum depression, the mixture of both, the insanities I felt, and most importantly, the love I held onto despite it all.

It was during two transformative stages in a person’s life where kinship roles were expressed as complete devotion and a  source of unrelenting love, support, and service.

The first one being during the critical times of postnatal and postpartum (I include both postnatal and postpartum to ensure an inclusivity of the needs of both the infant and the mother, as within indigenous kinship systems, the infants experience upon arrival is just as important as the woman’s experience of becoming a new mother) and the second one being when a loved one passed on and during the time of grief.

Historically, indigenous midwives and medicine women created a safe haven for baby and mama, each nation having different practices, which all consisted of the same outcomes. Feelings of safety, love, and protection for both infant and mother, as well as ensuring that rest and nutrition were primary in postnatal and postpartum care. This type of care included motherhood teachings before pregnancy occurred, and throughout the duration. It included warm medicinal teas and drinks. Medicines for the womb and the woman’s sacred area, in order for them to heal after childbirth. It included an extensive plan with tikinagan teachings and umbilical cord teachings. All of which led to a happy, rested, and prepared mother and infant.

I heard through my mother in law that there used to be women called “wailers” long ago. They were women who would attend funerals long ago, who weren’t related to the family, who would sob and cry during the funeral so that family would be open to that painful sobbing and also release as well. They would also take care of the family afterwards with meals and other things. They were the ones who provided a safe space of vulnerability and security during times of grief and heavy sorrow within families. They were the ones who aided families on their journeys of navigating through days of insurmountable grief.

Today, things have significantly shifted.

Primarily due to the attempted annihilation of kinship systems. But there are other reasons that people do not help, nor carry these very integral teachings, during these times as well.

It could be because the knowledge is hidden, and no one cares to ask the old ones anymore, rather depending on a medical system that forces indigenous women to birth indigenous babies in unnatural ways through unnatural means leading to unnatural births filled with trauma. It could be because people are carrying heavy loads of their own traumas, unable to do something as simple as cleaning a home for a new mother and new baby. It’s perhaps due to the consumerism/capitalistic life of having to have a job to pay bills and not being able to leave work to offer support, mind you it’s the support that new mothers and new infants so gravely need.

It’s also due to the fact that people often avoid difficult situations, like times of grief, in fear of their own traumas and grief being triggered. It’s the fact that many people do not want to do their own work around grief so being around someone who is grieving brings up all kinds of shit for them- so instead, they avoid, avoid, avoid. This leaves people who need so much support, alone to their own devices, navigating their way through grief with a limited, to no, support system.

These all in turn, leave new mamas, and those who are grieving, without a nation, a  village, a family, or even a basic support system, to find their way through it all.

But, the answer most people will get when asking for help during postnatal and postpartum (and unraveling all parts of motherhood that comes with it,) and/or after losing a loved one is:

“Sorry I am busy.”

It’s such a simple phrase. But reading it or hearing it as a new mama, and even as a new infant (because yes, new infants begin to experience attachment right from the get go, and can pick up on which people will aid in their survival and development) can make things feel even more exhausting.

Reading, or hearing it, after losing someone you love, can be heartbreaking.

And reading, or hearing it, while experiencing both, on some days, can be completely life shattering.

Until you decide not to take it personal and pray to get through whatever it is you are going through, and let go of all expectations of others. But some days, that can feel too difficult.

My mother died from a brain aneurysm. It exploded and killed her within a few short hours in a small hospital with limited resources (because really, which hospitals near reserves can actually save lives in situations like that?) The last thing she said to me on the phone that evening, shortly after it burst, was “I’m throwing up, I’ll call you back.”

She never called back. I must have called her 100 times. And then the neurosurgeon called. He told me she was brain dead.

“I am not supposed to say my patients have 0% chance of survival, but I am going to say it now, your mother has a

0% chance of survival.

Just like that. She was gone. We held a celebration of life for her (no funeral, no burial, she never wanted any of that.) I guess that part worked out for me.

And I was heartbroken. I was 5 months pregnant. With her first grandbaby. When I told her I was pregnant three months previous she cried on the phone for 30 minutes straight. When she heard baby’s heartbeat when I was four months along during a Christmas visit, my doctor looked at me and said “your mother is the happiest I have ever seen anyone over a baby heartbeat!” I cried.

5 months pregnant, ready and excited to becoming a new mama, and all of sudden I had to grieve the loss my own mama. My best friend. My life maker. The love of my life.

During the birth, a very traumatic one filled with pain, turmoil, emergencies, and more, I yelled over and over again, in tears “I just want my mom!” I sobbed and sobbed and sobbed. My heart broke again, as reality set in.

I would never witness my mama being a nokamis.

I never wanted my mother so badly in my life until that moment. And she couldn’t be there.

Then, she came. Our daughter was born. Not breathing. But then she let out her cry a few moments later. And my heart healed for a while. Nothing else mattered but her. I had never felt so much love in my whole entire life. I sobbed, and sobbed, and sobbed.

We came home after four days. It was so challenging taking care of my own healing process and a new born, mind you my partner helped out lots.

But then came the weeks where he would leave for work.

And the grief and reality of not receiving the postnatal and postpartum, along with the grief support, we needed hit us hard.

The days on end of caring for a new infant, with a house that was a mess due to the fact that every waking second went to caring for the new baby, and the other seconds going to rest, and the inability to have the energy to cook nutritious meals that will help sustain myself and, in turn, the baby, really took a toll on me as a new mama.

One day I was standing in the kitchen getting a drink of water before taking a nap while my daughter napped, and a wave of nausea hit. Everything went black and I passed out. Luckily I caught myself, and luckily, my daughter was safe and wrapped, in our bed. I came to and forgot when I had last had a real meal. Being a new mama meant having no time to cook nutritious meals. And my body needed it. I laid on the kitchen floor and cried, wondering who I could ask for help. I felt so alone.

There were the days of no visitors, or the only 20 minute visitors. The days of no one coming to listen to you while you struggle with moments of new motherhood or grief, or both. No one to take the baby for 20 minutes so I could process the grief that was bubbling in my belly. I cried in front of my infant, but I feared my grief sobs would frighten her (or wake her, or even carry residue in my milk haha!) so I held those heavy sobs in until I had some time on my own. Which was rare as a breastfeeding mother. No one really told me “it must be really hard to be a new mom while you’re grieving. I love you. You are amazing.” And I sank into my grief.

There were the days of feeling like I to “hold it all together” because I was a strong, indigenous woman, rather than allowing myself to be vulnerable. It lead  to to feelings of depression and all the terrible thoughts that come with it.

There were the days of having thoughts of leaving baby to cry in the other room, or even in the porch or car, while I just laid down and got a few moments of rest, just a few extra moments. The moments of ignoring everything else. Of sleeping for days on end. Even the thoughts of not waking up.

Then the guilt that came with that. It ate me up for even having those damn thoughts, for having the kind of thoughts you know women have during postpartum depression. But also feeling ok with it, knowing that these thoughts happen for a lot of new mamas. But then the whole process of knowing that new mamas rarely have the support or space to open up and communicate to one another about their experiences of post partum depression- the shame about it all is so thick and heavy.

Then came the sadness, because there was no support system to help me through it. No kinship systems to stabilize me, to reground and regroup me. There were no other mothers I could talk to who had lost a mother who would tell me “you will get through this, and in a year, everything will feel completely different.”

There were days of extreme exhaustion. Days of sick baby, sick mama, no sleep all night, but having to make sure I did my best to support sick baby and myself as a sick mama. The days where I wanted to scream “can I just nap for three hours straight please?!” But no one is around to listen. The solitude. One day I sent out some texts, seeing if anyone could give me support. My friends disappeared by then. I had my sisters but they were busy with work. “Hey.” I sent out. A few replied. But I didn’t have the courage to write “I think I need help.” Instead I kept conversations minimal. And once my baby slept. I sobbed.

There were days of having 20 mins to cry in the tub as baby napped on the bed. The days of making a post of “I miss my mama,” but really meaning “I need my mama here more that anything else in the world right now because I am having a damn hard time and she is the only one who will listen the way I want to be listened to.” Then baby wakes up crying to nurse. So you climb out of the tub, wrap yourself in a towel, tears still flowing as your milk flows, and promising your baby you will protect her from her grief as your heart cracks open again.

I often looked at the idea of what new motherhood is supposed to look like. The joy, the laughter, the fun. And yes! It existed, it was present throughout the day. But even during those days, the unshowered for three days, sad, lonesome, grieving, version of me, saw myself in the mirror, and thought “I need a shower, a hot meal, and a support system before I go crazy.”

Because sometimes when the baby would wake up every hour at night for two months straight I would cry in bed, rocking and nursing her back to sleep for the 1000th time craving a full nights rest.

And it seems the less sleep I got, the harder it was to deal with the grief. It became this ugly cycle of falling into this hole of grief and also trying my best to get sleep but I couldn’t, so I just remained in this hole of grief and sadness. Sometimes my brain would think “if I just stay sleeping and never wake up then I will finally feel rested.” It can happen when you’re not even a new mama. It can happen when you’re simply grieving. Because when you’re grieving- you need your sleep.

The idea of how a support system was to look during grief and/or new motherhood was filled with people coming to the door with home cooked meals, visits when you needed/wanted, someone taking care of all the things you want taken care of but can’t because you’re so damn exhausted, people to say to you “you’re doing a really good job right now.”

But it rarely happened.

I remember my partner would tell me “you’re doing great babe.” My loving, incredible, hardworking partner would tell me that every chance he could, and it would make me cry. Hearing that would wash away my feelings of insanity. He was, and continues to be, my strongest support system. Because even while away at work, he did his absolute best. And he did a damn good job.

It wasn’t up to him to “cure me” or “fix me” or “make me feel better.” That was all 100% my own responsibility. His support was the stepping stone that lead to me realizing that I am in charge of my own emotions, feelings, grief work, and working through what appeared to be post-partum depression. It could have just been the grief too though. Or both.

There were some days, I just wanted my mama to tell me she loved me. To hear her voice say that to me would have changed everything, so I thought. My body physically craved her touch.

Isn’t it crazy how grief does that? How strongly the body craves a person’s touch when they pass on. It’s like this physical feeling in the skin.

The hardest part though? Was reliving my mother’s death in my head over and over again. From hearing her last words, to all the what if’s, the “if only I had lived with her then I would have been able to help to,” to the “I should have told her I loved her more.” Those words in my head often made me feel like I was going to go over the edge.

But the truth always existed.

And the funny thing about truth is that the truth will always keep you going, even during the most difficult times of your life. The truth kept me going when my mama used to abuse us as kids. The truth kept me going when I was raped. The truth kept me going when I decided to get sober and get healthy.

The truth kept me going when I lost my mama when I was becoming a new mama.

It was the small moments with the truth of love. The collection of all the small moments with every ounce of love that I had within me, that pushed me through the awful feelings of depression and sadness and craziness during the times of postnatal, postpartum, grief.

In moments of caring for a new infant, with a house that is a mess due to the fact that every waking second goes to caring for the new baby was when the isolation would shift. It was the moments of cuddling this tiny human who relied on me for survival with every ounce of her being. It was the moments of falling into, and becoming, the deep, unfathomable love I had for her. It was in the moments of witnessing that love fill up our home as I held her in my arms.

It was in the days of no visitors, or the only 20 minute visitors, the days of heartbreaking grief and trying to keep it together so I can take care of a baby, that I gained this superhuman strength to keep on going, to follow the love, to give it my all. It was in that new baby smell, the cuddles. Even the cries.

In the days of having thoughts of leaving baby to cry in the other room, or even in the porch or car, it was the moments of crying through the pain, of feeling my grief until it felt like my insides were going to collapse, where the stamina to keep going was once again uncovered, and with eyes sore from tears, I would continue on, caring for my girl.

The guilt that came with the bad thoughts? The guilt that ate me up for even having those damn thoughts? They would dissolve as soon as I remembered the tools I could use to work through the traumas holding me back from doing the best that I could. And the gratitude for having these tools worked it’s way into my tired body, giving me the strength to let go of the guilt instead focus on all that I did do for my mother, all that I did for myself, and all that I continue to do for my daughter.

The sadness because there was no support system to help me through it? It made me focus on the power of choice. I had a choice to be a victim in my circumstance, a victim to grief, a victim to motherhood even, or I had a choice to be more than that. I had a choice to be the love of all the matriarchs and medicine women and mothers who struggled before me, and those who struggled after me. I chose the love. And I chose to see that sometimes a support system can be small, and sometimes all we can do is work with what we have. And with that I chose gratitude for what I was receiving.

The days of extreme exhaustion were the days I breathed through, focusing on literally a breath at a time. They were the days that I didn’t think I would make it through. Including the nights, because we all know mamas don’t get to rest at night. And each time I awoke to nurse my baby, I would breathe. Again, and again, and again. And talk to my mama in whispers “please help me.”

The  days of having 20 mins to cry in the tub as baby napped on the bed made all the difference in the hours that I felt like I would give up. Because I know that releasing that grief is everything. It is what kept me, and continues to keep me, sane. It is what protected me from falling into a bottomless pit that has no way out. Instead it gave me the ladders I needed in those days to climb out, with my baby latched on, and to sing the songs my mama taught me.

The days and weeks and months that really tested my resiliency and strength, allowed me to prove to myself that although I did get stuck in victimhood some days, although I felt like I was going crazy some weeks, and although I did feel like I was falling deeper and deeper into a bottomless pit for months, it was the truth, love, and letting go that ultimately got me through it all. It was accepting that I was struggling. It was saying it out loud “I am struggling and I am scared,” even if it meant saying it out loud to my mama who wasn’t even there.

And it was also focusing on the balance of all of the beauty in motherhood, of the love embedded and intertwined within the extreme heartbreak in grief. The days on end of baby giggles and breastfeeding, the cuddles, the small clothes, the soft snores beside me, the smell, that baby smell. It was in remembering my mama’s laughter, her smile, her sense of humor. It was in remembering her and imagining how she would have been as a nokamis. It was in smelling her clothes I kept in a bag in my drawer.

It was in the love, the joy, the forgiveness, the bliss, the courage, the strength, the resiliency.

It was with a knowing that if millions of mothers all over the world could do, then I could do it too.

And ultimately, it was with the knowing that I could do anything in life, no matter how damn hard it was.

Because that is exactly how my mama raised me.

And that is how I will raise my daughter.

The Realities of Indigenous Motherhood

My mother’s resistance, is my resistance.

My nokamis’ resistance, is my resistance.

My daughter’s resistance, is my resistance.

And that is what will keep me going, every single day that I live, as an Indigenous mother.

Because if my mother survived in the struggle, and my mother’s mothers survived in the struggle, why would I give up?


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It‘s that feeling we get when we are nursing our more than one year old in public spaces and colonialism frowns at us. 

It’s that over accommodation we subconsciously do when we bring our children into public spaces, ensuring hair is done and clothes are not dirty (yet we all know children play in the mud and run around until their braids become scraggly and free.) We make sure they’re clean because colonialism will call CFS on us for something as small as a dirty face and a rip in our toddler’s pants. 

It‘s that loneliness we feel as we spend day in and day out with our small children, craving conversations and laughter from a support system that doesn’t seem to exist.

Those are the things that make up indigenous motherhood, the struggles, the challenges. They are the small moments that, some days, feel never ending.

But there is also greatness amongst it all. There is the greatness and power that exists within us as indigenous mothers, and within the children we birth, care for, and love, no matter how challenging the day has been.

And it starts here.

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It‘s the knowledge we carry as we wrap our babies in mossbags and cradleboards, carrying generations of maternal indigenous knowledge and teachings that are whispered to us in the beginning stages of motherhood by those who have mothered before us. 

It‘s our little ones learning our kinship terms in our mother-tongues.

It feels like deep contentment and calmness while nursing your toddler, because you carry the knowledge that mothers generations ago practiced, nourishing and comforting babies and children with breastfeeding for as long as they needed, and it was accepted, supported, and respected. It’s the knowing that you are resisting colonial ideas of how we, as indigenous mothers should feed and comfort our toddlers, and babies. It’s that feeling of fully reclaiming and following natural body wisdom, as the badass indigenous mother that you are. 

It also feels like a deep contentment and calmness while feeding your baby with what will allow them to thrive, and doing it with love, singing songs in your mother-tongue, and whispering kisâkihitin as you do so. It‘s that safety you feel while feeding your toddler and older children wild game and harvest from your garden. Again, its the knowing that you are resisting colonial ideas of how we, as indigenous mothers, should feed our toddlers, and babies. It’s allowing your prayer and the land to nourish your children, so that it will eventually nourish your children’s children, because if we take care of the land the land will take care of us. 

It‘s no longer accommodating colonial systems that steal children from the hands, and wombs, of our indigenous mothers. It’s leaving to town after a day of bush trails and scraping hides without washing faces, fearlessly staring at that white woman in the face when she turns her nose up to you and your children. It’s having the fire in you to quip back to her with “your colonialism is showing.” 

It looks like indigenous mothers, aunties, cousins, sisters, and grandmothers supporting new indigenous mothers. It’s the recognizing of how the collective support system for new indigenous mothers, and their experience into indigenous motherhood has transformed from an abundant, connected system into a solitary, isolating experience void of traditional kinship practices. It’s seeing that nations are no longer aiding in the raising of our babies.  It’s noticing that we often say “it takes a village,” but most mothers don’t even have a neighbour. It looks like reigniting the original support systems for new indigenous mothers so that our babies receive the love, care, teachings, and lessons that come with child-rearing from our communities and nations. It’s aunties, cousins, sisters, and grandmothers supporting new indigenous mothers as they should, because it takes a nation to raise our children.

It’s that feeling of laying your eyes for the first time on your babies you birthed, adopted, or who have came into your life, and feeling that love, that bliss, that joy, even for fleeting moments as you watch your children play, dance, and love daily.

Indigenous motherhood is doing some of the hardest emotional labour we will ever have to do in our lives, the work of forgiving our own mothers, fathers, and siblings if it is safe to do so, as mothers, so that our children can build a relationship with their kokums, moshums, nikâwîs and kikâwîs. It is knowing that these are imperative relationships that garner intergenerational love, the kind of love indigenous kinship is really made of.

It means being conscious and aware of the reality that Indigenous children, and Indigenous children fully experiencing their childhood, is constantly under threat from colonialism and colonial systems. It means being mindful of sending our children to public schools for it could mean that we are aiding in the continued colonial influence and pressure that maintains the cycle of oppression and assimilation in the lives of our children. It means home-schooling, unschooling, Kokum schooling, kinship schooling, and land based schooling. It means keeping indigenous education systems as the priority in our children’s education.

Indigenous motherhood can look like ensuring that the terms “matriarchand “chief” are only used in the realest terms for the nokamis, kokums, moshums, and câpâns who have earned the title from a lifetime of fighting colonialism, oppression, and genocide with every breath they take and every baby they birthed. It means not throwing terms around to those who follow colonialism purposely.

It is the feeling Indigenous mothers feel when completing core issue work, no matter how difficult it is, because mamas know that the “colonialism caused intergenerational trauma in my childhood” narrative needs to end here. It means really letting go of the egocentric and demoralizing colonial behaviours that have become the driving force within our family systems. It means distinguishing and erasing the alcoholic, abusive, toxic indigenous family narrative from the lives of our children to ensure that they will grow up away from the traumas that made up our so many of our childhoods.

It‘s Indigenous mothers following their pregnancy teachings, and their teachings for their children, no matter how difficult it may be in today’s day and age. It is not making excuses for not following teachings. It’s not putting your unborn at risk because of your behaviours and how your treat others. It is constantly being mindful of natural law, and knowing that how you treat others will eventually fall back on your children, or your children’s children.

It’s indigenous mothers, and indigenous families, holding the belief, and standing firm in the reality that rez life is a beautiful life. It’s families knowing that rez life is kinship being woven into our children’s and grandchildren’s lives for generations. It’s beadwork and smoked fish and brown summer skin splashing in lakes and rivers. It’s sitting with moshums and kokums, listening to our mother tongues. It’s knowing that to leave the rez for a “better life” only means situating oneself deeply within colonial systems. Which can ultimately lead to our extinction.

It can be that awful feeling of digging through the sludge that colonialism has tried to feed us, but it can also be that feeling of growing through the toxic ooze that colonialism has attempted to make us believe who we are, and realizing that the roots of who we are as indigenous women, mothers, aunties, and sisters, will eternally remain.

It looks like tending to the land, and harvesting medicines, with our babies by our side, showing them how to grow food to survive and how to live in a way where the land falls in love with them.

It looks like being constantly mindful of, and ensuring that, the behaviours of love and forgiveness that stemmed from our parent’s indigenous love, practiced in their child-rearing practices greatly shows up in our child-rearing practices.

Being an indigenous mother today, allows us to practice daily acts of homage to our bloodlines and generations of matriarchs and medicine women who existed before us, through the delicate, and deliberate acts in indigenous motherhood.

It is acts of authentic indigenous kinship which will discredit and ultimately dissolve many colonially created behaviours like lateral violence, families not talking for generations because of something someone’s aunty did two generations ago, gossip, toxic ways of being, and intergenerational family trauma. It’s healing. It’s letting go. It’s love. It’s proof that indigenous motherhood, indigenous kinship, and indigenous love, will always surpass colonially influenced, and trauma ridden kinship. 

Lastly, Indigenous motherhood is anything you feel it needs to be, or you need to support, as the badass indigenous mother, father,sister, brother, auntie, uncle, Kokum, moshum, Chapan, and cousins you are.

Indigenous motherhood is fierce. Powerful. Strong. It is mothers and children who are living, breathing fighters against oppression, privilege, colonialism, reconciliation, racism, prejudice, and injustice. 

Indigenous motherhood is the aunties we are scared of, but it is also the aunties that colonialism is scared of more.

Indigenous motherhood is our mother’s resistance.

Indigenous motherhood is our mother’s mother’s resistance.

Indigenous motherhood is our daughter’s resistance.

Indigenous motherhood, is our resistance.

And Indigenous motherhood is our merciless fight, with generations of matriarchs and medicine women before us, for indigenous truth. For indigenous kinship. And for a better future free of colonial trauma for our babies. Because when we look in the eyes of our babies, we know that is what they need.

Artwork: Aura @monique.aura of Claudine Bull and daughter Alba

Colonial Humour about Indigenous Peoples is not “Indian” Humour

We all do it.

Us as Indigenous peoples.

We crack jokes about our trauma. We share stories that make us laugh about our impoverished childhoods.

“Remember when mom used to get rank mad and would throw dishes if we weren’t listening?”

“Remember that time our friends came over and looked in the cupboards and asked “why do all your boxes say fb?” and we were too embarrassed to say “oh, that’s cause we get our food from the foodbank,” so we acted like we never heard them.”

Yeah, that’s a personal one. Haha!

If you’ve ever been a funeral or wake for an Indian person you’ll hear it. Amidst the tears and sadness is laughter filling up band halls.

And it’s great! It provides connection between people who have similar experiences.

It heals.

Humour heals.

Humour heals so much that we share stories of our childhood trauma and we laugh at it because guess what, we survived that shit! We survived our parent’s residential school trauma. We survived generations of genocide. We are survivors.

However…

We are now seeing this other side of humour.

It’s the side that directly involves the kinship systems of our nations in a highly toxic, colonial, and paternalistic manner.

It’s the side that jokes about indigenous families and people the same way that the colonizer does about us, but instead, it’s our own people doing it.

They are the narratives that may seem harmless. They are the jokes we say to our friends when they get a new partner. They are the jokes that may have held some truth in a relationship where partners haven’t had a chance to heal their colonial pain but rather than supporting, it further minimizes and exploits them.

They are the jokes that make struggling Indigenous families the punchline.

“Give him some hickeys to show others he’s yours.”

“Indian woman are so jealous they’ll kick their man out for talking to a cousin.”

“He only comes around on child tax day, then he’s gone the rest of the month.”

“He’s/she’s got lots of kids with lots of women/men.”

“Every indian relationship has abuse or trauma cause of our baggage.”

These jokes/banter that our people buy into are so toxic for our kinship systems. They downplay the current attempted destruction of our kinship system that is happening today, and that has been happening for generations by the hands of colonialism.

And this kind of humour?

ITS NOT INDIAN HUMOR.

This kind of humour is colonialism’s “humour” about Indigenous peoples (ie: racism, discrimination, dehumanization) that Indigenous peoples have adopted and made our own so we can continue to self-colonize in a variety of ways.

Colonizing our humour. That’s what is happening here.

Yes, humour heals. But colonial humour about our people?

That’s the kind of humour that destroys.

Humour about violent/possessive partners, deadbeat dads, or ideas of the dysfunctional “Indian” relationship, are not conducive to who we are and where we come from as Indigenous peoples.

It is not conducive because it does not focus on healing in any way, shape, or form.

It feeds colonialism’s ideas of us.

It’s time we stop making these kinds of jokes.

For our children’s sake.

Colonial humour about Indigenous peoples does not heal our people.

And you know how you can tell it’s a joke created by colonial ideas of us, and a joke created by Indigenous humour?

If it’s the kind of joke the old ones would joke about in band halls and on the land, then you know it’s Indian humour.

Otherwise. It’s destructive. It’s colonial. It is not our own.

Colonial humour about Indigenous peoples is further normalizing toxic behaviours in our families that colonialism, and the pain that colonialism caused, brought on.

Because if we really want to heal, as families and nations, we must focus on that REAL Indigenous humor.

The humor that heals.

We must use the humour that fills our band halls at wakes and funerals.

We must use the humour that our moshums and kokums use.

Because THAT kind of Indigenous humour is everything.

And those welfare jokes and getting damn old. Don’t you agree?

Image by: Barbara Lavallee