Tag Archives: Waneek Horn-Miller

Recap: Working It Out Together – Rene Meshake, Healing Arts

Episode 8 of Working It Out Together, featuring Artist and Musician Rene Meshake, explores how creative arts are being used by those most severely affected by colonization to channel anger and decolonize the self.

Waneek Horn-Miller introduces this episode. “Arts are important; it’s our voice, something  you create from your spirit somewhere deep inside of you.  Art is an important way to express pain sometimes, and trauma sometimes, and these things have to come out.”

Arts and artistic expression were suppressed during what Rene Meshake refers to as the colonial period.  It is Rene’s belief that during this period the people lost their heart. Without heart there could be no art and no truth.  It was during his time in residential school that Mr. Meshake’s was denied his freedom of expression. This denial of his true being, compounded by the abuse he suffered, served to forge self hatred that manifested in alcohol and substance abuse. Suicide seemed his only option. Ironically, it was the recognition of colonized  Aanishnaabmowin into mainstream culture that connected with Rene’s artistic side and led him away from his destructive path.  Rene then began to channel his creativity and opened up a world of possibilities in a healthy way.

Currently, Rene is a respected elder who mentors Indigenous youth In Guelph, Ontario. He shares his experiences and his artwork in the hopes that youth today can embrace their own artist selves rather than choosing  abusive lifestyles.

Isaac Murdock, a traditional Aanishnaabe storyteller,  returns this week to explain the importance of art to Indigenous life. He highlights the importance of pictographs, regalia, and basketry; artwork was a part of identity. Furthermore, art, dance, and singing were all about the spiritual connection to the land. Then, at the time of initial contact, “colonialism was really hard on our symbolism. The church and the government people requested that all of the bundles, all of the baskets, everything with the symbols needed to be piled onto the ground and they would set them on fire.”

Following the closure of the residential school system, young people began to express themselves in very powerful ways. Murdock elaborates: “Those that came out of residential school knew that the spirit of the land had to be expressed through their work. So that even though it was suppressed and even though it was made to believe to be bad, people overcame those feelings because it was their way to show the world who they were, who their people were, and what they stood for.”

This was a beautifully crafted episode filled with many touching moments all demonstrating the power of art and its inherent ability to heal. It is also fascinating to learn how Indigenous art is evolving today. Rather than the static concept mainstream is so familiar with, we witness here today’s modern Indigenity. Murdock sums this up nicely: “Art is a ceremony, of creating pieces that are actually healing people and making people stronger. It goes out into the universe and it is connecting with everything. It is always the artists and the musicians that make the greatest change. There is a medicine and a code in there, a blueprint with how to walk with mother earth.”


Working It Out Together: Staying Grounded While Moving Ahead

Episode six of Working It Out Together teaches us about community coming together to raise and support its children.

Prior to colonization, the strength of the family was integral to the survival of the community. Dr. Carl Hele, Director of First Peoples Studies at Concordia University, describes the mechanism of the community. Traditionally, it was the family that was the primary unit of society and it was the entire community that acted to raise responsible, healthy, productive children; family and community were one.  The family held the power in the community.

However, the ancient ways were nearly devastated by colonialism, residential schooling, and rapid social change. Diseases killed off the elders, robbing communities of their knowledge base, and dependence on the mother-father-child concept of the family unit meant that the extended familial bonds began to break. Later,  when the Residential School System was implemented by the Canadian government, additional  fractures occurred with the removal of the children.  The loss of the children meant families lost their purpose for existence.  Host Waneek Horn-Miller states, “I think that the fracturing of the family was a huge effort by the government, by the Indian Act, by everything. They have tried to fracture our identity, our family units, our sense of security, our sense of well being, of who we are.”  She adds, “But it is an unwillingness to give up that is going make families and communities strong again.”

However, many of today’s Indigenous children are lacking family support. They are not being raised in their culture, but they are not being raised fully in western culture either.  This means they do not know who they are or where they are; they are caught in between.  Dr. Hele believes this is due to the lack of strong community based family. “It takes a community to raise a kid and it takes a community to heal itself.  It is this idea that family is centre and culture and ceremony and language are centre that makes for a stronger community.”

This episode takes a closer look at Conrad Mianscum of Mistissini, Quebec, and his family’s tradition of snow mobile racing. Conrad’s grandfather, David Mianscum, had a successful racing career and in the traditional ways he passed his knowledge on to his grandson. Despite choosing a more modern career path, Conrad’s grandfather kept Conrad grounded in the ways traditional of their ancestors, and so his passing was a significant loss to Conrad. This loss  left Conrad shattered, but despite this, his family and his community are supporting him as he grieves, giving Conrad the support he needs to carry on in his grandfather’s stead.  Those supporting Conrad have acted to help fuel his warrior spirit and in so doing are igniting their own, to become a more cohesive community, healthier and better able to support  their youth.

Nathaniel Bosum, a former snow mobile racer and now motivational speaker, shares his story of depression in the hopes that he can help  support other youth who risk losing their way on their paths to success. He hopes his story motivates the youth and allow them to enjoy life.

This episode proved to be a very touching story of family.  Admittedly, when I was watching, I found myself welling up with tears with each tribute Conrad paid to his grandfather. The love and respect he carries for him is quite evident, and clearly a driving force that continues in his life today.


Recap: Working It Out Together: Traditional Food in a Modern World

Episode five of Working It Out Together tackles the the barrier that many Canadians face every day: access to healthy fresh food. Host Waneek Horn-Miller believes that by limiting the  availability of nutritious foods, those from  lower socio-economic sectors are dependent on high sugar and high starch foods. She sees this practice as an act of aggression on Indigenous people, as a low-nutrient diet does not ensure the health and well-being of children in Canada. However, when communities work to restore traditional foods by means of cultivation or hunting, people not only improve their health but they decolonize their ways of thinking.

This edition examines corn, a food that historically accounted for 80% of the diet for Indigenous people. We learn about both mass produced corn and the traditional farming techniques associated with corn crops. Bonnie Skye, Mohawk from Six Nations of Grand River,  is a corn knowledge keeper, and is restoring traditional corn to her community’s daily diet. Teri Morrow, a dietician from Cayuga Nation discusses how the Residential School System acted to remove the people from their traditional foods. “When you remove that connection from the family and the land and food is just given to you, you’ve just broken any sort of relationship that you can have to either the earth, the land, the food, the water, anything. It doesn’t mean as much as it should.”

Donnie Martin, discusses the benefits he  has seen whilst hunting traditional local game to feed his family. The exposure of his young family to hunting and fishing normalizes the process for his children; educating them in the traditional ways.

Dr. Karl Hele  of Concordia University described the traditional farming village, with its systems of irrigation and crop rotation. The general stewardship of the land provided healthier food than that in a comparably sized village in Europe.  When settlers began to colonize the land these traditional ways were lost; settlers would destroy the food source using scorched earth tactics and effectively starved the people. Soon after the loss of farms and homes the people were moved to reserves, and prohibited by law from selling their produce to non-Indians. This in turn legally freed up land for lease for to settlers to  make “proper use” of. In short, food was used as a weapon to ensure the people remain poor in this new and evolving economy.

This episode, whilst an extremely important topic to cover, and perhaps the most accessible strategy for the average person to take up as an act of decolonization — and thus very important to learn from–was, in my opinion, not as engaging as it could have been. I would have liked to know more about the laws that aggressively criminalized food production that subversively introduced the structural racism we see so prevalently today.



Recap: Working It Out Together- Stewards of the Land

This week’s powerful episode “Stewards of the Land” takes a hard look at the meaning of, and connection to, the land that Indigenous cultures innately have. It also examines the threats to traditional lands that exist in today’s society in the never ending quest for progress. Waneek Horn-Miller reminds viewers that this is not an Indigenous movement but a human movement, “that we do not drink separate water, or breath separate air, we have to live here together, and our children are going to inherit this.”

During  my interview with season three series director Michelle Smith,  she named this episode as one of her favourites. “This episode is such an empowering story of community coming together in order to block uranium mining on Cree territory.”

We visit Eastmain, James Bay, an area considered rich in uranium, and follow Jamie Moses as he takes his son Joshua out on the traditional lands in order to pass on his hunting and trapping skills. Jamie and his son provide the human context for this story. We also follow Jamie’s compelling testimony at Quebec’s Bureau d’audiences publiques sur l’environnement (BAPE) hearings, held in 2015, that explored the possible impact of uranium mining on Cree Territory.

Traditional Anishnaabe Story-Teller Isaac Murdoch discusses the balance that the Indigenous peoples had with the land.  They held a preservationist philosophy whilst the settlers considered the land as a commodity to exploit. This meant that the Indigenous beliefs so enmeshed with the land needed to be destroyed as they interfered with the harvesting of resources for the sake of progress.  “When you don’t believe that the water has a spirit or that a tree has a spirit you are able to cut it down,” and it becomes easier to rape the land of its riches. The process of colonization sought to destroy this connection but the need protect the land has acted as the impetus to reconnect with culture.

Shawn and Ashley Iserhoff,  leaders in the fight against uranium mining,  discuss the engagement of the Cree in their fight to deny uranium mining in Mistissini. They believe that the people today need to make responsible decisions  in order to  ensure future generations  will have the ability to enjoy the land as their ancestors once did. Ultimately it was the overwhelming involvement of the youth that voiced their concerns for their future that united the community in this latest battle. Because the Cree were so diligent in their fight to deny uranium exploration on their traditional lands, the BAPE Commission voted to deny future exploration not only on Cree territory, but within all of Quebec.

It was the following statement by Isaac Murdoch that truly resonated with me: “As characters in this sacred story, what is our next move? Do we do something? Do we sit back and watch? Or do we try to be heroes?” We have to unite, and we have to be strategic in our approach to government, and then we can make a difference. It is Jamie Moses’s belief, passed to him from his grandfather that the people keep the traditions alive but also adapt to the modern ways; use the best of both worlds as you move forward in a good way.


Working it Out Together recap: Birthing on her own terms

The second episode of Working it Out Together explores the positive ripple effect that childbirth creates via a woman within her community. It is about empowerment. It also critically examines, from the perspective of colonization, the effect that western medicine has had on the process of birthing in Indigenous communities across Canada.

We begin with the idea that women’s bodies are designed for childbirth. But the process of childbirth also acts to connect  women of a community together.  Historically, one woman within the community held a position of great distinction: the midwife.  It was the function of traditional midwifery to attend to the emotional, spiritual, physical, and mental health needs of expectant mothers, their newborns, and the families welcoming their newborns. However, with the invasion of western medicine came the belief that birthing was dangerous and thus required powerful people–educated physicians–to control the procedure. Governmental control* of women’s reproduction persisted and midwifery as a whole, across Canada, was outlawed. This disconnected women from their bodies and fathers/families from the process as well.

Traditionally, the cyclical process of birth is seen as a means of renewal and hope,  restoring balance to the community at large. The western practice of removing childbirth from the community to the sterile environment of the hospital, isolates women during the procedure, necessarily severing the initial ties between mother, child, and community. This in turn has created yet another social fracture among the people of the community and has disrupted the emotional and social balance in people’s lives for generations.

We are also reminded that historically, midwives attended successful births in very challenging environments, with limited resources, when compared to the living conditions that are more common today.  In this context then, trained midwives are able to recognise possible complications that could threaten the health of both mother and child. If  suitable medical instrumentation is also available, midwives can make these diagnoses well in advance, thus ensuring proper care for their patients.

The entire scenario further complicates birthing for women who live in the north. Communities that lack birthing centres are forced to fly expectant mothers south to the nearest hospital weeks in advance of their due dates. This removes them from family and friends for weeks at a time. Children are left missing their mothers; fathers and families are left struggling to care for distraught children. This is done because of the “what if” scenario, a plausible argument. However,  the added emotional stress this places on a community and/or family, coupled with the financial stress caused by extended hospital stays, could be eased simply by placing trained midwives, with appropriate equipment,  in  communities.

Episode two follows the journey of Shillene McNaughtan, a mother of three, pregnant with her fourth child. It is Shillene’s belief that the birthing centre at Six Nations is the more suitable location for a natural act of life, rather than attending a hospital for a procedure.  In Shillene’s case, we are also reminded of the complications gestational diabetes causes . Gestational diabetes in Indigenous women occurs at a rate five times the national average.

***Spoiler Alert*** Shillene gave birth to a healthy baby boy!

*This episode also touches on the government management of Indigenous reproduction with the forced sterilization of Indigenous women during the 1970’s. I wish we dug deeper into this very dark aspect of colonization in Canada.