Indigenous Motherhood – Andrea Landry
Artwork: Aura @of Claudine Bull and daughter AlbaArt
Artwork: Aura @of Claudine Bull and daughter Alba
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?
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.
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 “matriarch” and “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.
Andrea Landry is Anishinaabe from Pawgwasheeng (Pays Plat First Nation) but currently resides on Treaty Six territory in Poundmaker Cree Nation. She holds a Masters in Communications and Social Justice from the University of Windsor. She teaches Indigenous Studies and for the University of Saskatchewan, and formerly was heavily engaged with international Indigenous politics at the UN level, travelling the globe to find justice in community level issues. Yet her real passion lies in her work in the areas of grief and recovery, suicide prevention, family systems, and community healing. Her life right now is focused on the path of motherhood and healthy parenting as she raises her new baby, River-Jaxsen, alongside her partner. She is also available for speaking engagements and for workshops on a variety of topics for young people and adults.
Andrea Landry believes that the route to healing from colonialism comes from the heart work that most people avoid in our communities and through how one chooses to raise their children. Through forgiveness, overcoming colonial systems being seen as a means for solutions, and prioritizing indigenous ways of being over colonial ways of being, Andrea believes our communities can become as healthy as they were prior to colonization. For our nations to thrive, we must thrive as parents, families, and communities.