27th Annual Feb 14th DTES Women’s Memorial March

A pilgrimage is described as any long journey, especially one undertaken as a quest for spiritual purpose, to pay homage. It’s a spiritual votive… a sacred promise put to action.

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Being a part of the annual February 14th DTES Women’s Memorial March is best described in similar ways.

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For me, it’s a long ongoing journey, a ceremony, a search for meaning, and an opportunity for gathering strength and healing. It’s also a stark reminder that while the profile of the issue, now captured in hashtags #MMIW, #MMIWG, #AmINext, #NoMoreStolenSisters etc… has been raised to International attention, the violence continues.

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Before the march, there is a gathering for family members hosted inside Carnegie Center. Here families of those stolen sisters are able to share, testify and find comfort with each other. During this time the community gathers outside in solidarity and takes the intersection. It is no small feat and after 27 years, now involves thousands of people, taking one of the busiest intersections in Vancouver; Main and Hastings.

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There are no organizational banners. No advertising. No sponsors. This is all community driven. This is the one day a year where women of the community are centered as leaders, guardians, speakers, singers, protectors. It’s the one day a year we can try and gather safely and name the violence. It’s the one day of a year we can mourn our lost ones together. It is a day when we get to dismiss the burden of stigma, and celebrate the beauty of the lives we honour.

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The RCMP have referenced 1,181 Missing or murdered Indigenous women (not including girls). They are still looking at this the wrong way. They only count us when we are gone, they don’t count those of us that have survived the exact same circumstances. If you counted those of us that have survived poverty, violence and misogyny, what would the numbers look like then? How big of an epidemic of violence would you be trying to quantify if you counted survivors? We are all survivors.

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The March is led by our matriarchs, our eldest warriors with whom the wisdom of survival and resilience resides. They lead us through the DTES singing the Women’s Warrior Song. We leave medicine and tobacco at the sites in which women were last seen, or were found murdered. This year we carried the ashes and prayers of one of our elders Bea, who although gone, is by no means forgotten.

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This march first started after the brutal loss of Cheryl Anne Joe in 1992. The tragedy of her young life was one too many for the community and the first march took place in response.

The women who started this march, did so at a time when there was no public awareness, or support from any level of government. This was not the cause célèbre it is often seen as now.  Women had things thrown at them while marching. There have been years when vehicles have tried to plow through the marchers, and still women were going missing.  They have never stopped marching, or organizing.

Now,  27 years since the senseless loss of her life, Cheryl Anne Joe’s legacy is now an international movement to end the epidemic of violence against Indigenous women and girls.

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There are marches across the country, into the US and there is solidarity felt from as far as Juarez, Mexico.

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There was a public Inquiry in BC and there is currently a National Inquiry being undertaking on the issue, both largely as a result the Memorial March and the relentless efforts by the Memorial March committee advocating to end the conditions that result in women’s vulnerability.

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The theme of the march is captured in the statement “Their Spirits Live Within Us”.

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And that is never more evident than in our  collective love for our next generation.

For that reason alone, we must continue.

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I hope you’ll join us next year.

All my relations,

Jessica Wood
~Sii Sityaawks

*For more images of this years march, be sure to follow Jessica on Instagram & facebook.
Galleries will be posted on her website shortly.

Tgu dzipdzaba apels; Peel the apples

Farmers, fishermen, hunters. We all follow the weather. Closely.

This year on our farm, we had a bumper crop of apples. We are attributing it to the many affects of climate change. We had thought the drought through the summer might impact our harvest. But the warm weather and lack of rain swung us the other way. Sooooo many apples.

It was time to Tgu dzipdzaba apels – to peel the apples.

When we have things that have been imported into our territory, sometimes our word is similar to the language of the person who brought it – with a smalgyax flourish of course. In this instance “apples” become “apels”.

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We had started our season by taking our first harvest to a local apple press. They UV pasteurize it and we freeze it in cartons. This year, we took a truckload and we knew we were going to have twice as much yet to come. Truth be told. I still have a fridge dedicated to their storage and a freezer full of pressed juice.

We decided with this many apples we would need to press our own. Now apple pressing can be hard work with a traditional press. After some YouTube research by my father in law and a very nifty example of a home press made out of a washing machine, we decided we could fashion something of our own. Ours would be built from a new and dedicated motor originally designed as a garborator and a hydraulic home-made press.

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First step was to wash all the apples thoroughly and then remove blemishes and the cores. You don’t actually have to remove the cores. There is some school of thought that the seeds have a level of cyanide might pose a risk at a high enough quantity. I don’t think the commercial presses remove the seeds and it’s actually the same compound that gives almonds their lovely taste, such as found in almond extract. But better safe than sorry.

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We then guided them through the machine to crush them.

The pulp was then fed into our press, which is mostly a net, a bucket with holes, a press and patience.

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The results were DELICIOUS.
I cannot describe the serious taste extravaganza that you are seeing photographed here. If there was a word to describe a the taste, it would be fresh.

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It doesn’t look like it changes the world in a big way. But these apples have been tended by our family, now by three generations. They have been handpicked and pressed with our own hands. It’s food security, that tastes like home. It feels like it feeds your soul. It feels similar to when we put away fish, moose meat, medicines. We feel a part of the world around us in a way that is reciprocal and respectful.

So yes, it’s just apple juice. But it’s also time with our family, on our land, harvested and pressed by us together. It’s pretty much everything.

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 – Jessica Wood

The Return of History

I recently had the privilege of attending one of this year’s Massey Lectures in Vancouver, all being presented by this year’s powerhouse lecturer Jennifer Welsh.

The Massey Lectures have taken place annually since 1961 in honour of Vincent Massey, former Governor General of Canada. Each year since, CBC has invited a noted scholar to present a five-part series of lectures that focus on a political, cultural or historical topic that focus on original research in their field. These are the biggest thinkers and most important intellectuals of our times. Previous lecturers have been Martin Luther King Jr., Margaret Atwood, Noam Chomsky, Lawrence Hill and in 2003 the first Indigenous lecturer: Novelist Thomas King.

By being invited to be the 2016 lecturer, Jennifer Welsh is validated as being one of these types of big thinkers. One that shapes the landscape of what follows.

Jennifer has an internationally impressive reputation. Regina born, she recently completed her role as Special Advisor to the UN secretary-general on the Responsibility to Protect. She co-founded the Oxford Institute for Ethics, Law and Armed Conflict and currently she is a professor of international relations at the European Union University Institute in Florence and is a fellow of Sommerville College at Oxford.

The theme of her CBC Broadcast 2016 Massey Lectures is what Brian Bethune of MacLean’s magazine called “her sober state-of-the-world assessment” that is accompanied by the release of her new book The Return of History: Conflict, Migration and Geopolitics in the Twenty-First Century.”

Jennifer is also Métis.

Take that in for a minute.

It’s time we start paying attention to Jennifer Welsh and what she has to say as an internationally renowned expert in global politics, post-conflict reconstruction and the notion of sovereignty.

As Indigenous people we are slowly increasing our numbers in municipal, provincial and Federal government in the hopes of reaching a place where our people can be considered as part of a global landscape. Meanwhile Jennifer Welsh has been studying and helping shape the understanding of the world at a global level.

I attended her sold out lecture at the York Theatre entitled “The Return of Barbarism”. I appreciated her lecture so much. She connected the role of Western Liberal Democracy to the current state of affairs in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan and explained to us “Why the West Hasn’t Won”.

Her lecture left me with so many questions and ready to devour the rest of her talks on CBC when they are available in October. But I was also left with some other questions. Why isn’t this making bigger headlines? Why isn’t she being profiled across the country with Métis and Indigenous leaders filling up all the seats? The lateral absence of commentary and support is stunning to me.

The very idea of reconciliation is rooted in the western ideal of liberal democracy. Liberal Democracy as a form of government that focuses on the protection of rights and freedoms of individuals. It places constraints on what can be done in which the will of the majority cannot overrule the rights of minorities. However the practice of liberal democracy is not cut and dry. How are those rights determined and who gets to assert them? The idea of reconciliation is that this part of our history is done now. We’ve moved on and reparations can be made. But it is Jennifer Welsh position that history is not done, it’s returning.

We need to increase our understanding of how liberal democracy has not worked to end extreme cruelty and brutality but has, in many cases, worked to entrench them is essential if we are to change the nature of our relationship to the nation state as First Nations people and governments.

Jennifer Welsh is setting the stage on an international level and we as a community are missing it. We are missing our opportunity to understand our own circumstances as they relate to the world as a whole.

You can attend  Jennifer Welsh’s Massey Lectures at the following dates, or
here or  the 2016 CBC Massey Lectures will be broadcast on CBC Radio One IDEAS October 31 – November 4.

Halifax, NS – October 5, 7 p.m.
Lecture 4: The Return of the Cold War
Paul O’Regan Hall, Halifax Central Library
Presale: $27 regular
Regular price: $32 regular, students/seniors $20
Box Office: 902-422-6278 x500
Purchase tickets 
In person: at the Ticket Halifax Box Office/The Coast, 2309 Maynard Street

Toronto, ON – October 7, 7 p.m.
Lecture 5: The Return of Inequality
Koerner Hall
Presale: $45/$35 regular
Regular price: $50/$40 regular, students, $20, seniors $28
Box Office: 416-408-0208
Purchase tickets 

You can also purchase her new book that accompanies the lecture: The Return of History.

~Jessica Wood.

Storm Chasing

Highway 16, northern BCStorm chasing on Highway 16:
It’s like dancing, hide and seek, and flirting all at once.

First you chase the storm…

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…and then the storm chases you.
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I would have reached out and touched her, she was so beautiful…

This storm of ours, of mine.

She must have heard me… this spirit of creation,

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as suddenly there she was, reaching back.

Was that hello, or goodbye?

Before I could ask, she was gone.

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No Wave Feminist

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It’s pride season. As a queer Indigenous woman I find this both exciting (the critical mass of fabulousness in one place) and challenging (pink washing) largely because my own sexual and gender identities cannot be separated from my experience as an Indigenous person. Pride may have its roots as a social justice movement, but that movement has been diluted and can so often ring for one note of equality: marriage. I believe the spectrum of sexuality and gender cannot be separated from the spectrum of privilege of class and race. We exist within each simultaneously, which makes it complicated and that is one of the things I would like to see celebrated during Pride, the complicated multi-faceted, intersectional identities that make us each so amazing.

In order to honour Indigenous LGBTQ & Two-Spirit Pride, I sought to photograph the most fabulous, fierce, two-spirit social justice activist Femme I could find (aka a kindred spirit). Enter Shane Sable, Two-Spirit Gitxsan Feminist Burlesque performer and activist.  She’s from the Frog/Raven clan in Cedarvale and while we have not yet found any direct relation – I say give it time, I’m sure we’re at least cousins in law twice removed. Lucky me.

Shane Sable has been performing burlesque for five years now. Having taken a well deserved break, she’s had some time to reflect on her relationship with burlesque and her position as an Indigenous performer within the burlesque community.

The result of this reflection will soon be seen in the creation of an all-native burlesque collective based out of Vancouver BC.

Indigenous women, performing and embracing their sexuality completely on their own terms? #MicDrop

I had to know more. So what started as a fun, spontaneous photo-shoot became an in-depth heart-to-heart about intersectionality, beaded pasties and what reclaiming Indigenous sexual identity can look like in hot, self-actualized and validating action.

JW: What prompted you to consider starting an all-native burlesque troupe? 

SS: There are so many reasons! For instance, when I approach many promoters about equity and inclusion, I’m told that their shows are not diverse because there is a lack of performers of colour, or that they simply don’t know any. They keep choosing who they know in their own circles.

If you think your community (any community) is too white, ask yourself WHY THAT IS. This erasure and lack of self-examination is so common and so problematic.

I started by compiling a list of fifteen performers of colour to share with producers, so there was no excuse, but of course even though I shared it. It was rarely considered.

Ironically this is was what has inspired the creation of the Indigenous Burlesque collective. It’s so needed. The list self-populated and was completely optional to join.

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How many Indigenous performers signed up?

Seven! And we’re just getting started. That was without much effort. Just here in Vancouver, there are 7 Indigenous performers in the Burlesque community. That just goes to show that there are PLENTY available.

Has the collective come up with any goals?

Yes! We want to amplify and reclaim Indigenous sexuality from the toxic effects of colonization. We realized we do that in some part already, by performing burlesque while Indigenous, but this is not always experienced explicitly by the performers or the audience. We’d like to take on the repossession of our sexuality explicitly, deliberately, unmistakably.

We want Indigenous women to know they have options and the right to express and explore their sexuality as much as any other person. Indigenous women should benefit from the privilege that white women enjoy. Joy and pride in our body, in our appearance, joy in sex. We aren’t easily afforded these things and it’s time to change that.

Who is in the collective?

We come from a wide variety and differing experiences as Indigenous people. But the challenges we experience are very much the same. That was our first conversation as a collective.  We didn’t expect it to be. We got together to talk about creating the collective and found ourselves unpacking the very painful truths about how we’ve each been treated as indigenous women by our partners, our professions, our communities and society. We talked about how we each find connection with our roots, the inter-generational residential school trauma, and what solidarity in relationships can look like. We unpacked the lateral violence we’ve experienced by men and women from within and outside our own communities. We didn’t plan for our first conversation to be so raw, but of course, it had to be.

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Is this the first time any of you have had colleagues to unpack your personal and professional experiences?

Yes! Who else can you talk to about the connections between shaming Indigenous sexuality and bodies and missing and murdered Indigenous women. Where else can you talk about the racism that is endemic in so many performances and/ or the opportunities to perform. Where else can you celebrate and talk about beaded pasties and bringing larger parts of your Indigenous identity into your performance? So many of us have to leave those parts that come naturally out of our performances. We can change that, together.

Does this mean beaded pasties? YES. There are plans. Big plans, and opportunities are coming our way fast! One of our performers has pitched traveling to facilitate empowerment workshops primarily for Indigenous women. We recognize we have a certain amount of privilege to be performers.

I know it’s complicated. There’s no easy path to community for us. I know some other Indigenous women whose gender identity is non-binary. I know we can be criticized for performing burlesque by the Indigenous community – there is alot of shame around Indigenous women’s bodies and sexuality that we need to undo. It is not without it’s challenges or critiques. But this makes sense for us.

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May I ask how you identify?

I guess you could say I’m trying on “two-spirit”. I find it to be a great escape from the colonial baggage of “bi-sexual.” At least this way, when I identify my sexuality as part of my Indigenous identity no one assumes I’m available for a threesome as they do when I said I was bi. It’s gives me some safety to relate my sexuality as something that is part of my Indigenous identity. I appreciate that. White people don’t understand enough about being two-spirit to bring their colonial preconceptions into it.  Truthfully, for me, it’s not about the bits. It’s about the person!

Does your collective have a name?

Not yet! Perhaps the readers at Tea & Bannock can make some suggestions!

And with that T&B readers, we invite you to make suggestions for an empowered, political, fierce, Indigenous burlesque troupe!

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Shane Sable Gitxsan Two-Spirit Burlesque Performer/ Producer

 * UPDATE: The Indigenous Burlesque Collective has a name:  Virago Nation!

Please note, the Gitxsan performer/ activist/ change agent has changed their stage name since the orginal publication of this post. The post has been updated to reflect this wonderful new chapter in Shane Sable’s artistic practice!

#BlackLivesMatter

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This is an open letter to my Indigenous Community,

I’m asking for solidarity for #BlackLivesMatter. To stop appropriating this hashtag to announce that Indigenous lives are just as important, because we feel the parallel systemic violence on top of colonial land violence.

This is not a time to try and prove who has been hurt worse or more often or for how long. This will not stop the pain and will not bring you comfort. This is a time for #IndigenousSolidarity.

I work on issues related to missing and murdered Indigenous women and have for over a decade. At a time when NOONE was taking us seriously, when our numbers were denied as not “real” statistics. When we called for allyship and solidarity…. We heard many of the same derailment tactics: That white women face domestic violence too, that if we handled ourselves differently, dressed differently, did not struggle with addiction, moved from the res, moved from the city, moved from the neighbourhood, didn’t antagonize the police, the social worker, the border guard, the transit police, the RCMP, then we would be ok. This is a falsehood intended to implicate us in our own oppression.

These are tactics used to take us away from the truth that violence is being done to us in genocidal numbers and we must not use these tactics now to contribute to the derailment of #BlackLivesMatter.

Because #BlackLivesMatter. Period.

We are not just an Indigenous community, but a community that is mixed blood…. Our history, oppression and future and that of the black community are not isolated from one another, nor is our potential for emancipation.

Our communities share ancestors and babies…. We are family. Think of your mixed race brothers and sisters, nieces and nephew, aunties and uncles, our parents and partners. We are community. How many of our youth and artists have found meaning and empowerment through black culture? Through black leaders, through black music?

It’s time we as Indigenous communities support black lives, and not simply take meaning from black culture. We know what it feels like to have our culture appropriated, while the oppression and injustice is omitted. We know what it is to constantly demand to have our lives recognized as human and our deaths to be taken seriously and treated with the gravity they deserve. We need to acknowledge that we know what this is, and to consciously choose to stand in solidarity against this kind of oppression.

Take this moment to examine racism within our own Indigenous communities. How are we complicit? It’s time to decide if we want to have more in common with those that share our oppression, or with our shared oppressors. Racism is not our tradition.

I understand that we are hurting, for so many same reasons: systemic violence resulting in injury, death, public execution, child apprehension and incarceration. But we did not see the hashtag #BlackIdleNoMore did we? No, that would not be ok. That would negate our struggle, that would silence our point, our position, our movement in a weird oppression competition.

So it’s time to stand in solidarity with #BlackLivesMatter.

Right now, in North America, Black lives are being taken in public executions by police and this must stop. It’s insane. Why would we want to derail that?

Here’s what I’m asking you to do:

  1. Hold space for #BlackLivesMatter: to mourn, hurt, be quiet, be angry for all the feelings, for all the words, for all the silences.
  2. Stop the appropriation of the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter. This includes speaking up and against the hashtag alllivesmat@#… #NativeLivesMatt@#… Etc.
  3. Interrupt and engage those in your own circles/ workplaces/ social media who dismiss the real pain and resistance efforts of the #BlackLivesMatter movement. This is not a time to be silent.
  1. Understand that the violence you may be aware of now, is not new and is symptomatic of colonialism, racism and white privilege and what is new is the collective international resistance to the violence against and public execution of people of color by police.
  2. #SayTheirNames
  3. Say #BlackLivesMatter

Believe it.

~Jessica Wood.

Joy District

Recently I was excited because not only was I going to be able to attend a concert to support efforts to #SaveTheWalbran – but I was also going to connect for an interview and photo session with the incomparable Kinnie Starr (More on that in a future post).

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Fulford Community Hall, Salt Spring Island

 

Instead, hanging around sound check I met Tim.

Tim, Joy District Secret Weapon

Tim is your typical islander. A long-talker. He’s equally quick with a smile, a good tale, a hearty laugh and always has a good dose of teasing at the ready. I liked him immediately. He said he was a driver for one of the bands performing that night: Joy District.

Tim, may drive their bus, but he is really their secret weapon. Less than five minutes of talking to Tim and you HAVE to meet the band. Just to see if he really does drive for musical genius’ with hearts of gold.

So my original plan took a serendipitous turn to my first (and hopefully not my last) interview with brothers Eli and Jordi Hilberry and lifelong friends Lenny Parkin and Keelan Gamble of Joy District.

Having spoken to the band at length over dinner, and listened to them play that night, Tim was right. They’re the real deal. If they keep going like this, Joy District has the potential to be the soundtrack for a new generation.

Joy District on stage 2016 by Jessica WoodThat’s not a bad thing because they’re the kind of Canadian act you root for. Drummer Keelan Gamble spoke highly about not only about volunteering their act to the #SaveTheWalbran Tour, but also of their involvement in the Jellyfish Project. A non-profit organization that uses music, live performance, and learning resources to generate awareness and provide education on ocean sustainability, climate change and environmental stewardship.

“We feel good about being invested in the issues through music. It’s important to have this discussion in high schools. And it’s cool to be able to do something positive with the music. Rather than just play in a bar, we get to connect with hundreds of kids who are so stoked we’re there.”
~Keelan Gamble, Drummer,  Joy District

They really came to the attention of Industry and the public when they entered the Peak’s Performance Project. “Everything we’re doing now is because of that music contest.” The Peak Music Project is designed to launch the careers of up and coming music artist.

They were definitely the underdogs – never having played a show as Joy District and with less than 500 likes on Facebook (Population of Denman Island? 1,016) they made the 2015 top twelve. Now they’ve shared the stage with Mother Mother, Bedouin Soundclash, Head of the Heard, The Boom Booms, and most recently, Kinnie Starr.

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They aren’t gong to stop there.  They are the tree planting, socially conscious, grounded island guys who grew up together, and whose talent has been spurned of creative freedom only a rural island town can cultivate.

I’m looking forward to following their careers as they put together and album and refine their songwriting and continue to develop their own sound as well as seeing how they continue to use their music as a way to support important environmental issues.

*For more information on supporting efforts to protect the Walbran Valley, check out Friends of Carmanah Valley: 

Friends of Carmanah / Walbran recognize the Walbran Valley/Kaxi:ks as the traditional territory of the Nuu-cha-nulth peoples . We are a grassroots, 100% volunteer run collective of individuals working to gain protection for these ancient forests and to develop sustainable economic alternatives for local communities.

#FindYourJoyDistrict

Joy District on stage by Jessica Wood 2016 Lenny