Indigenous women on the Prairies deserve reproductive freedom (CBC Indigenous)

“To believe that life is truly sacred means acknowledging that the bodies of Indigenous women are no one’s territory but our own.” 

This past November, I co-authored a short essay for CBC Indigenous with my mentor and good friend, Nêhiyaw-Trinidadan land-based educator Tasha Spillett.

Tasha Spillett and Erica Violet Lee by Fatin Chowdhuryphoto by Fatin Chowdhury

Our piece for CBC Indigenous focuses on the history, present, and revival of our teachings regarding sexuality and reproductive health – and the ways these teachings and practices are deliberately eroded by colonial governance.

The feedback we received on our writing was supportive. I hope our communities will gain even more ground in addressing our struggles for body sovereignty in the forthcoming year.

“Indigenous women and girls — especially those on reserve and in rural communities — face barriers to accessing basic health care; and yes, access to abortions is a necessary part of the basic health care package that we deserve.”

Read the full piece here:

Twelve Thousand Moons

As part of the Graphic History Collective’s Remember, Resist, Redraw: A Radical History Poster ProjectI wrote the following essay on dancing, memory, and resistance to accompany artwork by Gitxsan author, journalist, and artist Angela Sterritt. Together, our work is presented in Poster #5: The Dance of Decolonial Love.


Twelve Thousand Moons

When I am old, I will tell you I remember dancing. I remember morning ceremonies at the Squamish, xʷməθkʷəy̓əm, Tsleil-Waututh waterfronts, shutting down malls in amiskwaciwâskahikan, organizing all night in Iqaluit, and the Chief setting up camp by that funny little concrete flame.

I will tell you about the day we danced in front of the old rail station in North Battleford, our drums shaking the spikes from the tracks and eventually shutting down the courtroom inside. When we sang those love songs louder after the cops told us to settle down so the trial could continue, it was mourning and celebration all in one. That’s what most of us did those early days: counting our time in breaths, breathlessness, and how many round dance songs before we hit the ground.

I will tell you I remember every time they said our starvation was natural and our dispossession was progress. Every time they said our freedom was impossible, and how this made us want it even more. I remember how upset they were when we started growing tobacco and vegetables in the plots of wasteland they had reserved for gas stations.

When I am old, I will tell you I remember refusal. I remember walking around what used to be the financial district in Dish with One Spoon and re-imagining it as our own, once more, feet sore from marching but unwilling to give in to sleep. I remember the days our people were locked up for fighting pipelines, for graffiti, for sex, for smudging, for living. I remember the night we broke them out and brought them all home.

When I am old, I will tell you I remember learning to twist copper wire snares from big, rough hands that didn’t need hide mitts in the bush but wore them anyway, just to show off that someone cared enough to keep those hands warm. I remember catching my first fish, taught exactly how to knock a pike on the head so it didn’t suffer long; this is how we cherished kindnesses in a world that afforded few.

I remember the Red River and Red Rising Rebellions. I remember the earrings my sister made me with beads the color of northern lights to wear to that extravagant party with Nēhiyaw philosophers, Dene physicists, and Anishinaabe poets after the first time a Métis went into outer space. We danced then, too, and I remember waking up by the fire after a bit too much strawberry champagne, surrounded by a circle of friends telling their re-creation stories with shadow figures on the wall.

When I am old, I will tell you I remember learning about freedom beyond anthems and passports. And how we never went back once we knew the kind of love bound only by shorelines, prairie skies, and forest floors.

The dream of these twelve moons, just like the twelve thousand before and after, is freedom. And one last thing, before I forget, remember: our memories contain every future, every sunrise, you will ever need.


Originally published here as part of the Graphic History Collective’s Remember Redraw Resist project. Posters are free to download for personal, educational, and activist use. See how you can use and support these posters. If you want to exhibit or publish the posters please see these guidelines.

The Wigwam Conspiracy (CBC Canada 2017)

“There have always been divergent stories of “home” in Canada. Mythic, pluralistic Glowing Hearts, on one hand, oppressive Home on Native land, on the other.

In the former, symbols dominate: empty wigwams and tipis because they don’t speak back to paternalism; sacred stories removed from their keepers to prevent carrying the memories of our worlds into the future; and Indigenous peoples themselves as tokens because tokens offer consent.”

Oceti Sakowin Camp along the Cannonball River – August 2016 (photo by me)

“The soil, the fire and the ashes are much deeper than symbols — they are teachings, attachments, memories and resurgence.

There is a truth about many Indigenous homes, inaccessible to Canadians despite the poking and prodding. The smouldering remains, that broken down car in the front lawn, toys scattered across the road: each are manifestations of our love in disarray. They are symbols of Indigenous resourcefulness, testaments to endurance against the odds and in some cases, pride.”

Read the whole article here: The Wigwam Conspiracy 

Hayden King & I wrote this piece for CBC Canada 2017.

In Defense of the Wastelands (GUTS Magazine)

I wrote a feature for the fabulous GUTS Canadian Feminist Magazine‘s issue 7: Love, titled In Defense of the Wastelands: A Survival Guide:

“…for those of us in the wastelands – for those of us who are the wastelands – caring for each other is refusing a definition of worthiness that will never include us.”


“To provide care in the wastelands is about gathering enough love to turn devastation into mourning and then, maybe, turn that mourning into hope…”

Read the whole piece here:

Accompanying illustration by the brilliant artist-writer-photographer and fellow wastelander, Fatin Chowdhury ( Follow him on Instagram and Twitter @Fatinic.

Red Rising Magazine: Land, Language and Decolonial Love

I wrote a feature for the November 2016 issue of Red Rising Magazine, a publication run by and for Indigenous people, based in Winnipeg.


On land and language:

Our languages and lands were made for love. We have wide skies, northern lights, and thousands of chokecherry bushes to duck behind. I know it’s taboo, but if you tell me you’ve never fallen for someone because of the passionate way they speak in the dark heat of a sweat lodge ceremony, you’re not going to the right lodges.

On desire and vulnerability:

As Indigenous people in colonial worlds, our vulnerability is non-consensually consumed and it is rarely ours to own. Daring to claim love and desire for Indigenous bodies in the face of ongoing colonialism is a liberatory act of vulnerability. Allowing love to flow beyond the edges of our skin (in the form of touch), our lips (in the form of language), and our eyes (in the form of tears) is necessary and radical in a world where we’re taught to believe those borders are impassable. So when we love each other, it is potent enough to heal the trauma and chase away the violence. So when we love it is wider than the prairies. So when we love, the bellies of our ancestors are filled with laughter and good food. When we love each other, pipelines shut down and borders open and logging machines jam.”

Read the full piece and support Red Rising Magazine here.


The work that we will continue to do will be relentless, and will hopefully inspire a new generation of Indigenous artists, thinkers, writers, and leaders in the community. Welcome to Red Rising. The time for our stories to be told is now!” – Red Rising Magazine Collective

For northern girls

If you knew how proud they are
that you made it to the age of 16
age 10.
in this province built up
on the devastation of universes and bodies like ours
you might never feel lonely again.

The next time you wonder if life is easier
outside of all your dark-hair, dark-sky isolation
(because we all do)
The next time you wonder if life would be easier
if you took those northern lights flashing under your dark skin
and set them free:

Remember it wasn’t the bare bone rations of canadian benevolence
but the knowledge of you
that fed your ancestors through
those naturally long / unnaturally starved prairie winters.

And your warm skin is their prophecy of spring
in full bloom

CBC: ‘This is a crisis’: 4th girl takes own life in northern Saskatchewan

My ancestors survived colonization and all I got was this lousy eye twitch

I have a medical condition called blepharospasm.

In my body, this manifests as a muscle twitch in my eyebrow that gets worse when I’m anxious or under stress. The twitching turns into headaches and irritation that make it difficult for me to focus while reading or writing.

My eye twitch developed over the past year, surely unrelated to the misadventures of being an urban Indigenous woman on the Canadian prairies, travelling to Paris for an international climate conference, and attempting to challenge the racist structures of academic philosophy.

Botox is the only treatment available for blepharospasm (no, my face is not expressionless and yes, I can still raise my eyebrows), but it is not a permanent solution. So every few months, I go into a clinic that specializes in cosmetic surgery and injectables for treatment. In my experience, the clinic serves a clientele of apparently wealthy, sometimes older, almost entirely white women.

As I hit my mid-twenties and note the already substantially different ways that academic men/all men interact with me as I get older, I should make it clear I’m not here to shame anyone who uses injectables or surgery for cosmetic reasons. Peoples bodies are their own, full stop. Furthermore, the chance to conform to certain expectations of femininity is crucial for avoiding increased violence for many people, something which ought to be recognized as medically necessary.

Still, the world of cosmetic surgery is a space where whiteness is upheld as the standard for women’s health and beauty (with the two often conflated), accessible only by the relatively wealthy.


An example of the type of posters I get to read while waiting for the doctor. Those “vaginal rejuvenation” posters especially amplify my twitchiness.

And so my colonial-trauma-eye-twitch brought me deeper into the wacky world of white femininity and cosmetic surgery.

The Procedure

It costs about $550 for my injections every 3-4 months, which is covered under the Saskatchewan health plan’s exception drug status. Even though the treatment is medically necessary, I’ve had trouble accessing the proper information and paperwork to get timely reimbursement, and I’ve missed treatments as a result because I couldn’t pay out of pocket.

In the office, the workers are kind, but I can’t help but fear that I will receive worse treatment because I’m a poor visibly Native woman asking for health care in a space not meant for me. I consciously dress as well as I can for my appointments in an attempt to lessen the impacts of racism on the health care I will receive. During my last appointment, a peppy young white woman walked in off the street into the fancy waiting room with bare feet and a hemp ankle bracelet, showcasing a carefreewhitegirl privilege which aggravated my twitchy eye even more.



Sometimes my eye twitch is a mini-manifestation of my body’s refusal to exist without complaint under a suffocating colonial order. I wish this acknowledgment made it a less exhausting and expensive condition to live with.

The Healing

Screen Shot 2016-08-20 at 7.14.29 PM

main offenders

The doctors, nurses, and office workers at the clinic are all very white-skinned, most with platinum blonde hair. As a result, I rarely leave an appointment without getting comments on my hair, my skin color, and my appearance in general. 

Once, while laying back in the chair being examined for a condition that is likely a direct result of the stress of colonial trauma on my body in the first place, a nurse told me: “Your skin is such a beautiful color. It’s not brown, but just, like, the perfect tan.”

While this might seem like a compliment, it was also an attempt to separate my beauty from the fact that I am a Native woman. It was a statement meant to exempt me from the category of “brown-skinned”, as if pointing out my Obviously Indigenous appearance would be an insult. I wanted to tell her that my skin is not “tan”: it is brown, and my beauty exists because of my brownness and because I am Native, not in spite of it.

With Fanon running through my head and the doctor’s french-manicured hand maneuvering a giant needle around my eye sockets, I just mumbled, “oh thaaaanks!” and offered up the name of my favourite sunscreen when she asked.

(Is this #sisterhood???)

The remark led me to recall another incident, when I was in a similar-but-different vulnerable position with a white guy who also told me “your skin is such a beautiful color”. I wondered for the rest of that evening why – though I already knew the answer – he couldn’t simply have said, “you are beautiful”.

Native women aren’t allowed to be beautiful in the eyes of white folks, at least not in the same way as white women. Our long dark hair is a “beautiful” object of fascination in the same way they admire furs or hides. Our beaded earrings are “beautiful” magnets for white folks who can never resist grabbing at our ears without our consent, as if they expect we’re made of the same hard plastic as the little Indian dolls sold in Canadiana gift shops, and not of flesh that feels legitimate pain worthy of proper medical attention. Our skin color is “beautiful” as long as it is caramel or golden or tan and not brown while black isn’t even a possibility on their checklist of What Natives Look Like. Our features are prized as exotic objects, but to be deemed a beautiful subject in one’s entirety is still something generally reserved for white women.

Earlier this year, Billy-Ray Belcourt gave a talk entitled “Gallstones and the Colonial Politics of the Future”. He mentions how his doctor was shocked that as a young person, he had a condition that generally only occurs in older people (except in the case of Indigenous folks), linking it to the real impacts of colonialism on our physical health and on the health care we receive.

As the doctor empties a third needle into my face to temporarily freeze the colonial eye twitch I’ll endure the rest of my life, she chirps, “It’s great that you started this procedure so young: you’ll never get wrinkles!”