Indigenous women can find healing through balanced relationships with the land, says educator

The climate change crisis is a spiritual battle playing out in physical form affecting traditional roles of Indigenous women, and contributing to the crisis of violence against women, says First Nations educator Glenda Abbott.

However, she says the tides are turning and Indigenous women are starting to take back the stewardship of land for the livelihood of future generations.

Abbott spoke at a Climate Change Symposium event held in Enoch Cree Nation near Edmonton last week. 

Abbott is from Pelican Lake First Nation in Saskatchewan and has a bachelor of education from the University of Saskatchewan. She has worked on many Indigenous-led community projects and cultural revitalization initiatives related to women’s teachings, traditional medicine, food sovereignty and land-based education curriculum development

She said the energy women carry recognizes the life in everything, “then we have the other side that doesn’t acknowledge this.”

From left: Serene Spence, Lindsay Knight (with daughter), Glenda Abbott and Tersely Linklater with drums used to sing traditional songs celebrating tradition, culture, healing and life. (submitted by Glenda Abbott )

The “other side” she’s referring to is described as ‘Wihtiko’ in Cree, meaning a spirit that consumes without remorse.

“These are corporations, capitalism, consumerism in direct opposition to respecting the consensual relationships that are on the land,” she said.

“These entities live with a different spirit. They’re systems that are taking from the land and not replacing, not thinking about future generations.”

She said sexual assault and lack of respect for Indigenous women mirrors the non-consensual taking of Indigenous lands and resources.

“We’re borrowing the resources of the land from future generations and those are actually representative of our female bodies, our mothers, because we represent the vessels that are going to carry future generations,” she said.

“These assaults on the body of our Mother [Earth] is very visible.”

She described damaging of the environment through resource development and pollution as forms of “assault” against the land. Even economic opportunities involving the land are geared toward male-dominated jobs, she noted.

Caretakers of the land

But Indigenous women are taking back their traditional roles as caretakers of the land in their communities, which is helping the environment, she added.

She said defending the land from the effects of climate change is essential because harvesting medicines, food and returning to a life of living off the land is a “sacred act” that encompasses the mothering spirits of Indigenous women taking the lead.

“It’s taking care of the land and ensuring that those relationships [with the land] remain consensual,” she said. 

She said healing comes through balanced relationships with the land and happens “when we’re out there doing work together.”

“Gathering our food, we’re building kinship, structure … families are rebuilt together,” she said.

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