In anticipation of the book launch of Jessica Yee’s book, Feminism FOR REAL: Deconstructing the academic industrial complex of feminism, I want to keep it “real” and give a reminder of what this deconstruction will mean if taken seriously. To provide this reminder, I have chosen to point out the patriarchy and racism that is still so pervasive in the environmental movement.
As an Indigenous Feminist, one of the links I, as well as many Indigenous women across the world, see is between reproductive health and environmental justice. Simultaneously I am angry about the lack of recognition of this link within most environmental discourse, both mainstream and Indigenous.
One example that recently came out which highlights this link for Indigenous women across the world is the Declaration for Health, Life and Defense of Our Lands, Rights and Future Generations, provided to me by co-rapporteur Jessica Yee.
As a student studying Environmental Studies, it bothers me that in every class I attend, so many people are surprised when I make this connection. When I drop the word abortion in my International Environmental Law course, I immediately get the feeling that I’m alone in the room. But how can one talk about sustainable development without recognizing the history of abortion amongst Aboriginal communities? It’s insulting to hear in environmental classes that the idea of any form of sustainability is a new concept. Indigenous women have in numerous ways understood the relationship between resources and the amount of mouths to feed in the community.
Most discussions around the environment and risk are void of the voices of Indigenous women, including Indigenous midwives. Indigenous midwives were environmental-reproductive stewards! While working as midwives they had some of the most extensive knowledge of medicines to use during birth. Just like understanding the lifecycle of children, they understood the lifecycle that so closely resembled that of mother earth’s seasons. Métis Elder Tom McCallum describes how his grandmother directly linked women’s reproductive health to the Earth when she would travel for a woman’s birth: “If she saw some medicines, she would pick the medicines, and hang them up and then pick them up on her way back. She only took those things that she needed for that delivery she was going to go and do.” From across Turtle Island, midwives continued these links: “Anishnawbe babies were born into a moss bag and the mother was given a broth of salmon or whitefish to stimulate lactation”(NAHO, p.13).
If the precautionary principle tells us that states are not to do anything environmentally that may cause negative impacts, would it not be crucial to include the voices of our Indigenous midwives? They critically understand how the the loss of medicines or the effects of pollutants in salmon will affect the mothering process. Our Indigenous midwives understand risk, the importance of protecting the land through every step of the mothering process from pregnancy to birth, and the values that are passed onto further generations. If our midwives pass on Indigenous concepts of respecting our environment and keeping it healthy for the next seven generations, should they not be central to environmental discourse?
They absolutely need to be. Otherwise, the ideas of risk will be greatly slanted away from our women and our future genererations.