The Red Willow Womyn’s Society is a grassroots, Indigenous women-led organization in the Cowichan Tribes First Nations territory of British Columbia. It was founded in 2009 as a small group of Native and non-Native women who began weekly gatherings to talk about their lived experiences with daily systemic oppressions. Through these “sharing circles,” Red Willow womyn would help each other navigate their daily barriers, and the circle grew. Today, the Society acts as a support for the wider Hul’qumi’num community. Through guided cultural protocols and teachings, they support and advocate for one another and work to strengthen families and the role of mothers as sacred life-givers. Cultural Survival’s Keepers of the Earth Fund is supporting the Society’s Breaking the Code of Silence: Lifting the Voices of Hul’qumi’num Families Project, which serves Cowichan, Chemainus, Penelakut, and Halalt Tribes.
We are the Indigenous womyn of Turtle Island. We are the daughters of her soil connected to her soul. We hold her wisdom waters within our wombs, we carry the unborn future of the Great Mystery of life as it looms.
We are the Sacred Life Givers. Through us, all dreams are born.
In our Indigenous way we live close to the land, we circle the cycles of the Sacred Hoop of life, held in Sacred law. A law that is of Earthbound worth and cosmic birth, reaching beyond the grasp of manmade law and its drunken mirth.
The Sacred Hoop surrounds the Earth, the Nest, and our own Mother’s Breast. It’s cycles of life that circle and blend, dancing us onward there is no end. As life expands and contracts, placental as it interacts, weaving us together as One, all equal as we dance in the light of Grandfather Sun.
Drumming us in from the West, dancing in the sun time our spirits we test.
I call all children to come home, to life in the Sacred Circle, where all are welcome equal and known, in this unnamed time of interconnection and spiritual protection there is no fine line—we are born to be divine.
Our children we hold up high giving thanks for these gifts from the Sky’s Sacred law includes all families of the Four Directions, held guard by Mama Bear’s grizzly protection. Each point a place that holds connection with each race and their golden grace, always including holding space welcoming new faces into the human family’s birthplace.
We are the Indigenous womyn of Turtle Island from our land we have been stolen. They now call this stolen place— Canada—a place of disgrace warped by the ongoing holocaust of constant rape, take take take, no moral haste crippled by old white wigged waste, bitter in its gluttonous taste.
“We the Indigenous womyn are not the weakness of this Canada country,” Grandmother tells us. We are the strength of this two-spirited nation side by side red and white in relation. This Royal government built its castle upon our backs and desecration, right after we shared our home with the many settler nations, too weak to survive the Winter wind gestations.
In our ancestral ways we live with respect to honour our guests and give our best—yet always we are retained as our babies are stolen, our sisters murdered, our men framed, imprisoned in pain, too shattered to defend our mothers or our name.
Yet we the Indigenous womyn, we learn how to blend and mend offering our prayers through the smoke we send.
Great Spirit please hear us: this death culture must end.
We bare the trend of historical broken government promises that pretend, while we eat bits and pieces from the side plate of Jesus, only to lend never to please us, their god they defend: they know not what they spend.
They saw how we the Indigenous Womyn were honoured within our Mother rite laws, they had to destroy us killing our men right before us, then taking the land imposing upon us their Christian Santa Clause brand.
Yet still we stand proud. Speaking out loud.
They cannot deny our birth power, this reckoning hour of truth gone sour. They cannot stop the waters in our wombs where our children bloom. Our babies who are held in cosmic creation by the laws of all our Indigenous nations. We are Earth Mothers of forever and to all our relations.
We are the heart of our nations please come home to us soon. We love you.
Indigenous Womyn in Canada, we are the Warriors of spirit. We are guided by the wisdom of our ancestors that lives right inside our bones. Blood ties that hold the life force of the Great Unknown, held by the stars above this earthly throne. Never can this be taken from us always we have known—how our Grandmothers fought for us from the heart of our clanship homes.
We connect in this ancestral flow walking in balance sacred as we go. Saying ‘No!’ to the maze of the child welfare craze, joining together sisters in spirit with sisters of these modern days, always in our womynhood medicine ways.
We, the Indigenous womyn of Turtle Island, carry from history the mystery of the future worlds. We carry our babies our songs our traditions our medicine teachings from the old people ways. We are the sisters of the four winds who blend in the blaze, the feminine wonder of our threefold womynhood moon time phase.
We dance to the song of the magic fiddle, dreaming the conclusion of this colonial riddle, watching it chase its tail, missing motherhood magic and the blood memory of the womb place middle.
We are persistent and resistant to the crooked stories of media mentalities, selling flat screen entertainment through false forms of our realities, made of words that are borrowed, blurred, and racially slurred. Their discriminating chants trying to disturb, yet we have shown that we are earthbound and essential—We are Sacred in our own potential, in our many shapes colors and forms for we are beyond the illusion of colonial norms, who try to separate us and keep us from being born.
We are the Indigenous Womyn of Turtle Island—We are the Royal descendants, Daughters of this humble Earth. We are of the infinite design of this cosmic radical time. Returning to the throne of our Great Mother stone, we are ready to reclaim our families and our Indigenous rights to our home.
I raise my hands to all my sisters near and far you are our Grandmother Moon’s Shining Stars!
All My Relations
— Patricia Dawn (Métis Cree) is founding Mother of the Red Willow Womyn’s Society, helping Indigenous women in British Columbia’s Cowichan Valley at risk of having their children apprehended by the Ministry of Children and Family Development (redwillowwomyn.com).
Red Willow Womyn’s Society
In Western Canada, three Indigenous babies are removed from their families for State protection every day. The Cowichan community exists in a constant state of crisis, struggling with high rates of poverty, homelessness, addiction, suicide, and domestic violence, which leaves families in a continuous state of child removal. Red Willow Womyn’s Society links the issues surrounding child apprehension directly to the systemic oppressions of poverty, intergenerational trauma, and archaic legislative policies that continue to echo Canada’s Residential School system, of which the last institution closed as recently as 1996.
To deal with this crisis, Red Willow Womyn’s Society endeavors companion care advocacy to support Indigenous mothers and their families directly interfacing with the Federal Ministry of Child and Family Development (MCFD). The trauma experienced by families receiving MCFD services perpetuates the intergenerational trauma families have survived for generations. Red Willow Womyn’s Society works to prevent child apprehension by building the capacity of parents and the family as a whole to ensure child safety by addressing the root causes of child endangerment, prior to apprehension. Their work promotes cultural teachings (called Snuw’uy’ul) and engages Indigenous women and families in reconnecting with their Elders. They provide space for open community dialogue and for companion families and mothers to engage in training, peer-to-peer mentorship, and advocacy so that women and families are informed and prepared to navigate the Ministry and courts. Central to Red Willow’s work is the process of companioning women, assuring women’s right to have an advocate present—essential for a process that occurs in a language and context of highly unequal power that was not previously recognized. Advocacy for families has improved access and serves as a tool for Ministry accountability.
Through a Keepers of the Earth Fund grant, Red Willow is implementing a project, Breaking the Code of Silence, for the Hul’qumi’num community to raise their voices and be heard by the Ministry and government in order to address the cycle of child removal. Through a process of holding meetings and public forums, they create increased understanding, engagement, and peer-to-peer advocacy to initiate systemic change. In 2018, Red Willow Womyn’s Society joined in partnership with the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA). Through advocating for an Indigenous mother to keep her baby with her at birth, Red Willow was able to encourage MCFD to consider “creative measures;” in this instance, a housing complex of six units was earmarked to be a specific safety site for vulnerable families, particularly women and children. CHMA joined in dialogue with MCFD, asking to be included when red flags for family care are being recognized. In this collaborative effort, CHMA is included in the call for family preservation. This is an initial step towards working alongside MCFD from the community level, where the “village” can respond to our relatives with dignity and respect. The first response is an equally shared act of true care.
Photo: Patricia Dawn with Andrea Louie (Cowichan Nation). Photo by Kurt Knock.