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Indigenous motherhood is doing some of the hardest emotional labor we will ever have to do in our lives

We are mothers and children who are living, breathing fighters against oppression, privilege, colonialism, reconciliation, racism, prejudice and injustice.

indigenous motherhood

My mother's resistance is my resistance.

My nokamis' resistance is my resistance.

My daughter's resistance is my resistance.

And that is what will keep me going, every single day that I live, as an Indigenous mother.

Because if my mother survived in the struggle, and my mother's mothers survived in the struggle, why would I give up?

It's that feeling we get when we are nursing our more-than-1-year old in public spaces and colonialism frowns at us.

It's that over accommodation we subconsciously do when we bring our children into public spaces, ensuring hair is done and clothes are not dirty (yet we all know children play in the mud and run around until their braids become scraggly and free). We make sure they're clean because colonialism will call CPS on us for something as small as a dirty face and a rip in our toddler's pants.

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It's that loneliness we feel as we spend day in and day out with our small children, craving conversations and laughter from a support system that doesn't seem to exist.

Those are the things that make up indigenous motherhood: the struggles, the challenges. They are the small moments that, some days, feel never-ending.


But there is also greatness amongst it all. There is the greatness and power that exists within us as indigenous mothers, and within the children we birth, care for and love, no matter how challenging the day has been.

And it starts here.

It's the knowledge we carry as we wrap our babies in moss bags and cradleboards, carrying generations of maternal Indigenous knowledge and teachings that are whispered to us in the beginning stages of motherhood by those who have mothered before us.

It's our little ones learning our kinship terms in our mother-tongues.

It feels like deep contentment and calmness while nursing your toddler because you carry the knowledge that mothers generations ago practiced: nourishing and comforting babies and children with breastfeeding for as long as they needed—and it was accepted, supported and respected. It's the knowing that you are resisting colonial ideas of how we, as indigenous mothers should feed and comfort our toddlers, and babies. It's that feeling of fully reclaiming and following natural body wisdom, as the strong Indigenous mother that you are.

It also feels like a deep contentment and calmness while feeding your baby with what will allow them to thrive, and doing it with love, singing songs in your mother-tongue, and whispering kisâkihitin as you do so. It's that safety you feel while feeding your toddler and older children wild game and harvest from your garden. Again, it's the knowing that you are resisting colonial ideas of how we, as indigenous mothers, should feed our toddlers and babies. It's allowing your prayer and the land to nourish your children so that it will eventually nourish your children's children, because if we take care of the land the land will take care of us.

It's no longer accommodating colonial systems that steal children from the hands, and wombs, of our Indigenous mothers. It's leaving to town after a day of bush trails and scraping hides without washing faces, fearlessly staring at that white woman in the face when she turns her nose up to you and your children. It's having the fire in you to quip back to her with "your colonialism is showing."

It looks like Indigenous mothers, aunties, cousins, sisters and grandmothers supporting new Indigenous mothers. It's the recognizing of how the collective support system for new Indigenous mothers, and their experience into Indigenous motherhood, has transformed from an abundant, connected system into a solitary, isolating experience void of traditional kinship practices. It's seeing that nations are no longer aiding in the raising of our babies. It's noticing that we often say "it takes a village," but most mothers don't even have a neighbor.

It looks like reigniting the original support systems for new Indigenous mothers so that our babies receive the love, care, teachings and lessons that come with child-rearing from our communities and nations. It's aunties, cousins, sisters and grandmothers supporting new Indigenous mothers as they should because it takes a nation to raise our children.

It's that feeling of laying your eyes for the first time on your babies you birthed, adopted or who have came into your life, and feeling that love, that bliss, that joy, even for fleeting moments as you watch your children play, dance and love daily.

Indigenous motherhood is doing some of the hardest emotional labor we will ever have to do in our lives, the work of forgiving our own mothers, fathers and siblings if it is safe to do so, as mothers, so that our children can build a relationship with their kokums, moshums, nikâwîs and kikâwîs. It is knowing that these are imperative relationships that garner intergenerational love, the kind of love Indigenous kinship is really made of.

It means being conscious and aware of the reality that Indigenous children are constantly under threat from colonialism and colonial systems. It means being mindful of sending our children to public schools for it could mean that we are aiding in the continued colonial influence and pressure that maintains the cycle of oppression and assimilation in the lives of our children. It means home-schooling, unschooling, Kokum schooling, kinship schooling and land-based schooling. It means keeping Indigenous education systems as the priority in our children's education.

Indigenous motherhood can look like ensuring that the terms "matriarch" and "chief" are only used in the realest terms for the nokamis, kokums, moshums and câpâns who have earned the title from a lifetime of fighting colonialism, oppression and genocide with every breath they take and every baby they birthed. It means not throwing terms around to those who follow colonialism purposely.

It is the feeling Indigenous mothers feel when completing core issue work, no matter how difficult it is, because mamas know that the 'colonialism caused intergenerational trauma in my childhood' narrative needs to end here. It means really letting go of the egocentric and demoralizing colonial behaviors that have become the driving force within our family systems. It means distinguishing and erasing the alcoholic, abusive, toxic indigenous family narrative from the lives of our children to ensure that they will grow up away from the traumas that made up our so many of our childhoods.

It's Indigenous mothers following their pregnancy teachings, and their teachings for their children, no matter how difficult it may be in today's day and age. It is not making excuses for not following teachings. It's not putting your unborn at risk because of your behaviors and how you treat others. It is constantly being mindful of natural law and knowing that how you treat others will eventually fall back on your children or your children's children.

It's indigenous mothers, and indigenous families, holding the belief and standing firm in the reality that rez life is a beautiful life. It's families knowing that rez life is kinship being woven into our children's and grandchildren's lives for generations. It's beadwork and smoked fish and brown summer skin splashing in lakes and rivers. It's sitting with moshums and kokums, listening to our mother tongues. It's knowing that to leave the rez for a 'better life' only means situating oneself deeply within colonial systems. Which can ultimately lead to our extinction.

It can be that awful feeling of digging through the sludge that colonialism has tried to feed us, but it can also be that feeling of growing through the toxic ooze that colonialism has attempted to make us believe who we are, and realizing that the roots of who we are as indigenous women, mothers, aunties and sisters, will eternally remain.

It looks like tending to the land, and harvesting medicines, with our babies by our side, showing them how to grow food to survive and how to live in a way where the land falls in love with them.

It looks like being constantly mindful of, and ensuring that, the behaviors of love and forgiveness that stemmed from our parent's Indigenous love, practiced in their child-rearing practices greatly show up in our child-rearing practices.

Being an Indigenous mother today, allows us to practice daily acts of homage to our bloodlines and generations of matriarchs and medicine women who existed before us, through the delicate, and deliberate acts in Indigenous motherhood.

It is acts of authentic Indigenous kinship that will discredit and ultimately dissolve many colonially created behaviors like lateral violence, families not talking for generations because of something someone's aunty did two generations ago, gossip, toxic ways of being and intergenerational family trauma. It's healing. It's letting go. It's love. It's proof that indigenous motherhood, indigenous kinship, and indigenous love, will always surpass colonially influenced and trauma ridden kinship.

Lastly, Indigenous motherhood is anything you feel it needs to be, or you need to support, as the strong indigenous mother, father, sister, brother, auntie, uncle, Kokum, moshum, Chapan and cousins you are.

Indigenous motherhood is fierce. Powerful. Strong. It is mothers and children who are living, breathing fighters against oppression, privilege, colonialism, reconciliation, racism, prejudice and injustice.

Indigenous motherhood is the aunties we are scared of, but it is also the aunties that colonialism is scared of more.

Indigenous motherhood is our mother's resistance.

Indigenous motherhood is our mother's mother's resistance.

Indigenous motherhood is our daughter's resistance.

Indigenous motherhood is our resistance.

And Indigenous motherhood is our merciless fight, with generations of matriarchs and medicine women before us, for indigenous truth. For indigenous kinship. And for a better future free of colonial trauma for our babies. Because when we look in the eyes of our babies, we know that is what they need.

This article originally appeared on Indigenous Motherhood.

In This Article

    These challenges from Nike PLAYlist are exactly what my child needs to stay active

    Plus a fall family bucket list to keep everyone moving all season long.

    While it's hard to name anything that the pandemic hasn't affected, one thing that is constantly on my mind is how to keep my family active despite spending more time indoors. Normally, this time of year would be spent at dance and gymnastics lessons, meeting up with friends for games and field trips, and long afternoon playdates where we can all let off a little steam. Instead, we find ourselves inside more often than ever before—and facing down a long winter of a lot more of the same.

    I started to search for an outlet that would get my girls moving safely while we social distance, but at first I didn't find a lot of solutions. Online videos either weren't terribly engaging for my active kids, or the messaging wasn't as positive around the power of movement as I would like. Then I found the Nike PLAYlist.

    I always knew that Nike could get me moving, but I was so impressed to discover this simple resource for parents. PLAYlist is an episodic sports show on YouTube that's made for kids and designed to teach them the power of expressing themselves through movement. The enthusiastic kid hosts immediately captured my daughter's attention, and I love how the physical activity is organically incorporated in fun activities without ever being specifically called out as anything other than play. For example, this segment where the kids turn yoga into a game of Paper Scissors Rock? Totally genius. The challenges from #TheReplays even get my husband and me moving more when our daughter turns it into a friendly family competition. (Plus, I love the play-inspired sportswear made just for kids!)

    My daughter loves the simple Shake Ups at the beginning of the episode and is usually hopping off the couch to jump, dance and play within seconds. One of her favorites is this Sock Flinger Shake Up activity from the Nike PLAYlist that's easy for me to get in on too. Even after we've put away the tablet, the show inspires her to create her own challenges throughout the day.

    The best part? The episodes are all under 5 minutes, so they're easy to sprinkle throughout the day whenever we need to work out some wiggles (without adding a lot of screen time to our schedule).

    Whether you're looking for simple alternatives to P.E. and sports or simply need fun ways to help your child burn off energy after a day of socially distanced school, Nike's PLAYlist is a fun, kid-friendly way to get everyone moving.

    Need more movement inspiration for fall? Here are 5 ways my family is getting up and getting active this season:

    1. Go apple picking.

    Truly, it doesn't really feel like fall until we've picked our first apple. (Or had our first bite of apple cider donut!) Need to burn off that extra cinnamon-sugar energy? Declare a quick relay race up the orchard aisle—winner gets first to pick of apples at home.

    To wear: These Printed Training Tights are perfect for when even a casual walk turns into a race (and they help my daughter scurry up a branch for the big apples).

    2. Visit a pumpkin patch.

    We love to pick up a few locally grown pumpkins to decorate or cook with each year. Challenge your child to a "strongman" contest and see who can lift the heaviest pumpkin while you're there.

    To wear: Suit up your little one in comfort with this Baby Full Zip Coverall so you're ready for whatever adventures the day brings.

    3. Have a nature scavenger hunt.

    Scavenger hunts are one of my favorite ways to keep my daughter preoccupied all year long. We love to get outside and search for acorns, leaves and pinecones as part of our homeschool, but it's also just a great way to get her exercising those gross motor skills whenever the wiggles start to build up.

    To wear: It's not truly fall until you break out a hoodie. This cozy Therma Elite Kids Hoodie features a mesh overlay to release heat while your child plays.

    4. Have a touch-football game.

    Tip for parents with very little kids: It doesn't have to last as long as a real football game. 😂 In fact, staging our own mini-games is one of our favorite ways to get everyone up and moving in between quarters during Sunday football, and I promise we all sleep better that night.

    To wear: From impromptu games of tag to running through our favorite trails, these kids' Nike Air Zoom Speed running shoes are made to cover ground all season long.

    5. Create an indoor obstacle course.

    Pretending the floor is lava was just the beginning. See how elaborate your personal course can get, from jumping on the couch to rolling under the coffee table to hopping down the hallway on one foot.

    To wear: These ready-for-any-activity Dri-FIT Tempo Shorts are perfect for crawling, hopping and racing—and cuddling up when it's time to rest.

    This article was sponsored by Nike. Thank you for supporting the brands that supporting Motherly and mamas.

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