Sunday, 17 November 2019
featured Inclusion Racism

Delilah Saunders: I am here to say “No more!”

KJIPUKTUK (Halifax) – This summer, after a handful of positive pregnancy tests, some of the happiest moments of my life began and continue to present themselves. 

When I heard my baby’s heartbeat for the first time, I cried. All of the teachings of the drum passed onto me made sense after that. The stories about water carriers, women’s lives and priorities changing… It was clear to me what they meant. 

During my ultrasound I saw my baby rolling and moving around in my womb. That changed me in ways I struggle to express even though I, a woman who makes a living expressing herself and telling stories, am rarely at a loss for words. The beauty and the weight of the life I am carrying is so profound that I am spiritually and emotionally split open. I’m not talking about a heavy, dreadful weight that debilitates you. I’m talking about a weight blanket that soothes anxieties, a weight that grounds you and shows you the profundity of life and all that goes into creating a human being. 

This role, this duty that lies before me is the most important one I will ever face. 

That perspective largely comes from the knowledge of intergenerational trauma and cycles that perpetuate unhealthy, learned behaviours. I have spent more time than I can keep track of working on myself as a human being, a family member, and as a part of a community that has become known for the hardships and trauma it has endured. 

My role and duty as an Indigenous mother – and a single mother, is one I’ve been preparing for by acknowledging the historical trauma, my personal trauma and untangling all of it so it doesn’t manifest in a way that hurts those around me. My life’s work has been highlighted with awards, community acknowledgment and incredible support from many. Now, it’s ultimate culmination is to be expressed in the life I provide for my child and through ensuring my child doesn’t have to heal from their childhood and from my trauma. 

I am so lucky to have a birthing team made up of supportive, understanding and open-minded women. I’ve had conversations about Orange Shirt Day, Darryl Leroux’s book on race shifting- ‘Distorted Descent: White Claims to Indigenous Identity’, and music with my doctor. She follows my pregnancy and my suboxone treatment. 

Suboxone is an opiate agonist treatment that helps opiate addicts recover. My addiction began after major organ failure. I was on the brink of death due to acetaminophen build up in my liver and my family was urged to come say their goodbyes. After I recovered, I had various bouts of pancreatitis and chronic pain for which I was prescribed dilaudid. 

The conversation that has impacted me the most with my woke, supportive, understanding and open-minded doctor stems from the first question I asked her. “As an Indigenous mother to be, I have to ask if child welfare will come knocking because I’m on suboxone?”

With her reply began a whole new series of worries. She told me that they will visit after the birth of my child because I sought treatment for an addiction built on doctor’s orders. She also told me that we will build a portfolio that consists of my doctor’s visits, therapist’s notes and any information that pertains to my pregnancy and treatment plan. This portfolio is what I will present to the social worker who will show up at my door following the birth of my darling bundle of joy. 

Since processing this news, I’ve had many conversations with mothers who have taken suboxone while pregnant. These women have never heard of this practice and certainly haven’t been subjected to it. The only difference in our situations is the fact that I am Indigenous and they are white.

I have also made contact with various organizations that support recovering addicts and even they have expressed confusion, as they haven’t heard of anyone – until now, being harassed by child protection based solely on the fact they are receiving opioid antagonist therapy. 

Yet I have heard from women who work at Indigenous organizations that it is a common practice. But common practice experienced by whom? There seems to be a discrepancy because the term “common practice” should mean it applies to all but seems to only apply to Indigenous mothers. 

Indigenous parents are heavily and unnecessarily scrutinized by social services and this is one of many new tactics that fall under the “new residential school system”. There are more Indigenous children in the foster care system now than at the height of residential school enrollment. 

This industry is no stranger to scandal. In Ontario, private group homes were found to give kickbacks to social workers who filled the homes with children. Roddickton is a rural town in Newfoundland that was experiencing an economic disaster that threatened to close their school and the jobs of social workers in the area. The quick fix for this was to funnel Inuit and Innu children into a culturally dead area and to inject government dollars into the community. Children have been sexually exploited, abused and forever disjointed from their communities in various ways when herded into foster care. Further damage is done when these systems fail to help heal communities affected by intergenerational trauma stemming from the residential school system and use “the new residential school system” as a way of dealing with these traumas.

As an Indigenous mother to be, I have been terrified of losing my child long before I have been able to hold my child. 

I just hope that if my child decides to become a parent they don’t have to live with the fear my great grandparents had to live with after their children were plucked from their arms, or my grandparents’ fear when my mom, aunties and uncles were shipped to school, and the new fear I share with my parents that social services will come for my children.

I am here to say, no more! I am here to build the future for my child, a future that my ancestors should have had.

See also: Delilah Saunders: On penny pinching institutions and re–traumatizing labour

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