Saturday, 10 December 2011

Mothers in Community

2007 AMCS Benefit

Back in 1995, I had a book of essays & nonfiction stories published, and the fall-out was so extreme, I didn't attempt to write or publish another nonfiction piece for a full ten years. Of course, I didn't notice that i was not writing essays and stories, only flinched away from the prospect, without any awareness that i was doing so, in a systemic way. This allowed me to not notice the pain that was associated with the fall-out: preserving the peace, as it were.

In 2005, a younger writer approached me to write something for a book of essays by and about mother writers, a collection that she would be co-editing with two other literary writer mums. She re-invited me a few times, often enough that I finally began to take the possibility of my participating in the project seriously. (Oh, you mean me?) Writing the essay took a few months, and was quite a joy to do: it turns out that I had a whole lot to say on this topic! I was reminded how much I enjoyed writing nonfiction, weaving my anecdotal wealth into a larger something more

After I sent off my unwieldly draft essay for editorial comment, I came across a call for essays for an anthology, by/for/about indigenous mothers. This was a high interest area for me, and although I had a lot of work that might fit, I wanted to write to the theme, another new essay, for this audience. I wrote up my pitch and sent it off. The proposal was soon accepted, and I wrote my first draft, from a very intimate place, then sent it off to my friend Micheline for comments.  Mich came back with many interesting questions, and so the essay grew, and filled out in detail. It was soon submitted, and published in the intended collection.

One of the things that I discovered, in researching my paper-- finding out "what happened" to the various service organizations hosting Traditional Mothering or Parenting programs back in 1995-1998-- was how the funding interest had shifted, fewer and fewer organizations were providing these courses, and many of the organizations that had helped me and my family through our times of crisis, had closed their doors. I found this quite distressful. 

The following year I visited the Aboriginal Mothers Centre, on Dundas Street, inheritor of the archives of the Indian Homemakers Association, and daughter-in-spirit of the IHA.  I spoke with the Homelessness co-ordinator and some of the other staff, volunteers, and mother-participants. The feeling in the place, particularly among the staff, was very difficult: the organization as a whole was facing homelessness, and the effort was underway to develop allies in the community, and to re-organize the financial underpinnings of the organization, so that it would be longterm viable, and the goals that the mothers, volunteers, and staff were all united around, which spoke very loudly to me and to many other people, would be accomplished in our community longterm.

In a sense, this was one of my many attempts to connect with community on a non-crisis basis.  The idea that the AMCS might go the way of the IHA, and close down for lack of funding and community investment, bothered me a great deal. I cast about for fundraising possibilities, followed one project/possible thread that in the end didn't pan out. Perhaps I should say, it hasn't panned out so far: the idea is still there, and not impossible.

In 2007, i received an invitation to attend a fundraiser for the AMCS, the one pictured at the top of this post: spearheaded by Murray Porter and other local musicians, it was $150 a plate benefit, with many shining stars contributing their performances.  This was something that I could ill-afford: the organization needed big money, and I had little. 

I wondered: what can i do? Me and my wee field of influence/bag of tricks?

I'd just had an excerpt of that essay about Traditional Mothering programs accepted for publication in a literary journal, and I was very motivated to help. I had time, and internet access.

This was my brainstorm: I shaped the article excerpt into a two page flyer format, I wrote a short grumpy letter about the funding problems for urban indigenous organizations, and I e-mailed the invitation to the fundraiser, the letter-to-friends and my quick-pitch "why," to every single Member of the Legislative Assembly in British Columbia. I reminded them of the relationship between the big urban centre's support organizations and the famillies in every single region of the province. I addressed the MLAs not only as elected politicians, and thus empowered, but: as employed people. 

There is no way I can tell if my effort influenced a single person to buy a ticket to the fundraiser, to vote a little more thoughtfully in matters of budget or priorities, to think or be any different than they had been before I launched my appeal. However, it felt very positive to me: rather than allowing that desire to contribute to be frustrated by my lack of cash or political power, i found a way to express my desire in a potentially helping way. Preparing the ground, as it were, for good outcomes. Communicating: expressing my self.


Yesterday i had the big pleasure of attending the AMCS re-opening ceremony. I was deeply moved by the many individuals and communities drawn together in support of the project at hand: the powerful affirmation by many different people, in many different voices and gestures, we are putting the needs of indigenous mothers at the very centre, and drawing up around them to make a safe house of us all.

About the books:

Double Lives: Writing and Motherhood (edited by Shannon Cowan, Fiona Tinwei Lam, and Cathy Stonehouse) "In Double Lives, Marni Jackson suggests that mothers who are writers are passionately divided and more amplified than they were before they had children. She is one of 24 writers who tackle this vexed topic in this poignant and searing anthology ... The collection is intensely personal, filled with intimacies and confessions ... In Double Lives, the editors have assembled a remarkable collection." HERIZONS (from publisher's website)

“Until Our Hearts Are On the Ground” Aboriginal Mothering, Oppression, Resistance and Rebirth (edited by D. Memee Lavell-Harvard and Jeannette Corbiere Lavell): The editors of this book brought together a multitude of voices to speak on Aboriginal mothering in contemporary society. Beginning with an examination of the experience of childbirth-the initiation into motherhood-the contributing authors illustrate its potential as a source of empowerment and revitalization for our nations.  Together, these women have worked to reveal not only the connection between the longstanding historical oppression experienced by Aboriginal women and the dire contemporary circumstances of many Aboriginal communities, but also the power of Aboriginal mothers to revitalize and transform our communities. (from phD in parenting with corrected link)

AMCS has received wide community support

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