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How the land cured my daughter’s eczema


We’re mindful of what we provide for her. She has a relationship to the Land in a way that most Indigenous children do. She’s untangling the idea of growing food, of what it means to eat the food that we grow, and how to give thanks to the Land for growing the foods she eats.

Andrea Landry, Intercontinental Cry

The Land took care of our bodies from the moment we existed within the wombs of our mothers. The Land continued to take care of our bodies the moment we left this world and our bodies were cradled within the womb of the Land.

It was amongst that time where we nourished ourselves, our babies, and the old ones, with generations of inherent knowledge founded on our love for the Land, and on the Land’s love for us as Indigenous peoples.

Then came the change.

With colonialism came a forced, invasive shift on how we took care of our bodies, and our natural relationship with land-based sustenance. How, and what we ate, dramatically shifted.

We live on Treaty 6 lands; the prairies. Specifically, on Poundmaker Cree Nation. It is the homelands of my partner and his kinship system. It is the homelands of our daughter. The peoples who lived, thrived, and survived on these lands, and who continue to do so, relied greatly on buffalo and wild game for their food source.

Yet, with colonization, came a genocide against the buffalo, as a means to commit genocide against the Indigenous peoples of these lands. It led to hunger, starvation, health problems, and a catastrophic amount of socially unjust issues that are continuing to be seen today. It lead to struggle and chaos.

And ultimately, it lead to our resistance, resilience, and survival.

With the mass slaughtering of the buffalo, the forced relocations, the pass system, and tactics of settler-colonialism in general, came starvation as a means of power and control from the colonizer. Food was cut off, and women were often forced to use their bodies as a means to receive rations from the colonizer.

Yet, with that battle for food, came the flour, the sugar, and the problematic food sources that dramatically altered what we ate as Indigenous peoples, and our relationship to food. Because many of our people were starving, there was no other option other than to eat the food the colonizer had brought, often-times it had gone bad.

This change has lead us to where we are today.

Many of our land-based learnings, and teachings, around food sovereignty and traditional diets have declined dramatically. The heavy reliance on sugars and flours is beginning to outweigh the reliance on wild game and traditional diets that used to be interwoven within our kinship systems, communities, and Nations as Indigenous peoples. And this is where we are beginning to see the health problems attempt to colonize our bodies and communities. Diabetes, heart disease and conditions, thyroid problems, and skin conditions are just a few of the challenges that we are seeing more and more often amongst our peoples.

However, we are also seeing this resurgence begin to take place. It is a resurgence of knowing how to take care of our bodies through land-based sustenance and land-based practices. It is a resurgence of the intergenerational knowledge that exists within us, from those who have walked before us. It is a resurgence of our original systems, and our original food sources. It never went away. Every community has a trapper, a hunter, a fisher, a snarer, someone who knows the teachings, values, and virtues, on how to tend to, care for, and love, the Land.

Our daughter, River-Jaxsen Tootoosis, was born on a humid summer day, June 28th, 2016. She almost didn’t make it. So when we first heard her cry, we recognized her strength.

Before she was born, I made a commitment that I was going to do all that I could to breastfeed her.  Within Indigenous kinship systems, breastfeeding is predominantly the preferred way to feed babies. Historically, it was the only way to feed babies. Aunties and sisters would often help in feeding one another’s babies, especially if mothers were too sick or weak to feed their own.

I was blessed with the ability to breastfeed my daughter. And I did so at the moment she was born.

We spent days and nights at home, cluster-feeding. We spent time in the vehicle, as we went to powwows, pulled over on the side of the highway, as she nursed. I spent nights, some feeling like it was all night, with her nursing in my arms, as it was the only way she stayed asleep.

And amongst it all, I watched her grow. She gained weight and developed in the way that she was meant to. And I was so grateful. The bonding time we shared together, and that we continue to share together today, was at times very critical to both of our well-being.

Three months in, I began to notice her skin had some really dry patches on it. At first, they were small and they didn’t seem to bother her. Yet, a few days passed and the dry patches increased, her skin began to turn into a pinkish-red color, and she began to scratch.

I lathered her with lotion one night after her bath, wrapped her in a light-weight blanket, and laid her down to sleep. That night, we hardly slept. She stayed latched onto me, seeking comfort from the itching. Her skin became red from head to toe. She cried, and cried, and cried, attempting to scratch the itchiness away. All I could do was nurse her and hold her, and cry with her, soothing her with the lotions and creams that we had. I covered her little hands in mitts, or kept or wrapped in a lightweight wrap, as she slept.

We ended up at the paediatric emergency room the next day, two hours away. It was there they told us:

“It’s eczema. Give her this steroid cream and this moisturizing cream. Also some allergy medications to alleviate the itchiness.”

Now, being new to the struggle with eczema, I continued to eat as I normally did; the sugars, the gluten, the dairy. And, thus, continued to nurse our daughter.

The creams worked for a while, as did the allergy medicine. Sometimes her breakouts would be worse than other days, the struggle to stay on top of it all was a full-time task in itself. She was constantly being lathered.

A few weeks later, her skin flared up again, with the cream and the medicine no longer working.

We were also using traditional medicines to help ease the itchiness, which would work for a while and then lose its ability after a few weeks.

After a few more weeks, the helpless feeling kicked in again.

“Go see a naturapath,” my mother in law told me.

I quickly agreed and we brought her in.

“She is breastfed?” Asked the naturopath, shortly after walking into her office. She was indigenous, knew plenty, and spoke honestly.

“Yes.” I replied.

“It’s your diet.”

I looked at the naturopath, unsure of what she meant.

“Her skin, this eczema, is because of your diet. You need to go on a specific diet.”

“Well I eat pretty healthy.” The shame came off as projection and defensiveness towards her.

“You probably do. But you need to cut gluten, dairy, sugar, soy, and yeast.”

I sat there, stunned.

“Watch, it will clear up fast.”

“Why though?” I asked.

“It’s a yeast overgrowth in both of your bodies. Candida. Kill the candida and her skin will be better.”

I nodded my head as she quickly answered all my questions and made the decision to cut the foods that have been torturing my daughter, and I had no idea.

The next few days I cut the foods she had listed. I followed a chart the naturopath had provided for me on the foods that I could eat.

“Wild meats, greens and vegetables, low sugar fruits (raspberries, blueberries and apples to start,) some grains, and a few kinds of nuts.”

I remember feeling like I was constantly starving. I remember nursing my daughter and praying that my milk became the medicine that she needed.

Two days went by, and her skin cleared up. By day three, her skin was 100% clear.

My brother-in-law, and my partner, had just gone hunting the year prior, and we still had our freezer stocked up with buffalo. We had some moose and deer as well, animals known to the prairies. This was the wild meat that had sustained us for generations. And I was grateful I had access to it. I made dishes made up of the wild game, adding vegetables. Berries and porridge was my go-to breakfast. Nuts for snacks, with blueberries constantly. My body became more toned, of course the crash that comes with a cleanse came first. The flu like sensations were awful. But they passed.

And my daughter’s skin remained healed.

We decided to plant our garden again that summer. As we planted, RJ observing in her tikinagan as I cared for the Land, or helping in the small ways that she could, I prayed that the food supported our bodies and gave us the sustenance we needed. It became a place of gratitude and love.

With the wild meat we had access to, and the vegetables we grew in our garden, the reliance on colonial foods became minuscule.

The challenging part came when we went to events. Oftentimes, colonial foods are the go-to for feeding the people. I found myself constantly cooking and packing food for us, to ensure that we could eat things that would nourish our bodies, and keep RJ’s skin healthy.

Yet, I felt a strength in knowing that I was doing my best to provide my daughter with the best food I could to support her growth and development.

She got to the age where it was her turn to eat. Of course she kept nursing. However, she began to eat the vegetables we grew in the garden, blended up wild meat, and blueberries. She loved it. And her skin maintained its health.

I held a deep gratitude to the Land for providing us with everything we needed. It was a lot of work. Tending to the garden, and when we ran out of wild-meat, options became limited for healthy meat at the grocery store, unless I wanted to pay a lot.

However, even when our freezer stock ran out, we would always receive a gift of meat from somewhere. And when that ran out, I would do what I could and pray over the supermarket meat as I cooked it.

As time went on, my daughter became interested in other foods, wanting to test out small cereals and other fruits with higher sugar content. We did our best to support her exploration process. And eventually she was able to eat what she wanted.

However, we are also mindful of what we provide for her.

She comes with me to check the rabbit snares in the winter, now that she is in toddlerhood. She knows they are for soup. And it becomes our daily routine.

She also has a relationship to the Land in a way that most Indigenous children do. She is untangling the idea of growing food, of what it means to eat the food that we grow, and how to give thanks to the Land for growing the foods that she eats. She knows how to pray for the food before it is eaten, and even how to pray for the Land before we walk on it to gather the food we need.

The process in itself has been a decolonial one in a sense. Because it has taught me how difficult, and how challenging it can be, to provide for a family based on the Land. I can’t even imagine what it was like prior to colonization, or when colonialism was blatantly committing genocide against our peoples. I give thanks everyday to the ones who walked before us, for maintaining these traditional food systems to support our bodies, and the bodies of our babies and children as they grow.

It is because of their commitment to the Land, and their commitment to teaching the children about the importance of a relationship to the Land, that many of our peoples today understand and follow through with Land-based practices that continue to keep our kinship systems alive today.

Indigenous traditional diets are not just about the Land, they are also about our kinship systems. For when we we hunt, trap, snare, fish, and gather, we always keep in mind the families we are going to feed with the food we are gifted from the Land.

Traditional diets are always about kinship.

And it’s also about reminding our children, and ourselves, of indigenous Land-based systems and practicing them daily.

It’s about the reclamation of Indigenous kinship practiced through nursing, and cooking, meals of love, comfort, and resistance into our babies and children from now, and into the future, so we can continue to thrive.

Because we are nothing without the love, patience, and gifts, provided by the Land.

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