Christina Bendevis and Michele Penney with me at the City for All Women (CAWI) The Indigenous Truth Action Forum.

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to participate in the City for All Women Initiative (CAWI)‘s The Indigenous Truth: Our History, Our Stories, Our Lives Action Forum. Living in Ottawa, we are blessed to have a lot of opportunities to learn from and engage with indigenous community members at events like this.

And we need to take as many opportunities as come our way because, as Claudette Commanda, a legal scholar and the grand-daughter of the late Algonquin Elder William Commanda, stated at the beginning of the session “How do you go over 500 years of colonialism in 15 minutes?” Well, you can’t which is why we have to each commit to on-going learning.

As part of the event, we were gifted an image of a feather with the name of a missing or murdered indigenous woman. I was given a feather with the name Angela Holm. When I got home I googled the name Angela to see what I could learn about her story. Angela Holm was murdered at the age of 16. She struggled throughout childhood with the rare immune deficiency hypogammaglobulinemia. She was murdered by her step cousin who was suffering from untreated schizophrenia.

For people who were unable to attend, I am including bios and links so you can learn about the speakers at the session.

Claudette Commanda was born and raised on the Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg Algonquin First Nation community located in one of the ancestral territories of the Algonquin people, the province of Quebec. Claudette is an alumni of the University of Ottawa Faculty of Law and Faculty of Arts. In 2009, she was inducted into the Common Law Honour Society for her work in promoting First Nations education, language and culture. She lives and practices her Anishinabe traditional beliefs and upholds the sacred teachings with utmost respect and responsibility. She is the proud mother of four children in addition to raising a foster daughter; and has nine grandchildren.

Also check out Claudette Commanda’s speech available online “Justice or Just-us” where she reflects on the struggle for justice for missing and murdered indigenous women

Elder Thomas Louttit was born on September 4, 1948 in Coral Rapids, Ontario where his father was stationed with Ontario Northland Railroad. He is second oldest of nine children. Thomas spent his early years being cared for in Moose Factory by his parents and his maternal grandfather. At five years old he was sent to Fort Albany Indian Residential School in Ontario and at nine to Fort George, Quebec. In the 1965 Thomas was placed in the care of Children’s Aid Society. For next three years he lived in many different foster homes throughout southern and northern Ontario. Thomas moved to Toronto where he became a Flat Roofer, a career that would last 32 years. In the early 1980s he began to construct a life free of alcohol, abuse and other destructive patterns that he addressed through traditional ceremonies. He has spent many years pursuing his own healing from physical and sexual abuse. In 1994 he graduated from the three-year Ontario Native Education Program.

Thomas describes himself as an Oskabay-wis, “a helper to the people“. He spent thousands of hours assisting Elder Jim Dumont, Elder Roger Jones, and Hectory Copegog; Enaathig Healing; and Onkwatenro`shon:` a Health Planners Lodge (Dr. Ed Connors); and various others as a traditional fire keeper for Sacred Sweat Lodge and most recently conducting Sweat Lodge. For the past twenty years he has been facilitating Traditional Healing Circles, mostly for men’s groups. Thomas is highly sought after by schools and community groups to speak on the Indian Residential School experience and to share his personal healing journey. Presently, Thomas provides elders services for the Assembly of First Nations, Aboriginal Peoples Television Network, and the Government of Canada, to name a few. His volunteer work includes being a founding member of the Barrie Native Friendship Centre.

Elder Louttit tells us a story about the night sky (Audio)

Neal Shannacappo is a Saulteaux (Nakawe) artist, graphic novelist, filmmaker, writer, poet and Social Service Worker graduate from Algonquin College April 2013. His people come from the Rolling River First Nations in Manitoba. Neal’s clan is the Wolf, his spirit name is Oshkabay’wis. Neal was adopted when he was 5 years old, and has lived largely in colonial society since then. He follows a traditional/urban lifestyle, smudging, attending ceremony and carrying tobacco for offerings when he can.

Neal has been drawing comic books since he was 12 years old, at which time he began to take the craft seriously, currently he’s completed Navriss, roughly five versions of the Krillian Key graphic novel and countless side story lines which have helped him shape his novels. Mashkiikii Miikana – Medicine Road marks the first collaboration with another artist.

In this video Neal’s discusses his experience as an indigenous adoptee

Maria Jacko is Algonquin from the Kitigan Zibi community, which is just about hour outside of Ottawa. She is the aunt of Maisy Odjick, who, along with her friend Shannon Alexander, are among Canada’s missing indigenous women. In 2008, Maisy, 16, and Shannon 17, disappeared from Kitigan Zibi.

Maria discusses the struggle to find Maisy and Shannon

Michele Penney worked as the Aboriginal Court Support Program worker with the Odawa Native Friendship Centre for many years. She shared her experience as a survivor of The Sixties Scoop, which saw many indigenous children taken from their families and communities and put into foster care and/or adopted into White families. The Sixties Scoop followed the Residential Schools as a form of assimilation of indigenous communities and many would say this process continues today as can be seen in the dramatic overrepresentation of indigenous children in Canada’s child welfare system.

Further Reading:

5 Things to Know about Ottawa’s Aboriginal Community (CBC Ottawa)

City for All Women Initiative (CAWI) Indigenous/Aboriginal Snapshot Resource

The City of Ottawa’s Aboriginal Working Committee

lonely and meThis is the first in a series of personal blog posts about living with chronic (trait) loneliness and state loneliness (I will explain the difference later in this blog post) aimed at helping me map out my own journey with this condition and at getting others to better understand loneliness as a serious public health issue.

Blogger’s Note: Before deciding to message or text me offering your friendship or to go for chai lattes read this post and learn because this isn’t a request for company-I’m good in that department-it is a call for better understanding of a situation many of us don’t even know how to name.

State Loneliness or I Could Die and No One Would Notice

After the suicide of my mother, I found myself in a downward spiral of a major depressive episode compounded by my grief and guilt over her loss. But something else was also happening to me, another feeling was taking over and leaving me feeling absolutely terrified. I was overcome with loneliness as I for the first time in my life was living alone-I hadn’t even been alone when I was homeless-and had no one in my life who could claim to be responsible for me.

I found myself breaking down in tears when asked for my emergency contact and realizing that I had none. I found myself panicking at home realizing that if something happened to me there would be no one to even notice as I mostly work from home with a flexible schedule so no one I work with sees me for days, even weeks on end.

I worried about ending up like Joyce Vincent, who died in her UK apartment and wasn’t found until three years later! A docudrama, Dreams of a Life, has been made about Joyce.

Aspects of her life parallel mine in that Joyce was liked by many people but no one was close enough to notice she had went missing so her body was only found when her apartment got repossessed for rent arrears. An ad had to be put in the paper to find anyone who knew her. In the end, a lot of people knew her, but not anyone who would make it their business to find out how she was doing beyond phone calls and emails.

But Joyce’s reality is the reality of many of us, particularly those of us who have no family or are not close to family.

My mother’s death left me dealing with “state loneliness” where your loneliness is caused by a particular situation. But this situation ended up being compounded by the resurgance of my “trait” loneliness.

Trait Loneliness or How I Teleported Back to Junior High

Yes, we can create our own families but they can often prove to be as unreliable as the families we were born into. After losing my mother, a relationship with someone I had considered a close friend fell apart for a number of reasons which triggered a lot of anxiety about whether I was “too messed up” for people to want to be around and too much of “burden”.

On top of that, I had a number of verbally abusive encounters with people who I knew which revealed that some people in my social circle were being nice to my face but publicly attacking me behind my back. I had not had to deal with such behaviour since Grade 6!

I had worked for years on my trait loneliness-a condition which research has shown has genetic factors -learning to trust people and not be so afraid that everyone was out to get me or was just about to reject me. But my depression compounded by these situations just blew all of that work out of the water and I was just a scared kid again….but this time, there was no mom who loved me to run home to.

So it all made me very socially wary at a time when I really needed to be getting out more. So, I withdrew from getting support from other friends in my life because I wasn’t sure who I could really trust or rely on anymore.

I would post about feeling lonely on Facebook but I worried about reaching out to friends because I was afraid I would lose them too. Posting to random strangers seemed safer as it offered some minor relief-likes and comments help to make you feel less invisible-but it wasn’t the real connection I needed.

I Discover That I Am Not Alone In Being Alone

One day, I decided to Google “Loneliness” and I discovered the memoir of “Lonely” by Emily White. I am so grateful for this woman’s work. This Toronto-based former lawyer wrote this memoir which weaves together her own personal journey with loneliness along with findings from the last 50 years of academic research into loneliness. It is an excellent resource for anyone interested in the subject but also it was a life-saver for me as it helped me to better understand what I was going through. Being able to name my condition was the first important step in working out how to manage it.

I Discover That My Loneliness Is Slowly Killing Me and A Whole Bunch of Other People Globally

Through reading White’s memoir I discovered the work of neuroscientist John Cacioppo, who, in his TED Talk, The Lethality of Loneliness, lays out all of ways in which loneliness has a drastic impact on people’s physical health and why it needs to be seen as a serious public health issue. Loneliness changes us physiologically affecting everything from our sleep to our immune system.

Needless to say that discovering all this just added to my anxiety about ending up dead at home with no one to find me, but it also helped me better understand some of the health problems I seemed to be developing inexplicably at the time.

Managing My Loneliness

Cacioppo’s research has also come up with some treatments for chronically lonely people, which includes cognitive behavioural therapy as well as the E.A.S.E. system.

I started implementing E.A.S.E. into my own life.

E is for Extend Yourself

According to Cacioppo, “The withdrawal and passivity associated with loneliness are motivated by the perception of being threatened. To be able to test other ways of behaving without that feeling of danger, you need a safe place to experiment, and you need to start small.”

As my depression became more manageable after getting some great help from the Ottawa Hospital’s Mobile Crisis Unit, the Civic’s Day Hospital, and regular visits to a psychiatrist, I felt up to starting to reconnect and recommit socially.

This began by committing to tutor my friend and her children weekly. This commitment has proven to be key in my recovery both from depression and around alleviating what was at the time an overwhelming sense of loneliness. For one thing, I had to leave the house at least once a week. Secondly, my help was really needed. Thirdly, I got to socialize with a friend in a family environment. All of this proved incredibly healing.

A is for Action Plan

Recognizing that I had to manage my loneliness, and identifying it as a goal necessary for my overall health has actually been pretty empowering and I have slowly pieced together different activities to ensure that I am socializing regularly with a few people who I feel safe around and can trust.

On top of tutoring weekly, I committed myself to walking with a friend who lived close to me whenever she asked, usually weekly, even when I felt like just staying in my room because of pain, anxiety, or depression. This also helped to get me out of the house. I also found that getting people to expect to connect with me at certain times during the week really helped to address my fear about dying alone in my house unfound for years-a fear I am sure some see as irrational but others will completely understand and relate to.

S is for Selection

According to Cacioppo, “The solution to loneliness is not quantity but quality of relationships. Human connections have to be meaningful and satisfying for each of the people involved, and not according to some external measure. Moreover, relationships are necessarily mutual and require fairly similar levels of intimacy and intensity on both sides.”

It is very important for those of us who are coping with loneliness to socialize with people who we feel safe around and can trust.

Despite losing one friend, as I recovered from my depression, I realized that I had many other friends who had weathered rough times with me and who had, in a variety of ways, made sure to stay in touch with me, even after I withdrew.

These people found ways to make me feel valuable and wanted in their lives. They didn’t make me feel “messed up” or like a “problem that needed to be solved”. They offered me support but also looked to me for support. This is actually an important aspect of the type of relationships that can help to alleviate feelings of loneliness-they require reciprocity.

Cacioppo explains that “one of the things that we have learned is that avoiding loneliness is not about “getting”, not about being a recipient…..We need mutual aided protection. If you are only receiving aid and protection from others, that doesn’t satisfy this deeper sense of belonging. Being just a client of a psychotherapist fulfils some needs, but it doesn’t fulfil that real need to have a rich reciprocal bond…..getting out of loneliness takes reciprocal connections not one-directional ones. If it were just about support, people would not feel lonely in hospital because they are surrounded by it. But we know that people in hospital often feel very lonely.”

I didn’t need people to be nice, kind or charitable to me to help with my loneliness-I needed to feel that I had something to offer.

E is for Expect the Best

According to Cacioppo, “The need for patience does not end once we begin to find greater happiness in our relationships. Even if any of us were perfect, inevitably the other people we come to know will have different perspectives. The prototypical wedding vows, “for better or for worse, in good times and in bad,” are a public proclamation of the ever-present likelihood of interpersonal friction. Even the best friends and the partners in the best marriages will disagree and hurt each other from time to time. Success in the face of this reality is served by not magnifying the moments of friction by over-interpreting them.”

The people I have felt comfortable reconnecting with as I have moved forward with my recovery have mainly been friends I have had since my late teens and early twenties. I realize that the reason why I feel more trusting of them is because they have stayed in my life for so long, despite moving from Ottawa, getting married, and having children, and have seen me at my worst on more than one occasion. They are also all people who I have had some kind of conflict with or have disappointed at some point in our friendship. But the friendship survived not because they wanted to be nice to me but because they genuinely wanted me in their lives and I wanted them in my life too. Taking comfort in the survival of these relationships, whether or not I see these people once a week or once a year, has been incredibly important as I have moved forward with managing my loneliness.

At this point in my loneliness management plan, I am not up to engaging with any new people although I have become open to building deeper connections with people who I have already known for years and who I feel won’t jeopardize my emotional safety. People I don’t feel safe around socially I just avoid.

My future posts will delve deeper into this subject. I hope this post whet people’s appetite to learn more about loneliness.

Feel free to comment and share.

Thanks for reading.

chelby photo

On Being My Mother’s Daughter

My mother fought to keep me.

Her parents didn’t want her to. My father wasn’t a citizen and was barely scrapping together a living for them. She had always had trouble keeping a job due to her social anxiety and the fact that often her mother would get her fired so that she would have to return back home to live with her. I also was going to be born Black at a time when that wasn’t entirely acceptable in this city. Abortion or Adoption were the options her mother had given her.

A young family doctor promised her that she would do whatever she could to help her keep me. Years later, after my mother’s overdose, my family doctor would tell me this story, a story my mother had told me often herself when I was a child, but which I hadn’t heard for over two decades. My doctor was giving me the story so that I would hold on to this life, after I had once again come close to suicide in the wake of losing my mother.

Holding on to life has always been a struggle for me, just as it was a struggle for my mother. When the court cases started and my grandfather was finally brought to justice, she began to deteriorate, physically and mentally. A lot of this was precipitated by the escalation of psychological abuse from my grandmother, who would eventually also end up arrested for hiring a hit man to kill my aunt.

My mother began to threaten to commit suicide and I found myself doing everything I could just to stay at home and be with her. My own mental health issues were identified early on, I remember having to see a social worker at school who told me that I needed to make sure I didn’t repeat the cycle in my family between mother’s and daughter’s. She said I had to make sure I became my own person. I thought I understood what she meant then. I already thought I was my own person and that I was the sanest person in my family. It was only when my mother passed I realized that I really hadn’t become my own person.

My mother raised me to be her champion, her confidante, her protector. These were roles I can remember being tasked with around the age of 4 or 5. It meant that as we grew up, both of us never really became adults. My mother was always in some ways my child and I was always in some ways never independent enough from her to be really considered an adult. So when she died I felt both the anger of a child being abandoned and the guilt of a parent who felt responsible for not being able to prevent her child from hurting herself. And the whole purpose of my life was erased. I had failed to protect her from herself.

On Being My Father’s Daughter

My father fought to keep me.

He withdrew from studying languages at Carleton University and went to work after he found out my mother was pregnant. She was afraid of raising me in poverty and her parents were pushing her to abort or put me up for adoption. My father’s withdrawal from studies meant that there was no longer a valid reason for him to stay in the country. My mother’s application for social assistance in order to more securely support us meant that she couldn’t sponsor my father to stay in the country. He was deported back to Nigeria about a year after I was born. He stayed in touch by writing for about five years until my parents were officially divorced and my name was changed.

My mother raised me thinking that my father didn’t want me. This was partly out of her own need to isolate me, her own insecurities around being abandoned, needing me to be all hers. It is not a coincidence that she died less than a year after I went to visit my father. When I eventually found my father in my twenties, my mother admitted that she had lied to me all those years.

My father was the hope for his family, as star student, he was sent out into the Western World, he returned with nothing to show for it, nothing but me. The weight of this failure only really hit me when I went to Nigeria to meet him in my thirties, and one of my cousins shared, in a gathering of up to about 100 of my relations, that no one really believed I existed until they discovered my blog. They thought he had just made me up to say he had accomplished something while he was in Canada. My father has lived something of a desperate life as his deportation from Canada broke him. He never remarried or had any other children. Despite his education and mastery of several languages, he works in a position often held by Nigerians who don’t speak English. But he still manages to keep up his curiosity to learn, to explore, to collect knowledge wherever he can find it.

A Life So Far

Both my parents never lived up to their potential and that continues to be an anxiety of mine, particularly now that I have reached this age and don’t have much tangible accomplishments to show having spent so much time on earth.

Both my parents were very intelligent and curious people. It is the inheritance of their curiosity that I value over their intelligence. It made them both open to the world in many ways, explorers. My father was limited by having the wrong citizenship. My mother was limited by her family and her fear. If they had not been so limited, I wonder what they could have achieved?

There are many good reasons why I have not achieved what many others have by my age: a career, marriage, children. I still don’t even know how to drive. But, I need to not confuse reasons with excuses. I need to focus on what I can achieve and not accept a life without accomplishments.  I won’t be able to live up to the standards of my peers because I’m not working with the same assets. Like my parents, I am limited. But to live without some ambition is to just sleepwalk through life, which is what I feel I have been doing for a good decade or so.

They say it takes a village to raise a child but that’s not true, it takes a village to raise a couple, to raise a parent, to raise a family. We leave people alone too much in these small units, thinking that it is enough. But it’s not. We each need more people to keep us going than just the ones closest to us.

That’s the biggest lesson I have learned so far. Great love can fail just for the lack of one good mentor, one good advisor, one good confidante.

I wasn’t enough to keep my mother going and that wasn’t my fault. I know this and I will probably struggle for the rest of my life trying to believe it.

Even though I struggle with mental health issues that doesn’t mean I can’t be there for other people. But it does mean that I have to be careful to find meaning in other things than being a “helper” particularly as the “helping” role is not the healthiest pattern for me given my upbringing. I also need to learn how to let myself be helped. The relationships I look to build from now on I hope to make more reciprocal, being both helped and helping the people in my life, being depended on by others as well as depending on others.

My parents fought to keep me and I must commit the rest of my life to fight to keep myself. I have managed to commit to life for another year, and for now that is my greatest accomplishment.

Photo Credit: Mohamed Shaheen

Discrimination experienced by Muslims in Ontario by Dr. Uzma Jamil, Ontario Human Rights Commission

Canadians hold negative view of Muslims (, March 26, 2015)

Muslim Link Ottawa’s Muslim Community Website

National Council of Canadian Muslims Website


Books on Islamophobia

The Islamophobia Industry: How the Right Manufactures Fear of Muslims by Nathan Lean

The Myth of the Muslim Tide by Doug Saunders


Other Islamophobia Resources

The Islamophobia Website by the Council on American-Islamic Relations

Resources on Muslim Women in Canada

Canadian Council of Muslim Women

Canadian Association of Muslim Women in the Law

What Are Other Unions Doing?

PSAC’s Racism, Islamophobia and Bill C-51 Event on March 21, 2015


YouTuber Chesca Leigh created this fun YouTube Video which offers some great tips on how to be an ally.

During City for All Women (CAWI)’s workshop with Somerset-West Community Health Centre, we explored How To Be An Ally.

Here are some more great online resources to help you learn more about How to Be An Ally:

Mount Sinai Hospital’s ‘Are You An Ally?’ eLearning Module takes you step by step on how to become an ally and to launch an Ally campaign in your workplace

How To Be An Ally (Pride At Work Canada)

Becoming An Ally (Excerpt) by Anne Bishop (Alliance For Blind Canadians)

Getting Called Out: How to Apologize by Chesca Leigh. One of the important qualities of being an ally is recognizing when you have made a mistake, Chesca Leigh offers another fun video on how to apologize when you have said or done something oppressive.

So You Call Yourself an Ally: 10 Things All ‘Allies’ Need to Know by Jamie Utt (EverydayFeminism, 2013)

After #SolidarityIsForWhiteWomen: So You Want To Be An Ally, Now What? by Mikki Kendall (xojane, 2013)

I Can MANifest Change Campaign challenges men and boys to become allies in the fight against gender based violence (OCTEVAW)

How is Muslim Media Addressing Anti-Oppression?
I am now the Editor in Chief of Muslim Link, Ottawa’s Muslim Community Newspaper.
When I started working with the paper, I had to figure out how to bring an anti-oppressive perspective into a very new terrain, that of a community which itself is marginalized within mainstream Canadian society.
However, although Muslims may experience Islamophobia, racism and xenophobia, we also grapple with dynamics of expression, exclusion, and marginalization within our communities.
Any reflection on media and anti-oppression involves reflecting on who has the power to decide whose stories get told.
One way we have tried to address this is by developing a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Policy.

The following are samples of stories aimed at trying to portray a more inclusive representation of Ottawa’s Muslim Communities:
Muslim Canadians Living with Disabilities

Bachar Awneh Wins Bronze at the Special Olympics Summer Games

First Nations Communities
Muslim Canadians, like all Canadian settlers, have a lot to learn about respecting First Nations Communities in Canada as equals, whose struggles should be brought to the forefront of our communities’ conversations about social justice.

Aboriginal Help Raise Funds for Islam Care Centre
Shady Hafez on Being Algonquin and Syrian

Marginalized Muslim Voices
There are a diversity of Muslim groups, sects, and religious orientations living in Ottawa. The largest community tends to dominate which Muslims’ stories get to be told. There are two stories aimed at addressing that.

Ahlul Bayt Islamic School Ranked Second Best In City

What does Ottawa’s Muslim Community Look Like? And who controls that image?
Ottawa Islamic School Graduation 2013

Our Elders, Our History
What questions need to be ask when a community aims at preserving its own history
A Muslim History of Ottawa

Muslim Anti-Racism Collective
A great resource for those who wish to learn more about how Muslims are addressing anti-racism and diversity is the Muslim Anti-Racism Collective’s website., in particular their Ramadan Anti-Racism section.

Islamophobia in the Media
Silent meaning: a cover photo of Muslim women by Diane Watt

Larger Version of Photo