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Illustration by Paola De La Cruz @happynappystudio

Indigenising my relationship to the kitchen

Empowerment through reconnecting to women in my family

My relationship with feminism became formalised through relationships in elite academic spaces. It wasn’t until I left university that I realised that the “empowerment” I was seeking was waiting for me within the women of my community all along. 

It was only when I began taking ownership over my family’s history and placing their stories within the colonial foundation of the settler-nation of Mexico, that I realised that my empowerment as a woman is inherently tied to reconnecting with my family’s Indigenous history. 

The women in my family are descendants of the women that white settlers – including white women – have deemed unworthy of respect and joy. But they have been able to survive through the preservation of our Indigenous knowledge. 

Knowledge about the environment, child bearing, plant medicine, language, clothing and so much more. Knowledge that, no matter how much the coloniser tries to bury, always finds its way through the generations.

Over the past few years, it has been my purpose to unearth these forms of knowledge that white feminism in particular required me to force aside in the name of empowerment.

In my young adult life, my rejection of work in the kitchen stemmed from the fear of becoming complicit to the patriarchal roles women are expected to fulfil. Feminism in academia had taught me that becoming empowered meant leaving your home to work and pursue financial independence. But what about the women who clean your home while you are out being a “boss girl’? What about the Black and Indigenous women who take care of your children while you have a girls’ retreat? My mother, grandmother and aunties are those women left behind, and by pursuing an empowerment based on a capitalistic framework, I was becoming complicit in their dismissal. 

Reconnecting with the labour of love 

I began questioning my identity as a feminist when I began to participate and reclaim my place among P’urhepecha community. 

As I was reintroduced to ceremonies, I noticed that all the women in the community were taking part in the cooking regardless of their age or marital status. I felt strange at first, but wanting to be accepted as a reconnecting P’urhepecha woman, I took my place in the kitchen as well. 

That initial discomfort quickly faded away as my hands and spirit remembered witnessing this work before. Prior to returning to the United States at the age of nine, I had grown up watching the women in my family spend hours in the kitchen cooking elaborate meals for our family and community. 

There was a daily ritual of working with corn and beans, and in times of need we’d work with plants to take care of an illness. I used to see this work as confining which led me to stay as far away as possible from the kitchen.

I had no idea the kind of love and generational wisdom I was missing out on until I decided to return to the kitchen recently, when I went back to stay with my family in Mexico. I have learned more about our family and community’s history through making gorditas with my grandmother and great-aunt than I ever did throughout my childhood. 

In line with patriarchal and other hegemonic structures, I instead spent my childhood obsessed with fitting in with my peers, trying to impress teenage boys, and emulating every fashion trend I saw on the glossy cover of Teen Vogue. 

In other words, I was either trying to live out my American teen dream, or too concerned with being wanted by young men from my community. I try not to punish myself too hard for how neglectful I was in my youth of my elders and their wisdom. A settler colonial society is designed in that way. However, we are stronger when we engage outside of a nuclear family, and release women from their value in finding a significant other simply to fulfil that nuclear role. 

Although I feel immense gratitude to have found my way into my elder’s kitchen, I have to admit that not all storytelling with the women in my family has been pleasant. There are times that the elders share stories of trauma, sexual harassment and dark secrets that the men in the family don’t know about.

In moments like those, it becomes clear the generational trauma we are still carrying today as women in my family, and take on the responsibility of working with younger generations to end this chain of trauma. 

I feel a purpose in learning this labour, a labour of love for our family and passing down knowledge to keep each other safe and resilient through difficult times. Part of our decolonising process is to discard all patriarchal structures within our Indigenous communities, which also means we must honour women’s labour and allow space for women to rest when needed. 

We have to find our way back, and build a path forward for self-determination. 

Supporting rematriation 

As non-Indigenous people or reconnecting Indigenous people there are different ways that we can support Indigenous women’s fight for self-determination. 

Across grassroots organising spaces, the term “rematriation” has gained visibility. For different Indigenous nations, rematriation can have multiple definitions, but at its core lies the idea of returning land to Indigenous people and in that uplifting the sacredness of Mother Earth (whose name also varies across nations) to heal from patriarchal ideas of ownership. 

According to Rematriation magazine, a Haudenosaunee-led digital storytelling platform, “Rematriation is a powerful word Indigenous women of Turtle Island use to describe how they are restoring balance to the world”. 

I can see how non-Indigenous women will refer to Rematriation as “Indigenous feminism” – and for some Indigenous women, perhaps it is too. However, I choose to drop the term feminism all together and simply call it a movement for self-determination and healing led by Indigenous women, for the liberation of all Indigenous people and non-human beings. 

For myself, rematriation looks like reclaiming my relationship with the land and spiritual practices in my life. Spending time in nature doesn’t have to be an outdoor expedition the way Western society defines it. It can look like a short hike with a friend where we can fill up the vast openness of nature with our sorrows and dreams. 

Rematriation for spirit has been learning about the practice of Temazcal, or attending ceremonies at the sweat lodge. Here is where I feel most connected to the women of my family because I feel like I am praying in the womb of the Earth. 

I am held by the cold soil below me, and wrapped in love by the warmth of the fire and wind ancestors around me as we sing in prayer to remember what was never truly lost. 

What can you do?

  • The Sogorea Te’ Land Trust has a powerful and accessible Rematriation Resource Guide on their website for those wanting to learn more. 
  • There are several organisations, at least in the United States, that you can support to sustain these efforts. Indigenous Women Rising, Indigenous Women Hike, The Sunlight Media Collective and Native Women’s Wilderness (NWW), are a few that I follow closely.
  • An intersecting movement that supports the sovereignty of Indigenous women is the Missing Murder Indigenous Women (MMIW) movement across so-called North America, but really it’s a movement across the world.
  •  NWW published an article about MMIW on their website as a resource for those living in the United States. You can find a local group by searching “MMIW + [city or state you live in]” to find actions taking place near you. 
Illustration by Paola De La Cruz @happynappystudio who says “For this image, I was inspired by the Samara Almonte’s journey of embodying the concept of feminism through reconnecting with their Indigenous roots. I believe that progress interweaves the leaders off the past along with the leaders of today. Feminism now, is predominantly led by White Women, often excluding the Black, Brown and Indigenous pioneers”.
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