Introducing Two New Teas To Our Collection

It feels like fate, writing this post today – as Facebook tells me it has been exactly one year since the rebranded packaging for our first three flavors arrived! Wow, how time has flown and how much I’ve learned in the process.

Well, they are here – two new beautiful Sarjesa flavors. It took a long time to get these blends out to consumers. When I first started making tea, I had no idea that you need to go through so much design and regulatory work to get your packaging retail ready and picture perfect.

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Right away you will notice that the artwork is different than our previous blends. We’ve had a couple of questions about why so here is my best attempt at answering. One of the things that are really important to this brand is the concept of cross-cultural solidarity – specifically between communities of women.

Can you imagine what it would look like if we brought different marginalized communities of women together into a conversation about how we can overcome existing and intersecting legacies of domestic violence? I feel like there is so much that could be accomplished over a cup of tea!

We want our tea packaging to reflect the range of women in Canada who also carry intersecting legacies and experiences of marginalization – as gendered violence is a large and complex issue. Sometimes I think that, as a marginalized woman myself, it can be easy to build silos in our communities where we don’t talk to other communities about their experience with this issue. This becomes a problem because, to my mind, we will need a full range of perspectives and experiences to overcome this multifaceted issue.

The community donation generated from these boxes will continue to support the Awo Taan Healing Lodge – an organization grounded in Indigenous teachings that has been an advocate and support for women across different cultures, borders, and spaces. The work they do is truly shifting paradigms.

Now, let's talk a little bit about these two teas.

1) Dappled Sunlight is a blend of black tea and aromatic spices. It’s quickly giving my morning London Fog competition, as it makes a BEAUTIFUL Chai Tea Latte. I love waking up to the notes of cinnamon and cardamom. The artwork is representative of women within my own community – painted by Natalie Darwent-Lynem.

2) Forest Floor is a tea for all of our green tea lovers (you’ve been asking me for so long, I just had to.) A fragrant blend of jasmine, green tea, and a hint of Alberta wild mint – this is definitely an all-day tea. I like it cold, with a little bit of lemon. The beautiful artwork was the result of a 2017 community art competition we co-hosted with Talia Murchie of Ad Artis, the winning piece was by Hugo Dubon.

As always, I’m completely humbled by the love and support you have given to this initiative. It fills my kettle and keeps me going to hear your kind words, and to connect with you all. I am grateful that you are sharing this journey with me and the tea!

Don’t forget to enter our social media draw to win a new tea of your choice!

Love always,

Alexandra

Alexandra Daignault
Decolonial Mean Girl
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Even as I write this I am scared of what you will think. This topic can be very uncomfortable.

Right now, there is a real push to fight patriarchy by empowering women – standing in friendship and straightening each other’s crowns. This is AWESOME, and I’m in total support. However, this doesn’t take away the fact that sometimes we must say difficult things to each other – critiquing and questioning. 


What I’ve noticed is that often, Indigenous, Brown, Black, Women of Color, and other marginalized women face pushback when we have difficult things to say – especially when we are speaking about racial violence and exoticism we face FROM OTHER WOMEN. 


Often, we are told that we are overly loud, aggressive , etc... This happens to me – and it happens to many of the women I admire, love, and respect. 


The flip side of this is: I have also been the girl who, in my own ignorance, felt excluded or hurt when I was called to task on taking up space in ways that were inappropriate – when my tears became manifestation of my own fragility. I felt decentered in a conversation where I had become accustomed to being centered – although I often didn’t realize it at the time. 


I get it. No one likes to hear that they are reinforcing a problematic attitude or system – but its necessary to hear these things if we are going to move forward. 

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We cannot escape the system under which we live. Part of overcoming violence towards women is understanding and changing the violent behaviors we have learned and internalized as a means of protecting ourselves. If we want to live decolonially we have a responsibility to work through these pieces of ourselves. The irony is that sometimes we have normalized these behaviors to the point where we might not even see them as hurtful, and it takes another person telling us for us to see.

I had this shirt made because I am tired of being told that I am too much, too assertive, too sassy, too angry, too radical – a mean girl - when I have difficult things to say. At first, these sorts of comments would bring me to my knees as I tried to frantically stuff back my unpopular opinions. But, the more I read about other women facing the same issue – the less I want to do that. I don’t want to hold my tongue, and to my fellow decolonial mean girls: I don’t want you to either.

Instead, I think we need to get better at hearing difficult things, actively listening and asking better questions regarding how we might do better. 
This work is messy – and all of us are still learning.

Alexandra Daignault
Guest Post: Wynter Ducharme
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I grew up hearing stories whispered by my older cousins on our trips to the pas for Christmas.  During the long ride they would talk about everything and one time, the story of a girl who was killed by some white guys came up.  Being 7 or 8, the grisly details stayed with me. That girl was Helen Betty Osborne who was kidnaped and murdered in the Pas in 1971.  Later on in my life, I was reintroduced to this issue when the Robert Pickton case broke and when I did a research paper on this issue in university.   I was shocked at how many names had surfaced in my research. How many places were known for Native women to just vanish – the Highway of Tears, Vancouver and Pickton’s Farm, the international waters of the Great Lakes, and the human trafficking routes in all the major cities in Canada.  I myself was warned to be weary when I was on my own in the cities I lived in. I could not understand why this was happening and why there did not seem to be any one important doing anything about it.

Statistics state that 1,200 indigenous women and girls have gone missing in the last 30 years. This number does not include unreported cases, cases not within RCMP jurisdiction, Two-Spirited/Trans people who were not listed as women, deaths from domestic violence, this list could go and the number would definitely grow larger.  Our government and larger society refuses to listen to those that have been left behind, those who continue to fight for justice. They just want to be heard.

In 2012, a Michif artist from Lac St. Anne area, created what would become a travelling commemoration to honor the lives that have been lost, create a space for their families to grieve, and continue to raise awareness about the issue of Missing and Murdered Indigenous women.  Her project is a collection of 1,600+ pairs of moccasin vamps, each to represent an indigenous woman who has either been declared missing or murdered. Many of the families affected by this issue have not seen justice and continue look for answers about their loved one. Two and half years ago, I wanted to see this brought to Calgary and Treaty 7 area and thus began my journey with WWOS Calgary.

For months, we came together to share ideas and teachings and fundraise to host this bundle in this community.  On April 29, 2018, we opened our viewing lodge to the public and welcomed them to visit this space and learn about this issue.  Mount Royal University came alongside us about half way through our planning and we were able to create the lodge in their brand new Riddell Library and Learning Centre.  For 2 weeks, anyone was welcome to walk the path we created with the vamps. Often visitors entered a little hesitant as they did not know what to expect but as they made their way around our lodge, it was touching to see them take in the full magnitude of the issue behind the space.  I watched as our Elders and committee members would comfort those who needed it, answered questions and just thanked each person for coming. I loved hearing our Grandmothers’ speak and share stories. I enjoyed our firekeepers’ teachings, gentle reminders and support at our closing circle each night.  And I enjoyed watching our volunteers and committee members grow and voice their concern by being a part of this project

It was a very busy, very emotional time for me.  We had spent many hours together trying to get all we needed in place and all that time did not prepare me for how powerful this would be.  One night in particular I was asked to smudge down the lodge and the vamps. I made my way around the space and was told to smudge as though someone was standing there.  It was not until that moment the fullness of this space and issue hit me. The little pieces of art, decorated with beads, lace, hide, quills, pictures – they each were someone’s daughter, sister, mother, cousin.  They were a person and not just a number in some statistic, each had a goal and dreams. They had memories and relationship with family. They were a human being first and foremost and it saddened my heart to think that our cities, our leaders, do not see this tragedy as important.

 Photo by Jessie Loyer @Walkingwithoursisterscalgary

Photo by Jessie Loyer @Walkingwithoursisterscalgary

The month before was crammed with meetings, recruiting and scheduling volunteers, driving repeatedly to the fabric store, a million phone calls and emails, and lots of hard word. We had spent the last two and half years preparing and planning for this lodge and it still seemed chaotic at times. As each day of install completed, I was reminded of how important this time was going to be. Every person who gave their time, be it half an hour or an all-day commitment, did so with such compassion and willingness. Every layer of the lodge was handled with love and care and lots of graceful teaching.

On mother’s day, at our closing ceremony, I stood in a room full of people singing with my committee and I was overwhelmed with the honour and pride I felt for each of them and what we had accomplished.  .We had reached our goal of creating a loving space for families to grieve, we were able to raise awareness of this issue in and around Calgary and we were able to help educate those who wanted to know more.  WWOS Calgary closed on May 13 and the bundle was transported and passed on to the next community 5 days later.

What I learned most from this whole experience was how just one voice, one question could spark a little bit of change.  The committee members and volunteers who helped make this event possible came from all sorts of backgrounds and education.  They had families and jobs and other commitments, yet they still found time to share a bit more of themselves to speak out against the injustice our people are subject to.  I was also reminded how resilient and strong our people, but mainly our women are. Hearing the stories of those who have been lost, watching the grief and tears spill down their faces, even those who were taken years ago, having a glimpse into their family’s pain broke my heart.  But each of them stood there, with almost a fire in their eyes and told us that this needs to stop. They gave voice to the whole reason we carried this bundle. They continue to fight for justice and they continue to work towards a goal of bettering life for all indigenous people in our city.  I am very honoured to have been a part of this whole movement and to share a little bit of hope in our City.

“The Old Ones say the Native American women will lead the healing among the tribes.  Inside them are the powers of love and strength given by the Moon and the Earth. When everyone else gives up, it is the women who sings the songs of strength.  She is the backbone of the people. So, to our women we say, sing your songs of strength; pray for your special powers; keep our people strong; be respectful, gentle, and modest.” ~ Lakota

Alexandra Daignault
Ku Kia'i Mauna

 

I promised I would keep our tea family updated while I travel on the Big Island, in search of tea and learning. So here is an update.

For those of you that might be new to following Sarjesa – we (as Sarjesa feels like a living entity distinct from myself) are a lifestyle brand that raises awareness for the missing and murdered in Indigenous women (in Canada and across the world.) We help to fund violence prevention programming for women in crisis at the Awo Taan Healing Lodge in Calgary. This shelter is led by Indigenous women and grounded in an Indigenous framework and teachings – but the shelter is open to all women, and is frequently accessed by many marginalized communities of women.

The tea rose out of a deep frustration and anger that marginalized women continue to face greater rates of violence across the world, often resulting in death. Why is this so? Who does this benefit? How can we make it stop? These questions, at times, made my whole body ache – as I saw the women and communities I love (both mine and others) struggle under the weight of this oppression. This was my “why” – the reason I stood, and still stand; and it was the reason why I made tea.

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Running a business is not an easy thing – I have had to learn the intricacies of systems that were never built for me, and that I was never really supposed to be a part of. At times, it has been so hard to navigate. I am blessed to be surrounded by Elders, Coaches, and community members who have been far more experienced than I. Even so, it can still be easy to lose hope when you are standing at the bottom of the mountain looking up, knowing that we have so far to go. That is why being in community, and stepping out onto the land, is so important to me. When we isolate from our roots, our communities, our home – we inadvertently lose our strength and lose sight of our why.

I have been on Hawai’i for three days – I am working alongside other students engaged in similar research and community service projects as I am. Despite having different “whys,” we are linked by a desire to stand in respectful solidarity – to lend our voices, bodies, and supports in ways that don’t take space away from these communities, but hold space and strength with them.

The past two days, we have been working with Aunty Pua on learning about Mauna Kea and how we can stand in respectful solidarity with the protectors of this sacred land. Walking through an exhibit, set up by the grassroots community, on the protection of the mountain – we heard stories from the youth who were arrested for protecting the mountain. We heard stories about the community members, Elders, farmers, regular people who have been educating themselves on the law and fighting court cases against large corporations. Their words were both humbling and devastating, humbling in that they are an example of the changes that can come about when a strong, committed group of community members stand up for the land and it’s rights. Some days are better than others; they have seen both victory and loss, but they have researched and prepared for all outcomes and will continue to move for their Mauna.

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Aunty Pua taught us how to say: Ku Kia'i Mauna (someone who is a guardian, protector, steward of the mountain). She then had us formally introduce our ancestors, our Mauna, and ourselves so that her ancestors could greet our ancestors. This was a powerful moment and reminder.

Physically and geographically, my Mauna is my island (even though my island does not have a mountain – Aunty Pua said this is okay). But, perhaps my Mauna is also the women who form the heart of Sarjesa – those that have been disappeared, but who walk beside me in my work everyday. As I’m writing this, it occurs to me that I will have to check my understanding of this with some of the women I’m working with – just to make sure I am accurately understanding.

We all have places and people that we must stand with and for. This is not a practice of activism, it is a choice to live your life on purpose, making intentional decisions each day to continue to guard and protect the land, people and practices that are sacred to you.

It is only day three and I am learning so much.
Grateful to be learning from Aunty Pua for the past few days.

Indigenous Justice Issues
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Chad Haggerty grew up on a Metis settlement in northern Alberta, Canada. Difficult memories of his youth kept him from focusing on them for most of his life. His daughters and his partner Katie are the reasons he now makes time for that reflection with his writing the by-product. Chad spent 17 years as a police officer and is now completing a law degree. He hopes to help improve access to justice for marginalized populations

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The recent judicial decisions in the murders of Colton Boushie and Tina Fontaine have left many people, especially Indigenous people, feeling that the criminal justice system is unfair.  A quick review of the criminal justice system demonstrates that there is an overrepresentation of Indigenous Canadians in the system.  What that means is that a population that makes up approximately 4% of Canadian Society makes up around 27% of the incarcerated population.

Age, unemployment, and education have been suggested as factors contributing to Indigenous over-representation.  Although these factors may account for some of the reasons for overrepresentation, the information does not get to the heart of the matter: it is past injustices against Indigenous people that are the biggest reason for the overrepresentation of Indigenous Canadians in the criminal justice system.

Efforts to eliminate Aboriginal culture in Canada began with the arrival of the Jesuit Missionaries in the early 1800’s.  Jesuit efforts to convert “Les Sauvages” from their heathen ways to Catholicism were facilitated through trading goods only to those Aboriginal People who demonstrated that they had taken on European (French) mannerisms and faith.  Additionally, the only Aboriginal people allowed to trade furs with the French were those Aboriginals who had converted or demonstrated a conversion.  Wealth was acquired as a result of turning away from traditional beliefs and practices.  This discriminatory distribution of wealth directly changed the manner in which status was afforded in Aboriginal society.  Social status was no longer defined by the individual’s contribution to society but by the personal accumulation of wealth.  Most importantly, the individual’s sense of self-worth began to become based on wealth and individuality.  This dramatic externally imposed cultural change resulted in creating an atmosphere wherein Aboriginal People questioned their cultural identity and viewed their traditional culture and traditions with shame. Without a strong sense of identity and lacking the social structure that previously existed, the ability of Indigenous people to adapt and overcome new situations was severely impaired.

By the mid 1800’s, the process of displacing Aboriginal People from their lands and placing them onto reservations had begun.  Eventually, these actions were passed into law with the Indian Act of 1876.  The integration of Indigenous people into mainstream society was not only inadvertently hampered but actively discouraged.  Indigenous people required permission from an Indian Agent to leave their reservation.  First Nations people living on reserves couldn’t sell produce off reserve without permission.  The most notable of these actions is the Indian Residential School policy enacted by the Canadian government.  This policy required, by law, that Indigenous youth between the ages of 7-15 be separated from their family and enrolled in residential schools.  Rather than a policy of segregation, the process of assimilating Aboriginal People began in earnest.  The degradation of Aboriginal culture, language, and identity became intensely focused and overt.

These and other restrictions were designed to clearly delineate the fact that Indigenous people were not an accepted, not desired, and not seen as a functional part of Canadian society.   Arguments have been made suggesting that the ability of Aboriginal People to exercise self-determination now exists; that Aboriginal People no longer suffer the prejudices once leveled at them.  The fact is that Canadian society is not yet two decades past the time when Governmental policies directly aimed at ensuring the systemic loss of cultural and personal identity of Aboriginal people existed.  These policies actively worked to erode the self-esteem of Aboriginal people and did so for almost three centuries. 

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At a time when the Canadian government is frequently speaking to the need for reconciliation, evidence that reconciliation is actually happening is important.  Regardless of the reasons for the decisions in the Boushie and Fontaine murders, the cases give Indigenous Canadians foundation for their fear that the government is still not concerned with the well-being of Indigenous people.  Worse than “unconcerned”, these trials give rise to the concern that the previously overt efforts at eliminating indigenous Canadians have now simply become more difficult to see.  Although the criminal justice system is not intended to serve the social justice realm, the impact of criminal justice decisions on social justice are dramatic.

For justice to truly be done, it must be seen to be done.  Indigenous Canadians have not seen justice being done, not now and, perhaps, not ever.  That needs to change.

Alexandra Daignault
#Tea Is Medicine
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    It has been a full month since I launched the rebranded tea line, after a summer full of lumps, bumps, and ups and downs. Once again, I am totally blown away and humbled by the amazing support of the community. Not only have I personally felt so loved and supported during this time, but we are about to drop off our biggest donation yet to our community partner. I find myself sitting, as I write out a cheque for over $500 to Awo Taan, and I can’t help but feel completely blessed to know and engage with so many incredible souls. You will change the world mark my words.

What does it mean to stand in respectful solidarity within and with communities? What does it mean to be Indigenous? What does it mean to be an ally or accomplice? These are all questions I have and continue to grapple with. As a mixed race, Indo-Caribbean woman, my family has undoubtedly been affected by colonialism and ongoing racialization. Yet, my family has still be afforded privileges that other marginalized communities have not. .

            Sitting with my grandmother, we often talk about the need to stand in respectful solidarity with Indigenous and other marginalized communities. Our legacies are not the same, yet they are intersecting and multifaceted, thick with complicity and accomplicity. I believe we have to work together, and learn from each other, when we think about how to overcome our separate legacies of trauma.

            The first murder victim of the year, in New York City, was a young Indo-Caribbean woman. Her husband, in what has been deemed a murder-suicide, killed her. Domestic violence, and violence towards women, is a pervasive force within my own community – something that many are working hard to overcome. Similarly, I see gendered violence as a large and growing issue that seems to transcend borders, racially, geographically, and socioeconomically. So many communities, so many cultures, are shifting – fighting for healing, and beginning to create change. I believe that it is going to take us all to create the change we so desire.

            So, what are the ways that we can support each other? What are you already doing in community to build bridges of solidarity? I am continually inspired by the work of both the 4R’s Youth Movement on cross-cultural dialogue and The Alex Community Food Centre on food as a medium for health and healing. I have been exploring the idea of cross-cultural medicine. As some of you may have read, Sarjesa started out on the premise that every culture has tea and that it can be a powerful product that brings communities together and educates them about the local land and community. To me, it is the perfect combination of ingested goodness and digested knowledge.

            My challenge to you, as we move through the next cold months, is to share a cup of tea and conversation with someone else. They can be a neighbour, a friend, a loved one, or a complete stranger. Talk about the work and initiatives that are going really well, and talk about all that we can be doing better!

Best,

Alexandra

Solidaritea Story: Jonathan Nash
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What does it even mean to be in Solidarity?

I reflect on this question often. There doesn’t seem to be a simple answer. Perhaps the question shouldn’t even be answered—in full, anyways. Maybe it’s meant to hang in the background as a reminder that solidarity never means completion or perfection.

Solidarity is a project that requires a lot of work. As such it can be tiring for some people.

One is never completely in solidarity or finished being in solidarity. I think to be in solidarity itself means to be working towards community. I mean to say that if one i"s to be in Solidarity, then one is always working towards solidified community. It is never good enough to simply say you’re in solidarity because it is work.

The work of solidarity is not the same for every person. I am a white man, therefore need to put in the work—but my work is different. As a white man who works towards solidarity, I should relieve the work of those around me. I should never make them work more in the way white men often do. "Tell me how to be a better ally. Disclose to me all your experiences so I can be a better ally. What do you think of this hardship that makes me feel awful? How should I feel?"

Asking these questions may seem innocent or good-spirited—as an act of solidarity—but it adds to the work of those around me. I am making them work and not working myself. The way I should be working instead is to work on myself and to work on/with those in my community.

But more importantly, these questions demand the community works on me, to do the work for me. Something which is antithetical to the project of solidarity because it never is about me—especially me the white man.

Working is the hardest task of Solidarity because the work never ends.

Biographical Note:
I am a Graduate Student pondering the greatest mysteries of the literary canon. Was Kafka a philosopher by night and a story-teller by day? Who would triumph in an arm wrestling competition: Dostoyevsky or Freud? In the real world, I care for an indoor garden of orange trees and chase my beloved ferret-son, Rudy. I also read as much as possible. In conversation, I am known for missing critical consonants and forgetting vowels that make words work

Trout Taylor
Solidaritea Story: Holly Atjecoutay

My name is Holly Atjecoutay. I am a proud Cree and Saulteaux woman from Cowessess First Nation in Treaty 4 territory, but am honoured to call Treaty 7 my home. The most important roles I hold are: mother, wife, daughter, sister and friend. I graduated in 2015 with a Bachelor of Arts in English from Mount Royal University in Calgary Alberta. I have background working in the fields of: law, industry, community, economic development and business. My job is Indigenous Business Facilitator for a non-profit organization, where I assist Indigenous entrepreneurs pursue their dreams of owning businesses.

 Holly Atjecoutay

Holly Atjecoutay

Solidariteas will always and forever hold a very special place in my heart because I was present from the very beginning, watching the amazing Alexandra brainstorm and ideate this wonderful and influential business was awe inspiring and nothing short of wonderful. Solidarity is defined as a synonym according to the English dictionary, but the word holds multitudes of significant meaning and power. Solidarity, as defined by myself, is a bridge between the Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities, and the major building blocks of that bridge are: Respect and understanding, unity, and courage.

It is extremely important that the non-Indigenous population understand and learn the history of Indigenous peoples. Know that the issues that plague our communities are deep rooted; they are the severe effects of intergenerational trauma, and yes, intergenerational trauma affects every Indigenous person in today’s society. Know that loss of language and culture, eradicated ways of being, erasure of identity, pride and self-worth were weapons fashioned by colonialism, but those weapons then manifested in such institutions as Residential Schools, Child and Family Services, prisons, health care, and religion. Know that those weapons created wounds and gashes in our families, communities, clans, and societies in the form of: alcoholism, drug use, lateral violence, abuse and corruption. I wish everyone could understand that the issue of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women is not seeded in the issue of drug abuse, alcoholism and prostitution, rather the foundation of the issue is the lack of respect and honour Indigenous women experience in mainstream society. Indigenous women are viewed as disposable and unimportant in the majority of the western world. I wish North Americans could really study the statistics of MMIW and realize that many of them were “normal” women, working, studying, raising families, and often, were hitchhiking from their remote communities to the nearest urban center to buy food and basic necessities for their families, because in Indigenous communities, the women are the backbones and providers.

Understanding to the best of one’s ability is key. Not claiming to “know” Indigenous culture, but knowing about Indigenous culture. Indigenous individuals do not know everything about the vast and wide teachings of Indigenous epistemologies and ways of knowing; we are constantly learning from our elders, through stories, song, and language. Language is a form of reconciliation and reclamation for Indigenous peoples. Not every Indigenous person knows their language, and this is a heart wrenching reality. Understand that these histories are not solely regarding Indigenous peoples, but they are tethered to all Canadians, for this is Canada’s history.

The unity that is needed is for non-Indigenous peoples, whether fifth generation Canadians, newcomers, or refugees, and Indigenous peoples to form a strong relationship that fosters care, understanding, respect, empathy, and builds solutions to extremely apparent and well-hidden problems. Understanding the history and effects of colonialism and neo-colonialism, respecting culture and individuals plagued with a torrid history, and uniting as a forceful front against preconceived notions, prejudice, institutionalized racism and acts of violence will build courage: Courage to stand up and speak out against learned behaviour, acts of injustice, sympathetic racism and all forms of oppression and hatred.

Solidarity is needed now more than ever. We are not a society divided. All of the problems we each face as individuals and communities are no match to the solution of solidarity. We must all learn from each other, and understand that at the foundation of it all, we are all more alike than we are not. Ekosi.

Trout Taylor