Danielle Boissoneau was nervous when she signed up for a garden plot at a food bank in Hamilton, Ontario. The single mom of five had never grown food before, but felt compelled to learn in order to “give that knowledge to my children.”
That was more than five years ago. Today, Danielle and her kids still farm that little plot of land. She’s learned how to grow all kinds of vegetables from seed, including ancestral plants like corn, squash and beans. And in her job at the Hamilton Community Food Centre, Danielle builds community around food, social justice, and the health of our land and water. “I get people talking about good food and what it means to access it, reminding people that we fully depend on the land and the water to survive.”
Danielle, an Anishnaabe kwe (Indigenous woman) from the Old Turtle Clan, believes that food sovereignty is key to reconciliation and Indigenous people’s future. “We talk about self-governance and sovereignty, but if we don’t know how to grow our own food, and if we don’t know how to care for ourselves by eating good food, then we’re not sovereign at all.”
A writer, consultant, researcher, storyteller and public speaker, Danielle, 38, facilitates conversations about reconciliation between the First Nations in Canada and settlers. These conversations also focus on our relationships to the land and to each other.
“I talk a lot about The Dish with One Spoon,” she says, referring to the 300-year-old treaty between three Indigenous nations in southern Ontario that binds them to share the territory and protect the land. Focusing on our shared needs for healthy land and water, she says, turn tense dialogues into more compassionate conversations.
“People ask how I can be so diplomatic,” she says, laughing. “I’m a mom of five. If I want peace in my home, I need to be able to talk with my children. It’s not easy, and there are times when I’m not able to respond with love and compassion. But as a mother, my energy is sacred, and I need to be careful where I put it.”
Much of Danielle’s energy comes from her family: biological, adoptive, and chosen. Her adoptive mom lives with Danielle and her children three-quarters of the time. “She teaches me a lot every day about what it means to be present. I think for moms that’s a lot of the struggle. Often we’re not present because we’re always worrying about making sure there’s enough food or that the kids are safe. But my mom teaches me how to set aside my work struggles. ‘You’re home with your kids now,’ she’ll say. ‘Now is your time to be a mom.’”
Danielle’s circle of friends are her chosen family. By building networks of companionship and support, they are reconnecting to ancestral ceremonies and traditions. “As a single mom, I’ve come to identify the lack of kinship systems as one of the main reasons our families—especially urban Indigenous women—struggle so much.”
Part of that rebuilding and reconnecting process involves leading annual water walks at the Hamilton Harbour, during which Danielle helps awaken and restore stewardship of the Great Lakes and other bodies of water. The walks are powerful, yet also painful: “The water is so polluted that the walkers often end up becoming sick afterward because they take on so much of that pain.”
Danielle’s “chosen family” of Indigenous women will help care for her children while she attends a two-week, Indigenous storytellers writing retreat at the Banff Centre for the Arts.
She plans to work on a science-fiction story. “My daughter reads a lot of science fiction and it’s very dystopian. I asked her if there were any utopian stories, where things work out and the world isn’t destroyed. And she was like, ‘I don’t think so, Mom. That’s not really the style.’ And I’m like, ‘Well, I’ll do it, then. I’ll write a utopian story.’”