Since our brand relaunch in Spring 2018, we have been busy beyond belief with a variety of exciting and interesting jobs in the world of digital marketing, writing and editing. Sometimes it is a good thing to take a step back and look at everything you have accomplished, especially in quantifiable terms so without further ado, here is a little list of (most) of the new work we have been up to:

  • Built and launched a freelance translator’s website, social media and blog
  • Built and launched (this week!) a highly complex website for a non-profit association that includes a dynamic searchable directory of site members and global content restriction based on a member’s subscription plan
  • Built and launched a new website for a different non-profit association that included brand development and a membership function
  • Wrote 80 articles for a new client in the Caribbean to begin populating their 2 blogs with content and have established an ongoing relationship to continue to fill their content in using inbound marketing techniques
  • Edited a 235-page master’s thesis on the Syrian civil war
  • Mailed 823 print marketing material packages for a non-profit association and sent to relevant
  • Edited 7 scholarly articles written by a Professor Emeritus in their area of historical research
  • Wrote 6 editions of a religio-cultural newsletter for print and web publication
  • Ghost-wrote two articles for a client
  • Published one major research study with The Tessellate Institute and IRGS
  • Wrote 8 new articles for The Drawing Board blog (with 4 more set to be up before November!)
  • Wrote 12,000+ words for Nakita’s non-fiction memoir project and patron blogs
  • Participated in 7 media interviews
  • Delivered 4 keynote addresses
  • Delivered 5 public anti-racism talks
  • Edited a memoir writing pitch for a global influencer
  • Took part in one 5-week intensive non-fiction writing course for Professional Development
  • Received one major community recognition award
  • Signed up for NaNoWriMo 2018 – add Nakita (nvalerio) if you are doing it too!

It has been an exceptionally busy time and we couldn’t be happier than to support writers, businesses and academics in everything they endeavor to do while serving our communities and making our own art too!

Bring on the rest of 2018 and in to 2019!

Much love,

Nakita

This talk was given by Nakita Valerio at the University of Alberta for a panel discussion on Islamophobia: Intersections & Cross Currents in honour of International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.

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Peace be upon all of you

First of all, a huge thank you to Professor Janice Williamson for making the time and necessary efforts to create space for this kind of dialogue here at the University. I am honoured to speak among so many talented colleagues and recognize that there are many brilliant thinkers who could be up here instead of myself, so I am grateful for the opportunity to share my thoughts on Islamophobia and its intersections based on my community work and personal experiences.

We have to be brief so I want only to touch on a few points about Islamophobia as it relates to feminism. Before I do that though, since we primarily have well-intentioned allies in the room and since the theme for today is the intersectionality of Islamophobia, I need scarcely point out that literally anyone on earth can be a Muslim – regardless of gender, orientation, origin, race, ability, economic status or any other social variable. Islamophobia is therefore related to and can permeate all other forms of discrimination. In fact, I would be hard-pressed to find a Muslim that didn’t have some kind of compounded discrimination by virtue of their intersectionality. Even a rich, white, heterosexual cis-male convert to Islam, experiences marginality from the greater non-Muslim global community due to Islamophobia, and also endures the hardship of being a largely ignored or even resented minority within a minority of the Muslim community, not to mention being highly socially isolated. While the discrimination he faces is (undeniably) significantly different than, say a veiled indigenous female convert to Islam or African, African-Canadian and Afro-Caribbean Muslims, it still holds that intersectionality and Islamophobia have to be understood as always going hand-in-hand. And that these will take different forms for different people.

We have to remember that human beings are complex and particular in their social groupings, and that they must not be rigidly compartmentalized according to one discriminatory signifier over another, nor does one necessarily have primacy over the other (particularly visible ones). We know that both oppression and privilege compound through race, gender, sexuality, religion, ability and economy, and that if people are to be understood in their entirety, we have to actually take the time to know them. There is too much shoot-from-the-hip activism these days based on a rigid understanding of an oppressed/privileged dichotomy and, the disturbing part to me, is that even with the best of intentions, people are regularly  being dehumanized in the process.  So some subtlety and patience is in order when dealing with these delicate intersections.

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So that’s the first thing to note. The second thing, following from this, is that Islamophobia is therefore a feminist issue. What do I mean by this?

At the superficial level, Muslim women are disproportionately targeted by Islamophobic words, actions and rhetoric. Part of the reason for this can be our visibility and this is, in large part, due to the veil if it is worn. Veiled Muslim women are verbally and physically harassed and assaulted with increasing regularity and are also the targets of racial hatred, and I want to stress, regardless of their ethnicity. Even for “white” converts, the veil acts as a second skin which automatically signifies “colour” to prejudiced people uninterested in the nuances of what constitutes complex Muslim identities. And this is important to note this because within the Muslim discourse and within groups speaking about racial justice there is a tendency to dismiss the racialization that the veil automatically entails, whatever intra-community privilege we hold.

But Muslim women are not only disproportionately targeted by Islamophobia because they might veil. No, non-veiled Muslim women are also the excessive subject of xenophobic words, actions and rhetoric for a much deeper reason.

The Muslim woman represents the vehicle by which the people who hate us, call for the eradication of Islam. The Muslim woman who is pious and stubborn in her piety is declared subconsciously oppressed regardless of how loud she declares her piety to be her choice. The Muslim woman is seen as indoctrinated in Islam, a barbaric way of life that exists only to exact patriarchy in its highest form.

Muslim women, who practice the Deen, are regularly accused by those outside of Islam, of being in need of liberation not recognizing that we view Islam as our liberator. That the antidote to patriarchy for us, is a deeper understanding of Islamic philosophy and law, and not anything less than that. In fact, these accusations are not even limited to non-Muslims. There are countless “scholars” within the Muslim purview who reiterate these bunk theories that the more a woman practices Islam, the less liberated she is.

At this very university, I met with a prominent scholar of Islamic law and was shocked when he stated to other unveiled women in the room that I might be oppressed or duped because I choose to cover my hair for the sake of God, or I say Insha Allah, or I unapologetically leave the room to pray on time. And this stuff was said right in front of me, as though I was not even in the room. Muslims can be as colonized by Islamophobia as anyone and we have to view that, at least in part, as the trace of a colonial project that has spanned centuries.

The declared solution to the issue of Islam for both Islamophobic non-Muslims and Muslims with internalized hatred of Islam is to either eliminate it from the face of the earth or to temper it and secularize it so it is palatable enough to so-called Western sensibilities, as though Islam does not and cannot have similar desires, goals and expressions as other cultural systems around the world, particularly in Western Europe and North America where we have a rich shared history.

If a pious Muslim woman seeks to resist through submission, her intelligence is insulted and her agency is called into question. Islamophobia, in this sense, is merely one strong arm of patriarchy (even its synonym) crushing the right of a woman to choose how she lives her life. And going forward, that needs to change.

Thank you.


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Nakita Valerio is an award-winning writer, academic, and community organizer based in Edmonton, Canada. She recently completed graduate studies and work as a research assistant in History and Islamic-Jewish Studies at the University of Alberta, as well as a research fellowship on Islamophobia and anti-Semitism for The Tessellate Institute. Nakita serves her community as the Vice President of External Affairs with Alberta Muslim Public Affairs Council (AMPAC), as an advisor for the Chester Ronning Center for the Study of Religion and Public Life,  and as a member of the Executive Fundraising Board for the YIWCL Cree Women’s Camp. Nakita is the co-founder of Bassma Primary School in El Attaouia, Morocco and is currently working on a graphic novel memoir weaving her experiences abroad with her community work and research.

 

Last week, I spoke about Reconciliation to a room full of white people. I was invited by a local holistic health clinic to come speak before their keynote lecturer because a friend of mine that works there had let them know I am raising money in support of the Young Indigenous Women’s Circle of Leadership Cree cultural camp at the University of Alberta. I have done many talks for a variety of different audiences before, but this was the first time, in a very long time, that I was only one of four people in the room who belong to a visible minority. And I was certainly the only apparent Muslim in the room.

You can imagine my trepidation at suddenly realizing what I was about to do: I was about to stand in front of these people from a dominant socio-economic and racial strata of society, and I was going to talk to them about being on Treaty 6 territory, about our responsibility as settlers and refugees on Indigenous and First Nations land, about why adopting the language of reconciliation is important but why putting that language into action is even more critical to moving forward. About why this was their responsibility. About why someone like me –an ally – should not be ignored. This is difficult enough for anyone to do, never mind me as a Muslim.

I think the latter point is where my nerves kicked in: would this group of people see me – a veiled, Muslim woman – as an ally of the process of reconciliation and Indigenous peoples? Would I be harming the cause by appearing in front of such a group when so many view me and my Islam as a social adversary already?

Of course, I am not speaking to anxieties about this group of people in particular, but systemic uncertainties that made me think twice before talking to them – anxieties I hadn’t really had in over a year as a public speaker. The actual people in the room were friendly and inviting, and when I started speaking, I could see heads nodding as I acknowledged Treaty 6 and touched on points about our duties as people sharing this space with regards to how we could support the creation of safe spaces for young Cree women “to just be free to be Cree.”

After I spoke, the keynote was introduced and the main lecture began. I had to take off but I left an envelope on the side that people could put donations in, reminding myself not to be too disappointed if it came back empty. Yes, heads had been nodding, but no one clapped when I was done talking. And maybe my veil was just too much of a barrier for people to get past, even if they agreed with the words coming out of my mouth.

In the end, people did donate – enough, in fact, to cover all of the costs of food and crafting supplies for one young girl attending the camp for its two-week duration. But even if they hadn’t, I came to realize how powerful the whole experience was socially, if not monetarily. Rather than being anxious about talking to white people about reconciliation as a Muslim woman, I should have viewed it as an incredible opportunity to challenge what it means to stand in solidarity with one another.

I stood there as a Muslim woman calling for sisterhood, regardless of where our sisters come from, how they look and the culture they practice – a sisterhood that celebrates those origins and appearances and cultural elements. I stood there as a Muslim woman, enjoining people to what is just and compassionate behaviour – to contemplate their social position and what responsibilities it entails to others around them. I stood there as a Muslim woman imploring people to learn about one another and help create spaces for Indigenous people to learn about themselves. I didn’t do this in spite of my Islam, as I belatedly realized: I did this because of my Islam. Because respect, protecting the freedom to worship, enjoining what is just and kind, and seeking knowledge are all cornerstones of my way of life. In standing before a group of white people, talking to them about reconciliation, I was unintentionally dispelling misconceptions about my own people. And any chance we have to share with one another and explore intersections of knowledge to come to greater mutual understanding should never be taken lightly.

For some, what happened last week may have only been a ten minute fundraising speech to garner funds for social change. To me, it was the change itself that we are all looking for.

In solidarity,

Nakita

To donate to my campaign in support of the YIWCL’s Cree Women’s Cultural Camp, please visit: www.gofundme.com/creewomenscamp. Our next group run is on December 4th – pledge a runner today.

Image Credit: “Over Time We Come Together 2015″ by Cassie Leatham”


nakitaNakita Valerio is an academic, activist and writer in the community. She is currently pursuing graduate studies in History and Islamic-Jewish Studies at the University of Alberta.  Nakita was named one of the Alberta Council for Global Cooperation’s Top 30 under 30 for 2015, and is the recipient of the 2016 Joseph-Armand Bombardier Canada Graduate Scholarship from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, as well as the Walter H. Johns Graduate Studies Fellowship. She has also been honoured with the State of Kuwait, the Queen Elizabeth II and the Frank W Peers Awards for Graduate Studies in 2015. She has been recognized by Rotary International with an Award for Excellence in Service to Humanity and has been named one of Edmonton’s “Difference Makers” for 2015 by the Edmonton Journal. Nakita is the co-founder of Bassma Primary School in El Attaouia, Morocco and the Vice President of External Affairs with the Alberta Muslim Public Affairs Council.

 

This past weekend, I completed a 5km run in support of the YIWCL’s Cree Women’s Cultural Camp at the University of Alberta. The cultural immersion camp recently lost its corporate sponsorship and is scrambling to find ways to finance their endeavours for creating safe spaces of empowerment and cultural reclamation for young Indigenous women. The run is but one of the many ways I am joining forces with organizers to get this cause back on its feet.

The run was easy, as was setting up the Go Fund Me page to garner donations from friends and family online. It is amazing how building a narrative about something online doesn’t seem real though, until your feet actually start hitting the pavement. It was at that point, when I could hear the crunch of my sneakers on the icy pavement, that I realized what I was doing.

So much of our current cultural climate is based around literacy – we live in a word-saturated universe of tweets, articles, diatribes and likes. So what happens when words turn into action? I could have easily just set up the Go Fund Me campaign and watched the money roll in without having to get up off my couch. What significance does running hold for this cause?

Running is a ritual of being-present, reflecting on one’s self and one’s presence in their temporal-spatial reality. I used to run all the time; I even used to call myself a runner. However, the combination of PTSD following birth trauma and a sedentary academic lifestyle in completing my Masters has put the brakes on my once-regular running ritual. When I got out there on the weekend, the pavement was covered with freshly fallen snow and my breath clouded in the space in front of my face. It felt like coming home again.

I realized that completing the action of running for my sisters was just as important as raising the money itself. In the process of moving my body through space in solidarity with my Indigenous sisters, I was engaging with my own relationship with reconciliation by contemplating the presence of my body in this space, on this land, on Treaty 6 territory, on a day when most people are celebrating the colonization (Thanksgiving). I was committing more than just my thoughts and vocabulary (albeit important things too!) to the narrative and cause of reconciliation. I was also committing my physical body and time to it. I was working for it.

For the next run on December 8th, I have 9 women who have pledged to join me in working for a better future together. We will run as a sisterhood for the cause of sisterhood, bringing about reconciliation through our actions one step at a time.

Join us: www.gofundme.com/creewomenscamp


nakitaNakita Valerio is an academic, activist and writer in the community. She is currently pursuing graduate studies in History and Islamic-Jewish Studies at the University of Alberta.  Nakita was named one of the Alberta Council for Global Cooperation’s Top 30 under 30 for 2015, and is the recipient of the 2016 Joseph-Armand Bombardier Canada Graduate Scholarship from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, as well as the Walter H. Johns Graduate Studies Fellowship. She has also been honoured with the State of Kuwait, the Queen Elizabeth II and the Frank W Peers Awards for Graduate Studies in 2015. She has been recognized by Rotary International with an Award for Excellence in Service to Humanity and has been named one of Edmonton’s “Difference Makers” for 2015 by the Edmonton Journal. Nakita is the co-founder of Bassma Primary School in El Attaouia, Morocco and the Vice President of External Affairs with the Alberta Muslim Public Affairs Council.

Join us in extending heartfelt congratulations to our very own writer and researcher, Rachael Heffernan, on a successful defense of her Master’s thesis this week. Rachael’s research was on the body of God in the Hebrew Bible.

In the course of her academic career, Rachael has received a number of scholarships and awards, including the Harrison Prize in Religion and The Queen Elizabeth II Graduate Scholarship. During her undergraduate degree, Rachael was published twice in The Codex: Bishop University’s Journal of Philosophy, Religion, Classics, and Liberal Arts for her work on Hittite divination and magic and philosophy of religion. Rachael has also had the opportunity to participate in an archaeological dig in Israel, and has spoken at a conference on Secularism at the University of Alberta on the Christian nature of contemporary Western healthcare. Her wide-ranging interests in scholarship are complemented by her eclectic extra-curricular interests: she is a personal safety instructor and lifelong martial artist who has been recognized for her leadership with a Nepean Community Sports Hero Award. She is an enthusiastic reader, writer, and learner of all things, a tireless athlete, and a passionate teacher.

On March 3rd, 2016 I was asked to give a talk to high school students in Alberta, British Columbia, Egypt and Bangladesh on the general subject of women’s advocacy and International Women’s Day. What follows below is an edited transcript of my talk.

The last time I did something for International Women’s Day was an interview I did with the Mohammedia Presse in Morocco in 2014. The interview was a poignant contrast to how women’s day is popularly marked in Morocco – which is to say, with flowers and chocolates handed to women in the street all across the country. My interview, however, was about not letting one day obscure the reality of the street for woman every day – which is, a haven for street harassers to relentlessly hound women of all shapes and sizes, all ages, all stages of life, all styles of clothing. Regardless of demographic, whether she’s urban or rural, educated or illiterate, veiled or not, it simply does not matter. The reality for women in the street in Morocco on every day other than International Women’s Day is that she will be intrusively approached by men, asked for all kinds of obscenities, or she will be followed for blocks and blocks, or she will be molested without remorse.

This happened to me countless times in Morocco while I was living there over a period of three years. It didn’t matter that I was 8 months pregnant and clad in a floor-length djelleba with a hijab – there would still be men asking if my baby had a daddy. It didn’t matter if I was walking, a professional director of a primary school in the village, there would still be a man on a motorcycle trying to corner me. On more than a few occasions I uttered profanities and threw rocks to protect myself.

And this sad reality has become so common there that two things have happened: Firstly, women have been unable to fight the tidal wave of harassment and often face physically violent repercussions if they defend themselves. A friend of mine stood up for herself and promptly received a black eye. Secondly, the prevalence of street harassment has caused a psychological trauma that is systemic culturally. It has gotten to the point that if rape culture is not reinforced (ie. if a woman is not sexually harassed by men in the street) in a gruesome manner, she will begin to find herself unattractive, thereby perpetuating and internalizing the oppressive mechanisms of patriarchy, permitting them to continue.

Now, I’m not naïve to think that these women need my perspective at all for their liberation. That’s neo-imperialist, anti-feminist and a reinforcement of the patriarchy I am trying so hard to undermine, as far as I’m concerned. Moroccan women (and men!) are fully aware of the social ills that street harassment represents and they will often excuse the harassers as simply being “bored” or “out of work”. Or they’ll even go so far as to blame the monarchy for the economic ills of the country which have led so many young men to feel that way.

I don’t know about you, but when I’m bored or out of work, the last thing I would think to do is go whisper hideous aggressions as unsuspecting women in the street. I can, however, see it as a way for a hopeless young man to improperly regain some of his power at the expense of the dignity of another. And when I say hopeless, I mean hopeless – Morocco has one of the fastest growing economies in the Arab world and is definitely one of the most stable countries in the MENA region as well. In fact, in my experience, very few people even remotely wanted to protest the current King Mohammed VI’s authority during the Arab Spring and after a few hundred thousand did, the King relinquished much of his power constitutionally. At the best, we can say he had good intentions. At the worst, it was a ceremonial gesture. And yet despite the stability, the growth of the economy and infrastructure is consistently outpaced by the growth of the population, among a myriad of complicating factors, including widespread corruption.

For me, the heart of Morocco’s social ills has a lot to do with disenfranchisement of women and the lack of gender equality – of which, street harassment and economic ills are but social symptoms. And at the very heart of this disenfranchisement is a lack of education.

Which brings me to the reason I moved to Morocco in the first place. In 2010, shortly after I converted to Islam, I was planning to go to law school but on a trip to Italy before I could write my LSAT, I read a book by Nicholas Kristoff called Half the Sky which was about the socio-politico-economic consequences of female oppression worldwide. As a recent convert to Islam and a well-read one at that, I had a hard time understanding the disconnect between the gender equality and rights of women preached in the Qur’an and the Sunnah of Muhammad (PBUH) an what kind of oppressive, misogynistic practices I was seeing played out in real life cases. Of course, this oppression is not limited to Islamic contexts but the fact that I was finding the cures for such oppression in the scriptural sources of Islam clued me into a disconnect that, at its core, was educational.

As a Muslim, I believe that the information exists in our scriptural sources about how to promote gender equality and respect the dignity of women, and if this not is not something I am seeing practiced on the ground, there are only two possible explanations: either people don’t know, or they don’t care.

As an eternal optimist, I have to believe that the former is true, that the majority of people just don’t know what is the prescribed status of women in Islam. And, in my experience, living in a Muslim country such as Morocco for so long, I found this to be the case… thankfully, as I’m not sure how I’d deal with people knowing and simply not caring.

On that same trip to Italy, a mere two weeks after I finished reading Kristoff’s book and had made the vow to myself to work in women’s advocacy in the Islamic world instead of going into law, I met the man who would be my husband in Florence. He happened to be building a school in his rural Moroccan town. Within 6 months of meeting him, I visited the foundations of the school, then only one storey high and within a year, I had moved to Morocco to finish building it and open it as a primary school and center for women’s rights.

During this period, I lived the first year of my Muslim life. I did so in secrecy from my family and most of my friends so I am quite up-front about the fact that I hadn’t yet experienced life as a religious minority or as an underprivileged woman in Canada…and I most certainly had not yet experienced life as a hijabi. I did, however, begin to feel the first pangs of what life is like on the margins.

When I moved to the village, my life as a hijabi began because I was finally free to practice the Deen of Islam in such a context; however what I quickly came to realize was that what I had the freedom to practice and enact as my rights as a Muslim woman was not the same for every woman in the village. In fact my suspicions had been correct: education was a key issue. The literacy rate of women in the village was only 27%. That means that anywhere from 2 to 3 women out of 10 can read. And I’m not talking about reading the Qur’an or legal texts by which they would know their rights. I’m talking about medication bottles or formula recipes for their babies – things that you and I take for granted in a literate, word-saturated society.

So, as we built the school over three years, including a 6 month stint for me in Canada where I fundraised the money for our school bus and third level by holding an arts gala at the AGA, I came to know more and more about women in the community and the obstacles they encountered to self-actualization.

I met women who:

  • had literally never left their homes since their marriage day
  • couldn’t read
  • were forbidden to attend Salat-ul-Eid (Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) was famous for encouraging their attendance on this day, of all days, in particular)
  • were physically and verbally abused
  • were kept in servitude
  • had no way to earn their own income
  • had no reproductive rights

Now, of course, the opposite was also true. I found plenty of women who had jobs and careers, were free to come and go as they pleased, dressed how they liked and generally did whatever they wanted. For a large majority of women though, this was not the case.

Additionally, I became a woman who:

  • was a visible minority in Morocco (as a Western convert) and in Canada (as a hijabi convert)
  • was harassed in the street
  • almost died in child birth because my reproductive rights were violating again and again during labour
  • would go on to organize a student-led country-wide campaign to end street harassment called Letters to Our Brothers

These stories could really go on and on but I want to conclude by talking a little bit about what I have learned from this experience.

  1. Corruption can kill any dream but you have to keep on fighting. Despite our greatest aspirations for the school and women’s center, we still have yet to obtain proper authorization for teaching older children and have been told point-blank by the provincial authorities that they will never give us the paper without “compensation” (meaning a bribe)
  2. The education of women is great. The reasons for this are innumerable. I am not one to uphold the gender binary, but particularly in Morocco, where Islam dictates certain binary-like gender performances based on biological sex, some things hold fast to those performances. This includes the fact that if you teach a woman, you are teaching a community. Information is passed through women at a much greater rate than through men and this is especially true in the education of children. Additionally, educating women doubles the economic participation of community members, but more often than not, women tend to participate in the economy in socially oriented ways that benefit the whole.
  3. The rights of women are a moot point if the duties incumbent upon men to provide them are not known. A married woman may have the right to an education and work and a roof over her head, but if her husband is unaware of his duty in providing those things for her.
  4. Similarly, we need men for feminism to work. I neglected to mention that the literacy rate of men in the same rural village is only 55%. We need men to be as educated as women, not in order to get permission for liberation but to join forces against oppression. This is predicated on the notion that patriarchy works systemically but not always consciously and it only has power if we let it. Additionally, this is to say nothing of the damaging effects of patriarchy on men, including creating an oppressive culture of hyper-masculinity.

Thank you.