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Helen Knott, Writer/Activist

Helen Knott, Writer/Activist

Helen Knott is a Dene Zaa, Nehiyaw and mixed Euro-descent woman from Northern British Columbia. She is a writer, activist, poet, advocate and social work. Her work has been published in many publications such as Red Rising Magazine, CBC Arts and many more. In the summer of 2019 she released her first book, In My Own Moccasins, which chronicles her experiences of addiction, gender based violence and healing. In 2016 she was featured by the Nobel Women’s Initiative for her work in the gender based violence sphere. She was also named an RBC Taylor Prize Emerging Writer in 2019. She is truly an inspiring woman and we were so pleased to sit down with her to discuss her healing journey.

What is your favorite part of the Dene Zaa and Nehiyaw cultures?

I don’t necessarily have a favourite part of the cultures as things are connected like a constellation of being. They are worldviews and ways of being that are often very interconnected. I will say that I love being by the water as it is medicine and so healing.

You’re recovering from addiction and mental health challenges. What has helped you throughout your journey? What advice do you have for someone in recovery?

I had to be brave enough to air out the wounds I never wanted to see the light of day. In order to do this, I had to be in a safe place which happened to be a traditional treatment centre. Often before anything gets better, it gets messier. I was definitely a mess but it was necessary work. If I didn’t have a safe space and support to do that I am not sure I would have been able to make it through that period without self-destructing or quitting

My advice is that there is no shame in seeking help. I am a HUGE fan and advocate for healing and the pursuit of it. Help looks different for everyone: A.A., counsellors, treatment centers, personal support systems. Asking for help is not weak and should not be shameful, it is the bravest thing you can ever do. I wish someone had told me that and maybe I could have skipped my last rock bottom! Haha.

Also that sobriety shouldn’t be viewed as this massive lifelong commitment but rather broken down to a series of small choices that you make every day. The long-term view can be very overwhelming but if you realize that every act of self care and thing you do is paving the pathway it can be a reclamation of your everyday power.

Racism is prevalent in Canada, what advice do you have for Indigenous youth who are experiencing racism in their daily lives?

I want to tell them that they are beautiful and worthy of love and respect at this very moment. Also that racism and prejudice comes from a space of lack of knowledge and ignorance. At the end of the day, don’t own people’s b*llshit because it is a reflection of their own healing work that needs to be done. Arm yourself with knowledge and history and refuse to let them take away your peace. If the experiences still sting my love, then let yourself cry, write, organize a rally, write a statement, or do whatever you need to in order to drag that experience out of you - just don’t let it set up a home in your bones because it has no place there. You were brought into this world with purpose, move about it with power.

What advice do you have for survivors of gender based violence?

I think the road to recovery (and even before that) is quite isolating and difficult. I know this sounds cliche but I would say that you are not alone. Know that whatever crippling thoughts or negative self talk you may have going on in your head that there are so many of us that have lived there. You are not the exception to the rule. You don’t deserve to live there and you are not alone.

Also (because I like answering twice), do not be afraid to ask people to remind you of your security or safety. I have been triggered before and barricaded doors because I have felt unsafe. I would look at the door afterwards like, “well that escalated quickly”. I have learned to ask people in my support system to remind me that I am safe. Sometimes they will talk on the phone with me until I feel better or sometimes it will be a quick text. But, utilize the systems you have in place during these times and carve your pathway to liberation.

You often speak about the power of using your voice. What advice do you have for those who are scared or hesitant to voice their opinion?

I would say that I am scared and hesitant all the time. Being brave and using your voice does not mean that you are absent of fear, that you do it in spite of. Plus, if you’re not a little afraid of speaking out then it means what you’re saying is in your comfort zone and it is “safe”. Anything worth saying or creating change for is going to make you uncomfortable.
I do an internal check within the moment and ask this question: “Will I be okay at the end of the day if I choose to say nothing? What is the outcome if I say nothing?” If I feel like I will not be okay or the outcome is unfavourable then I have an obligation to myself to say something.
For example I am now sitting on an advisory council with some pretty amazing and knowledgeable women. We have to give feedback to larger political bodies and initially I was so scared to be in the room. I felt like a little girl at the grown-ups table. But when it came time and I had relevant knowledge from my territory that needed to be verbalized I realized, at this stage I don’t have the luxury of silence. I have to speak to help create change because the children will inherit this world. Breathe through it. Pray through it. Speak your peace.

What’s next for you?

I am writing a second book entitled, Taking Back the Bones. It is a collection of essays placed within the framework of a body and learning how to carry myself in this world as an Indigenous woman who is losing her matriarchs. My mom passed away in November of 2019 and my Grandma currently has dementia. I am in this space of learning how to hold my own and this book is a testament to this transition and the healing work done within the space of grief, love and loss.

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Photo by Treylen Knott