Her Brain Chose for Her
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Ontario Association of Interval & Transition Houses
Her Brain Chose for Her

Chapter 7
Intersecting Identities

“Self reflection… is even more critical as we advance in our knowledge and understanding of oppression, power and privilege, intersectionality and how we ourselves hold both power and marginality, and we reinforce both oppression and marginalization, in our work, in our personal lives, with our family and anywhere we interact with others.”
(How Does Intersectionality Work? OAITH, 2018).

brains divider

To support an older woman who has survived trauma, it’s important to consider the multi-dimensional nature of her identity and the oppression she’s experienced. In doing this, you take an intersectional perspective. Intersectionality is an approach that encourages inclusivity and challenges the status quo. Intersectionality asks us to look at the ways that privilege and disadvantage influence a woman’s experience of trauma as well as our own identity and related privilege and marginality (Intersectionality, 2015).

This intersectionality wheel can be utilized to explore intersecting identities. What groups (cultural, socioeconomic, racial, religious) does the woman belong to? What types of societal oppression have shaped her life? What groups do you belong to? What are your privileges and disadvantages? How do both, your, and the woman’s histories influence the meeting between the two of you?

Intersectionality Wheel

Colour and learn more about the intersectionality wheel, represented here as an umbrella

Umbrella showing different types of Privilege/Power versus Marginality


Organizations and services in Ontario which are under provincial jurisdiction have a responsibility and duty to understand and accommodate Indigenous beliefs and spiritual practices, including smudging. Smudging is a common purification ceremony or rite performed by many Indigenous and non-Indigenous individuals or groups and involves the burning of any of the four sacred medicines; Tobacco, Sage, Sweet Grass, and Cedar, in a shell or wooden bowl to produce a cleansing smoke. Not every Nation across Turtle Island (North America) smudges, or smudges in the same way. Smudging is often used first thing in the morning, during a meeting or event and when someone is facing barriers; a woman may need to smudge at unpredictable times, for example, following a trauma or before or after a difficult interview or meeting related to violence she has experienced (NWAC, 2014).

Indigenous Women

Indigenous women in Canada have been collectively traumatized by government-endorsed racism. They have been confined to reserves, separated from their families, and forced to attend residential schools where physical and sexual violence were perpetrated by staff (Intervention to Address Intergenerational Trauma, 2012). The abuses an older Indigenous woman may have encountered, are examples of Systemic Trauma. Systemic Trauma is inflicted and maintained by environments and institutions. It includes the oppressive actions of schools, communities and cultures (Goldsmith, Martin, Smith,2014), such as the Canadian government’s attempt to assimilate Indigenous peoples.

An Indigenous Intersectionality Framework or “Red Intersectionality” is centered in a commitment to activism and Indigenous sovereignty and contextualizes the violence against Indigenous women and girls within gendered colonization and dispossession of Indigenous lands. This analysis includes identifying strengths and resistance to oppression and violence and might include some of the following questions (adapted from Clark, 2016):

Smudging Within Services–Promising Practices

(adapted from NWAC)

sacred plants: cedar, tobacco, sweet grass, sage

An intersectional approach involves sensitivity to systemic trauma. As someone who works with trauma survivors, it’s important to acknowledge that every woman encompasses a multiplicity of circumstances, and that you do as well; Part of your work is to consider your own circumstances and how they affect your relationship and interactions with the woman.

Trauma-informed practice allows for the creation of a safe space in which to address colonization, oppression, intergenerational trauma and racism. It makes room to discuss Indigenous-specific issues and concerns. Trauma-informed practice compliments and honours Indigenous values and beliefs.


Food for Thought:

  • What cues might indicate to a survivor that you are supportive andinclusive of diverse gender and sexuality identities?
  • How might an older immigrant or refugee women’s dependency onfamily members affect her access to housing supports
  • What identities are missing from the categories on theintersectionality wheel?