Maika Harper is a working actress, mental health advocate, and mom. She was born and raised in Nunavut’s capital city, Iqaluit, but has called Toronto home for more than 10 years.
Actress, model, mother
The challenge of living well is often compounded by the labels and expectations associated with the roles we occupy. Mother. Aboriginal. Woman. Each portrayal comes with a strict set of guidelines, internalized and scrutinized by ourselves and those around us.
I care deeply about wellness. I exercise every single day. I eat well. I want to be as healthy as possible. My daughter has eaten mostly organic foods her entire life, and she’s almost three years old. We shop at farmers’ markets and get our meat from a butcher. I have a daily yoga and meditation practice, too, because wellness is about a holistic approach.
The main reason I started using cannabis daily was to regulate my moods. I have borderline personality disorder. “Borderline” means having no regulation over your emotions. So when I’m happy, I’m really happy. When I’m sad, I’m really sad. When I’m anxious, I can’t function. I have had this illness all my life, but my doctors were only able to officially diagnose me about five years ago. I use cannabis because it has been very beneficial on a day-to-day. There’s no cure for my disorder, so it becomes about coping, and regulation.
Because I’m Indigenous (and I also present visually as Indigenous) I worry that my cannabis use instantly brands me in a negative way. I stopped drinking alcohol largely because I’ve worried about being labeled “the drunk aboriginal,” but in my experience the same stereotypes are applied to an indigenous person who smokes weed. I think there are similar labels attached to people of Indigenous roots — these are people seen as lazy, being outside of the “normal system,” not hard-working. It’s really hard. All of these labels that people put on you, the harmful stereotypes, the words they use without even thinking. I don’t want to be seen as ‘the drunk aboriginal’ or the ‘stoner aboriginal’ and sometimes, I don’t want to be aboriginal at all.
I’m also a heavily tattooed, pierced person with half my head shaved, so I feel like when people see me smoking a joint, they have a negative perception. The stereotype is reinforced. If they see my friend, who looks like someone from a Gap commercial, blonde hair and fair skin, it’s not as big of a deal.
I also worry that people will think I’m a bad mother. It’s wild because if you talk to anyone who knows me, they’ll tell you I’m the mom who brings my kid to Little Kickers and then to this event and to that playdate on the other side of the city. We’re always on the go, always learning, always having fun.
Nobody really gets how ridiculously tired and exhausted a mom is at the end of the day, except for other moms. And, when you can smoke a joint with another mom and laugh and bond, it’s cathartic. Not only are you looking after a toddler, running on no sleep, waking up in the middle of the night, all of the stuff that comes with motherhood — you’re also trying to hold on to your identity and sanity — and a single joint can be so cathartic. That’s the story that doesn’t get told. But it’s a true story for many young mothers.
Photography by Angela Lewis
“It’s really hard. All of these labels that people put on you, the harmful stereotypes, the words they use without even thinking. I don’t want to be seen as ‘the drunk aboriginal’ or the ‘stoner aboriginal’ and sometimes, I don’t want to be aboriginal at all.” ”
I’m from the Arctic. It’s really hard to access cannabis up north. Trees and grass don’t grow up there, everything has to be imported, which means everything is also very pricey. I’m excited for cannabis to be legal, because people up North will have easier access. Hopefully remote Indigenous communities around Canada, generally small and underserved communities, will see a difference in their access. Legalization is going to be a phenomenal help in that way.
Victoria’s Arctic Fashion is a designer based out of Iqaluit, Nunavut that I’ve been obsessed with for years. Her fashion forward approach to the classic parka is inspiring. Not only do I support the #eatsealskinwearsealskin campaign but I implore more people to take an active and educated approach to a very important issue for Canadian Inuit. Her sealskin mitts are part of my winter essentials and once you try them on you won’t want to take them off!
Tania Larsson’s jewellery collection is so unique being both bold and understated. Her profound message during the Indigenous Fashion Week in Toronto was admirable and I applaud her in using her platform to spread such an important message. Fashion forward to say the least!
Riit is an Inuk musician and actress among other things and hails from Pangnirtung, Nunavut. She sings in Inuktitut and her latest album is always on repeat in my car. Her TV show Anaana’s Tent @anaanastent is an educational Inuktitut show my daughter likes to watch in the mornings on @APTN. I’m excited to see what’s next for this powerhouse!