Miss Southern Illinois, Emily Travis, falls in love with youngest Anishinabek G7 FASD Conference attendee Deston Agawa, 13 months old from Batchewana First Nation.  – Photo by Perry McLeod-Shabogesic

Miss Southern Illinois, Emily Travis, falls in love with youngest Anishinabek G7 FASD Conference attendee Deston Agawa, 13 months old from Batchewana First Nation. – Photo by Perry McLeod-Shabogesic

By Leslie Knibbs

SUDBURY – Emily Travis, 22, is a former Miss Southern Illinois, and is about to graduate from university with a degree in psychology.

The Native American woman hopes to complete her doctorate and do research on Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder, which she has.

“There is no path too narrow”, she told 300 participants in the Dec. 3-5  Anishinabek G7 “Circle of Hope” conference, describing the demands of living with FASD.

Travis shared personal truths about her birth mother who drank heavily, used cocaine and other drugs while pregnant.  Travis was adopted at five days old, and at one year was the size of a newborn.  She holds no contempt for the woman she calls her “life-giving mother”, and credits her faith for her perseverance in living with FASD.

Travis travels the world, sharing her story, and educating others about FASD and the danger of drinking while pregnant.

Her workshop was one of ten presented to an audience of educators, parents, and health care professionals who attended the conference to learn more about FASD, which affects 10% of  children in Canada. This life-long disability can result in birth defects, lack of cognitive abilities, and trouble with the law.]

Keynote speaker Jodee Kulp told delegates she has dealt with alcohol issues since childhood.  Kulp has fostered three children with mental challenges and is the adoptive parent of an adult daughter living with FASD.  Rather than refer to those affected with FASD as being disabled, Kulp “disables the label” and uses the word “liveabilities.”  She says that, when dealing with an FASD-affected individual, “you have to take ‘you’ out,” and listen to the person, and not use what her  daughter calls “leash speak”, or put words in her mouth.

In her efforts to support those living with FASD,  Kulp helps initiate micro-businesses, thereby empowering clients with income and purpose in life.  Facilitating hopes and dreams for her clients through helping them establish small business operations  is, in her words, “trail marking and setting a course of discovery.”

Outside the conference workshops, a non-Native mother from Bruce Mines said she adopted a newborn and discovered the child was FASD-affected at six months old.  She credits Aboriginal communities for leading the way in creating more awareness that has benefitted her and others.