Maternal Gift Economy: Breaking Through -
Ongoing Salons

Every two weeks

Maternal Gift Economy Movement - The Gift in the Heart of Language, part 1

January 15, 2022

Featuring Genevieve Vaughan and guests:

Annie Finch, poet; Miigam'agan, Wabanake elder; Susan Petrilli, semiotician; Vandana Shiva, author and activist.

Moderated by Letecia Layson

Genevieve Vaughan

Language is something we are all experts in using but what it is and how it works have been a mystery for centuries and the source of much speculation, academic and otherwise. Many people believe that language is our 'species specific characteristic' which is due to a genetic modification some time in prehistory. I have been working for years to show how instead the faculty of language is based on the model of maternal giving and receiving that all children receive in early childhood. Because they are born before their brains are mature and long before they can fend for themselves, someone - usually a birth mother but it can be anyone - has to give to children unilaterally for several years without a quid pro quo exchange. In this light I say that the maternal gift model is the basic template for language, and that language can be conceived of as a virtual gift economy in the medium of sound (rather than pixels), where we give word-gifts to each other in order to create shared relations to the gifts of the world around us. Thus we do gifting both on the material plane and in language.

We have misunderstood who we are because of the story Patriarchal Capitalism (which denies and plunders gifts) tells us - that we are ego oriented homo economicus instead of what we really are homo donans, the gifting being(s). This is part of the reason we are plundering and destroying our gift giving Mother Earth. This alternative understanding of life and language can help us turn away from our matricidal, fratricidal and suicidal course.

I have invited some honored guests to discuss all this with me (Annie Finch, poet; Miigam'agan, Wabanake elder; Susan Petrilli, semiotician; Vandana Shiva, author and activist). In the next salon (Jan. 29) we will discuss the misuse of the gifts of language as the tool of patriarchy, capitalism and colonialism.


Genevieve Vaughan (b.1939) is an independent researcher who lives part time in Italy and part in Texas. She created the multicultural all-woman activist Foundation for a Compassionate Society (1987-2005) and the Temple of Sekhmet in the Nevada desert (1992 – ongoing) and she co-created the network: International Feminists for a Gift Economy (2001 – ongoing). Her books are For-Giving, a Feminist Criticism of Exchange (1997), Homo Donans (2006) and The Gift in the Heart of Language: the Maternal Source of Meaning (2015). She has edited Il Dono/The Gift (2004), Women and the Gift Economy (2007) and The Maternal Roots of the Gift Economy (2019). A volume of the Canadian Women’s Studies Journal dedicated to the maternal gift economy has just appeared (2020)

More information @

Annie Finch (born October 31, 1956) is an American poet, critic, editor, translator, playwright, and performer and the editor of the first major anthology of literature about abortion. Her poetry is known for its often incantatory use of rhythm, meter, and poetic form and for its themes of feminism, witchcraft, goddesses, and earth-based spirituality. Her books include The Poetry Witch Little Book of Spells, Spells: New and Selected Poems, The Body of Poetry: Essays on Women, Form, and the Poetic Self, A Poet’s Craft, Calendars, and Among the Goddesses.

Miigam’agan is a Wabanaki/Mi’kmaw grandmother of the Jagei Clan from Esgenôpetiti/Burnt Church. She is a mother of three wonderful people and a grandmother to three beautiful grandchildren. Her life has been devoted to Wabanaki cultural revival and promoting an understanding of Indigenous matriarchal systems drawing on her language. Currently, Miigam’agan is Elder-in-Residence at St. Thomas University in Fredericton, New Brunswick. In this role, she provides support for First Nation students and offers opportunities for the students and faculty to learn from indigenous knowledge keepers. Miigm’agan sits on the Executive Committee of the Urban Aboriginal Knowledge Network at the University of New Brunswick, which sets research priorities and ensures that the research they support meets the needs of urban Aboriginal peoples. She is also a member of the steering committee on Adult Education Initiatives for the Catherine Donnelly Foundation and a co-chair for the women of First Light, an indigenous women led initiatives on adult education for social change.

Susan Petrilli (Ph.D.), Full Professor of Philosophy and Theory of Languages, University of Bari Aldo Moro, where she teaches courses in Philosophy of Language; Semiotics; Semiotics of Translation; Semiotics of Law and Intercultural translation. She is 7th Sebeok Fellow of the Semiotic Society of America, Fellow of the International Communicology Institute, Washington; past vice-President of the International Association for Semiotic Studies (2014-2020); Visiting Research Fellow, School of Psychology, Adelaide University; honorary member, Institute of Semiotics and Media Studies, Sichuan University, China. Susan has written, edited and translated many books. With Augusto Ponzio she has introduced the seminal notion of “semioethics”.

Dr. Vandana Shiva is trained as a Physicist and did her Ph.D. on the subject “Hidden Variables and Non-locality in Quantum Theory” from the University of Western Ontario in Canada. She later shifted to inter-disciplinary research in science, technology and environmental policy, which she carried out at the Indian Institute of Science and the Indian Institute of Management in Bangalore. In 1982, she founded an independent institute, the Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Ecology in Dehra Dun dedicated to high quality and independent research to address the most significant ecological and social issues of our times, in close partnership with local communities and social movements. In 1991, she founded Navdanya, a national movement to protect the diversity and integrity of living resources, especially native seed, the promotion of organic farming and fair trade. In 2004 she started Bija Vidyapeeth, an international college for sustainable living in Doon Valley in collaboration with Schumacher College, U.K.Dr. Shiva combines the sharp intellectual enquiry with courageous activism..Time Magazine identified Dr. Shiva as an environmental “hero” in 2003 and Asia Week has called her one of the five most powerful communicators of Asia.Forbes magazine in November 2010 has identified Dr. Vandana Shiva as one of the top Seven most Powerful Women on the Globe. Dr. Shiva has received honorary Doctorates from University of Paris, University of Western Ontario, University of Oslo and Connecticut College, University of Guelph.Among her many awards are the Alternative Nobel Prize (Right Livelihood Award, 1993), Order of the Golden Ark, Global 500 Award of UN and Earth Day International Award. Lennon ONO grant for peace award by Yoko Ono in 2009, Sydney Peace Prize in 2010, Doshi Bridgebuilder Award, Calgary Peace Prize and Thomas Merton Award in the year 2011,the Fukuoka Award and The Prism of Reason Award in 2012, the Grifone d’Argento prize 2016 and The MIDORI Prize for Biodiversity 2016, Veerangana Award 2018, The Sanctuary Wildlife Award 2018 and International Environment Summit & Award 2018. More information @

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