Giving Back to the Land

Gratitude for those who encourage me to think beyond myself.

land

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Land [mine]

I can’t remember the last time I felt still. Besides sleeping… but even that feels restless at times.

When I took the minutes to engage outside, there was an urge of guilt. Guilt for how I choose to spend my time and guilt for my lack of appreciation in my surroundings.

Considering the “giving back” perspective of Indigenous peoples, I couldn’t help but hear the buzzing of planes, rambling of furnaces outside buildings, and the faint dinging of cell phones or electronics. It became apparent as I laid silently how my settler-identity normalizes the disregard for place.

Sure, it’s cool to claim being Canadian and to emphasize the natural beauty of an empty field in Saskatchewan or a vast mountain landscape in British Columbia but what lies beneath these seemingly open spaces? Who first walked those fields or existed within those northern skylines?

There’s a sense of realization that occurs when the thought of being motionless, alone with your actions and thoughts for more than five minutes, feels less possible than actively avoiding the reality of colonization in your everyday life.

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Women’s Pipe Ceremony

Assisting Elder Alma Poitras was a surreal experience in my treaty walk exploration. Last week, Sheena Koops described reconciliation as qualities she sees in her students and other members of the Indigenous community, including generosity, kindness, and helpfulness.

I feel that during the ceremony, Elder Alma embodied these qualities of reconciliation by allowing myself, a white settler, to occupy such an interconnected role. I have gained a deep respect and greater understanding of the function of the land in relation to women, especially for the young women who assume the role I did. I’m now aware of the hard work and sacrifice a person contributes, so that those around her can thrive and engage with their spirituality. I am so humbled and grateful to have been welcomed into such responsibility with the patience of my peers, and Elder Alma.

Lighting the pipe and offering the smudge to my fellow women and Elder Alma awakened a sense of collaboration and empowerment in myself. It was an honor to share moments of connection with each person in the circle. Like myself, many people were still unpacking and understanding, doing their best to absorb her knowledge and teachings. I was nervous and a bit shaky, but reassured by supportive glances and body language.

As the ceremony concluded, Elder Alma and I broke the pipe to signal the end. We each held a piece, working together, I was hit by a wave of emotion. “I can’t believe this is happening”, I thought as I twisted and pulled. Elder Alma created a space to share her most personal relations to her culture and land, while taking time to explain her traditions to a group of settlers. Her actions emphasize the genuine nature of her people, willing to share and teach those who have been ignorant for years. As an educator, I owe her the same respect by speaking to her truth.

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Sorry for the Apologies

Reconciliation stretches far beyond an apology. As we learned in 2008, simply muttering “sorry” after years of oppression and assimilation is the farthest action toward reconciling with Indigenous communities.

As Sheena Koops and her students invited us into their stories, the unproductive use of “sorry” as a defense mechanism by settlers rang as a common theme. Simply being aware isn’t building relations either.  When we shake our heads at our history one minute and disengage with opportunities to connect and learn today, we endorse the message that white-settler experiences are, yet again, of higher importance than those of Indigenous peoples.

It’s taking steps to support and empower our students, educate our community, and unpack facilitating reconciliation. Sheena described it as the willingness to help in her students and their genuine nature toward those around them. I view reconciliation as a concept not meant to be an obligation of Indigenous peoples, but as a responsibility of myself as a settler to initiate and maintain.

I recently purchased a “welcome” sign with contributions from the kokum of one of Sheena’s students.  The sign will be an excellent addition to my future classroom, featuring multiple languages to express gratitude for the diversity of those we know. More info here.

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#MMIW

The entire process of facilitating our seminar invited many emotions and realizations I hadn’t anticipated.

Before we set up, I noticed how strange it felt to “take over” the space we used. We set up signs and claimed the area, informing those around us of what was happening. Right util the seminar, we waited to put up pictures and stories of the women and girls we wanted to share. It felt wrong to have pieces of their lives and their futures on display for onlookers not involved in the context of our presentation.

During the session, I wasn’t sure what to expect as people read narratives and compared systematic institutions of racism to the stories of individual Indigenous women. Incorporating different parts of the seminar had me curious about where people were “at” before spending time with me. It became truly apparent that everyone reached different levels of emotion and connection with each station, some sharing personal connections while others quietly took everything in.

After everyone left, I felt the weight of our research and the reality of the issues we unpacked really hit me. It became apparent how much there still is to know. All of the things I will probably never know. I wondered what others were thinking, if they felt as impacted as I had. I stared at our red paper and felt slightly less overwhelmed.

A blank space, temporarily meaningless, but soon to build with the thoughtful contributions and commitments of those around us.

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Say Their Names

41. We call upon the federal government, in consultation with Aboriginal organizations, to appoint a public inquiry into the causes of, and remedies for, the disproportionate victimization of Aboriginal women and girls. The inquiry’s mandate would include:
i. Investigation into missing and murdered Aboriginal women and girls.
ii. Links to the inter-generational legacy of residential schools.

I’ve recently learned pieces of the stories of Indigenous women who have been murdered or are missing throughout the country. While reading, I can’t help but notice that I’ve walked the same streets or driven past the spot where a woman’s life was ended or she was never seen again. Distant connections but they stick with me. I think of how my settler roots have me sitting safety in my apartment, writing this post, while an Indigenous woman suffers. Why is her voice silenced while mine rings loudly?

  • Cheyenne Marie Fox (20) – “proud mother of 5 year old son”, member of the Wikwemikong First Nation, “kind”, “approachable”, “very accepting of others”
  • Nadine Machiskinic (29) – mother of four
  • Krystal Andrews (23) – mother of two, “kind, loving, humble”
  • Kathleen Leary (66) – mother of four, grandmother, “reserve executive director of health services for Norway House Cree Nation”
  • Teresa Robinson (11) – five siblings
  • Brandy Vittrekwa (17) – “close-knit family”
  • Tina Fontaine (15) – “carefree”, from Sagkeeng First Nation
  • Kelly Goforth (21) – “pillar of her family”, “heart of gold”
  • Simone Sanderson (23) – “dreamed of becoming a pilot”, mother of her son, Nigel Jr., from O-Chi-Chak Ko Sipi First Nation (Crane River)
  • Justine Cochrane (15) – “enjoyed crafts, powwows, and hanging out with her aunties”, from Sunchild First Nation (Cree community in Alberta)
  • Angela Meyer (22) – “loved to be hugged and loved to talk to people”
  • Jeannette Chief (49) – “outgoing woman who loved going on walks and spending time with family”
  • Jamie McGuire (20) – mother of two, “plans to become a social worker to work with at-risk youth”
  • Carol Lynn Prudhomme (46) – “sister remembers her as a happy person”, “she was happy-go-lucky, she was always giggly”

Learn more of the details and stories of these women and others through the CBC Database.

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Whose Backyard?

Tonight I went for a walk with my family along the golf course behind our house.

I took in the sun setting beyond a tangled set of trees near a thawing creek. I caught myself thinking of the land, in the purest sense of the word. I stared at my feet as we walked, crunched and splashed.

Considering the “ownership” of the golf course beneath my feet by the City of Swift Current, behind “our” house, “owned” by my parents, I had a moment of appreciation for Treaty 4 land. For a split-second, ownership was absent from my thoughts and my only focus was the space we were exploring and how nice it felt to share that space with the ones I love.

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