This weekend, I was in Saskatoon to attend a conference put on by an organization called Canadian Roots Exchange. The conference was about bridging the gap between indigenous and non-indigenous youth.
Of about 150 people who attended the conference, I was one of maybe 10 non-native people.
We They talked about what it means to be native, the 8th fire, Idle No More, spiritual practices, creation stories, the environment, their place in society, their elders. They talked about working to overcome the scars left by the residential schools, even today. I had nothing to add or contribute, and that’s good. I have so much to learn, and I’m still processing everything. My clothes still smell like burning sage. It’s incredible to see this group of youth who are ready to overcome past struggles, ready to make a change and a commitment to a clean and healthy life to save their histories and cultures, and to raise their children in a way that respects their elders and traditions. I learned what it means to smudge, and what it means to fight, sometimes silently, to fight for your religion and your beliefs. I learned about their struggle to stay true to themselves, when surrounded by their peers who are still lost. I learned about environmental racism, poison island and chemical valley. I learned the word Anishinaabe, among others. I was embarrassed when asked to introduce myself in a non colonial language. I couldn’t. One of the other non-native women at the conference wrote a poem about the guilt she felt – “I feel guilty, even though I was not there. I am white, they were white. I feel guilty.” The thing is, though, that they didn’t care that we are white or non-native. They’re here to build bridges, and they’re looking for allies. I got to spend the weekend with a group of youth who are ready for a change. What a rich exchange between people who have so much to offer, what an honor to have been a part of it.
I also just found out that the Nishiyuu Walkers are reaching Ottawa tomorrow, after a two month journey. They are thousands strong, here to make their voices heard, to prove that first nations care and are working together. Harper won’t listen. But we need to.