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Lend me your eyes, I can change what you see

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As the Nishiyuu walkers arrive in Ottawa, I am proud to be Canadian.

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 fireIdle 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.


How lucky I’ve been

At first, it was selfish. I was upset and worried about losing my job. I let that feeling overshadow most other things, and stopped giving myself fully to the experience. I started spending a good part of my time job hunting, and thinking about what’s next.

But now, I’ve gotten over myself. I’m still job hunting, but I know that whatever needs to happen will happen. So, now it’s not just losing my that job that’s upset me, it’s that in choosing to cut the Katimavik program from the federal budget, our government has chosen to cut a truly remarkable program. Katimavik is a program that has proven itself over the last 35 years to be not only a tremendous learning experience for its participants, but also an incredible amount of help to communities across Canada.

I haven’t had – and won’t have – the chance to work for Katimavik for very long, but over the short amount of time I’ve spent living the program, I’ve been a witness to so many amazing things. I have seen my ‘children’ happily give so much of their time and energy to help local non-profit organizations – organizations that are suffering from the same budget cuts, as well as from losing their Katimavik kids. I’ve seen youth take control of their own lives and figure out what the next step is. I’ve watched them work so hard to figure out who they are : living with 11 other people is not an easy task, and they (and I!) end up spending a lot of time rethinking and re-evaluating our values and what is important to us, as well as really just figuring out how to interact with all sorts of people. I have watched proudly as young adults from across the country have made efforts to learn the other official language. I have seen them take huge steps and make great efforts to understand and help others. I have watched and coached as they became proud and accomplished house managers, learning how to run a house filled with 11 other people – all with different habits and priorities. I’ve had the privilege of watching them feel so proud for everything they are accomplishing, and helping them learn and recognize what their own strengths and talents are.

I have had the privilege, even for just a short while, to work in an environment where youth are really, truly respected and encouraged to become all that they can be. I am honored to have had a job where my job is to give back, to make our canadian communities better places, to help build a better world filled with amazing citizens.

I believe that it is our responsibility to do all we can to save this wonderful, crazy program, to give another 30,000 kids the chance of participating in this mad, life-changing adventure.

Write, call and visit your MPs. Make it known that our government is making a mistake – over the last 6 months, I can promise you that I have learned that Katimavik is the very fibre of what we want our Canada to be.

And now, with 6 weeks left of this amazing experience, I’m going to go and give it my all.