Chii-Miigwetch, Neyaashiinigmiing :')
Three years ago, I had the opportunity to visit and learn from the beautiful community of Neyaashiinigmiing (Nawash), an indigenous community near Cape Croker, Ontario.
This blog post shares both a recently-made appreciation video, as well as my raw thoughts, emotions and reflections from my week there, written after my trip.
Thank you, Nawash :')
I hope I can give back to you someday 😌
First written and posted on Facebook, November 8th 2018:
This post is long, long overdue - but I think that it's better overdue than never-due. I had never posted it because I didn't feel like it was complete, didn't feel like I had fully captured what I felt in writing...but I don't think I ever will.
In February 2018 during the Project Serve Reading Week trip, I have had the most unforgettable opportunity to learn from the community at Neyaashiinigmiing, the Chippewas of Nawash. It was undoubtedly one of the most impactful week I have ever experienced, and I feel beyond lucky to have been able to learn the amount (so much, yet still also so little!) that I did learn from this incredible community.
I must admit that before going on this trip, I really had very limited knowledge of the history and culture of First Nations and Indigenous communities and peoples; I had a very small collection of stories that had been told to me, and even smaller of a collection of personal ones. All I knew was that there was an abundance that I did not know, and I wanted to fill that gap with personal experience to take back with me and to my own communities.
Little did I know I would come back with so many mixed emotions too.
I feel sad.
I feel sad that the greater public is not aware of the inexcusable history that these folks have been through. Sure, we can talk about reconciliation - and today, we throw that word out everywhere - but solely talking about it is not going magically make it happen. Before reconciliation, there needs to be awareness, recognition and understanding of colonialism. No amount of money as 'compensation' can replace that. Speaking of colonialism, we throw that word out too, like we know what it really stands for. Sure, we all know it's bad - but knowing it's bad because "it's bad" and knowing it's bad from actually knowing what really happened - knowing the details and specific events and the process - is so, so different. I can tell you now, knowing some of the process that had played out, I just can't believe that we had managed to erase it from the public's eyes. Most people don't fully realize what actually went on - not that I even know all of it either. This lack of understanding, as well as the lack of wanting to understand, sounds so easy but is so hard to foster. I want to show others the incredible, diverse cultures of indigenous folks, their beautiful language and their indomitable spirit - all of which I am sad to see being targets of mass ignorance.
I feel non-deserving.
Most of us came to visit this community as settlers; and although we came to learn, it would be completely valid if some of that history of colonialism still harboured around us. Settlers who had done so much wrong, broken so many promises, left these people in abject. So it would be completely understandable if they held some hard feelings for us. In other words, they didn't have to welcome us like family. They didn't have to share their stories and vulnerabilities. They didn't have to show us their culture and history. They didn't have to teach us their language, open up their homes and workplaces, or allow us to be immersed in their daily lives. They didn't have to treat us as equals - so, so much better than how they had been treated in the past.
Yet they did.
Me climbing the top of a giant hill at Nawash with some of my fellow teammates :)
And I felt (still feel!) so humbled.
It takes such resilience as a community to overcome the hardships that they had been faced with (and still face today), and to still have such positivity towards their circumstances is truly inspiring. I have so, so much respect for everyone in the community. The people that we had met and talked to were, quite frankly, some of the most resilient people I have met. Connecting with them on an individual level really allowed me to understand the community and the issues that relate specifically to them. It's a different kind of impactful when a community member opens up in front of the group and tells us their story, their motivation, their healing journey, their views - it's different than them speaking through a video or to a large audience. I feel so lucky to have been able to meet these unacknowledged heroes.
I keep talking about what I've been deeply impacted, without actually saying how. Haha, I guess it's a little hard to put into words, but let me try:
Well, I feel disillusioned. I think that at Nawash, I was able to finally see some of the actual "truth" that is in this "Truth and Reconciliation" that everyone seems to strive for (again, words we just throw out without actual conviction behind them). This truth includes how our government treats these communities, how these communities adapt and prevail, and the issues that are present still despite the progress.
I saw how it was not required for their water to be held to the same standards as the rest of the country, because water quality falls under provincial regulations, and since their territories are unceded, they are not part of a province and therefore it was "okay" for their water to be of lower quality. How said water piping system is not adequate enough to build additional infrastructure such as more (and much needed) houses, although the supplies and (hu)manpower are eager and available. How their employment abilities are struggling despite having many positions in need to fill, due to the lack of financial and other means to provide stable positions with benefits that outweigh the risks. How there is so much (very valid) mistrust for the government that still lingers amongst some community members - honestly though, how could there not be, after years and years of broken promises and ignored voices? But in the midst of it all, I saw people determined to build a stronger community, make the most of what they have, and to have hope for their future generations.
I think - no, I know - that my learning at Nawash was truly education that really counts. It's changed my perspective on many things. It has taught me not only facts (history, culture, etc of these peoples) but also how to live a more meaningful life that is driven by connection (to culture, people and environment), kindness, forgiveness and love. These things cannot be taught in classrooms, and they will go on to not only further more learning about these themes and intersectionalities, but also teach me to live a kinder, better life.
Really, the community has given me so much more than what I gave or could've given them.
Although I've always tried to before, this trip has helped me look past stereotypes even more. I have increasingly changed the way that I look at people, as not so much what's on the surface (the way they look, how they talk, etc) but as to what's deeper inside (what their values are, what they believe in, what kind of person they are).
Not only do I genuinely try to understand people more, I think I got to develop a newfound appreciation and simply, love! for people, all people. I see the beauty in everybody and really appreciate them for being a part of my life, more than before. I now see past appearances more and look straight towards the heart, which usually leaves me with a pleasant surprise, followed by much respect and admiration for what they are doing. I think that seeing everyone with love also now lets me appreciate everything a lot more.
And of course, I've applied the same to nature too - I always have appreciated and treated nature with love, but this trip enhanced it even more. To value all the living beings, whether they be plants or animals, as important and worthy of respect is so undertaught. But once it's taught, it can never really go away.
I think that now, it is also easier for me to think critically about things. I am better at asking the deeper questions and looking at the bigger picture - the bigger impacts, the smaller impacts, and how something relates to other themes - the intersectionalities of it all.
All in all, I'm just sincerely grateful that I had the chance to learn from the incredible community at Nawash, share this learning journey with extraordinary teammates, and be challenged by amazing leaders to reflect beyond the surface. I can't describe how much I've learned and unlearned, understood, reflected, connected and realized about the community, the truth, and the systems in place. I have developed so much appreciation, respect, and love that I don't think I could've found anywhere else. Project Serve has not only humbled, but also empowered me. It has ignited me to come back with motivation, inspiration and feeling obligated to be an ally.
Chii-Miigwetch Neyaashiinigmiing :') (Thank you very much, Nawash)
Baamaapii miinwaa kaawaabmin, (Later, again, I will see you) ((there is no goodbye in the Ojibwe language))
Below are just some of the many (not enough XP) pictures that I took on my trip! :')
To summarize the pictures - we had painting, beading and dreamcatcher-making adventures; I attended board meetings and learned about opioid overdoses and got to see their Nalaxone spray; I made a felt REDress girl for the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women campaign at the Language Nest; my housemate Janna and I made our vegan home-cooked breakfasts, lunches and dinners together; we took walks and hikes around their nature and found cool rocks (amongst other cool things :'D); we got to visit the Nawash Fire Department and try on their firefighting suits; and I got to learn the basics of the history of the Chippewas of Nawash through an illustrated comic.
And while pictures can say a thousand words, no words can really express what happened there :')))
If you have any questions about my trip, Project Serve in general, or anything in between -- you're more than welcome to ask! :'D I'm just a message away 😌
I encourage you to learn more about Nawash, indigenous history and culture, and where you stand in this multifaceted (and issues-filled) relationship. I encourage you to learn about the First Nations communities near you, and how you can be an ally in the capacities you can give.
Here are some resources for more information:
Chippewas of Nawash Unceded First Nations - Official Website
Project Serve Reading Week (Now Catalyst Experiences) information
Video on the Project Serve Nawash Program (from 2019)
I'm also a part of Earth Song Alliance, a new non-for-profit organization that aims to bridge the relationships between indigenous and non-indigenous people 😌 Learn more about them here: https://www.instagram.com/earthsongalliance/
Some books that I'd recommend:
📗 "Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants" by Robin Wall Kimmerer
📗 "The Inconvenient Indian" by Thomas King
📗 "The Illustrated History of the Chippewas of Nawash" by Polly Keeshig-Tobias
Thanks for reading, dear friends -- it means so much. :')
Until next time - baamaapii miinwaa kaawaabmin,