The Virtual Talking Stick: Reflections on Apaji-wla’matulinej Women’s Gathering

May 2017

Apaji-wla’matulinej – When a Mi’Kmaq speaker translates this word for non-speakers, they always use their hands to show a turning over and speak of how it means returning to the right way of being, right relations. And as always there is a loss in translation as the depth of the meaning is hard to describe in English. In our four-day gathering near Elsipogtog on unceded Mi’Kmaq land, we saw it become reality.

We began with a Pipe Ceremony and a welcoming to this territory by Josie Augustine. She told us this work is long overdue, that the ancestors were happy we were doing this work and that it must continue. And that it will continue to grow and bring healing. We talked of how healing the women, heals the families and then the communities, bringing things back to right relations.

As we spent time together, we continued to listen, and be guided by Creator. And our trust grew. We each became more present. There was a beautiful, gentle opening and sharing of who we truly are as human beings.

The reflection below are a “virtual” talking circle shared through emails.

Greetings everyone.

As I hold the Talking Stick, I am reflecting on our time together.

As a woman who has been sitting in Circles for some time, one of the things that stood out for me is that the topics of concern for women is also moving through the circle.  Elders and youth have been the main topics of concern for some years now. This time it was on men. I am not sure why I was surprised by this.  Perhaps it is because there are huge gaps in services for men and so I have felt quite isolated in my work with them.   I was so grateful to be surrounded by women for  four days.  It is so nurturing and helps to give me the balance I needed to continue to do my work with men.  I think that in today’s fast paced world and with so many community concerns, that often we do feel isolated from each other.  I think too that perhaps because we often are existing in survival mode, we can’t always see the bigger picture.  That changes when we are able to gather together.  We are surprised and impressed at what others are doing, and that validates everyone.  As we begin to move back into our natural rhythm together, we also get the opportunity to realize how separate we have become from the original instructions of the land.

I went into the gathering wondering how I could manage to be away from everything that depends on my for four days.  Now i am wondering how it could have been as impactful to me if it was less than that.  It takes that long to decompress and to really move back into the rhythm that sustains us – that is life giving.  i feel stronger now since the gathering and wish to thank all the amazing women and the wisdom of those who realized how life-giving women who gather really are.

Welalio,

Cathy Gerrior

Participating in the gathering has deepened the urgency with which I do my work. Observing Trudeau’s government slither away last week from 6(1)a All The Way, an amendment which would have recognized Canadian Indigenous women as equal to Canadian Indigenous men under the Indian Act, brings home to me again that the colonial state is determined to lower the number of Indigenous women wherever it can, as a way of slowly assimilating First Nations people.

Right now, bringing scholarly attention to the central role of women in many Canadian Indigenous cultures is my contribution towards change in this country. I don’t know where it will lead, but I know that for mainstream society and elsewhere, having knowledge recognized and
documented in a formal way is respected and may be influential.

Personally, I came away from the gathering strengthened and inspired, and feeling deeply grateful for your warm welcome.

Miigwetch
Linnéa

I pass on the Talking Stick…

Being part of Apaji Wla’multulinej gathering at Richibucto Resort, was amazing. The stories of truth, struggles and inspirations filled the room with a spirit and the heart of one being in the four days we enjoyed together.

The women’s experiences and lives became entwined with each other’s stories, which brought an air of strength, courage, familiarity  and hope for a better tomorrow. The children’s laughter and footsteps as they came into the room and the sound of healthy crying from one amazing little gift from Creator, brought our women to attention with a smile, the baby’s fine, just waken up.

For me, when I got home having the opportunity to sit back and contemplate, left me with peace, happiness and a full heart of great memories. Two young Sisters shared the love of family and not to take family for granted stood out to me. It left me with an amazing feeling of unconditional love for my family and reflecting with memories of special moments with them. I expressed to my children, grandchildren, family and friends, how dear they are to me and I am blessed to have them in my life. Yes, it is important not to take your family for granted. They could be there one day and then gone the next.

I would like to thank each and every person who made this event possible. A special thanks to all the women who attended, you were all awesome thank you for allowing me to be part of your circle.

Much love, peace and acknowledgement.

Marilyn Standing Bear Francis

I have to say, it took me a while to allow myself the honor of being “in” the circle.  I hold such great respect for all the beautiful women I was so privileged to meet.  I look forward to the teachings ahead and will carry all that I have learned to every table I sit at.

Donna Smith, Tearmen House Shelter

What an amazing time…the organizers did a terrific job of pulling together a great combination of people, issues, and time together.

Gathering among women was much needed for all who made it.  It felt like a homecoming. The mix of participants was so important.  Listening to some women speak the truths of their painful experiences for the first time, in the same circle where we heard about initiatives addressing those violent conditions that are led by local Indigenous women, as well as learning of the international work being done on matricultural societies was incredibly visionary.  It gave us the necessary connections among the strands of the lived experiences, the capacity to build community woman based responses, and the global Indigenous societies that have been offering distinct social structures for centuries.

As a settler woman, I felt warmly welcomed, and supported.  As we agreed the first night, we were to spend the time with each other ‘being accepted unconditionally for who we are, as we are’.  This enabled those of us with different views and experiences to treat each other with respect and support.

In our evening activity, being taught how to weave a basket gave us the right image:  we started the basics of a basket, but did not have time to finish them.  We agreed that was what happened in those four days – we wove the beginnings of our community together.

How the weaving was taught reflected how the circles of women worked during our time together.  I do not have good eye hand coordination skills, and usually avoid such activities. This time, sitting with others who had a variety of ability to make a good looking basket gave me a sense that we were all accepted as we are, yet were encouraged to do better to build the best basket we could.  This was done by learning from a skilled patient Indigenous woman teacher.  We sat waiting for instructions, building caring community as we learned what to do next, being corrected and supported at the same time.   This was how the whole 4 days went – those from the community with the skills and knowledge leading the rest of us in such a variety of different aspects of supporting women.  Each of us had strengths that were highlighted at one point or another.  The leaders did a great job of weaving us into a basket. The objectives were achieved at our gathering.

We witnessed and experienced a model of women’s way of being.  It was a very empowering confirmation that we can find our way to using this experience in our lives after.  I have shared the incredible depth of care and support I felt and was able to give, with many others since. My gift of non-touch healing was accepted and appreciated in a deeper way than I’ve ever experienced.

The discussions I have had with others since the event have led to me becoming clearer about what it was I experienced, and how it affected me. Their questions and interest make it clear that the impact of the event will continue to have ripple effects.

I continue to reflect on the intricate interweaving of relationships that developed there.  Intense listening, responding, and learning led to deepening understanding and care as the event progressed.

Penni Burrell

As I think back on our gathering, I am in awe! I am in awe and humbled by how the Creator directed us all. It was such a gift to be shown how life should be. We were shown how when we open ourselves up as one hurt human to another, we learn how to support each other. We learn how to trust and how to share our gifts with each other. And each gift shared, helped someone else in the circle – whether it was dancing to a rock song to release the tension, or standing beside someone as they shared deep pain or sharing a Sacred song or an ancient craft. We shared our hearts, minds and spirit.

How has it changed me? How has it changed the way I do my work? I trust myself more. The inside my mind doubting self-talk has decreased and when it pops up, I replace it with faith and trust. I also see more clearly the link between healing and empowering women and healing and empowering men and our communities. I speak my truth much more often and am also mindful when to just listen. My hope has grown as I have witnessed the power of women to make changes in ourselves and I know this will continue and we will make healthy changes in our communities and the world.

Ishbel Munro

This gathering gave us a glimpse of the longhouse way of life. I am longing for the rituals that help us practice the longhouse way of life. Apaji-wla’matulinej – to build trust healing, celebrating ourselves and model women-centered ways of being We are wrapping each other in the healing blankets and love them to remind them who they are.

Miiga’magan

Thoughts from the closing circle below as the talking stick was passed:

It was an Amazing and Awesome gathering of love, strength and courage for Sisterhood & families. Welalioq

Where’s the hope? This is the hope, in gatherings like this – there’s no other space like it

Learning how to trust again

I’m allowed to be myself

Find ways of being more present to what’s happening around me and open to hearing what’s happening around me

It changes the way you see the world, being here

It’s a blessing to be amongst such powerful women

It makes me feel stronger because all of you are out there doing the same kind of work

It can get really lonely to do this work, when you’re called on to lead

Nobody listens when you have a need, they want you to fix their stuff

I witnessed healing within myself and others, I’m taking away teachings

This is what it’s going to take to restore our relationships as indigenous women – 500 years of colonization

The Power of Collective Strength

By Louise Pozdzik

Sometimes sharing stories of others who have faced their own challenges stresses the importance of sharing those stories to improve our collective human experience. Being courageous is only half the battle. You have to keep going. You have to persevere. And you must be aware that you are not in this alone. Being human is both singular and plural – I am human and we are human. Though we are, each of us, more! Talking and listening to each others’ stories can be the antidote to fear associated with this journey, and the key to creating genuine understanding and empathy of our joint experiences.

Women are a source of strength, of power, of influence. Yet, many do not understand their own ability to tap into the Inner Strength.

While listening to or reading inspiring stories may be an uplifting experience for a time for some, the stories are not enough on their own to motivate. Making the conscious choice to accept and pursue a challenge that is staring you in the face requires commitment. Excitement is a key ingredient in commitment, motivation and success. Success in facing challenges is diminished when fear is overwhelmingly present. Fear comes from childhood conditioning, societal and educational conditioning, messages from the false belief systems that we have held throughout our lives which tell us that we are not good enough, that we are not enough, that we will fail.

Desperation to survive, to protect and to provide for ourselves or our children, is often the motivator for change in a situation. After many failed attempts to face severe life challenges, I acknowledged and accepted that I am never alone, help is only a prayer away. I stay open to whatever and whomever arrives as a response. I am not advocating any religious practices. What I am saying is that sincere prayer produces miracles often in ways that we could not even imagine. Now on to my personal story, which has changed from the way I used to tell it as I consider myself Victorious rather than a victim.

In 1982 my husband was unemployed and attending therapy with the Workmen’s Compensation Board so our income was severely reduced. Not accustomed to being unemployed and at home on the farm with us, he was miserable and abusive towards our three children and myself.

Before driving to work as a camp attendant, I dropped him off at the bus terminal in the local town so that he could attend his appointment in Edmonton for physiotherapy. He was going to come home that same evening, though I didn’t receive a call from him to be picked up. Days passed and still no word from him. I continued to go to work at the nearby construction camp where I assisted the cook in meal prep, baking and cleaned the men’s rooms. One of the men was conscientious and always put down newspapers at the entrance to his room. Every day I picked up the carefully placed papers without taking the time to read anything in them. This day was different. The name Pozdzik in the Edmonton Sun caught my eye so I read … He had been picked up by the police and was in the Remand Centre after having been charged with theft of a vehicle, threatening a taxi driver with a dangerous weapon and resisting arrest. I was stunned!

He was sentenced to 2+, a federal sentence, and was sent to Drumheller, a maximum security institution. I managed to get focused and completed all of the tasks required of me in camp and drove home thinking, “O God, now what am I going to do?” That night I stayed up all night and prayed. At 7 am, my brother-in-law phoned me and asked if I would consider being a hotshot driver! After hearing all of the details I said, “YES!”

As I only had a small car, I knew that I would require a pickup truck so I called the owner of a vehicle dealership and arranged to have a suitable vehicle delivered to the local town. Joe told me not to worry about financing and to just go to the bank and make arrangements and then let him know.

Brian, the bank manager, had no problem giving me the credit without a down payment as he knew me well. Everything just fell into place!

The next day I received a call from an engineer on a rig nearby who had been in contact with my brother-in-law. I drove to the rig and was put on ‘standby’ for the next 24 hours. They had lost the bit in the hole and the roughnecks had to go ‘fishing’ for it. I earned enough to pay for the pick-up that time! During that time on ‘standby,’ my father-in-law had my truck outfitted with an ax secured behind the driver’s seat, a set of tire chains that he had bargained with a neighbour for, a shovel and a fire extinguisher. A few days later I was on my way to Calgary with my first core samples. From that day on, I was kept busy by three engineers in the area. My children and I never lacked for anything in the two and a half years that my then husband was in jail. We even enjoyed a shopping spree and a holiday!

On my own, I would have been challenged to arrange all that had to be done in order for me to prepare for the job. My prayers and constant gratitude started the ball rolling and kept bringing me the people that fit into the divine plan … Collective Strength! To my amazement, all of the people were men … Gary, Joe, Brian, Dad, George, Eugene and the three engineers. More, two years after X was released from incarceration, I filed for divorce, left the farm and began to move forward in my life.