Righting Relations Steering Committee member Ishbel Munro and National Program Facilitator Rehana Tejpar reflect on what we are learning about the power of storytelling for healing and social justice
Chippewas of Rama First Nation, May 18-21, 2017
by Rehana Tejpar
Righting Relations National Program Facilitator
Last month I had the honour and privilege of being invited to co-facilitate and participate in the 4Rs Youth Movement’s National Learning Community, on behalf of Righting Relations. Gathered in the territory of the Chippewas of Rama First Nation along the shores of Lake Couchiching, young Indigenous and non-Indigenous change-makers from across Turtle Island came together around the question: How do we hold meaningful and relevant conversations in our communities that lead us closer to reconciliation?
The National Learning Community is made up of pairs of young people from Yellowknives First Nation, Nanaimo (BC), Vancouver (BC), Oxford House First Nation (MB), Calgary (AB), Peguis First Nation (MB), Saskatoon (SK), Ottawa (ON), Nogojiwanong/Peterborough (ON), London (ON), Halifax (NS) and Nain (NF). Over the course of this year, with the support of 4Rs, they will be hosting conversations in and around their home communities on reconciliation.
The 4Rs Youth Movement (Respect, Reciprocity, Reconciliation, Relevance) is a collaborative, youth-led initiative seeking to change the country now known as Canada by changing the relationship between Indigenous and non-Indigenous young people.
The 4Rs has outlined their approach to cross-cultural dialogue in Seeding Reconciliation on Uneven Ground. Grounded in an earth-based metaphor, their practice is rooted in convening people from different cultures in face-to-face gatherings (on the land when possible), to have critical conversations and build deep relationships of trust.
What brought me into conversation with 4Rs were the striking similarities in the work and approach between 4Rs and Righting Relations. Common to both networks/movements is a centering of Indigenous knowledges and peoples, a participatory leadership model, the use of a popular education framework, a holistic approach to social change that welcomes the whole self – mind, body, heart and spirit, honouring the healing journey that this work of reconciliation requires as we move towards justice.
(Phoenix, Chippewa of the Thames, harvesting chaga)
The 4Rs has been playing with the use of Theatre of the Oppressed (TO) as a way to explore “big concepts” like reconciliation and decolonization. These words are thrown around, but how do we understand them, really? TO is a body-based approach and popular education methodology for exploring personal and collective struggles and pathways to liberation, which centers the body and people’s lived experience as the primary site of wisdom and transformation. Together with the National Learning Community I was invited to experiment with using TO to unpack the concepts of reconciliation and decolonization. As always, we had limited time, and these concepts are not big, they’re huge, multi-layered and complex. And yet we played with them a little bit through Image Theatre, and shone some light on what reconciliation and decolonization looks and feels like in the body, to us. Here are some insights we uncovered:
What does Reconciliation Look Like?
What do you see? Here’s what we saw:
What does decolonization look like?
(From left: Jermaine, Cheyenne, Evelisa. This is one of the many iterations of what decolonization looked like that day)
What do you see? Here’s what we saw
What does decolonization feel like?
What does it feel like to you? (really we would love to know, please share)
Being amongst young Indigenous and non-Indigenous leaders from across communities and nations on this land devoted to the work that reconnects us was truly inspiring. I witnessed Indigenous youth reaching within their cultural bundles and ancestral teachings for the medicine and strength to heal the wounds of colonization. I witnessed courage and resilience of the highest order. I witnessed the bravery of the human heart to heal and move forward in a good way. I listened to stories of colonization that enraged me. Rivers of tears flowed from the overwhelming sadness of perpetual and calculated genocide on these lands. I witnessed forgiveness and guilt. I became a bit closer to understanding what ally-ship means. I witnessed people stretching their eyes and minds open to make room for other, lesser-known realities. I witnessed deep listening. I witnessed people seeking to learn what we need in order to right relations and to unlearn what is holding us back. I witnessed love and opening. I witnessed, and I was witnessed. And for all of this I am humbled and grateful.
Thank you to everyone at 4Rs for all of your amazing work and for welcoming us on this learning journey with you. We wish you a year (and many more) of abundance, truth and opening on the road to reconciliation.
Rebecca Tabobodung, a member of the Wasauksing First Nation (Parry Island, Ontario), is a poet, activist, and filmmaker. She lives in Toronto. This poem appears in A Healing Journey for Us All, United Church of Canada, page 11.
4Rs National Learning Community, May 2017
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.
A reflection on the experience of the Righting Relations Southern Ontario Hub
By Rehana Tejpar
Where do the strong women go for support, when everyone goes to the strong women for support? They go to the other strong women – Righting Relations Eastern Hub Member
We came together today, each one of us carrying a bit of the world on our shoulders. As women and people across genders in Righting Relations, we often carry more responsibility than our bodies can hold. Today, our meeting began with many of us feeling overwhelmed with the weight of our responsibility to our children, elders, organizations and communities. “I’m tired. So tired.”
Many of us thought we couldn’t make it. Many of thought we couldn’t stay. And yet, we came. And we stayed.
We begin by a check in, and we breathe. We eat. We laugh. We cry.
And then…we organize!
Today we’re designing a workshop on Community Organizing and Popular Education to offer our community of practice of transformative/popular educators in Southern Ontario who work primarily with marginalized, immigrant and refugee communities. We listen, ask critical questions, give feedback, offer thoughts, tools, methodologies and design processes that can facilitate a deeper reflection on our praxis (theory + practice) and move our communities and our world towards greater justice. We are motivated by love and passion.
What does women-led look like? We’re learning as we go. It looks like people being able to show more of their whole selves, even the vulnerable parts, and be seen. It looks like uplifting each other’s ideas, and seeking to build upon them, rather than breaking them down. It looks like feeding one another, checking in, laughing, playing and sometimes crying. It looks like rigorous thought, critical action and hope. It looks like thinking about those who are most impacted by systems of oppression. It looks like doing the best we can, with what we have, even when it’s hard. It looks like doing it together.
It’s not everyday that we get the space to stop and reflect on our praxis and learn together, bringing our whole selves in. Righting Relations is becoming a sacred space that truly recognizes how much we need each other in order to be strategic and healthy in our work. And although it’s sometimes hardest to come when we most need the support…we are grateful for the space and the door held open for us to come.