This poem was written during the Righting Relations Central Regional Gathering in Treaty 18, Mono, Ontario, Nov 24-26, 2017.
From many different homelands, 35 change-makers from across Ontario, who use transformative/adult education processes for radical social change gathered for two days along a spring-fed stream, flowing from the rolling hills of the Hockley Valley. We are leaders, equity facilitators, mothers, sisters, aunties, grandmas, activists, organizers, artists, people of Immigrant and Indigenous ancestry to Turtle Island. We came together as the Righting Relations Central Regional Network to explore our identities, solidarities, the impacts of colonization, creative and collective care and rebuilding our connection to the land.
We sang songs and convened with our ancestors, we listened to each other’s stories, we shared pieces of our histories, struggles, questions, and yearnings to find home. Who Am I? Deeply listening to each other’s stories in circle, we were able to understand ourselves better, for each one of us holds a piece of the collective story of disconnection, displacement, colonization, resistance, resilience, seeking, longing and reconnection.
We were able to remove a mask, and witness each other with open hearts.
We are so different. And yet, so similar.
We experienced an Indigenous way of sharing through a talking circle, where time slows down and everyone is given equal space to share their truth. And then we experienced another model, a Western approach to dialogue – popcorn style, hands raised in the air to speak – and time sped up. It became harder to process what was being said, and harder to listen as we crafted our responses to people’s points as they spoke…
Having these two experiences back to back was profound as we could see more clearly the impacts of different approaches to hosting conversation. How do we want to hold space for dialogue? What kind of conversation do we want to have? Juxtaposing an Indigenous and Western way, side by side was good information for us to have as we move forward.
We spent time connecting to the land and Earth wisdom. We listened…
Now, how do we want to walk together? How do we nurture our network of relations?
This is what we saw:
We come together again and again, we learn more about one another, we map ourselves in the web of our Righting Relations network so we can each connect to one another and collaborate.
We continue having generative dialogue, in person and online, reflecting together and supporting one another.
We continue to do the inner work of decolonization and unpacking white privilege.
We show up as allies to one another and our communities’ events and struggles. We advocate.
We widen the circle and invite new people in.
Thank you to each person who is walking this path with us. We are truly inspired and humbled by your beauty and strength. Let us continue to walk side by side, learning, unlearning, reconnecting and making this world more whole and just for the present and future generations to come. We make the road by walking.
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.