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