“I was one of the first people here and I’ve been trying to join the discussion for a while and its hard….I do not have the experience that everyone else here has. I have not been as thoroughly trained as every one else has but…I know what its like to not be able to speak to wait for other’s to say what they have they say but it hurts to be sitting at a table where everyone is supposed to be able to speak…and to not be able to speak. I’m the youth at the table I’m one of the youngest people here. I’ve struggled with trying to speak because I feel that I do not have the wisdom or the strength to be able to say what I have to say…and honestly I know that there are other people out there who want to speak from their heart, from their soul, but its hard because you want your elders, people who have experienced more, to speak. So you your either silent or you stumble through your words, and its just its harder than I thought…I’ve struggled a lot just to get ‘here’ and I don’t even know where ‘here’ is.
In the past year I’ve given up my home, my family so I can be here and it was a fluke that I got to join this discussion and to be with the incredible people who have fought for our right to be here and to learn from our elders and all our teachers and mentors. And it’s a gift that we’ve been able to stand here, but it comes with a difficulty it seems, because you don’t know how to contribute to the discussion that others have been in for years. It’s a divide between those who are joining, and those who have been here, and I can’t imagine what its like for them, because they’ve been waiting years to speak. I’ve just joined but I’ve been trying to speak since the beginning.”
Jesse Wabegijik The Study Student Participant
Jessie’s admission was a personally meaningful moment for me during the course of The Study/The Repast. There were many witnesses to his 90-minute struggle to find an opening for his voice at the table. And it was most poignant to watch respected Elder among artists and one of our ‘grandmothers’ Margo Kane take the honourable step of addressing it:
“There are a number of people who sit at this table and there is no space for them to speak. So I am concerned about that, and I would really like to hear from the people that have been here for a while, and ensure that we leave room for them to speak as well”.
This moment has stuck with me since. It is a metaphor of the reality of Indigenous peoples in Canada. We have been here since the beginning, constantly trying to find our seat at the table, yearning to have our voices heard because we have something to say.
During The Study the U.N released its report on Canada’s treatment of Aboriginal people highlighting the ‘crisis’ for our basic human rights. When I shared the news of the report with the participants, nobody seemed overtly surprised by the results: distressing socio-economic conditions, inadequate funding, over representation of Indigenous peoples in prisons, high rates of violence, missing and murdered women, exclusion of Indigenous peoples from effective participation in decisions that affect their lives. After all – we had just spent the week reading plays and discussing these very issues. Art reflects life, reflects art.
The day the study ended here on Manitoulin Island, an incident took place that reminded me of the reality of the ‘crisis’ in our communities and why the work we do is important. On Sunday, community members were lounging around outside the Holy Cross Mission Church, waiting for the Bishop to arrive to perform the Sacrament of Confirmation. In the murmur of the crowd, people were casually discussing a murder/homicide that took place Saturday night in the community. In an instant, we lost 4 young community members, the young man who lost his life and the three who will probably spend the rest of their lives in jail.
There is just something about all these juxtapositions that is twisting in my mind and heart and soul. On one hand, we have this historic gathering that I was still coming down from, and on the other hand, the horrific reminder of the truth of our reality that I may never get up from – mixed in with the ceremonial activities of the of the day and the arrival of the Bishop.
At the Summit, we are filled with inspiration as artists, creators, writers and educators, who have an enormous responsibility to move forward with as much in our bundle that was left for us that we can – and share it among our children and youth. Our strengths are regained, re-imagined, relived – by telling and hearing our stories. They tell us of our epic struggles overcome by unconditional love, our courage to overcome in the face of impossible odds; our respect for everything that lives, watches over us and dwells below us and our role, living precariously in between the two. We have been telling our stories since time immemorial.
As Canadians, it is no longer enough to explore and critique the art and expression of Indigenous people, while remaining ignorant of the multi-generational and systemic complicity in their life outcomes. We are at the dawn of a new frontier in our relationship and one that is filled with possibility. If we have the courage to use it wisely, we can change the path we have been on.
At Debajehmujig-Storytellers, we are dedicated to improving the quality of life for the Indigenous people of this land through the preservation and the telling of our stories. We are guided by our traditional teachings, which tell us that we are born with a purpose and a mission. We are uniquely gifted to be able to fulfill our purpose and we must each understand our relationship to the teachings, so that we become the best ancestors that we possibly can for “The Preservation of Humanity”. Every one of us needs to contribute in our own way.
The stories that come from this land must be told by the people of this land if we are to truly understand one another. As Indigenous people, we bring awareness to all Canadians – that there is and always has been, another way to experience and view the world. A worldview that has emerged out of our relationship to this land, to these animals, under these stars. We need places where Indigeneity can thrive in its most organic forms, free of settler narratives and directly connected to its foundations in our cultural history and in our geography.
From this foundation of clarity, a truly equitable sharing with other Canadians will offer each of us the opportunity to up-level our vision to include the richness of the other.