Thought Residency: Lisa Cooke Ravensbergen

Thought Residency: Lisa Cooke Ravensbergen


We are generation gaps filling in what wasn’t passed down: “This Time will be better.” And with each “no more” and “this way now,” our communion of sound morphs into action. We send our defiance out into tiny circles that make up our world through the work of loving, forgiving, and art-making—all without knowing if or how it may land. In the gap of our isolation, we seek its antithesis: connection.


I’m on the road heading East. It’s bittersweet; I love the West but I’m also seeing people with bone structures and shades of skin that look more and more like me; it’s a homecoming. It’s another way of Knowing to move over land where ancestors made love, birthed, and died. Knowing is a migration, an arrival, a Mystery. It’s also a shedding… of the skin of the interloper and of the lie that Home doesn’t exist in shades of red.


A White-presenting man recently asked me if I knew who I was after he heard that I’m of mixed ancestry. This settler then told me who I was as an Indigenous woman (which is one of my favourite things, by the way). He was reassured that I already know who I am and more: he seemed to feel… affirmed.

It’s one thing to (re)claim something that’s been taken away by Another; it’s a completely different thing if that same Something’s been usurped by another part of one’s Self.


We’re quite small inside our potential. It’s humbling to be human, to be awake with no guarantees, armed only with stories we tell ourselves. Some of us dare to tell new stories. These few who speak what was once unfathomable, scootch closer to the latest version of the True(th). New stories defy what was; they inspirit Promise. To enact unfamiliar truths rings a bell; it harkens a new day.


When I picture decolonization, I see my father & uncles returning from their traplines. They’d burst in with a kind of joy that I now know was their childhood—before they were scooped up and the layers of their Darkness settled in. Remembering those dripping rabbit pelts, I know how it feels: we are all Food for someone’s heartbeat. We walk the veins of our bloodlines to where we were first snared and when our memories get caught in our teeth? We speak anyway.


When I listen to the echoes of the world… mostly, I hear lineage. I feel what’s been forgotten when I hold a tree close. For those of us born blurred between lines of colour and culture, we are its leaves dancing in the wind. We’re the chorus of a song our ancestors prayed—their story rooted somehow in us. Our bodies are our inheritance. A legacy of survival breathes through us. We are why our ancestors had Hope.


I met a stranger and discovered that we are deeply familiar to one another. Neither of us understand it but we both implicitly trust it—this Knowing. How little of the world I truly understand, Time being but one of many layers to my wanton ignorance. I wonder how close are we to an Other Life? To intimate knowledge of another? Are we always on the cusp of discovering that we are more than we think we are… were… can be?


I am tired. My heart is a little bent in places and I still don’t know what it means to have a Calling. I go to the river and I hold a stone in my hand. This smooth, ancient bone shard reminds me that I am soft and new and a visitor here. This is the way the land speaks—tender even when it burns. Ceremony is its poetry… each stanza an offer, waiting for something deeper than thought to notice, hoping its Call will wake us up.


We Anishinaabe think of knowledge as Teachings. We wait for our teachers to arrive. The purpose of all knowledge is to pass it on and those who are, are only Knowledge Keepers for a time.

My son’s arrival was lodged in me for years, but I only recognized that the feeling-he-had-been was gone long after he was born. I didn’t know he was coming. I didn’t know how much I needed his knowledge. He’s teaching me to be a Keeper and in this space, I’m learning to create.


There’s very little elegance when creating something from nothing. It’s gangly work to let go of expectation—to endure the growing pains of acceptance and the insufferable lack of clarity that sucks the marrow of your joy. It’s not until an exquisitely lucid moment of connection surprises you and what was a problem, a resentment, or a looming fiasco suddenly becomes a rite of passage.


I’ve been trained to hold the space—to fulfill my responsibilities by caring for community. But the older I get, the more I seem to fail at holding the space in a Good Way. And with each failure, I think I may be learning that the space is holding me and my failure… and my actual responsibility is to simply carry my fear, not wield it.


Today has been a study in humility. I am collaborating on a new piece, and I was reminded that to be inside my own questions is to be exceptionally open to other peoples’ answers.

Everything is about reorienting ourselves to the Thing (with a capital T) that we’ve lost, which is…the Land. And collaboration is a recall of sorts of what we live without, and how we fill it with what we hope might be more.



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About the Author

A tawny mix of Ojibwe/ Swampy Cree and English/ Irish, Lisa Cooke Ravensbergen is grateful to her Coast Salish relatives for hosting her in their territory for almost 25 years. She has worked across Canada with many theatre companies, establishing herself as a multi-disciplinary artist, creator and writer, Jessie nominated actor, dramaturge, director, and dancer. She supplements her somewhat eclectic and thoroughly enjoyable practice of theatre and community collaborations with the delights of motherhood and the challenges of self-produced works. She is an Associate Artist with Full Circle: First Nations Performance, a member of Literary Managers and Dramaturgs of the Americas as well as a graduate of TWU and SFU’s School for the Contemporary Arts. As a director, “Café Daughter” (Workshop West Playwrights’ Theatre) opened the Canada Scene Festival at the National Arts Centre in June and “Only Drunks and Children Tell The Truth” (a co-pro with Western Canada Theatre) opens at Thousand Islands Playhouse in August. She is a Playwright in Residence with Delinquent Theatre; her play, “The Seventh Fire” will receive a workshop production in 2018. Her recent performance as Johnny in Drew Hayden Taylor’s “God and the Indian” was praised by the Georgia Straight as “nothing short of stellar.”