I have been thinking a lot about rivers. Of the movement of rivers. About the marks that rivers leave on the landscape. I have been reflecting on the ways rivers connect people, places, and things. Of the way that rivers can carry us somewhere; somewhere new, somewhere that we need to get to.
As the newest member of the Creative Conciliations team, I write this post as both an introduction to myself (for further work see, http://www.ajacketfullofstories.com/) and to my own ruminations concerning my position as a Settler Canadian in the current post-TRC atmosphere of reconciliation research and arts-based practice. I grew up primarily in the Prairies, where the Bow and Elbow Rivers cross, in Treaty 7 territory. In the language of the Niitsitapi, one of several Indigenous groups to occupy the area now known as southern Alberta, this is the crossing of the Makhabn and the Moh-kíns-tsis-aká-piyoyis. In my own journey to better understand the history of these lands, I am motivated to try to learn the names of these rivers and their relevance to the Indigenous communities on whose territories they pass through. It seems to me, that knowing these names is a small, personal act of reconciliation, and it feels right to want to learn. And so, I am going with this feeling.
As part of work with this collective, I recently spent time in Treaty 6 territory celebrating Métis history and culture through events held at the University of Alberta organized by Creative Conciliations members Keavy Martin and David Garneau. During the prepping for the evening events, I spent time helping Joseph Naytowhow and Cheryl L’Hirondelle bundle buffalo sage for use in their installation Light Tipi: yahkâskwan mîkiwahp (see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dZmcbEA1Q9Y ). As I sat in a gymnasium on a Friday night learning how to bundle sage, I also found myself sharing stories about Cree and Métis culture. We talked about creating art, about the process of writing, the travels we have taken, and our shared connection of having all grown up or spent significant time in the Prairies. Here, we spent time connecting over the land. Joseph told me to take a bundle as thanks for helping him. I have gifted this bundle to my wonderful Cree friend in Victoria who has been having a hard time so she may receive the good medicine that it intends.
As I reflect on my time spent near the North Saskatchewan River, part of larger body of water known in the Cree language as the Kisiskatchewani Sipi, or “swift-flowing river”, I can’t help but think, how lucky I am. How lucky I am that my job includes sharing stories, bundling sage, listening to beautiful music and poetry from young Indigenous students from the U of A, and then, creating a Light Tipi under the Northern Lights. It seems to me that sharing space together is part of reconciliation and it feels right to want to share. And so, I am going with this feeling.
I have been thinking about how the work of reconciliation in Canada is much like the flow of a river. This work can be frightening, and dark. It can lead us down a path that is unknown; perhaps feared. The pace can at times be fast, rocky, and confusing or, conversely, slow, and frustrating. But the pace, much like the pace of a river, can also be gentle; a pace that lets us take in the beauty of the land as we pass along the waters together into a new place. Rivers— like reconciliation— can make us feel. And so, I remain thankful for the time I will spend throughout this coming year with my fellow research collaborators where together, we can watch the water pass. Or maybe, we might jump right in the rapids and see what new teachings, new challenges, and new ways of being together the rivers bring us. It seems to me that taking a chance together is part of reconciliation, and it feels right to want to try. And so, I am going with this feeling.