Below is an article I wrote for Shameless Magazine, and was included in their independence issue (Autumn 2016).
Endaayaan – My home
Why Land Matters
Take a look down every now and then, to the concrete around you; And look at the cement beneath your feet. It’s a little odd, isn’t it? Concrete is itself stone; crushed, reformed, mixed in with other larger bodies, and laid down in liquid form. Then it hardens, holding on to a single property it had (hardness), yet wholly different. It’s funny how even the land upon which most of us stand is displaced, shaken up, and reformed into something it’s not.
This is in a way how we are as people. We too, are often removed from our homelands, shaken up with others and placed down in different form. And the expectation is that perhaps we will harden this way, and never change.
But that is not who we are. We cannot be re-formed into another image of ourselves and kept that way.
In light of this, I ask all of you: Who are we?
Is it that we are a product of our families, and how we become a confluence of our parents’, siblings’ and Aunties’ expressions, opinions, and beliefs? Perhaps.
Are our identities then a product of our unique experiences? Are we a product of ourselves then? Is the shape of our being pounded into existence by our interactions with the outside world? Really?
When someone is asked who they are, surely there’s enough material out there to point to. There are countless identities that a person can fit into, and the limit of that identity is truly what they feel fits their own perspective. I myself can say I am Aboriginal, Canadian, An Albertan, Queer, Two-Spirit, a Man, An outreach Worker, a Writer, a Teacher, and a Storyteller. All of them are true in that all of them bear some form of truth for me, and my sense of identity. Any person could now write my Bio, and include any one of these titles, touching a small semblance of truth in any one of them. But would that person know everything about me, and know the full sense of my identity? No.
I am far more than label, any statistics Canada categorization, and I am most certainly larger than any box that can be made for me. This is because every event I’ve experienced, every story I’ve ever heard, and every person I’ve ever met is a part of me. They are all parts of me that will never leave. Conversely, every event, person, and story retains a piece of me. These are the footprints that I leave wherever I’ve been.
In this, the land on which I stand also bears some of the memories of my existence. Wherever I’ve been, the context of the world I’ve experienced are a cardinal point in my existence. Where I felt my first kiss is as important to me as the feelings my lips translated for me. The house in which my father and I reconciled is as important to me as the work it took for us to see past our differences. The house I spoke of held my tears, my happiness, and all the anxieties I felt when imagining the man I was about to become. In this, places are sacred to all of us.
Now, if you take such places away from me, a small part of those beautiful memories die. And when you take a piece of memory, the foundation of that memory becomes a little shaky. It is the same as if you take the forest away from a person and replaced it all with concrete. You remove their world, their understanding of place, and you remove part of who they are. We are lost.
This is why I am afraid. I am afraid because there are youth in our country (particularly in the north) who are fighting to keep this vital sense of who they are. The lands on which generations before them lived are changing, being removed, or even being destroyed faster than they can adjust.
I am writing about Youth like those in Grassy Narrows, who stood in front of the Ontario Legislature Toronto on June 2, 2016 to raise awareness around the Mercury poisoning in their river.
I am also writing of the youth in Attawapiskat, who – like those in Grassy Narrows are calling on whomever they can to help them reverse the rise of Suicide attempts and Suicide ideation in their communities.
I am writing about the youth of Iqaluit, whose world was thrown into turmoil by a forced relocation, and the decimation of their culture.
I am also writing of the countless other youth on reserves, and in the North who fight the same battles, but whom Canadians are not yet aware.
I am writing for every Indigenous youth who fights to survive in a world who’s concept of culture looks nothing like the land they – and their ancestors – grew up on.
I am writing for every person who seeks to protect what they have. Their land. The sacred place on which their culture, memories, families, friends, and entire world is meant to thrive.
In this, it’s my hope that all Canadians can pay attention to the lands our youth hold sacred. They are not stones to be crushed, mixed, and reformed into something hard. They are people – and they have the right to thrive in a place they hold in their hearts, a land that holds them and their memories sacred.