The other night, for the first time in a very long time, I witnessed a topic being approached from the heart and it was so liberating and one of the most beautiful things I have participated in such a long time. There was honesty and truth, a sense of community that is lacking so much in our lives these days, and much more behind the words I heard that night than any scientific evidence could ever do to convinced me of the need to uphold environmental and social justice. They have tried to turn off our feelings and tell us there is no place for them in a rational, scientific world. Therein lies our apathy and our struggle.
From my education I have been academically trained to be able to present fair and unbiased information, to look at all sides and evidence that pertains to a particular issue, leaving my opinion out unless otherwise asked for. I have been trained to do this and this is what is desired, this is what is acceptable to have any bearing, meaning or justification in academic and/or professional arenas … feelings are reduced to nothing, having no importance, and are irrational. And that is a sad thing, emotionally speaking.
Bear River First Nation held an Idle No More circle and I was unaware of what to expect when my friends and I arrived. You could sense a feeling of curiosity at who were were and could tell it was unexpected for us to have shown up, but we were welcomed immediately by one of the women. Still, we were unsure if we were welcome, but when asked if it was okay we were reassured that the circle was open to non community members as well.
The circle got under way around 7:30 pm and my friends and I found some seats. Still uncertain of how things were going to proceed I began to realize it wasn’t going to be what I originally thought. And it far exceeded my expectations. I think I imagined some form of the general protest or debate that typically goes along with such movements; a few main leaders talking while others listened and mingled. But it was as far from that as one can imagine. The lady who graciously welcomed us informed me that they do everything in a clockwise fashion and since I had unknowningly sat myself next to the chief, I would be speaking first after him. Great, I thought. The chief explained that we would pass the talking stick around and whoever had the stick was the only one allowed to speak and everyone else must only listen. The person with the stick can say whatever they like, sing, tell a story or just be silent; it is up to them. As I wasn’t sure of what I was suppose to say or what the whole thing was really about, I just introduced myself and roughly said I supported the movement and wanted to show that support and came to listen to everyone else and learn what they thought about it.
As the stick made it’s way to others it became clear these people felt wronged whether they were native or non-native Canadians. They were frustrated, had questions about how to participate in the movement as Bear River First Nation, and many of the stories told were their personal reasons as to why they wanted to be a part of and support Idle No More. This became very emotional for me and I found myself on the verge of tears many times and in two instances I did cry. At the time, I could not fully give words to why I felt such strong emotion which lead me to cry in front of many complete strangers and that I felt okay in doing so. But when I returned home I was able to reflect and put more words to it. And there turned out to be many reasons why I felt such emotion.
For one, I think after so many years of trying to tell others about the injustices happening around the world to people and their environment and battling arguments to why I even cared and quips of ‘that’s just the way it is,’ this was finally a time for me to listen, see, feel and hear that there are other people who feel down into their very being the pain and injustice of watching these things unfurl. The spirit of those people in that room moved me to tears and near silence when it was my turn to speak a second time. I can be a very opinionated person and I like to talk and share the things I’ve learn and cared about, but that night it wasn’t the place for me to share my knowledge of poor governance, rights’ abuse, corporate greed, and environmental harm; it was a place of real solidarity for me and I place I felt comfortable expressing my tears and pain of the injustice I feel, see and carry daily, and the weight I place upon myself to make the world a fair and safe place for everyone here and in the future.
Another reason came from the simple concept of the talking stick. We use to use this in the classroom as children, but I never realized that it’s effect can be unmeasurable. The lack of hierarchy and the complete acceptance of everyone present was something I’m not sure I’ve often experienced; real egalitarianism. The respect and compassion everyone had for each other was also just as amazing. I have done my fair share of travelling, been in many classrooms and many more discussions, and it is not often enough that people are truly non-judgemental and are not waiting for the other person to finish their sentence just to come back and combat what the other person has said (without even really listening to what has come out of their mouth). Each person was willing and did really listen to one another. Many, many days I have had the feeling that the words coming out of my mouth are not really being listened to, even by those who support me. And that is exhausting and frustrating and leaves me feeling like I am fighting these battles alone, or with faceless authors of articles and writings that support or believe what I do. But in that circle I became exhausted for a different reason; I was trying to not let the flood gates go because the sense of liberation I felt, the validation of my feelings, an “oh thank god this isn’t for nothing, these beliefs I have are important to other people in the fundamental way I feel them, these other people are struggling too.” Struggling to find the answers to why our government and companies are behaving the way they do, why people are being treated so unjustly, why our earth is pillaged, why so many people fail to care enough to want a real change, and how can we ourselves can go about to make change when we are a part of this complex system of ‘human progress’?
Idle No More, Halifax
Furthermore, after participating in “university level” discussion, interviewing government and business representatives you begin to hear these storylines, the same things phrased differently. So much so that you almost know what is going to be said. But that night I heard real stories; personal stories that highlighted why the movement has come into being in the first place. At it’s heart it is not about fighting “evil corporations and corrupt government,” it is about ensuring that our earth is here and healthy enough for it to provide for us in order for us to survive and be healthy, happy individuals, families and communities. These people all knew first hand what it is like to be in nature and work with nature to provide a livelihood. Many people today sadly do not know that connection. These were stories from the heart, not the brain. I think that is what moved me the most and overwhelmed me so much when it came my turn to speak again. More tears came than words and I hope they expressed what I, at the time, could not. Everything I’ve written here so far.
People were asking ‘what’s next?’, ‘what do we do here with regard to this movement?’ and as one man said “all of the above.” For those who were unsure whether to go that night, and for those unsure to go in the future … the thing we can’t do is stop talking, stop learning and stop sharing. When we sit home, when we fail to participate, we will fail to achieve anything. That goes for all things in life. Unless we choose to participate in life, nothing will come of it. If we do not get out and sow our seed, nothing will be reaped. Idle No More is amazing to me because it is Canadian, and for so long we have been apathetic. Grassroots movements like Idle No More fight back against where our society has put us. The media, our failing educational system, and consumerism has sent us into our homes, separated us from our neighbours, separated us from nature, where TV and Internet entertainment have our attention (we listen to stories of reckless celebrities, sport athletes who are thousands and thousands of miles away, who do not know us or care for our stories). And when we do leave the confines of our homes we are buying things we are told we need (manufactured demand) rather than enjoying the simple pleasures of life that are free. We have an education system that produces obedient workers rather than critical thinkers willing to question the society they live in, while marginalizing and painting those critical thinkers as anarchists, radicals and even terrorists, so that those mainstream obeident workers come to fear and marginalize too, and support those who do not want to lose their spot of power in the hierarchy that exists. Which differed so much from the talking circle I participated in.
Idle No More, Halifax