We Should have Done this a Long Time Ago

 
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You know we love words.

But there are times in life when they just don’t feel like enough.

Insufficient. Inadequate. Sorely Lacking.

If you’ve been at an event in a university or community center in the last few years, you’ve probably heard the host do a land acknowledgement which was so flat, stilted and scripted, it felt more colonialism like than progress. Those are the kind of words I’m talking about.

If you’re not sure what I mean, no prob, just hop over here for a sec.

I’ve been thinking for many years about doing a land acknowledgement at Firefly, but I’ve never wanted it to feel like I’m just ticking off a politically correct box. I thought — this needs to be grounded in actions, activism, advocacy. It can’t just be words. I need to start elsewhere.

But the “starting elsewhere” part wasn’t happening. For years I talked about it, thought about it, wondered how. I felt bad, promised to get organized next month, and kept going. I was incredibly busy keeping Firefly’s lights on, and I was wary of my whiteness, what my friend Paul calls, “the history of intrusion.” I didn’t know how to start.

Then people started to challenge me. This studio, do I know whose land it’s on? Am I aware of the layers of pain and injustice under my feet? And I felt it, right behind my ribs, every time. Pain. Not doing anything about this hurt. It still felt like we needed to take action first, but taking action somehow kept stalled me. So it kept hurting.

Then something turned. I don’t know what. Maybe it was Colten Boushie and Tina Fontaine’s heartbreaking lack of justice in the legal system this winter. Maybe it was just my soul catching up with my brain. It just landed — when something matters this much, we need to move towards it, even if our steps feel clumsy.

And — holy shit, it’s not about me. While whatever waves of fear and overthinking were crashing over my little brain, Indigenous people were continuing to face inexplicable challenges at the hands of colonialism year after year, challenges I have no lived category for. Was I actually standing in the way of acknowledging that because I didn’t think I’d done enough volunteer work?

That is some white fragility. (If that’s a new term and you want to dive in, there’s another little newsletter pop-out here.)

We finally made the change. Now, at events and before our retreats and on the first day of workshops, we pause to acknowledge the Indigenous people whose land we’re on, the injustices in the way that land was taken, and the long struggle they have faced in the wake of colonialism, forced assimilation and racism. We also acknowledge their incredible survival and resilience, and the fact that this isn’t history, this is here and now and we all have a stake in undoing it. We acknowledge our gratitude to be able to do our work here, but also that gratitude isn’t enough.

It can be awkward. Like — how do I not talk about this all night? How are we not all weeping? We practice it as a team. We cry. We lose the thread. That’s okay. This doesn’t fit neatly into a box or a paragraph, and it shouldn’t. It is clumsy. It’s not just words. But, like Terry Swan, the Indigenous woman and beloved Firefly who helped us craft our acknowledgements told me, “It’s the very beginning of a long conversation that settlers and Indigenous people need to have.”

I’m remembering now that words are a lot like footsteps, or cells. Tiny, but one after another, they have a way of building. Since we started doing this a few months ago, I’ve been approached by three people with connections to Indigenous organizations where we may be able to offer our work in meaningful ways. We are honoured. And we’re taking careful, thoughtful steps towards that work. We’ll keep you posted.

Would you like to read what we created? It’s on our website. We took advantage of the medium to include resources and readings if you want to go deeper. We know this is sensitive. Everyone acknowledging land will do it in their own way. Right now, this is ours. If you have thoughts, ideas, complaints, anything, be in touch — we’re always learning, always listening.

Click here to give it a read.

Chris Fraser