After months of planning by a core group of First Nations and non-First Nations women, applications were received, in April, for the 2014 Nimis Kahpimotate trip. Participants were selected from a wide range of backgrounds, with two returnees from last year, thus adding to stability of the group. Excitement built as we met each other via emails. Sixteen women, ages 23-62, gathered at the group campsite at Anglin Lake in late May for a weekend of preparation.
“…the fusion of ages from the 20’s, 30’s, 40’s, 50’s and 60’s was lovely. We could be a sister, an auntie, a niece, a daughter, a grandmother and a mother in our group. It is representative of a family with various strengths and in diversity of phases in life…”
The weekend was full of fun, food, honest sharing, laughter, questions, canoe skill practice, safety and hypothermia training, gear demonstration, relationship building, TRC discussions, personal expectations and the anticipation of “really” embarking on this journey together.
“…it prepared me for the physical aspects and I greatly appreciated getting to know my sister paddlers. When we reunited in July it felt like getting together with good friends instead of strangers…”
The month of June was busy with gathering needed gear, completing the food drying, and numerous personal contacts to reassure new participants. The co-ordinating team also spent time contacting folks on the waiting list and accepting a couple of new, willing women when a few of the original participants were unable to go.
“…reconciliation through Sisterhood and vice-verse is on a much deeper level than most get the chance in life to do. When we come, we say we are open to whatever may come in this experience and that we are willing; we are opening ourselves to a deeper life experience…”
On Sat. July 19th, participants met in Saskatoon to complete the final packing and checking of gear. Early Sunday morning, fifteen excited women loaded up and headed north from Saskatoon with our trucks and canoe trailer. By late afternoon we had driven nearly five hundred kilometers and arrived at the dock at Missinipe on Otter Lake. Nervous energy bubbled as we loaded our seven canoes and one kayak, partnered up and prepared to paddle our first strokes.
“…I so appreciated our smudging ceremony prior to us traveling forward…”
After paddling five kilometers, we pulled up at our first campsite on a point. Tents were set, wood gathered, fire made and supper simmered as we began to settle into what was to be a wonderful week of shared living experience – both the physical actions of canoe tripping and the trust building of women opening themselves to the sacredness of one another and to the nurture of land, water and spirits.
“… the biggest hurdle for me was to trust 13 complete strangers out in the wilderness, with no way of contacting my own personal support system. That in itself was closest to my imagination of what my mother would have had to come to terms with when she was first taken to attend round lake school. I am truly grateful beyond belief that friendships were forged. Complete strangers came together in a unified mission of compassion and understanding about what has happened in our inclusive Canadian history…”
Our hearts, minds and bodies were challenged and filled with life-giving experiences throughout the week. Every day held an array of thoughts, feelings, observations, sensations, and learnings for each woman to absorb, as she was ready.
“… I celebrate the acceptance and love of a supportive circle when sharing what was deepest in my heart…”
“… being caught in the wind and waves and drifting right into my deepest wound… I was not afraid the canoe would capsize; it was the uncomfortable feelings of not feeling good enough, being out of control and looking stupid to the group that unearthed me…”
“… I learned that there are many women, not just First Nation women, who are deeply concerned about what happened to children in Indian Residential Schools and are active in their personal lives to ensure fairness, equity and kindness in the many aspects of their lives. This was comforting for me, as an inter-generational survivor of Residential School, to know that there were more allies out there on my team, making space for our voices, making places safe to share and to be supported by the group while processing my early childhood trauma…”
We shared a variety of paddling partners, camp chores, and delicious, home pre-dried meals. We canoed each day, sometimes in glass calm, sprinkling rain, or a stiff wind, gaining skills and confidence.
“… There was a balance of First Nation/Metis women and women from the dominant culture. Working from a paradigm of the circle vs a hierarchy, all voices were important, and all experiences were valid and respected without question and judgement…”
We moved to four different wilderness campsites, each with its own integrated character of rock, moss, forest and water. We spent a day by the beautiful Robertson Falls with a choice of an extended paddle with a hike to another set of falls.
“…Building on our physical strength, nourishing our bodies with healthy good food, clean air, clean water, out in nature, which is stress-reducing, surrounded by supportive women who were specially selected for the journey, to bring to light and share from the heart some of the damage families suffered caused by Residential Schools, is the best possible environment for healing…”
The mornings were blessed with fresh oranges, hearty granola, coffee and tea followed by greeting the day with body prayers, smudging, stretching and often a gift of song. We intentionally lived in the present moment, listening, feeling and watching the sights, sounds, and smells around us: majestic eagles, graceful herons, calling loons, fantastic pelicans, glowing sunsets, sparkling stars, fragile flowers, spongy moss, twisting trees, refreshing water, warm rocks, and curling campfire smoke. Plant medicines were picked and mint tea offered. Refreshing cool swims washed over us as we splashed and laughed. Sacred silence was held between us.
“… I loved the quiet one-to-one sharings that took place while filtering water or setting up a tent. I loved the sound of laughter echoing through the trees. I loved seeing the triumph on the face of a woman trying out the kayak for the first time, I loved the stories of people’s families and backgrounds, I loved the heart- felt sharing, the tears, and I loved the circles where each person was heard and respected and given the time they needed…”
Our days invited times for individual reflection and choice of activities such as sketching, felting, reading, napping, swimming, and friendship building in a non-threatening atmosphere. There were evenings of singing, laughter, tears and sharing circles with a focus of honored listening and storytelling. Many painful and honest experiences of the past and present were shared, within the framework of individual lives and cultural societal happenings, resulting from colonialism and residential schools.
“…healing from trauma on a personal, family, community and nation level takes great courage, strength and conviction. These are similar attributes required for a 6 day canoe journey. It was a perfect combination…”
Stories of rejection, abuse, discrimination, alcoholism, foster-parent homes, adoption, self-doubt, parenting, family dynamics, aspirations, pride, tradition, heritage, accomplishments, reconciliation actions and self-care were all listened to with deep respect and care.
“…a profound experience on many levels – physically I discovered that I am stronger than I thought, mentally I was more capable than I imagined, emotionally I was braver than I believed and spiritually I soared with the eagles…”
“…an opportunity to build relationships across the cultures. Old wounds heal and new friendships are born. A canoe trip is important to support women to go beyond what they think they are capable of, to discover they are not alone…”
At the end of the trip we recognized that the “paddling to reconciliation” journey of healing, growth, strength, understanding and friendship between First Nations and non-First Nations women was just beginning. The women spoke of a follow-up gathering, are actively in communication with each other and have had much more to say about the shared experience:
“…an excellent opportunity for people to learn about this land, and to develop an informed opinion of the place and how to care for it. A program like this allows access to new experiences that will better our ability to care for the land and one another. It is invaluable…”
“…I had fun, it challenged me. It has led me to other opportunities with another participant…” “…I didn’t want to come back, I wasn’t ready to…”
“… it has changed who I am and given me the confidence, knowledge and passion to discuss residential schools and other related issues…”
“ this is the growing edge of the Church and this is where we should be spending our time, money, skills and resources. To connect with fellow people and this land is a great gift, especially in such an open and spirit-filled way. While we continue to explore what it means as an institution to heal from the current and past crimes that have been committed in Jesus’ name, we need to return to Creation to safely break open and rebuild. As a current diaconal ministry student I am overjoyed to be a part of a Church that encourages lay-led initiatives like this, and I want to see such things continue and grow…”
“… I continue to share the experience, feel the experience and yearn for more of the ‘sisterhood’ we created. It has reminded me of the importance of my personal dreams, aside from work and family. It has opened another layer of awareness of my independence and interdependence on friendships that I need in my life…”
Respectfully submitted, Terry Harrison Sept. 2014