2015 Nimis Kahpimotate—Sister Journey—Intercultural Canoe Trip The 2015 Sister Journey, being the fourth year of the program, was initially designed as a “returnee” experience with the intention of building upon previous relationships and skills. Thus invitations were sent out during the winter months to all participants from the past years, with an indication that there might be space for a few newcomers within the group of women. Interest was strong and by March we had a base of returnees and many new inquiries from across Canada, with applications continuing to be received through May. We were delighted to receive inquiries from BC, Alberta, northern Manitoba, Toronto, northern Quebec and Saskatchewan from north (Southend) to south (Swift Current).
The core planning team selected fifteen women – a balance of individuals based on past participation/first-time experience, skill (novice to experienced , age (20s through 60s), as well as a couple on the back-up list. May 23rd, a beautiful warm Saturday, was a full day preparation involving canoe and safety skills at a local lake near Saskatoon. Paddling was followed by supper and an evening discussing gear, trip logistics, expectations and concerns.
“… the prep time was very helpful… paddling strokes… building canoe confidence… eating together… making connections with others…”
Although excitement was high, the group was not fully represented because we unfortunately had last minute cancellations that day, which left us uncertain as to who all would be coming on the trip.
“… life challenges, unexpected emergencies, unavoidable matters… all placed in Creator’s hands…”
Trip planning continued as we met further challenges of participants needing to withdraw due to various life circumstances, inviting new participants and bringing these women abreast of all the necessary details. Less than two weeks prior to the trip, there were ten women able to commit with only three of those being First Nations. The planning team tried to be sensitive to the fact that this was not the cultural balance that was intended and that we had strived for. Each woman was asked if they wished to go ahead with the trip experience, knowing the reduced numbers and the imbalance of First Nations and non-First Nations participants could change dynamics of the group. All responded with a definite “Yes”.
“… although ten was not the planned number, it was the perfect size to create a really cohesive group…”
Onwards we journeyed together……
On June 19th, we met in Saskatoon to complete the final packing. The following morning we headed north and east to beautiful Deschambeault Lake on the Hansen Lake Road. By 4:00 pm, we had four canoes and two kayaks loaded and the ten of us paddled a short distance to our first lovely wilderness campsite on low sloping rocks. Tents were set back in the moss with views of the lake and loons welcomed us as we relaxed eating supper. Chatting and laughter floated across the evening stillness. With stars twinkling above, some cuddled into their sleeping bags ready for sleep while others shared their excitement around the campfire.
“…I celebrate being women, connecting to all elements, all living things and honouring all relationships…”
It was an impressive first morning as the group had breakfast and packed up. All were keen to head out, stretching muscles and opening hearts and minds to the beauty and space that surrounded us. A strong day of paddling took us to a secluded high rocky point where we camped.
“…I absolutely loved and felt comfortable and connected on the water…”
During the next five days, the hot summer weather invited stimulating reading, playful swimming, successful fishing, restorative napping, respectful medicine picking and the building of new friendships. We shared camp chores and paddling partners.
“… women from different walks of life came together in a spirit of friendship and reconciliation. Openness, healing, potent possibility…”
The land, water and spirit held us as we risked sharing pains, personal challenges and troubling times in society within and across cultures in our focussed evening circle conversations. We celebrated steps of growth and actions of reconciliation while the soaring eagles provided signs of encouragement and persistence. The morning rituals of stretching, smudging and awakening to the quiet beauty gave pause for each woman to reflect inward and for the group to feel the interconnectedness of all our relations.
“… the organizing, the vision… the location was beautiful… the logistics easy… the food tasty… the intercultural relationship building was the most life-giving aspect of the trip for me and I look forward to the growth that comes with reflection on the trip itself. Greeting the day together, evening sharing circles… beautiful ways of cultivating an open, generous and reflective atmosphere…”
The voice of the wind, the rise of the waves and the life-giving rain showers provided yet another aspect of shared life in a wilderness setting. Some days we paddled four or five hours while other days we paddled only an hour… each day was varied finding us at a different camp spot.
“…I loved the ‘short’ first day to feel successful. The two long days were my limit… I was grateful to have two strong ‘stern’ women to paddle with… I was grateful for the safe and welcoming environment and opportunity for me with my limited skills and mobility…”
“… I appreciated the short paddling days – having so much time in the afternoon and evening was luxurious…”
One afternoon, most of the group chose to paddle across an expanse of water to a small waterfall, while a couple stayed and rested in the quiet of the campsite. There we sat on the edge of the waterfall and felt the power of the water coursing over the rocks. An unforgettable moment, for many, was sitting under a small section of the water in a natural shower being cleansed outside and in.
“…I was sitting under the waterfall shower with a thousand buffalo jumping on my shoulders…”
Throughout the week we engaged in many sharing circles. The challenge was put forth for us to review the very recently published recommendations from the Truth and Reconciliation Report which one of the women had thoughtfully brought along. Yes, all 94 of them! By the end of the week, most had chatted and thought about the recommendations. We discussed ones we might personally be able to become more involved in. We encouraged and supported each other in the ways that we are currently working towards positive relations and deepening understanding between FN and non FN people.
“… I appreciated the 94 recommendations, but most of the learning arrived through the sharing circles and individual conversations…”
Every woman expressed heart-filled gratitude and thanks for having had the opportunity to share in the intercultural canoe trip experience. Each was nourished and re-energized in some manner with ideas of how they might engage back in their home community.
“…Others want to take action… I am not alone. Healing is a community affair – we are all on a healing journey…”
The women cited many moments as unforgettable for them.
“… the waterfall… collecting medicine… kayaking… 5 sisters laughing in ‘dragonboat’ canoe… creating community… swimming… eagle in flight perching at our sharing circle… learning about the sixties scoop… presentation of the talking stick…”
Each participant gave voice to appreciating the myriad of challenges involved in this type of intercultural wilderness canoe endeavour.
“…A life-giving, life altering experience that challenged me physically and spiritually while connecting me to a community of inspirational, real and wise women who go forth to make change in their home communities and families…”