Web of Change: Opportunity for Growth and Learning
It's been a couple months since my trip to Cortes Island British Columbia for 2017 Web of Change. The effort of going to Web of Change happened to be a lot more difficult than it was actually being on the island. I refuse to have a credit card so my accessibility of even just getting there was a bit more of a hassle and almost discouraged me from going at all. Thankfully, with a few calls and emails I was able to get fully sponsored through Indigenous Climate Action and was gratefully on my way to one of the most beautiful places I've witness here on Turtle Island. Aside from witnessing the solidarity at Standing Rock in North Dakota or my home community of Sagkeeng Anishinaabe Nation in Manitoba, the pacific coast and gorgeous mountains of British Columbia was a sight I have dreamt of since I was a child. All my stresses washed away as soon as I arrived onto the beautiful shore of Cortes Island, a shore covered in purple shells that were once used as beads for wampum belts way back when we all truly understood nation-to-nation relationships.
I had been warned that previous Web of Change gatherings had been uncomfortable places for Indigenous and POC, but that there had been drastic changes of the representation on the board level and that this WOC would reflect those changes. Also, this was the 1st WOC that combined USA and Canada, and so half of the delegates were from the United States. I was very cautious in meeting new people, as I usually am, in making sure I knew where they stood when it came to Indigenous sovereignty and Indigenous land rights in regards to climate justice. I didn't know what to expect other than I would be rooming in a cabin dorm with a couple other Indigenous women. I knew right then, that I at least had a safe space to decompress if I ever needed to.
The first evening we had arrived, we were welcomed by one of the respected elders named Norman Harry Sr. of the Khaloose First Nation, a nation that had once resided on Cortes Island before it was taken over by millionaire cottagers and Hollyhock resorts way back when. I understood that I was a guest on their traditional territory and that I must respect protocol and so I honoured Norman by passing tobacco and thanking him for welcoming me onto his traditional territory and introduced myself to be of the Anishinaabe Nation in the Prairies of Manitoba. He was a very sweet man with a lot of humour. He shared a lot about the history of the territory and also touched a bit about his own journey as a residential school survivor.
He then opened it up for questions, and one US delegate decided it was appropriate to ask what were residential schools. This simple yet worrisome question triggered some of the Indigenous folks in the space. It came as a surprise as to how unaware some of the US delegates were on the issues Indigenous peoples faced in Canada, without understanding that US also had mandatory boarding schools for Indigenous children for a much longer time than Canada. Norma respectfully tried to answer the question concisely and straightforward, and then clearly wanted to talk about something else. Another delegate decided it was appropriate to ask him about residential schools yet again, to which the Elder refused to answer. Lets just say things got awkward real quick.
The next day, WOC organizers thought it would be best to have a debrief about what had happened the night prior and to give an opportunity for volunteered Indigenous delegates from both US and CA to be able to explain some of the basics of Indigenous history, and offer ways on how to respectfully engage with Indigenous peoples around traumatic experiences such as residential schools. I more or less volunteered to offer myself up for some education, as well a few others. Things seemed to go alright, until I used the word "ignorance". It wasn't until shortly after I was told by a newly made friend from Toronto that the word was a trigger for POC in the United States for it's derogatory connotation against black communities. Obviously I had explained that this was not my intention, but more so in regards to not fully understanding something. I accepted that I would no longer use the term now that I understood the historical sting it carried.
I realized then the purpose of these intimate spaces. To provide opportunity for growth and learning across communities and cultures. It was a mutual learning process that was meant to happen. I realized then that I have spent countless hours and years trying to become an expert in one aspect of humanity, Indigenous resistance and resiliency, that I too also need to learn from other communities facing other or similar forms of oppression and triggers. In this particular case, it was with POC communities from across colonial borders. I was very much aware of BLM movements and supported their cause, but only then did I realize how I too need to not just educate but to be educated in causes beyond my own identity. The importance of WOC really began to sink in with me.
I took the next few days as an opportunity to not only share about Indigenous climate justice and Indigenous rights, but also to learn more about racialised and POC communities. I made many connections with mostly POC folks whom were representatives from a wide range of organizations, some I've heard of before and others I never knew existed. There were a lot of late night conversations in the "Smoking Temple" and the "Goddess Caucus" as we called it. We shared many similar experiences working within organizations, and learned many new things about each others' spirituality, cultures, and stories about our passionate fights for justice.
There were over 100 people at WOC, with about 35 POC and Indigenous folks. I didn't spend too much of my energy hanging out with the others, mainly because I didn't find it to be as mutually beneficial as it was to be hanging out with those that understand oppression in a similar way I do. However, I very much appreciated that all the WOC organizers' spent energy in making sure that everyone's needs were met, and I felt really safe knowing that there was a majority of POC on the board, as well as more women representation overall. I left with many affirmation cards from many beautiful people across Turtle Island, and I feel way more connected with folks I wouldn't have otherwise been able to connect with.
Although, there wasn't as much Indigenous workshops as I would have liked, I do want to acknowledge the efforts that were made to ensure I was able to do a workshop on "Divestment and Pipelines in Canada" on the fly. I do believe that there is much more yet to do to ensure that more Indigenous issues are discussed during these networking gatherings. Also in advocating for better accessibility for Indigenous youth and low-income people to attend WOC with fewer difficulties as it was for me. But, that's what growth and learning is all about.
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