My experience in Neyaashinnigmiing was filled with opportunities to meet Natives and learn about the connection between what we know as sustainability and their common knowledge of protecting the land and water. I think there are a lot of misconceptions, and perhaps I held some of those stereotypes as well, that the traditions of the Native people are lost. What I have learnt is that if anything the traditions are thriving. Considering the system has been set out to make sure inequality, especially among the Natives, remains, it is a wonder that a community could be so resilient. I am a witness to the inequality, by learning about the issue of housing on the reserve, and I sat through a land claims hearing that is only meant to discredit the fact that the Natives of Canada were here before any of us. I have learnt how subtle inequality functions in our society. Inequality now perpetuates through technicalities. Regulations, financing, purchases all require written code and have loopholes due to the nature of our Treaty system. Natives can be swindled out of opportunity simply because the Canadian government does not want to address how to incorporate the Treaty system into our own established paradigm. Before anything can truly be done about inequality, acknowledging the root causes must be done first. I believe the root causes of the inequalities in our society stems very much from denial. Governments deny the history of when the inequalities in society really started to become disparaged. Even when it comes to addictions, mental illness, and homelessness in our society, recognition of individualized histories of how these members of society become vulnerable is ignored. There are a lot of assumptions in a society like as long as you have education, health care or employment, that is enough for you to sustain yourself. But it is not enough, humans go through stresses, which I think relates a lot to see the devastation in the world. Seeing nature being treated the way it is, feeling helpless to this, and feeling helpless when it comes to seeing wars, or famines in the world as well. Humans are living in an unsustainable world, and the call to action feels weak at times. But speaking on these issues and showing a counter-argument to what is seen as the cultural norm, can change minds and hearts when it comes to voting and making sustainable choices.
Staying on the reserve
Staying in Neyaashinnigmiing, changed my outlook on Native communities from reading so much, to actually meeting the people that I did. When one of the Native fishermen was sharing his story, I was overwhelmed with tears. I had to step outside into the cold and felt the air like never before. I felt like I was suffocating when the cold air filled my lungs, it quickly stopped my tears. That is the power of storytelling, of sharing experiences. Face to face conversations moves the objective story away from the forefront and the true human emotions come forward. Understanding does not come from books only, it comes from our lived experiences. To truly believe in change, you must value what you know.
What we can do
The key to sustainability is the individuals’ choices. By raising awareness, and questioning people’s core beliefs in what they hold to know to be true about the environment, about themselves, and about the interaction between oneself and nature. The Bagadiwaad-Alliance will continue to educate students, sowing seeds of knowledge throughout communities in Ontario. I have learnt too much now to not try to take that seed and let it grow throughout the Centennial College community. The biggest lesson I took from the global experience program is what pride means to me. Understanding pride also means understanding shame. I am proud to be Canadian and I am proud of how beautiful the land is here. I am also ashamed that my choices could potentially contribute to a climate and food crisis. Every choice I make can be as small as treading a needle to as large as being a leader in motivating others to make more sustainable choices. We are humans, we can make mistakes, but we can also make the choice to correct them as that is the power of free will. Every choice we make is an exchange with mother earth. Everything is matters from nature, from the concrete we walk on to the beautiful flowers we see. Mother earth can teach us as well as sustain us. If we listen with our minds, hearts, and intuition, we will protect future generations.
– Oriana Cardarelli-Goddard, GCELE