Art came to find me in every aspect of my research in the Rupununi of Guyana. I studied the impact of Wildlife Clubs on the young members as well as on their communities. In my fieldwork, soaking in their exuberant drawings, songs, dances, and skits was a delightful way to understand the impact of the Clubs. My own artistic expression through songs and poetry was a way for me to cope with what I summarize as my experience with “blood, pus, pain, and death”, especially the death of 3-year-old Alianna.
Then when I returned to Ottawa to analyze my data, I made it into a ceremony: I’d smudge first, including hiawa resin I was given in Yupukari, transcribe, code, reflect on each interview, and then, as my reward, write two lines of song lyrics. These lines will be woven together as a Song based on all the interviews I did. It will be one part of the creative, engaging, and collaborative projects I’ll do to disseminate the research findings back to the communities I had the privilege to work with.
I spoke about this at uOttawa’s Creativity and Aesthetic Enrichment Symposium on Friday 26 Oct. And opened with one of my songs based on my time on the one red Road we all travel – and WAIT – on in the Rupununi. The last verse is wisdom from Elder Sydney Allicock of Surama about the imminent paving of this red dirt Road.
Rupununi Red Road
In the deep south of Guyana
Through rainforest and savannah
Winds the Red Road of destiny
Linking jewel-like communities
Strong happy people can shine
Work balanced with kari and mango wine
Its beautiful, so easy to be content
but change comes quickly with pavement
Chorus, 2x: Rupununi Red Road
Sun drenched dusty road
rain drenched washed out road
the toughest love you’ll know
They want to pave this red artery
But when we look back on history
Asphalt brings trade and medical care
But also trafficking and poaching, so beware
Will you decide with asphalt heat
or with cool rainforest Earth under your feet?
The Elders’ advice rings true
Use the road, don’t let road use you
Nothing crystallizes your resolve to make the world a better place quite like cradling a newborn.
Holding my niece for the first time made me think of how different the world is now compared to when I was born. So much beautiful land has been lost. Including land right here in Ottawa, that I fought to protect, which has been destroyed for short-term profit. My niece will not be able to play in the forests her Dad and I loved so much. At the global level, hundreds of species have been lost since I was the size of my niece. There is so much inequity, injustice and suffering for humans and other sentient beings. And underlying so much of this loss of biodiversity and beauty is Climate Change.
Then I sang the lullaby I wrote for her, “All Your Relations Love You”. The song is about interconnectedness and being a beloved part of a the biotic community, of the more-than-human world. It also shows how we can move forward: with Creativity. With Beauty. With Courage. With Humility. With Love.
My niece is one example of someone who helps remind me of my purpose. For you, perhaps it helps to hold in mind the image of someone you love, a place you love, a community you love. And when you feel yourself straying in this world of information-overload and distraction, go back to that image. Better yet, ground yourself in the presence of that which you love. Then expand that sphere of love ever outwards to encompass this whole precious blue and green Earth.
Including other species within our sphere of moral concern is part of what I’ll speak about on the not to be missed PowerShift Panel “Starving Injustice, Hungry for Change: How Climate Change Impacts Food Systems, and Pathways Towards Solutions“. I’m so excited to learn from my fellow Panelists! Devlin Kuyek of GRAIN will explore the global scale impacts of food systems on climate change, and how in turn, our food system is impacted by climate change. Chris Bisson will dig into how we can build resiliency through permaculture at a local level. And I’ll speak about what Industrial Animal Production reveals about the human relationship with other species and our effort to combat climate change. We’re on at 11:30am on October 27th, in Desmarais 1110.
It is love that fuels our fight against climate change. It is love for my niece, for All My Relations, that moves me to care beyond my own brief existence on this planet, to care about more than my own immediate wants and needs. Love fuels the Action. It is opportunities like PowerShift 2012 that help us learn how to make our Actions effective.
That’s why I’m going to PowerShift. How about you?
Canada’s Shame: 582 Indigenous women and girls have been reported missing or murdered since 1980. That estimate is low. We each have the responsibility to demand justice, and to work for change. One small thing you can do: Tell Prime Minister Stephen Harper what you think.
Is this message compelling and coherent to you? Can it blaze through the cacophony of messages competing for your attention? In this age of information overload, anyone can share their voice, but we are each competing for your mindshare. For your willingness to pay attention to the message.
These were the questions I asked myself on October 3rd, in an earlier version of this post. I was doing my small part to promote the 7th Annual Families of Sisters in Spirit National Vigil, held on October 4th, 2012, on Parliament Hill (Unceded Algonquin Territory).
In Canada, Indigenous women are at a greater risk of violence than non-Indigenous women (as you can see in the above image, courtesy Amnesty International). Families of Sisters in Spirit (FSIS) is a volunteer, grassroots, non-profit organization led by families of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls. Their annual Vigil gives the families of these loved and lost women and girls the chance to speak, to be heard, on the Hill. It is an opportunity for everyone to listen, to be there is solidarity, and to show that the epidemic of violence against Indigenous women and girls is unacceptable and must stop.
In the mainstream media, “if it bleeds, it leads”, so most of us have heard the sensationalized versions of some of the murdered women’s stories.
But when do we hear about the inspiring work of FSIS, the Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC), Amnesty International, KAIROS, and others, to demand justice and change? NWAC started the original Sisters in Spirit Vigil in 2005 based on Bridget Tolley (co-founder of FSIS)’s idea. Since then, more and more Vigils are held in solidarity with the FSIS Vigil on the Hill. Mainstream media coverage of the Vigils has been scant in past years. On the morning of October 3rd, NWAC issued a press release calling on local and national media to cover the October 4th Vigils.
This year, more families than ever from across Canada made the trip to be there on the Hill, thanks to FSIS. It was that much more important to show them that people do care.
I’m unknown. I don’t have big money to amplify my message. I don’t have a platform. I don’t have a job that pays me to craft compelling messages, or the personal resources to grant me the time to craft these messages.
But a flame burns inside me to draw attention to issues I feel are neglected. Despite my day job, I write songs. I can’t help it. And against the odds, despite the fatigue, despite wondering if it is a wise use of my energy, I try to create works of art that may shine brightly enough, despite the humble origins, to reach you.
So friends and I made a video to encourage people to attend the Oct 4th Vigil, and to draw attention to the issue of missing and murdered Indigenous women. It was launched on September 14th, 100 views on the first day.
But no comments, and only a few likes. It was like dropping a pebble into a still pond, with barely a ripple.
Then it picked up again. It did not go viral, but had a respectable 540 views as of 3pm the day before the Vigil.
Myself and many others sent emails, posted on FB, and tweeted the night before and the morning of the Vigil. But mostly there was nothing more for us allies to do but see if the energy, effort, and all those messages would actually translate into people attending.
Suddenly, it was 6pm, time for the Vigil.
And it was well attended. And beautiful. And heartbreaking. And honoured our Stolen Sisters.
At dusk, I wondered what the Vigil looked like from the perspective of the Families. So I climbed the Parliament Hill steps to get behind them. As Assembly of First Nations (AFN) National Chief Shawn A-in-chut Atleo said that all the supporters present were like Medicine for the families of the missing and murdered women, I could see and feel this was true. I saw hundreds of people indeed Filling the Hill, with Love and Light.
Let’s make this blog post interactive! What do you think of the video (below)? How effective do you think it was compared to the Poster and FB Event to encourage attendance at the Vigil? What about compared to partnering with the Take Back the Night (the 34th annual Ottawa March started right after the Vigil)? This is a shifting game of weighing the effort and money it takes to create a promotional message against how effective it is. A low budget but carefully done video is like a candle to illuminate a neglected issue. How do we coax that candle’s flame to catch, to blaze the message out and achieve positive change?