Throughout the course of my journey, I’ve had the absolute privilege of sitting in the most incredible spaces, witnessing ceremony, and participating in culture in ways that I could never have possibly imagined. These are admittances I do not take lightly, as they have enriched my life in such a powerful and profound way. Whenever I head home from these experiences, the ride is generally punctuated with heavy emotions and many, many tears. The weight of undeservingness rests heavy on my shoulders as I consider the harms that my ancestors have imposed on the First People, which contrasts sharply with the absolute generosity that is shown to me.
Last fall, when Hwiemtun – Fred Roland of Quw’utsun - invited me to his property to participate in my first sweat lodge, I experienced that familiar wave of excitement laced with uncertainty: “what right do I have to attend? This is not mine.” Hwiemtun was so kind and generous, ensuring I understood how to participate in a good way, and sent me instructions in advance so that I would be informed of the protocols in the lodge. While sitting in circle, an Elder spoke and asserted that each one of us was there for a reason. That we were collected in that space together was not random. That each of us had a purpose in sharing in that circle together. Following the lodge, I sat talking with Hwiemtun for a time, and I expressed to him my uncertainty in understanding my purpose in these spaces. Why was I there? What could my presence possibly offer? Hwiemtun listened as I shared, and asked that when I sort it out, to please let him know. I drove home from emotionally laden, and as I continued to reflect on my inclusion in this beautiful ceremony, I kept returning to the Elder’s words. Why was I there?
A few weeks after the sweat I had the pleasure of sitting and talking with my brilliant friend, Qwustenuxun from Quw’utsun Tribes. Hwiemtun is Qwustenuxun’s uncle, and so I was excited to share with him my experience meeting his teacher, and the subsequent conversation we shared. Qwustenuxun contemplated my words and then offered his perspective. He shared:
“Kim. You are still thinking in the individualistic, Western way. For our people, each person has a special role that supports the whole, including you. It’s all so true, we cannot think of ourselves individually, we need to think collectively. If we think as a community we'd all get much farther. As an individual we don't fit, we question ourselves. As a collective we can watch others for guidance. Hwiemtun invited you and your ancestors into that lodge to share, as it should have been in the first place.”
Qwustenuxun’s words landed squarely; I WAS still thinking of myself singularly. I shared this recognition in discussion during our Culturally Committed Community Call, and it resonated in our circle – others experienced the same lightbulb moment that I’d had. The realization of how our individualistic identities need to shift, and recognizing that we are part of something bigger, helps people move from a place of guilt to a place of action. Each person is contributing to the whole and creating change in the ways that they uniquely can. We are all here for a reason, and we certainly do belong.
I would like to extend my deepest gratitude to Hwiemtun and Qwustenuxun for their patience and their generosity as I've worked to unravel these pieces of my story. I also want to thank you, reader, for witnessing my journey. It is my hope that as I share my own unravelling of these pieces of myself, that it helps to unlock unlearning for you as well.
Kim at Culturally Committed
*** Kim is of Settler ancestry and grew up in a farming family located on Treaty 2 territory, in what is colonially known as Brandon, Manitoba. Her familial roots extend to Germany, England, and Ireland. Since 2013 she has lived on the traditional, unceded territory of the Snaw Naw As and Snuneymuxw Peoples as an uninvited guest, and it’s only as she's navigated the work of understanding our collective history that she's come to realize the gravity of her circumstances. It is her hope is that as she navigates her own unlearning journey that she can learn what she can to do to bring forward change and make a difference.