I just returned from Kasabonika Lake First Nation, an Oji-Cree community located 53 degrees North and 88 degrees West in the province of Ontario. I spent four days there as part of a collaborative research project designed to support youth resilience and foster community engagement. This was my fourth trip to “Kas”, and each one has been so different. The first two felt full and busy, directed by our study aims, whereas the last one was really heavy emotionally. This trip felt lighter but also like we were beginning to feel the weight of one another in a meaningful way.
We are doing this through our hearts, where real feelings dwell. I love that we continue to assign primal significance to this beating muscle despite (or is it because of?) our knowledge about things like the brain, technology, and the workings of the universe. It so often comes down to this sacred place inside our chest, which is described as being the size of a fist. Like our fist, the heart grows during our lifetime and in this place of valves and veins we make meaning out of the beautiful uncertainty of life.
Like anywhere, life in Kas is good and also hard. But there are many things that happen there which most of us cannot imagine or begin to understand. Multiple tragedies and suicide attempts have happened since I joined the project only a year ago. Violence pervades daily life in ways that are invisible and very fucking visible- boil water advisories, plastic windows, no library in the school, the silence that blankets trauma. All of it is woven into the thoughts, feelings, and bodies of the people we meet.
And yet these youth continue to show up with and for us, which is humbling and exciting. This trip was light on official work, but we got caught up over food, poker, around the fire, and in the school gym. We talked about politics, relationships, mental health, our favourite animals, family tensions, school, music, and baby Yoda. Amid the laughter and the short truck rides we came together as people who care about each other. Processing the feels since the plane has landed has been messy.
I felt alone and useless yesterday without them. I missed my raging hot little hotel room, the smell of the cleaning products used by the housekeeping women, and the monotone murmur of the community radio. Am I selfish to feel this way? I don’t care for them because it makes me feel like a saviour or because no one else does. Many people care for them, but there’s something special about being a newcomer who brings a window to outside world in a unique way.
We can answer questions about university, Ottawa, application deadlines and other things that many folks in Kas can’t. It’s not fair or good, but it’s true. They are hungry to know but scared too. They occupy a complex territory that’s about more than north and south or Indigenous and non-Indigenous, it’s also about learning how to care for themselves in ways that don’t upset their relationship to community. They strive to learn more and be more for themselves and Kas, but there isn’t always much room made for them at home. So, they often wait, idling until others leave or folks like us come in.
These are complex relationships that contain shared kinetic energy. Kin(etic)…That’s what I felt this week: the energy of connection and love. The magic that dances in those cellular spaces that flush with warm blood and oxygen is astounding. Many lives are short and sad, full of things undone. I don’t want that for me or them. I try my best to be myself and show them love; honouring them. Grateful doesn’t begin to cover it, but that’s where I leave the blinking cursor for now.