Something happened on stage tonight…

… and there are no words to describe it. I am left only with raw, visceral emotion, that impacts, that lingers, that stays in your gut and your chest, which moves through your body in ways that you know, now, will change you.

I am left with the deep pain of witnessing such tremendous suffering, such unimaginable sorrow, and such tragedy.

And I am left with deep gratitude for the strength, courage, endurance, perseverance, resilience, power, and love that was demonstrated in that moment, on that stage, by the indomitable and inspirational Elder Agnes “Aggie Baby” Gould.

For 23 years this April, Elder Agnes has unflinchingly faced her grief, loss, and uncertainty to become a strong, powerful, and passionate advocate for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls and their loved ones everywhere. She has worked tirelessly to ensure that her sister, and the many other sisters, wives, mothers, daughters, grandmothers, cousins, and friends out there, will not be forgotten. She has lobbied, she has spoken, she has persisted – and now, finally, Canada is moving forward with a National Inquiry, to discover the truths, to find out the stories, to expose another dark corner of Canada.

In 2014, the RCMP released a report attempting to identify how many Indigenous women in Canada have been murdered or gone missing. In this report, they identify that 1,017 Indigenous women and girls were murdered between 1980 and 2012, and 164 are missing. 225 cases are unsolved.  Indigenous women and girls are over-represented at the national homicide level, representing approximately 16% of all female homicides in the country, which is greater than their representation in the female population as a whole.

While the report concluded “that the total number of murdered and missing Aboriginal females exceeds previous public estimates”, many argue that these numbers are low estimates that do not reflect the full story and, that with a National Inquiry, a truer representation will emerge, as current data sources are limited at best.

Behind all the numbers, behind the statistics, behind the reporting, there are faces, and lives, and people, and family and friends who are deeply affected, day after day, who persevere, who fight, who advocate, who reach out, who endure for those they love, for those they will never forget.

We need to honour each and every one of them.

And, as we were reminded last night, this isn’t just a woman’s issue. It is for all of us. We need to stop this violence against everyone, and we need all voices in this dialogue.  We need to stop classifying people on gender identity and sexual identity; we need to stop blaming the victims; we need to stop perpetuating damaging stereotypes that excuse the actions of others, and that have allowed this national tragedy to continue for so many years.

This work and this understanding is part of the Reconciliation journey in Canada. We have no choice to move forward with Reconciliation in this country – and in order to do so, we need to honour, respect, understand, listen, and bear witness to the stories of loss that thousands live with across this country.

And while there are no words to adequately articulate the gift that Agnes gave to all of us through the class last night, to the #taliaqCBU family, there was an outpouring of beauty and love from social media:

 

Now, there is nothing more to be said other than this:

We listened.

We experienced.

We felt.

We are honoured.

We are humbled.

We are changed.

Wela’lin, Agnes, for gracing us with your presence, your power, and your spirit. To you – and all the others who have been impacted by Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls – we dedicate our deepest honour, respect, and love.

And now that we heard your story, we will never be the same.

As Jeff Ward said to close out last night’s class, if no one has told you today they love you, let me be the first:

Kesalul. I love you.

Kesasul. I shine on you brightly.

Msit No’kmaq. All my relations.

 

In solidarity,

Ashlee

 

 Resources

 Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women & Girls Inquiry 24-Hr National Crisis Line: 1-844-413-6649

 MMIWG Fact Sheet from the Native Women’s Association of Canada

Amnesty International Report

Amnesty International No More Stolen Sisters Campaign

Moose Hide Campaign: “It’s a way to connect us to the healthy warrior within.”

The REDress Project:

Porchlight song by Twin Flames

Hashtags to connect with social media conversations: #MMIW #MMIWG #stolensisters #nomorestolensisters #imnotnext

** Originally published on CBU Blogs on March 1, 2016

 

It was the time for listening…

Last night’s Learning from Knowledge Keepers class was intense. It was difficult. It was challenging. And it was inspiring. Horrific stories, experiences, and histories were shared, juxtaposed with the most tremendous resilience, strength, wisdom, forgiveness, and love, to which one could ever bear witness.

I had a hard time sleeping last night, and I suspect that I was not alone in this. I kept hearing Clark Paul’s powerful and eviscerating words in my head, and kept feeling the deep emotions of it was like to stand there, close to him, bearing witness to his pain and suffering, but also to his strength and his love. To say it was humbling, to say it was an honour, to say it changed me to hear those stories is a vast understatement.

I said last night that Clark tells his story with such courage and grace. He is a true warrior of the heart and the mind, and his strength of spirit is an utter privilege to be near. How does one honour a man such as Clark, and the many others who, like him, experienced unimaginable pain, suffering, and injustice?

There are no words to express what Clark, and thousands of others, went through in the Residential School System, and there is no way to ever fully articulate the gratitude that we have for Clark, and people like him, who are sharing their stories and reaching out beyond the hate, unimaginable pain, and terrifying suffering, to educate and to ensure atrocities like these never happen again.

What I would like to do, though, as a small token of gratitude, to Clark and to others, is share the words and responses from the Learning from Knowledge Keepers family that poured in from across the country and internationally during the class. They are beautiful, powerful, and full of love and support.

Together, they begin to tell a collective response to a truly shattering history and legacy in this country – one that continues on through intergenerational trauma, through on-going mental struggles, through the daily battling of pain and demons, through the many ways in which Survivors and their families must cope each day. They also tell a story of strength and solidarity, of people tuning in, connecting, learning, and being transformed.

 So Much History: 

 

So Much Outrage:

 

So Much Emotion:

 

So Much Power:

 

So Much Gratitude:

 https://twitter.com/cbuniversity/status/701927124337176576

 

So Much Hope:

 

Sending Out Gratitude

Our deepest gratitude to Michael R. Denny and Karen A. Bernard, who ended the class with so much heart, sharing, and knowledge and who, unexpectedly, were brave enough to share their own experiences. Wela’lin. And of course, who introduced many to the continued atrocities being perpetuated on Survivors through the Indian Residential School Independent Assessment points system.

Special thanks also to the wonderful folks from Eskasoni Mental Health who provided support in the audience for this difficult night and challenging subject matter. Daphne Hutt-MacLeod, Jannine Paul, Arnold Sylliboy, Norma Gould, Billie Jean Morrison, Michael R. Denny, and Karen Bernard – words cannot express our gratitude to have you in the class, supporting us all, and for the work that you all do, daily, to ensure that the pain and suffering from the legacies of the Residential School system are mitigated.

And to Michael R: your singing was healing, moving, powerful, and emotional. Wela’lin for sharing your talents with the #taliaqCBU family, and for helping us reconnect and to heal.

Remember: there are always supports, always people to whom you can reach out. Be kind and gentle to yourself. Take good care. Reach out as needed, and draw strength from those you love and those whom you love.

Thank you to all who showed up last night and listened. Truly listened. And who witnessed the power of one man’s story, and allowed that story to change you. To quote Thomas King: “Don’t say in the years to come that you would have lived your life differently if only you had heard this story. You’ve heard it now.” 

 

Resources:

 Screen Shot 2016-02-22 at 8.22.55 PM

Truth & Reconciliation Commission of Canada Reports

Natan Obed, President of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, Response to the Release of the Truth & Reconciliation Final Report

Indian Residential Schools Adjudication Secretariat

** Originally published on Cape Breton University’s Blog

 

The Amazing Moment When We Created A Course & the World Showed Up

That First Monday

 It was midnight on Monday night, and I found myself sitting in my darkened living room, looking out at the water, holding a cup of tea, and scrolling through the hundreds of tweets, messages, and Facebook posts.

I was trying to decompress and reflect on what had happened a few hours earlier, when myself and Stephen Augustine – together with an incredible team from Cape Breton University – launched an educational experiment to create a course that would honour and share Mi’kmaq culture, stories, and wisdom freely to anyone who was interested.

And what a night it was! Joined by an amazing group of in-house participants and over 12,500 online, folks showed up in a BIG way. And we have been inundated with messages from around the globe ever since!

It is hard not to feel humbled. It is hard not to feel honoured. And it is hard not to be overwhelmed by emotion – emotion at the power and the words of what was being shared; emotion at witnessing a conversation erupt across this country, and in 26 different countries, which was celebrating and respecting and giving space to Indigenous culture; emotion at the ways in which people were able to connect with the course, resonate with the learning, and reach out to us and to each other.

Wow. Just wow.

So many themes came out from all these interactions. Some of our favourites (and sticking with the symbolism of the number 7) include:

  1. Freely available courses are awesome!

Indeed they are – we couldn’t agree more! So many people have reached out to thank us for putting this course online and making it freely available to anyone who wanted to tune in, connect, listen, and learn. And so many congratulated us on a ‘groundbreaking course’. Ah thanks – you are welcome., and we are flattered. Thank you for coming out and giving your time to this learning journey! Wela’liek!

 

  1. Learning about Indigenous culture is essential… because it’s 2016.

We were overwhelmed by the incredible sentiments from around the world celebrating and supporting Mi’kmaq culture and Indigenous wisdom. So many of those who joined us expressed that now is the time for ‘learning, understanding, and respecting’. Welcome to 2016.

  

  1. This is what Canada is all about

We received so many great tweets from people living coast to coast to coast articulating that Mi’kmaq culture, Indigenous cultures, and Indigenous ways of knowing, are really what it means to live in this country – and that it is the responsibility of everyone to learn as much as possible about First Nations, Inuit, and Metis peoples.

 

  1. This history has been silenced far too long…but it’s still here

So many expressed outrage and frustration and the ways in which the histories of Indigenous peoples in Canada have been long-silenced, marginalized, and tokenized. People showed us they want to change, they want to learn, and they want to move forward with deeper understanding for better Nation-to-Nation relationships. Even after all the abuses and traumas and mass inequities inflicted on Indigenous peoples, Stephen said it well: “Guess what? I’m still here!”

 

  1. Combining ancient teachings with 21st Century digital media is cool

We couldn’t agree more – it is cool! We have been thrilled to be able to beam in these stories and teachings to thousands of people around the globe, and continue to share them through the archived videos. Thanks to Bell Aliant for the partnership. It was quite the moment to have Stephen sharing a ceremonial telling of an ancient story, while social media lit up with thanks, gratitude, and response.

 

  1. Humour is the best medicine, and the best healing

And of course, we can’t forget the humour: the wonderful and warm humour for which Stephen is known; the slip-of-the-tongue that led to the hashtag #StephenMedia; the joke that #taliaqCBU was trending above Han Solo in Canada, leading to the hilarious hashtags of #StephenSolo and #MaytheCreatorBeWith and several great memes. To share these moments of humour and healing with audiences near and far, and have people respond with kindness and hilarity, is a gift beyond imagining. Keep ‘em coming! (And FYI – I’m still waiting for the ‘Magical Mi’kmaq Unicorn’ Meme…).

 

  

  1. The Creation Story has lessons for us all

Not surprisingly, The Creation Story moved many who witnessed Stephen’s sharing. So many people experienced deep resonance with the lessons and timeless teachings in the story, understanding that within this story lies deep wisdom for living better in this world. Many people also produced beautiful art and poetry in response, and we were in awe. Thank you. Truly.

Screen Shot 2016-01-14 at 10.46.09 PM.png

 

The Truth About Stories…

And on the note of The Creation Story: as some of you may have noticed, one of the resources we are recommending for this course is Thomas King’s The Truth About Stories: A Native Narrative. This is one of our favourites. Witty and disarming, powerful and pointed, King weaves an amazing narrative of Indigenous identity, cultural resurgence, and the importance of storytelling.

As he writes: “The truth about stories is that that’s all we are. ‘You can’t understand the world without telling a story,’ the Anishinabe writer Gerald Vizenor tells us. ‘There isn’t any center to the world but a story’” (King 2003, 32).

And this is what The Creation Story is: it’s the centre, it’s the pivot upon which life can be understood, it’s the hinge that allows us to move within multiple points of understanding, it’s the mechanism through which we can continually learn, reflect, and learn again. It speaks to us and tells us what we need to hear, in the moment we need to hear it.

It is there for us when we need it. And it will change each time we hear it.

And now that we have heard it, we have a responsibility. A responsibility to remember, listen, respect, honour, and respond.

As King writes, “It’s yours. Do with it what you will. Make it the topic of a discussion group at a scholarly conference Put it on the Web. Forget it, but don’t say in the years to come that you would have lived your life differently if only you had heard this story. You’ve heard it now.” (2003, 60).

Wela’liek, and see you soon.

Ashlee

Originally posted on cbu.ca here.

Article in International Innovations Full Release

A feature on our research on climate change and mental health in Nunatsiavut has just reached full release, and I’m pleased to share the links here. Click on the photo below to access the article online, including the embedded documentary and hyperlinks, or to download a pdf copy. Alternatively, click here for a pdf copy.

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Courtesy of International Innovation – a leading scientific dissemination service.

Polar Bears, Seals, and Dog Teams… Oh My!

Tonight I had the great pleasure of speaking to a lecture hall full of children about life in the Arctic, complete with pictures, videos, and a special guest visit from our Labrador Husky, Nuna, who gave one lucky child a little sled ride.

Kids make the best audience, and ask the most dynamic and interesting questions, and I was pleased to share stories about working and travelling in the North. And special thanks to folks in Nunatsiavut for suggesting what they would like kids here in Cape Breton to know!

Childrens-University-E-Invite-Feb24 (2)Sled Picture

Many thanks to the organizers of Children’s University (especially Kellie White!), an amazing initiative that takes place the last Tuesday of every month, and welcomes children to Cape Breton University to learn about fun topics and experience what it’s like at a university.