2013 N2N Tour Blog
A record of the team's journey in their own voices.
The Otesha Project gratefully acknowledges the support of the Ontario Trillium Foundation and the Small Change Fund in video production.
Post-Tour Reflection: Unity
By Harry Benedict, Volunteer Tour Member
When we hear the word unity what do we think? I have asked many this question and some say peace, some say love while others say it's impossible - that our existence has been defined by our experience. Yet if this is the case, it really breaks down to what we believe in accordance to how we value our relationships with people and the world itself. If seeing is believing, on the Nation to Nation Bike Tour I saw a group of young individuals come together for the common purpose of raising awareness and doing good and in a short time, a sincere and strong grew.
As a youth from Akwesasne I often recall the story of the 7th Prophecy, as told between Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse when they sat together for the last time and said that the circle would be complete again and that people would know harmony by the 7th generation. As Indigenous people we have known a lot of suffering both historically and in the present day due to efforts to assimilate us. Through the KAIROS Blanket Exercise we were able to effectively and powerfully depict this in a manner that represented our collective past.
This bike tour journey helped start a process of bringing hope to many while we traveled across the ridge of Ontario from Akwesasne to Tyendinaga. Through it all I found a sense of healing in being with a committed group of people who did everything together and who became like family to me. Who we became through this experience helped us realize who we are underneath it all and forged a powerful circle.
When going back to home life I found it very strange and alienating in a way, I miss my family already. One thing is for sure though, this is the beginning to an even greater journey ahead, one that will help bring our future generations together, as we learn to unite through peace and love. In these times I look to the sky and smile for I know that great things are to come. While I may be sad not having them here, they are all in my heart, and that is enough to help carry me forward in the coming days.
Post-Tour Reflection: What Do We Do Next?
By Nawaaz Makhani, Volunteer Tour Member
It’s nearing the end of the first ever Otesha/KAIROS/Akwesasne Nation to Nation Bike Tour, and the same question is circling each participant’s mind: “What do we do next?”. Luckily, the tour organizers prepared for this, and lined up speakers and workshops to help us with this question. Here are a few of the movers and shakers I think will help us on our post-tour journeys:
District Chief Brian David, Mohawk Council of Akwesasne
District Chief Brian David is well versed in Aboriginal and Mohawk history, culture, traditions and values. He is passionate about bringing justice to his community, and believes he will see major changes in his lifetime that will improve the quality of life for those in Akwesasne. One of the main reasons for this is that he is often involved in discussions with the Canadian government as a representative of Akwasasne.
Chief David actively seeks opportunities to build bridges with people and communities and engage in a mutual exchange of knowledge, traditions, and hope. He has been a crucial part of the Nation to Nation Bike Tour and even met up with us in Kingston.
Members of the CRE dropped in for a visit with our group. The CRE vision is to create lasting dialogue and friendship between Indigenous and non-Indigenous youth in Canada through exchange programs, conferences and workshops. They have a network that reaches across Canada, and they strongly hold to the ideal of equal participation from Indigenous and non-Indigenous youth. They strive to uphold this “50/50” split of Indigenous to non-Indigenous participation in their conferences, workshops and staff population. There is a lot of momentum building with this young organization. We recommend getting involved with them in any capacity possible!
Jonathan Maracle graciously invited us to his home for a fireside conversation. The unique thing about this dialogue was that he used music to share his journey. Jonathan is passionate about breaking the walls that have been built between First Nations people and settlers and this led to the establishment of Broken Walls. Broken Walls tours the world sharing this passion, healing the hearts of those angered by injustice and inspiring others to break down their own walls. Be sure to catch their performances as they tour!
Connecting with people and organizations such as those mentioned above will be essential for all of us on the Nation to Nation Bike Tour and anyone who wants to learn more about how we can live together peacefully and respectfully.
Post-Tour Reflection: Adventures in Numbers
By Chantelle Chan, Volunteer Tour Member
12 youth on bikes
19 days on the road
9 communities visited
289 kilometres cycled
3 KAIROS Blanket Exercise workshops delivered
78 workshop participants
8 lovely volunteers to help us along
3 skilled facilitators
5 broken spokes
1 flat tire (on a trailer)
0 flat tires (on bikes - Editor's note: This is unheard of in Otesha history!)
12 meals made with love by our hosts on Thompson Island, Akwesasne
6 meals donated by our church hosts
5 churches that opened their buildings to us
1 pow wow attended
16 roses given to us!
Common phrases uttered:
"Would you give me a massage?"
"Would you like a massage?"
"Who wants to pull a trailer?"
"Whose dirty sock/underwear is this?"
"Take the #2 Highway and the Waterfront Trail!"
I Can Build a Relationship to the Land Without Abusing It
By David Shyu, Volunteer Tour Member
I thank my father for taking me out of my comfort zone as a young person. At the age of 13 he introduced me to the sweat lodge ceremonies (he was a student of traditional healing in an Indigenous community). The healing from the lessons learned in those cultural experiences continue.
During the Nation to Nation Tour, I heard the Mohawk language spoken for the very first time. I picked up an audio learning aid in which has taught me how to read words phonetically and allows me to interact with those who would share in this new language learning experience with me. Roughly speaking, the letter R has a L sound, K a G sound, T a D sound, and S before a vowel has Z sound. I feel I have a good grasp on knowing how to pronounce the colours at the very least!
Indigenous languages hold the values that make their cultures unique. We had a private concert with musician John Maracle of Broken Walls, whom I coincidentally first saw 10 years prior at a concert for 19,000 youth. I vividly remember the keynote address from that concert that spoke of the First Nation peoples’ covenant with the Creator to live harmoniously with Mother Earth. I was reminded to think about my own history story starting from creation. The Creator grants every individual to serve Mother Earth and her inhabitants, so when H.H. Bennett quoted "Take care of the land and the land will take care of you", I take those sentiments to heart. As a Canadian-born individual in this society, I have the freedom to go anywhere in the world, but choose to understand that I can build a relationship with the land without abusing it.
Similarly, the Mohawk Nation of Akwesasne maintains their self-governance, and have a saying: "Entotathawi" meaning "this is the path we will govern". In this way they will live self-reliantly for centuries more. In closing, I thank my senses for all that I have learned throughout this experience, and how my heart yearns for the prophecy of the Seven Fires to grant us the Kingdom of All Nations on the basis of respect to uphold love, unity, and peace in my envisioned utopia.
By Arestia Dehmassi
Volunteer Tour Member
As we ride along the St. Lawrence River, a guiding force of nature flowing beside us, it is a reminder of what we are all doing here, of our inherent rights and inherent responsibilities as human beings. It comes up over and over again, especially when listening to the elders - that there is knowledge that we are to gain, and that there are responsibilities that come with that knowledge.
Every single member of this weird and wonderful bicycling team, representing the four directions of the world, recognizes our responsibility to the Creator, to Mother Earth and to one another.
As we sat around a fire in Tyendinaga last night the words of Jonathan Maracle, our host for the evening, rang true: "When you honour the Creator's children, you honour the Creator. When you dishonour the Creator's children, you dishonour the Creator." Looking over the flames at each others' faces, I see how we've come to honour each other, so naturally. We make sure to ask each other how we are doing, we eat together, we camp together, we give thanks together. We share a lot.
It amazes me that at every stop along this tour, folks are always surprised by how close our team is once they learn we've only been together a few days. I've been told a few times how wonderful it is to see a group of diverse young adults be so close. There is no shortage of love and hugs here.
The Seven Fires Prophecy (part of the Anishnaabe tradition) has come up several times along our ride. The prophecy offers the possibility that all four races of humanity will come together in respect to complete a full cycle. That fear of strangers, our own neighbours, has set us back, but that it's not too late to turn around.
Now is the time. We have a long way to go, but I know we are all on a good path because of the gifts tucked away in our medicine pouches. Not just those of us on this tour, but all who are inspired to learn. This is just the beginning of beautiful friendships, sacred relationships, and a journey we are all on together.
By Michelane Gliddy, Volunteer Tour Member
Editor's Note: The Blanket Exercise explores the shared history of Indigenous and non-Indigenous people on the lands of Turtle Island (North America). Blankets are used to represent Indigenous lands, and the workshop participants "live" on the blankets, representing Indigenous peoples. Starting before contact with Europeans, and moving through periods of colonization and resistance to colonization, the participants arrive in the present with a deeper understanding of our shared history.
Back at our starting destination on Thompson Island in Akwesasne, we experienced the KAIROS Blanket Exercise for ourselves. The impact this exercise had on us was overwhelming. It became clear to us what we had to do -- the public needed to know the things we had learned and our minds became one to reach a common goal: to break the barriers between Native and non-Native peoples by spreading awareness of our shared history.
We have performed the Blanket Exercise in three Ontario communities during this bike tour: Brockville, Gananoque and Kingston.
Our first public event was at the Wall Street United Church in Brockville where the audience was enthusiastic and supportive. Towards the end they responded very openly as to how shocking the truth was. One person commented, “I think I am racist, now I have the incentive to look into the history and politics of First Nations people.”
The second time we did the Blanket Exercise was in a park in Gananoque. It was much more challenging because we had an almost non-existent audience. No one was interested until members of our group began to walk around the park and converse with the people around us.
At first the audience seemed obligated and lost but the moment they heard the opening of the presentation their eyes and ears became keen. The opening was done in the Mohawk language. One of our viewers expressed that it was a sign of hope because the language has not been lost; that it is prominent example of resistance to assimilation.
In Kingston there was positive support because the Blanket Exercise was well publicized and the audience was not just people who supported the church or people who had to be persuaded to join us. “This is a very powerful exercise,” one participant said, "I cannot believe it was done with something as basic as a blanket!”
Halfway through the presentation some of the audience members began to tear up. One member of our audience wept for she was a First Nations woman who had a complete understanding of the difficulties faced by Indigenous people in Canada having lived through it herself.
Even though it was an emotional presentation, it was a positive experience for the audience because we are youth coming from all over the world spreading an important message to the public. One of the people in the audience said, “I think it is poignant that young people are performing this presentation. I believe this is the generation that is going make a change. It was a marvelous presentation, thank you. “
A common response from the audiences was guilt, but as the First Nations members of our group said, “We did not do this workshop to make you feel sorry for us. We are strong people. We are here and we are not going anywhere.”
The Roots of Governance
Nation to Nation tour members were given a thorough introduction to the history and current situation of governance in Akwesasne, while looking at the importance of the struggle to maintain their sovereignty. Hear from Shara Francis-Hearne of the Mohawk Council of Akwesasne on what it's like to govern and live on a land that is cut in half by international borders.
By Katy Quinn, N2N Tour Coordinator
Now is the time for honest conversations between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people about our shared history and respectful and just ways forward – and The Nation to Nation Bike Tour creates a space for these conversations. By the end of this week, twelve Indigenous and non-Indigenous tour members from a diversity of cultural backgrounds will come together to launch the project. They will arrive in Mohawk Territory from British Columbia, K.I., Toronto, Ottawa and some, including the tour’s Co-Facilitator, will be welcoming us to their territory in Akwesasne. I’m lucky enough to be part of this dynamic team, having worked as one of the organizers during the past months.
For two and a half weeks, from July 27 to August 14, the tour members will travel together and learn from each other and from their hosts. We will spend the first four and half days in Akwesasne for a rich introduction to the culture, history and contemporary issues of the territory. To name just a few of the experiences, we will be hearing the creation story, learning about the history of wampum belts and the Entewatatha:wi (“We Will Govern”) Program, and participating with the A’nowarakowa Arena hoop dancing and Kawehno:ke Rec youth groups in a workshop on traditional teachings, led by the Travelling College – Social/Women Singers.
The time in Akwesasne will end with a community event that acknowledges new friendships and sends us off on the road with a ceremony. It will be a truly memorable few days that will set the tone and provide the framework for the rest of the tour.
Using theatre to facilitate conversations on decolonization, The Nation to Nation Tour will be offering an adapted version of the KAIROS Blanket Exercise in towns along the St. Lawrence. All members of the tour, and others along the way, will contribute to this workshop, the core elements of which were developed based on the major themes and findings of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples Report. It’s built on the foundation that you can’t understand the current relationship between Native and non-Native people in Canada unless you understand the history.
The tour will stop in Morrisburg, Prescott, Brockville, Gananoque, and Kingston before ending at the Tyendinaga Pow Wow.
The Otesha Project and KAIROS Canada are working together on this project in collaboration with Akwesasne. Otesha focuses on youth driven initiatives that inspire and empower young change-makers, particularly focusing on outreach through theatre and bike tours. KAIROS Canada is an ecumenical social justice organization whose members have worked in solidarity with Indigenous peoples for over 40 years. I was drawn to Otesha’s work because of the energy you can generate by being mobile, and also because when you focus on learning at the level of heart, mind and spirit, sometimes you forget about the body; after all, these four are interconnected and I hope The Nation to Nation Tour is an experience that will touch on all four.
As I prepare to depart for Akwesasne later this week, I’m thinking of how the Nation to Nation Bike Tour is one of many spaces where these decolonization conversations are taking place this summer. The time for these conversations is now because without them we all lose out in profound ways; Indigenous peoples lose out on equitable access to land, justice, services and resources, and as non-Indigenous people we lose out on vast bodies of knowledge on how to live in a good way on this land and how to live together respectfully. The tradition of peace and friendship Treaties existed on Turtle Island long before the arrival of Europeans, and we have a lot to learn from Indigenous peoples about how to peacefully co-exist.
By Matt Schaaf, N2N Tour Coordinator
June 21, National Aboriginal Day
As Idle No More’s Sovereignty Summer approaches, I keep coming back to this memory from another summer in 2003.
My traveling companions and I were sprawled, sleeping, across the cool vinyl seats of the Grassy Narrows First Nation school bus. Dozing in the seats were half a dozen Anishnaabe youth involved in a blockade of clear-cut logging operations in their community’s traditional territory. We were making the overnight drive to join a gathering of environmentalists north of Toronto. As an ally at the blockade site, I had been invited along as a back-up driver.
Our sleep was roughly interrupted when a moose appeared in the headlights. The driver spun the vehicle to one side (to this day I’ve never seen a school bus up on two wheels ever again) and skidded around the cow. Inside, we picked ourselves up off the bus floor, incredulous and happy to be alive.
Delayed by our ungulate misadventure, our late arrival at the environmentalists’ camp meant we’d missed supper, as well as the message that we were to bring tents and sleeping bags. We spent the night in a motel on someone’s personal credit card.
The moose and motel mishaps had been somewhat of a joke, but the next morning’s workshop session was less amusing. The contrast was cinematic: blonde dreadlocked activists in bare feet suggesting that northern Ontario forests should become protected parkland; rez youth in their Nikes and track suits first listening, then defending: “The forest isn’t empty. We’re part of it. And we harvest the wood.”
Ten years later, have relations between indigenous sovereignty activists and urban-based green warriors changed for better or worse? Will Idle No More-sponsored actions be the birthplace of new alliances or an arena for environmentalist-sovereigntist head-butting?
On April 22 the Indigenous Environmental Network (IEN) and Defenders of the Land welcomed Indigenous and non-Indigenous people to an Earth Day gathering on Parliament Hill. The sun shone on a roster of speakers representing the spectrum of Aboriginal activism across Turtle Island. From northern MPs to trench-fighting environmental campaigners to women of the Families of Sisters in Spirit, each spoke to the original spirit of the Treaties, the need to protect rivers and lakes and to build an inclusive movement that works with “those we love, and those people we don’t love” (Bob Lovelace of Ardoch Algonquin). What kind of actions can meet those words?
At The Otesha Project, where I coordinate travel education programs focused on social and environmental justice issues, we are piloting a Nation to Nation bike tour in partnership with KAIROS. The tour begins with several days of cultural programming hosted by Akwesasne, then pedals along the north shore of the St. Lawrence River toward Kingston facilitating theatre-based dialogue about Treaty relations. Bringing together volunteer riders from a range of Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities, it will be bit of an end-of-summer litmus test for Indigenous-ally relations. If it’s anything like past Otesha tours, we can expect life-long connections to form among volunteers, but on this trip we are also aiming to embody a Nation to Nation Treaty relationship that lives in heart and body, not just intellectualized on paper.
The discussion at the 2003 environmentalist camp ended with an invitation from the blockade organizers to the urban activists to visit their territory and see things through their eyes. One young man did, and with the Forest Action Network, launched a collaborative campaign against Weyerhauser’s cutting practices. Persistence and empathy from all parties are pre-conditions of solidarity. This Sovereignty Summer, that alliance is a reminder that the all night bus ride is worth it.