Thursday, August 16, 2018

Endaayaan - My home

Why Land Matters

Take a look down every now and then, to the concrete around you; And look at the cement beneath your feet.  It’s a little odd, isn’t it? Concrete is itself stone; crushed, reformed, mixed in with other larger bodies, and laid down in liquid form.  Then it hardens, holding on to a single property it had (hardness), yet wholly different. It’s funny how even the land upon which most of us stand is displaced, shaken up, and reformed into something it’s not.
This is in a way how we are as people. We too, are often removed from our homelands, shaken up with others and placed down in different form. And the expectation is that perhaps we will harden this way, and never change.
But that is not who we are. We cannot be re-formed into another image of ourselves and kept that way.
In light of this, I ask all of you:  Who are we?
Is it that we are a product of our families, and how we become a confluence of our parents’, siblings’ and Aunties’ expressions, opinions, and beliefs? Perhaps.
Are our identities then a product of our unique experiences? Are we a product of ourselves then? Is the shape of our being pounded into existence by our interactions with the outside world? Really?
When someone is asked who they are, surely there’s enough material out there to point to. There are countless identities that a person can fit into, and the limit of that identity is truly what they feel fits their own perspective. I myself can say I am Aboriginal, Canadian, An Albertan, Queer, Two-Spirit, a Man, An outreach Worker, a Writer, a Teacher, and a Storyteller. All of them are true in that all of them bear some form of truth for me, and my sense of identity. Any person could now write my Bio, and include any one of these titles, touching a small semblance of truth in any one of them. But would that person know everything about me, and know the full sense of my identity? No.
I am far more than label, any statistics Canada categorization, and I am most certainly larger than any box that can be made for me. This is because every event I’ve experienced, every story I’ve ever heard, and every person I’ve ever met is a part of me. They are all parts of me that will never leave. Conversely, every event, person, and story retains a piece of me. These are the footprints that I leave wherever I’ve been.
In this, the land on which I stand also bears some of the memories of my existence. Wherever I’ve been, the context of the world I’ve experienced are a cardinal point in my existence. Where I felt my first kiss is as important to me as the feelings my lips translated for me. The house in which my father and I reconciled is as important to me as the work it took for us to see past our differences. The house I spoke of held my tears, my happiness, and all the anxieties I felt when imagining the man I was about to become. In this, places are sacred to all of us.
Now, if you take such places away from me, a small part of those beautiful memories die. And when you take a piece of memory, the foundation of that memory becomes a little shaky. It is the same as if you take the forest away from a person and replaced it all with concrete. You remove their world, their understanding of place, and you remove part of who they are. We are lost.
This is why I am afraid. I am afraid because there are youth in our country (particularly in the north) who are fighting to keep this vital sense of who they are. The lands on which generations before them lived are changing, being removed, or even being destroyed faster than they can adjust.
I am writing about Youth like those in Grassy Narrows, who stood in front of the Ontario Legislature Toronto on June 2, 2016 to raise awareness around the Mercury poisoning in their river.
I am also writing of the youth in Attawapiskat, who – like those in Grassy Narrows are calling on whomever they can to help them reverse the rise of Suicide attempts and Suicide ideation in their communities.
I am writing about the youth of Iqaluit, whose world was thrown into turmoil by a forced relocation, and the decimation of their culture.
I am also writing of the countless other youth on reserves, and in the North who fight the same battles, but whom Canadians are not yet aware.
I am writing for every Indigenous youth who fights to survive in a world who’s concept of culture looks nothing like the land they – and their ancestors – grew up on.
I am writing for every person who seeks to protect what they have. Their land. The sacred place on which their culture, memories, families, friends, and entire world is meant to thrive.
In this, it’s my hope that all Canadians can pay attention to the lands our youth hold sacred. They are not stones to be crushed, mixed, and reformed into something hard. They are people – and they have the right to thrive in a place they hold in their hearts, a land that holds them and their memories sacred.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Avoided, Averted

This was published in the fall 2008 edition of Yellow Medicine Review. It's a very early poem - thought I'd put it out there. Again.

Avoided, Averted

Somewhere between St Augustine
and Nunavut
Someone created a policy
of Fear.

Somewhere in the hallowed halls of our history
is a room made for undesirable things.
behind mahogany doors
teak tea carts, folded table cloths
and discussions on another Indian Summer -

The remains of our lives lie still

Wrapped in the event horizon
of side glances
averted gazes
and ellipses not of our making.

Nestled deep in these cities
lay pockets of fear and worry
cradled in a nest of infinite density …

Tip toe past
Breathe lightly
Do not disturb the dividing line -
Of undesirable things

Place all your fears,
All your weapons
Place all your waste,
regrets and hesitations

On the other side.

Reserve a place for these things
Keep them with us

Maintain a steady stream
of your fears –
circling around in perpetual accretion

And as the candescence of ignited waste
Lights this world –
We will reveal your reflection to you

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Coffee. House. Memories.

At eighteen I walked into a coffee shop-  while my conscience was just begging to escape the shell I'd built for it. Back then, I could feel every person and surface from inside the pit of my stomach - the kind of sensation only a teenager could have. It seemed fitting then, that the first thing my eyes were trained to were the walls ...

Brick walls
A couch on the landing
Where an older man sat
And smiled – I was undone
While his girlfriend watched from the bar

I sat on the balcony
With close friends who were aware
That our return downstairs was anticipated - 
By eyes eager to see how we moved in our youth

Whether we did it smoothly
Were confident
and Calculating – 

Whether we moved like water:
Flexible and insistent
Strong, smooth
Soothing to those who might
take us in

Brick walls
Couldn’t keep the ghosts
Of long nights, moving lights, house music,
Or the recklessness of young bodies:
Fast. Fickle. Temporary.

As we left we passed
A vase holding biscotti
- that no one bought

And a sign that read:
“The bread that goes both ways.”

(Java Coffeehouse – Victoria BC 1996)

Saturday, September 3, 2011


Grasp the frigid air
Directions pulled out
Of a liquid slowly dying

a starburst of water
A branch of light crystallized
Amidst darkness

A soft movement
A dance played out in fractal precision

Elsewhere, uniform shadow
Reveals the same -

Liquid and night
Caress each other
With the precision of careful lovers

That couple in solitude
While falling to a canopy

of one hundred billion similarly captured lights.

Buffy Ste Marie - FNH Magazine Article

Sometimes we are lucky enough to get a glimpse of person’s life, like looking at a landscape painting in a gallery. If you approached one, you wouldn’t dare assume that the painter saw only the world in small squares. And if you looked long enough, your own imagination would fill in the grey space; where a rock face becomes a mountain range, and painted harbors whisper of shores on the other side of the world.
This is the sense one gets of the life of Buffy Ste Marie. She seems to represent something more than a singer, an educator, or an activist. Perhaps that was why she has received eight Honorary Doctorates, and why we were honored to interview her about them:

People get really excited when they know you're coming to town, especially around here. Did you imagine that you'd be creating and having an audience for this long?

Thanks for the good words. No I didn't think I'd last in show biz more than a week, but I expected the songs might, and I deliberately tried to make certain songs that would cross languages and generations. The songs were about classic human themes, including the ones about specific Aboriginal issues.

Your first honorary doctorate is from the University of Regina (1996).  What did you think when you'd received the news?

I thought it was really nice, especially since it was a Doctor of Laws degree, which is their highest honour; and for them to give me this particular degree represented sort of a wonderful milestone in Regina, which has so many times been associated with systemic racism. Also because they are a sister university to the (then) brand new First Nations University in Regina it meant a lot to me, as I too support FNU. The acceptance speech I gave focused on ‘Whose heritage is it anyway?’ I love interacting with universities. In a way they are the most conservative but also the most liberating of institutions […] I hated high school but loved university. It saved my life and I recommend university to anybody who can possibly get there.

In your acceptance speech, you said,  "the teachers who taught me best were people who never had the ghost of a chance to go to university. So I take great delight in sharing this honour you give me with them." Have people come forward to thank you for this?

Oh gosh, people come up to me after every concert, every speech, and I know so many people in Regina. And people in Regina particularly are used to me being grateful to family and community people, and yes they express their thanks to me for the little things I do too. In the last few months I've done the Aboriginal Achievement Awards, the Regina Folk Festival, and a couple of weeks ago the commemoration and symphony concert for Chief Paipot, so there's been a lot of thanks and pride going around. We all acknowledge each other, express thanks and gratitude […] It's kind of a family tradition.

Is there something you'd like to say to those considering University that would help them on their future journey?

I hated high school (really needed to get out of town), but I loved university. It changed my life big time. My advice: if there's any way, give it a try. Try it semester by semester. If you hate it, you can discontinue. But every semester you get more great subjects to choose from. Interesting things you choose yourself from a very delicious catalog, subjects that high school never mentioned. […] You'll have a roof over your head for four great growing up years and come out the other side with a degree and a head full of experiences.

             Buffy Ste Marie’s life – and the effects of her work reaches much further than this record can attest. She also created the Nihewan foundation to “help people go to college,” and also created the Cradleboard project to “serve kids in grades 3-12 and teachers college.” Her work in education, like her music and her words – like the waters of an ocean, seem to touch the harbors of many shores.

Find out more about Buffy Ste Marie at

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Old Night Mare

(This is the third edition of this poem. I like it a lot, but thought initially it could be a bit more accessible. So I tinker every now and then. It was one of my very first poems, and sums up my frustrations pretty well)

Old Night Mare

The price of office,
The badge of one’s complacency

Is a burden told by taut green drapes
By endless debate on old problems
By Commissions, policies
And repeated redress

Caveats and conventions
Comprise the broken body
to a face we believed
just and fair

Corridors Crisscross ahead
Of a blackened tower
A fa├žade of peace –
Hollowed by smoke and ash

Our direction has been taken from us:

Men once hopeful
Are pulled downward
Tired old skin drawn out over green lamps
Tables and carpeted stairs-
Melting into the scenery

Pulled downward into depths
Lengthened by the heft of countless attempts
At legislative redemption

While the blood of good intentions oozes outward
Seeps through the floors
And downward into the bowels
Of our good parliament

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Could I touch you?

If I was just a shoulder, could I touch you with the rounded part? Could I slide my entire being down your back and ask you to notice?

Or should I turn myself around and float away
So that even this small part of me becomes unknown to you?

Should I wait until you touch me? What would happen then?

Will small bumps ascend on my skin?

Will shivers outline the small of my back?

Will tremors sculpt the length of my thighs?

Will the Frigid air sear my inner places
As my chest fills with remembering

-- The body I once had?