Podcast: The Public Discourse

Episode 7: Resilience and Relationships

We talk with Jessica Bolduc, Thomas Snow, and Carrington Christmas about the concept of resilience, and how spirituality and service find expression in their lives and work with youth. Bolduc and Snow are part of the 4Rs Youth Movement, and Christmas works with the Ontario Federation of Indigenous Friendship Centres.

Read the Transcript

The transcript has been edited for brevity and clarity

ASHRAF RUSHDY (Project Officer, Office of Public Affairs): Welcome everyone to another episode of this podcast miniseries called "Resilience in the face of adversity". I wondered if we could just go around and hear from everybody about who you are and what you do, starting with Thomas.

THOMAS SNOW (Equity Educator, 4Rs Youth Movement): Thank you, my name is Thomas Snow. My Nakoda name isWathu Wida and I come from the Stoney Nakoda Nation in Alberta. I'm currently working with 4Rs as their equity educator. I'm working out of W​Î ​ch​Î ​spah, which I think is known as Calgary and my hometown is M​Î ​n​Î ​Thn​Î, which is also known as Morley. It's a pleasure to be here.

ASHRAF: Thank you, Thomas. Carrington?

CARRINGTON CHRISTMAS (Trainer, Ontario Federation of Indigenous Friendship Centres): My name is Carrington Christmas. My grandparents are Black Scotian and Mi'kmaq on my father's side, and German on my mother's side. I was born and raised in Mississauga. Currently, I work in Indigenous education and I’m also very passionate about youth advocacy, community development and empowering the voices of the youth.

ASHRAF: Thank you. And Jessica Bolduc?

JESSICA BOLDUC (Executive Director, 4Rs Youth Movement): My name is Jess. I am calling in from Baawating, which is also known as Sault Ste. Marie. It is a beautiful place in Northern Ontario, nestled between Lake Superior and Lake Huron. I am Anishinaabe Ojibwe, French and Irish; so a real mixed blessing as an elder once told me. And the work that I do is really focused around convening people in different kinds of conversations that actually transform the relationships we have with one another. In other words, the work that I do is in reconciliation, but it's also more than that. It's about relationships, it's about preparations, it's about decolonization and systems change.

I also work alongside Thomas, actually. So, we're really stacking the deck in terms of the4Rs crew here on this podcast. But I am really grateful to be here especially because of the relationship that I've had with you Ashraf for forever, and the kinds of opportunities that come my way because of those things. So miigwech!

ASHRAF: And we're grateful to have you on the show. The first question that I wanted to ask just to start our conversation is this. The podcast [mini-series] is titled “Resilience in the face of adversity”. I just wondered if we could unpack the term “resilience”, explore what it means to each of us and, finally, what can we contribute to a conversation about resilience in the face of adversity by starting with this concept. Thomas, do you want to take this off again?

THOMAS: Sure Ashraf, I'm happy to. So I've been thinking about this concept of resilience and how I would translate it into my Nakota Sioux language. English is my second language. I learned it as a child; and in the community, it was all Nakota Sioux and it still remains that way, although that is changing. I think resilience was something that I grew up witnessing and it definitely carried an action component with it. But I never heard it being spoken in English. I never heard people saying “resilience”. I heard things like, akta sigi hna, which is to stand back up, to kind of lift yourself back up. And really when I think of resilience, I really do associate it with that teaching. That's because of the fact that no matter what challenges I saw my community members and my family going through, they would always stand back up and there was always this determination to move forward.

That being said, I also see resilience in the context of genocide and this ongoing oppression. But the term resilience should not, and does not, excuse genocide by the Canadian government; or the ongoing oppression that Indigenous peoples face. And in no way should it be thrown around, as it benefits those oppressors. You know it is something that is taught within our communities in a sense of understanding, love, and respect. That's how I define it. My relationship with resilience is that resilience is deep within, and underlies the values of our teachings, our culture's ceremonies.

Our ceremonies were meant to build our Nari, or as I think the translation in English is our “spirit” and our spiritual strength and capacity. That is a component of resilience. I think people mistake resilience as something separate from us when actually it's at the foundation of everything that we do. It's one small component of it.

Those are my first thoughts around the topic of resilience and the word itself.

JESSICA: When I think about resilience in the face of adversity, I also connect it to my own story and my own journey around claiming my own identity as an Indigenous woman; and thinking about how my identity was projected onto me by what has happened to Indigenous people. I also think about the broader narrative around Indigenous peoples and how the term resilience is projected on this idea of resilience: being able to move through and beyond some of the things that Thomas was talking about when he mentioned genocide.

There was a time in my life when I started to shift this notion of identity from beyond what people would say I was, to discover that for myself. So I think about resilience as a journey towards something that is within. I really heard that with what Thomas was talking about when he was talking about resilience, too. From an Anishnaabe worldview, one of the concepts that come to mind to me is really this concept of mno bimaadiziwin which is, “the good life”. It is also a pathway for us to think about, how do we love ourselves? How do we love our spirits?

I think that – especially now that we are faced with the compounding impacts of a pandemic, as well as with what we are experiencing in the world with police violence – “resiliency” suggests a pull between how we show strength and doing that in a way that really holds true to who we are as Indigenous peoples.

I think that that's where I’ll start; maybe I can add more later.

CARRINGTON: Yeah. So when I think of the word resilient, I often think about how it's not just an individual experience, it's very much grounded in our families and our communities;

I think that from a Western perspective, resilience is always framed as an individual's ability to have the emotional strength and all of those things. But we're social people and connection is so important.

So, I don't always want to frame Indigenous peoples as resilient. Much like Cindy Blackstock, who says she doesn't want to frame the First Nations as a people who are healing, because then it's always about what we're dealing with and what has happened to us, versus all of the beautiful strengths that we have. That's not me saying that resilience is a bad thing, but it's just how we frame things and the language that we use. That we're not overcoming - well, we are overcoming things - but we inherited so much strength, kindness, love and compassion for everything around us. I think that's what really continues to ground us despite all of the things that happen that require us to be resilient.

ASHRAF: Yeah. I wonder if you could share a little bit more in that direction. If we think about the exceptional circumstance that this coronavirus has placed the whole world in. How do you see some of those qualities you were mentioning coming into the fore and being displayed, used, and exercised to strengthen community and to support different initiatives?

CARRINGTON: I think you’re seeing a lot of Indigenous youth groups. I know Assembly of Seven Generations (A7G) out of Ottawa. They're doing a lot of amazing work offering language classes online, still offering youth programming online, and they were even delivering care packages to youth. That just continues to show that it's not “work”, even though I'm going to say it is our work. It's really a responsibility and it's people taking up their roles and understanding this isn't just about me and my wellness. That if my relations aren't okay, then I'm not okay, and I want to make sure that everyone is thriving as best as they can and not just surviving.

THOMAS: Yeah. I will kind of add to what Carrington has mentioned which is that, for me, it's been fascinating to watch this pandemic play out and people be extremely challenged by their restrictions; by restrictions based on movement, gatherings.

We get a choice in what we do with this time, and what we've done with this time. You know life is a 'C' between 'B' and 'D'. There's your birth and then there's your death, and there's the 'C' in the middle of that; that 'C' is your choices. You have a choice in everything that you do (to an extent, mind you). Remember what I said about the restrictions that were placed on us, but right now we actually do have a choice on how we utilize this time. Of course, I always say that 'C' is not only choice but also ceremony. Meaning we can use this time as a spiritual growth time, a time to really dig in.

JESSICA: Yeah. For me, this pandemic is reorienting myself to myself. And the blessings that come with being grounded - literally, because I fly around every two weeks or so - is that I'm remembering what it's like to transition seasons and to be there for those critical moments in my community when we actually have to stop what we're doing and go harvest something. So the amount of personal growth I think that is happening (at least for me and the folks I see around me) is really beautiful because I see that as me building my resilience.

ASHRAF: One thing we could say about today is that people from all walks of life are being shaken into re-thinking their social arrangements, social structures and the fundamental concepts that inform those structures. Even if they're not using that language, they're having the same questions about the patterns of life they were engaged in before, and in the face of such a stark change for some about what it is that they're engaged with on a daily basis.

Would you like to share a little bit more about what you think some of the fundamental concepts are that would be beneficial for people to explore? We've already mentioned things about the relationship to the land, relationships to family, all of these essential relationships in our lives, including this relationship to our own spiritual life and how that affects us on a daily basis. Are there other concepts you wanted to share related to this time that we can share with our listeners?

JESSICA: This is a quote from Anishnaabe scholar and writer Leanna Simpson from her book Dancing on Our Turtle's Back: “In essence, we need to not just figure out who we are, we need to re-establish the processes by which we live ‘who we are’ within the current context we find ourselves.”

To me, that's what I think is happening to me in some ways. This book of Leanna's is a few years old now, but there are so many lessons there because they come from her understanding of an Anishnaabe worldview. These lessons have always been there for us in these times. It's about finding the ways to remember them and then to bring them into our lives in the context that we're living.

THOMAS: Yeah. Just to add to that too, Jess, something that I've seen consistently in the media is this focus on immuno-compromised individuals and coronavirus being specifically deadly to these populations. When I look around my own community, I see an incredibly high prevalence of diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure diseases. A lot of people have passed away, the men especially from heart attacks in their forties and fifties. To me that's young. That is a young age to be passing away from something related to your Chundeh; your heart.

Of course, all of those are related to stress. So one of the biggest teachings and “leaning intos” for me is if the issue is about having your immune system be healthy, how do I make a healthy immune system? How do I make sure my body, my mind, everything is functioning optimally? Making sure I drink enough water, you know? Making sure I did my meditations and breathwork.

And I say this as a dad, because as a father, where do I get my energy from? To be there for my kids, to be present when I have been doing a full day’s work? And I want to make sure that I'm actually able to engage fully with my children, to be able to teach them our language, our culture. To be able to show them and reverse the effects of inter-generational trauma. To show them what that work looks like I need to be centred. I found that the best way to do that is through breathing.

We have this innate healing capacity within ourselves that is able to be accessed that I think our culture knew that as Indigenous peoples. Our people were highly in tune with that. I think that still exists within our language and our ceremonies if we're willing to put in the time and the effort to practice them on a daily basis.

ASHRAF: Thomas, before we move on, I wondered if you could just elaborate a little bit on the sort of spiritual growth which we've mentioned a few times here if you can just describe a little bit as well. For you, personally, what does that look like at this time?

THOMAS: Yeah, definitely. One of them would definitely be Îbu thzei Îchia yabi​: the practice of fasting, it is a day of reflection. It's not a day where I just sit around and wait for the sun to go down. It's a day of service.

One of the teachings I've been taught is that one of the greatest ways that we can be of service is to offer ourselves to take on things like the inconvenience; the inconvenient temporary pain of hunger, of thirst, for a greater purpose. So when we're in that state - and it is very much is a sacred state - we are very intentional with our thoughts, with our actions. One of the things I was taught was also the preparation of food. When I'm fasting, it doesn't mean that I don't do any work. It actually means that I make breakfast, I make lunch, I make supper, and I do all of those things with intention and love poured into them for my family.

I see a lot of people who sometimes when they fast, they just, they'll lay in bed all day. They'll wait for the moment when they can eat. They won't take part in anything. But that's not the way it was. It was actually about being of service at that time. And when you're in that state - and I know this from experience - you can feel the tiredness, you can feel the hunger. It's an amazing time to be self-aware and understand how you respond in those situations and to retrain yourself to come from a place of compassion and understanding and empathy; and ultimately a place of love.

ASHRAF: I want to take us from there, this idea of orienting ourselves towards service because I know everyone here is connected to serving their communities; in large and small ways, larger and smaller communities. I wondered, Jess and Carrington if you can also just share with us some of the practical things that you've seen in the work that you've been connected to? Our work has changed, but what are some of those initiatives that you see as being exemplary, or promising, or helping us see the application of the kind of service that we want to see happening right now?

CARRINGTON: I'm one of the North American focal points for the Global Indigenous Youth Caucus and right now we have a COVID-19 initiative. Specifically, I'm working more so with the UN youth envoy and one of my e-friends - I've never met her in person, her name isMaddie - and we're working on coordinating blogs. TheCOVID-19 initiative is a partnership with Harvard University medical students and other Indigenous health experts from around the world. We’re looking to work with community partners throughout the seven regions and identifying what their needs and supports are. I think that's a really good example of young people coming together and saying we need to continue to have these conversations.

And I think it's really important is that when we use the word “Indigenous” it is not specific to North America. I love my North American Indians, but we do not own the word. It's really important to remember that indigeneity can also refer to Africans, and it's also some folks in regions of China, South Pacific, and in India, Pakistan and all these countries where you wouldn't associate them with being Indigenous; they are Indigenous, too.

It's important to challenge our conceptions of what indigeneity is and that we have so many more similarities than differences when we actually sit down and talk. I think some of our Indigenous relations are scared of that. There is a lot of “othering” that takes place sometimes, but once again, we have more commonalities than differences.

And it is mind-blowing. I've had the privilege to go with Jess and other folks to the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues. When they do opening ceremonies and it's just different Indigenous people from around the world and you're like, “Oh my God! That sounds like one of our songs.” There's so much connection there, and it really is an uplifting and amazing experience. That unity is really nice to know.

JESSICA: (Laughs) Yes! The thing that I think about that has got me really excited about what Indigenous folks have been doing right now is knowledge mobilization. Knowledge mobilization that is really about our communities, but is also showing through the way that we're responding to COVID where our values and where our priorities are, too. I think that that is also something that really can be witnessed by other people and other cultures. Some of which might be reminded that, yeah, we actually would do that too! Those are things that are more in line with how we would want to organize our communities right now.

How do we remind ourselves about how our communities connect to our elders when the narrative that was happening globally was to say we're sacrificing our elders for the youth. We were standing up to say that's actually not how we want to approach this pandemic. So, in a lot of ways, I think that the Indigenous community speaking out about those things reminded folks of important pieces of what makes us a community in the first place. It pushes back against that idea that Carrington was talking about at the beginning around resilience as being an independent thing versus an interdependent idea and concept: that we actually have a responsibility to have reciprocity to each other in how we build resiliency.

I think it's also really important for folks to be able to hear Indigenous voices talk about our own selves in this way because we're often plunged into this “at risk”, or “marginalized” label without unpacking the context under which we had to be there in the first place; which is the context of colonialism and all of the aftermath, impacts and resonating traumas of the ongoing policies that continue to “marginalize” people.

I really hope to see some powerful things happening that create some of that structural shift. I think the project that Carrington was talking about is exactly one of those things. It's the partnerships and the relationships that are being developed by Indigenous young people on their own terms, with a diversity of knowledges and knowledge bundles coming together is really what's going to move us beyond where we've been. We're continuing to cycle generation after generation when it comes to rights and justice in this country.

ASHRAF: I want to get concretely into some of those things like what the vision for the future is. What are some of the qualities that we really want to see woven into the kind of action we're taking together?

Before we do that, I know, Thomas, you had something that you wanted to share. So maybe you do that, and then we'll move on to this kind of question about the future.

THOMAS: I just wanted to highlight the point that Jess made. Of course, you know at one time we were all connected; the North and the South, the East and the West, and all of those medicines were in place. I think we're moving toward that again where we are part of a global community and we're more interwoven now than ever before. We have access to more and more and more. But, while we do that, we also have to nurture where we come from. We have to dig deep into there so that when we connect into that global community, we also come with something. I think that the journey that has brought me to that realization, my journey, a big part of that was my relationship with the Bahá’í Faith and the introduction to it.

As I mentioned, I came from a small little reserve in Alberta too and went to an International Bahá’í school. For those of you that aren't familiar with it, Alberta is not a friendly place for Indigenous peoples. The dialogue, the belief system, the way I was treated when I was growing up was that I was an Indian. We sat in a different part of the restaurant, we were treated differently by the banks, by the courts, everywhere we went. The stores, we were treated less than. And so, that was what my understanding of the outside world was.

In going to an International school, I saw that where I came from was unique. My language was unique and when everyone around the world was proud of their language that was different - proud of the way they talked, proud of what they could bring to that international gathering - it allowed me to see beyond the small scope of small provincial towns and small provincial people; small provincial mindsets, including the Reserve mindset. In being part of that global community, I was able to draw deep within myself and see what initially had been something that I had been chastised and made fun of, was actually the greatest strength that I had: the most beautiful gift that I had ever been given. That realization came through a lot of pain and suffering, but it ultimately was the greatest gift.

ASHRAF: Thanks, Thomas. Carrington, I wondered if you wanted to just share your thoughts about this, the coronavirus. You were saying before, it's not going back to normal. So where do you think it's going?

CARRINGTON: I think that's something that folks who weren't mindful before of their actions and the implications it could have on other peoples’ wellbeing, are now being forced to have to think about those things. I think it's challenging a lot of Western standards of productivity, and workplaces, and what working should look like.

ASHRAF: And Jess, where do you think this is taking us? Or, where should we go from here?

JESSICA: For me, the future is really about taking care of our relatives and our relationships. It's like there are things that we're doing now that we could've been doing all along. So, what is it that has shifted us to a place of really putting intention into people that we can hold on to and carry forward? The other thing that I think is really exciting is how… I mean, the hypocrisies of the rules that are in place from government, from foundations, from regulatory bodies that seek to control people, how actually fake they are. So I'm just revelling in how much things that were said to be impossible are actually possible.

I hope that we continue to hold on to that idea of your “no” is actually a power move and what is possible is a “yes” with a conversation. I'm hoping we would be able to create more opportunities for yeses to happen. Especially when it comes to community-driven solutions to the “issues” that we're constantly dealing with within our communities, beyond COVID.

So I think that that's kind of fun. It's also cheeky to be able to then track some of these things and bring them back up again when people try to put the rules back in place. Sort of say, “Why is it that that was easy for you to do and to make concessions around that then? Can we not do that now?” In particular, how wealth and resources are distributed back to the community.

So that's what I can hope for in the future. And then to continue to be able to just connect back into the land. I'm really grateful for that. I live in a really blessed place to have that access and I see it as a responsibility, just like any kind of privilege that you have. So, that's me!

I never know how to end a point. Like, I'm like, “Yeah, there it is I guess!” And it's all I have to say. (laughs)

ASHRAF: It's very helpful! Thank you all for sharing your thoughts with us today and exploring some of these things, especially about the reconsideration of all kinds of relationships that we have, with family members, with the land that we live on, with the economic systems and other kinds of social systems that we interact with and this personal reflective idea about how we deal with the relationship with our self in this, a trying time, and with our community.

Thank you so much for all the insights that you shared.