In collaboration with the Esker Foundation, on August 27 we hosted an unconventional book club for the public, on the topic of connection to place. Co-moderated by volunteers Maureen Hodgan and Wendy Mendes, as well as the co-founder of the Stoney Nakoda Youth Council, Daryl Kootenay, the question we wished to explore was: How can we characterize our relationship to the land we live in?
To set the stage for such a discussion, attendees first took a tour of the exhibition Among All These Tundras—a compilation of video, sculpture, and textile art created by Indigenous artists from the circumpolar north. The works offered aesthetic, critical cometary on modern society as it relates to land-use and language. Following the tour, the group gathered to hear the reading of “My Home is in My Heart,” by Sámi poet Nils-Aslak Valkeapää (or Áillohaš, in Sami). The poem was the inspiration for the exhibition, and a primer for our conversation.
From the thoughts posed, overarching concepts—all land-related—arose: natural vs. urbanized space, law, home, and language. Snippets of each are retold here.
Natural vs. urbanized space. We’ve become so used to barriers—visible and invisible—between neighbours, as well as between the natural and urbanized land, that we see them as fixed, necessary things. But having sequestered spaces is actually unnatural. Whereas Western innovation of the built environment involves more cost-efficient uses of materials and manufacturing, Indigenous innovation focuses on rehabiting and restoring natural spaces.
Law. How and why did Western culture become so entrenched in property rights? Perhaps it has to do with inheritance, with land passed down along generational lines. When and where does the law apply? Can a land’s native people and subsequent settlers, each with their own traditions and lifestyles, live separately yet in harmony? It was once thought that they could, and treaties were established over it, but it seems we have significantly deviated from that original intention.
Home. The poem leaves us with some confusion: is home a figurative place in the heart or, is it a physical place? And, is that physical place fixed, or can it change with the mover? Many of us who frequently move, grapple with this question, and with the thought of wether we ever feel connected enough to a place to call it home.
Language. As suggested in both Among All These Tundras and “My Home is in My Heart,” there is a certain power in maintaining original words and names, rather than translating them into the language of the majority. What if we were to build connections/conversations to the land the same way we do with people—or works of literature/art?
Naturally, the discussion appeared to generate more questions than it did answers. One takeway that received nods of affirmation: when we go back out into the world, we will look at it differently.
Beyond the Conversation
Check out some related works that came to mind for participants during the talk:
“[i carry your heart with me(i carry it in],” by E.E. Cummings
Organic, nature-tied architecture from Douglas Cardinal
Is there a consideration for nature in Calgary’s recent hockey arena deal?
Michael Yellow Bird’s research in mindfulness and indigenous contemplative practices
Welcome to Your World: How the Built Environment Shapes Our Lives, by Sarah Williams Goldhagen
Paul Kelly’s “From Little Things Big Things Grow,” a song of protest by Australian Indigenous peoples.