The waterways of Thunder Bay

Today I write this in recognition of how we must stand up for all youth.  I write this to recognize my long standing sorrow as an Indigenous Mother who lives and resides in Thunder Bay.  I write this piece for I think about Indigenous youth who come to cities, without knowledge, of dangers, or places, of energies. I write this, to tell my observations. I am not right. I am not wrong. I am offering an observation. I am offering, my knowledge, perhaps intuitive knowledge.  I know, as an Indigenous mother, and researcher. I feel  in sharing our story, and our observations, can help at least in building perspective.  My deepest condolences to the families who have been impacted by the Inquest, and our recent losses of youth along the waterways.  These stories are all too sad, and we must commit to sharing grief.  To sharing our time. To build, better ways. Ways that are safe. Ways that are built with our knowledge, of what makes sense to us. For us. With us. With our story embedded, as a starting point. In recognition of our losses collectively.
Waterways back home versus waterways in the city
The difference between growing up by waters in your home territory, vs. venturing into unknown territories and their bodies of waters. That was what I felt yesterday during my brief search with my husband, in Thunder Bay, for a lost youth, in the city.  I felt a sense of not being from there.  I observed the following, and I do not mean any disrespect for sharing my observations.  I have walked by many water ways in Thunder Bay, in the past and yesterday. My feelings are often the same. Lost. Industrialized. I don’t mean to burden by my observations. Its what I feel.
A story


Once upon a time I wanted to bring my sons fishing. Because of my husband’s crazy work schedule, I took it upon myself to go fishing. I tried a few places and locations in Thunder Bay. They never really felt right. They were the places many fisherman who are local go. I went to the Marina, off to the right hand side where there are known pike. I went to Fisherman Park. I then went to a riverside to just practice casting the line with the boys. We were incredibly twisted together with fishing line. This fellow, came to us, and stood at the shore, and helped us untangle and cast a few. He then, said, this is not the place for you. It is unsafe. You must go.  He did  not say many words. He did mention to try around towards back home, he knew I was from Biigtigong Ansihinabeg. He was from Gull Bay. I know he was referring to a story, that we would both know about the area I chose to fish in. I knew he was telling me,  that this location, was not a good one. Why I settled there to fish was really about my limitations in knowing where to go. If that makes any sense. Compromise.
Back homes feelings
The feelings of security I feel in my home territory by the water, is not the same as the lack of security of safety I feel, in other places.  Yesterday, in that short time of searching, I pieced together, many stories, yet these, only my observations and feelings.
Where we go, informs us, of many things
The other concepts we have to consider are industrialization: unsafe railways, unsafe bridges, unsafe old grain towers, unsafe steel garbage, old wood, syringes, garbage.  Then, isolation. The possible predators around us. The shadow people. The people who give off bad vibes. Those we have to know deep down to stay away from them. Maybe the ones who walk with the darkness and don’t care. The unknowns. The lack of family. The lack of compassion. The inroads of hatred. The isolation. Then us, possibly very vulnerable and searching for comfort amongst the impossible. The horrible graffiti against us and our families.  The quite accepting. The ignoring elitism. The “I’m heading to my cottage” for the weekend. The “I have this and that”, versus, I have to live here and make this place, the best I have. The lost ones. The ones alone. The ones who walk the same place, day by day, alone. The ones who live alone. The ones without a village.
Out West, Indigenous Learning Contexts
When I went to Tsuu Tina Territory in Treaty Seven, I recently went to talk about Designing an Approach for Land Connection . I did not expect the full house I had. I did not even, up until the last moment, truly know, how this would go. But it went well, and many conversions arose from across the country from Indigenous Education Directors and Principals, community people, and Elders, around, why this is integral to our communities, our ways, our selves, our communities, our ways, our self. It is not about, how do we fit into the unknown, into places that are not are own, alone. Vulnerable.  It is about knowing the Land we are in. It is about recognition of sovereignty and truth. It is about restoring relationships. Truths. Feeling rooted. Traveling in ways that build capacity, seek comfort, pass on knowledge, build community. It is about telling one’s story. It is about having a community behind you and with you. It is about being responsible in the new territories we find ourselves in so that our youth, can fit and feel, well where they are. Somedays though this is not a given. We can have unsafe situations occur right before our very eyes. I remember the day, my son was chased in our own neighbourhood, and right past my front door. I still think of this moment, as a challenge in my everyday life.
Craving mossy places  
 When I was needing Land Connection. I was wanting to pass on information to my children about the Land. I wanted them to know where, and how, and to feel all the senses I had felt, growing up. I ventured to many locations and places. Searching. I came to many conclusions about places. I was craving those mossy places from back home where sphagnum moss is nearly for feet deep and springs when you walk on it. I was craving sand. I was craving places to lay, to embed my body. To fit on the Earth. To pick purple flowers. To maybe have a conversation with my spirit animal helpers. When I could not find these places, and found, other places, in my new territory,  many answers came to me, when I went to these places, with my husband and with my children.  At one point, when I was finding truly no answers, that I wanted to hear,  I was told, “but that is not your territory Michelle”, by my Chief.  I was telling him about a time I went to a supposed sacred place, I wont’ name where, but I felt so lost, so alone.
Urban areas 
 I should also note, I have been told, many times, by my own family years ago and other Indigenous people, avoid Simpson Street. Avoid bridges and underpasses. Avoid places alone.  There are bad spirits there. Don’t go there. I have seen the graffiti. I have seen the loss. I have felt the cool air on the back of my neck. I have also heard the other stories that bear witness, to, where can we go for that Land Connection.
Youth Stories
When I wrote my thesis a few years ago, I listened to youth tell the stories about back home. I heard them tell about how places in our community made them feel safe, connected, spiritual. I realized, back home, we can do a lot of self actualizing because of the space, and Land. Areas of calm. Areas of blues. Areas of turquoise. Areas of brown. Areas of textures. Soft. Sand. Warm. Sun. I suspect all of our Indigenous youth and families have those places back home. Where they fish. Where they hunt. Where they dream. Where they play. Where their grandmothers watch them. Matters.
These are the places home. Grandmother lineage. Grandfather Sun.  These are the places we pass on stories to ourselves, that come from those deeper places in our spirit. Talking. Feeling. Knowing. Adventuring. Making fires. Talking. Telling stories. Communicating. Doing art. Getting sand in between your toes. Seeing sunsets. Knowing where the sunsets. Knowing all the roads and where they go. Cutting through peoples yards. Everyone knows your name.
When you are in the City
It becomes your new home. It may never give you what you want, and you may be limited due to the new barriers you now face. When you come to the city, or any city. You must learn the new knowledge in the places. You can bring your same old self. You must be aware that your vibe and even energy carries a feeling to you.   You may want to talk to everyone like you did back home. You may find an unfriendliness. You may find new friends.  Perhaps you will attract negative energy because of your calm. You may instead make life long friends.  Don’t ask me why this happens. I just reflect upon previous experiences for me and realize times I have averted negative, usually by fluke.
My story
When I first moved to Thunder Bay I lived-in a hotel for the night, and had to search for a place to live. This happened to me twice. The first time alone, the second time, with my husband and children. When I first moved to Thunder Bay, years ago, and new,  I was approached by an older gentleman who offered me a glass of wine. Of course I took the wine. Did I see it as odd. Not really. Do I now see it as odd. Yes. Thankfully nothing but the wine occurred. Were there other times? No. Did I learn about how to interact in a city. Yes. Did it take time. Yes, years.  What does the story about the wine have to do with anything? I am not sure, but I do know, many Indigenous women have had those similar stories. Being propositioned by older men.
What have I learned
 Somedays, you have to be like an eagle and fly above to see what things are for what they are. Visions require time and patience. Questions are not always easy to understand. As a person of the Land, I can see, how many times in life, I have been drawn to the Land and to the Water. But without a critical view, and without truly feeling with one’s heart, about why or where, a place is negative, or positive, is a bad idea.  Perception is everything. Listening to what others have told you. Listening to that inner self. Passing on knowledge to our youth about, cities. About leaving behind our traditional territories, or the places we reside, is crucial. Standing up for all youth, means thinking about ways our youth want to interact with the Land and where they may go, and cautioning them about the industrial areas crucial. Teaching them the waterways are not the same. There are different worlds. Different ways.

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