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Creating a Community of Active Bystanders,

The vision of the youth

How do I feel as an educator reading Riley Yesno’s piece in the Star? Burdened, sad, and having worked in the area of youth safety for many years, the need for me to say that we need to create a better network and community of active bystanders seems to be a part of the answer.  In anti bullying frameworks, the bystander is part of the eradication of bullying.  Bullying can take on many forms: leaving someone out, actively engaging in harassing or uncomfortable behaviours, and so on. For the focus of this piece, I wanted to focus on active bystanders and connection to space, and community.

Building a community of active bystanders: Elders

When I worked with Elders in Thunder Bay, we received generous funding from the Law Foundation of Ontario, for a grant delivered by the Indigenous Friendship Centre to help create a community of helpers. Elders in Indigenous families and community are seen as the knowledge keepers, and the volumes of knowledge they have because of their life experiences and wisdom is something recognized as being like a library, and the greatest asset. There are Elders who have knowledge that can help support life transitions, understand the best place to hunt, are skilled in storytelling, can help to support youth and mothers who are new to mothering, who know about the Land, who know about sewing star blankets. It can really go on and on. The Elders are chosen by the community because they are known by the community for those skills. When I was involved in working with the Elders the main idea was to help support knowledge building around Human Rights so that Elders would have that knowledge for their families and community. The idea was that we’d build knowledge with the Elders so that knowledge would be shared and transmitted. With respect to Elders, we recognized, all the Elders as Elders. Each organization and place, has their own protocol to follow.

The benefits of building relationships with Elders

By creating a community of Elders we can go to because they have that knowledge, we open up a place for dialogue and sharing to take place. I remember I talked with my grandmother about almost anything. She may or may not have had the answer, but her time and understanding and the space we shared together was what mattered most. Also that I knew I had her warm home as an option to go to and to especially be closer to my community which I never did live at because originally families like mine could not live on reserve. Having my grandmother on reserve, meant I could visit and stay with her, when I wanted and when she needed the company. This is just one example of my relationship with my grandmother and my work with Elders was always done in that same gesture, much like a relationship building experience.

Reminding ourselves of the need to build a community of active bystanders is important for a place like Thunder Bay. When you have a relationship with also trusted intermediaries such as Elders who we can go and talk with when we need to debrief, or to find that much needed support, we build a relation as opposed to the more isolation, more depression, more fear, and more disconnect. The idea to infuse spaces with Elders and that relationship so important. Everywhere.

Giant Heart

I know Thunder Bay is a city with a Giant Heart. I have seen this many times over the years.  It has never been easy to forget the Giant Heart, that accompanies the city. There is a love for the Land and the waters. There are everyday people and including youth like Riley who are speaking up. They may not be the truths we want to hear, or want to understand. Though these are the truths we cannot ignore, if there is to be healing, and if we can be leaders of healing and facilitating and supporting vision. The youth of today are as maybe I was, when I was a youth, where we took the chance to open up our deepest private feelings and put on the table what brought us sheer outrage, or sadness, or we lacked the words to even describe how it felt. There are things I still carry as an adult, that I am still discussing, releasing, understanding and crying about. Sometimes by myself, sometimes I discuss. Sometimes I realise they are part of a bigger, a national conversation. I know this because I have these conversations with many important people in my days, and nights. We have them because we care. We have them because we have hope, as mothers, as aunties, as writers, as specialist, as grassroots, as women.

Thunder Bay

Thunder Bay as I remember being a place with a Giant Heart.

You are especially reminded of this when you leave the city, and return, especially say, when you land in Thunder Bay Airport, first of all you want to clap when you land because sometimes the headwinds feel strong and you are so happy to land, and other times just happy to land. Period. Happy to go and reconnect, be on your way. Maybe you took that last Porter flight home, from Toronto because you were in meetings again, and you did not want to stay in Toronto. You have family in Thunder Bay. Thunder Bay is your home.

When you come out into the sitting around you are bound to hug at least one or two people,  because there is always someone you grew up with who is from one of the neighbouring communities like Marathon, Nipigon, Rossport, Terrace Bay, Fort Frances, Treaty Three, Atikokan, Pic River, Summer Beaver, Sioux Lookout, Caramat, Fort Albany, and so on.

There is something to be said about a city which has the best places to eat or shop at cool delis like the Maltese. Or Georges Market, Frescos Deli,  Merla Mae, Carries Corner, High Variety, Masala Grille, Thai Kitchen, Daytonas, Growing Season, Madhouse,  and so on.

The Elders tell us about the Land and observing where we are. There is something to be said about the lilacs. Hillcrest Park and other spaces. Fireworks in August during Festa Italia. Old stairs. Long hills. Cedar trees. Sunsets that change colour by the hour. Trees. More trees. Various blues. Blues that can likely be named and renamed, for there are so many blues in Lake Superior and the skies in northern Ontario.

Pinks. There are so many pinks you cannot even begin to name them enough names either. You have orange pinks, red pinks, blue pinks, deep pinks and light pinks, and so on. Northern Ontario truly can have its own colour wheel.

There is something to be said about the super long evenings in the summer, where it is already midnight yet it looks like the sun has just set. Fireflies. Stars. There is something to be said about swimming and bonding in Lake Superior no matter how cold it is.

Photographing it. The ice. The trees. Never gets old in each and every season.

Its so damn beautiful you want everyone in your house to have a camera so they can keep their very own favourite images, photos and memories.

There is something to be said about being a mom on the beach wearing yet another bright coloured Old Navy bathing suit, or maybe you chose black for today, then spending hours under the sun, eating Old Dutch chips, kids eating fun dip, kids playing in the water.

Relatives. Academics you know from one of the local communities who is home for a dip in Lake Superior so you spend time chatting and talking about this and that and  floating in the water together. There you are, laying in the water looking at the sun, your child next to you, their child next to you. Then comes along someone else you know.

Laughing. Family. Connection. Endless blue. Beach sand throughout your house. You never clean the sand. Its part of your Mother.

North Shore

Having grown up along the north shore of Lake Superior and being  involved in advocating for the north and for safety, my first job as a teenager was in becoming a National Lifeguard, and later on, in life, building a business aimed to build relationships, which I am still operating. Since I like to work face to face, I organize events.

One area I wanted to do was to organize Thunder Bay’s First Indigenous Knowledge Conference where I wanted to show, the successful models and best practices. I wanted to highlight and build those successes of Indigenous Learners who became experts in their areas, to profile, their skills.

I wanted to profile the scholars in our area that had left behind the communities, Lands and places they loved so they could go on and learn new skills or revise their old skills and came back to share, to be part of the healing.

As a researcher I feel my work, is about asking questions, being a part of community discussions and participating as I can from wherever I am, by using modern technology and social media, because this is about recognizing the technology we use to communicate.

As a person who grew along the north shore with limited options myself, and a daughter of a mill worker, and a mom who worked as well, wanting the best options possible.  I came to Thunder Bay first so I’d be close to family. I made my home there for many of my adult years. My aim was always to help, and to enjoy all I have described: the relationality, the hope, the kindness.

I still believe in building a community of hope
Building a community of hope, where imagination and creativity can help to build relationship that is reciprocal. That is our job in building a community of active bystanders and in celebrating our knowledge base to draw from, that makes sense to the communities we belong to.

As Riley suggests, a place to grieve is necessary, to pause, to mourn and additionally, i’d add, we have to create vision, to create spaces for truth telling and support, even to hold space, as a community and ultimately build spaces to experience joy, learning, love and transformation.

This is our job, to hold spaces that bring joy, renewal, safety and hope.

It is my feeling that more spaces need to be opened up on the Land for youth and their families that are accessible, to connect on the Land for their health. Having had some of the most beautiful places, it would only make sense.

Providing this opportunity as a community are so important and valuable?

What access do families have to good healthy recreational spaces, for example, on the Land?

What is important for families all over is that ability to know the world around them.

How can we building a community of active bystanders?  How can we show as educators, leaders in the community, and as frontline, that not only do we care, that we truly are supporting  a vision of transformation and healing, that are rooted in good feelings, and so on?

‘I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel., Maya Angelou