Today, my six-year journey with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission is channelled into my five-hour journey by train from Toronto to Ottawa.
VIA train 52 glides through Michi Saagniig Nishnaabeg territory along the north shore of Lake Ontario (or Chi’Nbiish). The territory spans the shore from Niagara Falls to Gananoque.
My literary companion on the trip is Leanne Betasamoke Simpson—writer, activist and scholar—and her voice comes to me through her book, Dancing on our Turtle’s Back.
As a settler whose family arrived in Canada post-World War II from Holland, I have lived most of my life on land I now know to acknowledge as that belonging to the Mississaugas of the New Credit, whose 2,000 or so members today live near Hagersville, Ontario.
As the trains wends its way through the cut limestone, I read of “the complete political, cultural, and social collapse of everything we had ever known” by 1822. Leanne Simpson, however, takes up “the responsibility of my generation to plant and nurture those seeds (of her ancestors’ resistance of survival) and to make our Ancestors proud.”
She does this through the long, hard work of figuring out who her people are: Elders, lands, languages, vision, community and action. When she begins with Nishnaabeg creation stories (“to know how all of life moves”), my heart moves in the telling of how the first being is lowered (Nishnaabeg is verb for “being lowered”) and loved into creation by Gzhwe Mnidoo (do you hear “Gitchi Manitou”?)
I have only made it through chapter three so far today because Leanne Simpson is profound and personal and fierce. The book cannot be rushed.
In the coming days, through KAIROS meetings and “A Time for Reconciliation” intergenerational gathering, then through each of the four days of the TRC closing events, I hope Dancing on the Turtle’s Back will guide me more deeply to hear what the Spirit is saying to the church in the land whose first peoples are reclaiming the sound of the heart “(o)debwewin”.