On Saturday night I did a #ds106radio thing with Sarah Lambert and Johanna Funk to help them virtually celebrate successfully completing their PhDs. As part of the session we started by talking about the lands we were on. Johanna is on Larrikia country in Darwin in the far north of Australia and Sarah is now in Djadjawurrung country outside of Melbourne in central Australia. Johanna talked about a sacred site near a beach that she visited the day before, marvelling at the old old country she was on, and the tropical winters she was enjoying (33c). Sarah spoke about the spreading red river gums near her new home, how privileged she was to have 200 year old trees near her including one with aboriginal markings, and how she was enjoying the big skies. What came through was the solace and comfort they were finding in these places at this time.
I spoke a little about being in Edmonton, and what I’ve been learning about this land I am now on. I wrote a post when I first got here about the names of places, and since then I’ve learned more. The name of this place is Amiskwaciy Waskahikan (a Cree name meaning Beaver Hills House) and it is the land and meeting places of several peoples including the Cree, Saulteaux, Nakota Sioux, Blackfoot and the Métis.
Land acknowledgements and educating myself about the history of this land is part of the responsibility I have as an immigrant. This isn’t my land, and it won’t ever be. It may become my home, but my land is away over the ocean in Scotland. I know it’s stories and it’s history and they’re my story and my history. At this moment in time, in a new country, in a global pandemic, through a gentle lockdown and into a tentative re-opening, I yearn for the familiarity of homeland. For my wee house and patch of garden in the countryside, for my small village bordered by fields, a valley, a river, a loch. For my own words, my familiar treeline and the longer summer nights.
But whilst I ache to be on my homeland, I am not.
So I need to give thanks and acknowledge the land I am on today, and go beyond the regular expressions of gratitude for a place to work and play and live. Because this place, and this country has welcomed me in and kept me safe during these strangest of times.
Whilst it has been lonely, Canada has been a good place to be during this crisis. People have been unfailingly kind, I’ve rarely felt unsafe when I’ve need to go out, and I’ve appreciated the conspicuous number of people wearing masks in my neighbourhood. I’ve appreciated the various public health messages which have focussed on collective responsibility and kindness, and I’ve appreciated knowing that there’s a public health service here which I can turn to if I do get sick.
More though, the landscapes have been balm for my soul. The mountains that I’ve walked on in ice and in sunshine. The vast skies and epic thunderstorms. The jackrabbits who live all round my neighbourhood, the chatty magpies, the geese (geese! in summer!), the robins, the pigeons, the sparrows, the squirrels that fight in the trees. The beaver and the bear I’ve seen on hikes. The several deer that have thought better about hurling themselves in front of my vehicle. This isn’t my land, but I am so grateful for all of these things, and the comfort and strength they’ve afforded me.
I hope too that my small experience of dispossession amidst this crisis might give me more understanding and compassion for the work that I do and the life that I live here.