From a geographical perspective, my home, Jasper, Alberta, Canada, is nestled in 10 880 square kilometers of protected forest. Living at the headwaters of the Athabasca River has become a prominent feature in how I situate myself in this space I call ‘home’ and the emerging role I wish to play in my community.
In the span of my thirty-nine years of life, I have been invited to explore genocide from several different angles. When I graduated with my Bachelor of Education in 1997, my first teaching position was in a small village in northern Rwanda. Upon my return to my home province of Alberta, the residue of genocide in Canada also left its mark on my psyche when I accepted a position as a youth worker in a Dene Tha’ First Nations community in northern Alberta. Witnessing and learning from the women and girls on the frontlines of this violence have been both heartbreaking and eye opening. I have sat with them in their moments of reflection, have seen their uncensored sorrow, have watched them remembering with their whole bodies. I have witnessed these same women drawing from the deep wells of their bodies and have experienced their resiliency. I am changed by their stories and inspired by their courage to grieve for what they have lost and for their wisdom to re-imagine their communities. I am learning that the power of grieving lies in our ability to transform it into compassionate action.
Recently, I travelled to Fort McMurray to visit the tailwaters of my home stream, the Athabasca River. As I walked in the landscape of the tarsands, the familiarity of genocide resurfaced in every cell of my body. The words of poet Mary Oliver became a mantra during my walks:
You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves.
Standing at the edge of tailing pond as the wind whipped at my hair, I observed water that no longer ripples. In that instant, I recognized that my own instinct to protect that which gives me life has been silenced. My belly shrieked a loud and resonant, NO! I felt the living waters in my own body rippling outward. As I continue to awaken to the suffering of the world, I am learning that climate change is changing me. I am also learning that by becoming increasingly aware of my inner climate and by giving voice to it, I can enhance my transparency and credibility as a communicator and community leader.
Becoming attuned to my inner climate means that I am opening the floodgates to be in my animal body. My senses are taking in a range of subtle cues from the external environment that activate and animate the vitality within. I am vigilant and awake in this sensual space of awareness. As I remember to anchor myself into the knowing of my body, I grant myself permission to grieve. I acknowledge to what extent I have separated myself from my body’s innate wisdom. I recognize how, in my own family’s intergenerational patterns, a line between woman and animal has been drawn to shame, devalue and suppress this instinctual wisdom. Developing a repertoire of grieving practices in community is the service I wish to offer to women (and the men that are honoring and supporting women) who may be feeling paralyzed, numb and stuck in the current patriachal framework.
The UN Women Watch has already identified that there is a need for gender sensitive responses to climate change. I am advocating for opportunities for women to learn more about the ways in which their bodies (fractals of the natural world) are designed to process grief. More specifically, I am interested in holding space for women to make connections between their monthly menses and the cycle of the moon. From this place of direct experience, women will apprentice themselves to the ebb and flow of primal, earth-based rhythms and learn how to chart and orient their voices into the wild geography of their bodies. Women will be encouraged to develop a heightened sensitivity and give voice to the potent correlations between their inner climate and the health of the external environment. Using the wisdom of the body as a leverage point, I wish to guide women to the intensity of their grief in the face of environmental change, as well as, explore a variety of communication strategies to bring their grief forward into their communities of practice.