Tuesday, May 7, 2013

CES' New Intern: Evelyn Poitras

Well, this is my first blog and my second day at CES.  CES was initially the acronym for Canadian Eco-tourism Services but has evolved to simply being the name for this organization which offers community development services particularly targeting Indigenous communities.  My first introduction to CES was as an elected Councillor for my band Peepeekisis, Saskatchewan in 2010.  I came across an opportunity to apply for free services related to potential tourism opportunities and this was the beginning of a friendship with Amanda Huculak of CES who eventually came to visit us on Peepeekisis.  Who knew that I would come to be a field placement intern with CES in 2013 as a Master’s student at the University of Winnipeg?

I am sitting in an architect office building on McDermot this beautiful (finally summer) morning where CES also has their offices.  My mother has texted me just now to say “nitanis, miwasin wayawitimihk, ayikisak nikamowak, kisahikitin”.  My daughter, it is beautiful outside, the frogs are singing, I love you.  April was the frog moon month and she had trusted that they would be thawed out and singing by the end of the month...and then we had this snowstorm!  On my recent visit home, I truly appreciated the song of the frogs. 

I am Cree and Saulteaux (Ojibway, Cree, French mix) from the Treaty 4 Territory.  My mother is from Onion Lake on the Alberta/Saskatchewan border in the Treaty 6 Territory and her first language is Cree.  Despite the Indian Residential School experience, my mother retained her language and is still a Cree teacher today.  In Winnipeg, I am visiting Treaty 1 Territory which is home to the Anishinaabe (Ojibway) mainly.  My ancestors are also French and Metis with their own proud history very much part of this historic city and the Red River.  It is a special place for me to visit.  I plan to be here for two years for my Master’s studies.    

I was mindful of my mother in the marketing exercise I just did with Amanda and Jessica DeGrave, my supervisor. . . oh wait, its time for lunch and a nice walk to Market Square with Amanda.  What beautiful old buildings in this city.  Back from lunch! . . . The marketing exercise was an opportunity for me to be self-conscious as a nehiyaw iskwew, an Indian woman.   To share is validating and empowering- it is responsibility and celebration.  Our circles are virtual today.  Our youth will take their rightful places in these circles.  Like the frogs in spring, they will sing and it will be a beautiful sound...and like my mother, we have waited patiently and faithfully to hear this song.

Tourism is basically about visiting and sharing.  First Nations, Aboriginal, Indian...people love visiting.  Socializing and our social fabric is a very important part of who we are.  And it is also a very important protocol to share.  Gift-giving can be sacred particularly when it is related to reciprocity- we never simply take something, we must always give back in the circle of life.  Storytelling is part of survival.  Language is ‘a gift of the Creator given to us to communicate with the Creator and all of creation, everything given to us to survive as Indian people’...I recall those words from late Harold Cardinal, a wonderful leader for all of us.  Language is our kinship and place in the world- all our relations- which tells us who we are and who we have always been- extremely critical and powerful knowledge especially today.

In our fast paced lives and growing technology, visiting is almost a lost art.  I am guilty of this also.  Cocooning at home in a blanket of technology/entertainment is a great comfort at times.  But I also think of elders from my community who I wished to visit.  It is not always easy to do, sometimes this can be challenging.  The hard lessons are that we can lose these elders very suddenly.  I learned that lesson once and it lit a fire under me to make sure that I followed through to talk to others no matter how hard or challenging this could be.  I still remember kokum, grandmother, and know that her gift to me was inspiration to make sure that I went on to do my work.  Today I treasure those memories, those visits with many elders.  As a filmmaker, this is now my legacy. 

My mother and father’s generation loved to visit.  What is more, they expected this.  If you did not visit, this could hurt someone’s feelings.  I recall campaigning at home and this opportunity to visit.  One elder kept me for a four hour visit- one hour for every year of my term, he said with a big smile.  I lost my political race at that time but certainly could not regret any time I spent with members from my community visiting at that time- hours of tea and coffee drinking, much laughter, stories, history sharing, a little gossiping and teasing.  Today I feel much privilege to remember how I was welcomed into so many homes and treated so kindly with great hospitality.  We shared concern, hope, love for our families, and pride for our community, our home.

I am reminded of the movie “Julia and Julie”.  It’s a great foodie movie but also a true story about a blogger who wrote about her odyssey through the Julia Child’s revolutionary cookbook on French cooking.  The blogger challenged herself to cook her way through these recipes in one year.  She started off rather obscure but ended with great acclaim and many blog followers.  So, dear blog readers, what may come of this obscure blog beginning?  One thing is that you will learn about CES through my experience.  And one thing is also sure...like Julia Child, you can never have enough butter...but like my blog, if you don’t have butter, and even if you do, try lard or bacon grease on your bannock.   

Evelyn Poitras