Finding My North

A few months ago, I met with someone as a part of a class.  The point of the meeting was to discuss the final class project that involved envisioning a grand scale public art exhibit in Vancouver.  Most of the conversation between this person, my partner, and I was centred on our relation with space in Vancouver.  Since I had this conversation, I have been constantly contemplating my relationship with space and the space I take up.

As a Metis person, I am no stranger to displacement.  My history is encapsulated in the existence of displacement and movement.  My childhood reflected this, rarely did I spend more than a year in the same place.  My past four years in Vancouver has been the second longest time I have been planted in the same place, and yet, this place is not where I’m from.  Where I’m from is not where I’m from.  As a Metis person, I’m not quite sure where I’m from.  There are times I ponder this, and I am not sure at all how I relate to space as an Indigenous person with my history.  Sometimes I think constant movement and travel is in my veins, that genetically, I am predisposed to the need to never settle in one place for too long.  I have come to realize though, that the very space I exist in, as a Metis person and more specifically as a Metis woman, is a complicated and political one.  When your being on this Earth is political, the conversations you have in the spaces you enter can be deafening.

It is hard to be at home in this city when I think of its history as the unceded lands of the Cost Salish peoples.  It’s hard to call this place home when my heart is so deeply rooted in my Northern home.  It’s hard to be home in the North when my heart is so deeply rooted to the land my kokum tells me she was raised in.  It’s hard to be a home when you’re in the heart of a complicated and displaced history.

This all culminates to this question that burns in the back of my mind, that echoes in every foot step I take, and in every conversation I have: what am I implicitly saying as a Metis woman in Vancouver?  I am very privileged.  I attended a top university, have a degree, am white-coded, and come from a mixed working class and middle class family.  This is not the story for many of my sisters and brothers in this city.  Furthermore, the ocean, ceders, dogwood flowers, and ferns are foreign to a girl who grew up with aspen, huckleberries, and sweetgrass.  I am not used to the land here in the same way I am used to the land at home and in the prairies.  I’m not used to the seasons.  I’m not used to this place, even after four years.  Yet I continue to stay here.  Perhaps it is a good thing that I feel unsettled here.  I shouldn’t feel settled in someone else’s home, especially a stolen home.  At the same time, this is the space I have experienced so much growth in, as a woman, a student, and an Indigenous person.  I owe so much to this place that I have grown in.  This is the place I first heard the women’s warrior song and felt my heart stop and I experienced a deep and profound love from my friends here unlike anything I have experienced before.  Outwardly I’m not saying much, but internally I am having a never ending conversation.

On a tour of the city, a professor once said that this city has no soft edges where the land meets the water.  All the borders are abrupt and sharp.  I think this speaks to the reality of a displaced person living in a place built on the history of displacement: there are no soft edges to your existence.  When you’re not at home, when you are out of place, you are always a contrast within the spaces you enter.  It is within this contrasting element of my being in this space that I am supposed to create a home, whatever ‘home’ means.

The same woman I met with that started this internal conversation told me to always find my north, because to me north is home.  In the same vein, the one thing that saved my life when I moved to this city from my tiny town is that the mountains are always north. Although though they’re not the north that leads me home, when I feel lost or I need to be humbled and centred in my existence, I look to the mountains.  They are my north.

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