By Veronika Polanska
I am having real trouble writing this post. Our work stay among the Splatsin has ended. The whirlwind of experiences has passed and now I am left with the aftermath of strong emotions and attachments. I wonder if our presence in the community was felt similarly. The whole group left on Friday Morning but my kids and I stayed an extra day to just … breath and let the four weeks sink in a bit , take root, before throwing ourselves back to the nutty, go-crazy Vancouver life. I think it was similar for some of the people we came in contact with as well because I got a few texts afterwards saying that the place is quiet without us being there.
As excited as I was about participating in this field school four weeks ago I had some serious ethical issues with the project. I was a bit apprehensive about the impact our presence and work was going to have on the community as a whole, as well as the individuals we came in contact with, though I had no expectations of what it might be like. I know that I will never be the same after these four weeks, and neither will my children who completely immersed themselves in their new, however brief, surroundings, and embraced wholeheartedly their experience. I did as they did. And of course I saw the community respond and come together to accommodate our prodding and prying.
I came with a clean slate … no expectations. I made myself vulnerable unexpectedly quickly and deeply, and in turn I was rewarded hundred times over with people’s hearts opening up and their arms welcoming. Now, how do I leave after making such raw and sudden connections? I don’t know. I making due with ‘I am not leaving’, at least not forever. I know I will be back at some point. In what role? Not sure. A friend.
I have connected with a wide range of people in the community and covered many areas of the past and present. The billion dollar question (adjusted for inflation) for me, and I suspect for the community members as well, was (and still is) who are the Splatsin today? What makes a person to be Splatsin?
I could not get a straight answer. Not that I was looking for one. Myself I struggle daily with the question of what my culture is. I like to look at it that culture is a fluid expression of one’s values. There are many cultures I am part of I suppose … the immigrant culture with certain characteristics, typical struggles, traumas, joys, and successes; the woman-feminist culture; the birth culture; the Vancouverite culture – East Van in particular; the Czech culture (whatever it may be beats me, alas); the hockey culture; the beer culture; the Douglas College culture; my family culture; and so on. Some circles are as closed as my immediate family (kids and I) and some transcend geographical and man-made boundaries, like the mother-child health network community. I believe that I create my culture daily and choose the rituals, beliefs, ceremonies, and values.
And that is what I found in near Enderby BC. I found a community trying to figure itself out in the face of constant attempts of being silenced and assimilated.
The Personal is political! Everything is connected. I was constantly reminded that I cannot only be interested in one aspect of the Splatsin way of life while not hearing about the whole picture. The circles of life are connected. We are connected to the rivers, the land, the air, the Earth, the Creator, the solar system, the Universe. We all exert forces on other circles, and even when in constant flux there is a balance. Listening to the stories thundered through my being, challenged my limits, assaulted my emotional core, and made my head spin. It was smooth sailing listening to stories of success and joys in people’s lives; it was a turbulent stormy sea listening to stories of drug abuse and alcohol ripping families apart, women being imprisoned in their present lives by the past and the loss of future, constant struggle of balancing the traditional way of living and providing for one’s family while being forced to be subjugated by the system. But the people are strong, resilient, fierce warriors that meet each day head on. I learned that they were “bred that way” through the story of the last war with the Ktunaxa Nation told by Randy at the top of Quilakwa. They are resourceful and extremely hard workers whose perhaps most valued area in life, the building block of society, is a family.
Now how am I going to put all this in a report and how much of it is me bringing my own issues into this community? All the people I have met were beautiful and I am very humbled by their lives.
It was an honour to live and work among you.
Kukwstsámc! [Thank you!]