Chimeda – Paddling for reconciliation
This Canada Day, folks from my community (Wakefield and Chelsea, QC – about 30 km north of Ottawa) paddled the Gatineau River to Ottawa with folks from Kitigan Zibi Algonquin First Nation. It’s a paddle bringing about real, community based reconciliation and transformation. This year was particularly significant, due to the importance placed on Canada’s 150th anniversary.
Our trip is called Chimeda – We are paddling (Chimeda means “we are paddling” in Algonquin)– and it brings Indigenous and Non-indigenous communities together to paddle the river we share. We do so for community-based reconciliation. My co-organizer, Celine Whiteduck (Kitigan Zibi) likes to say: paddling together, in the same direction, is what reconciliation is about.
Each year we’ve done the paddle a little differently. This year, a group of youth came together the day before for a camp-out in Wakefield, to tell stories (and to eat ice cream) and practice for the big day alongside alumni from past trips. On Canada Day morning we joined a group of 14 boats in Wakefield to begin our trip to Ottawa. We joined up with three other paddling trips descending on Ottawa from the east, the west and the south.
Two years ago, we involved youth in a five-day paddle from Kitigan Zibi to Ottawa. Many of those youth are now close friends, as are many of the adult organizers from both communities. Paddling is only a part of the experience.
Four years ago we got to know each other in efforts to host and support a group of youth who had walked from Hudson Bay on their way to Ottawa. The experience of that walk – which, by the time it reached Kitigan Zibi had 200 participants, and Wakefield, 300 – was for many of us a first time to work together, to get to know each other. It was very intense and rewarding. We felt after that experience, that continuing to work together on important projects would be fun and meaningful and bring about real change in the way we interact and know each other. Specifically, paddling involves a lot of planning, communications, outreach, volunteers and time playing. Each of these activities offers an opportunity for contact, learning from each other, and supporting each other.
We decided on a different model for working together, where each community would reach out to the other asking for help (rather than offering it).
It’s a project I hold very close to my heart. We try hard to get the word out, because we believe similar trips – whether they last a day or a week – on shared watersheds across the country – could be a model for Indigenous and settler reconciliation at the grass-roots level.
I feel fortunate that Systemscope gives us time each year for volunteer projects. This year I spent that day with the youth in Wakefield, planning, camping, (and eating ice cream).
Visit chimeda.ca for more information and photos.
Want to get involved?
Join us next year (send us an email from the Chimeda.ca website) or support us in other ways (financially, logistically and so on)
Spread the word (do you know anyone across North America who might be in a position to run a similar trip? – put them in touch with us)
Learn more about Indigenous history in North America. A good starting point is: The Inconvenient Indian, by Thomas King.