A visit to Algoma's still-shining fire, Pt. 1

This post was written by Chris "the Other Chris" Connolly, YSI's communications coordinator, the afternoon before the second gathering of the Algoma Nest on September 4th. You can read more about what happened in another post coming soon!

From the Nest space in Sault Ste. Marie to the far reaches of Canada, YSI Algoma's fire has been shining bright this week.

On August 28th, YSI organizers were spotlighted by a national advocacy campaign as a case study in how to do solidarity work with Indigenous communities in a good way. Today, one week later, Nest members are flocking together for a second gathering with friends new and old to continue building their community of support. 

Last week, I huddled with friends around a computer screen in my Toronto apartment to take in Leadnow's fourth Skills for Solidarity panel, which explored the question of how Non-Indigenous peoples can create relationships of accountability with Indigenous communities. Five young organizers from YSI Algoma -- Jessica Bolduc, Jon Cada, Candace Neveau, Rihkee Strap and Robin Sutherland -- told stories of success and challenges in their work. You can watch that here.

I explained to Robin how Anishinaabe people think, what we see. I brought her in a walk through my eyes, through my world. And when we were done our walk, she was crying. She said, ‘Candace, I feel like I don’t know anything. I feel like a baby.’ And I said, ‘Now you know how I feel!’ And I kept telling her, ‘Robin, I feel like we’re a part of the prophesy. Working together like that, learning. Taking that time.’ That’s what’s going to help solidarity: talking. We had to keep that communication open. I didn’t see my friends as coworkers. I see them as neechii: friends, family. We didn’t have those lines between each other. It was very flowing, natural.
— Candace Neveau

All five of them spoke powerfully about the need for laughter, humility, deep listening and patience to work harmoniously across the "invisible lines" that separate our various cultures. I was moved to tears by Candace's courage and vulnerability to speak her truth about what it takes to be true to herself -- "to walk between two worlds, two ways of teaching and knowing." Her story is particularly powerful, and starts around 1:02:10.

Be humble, and just listen. Listen to hear. Give up everything you know.
— Robin Sutherland

And now, a week later, it's early afternoon and I just flew in from Toronto to Sault Ste. Marie. Although it's my first time here, I feel sort of at home already. It's got a similar speed and hue to it as Saint John, NB, where I grew up. The sky is muggy-grey, and cab drivers talk to you about their families as well as the traffic. ("When you rush too much, bad things happen," she told me. Toronto this ain't.) 

I'm here as a support staff of YSI, but also as an invited guest. It's been three months and two days since "Let's Build a Fire" wrapped up -- YSI Algoma's first gathering of youth organizers, and the first regional meet-up in our network's five-year history. Later tonight, we will come together for a second gathering with friends new and old to talk about what has happened through the summer, to co-conspire about what's coming, and to keep creating the supports that will keep us on track. It will also be the world premiere of a video from the first gathering, created by Jason Lloyd and Brendan Garlick.

The exterior mural on the 180 Projects art space in Sault Ste. Marie.

The exterior mural on the 180 Projects art space in Sault Ste. Marie.

As I drove from the airport and prepared for the gathering, I got an email from our steward Cathy Dyer with her final reflections before she takes an extended leave from the city and the work. Her words are animating my intention for the gathering tonight, and are well worth sharing.

She reminded us that building a fire needs more than the kindling and soft wood that brings the flame to life -- the passion and energy to work long hours, form deep connections and find one's inner purpsoe peer -- although these are essential. It also needs hard wood and some structure to keep it going: process-oriented pieces like established hours of work, contractual agreements with the organizations we partner with, and protocols for how we work together through conflict. These take time. But they are needed to sustain the heat:

Youth organizers are lit up with excitement and possibility. Their passion and insight brings new forms of community and healing into the world. That fire needs a container, a hearth, a circle, a boundary, an oven. It needs varieties of wood and some strategic care for when to stoke, add or rest. Too much structure and the fire burns out, too little and the fire burns you out. Youth need support to become good fire-keepers.
— Cathy Dyer, network steward

You can reach Chris by email at connolly@youthsi.org, or via twitter @connollychris.