In early February, we put out the call for facilitators of our Young Spirit Circles project. We imagined these young leaders bringing together organizers and innovators from diverse communities within four localities across the province. Our aim was to build inclusive local relationships and create mutual understanding of ancestral heritage and faith backgrounds, including both religion and atheism.
(Sidebar: The project was even recently covered by Yonge Street Media, a Toronto-based weekly online magazine. Sweet!)
Anyway, as part of our application, we asked people to share how their sense of personal and family history and/or faith has shaped their understanding of themselves and their community. We were so overwhelmed by the number and power of the responses we received from all four corners of the province. Dozens of people opened their hearts with everything from songs and poems, to sculptures and personal manifestos -- each one cutting to the core of why we set out on this project. We thank all those who applied so very much.
After a very difficult decision from the hiring committee, we are incredibly excited to introduce our four facilitators and hosts:
Candace Neveau, Sault Ste. Marie
It’s an honour to get this job with the Spirit Circles. I’m from Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, and I’m Ojibwe. Through my business, Thunderbird Rock, I give guided on-foot tours along the boardwalk of my city, and give people a space to feel comfortable asking about First Nations. I give a lot of stories and interpretation behind the Aboriginal people who live in this area. There’s a huge gap between First Nations and non-First Nations in my area. It’s hard for people to cross the line, feeling the are overstepping their boundaries or afraid of being wrong. I let people who are interested know about why we do things the way we do.
I have a few reasons why I want to be a part of the Spirit Circles. I feel that engaging those conversations is at times tricky for everyone. I find that I have strength in making people feel comfortable and have good communications skills with first meeting people. I like greeting people and making them feel very welcome and on the same level. I think that it’s very important that these kind of conversations happen. It’s a really important gap that’s happening in our society: to have these difficult conversations while also having fun! To be able to get more community work like that means the most to me. It’s worth more than money or anything. It’s about the feeling I get engaging these kind of conversations. It’s also a way to start working together across the divisions of history. I can stand up and use my voice for my ancestors that had a lot of hardship. I get to share their story. Chii-Miigwetch!
Carol Kajorinne, Thunder Bay
I am a multidisciplinary artist and educator who cannot help but explore life through art – I feel they are inseparable. I view art as an honest, spiritual act that stems from one’s soul. When fully engaged in the creative process, no mistakes are made and there are no limitations. I aim to inspire others to follow their hearts and wilder aspirations through creativity. Since 2010, I have been involved with various arts-related organizations within Thunder Bay, including the Community Arts and Heritage in Education Project, Willow Springs Creative Centre and Satellite Studio Artist Collective.
Through this experience with YSI, I will continue teaching, learning and collaborating in new, exciting ways. I hope to leave the project with an even greater sense of strength and certainty within myself as I grow alongside the program participants. I hope to share the universal message from my Finnish heritage: that the state of our self, city and world lies in each of our hands. It relies greatly on the land and waters that led us here and made us who we are. We control our future, each individual brings strength to the community, and we are all inevitably connected.
Inali Barger, London
I am a Bahá'í, queer, spoken word artist with hearing loss. Although I have a ton of different experiences, I recognize that I can’t speak for everyone -- nor should I try. I believe that a community leader strengthens and amplifies the voices and strengths of others rather than trying to showcase their own. I have started to do this by unifying diverse groups through artistic expression and by helping to develop common language for how we teach, learn from and honour each other. It’s important to recognize that people coming from very different contexts can sometimes have conflicting viewpoints. A leader needs to find the common ground between them so that both are valued.
I have been inspired by the fundamental belief in my faith that we are all inherently noble. That means we all contain the capacity for excellence in mental, spiritual, physical, and emotional well-being. We are all capable of great things if we work towards them. I pass on that knowledge and wisdom to other people as often as I can, because I recognize that the more we know ourselves and the more that we grow in ourselves, the more we are able to understand other people and help them to grow.
Jermaine Henry, Toronto
I was a part of YSI at the last CollabCamp, and it had such a profound impact on me. I remember how it was hosted, how we were able to come together in spirit. In all the work we do, it’s so important to keep that focus on how we connect with each other. I feel that’s what we did at the retreat. It became co-hosted, with everyone a part of what we created. I remember Cathy put me on the spot to share a rap piece. It was cool to see everyone else afterwards share their own creative pieces, their expressions of themselves, their opinions and feelings and spirit. That’s what I love: creating more spaces to do that, while sharing my artistry, my heart and soul, so we can be together in better conversations.
I have a lot more to grow and practice as a host. I jump at this opportunity to learn how to foster a space where these conversations about equity can happen. I did my studies in school with psychology and religion. From then, I have continued to learn about different worldviews and how to understand each other more so we can coexist. I would love to keep putting that in practice. One Love.