2021 NLC Closing Retreat
Lessons from our year: Co-Liberation, Well Being and Healing Justice
written by Danait Mehreteab, National Learning Community Facilitator
As many of us experienced, 2021 was not an easy year. Despite everything happening in the world and our communities, 21 incredible youth from 7 different communities came together to form a community – the NLC – that would journey together to learn about co-liberation, well-being and healing justice, how we could try to embody these practices and how we could bring them back to our organizing and communities. How ambitious!
Moving into year two+ of a global pandemic, we wondered, could 2021 be the year that we try things that may not already exist? To give ourselves permission to step forward with the ideas that we were told wouldn’t work, or the futures we’ve held ourselves back from imagining? Futures that are not reactive to colonialism, but are reflective of community care and love for one another. Futures where our sovereignty is not being defined solely through our work to dismantle colonialism, but instead generated from within the deep desires and dreams that we have for our communities?
As young BIPOC organizers we set out to model a new way of being in relationship with other youth – relationships that are grounded in healing, respect, love and kindness where we celebrate each other’s gifts, work together to change systems and grow our leadership in ways that are more reflective of our values as racialized peoples.
From April 6th – 10th 2022, for the first time in over 2 years, the 4Rs team, our incredible helpers and most of our 2021 National Learning Community (NLC) cohort gathered together in person on the lands of the Anishinaabe, Haudenosaunee and Huron-Wendat for our closing retreat and to honour and close out our year together.
Held by the land, we reflected on what unfolded throughout the past year – the plans that had to be reimagined, the relief of completing our projects, the dreams that didn’t unfold the way we wanted them to, the grief stuck deep in our throats, the joy of making it to the closing, the complexity of it all. We spent the entire weekend in conversation with friends we had only ever met online, sitting by the campfire in the evenings, eating, laughing, listening to the water and the trees, and showing up honestly and fully, as we were.
It’s hard to capture all of the brilliance that was shared throughout the weekend in a single blog post. After all, how can you explain what can only be felt? For that reason, we brought on a team of brilliant community researchers aka seed savers, who are alumni of the NLC, to help us witness and synthesize what we experienced so that we may share back the harvest with you, our 4Rs community.
Below, you will find the seeds of different offerings, each with a different perspective. Nana Asante (NLC Alumni 2019-2020) shared his seeds with us in the form of a poem and an accompanying video. Shelby Gagnon (NLC Alumni 2020-21) shared with us a beautiful painting inspired by the people and the landscape of our weekend. Gallican brought his gift of photography to capture those in-between moments of laughter, reflection and connection. I myself chose to pull from the direct brilliance of our group – their quotes and thoughts unfiltered. It is our hope that through these different offerings, in the form of harvests that we share with you here, you can feel the power and potency of the love, care, compassion and brilliance that we experienced in our short time together.
Image Description: Square image with a white background, a blue flowy corner element in the top right, orange stars on either side of the title, blue and orange butterflies at the bottom of the body text and the NLC logo at the bottom centre of the image.
Title text: On Co-Liberation
Body text: How do we move away from lateral violence, exclusion and competition, and move towards cooperative and collective organizing that makes room to be in relationship with the intersections of BIPOC communities and our needs?
How do we move away from centring our own communities’ needs as a reaction to colonial violence, to centring all of our communities’ needs as an activation of our identities, worldviews and innovative ideas?
Image Description: Square image with a white background, a blue flowy corner element in the top left, orange stars on either side of the title, blue and orange butterflies at the bottom of the body text and the NLC logo at the bottom centre of the image.
Title text: On Co-Liberation
Body text: How do we move away from seeing our movements as isolated and in competition with others – instead how can we move towards working together across movements to support and uplift/elevate one another?
How do we move from a prescribed and confining narrative of how BIPOC youth need to engage in reconciliation to defining the work for ourselves?
Image description: A rectangular image with a light purple background, orange stars on either side of the title, a black vine with green leaves on the bottom left of the page and a plain black vine on the top left of the page.
Title text: 2021-22 Closing Retreat
Body text: There in the woods among the bird calls and whispering winds we heard what unconditional love could sound like and we listened like the land we were ready to love unconditionally and to give tobacco and gratitude to the land and to the land we listened
Image description: A rectangular image with an orange background, a black vine with green leaves on the top left of the page, a plain black vine on the top left of the page and a butterfly and half butterfly scattered throughout the page.
Body text: and understanding that like the water that flowed through that creek we would continue to move and shape like the water that flowed through that creek from natural springs we were connected
There in the woods among the hills and star-speckled skies, a million seeds each with a million dreams, and we dreamt under those stars around the nightly fire recalling paths and mountains walked or submitted to get where we were recalling support from family, friends, ancestors, community, or land to pivot or keep going with intentions for: Indigenous knowledge in land-based research, Vancouver, care for LGBTQ2S+ community and elders, Calgary, food security and access, Winnipeg
Image description: A rectangular image with a blue background with black vines that have butterflies, mushrooms and stars on either side of the body text.
Body text: collective governance and decision-making, Manitoba, bringing community together, Kitigan Zibi, addressing well-being across cultures, K’Jipuktuk, healing through connection to culture, Unama’ki, a year for co-liberation, healing justice, and well-being, a season a weekend for transformation so we and our communities can live mino-bimaadiziwin embracing what did and didn’t happen
Image description: A rectangular image with a purple background with a black vine with a mushroom on the top right side of the page and a blue and orange butterfly on the left side of the body text, with the NLC logo at the bottom centre of the page.
Body text: There in the woods among the Indigenous and non-Indigenous youth with power and grief in our hair or our hearts holdin’ fast to dreams, stayin’ deadly, discussing how best we can show up for each other, for self, we strengthened bonds and community, celebrated and supported the heart work, and we continue forward, as we sow for tomorrow’s seeds to grow.
What Nana’s work reminds us is that we need each other. We need each other to stay inspired, we need each other to stay encouraged and we need each other to be reminded that we are all connected – in our struggle and our victories. Collective liberation for us meant coming together to uplift and honour one another by learning from and acknowledging the challenges and triumphs of each person’s experiences. It meant understanding that each of our movements are connected and that we need each other – as witnesses, as accomplices, as friends.
Image Description: Square image with a white background, a purple flowy corner element in the top right, green leaves on either side of the title, purple and orange flower petals at the bottom of the body text and the NLC logo at the bottom centre of the image.
Title Text: On Healing Justice
Body Text: How do we address the generational trauma of systemic violence and oppression while reviving ancestral healing practices, and justice protocols and building new, more inclusive ones?
How do we move from a punitive, disposing system of justice to one that prioritizes community and individual healing?
How do we move from a perpetuation of harmful practices in our organizing to equipping ourselves with the skills and knowledge to support ourselves and others to organize from our hearts, spirits and minds?
Image Description: An illustration of an outdoor winter setting with seven purple moons in the sky, blue mountains accented with red elements with one holding a heart on the inside, green grass with some plant-life, blue-grey water coming from broken ice, trees with a campfire and a melting glacier and a lightning strike in the sky.
Healing justice showed up in the ways that we made space for the entirety of our stories. There was room to grieve the violence and hurt we inherited from generations of trauma and pain, but there was also room to honour the ways we were reviving our ancestral healing practices and building new ones. Making room for the ways that we want to alchemize our grief into love. Shelby’s image reveals to us how layered the healing journey is. She reminds us that our healing does not exist in isolation, it is intricately connected to the ecosystems and the nature that surrounds us.
Image Description: Square image with a white background, a green flowy corner element in the top left, orange mushrooms on either side of the title, vines with leaves, mushrooms, butterflies and stars on the sides and the NLC logo at the bottom centre of the image.
Title Text: On Wellbeing
Body Text: How do we move past the point of reclaiming & healing our cultures, languages, identities and worldviews, to honouring and living them?
How can we make space for all parts of ourselves and others to exist without compromising our boundaries or perpetuating systems of harm and trauma?
How do we move from transactional and shallow exchanges with self and others, to relationships built on the foundation of love, compassion and reciprocity?
During the retreat, well-being for us looked like spending time together, taking time to nourish ourselves and prioritize our needs. Showing up as we were without feeling the need to perform or pretend. There was space for all of us to show up fully, room for us to ask for what we needed from others and ourselves. Spending time on the land, in ceremony and in the presence of a community that was unconditionally loving and caring. Through Gallican’s photography we were able to see ourselves captured in moments of joy, tenderness and vulnerability.
We extend such deep gratitude to the traditional territory of the Anishinaabe people including the Ojibway, Potawatomi and Odawa of the Three Fires Confederacy and the Mississauga, as well as the Haudenosaunee and Huron-Wendat nations, and the Ecology Retreat Centre where we were able to gather. These lands hold special meaning to 4Rs as our team member Dani comes from the nearby Neyaashiinigmiing on Georgian Bay. We have come to learn that the work of decolonization requires us to make commitments into changing the way we do things as community organizers. And so by committing to learn and grow together, we might just find new ways of relating to one another, new frameworks for navigating our trauma responses and emotional burnout, as well as taking away concrete community organizing skills that we can use to continue to build something different for our futures.
Thanks for reading and witnessing our work!