Ottawa’s RISE group members, pictured here on September 7, 2019 at the RISE leadership program retreat. Photo: Helena Valles
By Ottawa RISE
limate change is on people’s minds, but it can also be a difficult conversation to take part in. So the Letters to the Land program will hold space and help young people from marginalized communities articulate their relationship to the land and care for it.
Letters to the Land is a project created and led by youth working together in Ottawa RISE. RISE is a youth leadership program run by Apathy is Boring, a national organization that helps young people get involved with their communities.
Through a writing workshop and showcase, the project aims to centre BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Colour) experiences of climate change. Letters to the Land hopes to connect youth who may be feeling overwhelmed by climate anxiety and provide a space for authentic and critical reflections on their relationship to land.
After all, climate anxiety is easy to develop in the face of all these issues. This is especially true for BIPOC communities, who experience climate change in distinct ways.
Indigenous people and people of colour continue to bear the largest burden of climate change, susceptible as they are to the continued destruction of their lands and communities in the name of economic development, the disproportionate effects of environmental destruction (such as water pollution), and the delegitimization of ancestral knowledge across the globe.
There is a wealth of ancestral and intergenerational teachings within BIPOC communities that inherently recognize the need to heal broken relationships to the land. But environmental racism and other forms of erasure continue to push these communities to the margins, leaving many BIPOC stories and perspectives neglected and talked over in mainstream climate conversations.
Letters to the Land aims, then, to shift the way we talk about climate change and climate anxiety. The first part of the project is a writing workshop, which is a closed space for BIPOC. Participants will write personal letters addressed to a land each individual feels drawn to, whether that is in Canada or abroad. The letters and exercises throughout the workshop will allow participants to explore and express their feelings around climate anxiety and land disconnection.
The second part of the project is a public showcase, where individuals can choose to share their letters with an open audience. The aim of the showcase is to engage the larger Ottawa community in a new conversation – one that prioritizes healing, reconnection, and recovery of knowledge.
The project will also feature letters on their Instagram account, @letterstotheland. These can be letters created in the workshop or – if anyone is unable to attend but still wishes to share – submitted online. People are also encouraged to submit a photo of the land they’re addressing; submissions can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.
While exact dates have yet to be set, the Letters to the Land writing workshop will run the week of November 11-15 and the showcase will be held at the end of the month. Check RISE Ottawa’s webpage or Facebook for details.
Below are some of the Ottawa RISE members’ own letters to the land.
Where to begin, where to begin? It’s hard to start something like this because, honestly, how can I as one individual apologize for how badly things have gotten screwed up for you?
For as long as I have been alive and so much longer before me, you have been poisoned by societies who do not care for you as they should. You, who have always given us so much – so much greenery, so much water, so much rich soil and nutrients, so much air, so much LIFE and so much LOVE.
The more time I spend understanding and appreciating my indigeneity, the more time I get to understand and appreciate you. Everything we are, everything we get to be is because of the earth we come from, and the earth we one day return to. You give us the biggest gift we could ask for – life. And we take that completely for granted.
Truthfully, there’s nothing I can say that’s going to make up for it all. All the pain inflicted on you, our beautiful mother earth – no apology could ever make up for that. But what I can do is change my own behaviour.
From now on I’ll remind myself even more often to make time to appreciate all that you are around me. The sound and feel of the wind on these crisp fall days. The first snowfall of the season, which will undoubtedly come soon. The way the leaves are crunching under my feet when I play outside with the kiddos I work with. All those beautiful days of spring that will come after a cold winter, promising sun, flowers and warm spring showers.
I’ll put more effort into reducing my waste, reducing my cheap consumption and most importantly, I’ll stand loudly and proudly for you. I will continue to engage with folks about the pain you’re in. I’ll remind them and inform them of all they can do to support your healing. For without you, we are nothing.
With all my thanks, regrets, and abundance of love,
I have heard your call. In the North I hear and feel your beating heart and spirit. I have had a hard time hearing it anywhere else.
You have called to me as you have called to others. You have beckoned me to action when you rustle the wind through the leaves over my head, when you gently lap the water on the shore by my feet. I have felt you when you have shone the sun on my skin and when you have let soft rain drip and patter on my head. You call me to listen and to advocate for you. I am ready to rise up.
I apologize for taking so long to take action, but your gentle and patient reminders have stuck with me always. Though you weren’t always on my mind, you were always in my heart. I would visit you as much as I could in the North, where I feel your presence more clearly. Every visit is a deepened resolve.
I try to find you in Ottawa, but the connection doesn’t feel as strong. I’m not sure why. I don’t forget you and I think of you everyday. You are on my mind when I rise to your soft morning hush, when I do my best to reduce my waste, when I see the news saying you’re not doing well, and when I feel your celestial glow before going to bed.
You are there, you need help, and I am trying. I will continue to speak of you, to you and for you.
Everyone told us to write to you but we don’t know what to say. We haven’t come to see you for years. You look older. Are you sick? Are all your friends still around? Is your family still in health? Do your children take care of you?
We only catch glimpses of you; through a screen – maybe a window. Does this make you mad? We wake up every day on this earth just to ignore you. Not even on Sundays do we take the time to appreciate what was created before us – everything that sustains us.
This is the hamartia, the tragic flaw, that will return us to dust.
I would like to make amends. To take accountability. To reconnect.
I apologize for every time I drove on 4 wheels when I could bike on 2. I apologize for every time I filled up a landfill. I apologize for ignoring the wisdom of the native voices. And most of all, I’m sorry for ignoring you.
I hope we heal.