Stories from the field

Day 2016-11-22

Bhiamie Eckford-Williamson – Blog 2: Research, Resilience and Longing

My mind feels like a clogged drain lately. Information and ideas are trickling through slowly, yet the process is slow and arduous. Even though the ideas eventually make their way through, the length of time it takes causes frustration, worsening the blockage and compounding the effect. I am hoping the process of writing this Blog acts as ‘draino’, clearing the blockage, releasing the flow of information in a steady and reliable manner once gain. Approaching it this way makes this exercise useful to me, as well as (I hope) enhancing my reflections which I hope will have a positive effective on the work. Most of all however, it makes this exercise extremely meaningful.

I have been in Williams Lake for almost three months now. My work is with the Yunesit’in First Nation, located an hour drive from Williams Lake on the Chilcotin Plateau in central interior BC. This distance has made it difficult to engage fully and in a sustained manner with the Yunesit’in First Nation community. But the work has been valuable and has progressed steadily.

I have been making regular (at least once a week) trips to Yunesit’in. The people have been some of the most welcoming, wonderful people I have ever had the pleasure to meet. They continue to be curious about how an Aboriginal Man from Australia lands in their community, working on their Tribal Park. A great conversation for another time. I have had some opportunities also to get onto the land (the real reason I do this work). Travelling through such a unique and beautiful landscape are cherished memories I will take with me from this place. I have gained valuable insight into the working and lived realities of many community members, especially with regards to accessing and utilising their lands, waters and resources. This has shed light on the opportunities and threats to any Guardianship program that may be implemented by the community.

But being in and learning about the community evokes familiar feelings of home. Growing up much of my life in a small community about the same size of Yunesit’in (Goodooga) has had an unexpected effect on me personally. It has produced a sense of longing and homesickness that I have and continue to struggle with. Watching families interact and kids play make me realise that which awaits me at home. But knowing it awaits me does not placate its absence right now.

I have been away from my home now for 1 year and 4 months. In this time my nieces and nephews have learnt to walk, to talk, they have graduated primary school, attended high school, family have bought new houses and lived in them for more than a year now, I have missed many cultural events, not to mention countless coffees and meals with family. Whilst this time of my life (being an International student) has been one of immense personal growth, it has also been and continues to be, one of immense personal hardship.

Without the presence of my wife, Madeleine, I fear this hardship would have become too difficult already. She has been a pillar of strength and I am indebted for her support over this time. But the struggle remains and lately, it has become difficult to control.

I am not someone whom believes that feelings such as homesickness should be ‘overcome’. The only true way to overcome them is to return home! I believe that these are powerful feelings and if utilised in an effective manner, can be a powerful fuel to power my work. I constantly remind myself of why I am here, how I came to be here, what we (Madeleine and I) have sacrificed to be here, and the rare opportunity we now have. But knowing and feeling are two vastly different things. This feeling is what has, and continues, to block my mind.

As stated previously, this Blog (I am hopping) acts as a catalyst to re-focus my mind and bring forth information that over the previous few weeks, has not been forthcoming. My attempt here is to understand complexity of the project and if/how my feelings of homesickness are hampering or promoting the quality of the work. By reflecting in this way, I hope to utilise that which has been hampering me and move it from being a debilitative feeling to an enabling force.

The project itself requires me to design a cultural and environmental Guardianship model for the Yunesit’in and Xeni Gwet’in communities. My strategies for approaching this work have been equally influenced by my time in the Indigenous Governance program (IGOV) at UVic, and working with Aboriginal Ranger groups back home in Australia. There are many similarities in the historical experiences of colonisation between these First Nations communities (Yunesit’in and Xeni Gwet’in) and Aboriginal communities in Australia. There are also however, key differences in our current circumstances. As such, my approach has been to adopt the guiding philosophies of Aboriginal Ranger groups in Australia whilst building innovative governance models based on my education in IGOV. This governance model is tailored specifically for the circumstances and ambitions of Yunesit’in and Xeni Gwet’in.

This process has required me to engage deeply with material from Aboriginal Ranger groups at home (triggering a negative emotional response). The real complexity in this process for me is in the communication. Whilst I see clear linkages in the work, weaving these together has and continues to prove difficult.

One of these difficulties include navigating the different vocabulary of Aboriginal groups from Australia and Canada. One example is the use of the term ‘Guardianship’ versus ‘Caring for Country’. Whilst this is clear to me, uncovering ways to communicate nuanceddifferences is an ongoing struggle.

Another difficulty is accounting for the varying political circumstances in our communities. One of the most notable is the influence of ‘Treaty’ in British Columbia. This complicates the utilisation of ideas from Australia, as there is no such process at home.

There is much more to these difficulties that is beyond the scope or purpose of this Blog. Suffice to say, that there are key differences in the lived realities of our communities that require me to constantly reflect and question my own assumptions.

This ongoing reflection is a critical part of the success of my project. Lately though, this reflection has become inseparable from the longing and homesickness that has paralysed my work. I am not sure if this process of writing and recording these feelings will help me to overcome my current dilemma. I am sure however, that framing and writing a reflection this way will prove invaluable as an historical record of my time here and the hardships I encountered.

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