by Tunchai Redvers
I grew up North of the 60th parallel, raised across Treaty 8 territory in what is known as the Northwest Territories, or Denendeh. As a young Dene/Metis girl, my definition of home, much like my nomadic ancestors, was relative to my current location. Whether it was my maternal First Nation, my family’s small cabin along the river, the predominantly settler hub-town I spent my younger years, or the capital city I spent my high-school years. The relative feeling of “home”, although limited to the sub-Arctic bubble I lived in, bred a fierce curiosity in me that transcended the North. Through my fascination of global studies and current events, the scope of my dreams widened, spanning across places and landscapes that appeared so foreign and distant to my reality. Come junior high I was restless with the dream of leaving the North in pursuit of international travel and social justice.
Blossom by Kaya Joan
So, I worked hard to make my dream come true. I studied, volunteered, researched, and worked part-time throughout my four years of high-school, and before I even graduated, I was able to go on two separate trips to Peru and Bolivia. “Home” continued to grow in relativity and my nomadic blood pulsed with the anticipation of finding out where I was going to end up next. And within the next five years, this ended up being Mexico, Belize, Guatemala, El Salvador, Costa Rica, Cuba, and India.
Along journeys, I was able to meet many different people and fellow travellers, and I was also quickly able to discern my travel experiences from the experiences of the others I met. Unlike most other travellers I met, I was Indigenous, and although not Indigenous to the lands I was trekking, I could identify and relate my Indigeneity to the contexts I found myself in. These countries I visited all have long and complex histories of colonial rule, war, and trauma, which I was able to connect to and empathize with due to similar colonial history and traumas within my blood and ancestral land. With a shared blood connection to colonial history, my travels carried with them heightened awareness and compassion for the ongoing struggle and resistance I witnessed from Indigenous peoples and communities in their own ancestral lands. Unlike many other travellers, I couldn’t snap photos of beautiful waterfalls, animals, landscapes and sunsets without also acknowledging the struggle and resistance of Indigenous populations. To do so would be to deny my own blood memory and the inherent struggle of my own people to fight for, protect, and honour the sacred land my feet grew rooted in. If anything, though, the recognition of survival and resistance of the lands I travelled through made the journey – the landscapes I was privileged to see and experience – that much more beautiful.
No matter the region in the world, there is a native connection to land, and with that, the spirit, traditions, teachings, culture, and language grown from that land. Our very existence as Indigenous peoples, whether nomads, hunters, gatherers, fishers, growers – whether in the arctic, mountains, coast, or rainforest, stems from and is dependent on our connection to that land. We are the land. And therefore, will do everything we can to protect that land and thus our spirit, culture and language. As a visitor passing through and across colonial borders, being witness to the degrees of resistance from groups native to their lands, was at times devastating, but mostly inspiring. Despite colonial attempts to remove – directly and indirectly – people from their land, the will and hope of groups to survive colonial genocide and hold onto their existence is profound. In the face of death, threat and struggle, is resilience, courage, love and generosity deeper than words can express.
Although diverse and breathtaking sites, landscapes, terrains, climate, and natural life draw visitors and tourists from around the world, the real beauty is in the people who continue to fight for and connect with their ancestral homelands. Indigenous and tribal people are resisting colonial and oppressive forces across the globe by speaking their languages, practicing traditions, guarding sacred sites and waters, and continuing to live off the land. Despite trauma, threat, genocide, environmental disaster, and tourist influence, Indigenous people welcome, love, smile, laugh and live. Just like the changing and threatened lands they occupy, they remain resilient and hopeful. Land is beauty, but it is the resistance which keeps that beauty alive.
heels tread terrain so rich, soul nourishes
walking on history, untapped veins feeling stories
of the ones who roamed, live, free in language
and ability to hold mountains with worn hands even through monsoons
I am grateful to touch this terrain
Tunchai Redvers is a Dene/Metis 2Spirit social justice warrior, writer and wanderer born from Denendeh roots in what is now the Northwest Territories. Through her writing, work, studies, and being, she actively works to normalize and decolonize discussions on hardship, hope and healing, and indigenize mental health, identity and self-love. She is the the co-founder of We Matter, a national non-profit organization committed to Indigenous youth empowerment, hope and life promotion.