Spirit of the Land – The Conference

You are meant to hear this – take it with you and live it. ~ Sylvia McAdam

The Spirit of the Land conference was a gathering of the grass roots.  It was a gathering of creativity, prayer, music, art, media, ceremony, and bodies that packed the Augustana chapel to capacity.  We gathered together to build a dream, to sit in contemplation, to connect with a deeper part of our humanness, and to discuss how to inspire everyone to see what Aldo Leopold calls the Fierce Green Fire – the animation of creation.

We were welcomed to Treaty 6 land with the pipe ceremony of the Plains Cree and the scent of buffalo sage reminded us of the sacred nature of our gathering and the conversations to come.  We were meeting to share our cariño, our deep affection for the lands that have nourished us, and to remove the veil of innocence surrounding Canada’s past and present treatment of the First Nations people of this land.  In healing the wounds of these injustices, we can hope to move forward in solidarity as we take action to protect our lands – the prairie sky that opens our hearts, the sacred hunting lands of the ancestors, the safe space that leads to the childlike discovery of the natural world, our generations of family farms, and our developing cities.

Day 1 – Welcome to the Conference

Elder Roy Louis, Dean Allen Berger, Carmelle Mohr & Rajan Rathnavalu

We were asked to share a conversation about our connection to the land.  Here are the ties that bind this group to the world.

Sylvia McAdam, co-founder of #idlenomore provided us with her powerpoint and the recording follows:

Sylvia McAdam
Sylvia McAdam part 2

A key aspect of the conference was the community-building that took place during the roundtable discussions.  Addressing the truth of exploitation of First Nations and the reality of the treatment of the land is difficult to hear and even more difficult to discuss.  Healing requires hope and a desire for wholeness.  It is only together that we will find right relationship, and at this conference we were given a safe space to practice these conversations.

Day 2 – Welcome

Janice Makokis and Roger Epp discussed treaty relationship from First Nations and settler perspectives.  Janice spoke first of her experience of asking for guidance from Elders during her research.  Answers from Elders take time and they always return to the Creation Stories to first ground the knowledge in its proper place.  This telling of Treaty relationship from both perspectives was a re-storying of the creation of our nation.  It was a re-history that acknowledged the truth of the exploitative stance of European settlers.  By lifting the veil, we were able to retell our own stories in a way that recognized our common ground – the Earth.

This was followed by a roundtable discussion that was not captured due to technical difficulties.

Lorne Fitch spoke on one of the conservationist/philosophers who ground the conference – Aldo Leopold.

After lunch, a panel discussion showed us what it means to dream together.  Each individual holds a sacred relationship with the land they love that inspires spiritual renewal.
~  Takota Coen (forest gardener & young farmer)
~  Don Ruzicka (organic farmer)
~  Brenda Barritt (food security)
~  Sylvia McAdam (scholar, indigenous leader)

And a roundtable discussion:

Followed by a question period for the panel

Chris Turner shifted our gaze from the “wild” to the natural aspects of the urban landscape.  He noted that the land ethic of city design is focused on automobiles and not on livable human spaces.  A rethinking of the natural as a part of the cityscape is key to including large populations in a reconsideration of the relationship to the Earth and her systems.

Finally, Dittmar Mündel spoke on the inspiration for the class and conference and the vital importance of hope in the face of such difficulty.

As the archivist for the conference, there are so many things I failed to capture.  I apologize for poorly placed recording equipment, muffled sounds, clicking keyboards and the like, but I have done what I could with my abilities and technology.  I would like to leave you with a final highlight, in case I’ve missed it in the recordings.

During Takota Coen’s talk (see the video below), he spoke of a moment during his training in the healing plants of the land.  A great weight sat on his heart as he sat in contemplation of his relationship to the Earth and her systems.  He recalled the ways he and his family had taken the generosity of the land for granted, the ways he had destroyed fragile systems, the moments he had forgotten the sacred nature of all of existence.  He sat before a valerian plant and offered it his breath – the CO2 of his exhale – and received breath in return.  He asked the plant what it needed from the humans.  Overwhelmed by the connection, he felt called to communion and reached for a single leaf.  Recognition was all the plant asked for, and in return it offered him grace, forgiveness, nourishment, and the very breath of life.

Recognition of the natural world – of its inherent rights and its essential contributions – this is the basis of a land ethic.