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August 18-31
VOL.14 ISSUE. 26
HOME / STORY

Walking With Sylvia

Nickita Danielle Longman
Published Wednesday July 6, 06:30 pm
Canada Day is the best day for a Northern protest

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about all the lobbying for change in the national anthem’s lyrics to be more gender inclusive. It reminds me of all the indigenous voices who promote the lyrics be changed to “our home on Native land.”

Perhaps that had a lot to do with the way I chose to spend my Canada Day.

I first caught word of the Healing Walk to Stop Clear Cutting on Treaty 6 Nehiyaw Lands event through Facebook. Idle No More founder Sylvia McAdam Saysewahum promoting it for the third year in a row.

Aside from her tireless, internationally recognized Idle No More work, McAdam Saysewahum has authored two books: Cultural Teachings: First Nations Protocols and Methodologies (2009) and Nationhood Interrupted: Revitalizing nêhiyaw Legal Systems (2015).

More recently,Nationhood Interrupted was nominated in the Non-Fiction, Aboriginal Peoples’ Writing, and Aboriginal Peoples’ Publishing categories for the Saskatchewan Book Awards this past year.

McAdam Saysewahum graduated from the University of Saskatchewan in 2009. “I am what is referred to as a non-practicing lawyer,” she says. Instead, shefocuses on teaching and research.

“I focus on Indigenous, original peoples, treaty, nêhiyaw law, lands, water and animals,” says McAdam Saysewahum.

Sure, I had Sylvia on Facebook, and was aware of her passion for movement within Indigenous communities — but I never knew much about what inspired her personally. Time to find out.

Next thing I knew, my partner and I were up bright and early and on the road, travelling nearly six hours north towards Leoville, Saskatchewan.

We had proper footwear and plenty of water.

Once we were thick in the bush and without cellphone service, we followed a few spray-painted signs and arrived at the destination a few minutes late. On the side of Tea Creek, the event started with a women’s pipe ceremony. In McAdam Saysewahum’s nation, women hold jurisdiction over the land and water. Her mother led the pipe ceremony and after it was finished, 30 or more of us geared up and hit the trap-line.

On our way up the road, McAdam Saysewahum pointed out a clearing where her family’s cabin once stood.

“The cabin was my great grandfather’s. It burned down about 10 years ago,” McAdam Saysewahum said. “The DNR (Department of Natural Resources) were burning cabins down intentionally at that time.”

The cabin was a crucial factor in the family’s commitment to living from the land. It was also a place McAdam Saysewahum has childhood memories of.

“I ran around these parts growing up,” McAdam Saysewahum said.

Around a bend in the road, she pointed out a spot in the woods of an active clear cutting site. Despite being in communication with Saskatchewan’s Ministry of Environment, McAdam Saysewahum says her and her family were never notified or consulted over the clear cutting that’s been taking place on her Treaty-protected hunting lands.

“They said they will take the trees no matter what,” McAdam Saysewahum said. “They know the Indian Act leadership is in conflict and they have no jurisdiction over our hunting lands, but they go with that manufactured consent rather than working with us.”

Unfortunately, McAdam Saysewahum has been unable to get support — or even much of a response — from surrounding reserves.

Living The Land

As the walk went on, McAdam Saysewahum defense of her traditional land became more and more justified. The air was fresh and the trees were thick, and with her family in attendance, it was clear that they knew this land like the back of their hand.

We wrapped up a few hours later, a little tired and dehydrated, at a fresh water source. McAdam Saysewahum beamed as she told us how her family has been drinking from this water for many generations and that even in winter, it never freezes. We filled our water bottles and cooled our hands, faces and feet.

Her mother and father met us at the end and we were offered bannock and deer meat that had been hunted on the land.

Tired from the walk, I sat down next to Sylvia’s mother and father as they worked at branch-splitting for baskets. Her father offered me a branch, and explained how to direct my thumbs and forefingers to the natural break in the branch. As I nervously attempted an art that had been practiced in her family for decades, I noticed Sylvia’s granddaughter bring a handful of leaves to her great grandmother. When I asked what they were, her grandfather told me the leaves were used to make tea.

McAdam Saysewahum’s family are descendants of treaty makers as well as hunters, trappers, and ceremonial people.

“I grew up on the land trapping with her parents and never attended residential school,” Sylvia says.

Perhaps the most remarkable and moving observation I witnessed on the Healing Walk was the participation of four generations within McAdam Saysewahum’s family. Even more moving was the way they all addressed one another in their Cree language.

“I didn’t learn English until kindergarten” she said.

Upon closing, McAdam Saysewahum mentioned the importance of her people doing things in fours.

There most certainly will be another walk held next year.

I highly recommend spending “Canada Day” with Sylvia and her family on their home on Native land.

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