The Restoring our Roots: Land-Based Retreat for Indigenous Youth was held between July 10 – July 13, 2018. The purpose of the retreat was to give urban Indigenous youth the opportunity to connect, learn and grow in a culturally supportive and empowering land-based retreat. Altogether, 17 Indigenous youth came together to experience land-based practices, understand more about their personal and collective cultural identities and to have fun. To do this, the youth had the opportunity to meet elders, artists, community leaders, storytellers and other youth, while participating in different teachings, ceremony, arts-based and experiential activities.
Some of the activities included building a sacred fire and fire keeping, pipe ceremony, sweat lodge ceremony, fancy-shawl dancing, a medicine walk, canoeing, the blanket exercise, the two-line workshop (Canada Roots Exchange). These activities were meant to inspire the celebration and continuum of cultural transmission, land-based teachings, creative exchange and ceremony.
Prior to the retreat, youth expressed pre-existing shame, a desire to feel belonging, and exclusion from ceremony due to various barriers such as gender identity, access to transportation and funding, school commitments, absence of relationships with Elders, and a general fear of not knowing how to participate. In contrast, many of the youth spoke about how safe and listened to they felt during the land-based retreat. Being in a safe space and on the land helped the youth manage pre-existing shame and fear of judgment by inviting them into a place of empowerment. The youth spoke about having always wanted opportunities to spend time learning from Elders, participating in ceremonies and sharing with other Indigenous youth.
Cultivating spaces of inclusion and safety where gender-fluid youth are not only welcomed but cherished as holding unique and important perspectives will move them beyond colonial thinking toward critical stewardship and governance roles in their communities as they claim their positions at the forefront of imagining alternative futures that hold social and ecological justice.
Land-based activities and oral narratives explored at the retreat provided teachings on relationships to the land including fire, ceremonies, medicines and more to help the youth experience how a relationship with land preserves cultural heritage, strengthens cultural pride, centers Indigenous pedagogies and supports Indigenous youth well-being.