Many who know me know that I’ve been part of a group of women who gather and scatter and gather and scatter, as my friend, Ruth, puts it. We gather to sing and learn, then we scatter to our parts of the continent and we come together again. We sing love songs to Earth, songs of struggle and social justice, songs of peace and hope. Most of theses were written by Carolyn Mcdade, a spiritual feminist, activist, and poet from the USA.
This week about 120 women from more than a dozen places in Canada and the USA are gathered in Edmonton for “A Planet Singing On.” We’re singing the long road of Carolyn’s music and activism to celebrate her 80th birthday. For more than 50 years, she’s been doing this work, travelling to various communities on the continent to lead programs, prepare women for recording projects and lead larger gatherings such as the one this week.
In the summer of 1999 or 2000 — I can’t remember at the moment — I attended my first gathering with Carolyn. We met at the former Calling Lakes Centre in the Qu’Appelle Valley, near Fort Qu’Appelle, Saskatchewan. It was a powerful time for me. The singing, combined with stories of activism and fueled by feminist rituals and songs seemed to crack me open. I cried a lot. I almost left part way through. My friend, Maureen, sat with me as I decided whether to leave or stay. Well, I stayed. The experience enlivened me in a new way and I have continued to attend gatherings near and far and have participated in two recording projects, My Heart Is Moved and Widening Embrace. All of it has impacted my writing, my writing life, and how I define who I am and what I do.
In our gathering this morning, we honoured some of the women involved in the civil rights movement in the USA: Harriet Tubman, Soujourner Truth, Fanny Lou Harmer, and Alice Walker, to name a few. We also learned of some more recent actions of the anti-racism movement in the USA. We sang the song those protestors sang and chanted, “Black lives matter.”
Then tonight, we honoured Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) and were called to answer the call to reconcile. We heard brutal details about the residential school system, considered some statements from the TRC report and listened to stories from four women who have worked alongside First Nations people over several years.
We also sang songs that honoured the struggles, powerful songs that tell stories about individuals and social movements. To say that I was moved seems too simple an explanation of what I experienced. I cried so hard my body shook. More than once. But I had absolutely no desire to leave! That a gathering of Settler women has begun to not only discern its role in the reconciliation of our relationship with First Nations people but also considered ways to be involved in the healing seems incredible to me. It’s been such a long time coming!
Oh, yes, we have a long road to walk to get to true reconciliation. But tonight, our sacred circle began that work. I am honoured to have been part of it. And I’m grateful to the leadership team for including this important work — on both sides of the border — in our week.