Tag: environmental studies

Praying for rain: the politics and symbolism of water

I’m in the air right now, on my way to an old friend’s wedding in Edmonton, but I’m thinking about water. I’ve been thinking about water since Christmas Eve, actually, when I listened to a podcast about clean water while driving through a snow storm. I just didn’t expect the thinking to last this long.

Water: A beautiful river scene in BC. Photo courtesy of Marnie Klassen.

In the spring I wrote and presented a speech at the C. Henry Smith Peace Oratorical Contest about water pollution as a form of violence. I also donated my birthday money to Charity:Water, an NGO bringing clean water to communities in developing countries. This summer has been all about water as well, despite the pervasive drought here in BC.

Two of my summer goals were to canoe more, and to start overcoming my fear of sailing. I’ve somewhat accomplished these goals, with excursions such as canoeing Widgeon Creek and sailing to Gabriola Island on my parent’s Catalina 34, Elysium.

Water: CMU student Marnie Klassen worked for A Rocha Canada this summer in BC.

And, of course, there’s my summer job. I’ve spent the summer working for A Rocha Canada, a Christian conservation organization that focuses on watershed stewardship as a form of creation care. This means that I’ve spent my summer piecing together a video about salmon in the upper Bulkley River, and counting western toads in a pond while wearing hip waders.

I’m struck by both the politics and the symbolism of water, inextricably linked in my experience.

In early July my mom and I participated in the Paddle for the Peace Solidarity Paddle in Vancouver, protesting the proposed Site C Dam on the Peace River. Though I no longer live near the Peace, paddling a canoe that has traversed much of its length in solidarity with those who remain near it, was a profound expression of connection and commitment.

And still, it remained a political act. While rivers connect us, defying political borders, they also seem to divide us. Those of us paddling were clearly doing so spurred on by hope that we had because of political transition in the province. And the onlookers? Who knows. Perhaps some of them endorsed us, perhaps others remain more comfortable with the story the previous government told, about job creation at the expense of a river nobody cares about anyway.

Water: Marnie Klassen wanders through the wilderness of BC.

As the smoke clears, I don’t want to forget about the wildfires. With the change of government, I don’t want to assume that the story’s over. As I finish my job, I don’t want to lose my love for the western toad and the Little Campbell River.

Instead, I’ll pray for rain – for fires and farms and fish.

Marnie Klassen began her first year at CMU in January 2017.

A semester on Pilgrimage for Indigenous Rights

In December 2016, I was tired. I felt dissatisfied—like I had failed to actively engage in my education. So when the opportunity arose for me to participate in the Pilgrimage for Indigenous Rights (PfIR), I seized it.

A semester on Pilgrimage for Indigenous Rights

Mennonite Church Canada and Christian Peacemaker Teams together organized the PfIR. The Pilgrimage involved a 600 kilometre walk from Kitchener, Ontario, to Ottawa, in response to Call to Action #48 of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. It calls for churches to engage in public dialogue and action surrounding the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP). So that’s what we did.

As we walked, we talked with churches about the UNDRIP, and what it means for our lives, our communities of faith, and this country. It was also an opportunity to push the government to adopt the UNDRIP through Bill C-262.

The Pilgrimage meant something different for each walker. Some were walking for specific people, some carried stories. For each of us, it was an opportunity to do our own inner and outer decolonization work.

For me, the Pilgrimage was an opportunity to learn in a new way, a way to reimagine the “classroom.”

I was given the opportunity to participate as an independent study course for the Winter 2017 semester. 

Instead of a traditional university course, this independent study took me on a whirlwind of learning. From countless hours spent on the phone with churches arranging accommodations and food for walkers, to participating in many planning meetings with dedicated and experienced activists. From leading a group of people on a very long walk, to taking my own intentional steps as we journeyed to Ottawa.

Erin Froese (centre) with a group of fellow smiling walkers in from the Parliament buildings in Ottawa, Ontario, having successfully reached their destination.

There is a different sort of knowing that comes from active learning. I learned many practical community-organizing skills, but the learning went beyond that—it seemed to seep into my whole being.

When I sat in a circle with a Cree woman who wept because she couldn’t believe that there was a group of settlers who cared about Indigenous rights, I knew the brokenness of this land in a new way.

When we arrived exhausted at the doors of a church, to receive an enthusiastic welcome, copious amounts of food, and even a foot massage, I knew hospitality in a new way.

When I walked through the landscape, hearing the songs of the birds and the cars, seeing the beautiful Canadian Shield, and piles of garbage along the roadside, I knew the land in a new way.

When I arrived home to find that my home community had done a solidarity walk to show their support of the Pilgrimage and Indigenous rights, I knew the spreading of grassroots actions in a new way.

A semester on Pilgrimage for Indigenous Rights

My teachers included my 87 year old friend Henry Neufeld, and my 10 month old friend, Junia, who both joined us for the whole walk. My faculty advisor, my co-planners, numerous authors, the many indigenous elders and activists that we met along the way—every person that I had the honour of walking with and meeting on this journey, and the land herself—they were all my teachers.

The learning was diverse and plentiful, and it continues. I am grateful to CMU for its courage to step outside conventional ideas of what university looks like. I will carry these learnings with me as I journey into my final year of studies and beyond.

Erin Froese is entering her fourth year in Environmental Studies at CMU this fall.

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