I can so vividly remember the full moon that night. I was in the third or fourth grade and was sleeping over at a friend’s house for her birthday party. Her dad took four or five of us girls to a place called Shekinah. It was winter and the moon was the fullest I had ever seen in my short eight or nine years. It was so bright out it looked almost like daytime. We spent what felt like hours and hours sledding down a giant hill – running up and sledding down, running up and sledding down, over and over. I had been to Shekinah multiple times with my class but had never experienced it the way it was that night. It’s still one of the most vivid landscape images in my mind from my childhood. What I was completely oblivious to at the time is that Shekinah is a Christian-run retreat located on Treaty 6 land. To me this place was wild and empty and ready to explore. It is located along the banks of the North Saskatchewan River and says right on their website that it “showcase[s] some of the tremendous beauty and diversity contained in the natural world.” I had no concept of anyone habitating this land before it was claimed by whatever Christian group ran the camp. Nowhere on the website or during any of the school trips to this place had the real history of the land Shekinah now resides on been taught to me. And so for the past (almost) thirty years, I have held the memory of this land and of this particular night as my go-to memory for when I felt the most connected to the wilderness.
My wilderness bubble has been broken. I was completely ignorant that my idea of an untouched and there-for-the-exploring land was stolen – that it isn’t empty and untouched – that this was someone’s home. As Newbery (2012) states, “proclamations of empty wilderness and the good nation can be hurtful to those whose histories of injustice at the hands of the nation are erased by such enunciations” (pg. 41). My childhood joy and exuberance was at the expense of so many who once called that place home. It hurts my heart realizing just how little I know about places like Shekinah. Wall Kimmerer (2013) explains this clash of the environment with our need to impose our Euro-Western ideologies on it and stake our claim when she states that “the maples, our most generous of benefactors and most responsible of citizens, do not deserve our government” (pg. 174) – this can be said of every tree and plant and rock and creature. Our Western world thinks that we can claim and govern every piece of land, but it is not ours to claim. Everything that was here before us does not deserve the practices and policies that we impose on everything for our own benefit, especially the Indigenous people that have been hurt the most.
My memory of Shekinah on that night and that sledding hill and that beautiful full moon will never be looked upon the same way again. Instead of remembering it in the context of the joy I felt on that hill, it will be a reminder of who once traversed that hill and everything that they lost so that I could have one last sled ride down.
**As a side-note, I chose to do my picture of my memory of Shekinah in the same style as Ted Harrison whose work I first became familiar with in the book version of Robert Service’s The Cremation of Sam McGee. Although I really love this style of artwork, I acknowledge that The Cremation of Sam McGee tells the story of a prospector, embracing Canada’s colonial history, and makes zero mention of the Inuit people that resided on the land that fell victim to the gold rush.