Three years ago a man named Harry Papah told me that no matter where I was in the world Fort Hope would always be somewhere not far from here. At the time I didn’t understand what he meant. I had just finished a two month stint as a literacy camp councillor on the fly-in-only reserve of Eabametoong (Fort Hope) and I really hadn’t processed the experience. Four years later the significance of Harry’s statement has finally hit me.
This week I am at a Policy and Strategy Conference for an organization called the Canadian Alliance of Student Associations at Mount Allison University in Sackville, New Brunswick. I am representing the students at my university, the University of Western Ontario, as the Students’ Council President.
What does this have to do with Fort Hope, a small reserve over 2500km away?
I think that the answer to this question is exactly what Harry Papah was trying to tell me four years ago. The illusion that these two places are disconnected is just that, an illusion. Have you ever had one of those moments where despite the fact that you’re current situation couldn’t appear anymore different, you feel an inexplicable link between the place you are and a place where you’ve been? As I was walking across campus at Mount Allison University at the end of today’s policy sessions I couldn’t shake the feeling that that small First Nations reserve of Eabametoong couldn’t be far from here. Every step I took, every breath I took and every thought in my mind put me back at Waboose Store, John C. Yesno School and the Arena in Fort Hope. I knew that I was being irrational and that the two towns were about as far apart as two places could be. Yet somehow I felt a kind of weight of fusion in my heart. Like two things that I had thought to be entirely different had somehow become one. Kind of like those grapple things…you know…the grape and apple genetically modified combo fruit? Okay fine, bad comparison.
After taking an extra long time to walk back to residence I realized that there was something that tied these two places together. That connection was me. This might sound weird to some of you, but I think that what happened in this realization was something I had subconsciously been waiting for. I had been waiting for a moment, like today’s nondescript walk home, to give me permission to go home to a place of connection with my thoughts. As I think back to Harry telling me that I would always find Fort Hope somewhere not far from here I realize that he meant for me to realize that the person I found on the reserve was a person that I could be whenever I wanted. That person became clear to me when I was in Fort Hope because I didn’t have anything to distract me from connecting with my thoughts. I had permission to connect inwardly and to use the external to filter the clutter out of my thoughts. Perhaps being in Sackville reminded me that I could send my inner thoughts to the external world to be filtered just the same way that I could use my internal to filter the external. Perhaps it’s something about open spaces, simple living or the calm feeling of kindness that you think you can only find away from the city. Then again, maybe it’s just about the creation of space, simplicity and calm in your heart and mind. I know that I haven’t always had all of those things present, in fact, the last time I can remember feeling like I had all of them in balance was when I was in Fort Hope. People help you to find that balance and I have a lot of great individuals to thank for where I feel like I am right now.
I guess if I’m saying anything at all, it’s just that you’re never far from anywhere that you’ve been or anywhere that you want to go. In the most unlikely of places you can find a reason to connect to the place that you want to be or need to be. Believe in the ability of the world to help you understand who you are and don’t feel like you’re the only one who can figure you out. If you can swallow the fear by taking a risk on someone, something or somewhere you might just be able to realize that what you want is somewhere not far from here.