Welcome to “Indigenous Stories of Uncertain Times,” an ongoing open call series to share perspectives and reflections on the pandemic from Indigenous people and communities. For each post I’m donating to a cause supporting COVID relief in Indian Country. For more information on the series, submission instructions, or if you would like to contribute to author honorariums and donations, please see this post.
By Patty Krawec
Patty Krawec is an Anishnaabe woman with roots in Lac Seul First Nation and the Ukraine and feet in Southern Ontario. Always looking for opportunities to talk and write about the impact of racist policies and beliefs, Patty is a podcaster with Medicine for the Resistance which is co hosted by Kerry Goring, a Black woman and according to one reviewer, is an unapologetic dose of Black and Indigenous womanism. You can find her at http://www.daanis.ca and on Twitter as @gindaanis.
I am a reluctant gardener. In late winter I buy seeds and peat pellets and fill trays with little packages of misguided hope that sit in my bathroom for a few weeks. The ones that survive my inadequate and unpredictable watering get put outside on sunny days, and sometimes forgotten overnight. The hardiest of them make it to the end of May. Then I need to actually get them into a garden, by which time I’ve moved on to other interests.
My mother is a born gardener. She was mulching long before it was fashionable and my summer memories include long hours in the kitchen helping to preserve whatever was in season. This trait has skipped me and gone straight to my oldest son, but he gardens in a different way. He gardens the way our Anishnaabe ancestors did. Not the tidy lines of my German matriarchs, but the tended forests of woodland peoples.
We live in the country, a long skinny property one acre wide and eight acres deep. It backs onto a wetland, a swamp, mshkeg. You go through the meadow grass of our yard to the thicket and find a deer run. Follow that across a stream and over a small berm and the forest opens up to you in all its swampy beauty. We used to call it Narnia because in the winter you can see the faint lights of our neighbours on the other side of the forest.
To most people it is a wetland, a forest filled with vernal pools and tall grasses, trees and low shrubs. To my son it is a garden. He tends the nettles and raspberry bushes, brings home ramps and the leaves from toad lilies, burdock root that he worried had been crowding out the nettles and turned out to be edible. He experiments with controlled burning of the meadow to see if it helped the wild strawberries threading their way through the grass. It does.
Starting in late winter and then through spring and early summer last year I went out to the swamp every week or so. My son had gone back to BC where he worked fighting forest fires, and I sent him pictures so he could watch it wake up. I harvested the nettles, eventually getting so used to them that the sting barely registered. I ate the raspberries that I could find; the birds got most of them. I remembered to bring candy and silver and small bits of leather and sinew, gifts for the little people. One day I found a small jawbone on the path, a gift maybe. Summer gave way to fall and the green gave way to gold and orange and red before getting tucked into its snowy blanket for a rest.
Europe colonized itself before it came to America. It separated peasants from land and separated people from the each other. It turned its hunger on the Americas, a wendigo so hungry that it consumes its own lips if there is nothing else for it to eat. We feed it because we don’t know how else to live, and so we live disconnected lives watching the seasons change through windows, marking the seasons by what we complain about.
The virus came to us in winter. It came hard and cruel, taking the most vulnerable instead of those responsible for the irresponsible stewardship of forests and animals. Those responsible always manage to distance themselves from the consequences of their actions. It came to us in winter, and it stayed with us while the swamp woke up.
Many of us are at home because of the virus. Many more are not, working jobs deemed essential because they are in health care or part of a supply chain or a service that can’t be suspended. Our staying home means their work is safer and so many of us are at home, I am at home. I’ve been at home since late July.
I spent 15 years doing child welfare and one day I just couldn’t. The week before I went off sick I didn’t care, I didn’t care about anything. Not my workload, not the people whose homes I entered and investigated. The years of anxiety and stress had fractured me, secondary trauma wrapping my psychic wounds in a fog of apathy. I went to the doctor and two counselors and they said the same thing, I needed time to reorient myself. And it turns out that the best way to reorient is to stay home and walk dogs.
My dogs are active; they need to be walked no matter what the weather is which means walking in the early morning during summer heat, and later even when the snow is blowing sideways. So I walked the dogs every day, going around a 3 kilometer block that includes forest and fields, farms and horses. We didn’t go out to the swamp this year, but we did watch the seasons change.
This western society needs to reorient itself, and with more of us at home, walking our dogs or just ourselves if we can stay off Netflix we might see the changes that we’ve been travelling past. Facebook memes about March and April lasting for years remind us how fast life normally happens for us. Of all the ways that an apocalypse could happen, forcing so many of us to slow down and stay home is unexpected.
If we are going to transform our world we need to restore relationships, and our relationship to land is the first relationship we need to restore. Gardening is a restorative act, whether you garden like my mother in tidy rows and raised beds, or like my son who tends the forest behind our house. It connects you to land and to seasons, it creates a relationship in which we care for and are cared for in return. Garden centers noticed a spike in purchases of seeds and starter kits. We intuitively reach for this as a way to feel connected to something real.
I am a reluctant gardener. I may have some tomatoes and peppers that survived my ministrations and no garden beds yet to put them in. But I did subscribe to a CSA box. Community Shared Agriculture boxes are another kind of relationship. You invest in a small farm and get vegetables every week or two for five or six months. My hope is that in taking this small step I will begin to restore that relationship. Eating food in season instead of the same six vegetables I get from the grocery store regardless of the time of year. Taking small steps and reorienting myself.
Donation for Patty’s post will be going to her Pay Your Rent fund. The Patreon based mutual aid project called “Pay Your Rent” is a continuation of a June 2018 fundraiser on social media to bring menstrual supplies in extra luggage to Iqaluit. Since then she’s had been inviting settlers and allies living on occupied land to pay their rent. Through a partnership with Moon Time Sisters sanitary supplies continue to go to Iqaluit every quarter and many Indigenous projects supporting culture, two-spirit youth, water protectors, and families receive support.