kinship + fish camp – a tale in two parts

This blog post is going to be all about my journey with one of the most empowering and beautiful woman that I have come to know – the lovely Evelisa Genova. The reason that I am choosing to write about this is because it is so important to surround yourself with strong-minded individuals who want nothing but the best for you in life and who truly help you to be the best that you can be… and that’s the kind of woman that Evelisa is.

I met Evelisa last spring while attending a 4Rs retreat in Rama First Nation, Ontario, where we were part of a huge group of people from across North America, and we discussed topics encompassing reconciliation and relationships among Indigenous and Non-Indigenous people. It was nearing the last days of the retreat when the organizers asked us to find someone that we hadn’t really spoken to yet. I remember Evelisa approaching me and asking if I wanted to be her partner. She was wearing a long skirt and a tank top. Her hair was a bit crazy. And she had this face that I almost seemed to recognize. We sat there talking for the few designated minutes, it was like we had already met in another life. In those few minutes, we had discussed so many different and major topics… our childhoods, our goals, our fears, our loves – basically everything that really matters to us in this life. We wrapped up the discussion by writing letters about what we admired about each other, suggestions, encouragement, just nothing but pure love.

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Following the retreat, I didn’t see Evelisa for almost half a year, until we reconnected in Edmonton, Alberta for another 4Rs event that my cousin Laurie-Ann and I organized in conjunction with the first ever National Elder’s Gathering. This time, I had my Jijuu Mary with me. During our time together in Edmonton, my Jijuu shared her life story, her love for our fish camp, and how it all ties together with reconciliation. In between breaks, we sat around talking and laughing with Evelisa and our other friend Cheyenne. It was during this time, that Jijuu and I extended an invitation to Evelisa to come and visit us at our fish camp. I can clearly remember her reaction and how she so excitedly said that she would be there. And so the planning began.

Fast forward to July 2018, and I am driving to Inuvik, Northwest Territories to pick this girl up from the airport. It is so surreal that she is actually coming. In my twenty-five years, I have encountered many people from all walks of life, many of whom have promised to come and visit me at my home in the North. I have to say, this is one of the first times that any of these people have actually come through. Which I think is so amazing and so important to state. I value a friend who says that they are going to do something and then they actually do it. Accountability is so crucial in a friendship.

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Evelisa spent the week with my family and I up at fish camp where she learned about the bush life, she made fish strips, she painted and I photographed, we talked and we made the best of our time out there together. I learned a lot about relationships and forming healthy habits and ways of dealing with things. I never really realized how much of a stubborn person I am and how powerful my thoughts and words can really be. Even though it was only a week spent together, I honestly feel as though she unravelled me right to my core. She made me realize things that need to be changed about myself while showing me some really great parts of myself as well.

Through these experiences shared with Evelisa, I have learned the value of empowerment on a new level. I have learned that is important to hold yourself accountable and responsible for your own life. I have learned new ways of thinking and evaluating situations that are so much broader than the walls of my own mind. I have learned that it is okay to be compassionate, and humble and to feel everything so deeply – rather than trying to mask those feelings or act like they simply aren’t there. It is okay to be me. It is through this sober journey with my friend that I have learned to love myself, and therefore I am able to love those around more than I ever have before.

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I just hope that Evelisa knows how much she has changed within me and my whole world, I hope that she knows that she made a difference. And I will always hold her close to my heart for that.

 – shayla snowshoe

                  Here are Evelisa’s insights and thoughts from our time together…

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Miami to Yukon to Arctic Tundra. 

This week contained a bold transition. I moved through the world, from Miami to the Yukon to Fish Camp in the Arctic Tundra. This spectrum of experiences served as a reminder that travelling with an open heart and mind, as a woman, builds your soul – character – wisdom, enabling you to give even more goodness to the world.

This is Miami to Yukon to Arctic Tundra.

The Yukon brings me back into my solo woman travels, which build my self trust. In this experience the Yukon delivered my needs graciously, fortuitously. For example, a man seated beside me on the plane who poured out his own story of suffering – death of his wife, death of his daughter in law – happily invited me to join him and his vegan sister in law around town and bring me to my air bnb, which I had learned was far outside of town. Before dropping me off they treated me to dinner and even bought my northern groceries. I ended up staying in an area of town that his sister in law grew up near, and we left their generosity and our encounter with just an exchange of thank yous and happiness. Their act of generosity indebted me to pay it forward to someone someday.

This is the chapter of the midnight sun. The earth forever suspended in dusk to dawn, with no break of darkness. I actually see this as reprieve, the endless light is actually a gift. My soul needed a dose of sunshine to release the weight I quietly carried into this travel: my father’s unresolved lineage of pain, and my search for answers or healing. Inside, I hold the resilience of my grandmother, touched by the breezy intellect of my mothers energy. These are divine lessons I inheret from my family, and so I can step into Inuvik – Fort McPherson – Fish Camp, with an ability to be grateful for everything and anything this experience will show me.

….

What is it like to know nothing of your ancestral land?

I have never stepped onto the earth of my lineage, and that leaves me with continuous and unresolved curiosity; an anonymous inner space that longs for some kind of union. I have therefore been forced to be self-created, and luckily in my adult life I ground my identity as a woman, a creator, an artist. But I also am always seeking the truth in humanity and the world around me.

Disconnected from my past life and land, I take seriously the act of looking at the current space-time-place I find myself. “Canada”. While not the birthplace of even my parents, I trust I am always stepping on the place of someone’s lineage; this land is familial, and inherited territory to someone. I am a guest here. What are my protocols? Behind and before the cultural myth of Canada are real people, real nations, real societies. I am committed to real talk, real people, real humanity, and all its complexity, and so I am here to listen and learn, to love and appreciate the truth of this place, expressed through my art.

So this is how I find myself in the Yukon, in Inuvik, in Fish Camp. Invited by my kindred spirit and friend Shayla to step into her family and just be in the realness of being Gwich’in, now. Being Gwich’in here and now is both the complexity of hamlet life, and living what has always made someone Gwich’in all along. As a guest, my eyes delight in these new landscapes as we move from Inuvik to the community to the river, but these places are anything but new. “This is where my father taught me” says Shayla’s jijuu as I paint her portrait. I think of my own father, his own experiences. While he hasn’t explicitly passed on anything to me in this same way, I know I walk through the world under the influence of both my parents, and their own lineage. Who I am is a result of them, and I am grateful.

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The sun never sets and I have not slept for days. My blood is naive and vulnerable to mosquitos and “bulldog flies”; my skin is blistered with bites. But I am here, learning and breathing ritual and life and living as it always has been and continues to be. I am somehow refreshed and renewed by this bond to lineage, time, and place I have a chance to be a part of, in an ordinary way. The fish are netted, caught, smoked, and prepared as they always have been, while the radio plays CBQM and announces bingo. Everything is Gwich’in, real and now.  I see how Shayla’s family comes alive with the dimension and connection to who they always have been; the ordinariness of being Gwich’in and connected to all ways of being Gwich’in today.

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While just a river, this waterway is also a catalyst for generations of Shayla’s family before her; I am not just a guest to Shayla, but a guest to of those that have come before her and made her,  here and now. And looking at Shayla, six months pregnant and taking on roles that were shaped by her great grandmothers childhood, I know this tundra is important and vast, as much as it is ordinary and simply being itself: enabling generations of Gwich’in, who will continue to express their complexity and this place, through generations yet to be born.

 – evelisa genova

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