it’s in the quiet times…

I did something extreme this summer – something that has caused me a lot of grief, guilt and shame.

I know… what an intro.

My parents are taking care of my kid for the summer.

There, I said it.

I feel wrong just saying it.

There is so much to unpack here.

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It started in the middle of June. I went to Vancouver for two weeks for two academic conferences and my Mom was watching my baby at my place in Saskatoon. And we chatted about it – and she agreed to watch Aerie for the summer up North. I’m still studying for my PhD (one day I will write more about this) and I am working hard on passing a big test that will determine whether or not I continue in academia in two freaking weeks. So much pressure, and on top of all this – blogging, photography, and a new book out to promote. Mom saw all this and was offering to come stay with me in the city, but she hates the city. And Aerie loves the North. It was easy to see that Aerie going North would help me out so much, and that it would be easiest for my parents.

Let me say this right away – I am so blessed to have my parents around to be able to do this, and the only person feeling guilty about this is me. My parents love having Aerie, and she loves being up there. There are no problems there at all.

So this guilt, this shame, and this self-loathing – it’s all internal.

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I like to say that this is an example of a community raising the child, which is an idea that I have taken to ever since my ex and I broke up. Although he and I are still friends, I am the primary parent of our child. And I do need help – and help is here. My brothers and their families, my parents, my best friends, my friends, and so on. If I need help, I just have to ask. Aerie is loved by many, and that is so good. She has a million aunties, just like any rez kid.

So she is doing amazing. She swims, boats, fishes, road trips, eats all the foods, makes all the friends. She is having a dream summer. We talk everyday and I make the trip down to see her very 7-10 days or so, even if it’s just for a night. But this was the longest time we have ever spent apart, and everyone has a comment.

Taking the summer to focus on my academic needs and myself gives me insane guilt, and that’s ok. I know – I KNOW – that this is the best for her and I right now, and that I needed this extra time to focus. But it’s hard.

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It’s hard when my own brothers make “you’re like an auntie to her ha ha ha” comments, while they sit in their two-parent relationships. It takes everything in me to not verbally cut them down because Mama raised me better than that. And I react because I fear what they say is true. Which is insane, I know, but I’m still teary just thinking about it.

It’s hard when I get asked by friends who don’t know the situation – “Where’s Aerie?” I drown in guilt and massive explanations when I don’t need to. I want to justify this to everyone, and I’m the only one who needs that.

It’s hard when it’s quiet at night, and I turn on a cartoon, just so I can feel like she’s around. It’s hard when I wake up in the middle of the night, thinking she called for me, and I remember she’s not there. When I go grocery shopping, and she’s not there, trying to sneak in her favourite snacks. So many moments where I miss the every day feeling of having her by my side.

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But there is a light – we are coming down to the end of summer. Her days at the beach are getting shorter. Her hair is getting longer. Her tan is incredibly dark, and she is thinking about her Grade 1 class and who will all be in there. My exams are coming up, and soon after that, she will be home with me. Those early morning cuddles where I have to convince her to get up – I can’t wait. Our Friday afternoon Starbucks dates – I can’t wait.

I really didn’t even wanna share this – I hate sharing my struggle – but I do know that the academic world is not women-friendly, it’s not Indigenous-friendly, it’s not mother-friendly. And that to succeed, sometimes we have to make sacrifices. This was mine. I gave up my summer with my kid.

But it’s only my sacrifice – as this was Aerie’s gain.

These were the moments where her relationship with her grandparents, her community, her land, and her culture – it only got stronger.

And come the Fall, I can’t wait to hear her stories.

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 – tenille k campbell

fish camp

From the moment I jumped into the boat to head my Jijuu’s fish camp, I could literally feel my mind ease and my body begin to let go of tension and stress. I can honestly say that our fish camp is my happiest place on Earth. It is where I can think my straightest and find my balance all while learning about my Gwich’in heritage and spending time with my Jijuu.

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While at fish camp, there is always work to be done. The nets have to be checked all day long, the fish need to be scaled, gutted, cleaned and cut to be dried, we need to gather the right type of wood to be burned for the fish to dry properly, fetch water from the creek, cook meals, keep the place clean and we always end our nights with a game of soccer. Some would say that the best part of fish camp is the nightly soccer game – it can get pretty crazy sometimes, especially when everyone is out on the field. It isn’t so much about the score or who’s winning, but the laughter and teasing that we all share together, especially my Jijuu who stands on the side lines coaching and laughing like it’s going out of style.

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It is a really great feeling to be up there with my family and seeing everyone working together as a team to get all of the work done. And it really fills me with so much pride to watch my Jijuu pulling fish out of the net, cutting it up and hanging it in the fish house that her father had built when she was just a child.

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I can never stress enough, how much I admire and appreciate this little woman who I call my Jijuu. She is the epitome of strength and resilience. She is the hardest worker I know. Although she is in her late 70’s, she is always working, always moving, always doing something – right from the moment she rises right until she lays her head back down to sleep. In the time it takes me to cut one fish to dry, she’s finishing off her fourth. While I’m struggling to get up the hill, she’s already pouring herself a cup of tea and lighting her cigarette. She amazes me beyond words with what she is capable of. I can only hope and pray to one day be half of the women that she is. She is my truest friend.

 – shayla snowshoe

Grad 2017

I would like to introduce to you all… the Fort McPherson graduation class of 2017.

This class consists of eleven graduates, all from our little community of 900 people. To me, this class represents hard work, persistence and intelligence. I hope that they understand what they represent to our community; they are positive role models and scholarly characters. They are succeeding in a colonial world that they were never meant to, and that really means something. Education is the foundation of which we are expected to build our lives.

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I just wanted to take a moment to recognize their 12 years of attending school each and every day, right until they got that diploma. Congratulations, you guys… you made it. This is just the beginning. You have opened up a whole new world of opportunities for yourselves. Do not let your education stop here. Get out there and see the world, volunteer, attend university, be a part of something bigger… make your mommas proud.

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And to end off, I would like to say a huge huge huge congratulations to my little sissy, Dannika Florence.

My girl, it’s hard for me to put into words how proud you made me as I watched you walk down that aisle for your diploma. I’ve seen you grow from a little sassy girl in clothes that you’re now embarrassed of, to a sarcastic, hilarious, fire cracker of a woman. You have a fire inside you that burns strong, your love is pure and your mind is intelligent. I am honored to call you my sister and to have you by my side through this crazy life. I can’t wait to see what’s next for us. Gwiintl’oo nahtinithan shijuu.

 – shayla snowshoe

 

Bradley; I will always remember…

I am writing this blog post as a special way to remember and acknowledge the life and journey of Bradley Charlie who passed away just a few weeks ago.

Bradley Charlie was a young, Gwich’in man from Fort McPherson, Northwest Territories. Bradley was so kind. He was humble. He carried himself with a calm sense of confidence. He was a son and a brother. He was a man of the Lord.

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At the young age of 18, Bradley made the courageous decision to attend the Master Commission in Dallas, Texas where he studied scripture as his eagerness to spread God’s word grew. In August of 2015, upon completion of his program at Master Commission, Bradley was presented with a traditional Gwich’in vest from the Reverends from the St. Matthew’s Anglican Church and his brother Dean. The presentation ceremony took place at the Midway Lake Music Festival where the communities, as well as many of the surrounding communities, his family and many youth were present. As Bradley was presented with the vest, I stood just below him, photographing everything. I can remember taking a moment to observe, and I couldn’t help but notice how big Brad’s smile was and how he beamed with pride. He was already such a powerful man at such a young age.

Another thing that really resonated with me, was when the youth came right up on to the stage just to listen to him talk. As he spoke, his voice was so strong – exactly like how I would have imagined his late Jijii (grandfather) Chief Johnny D. Charlie would have sounded.

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As I was photographing the event, I never thought that he would be taken so soon. It was truly an honor for me to be able to photograph this milestone for Bradley and his family. One major thing that I’ve learned through his passing is that someone up there has a plan for every single one of us. We need to start living life to the fullest and love with all that we’ve got… we can never know when a person will take their last breath.

Through his journey with the Lord, Bradley has inspired so many – young and old – to follow the same path; encouraging others to live a healthy and positive lifestyle. Bradley was an amazing role model and advocate who spread the word of the Lord, not only in the North, but everywhere that he ventured to in his short life.

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I truly believe that Bradley Charlie and his story won’t be forgotten anytime soon…

I will always remember Bradley as the beautiful person that he was. Whenever we bumped into each other, we would chat about university, what was happening in our lives and the word of the Lord. Even though he was younger than me, he was so knowledgeable, respectful and so encouraging. There was a time where I was entered into a contest and I sent him a message asking for help with votes and his response was, “I got you, girl”. I will never forget that. I know in my heart that he’ll always be around, protecting us and living on through his family.

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I would just like to say Mahsi Cho to Bradley’s parents, Alfred Charlie and Marlene Snowshoe, for the permission to write about and share Bradley’s story.

 – Shayla Snowshoe

27th Annual Feb 14th DTES Women’s Memorial March

A pilgrimage is described as any long journey, especially one undertaken as a quest for spiritual purpose, to pay homage. It’s a spiritual votive… a sacred promise put to action.

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Being a part of the annual February 14th DTES Women’s Memorial March is best described in similar ways.

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For me, it’s a long ongoing journey, a ceremony, a search for meaning, and an opportunity for gathering strength and healing. It’s also a stark reminder that while the profile of the issue, now captured in hashtags #MMIW, #MMIWG, #AmINext, #NoMoreStolenSisters etc… has been raised to International attention, the violence continues.

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Before the march, there is a gathering for family members hosted inside Carnegie Center. Here families of those stolen sisters are able to share, testify and find comfort with each other. During this time the community gathers outside in solidarity and takes the intersection. It is no small feat and after 27 years, now involves thousands of people, taking one of the busiest intersections in Vancouver; Main and Hastings.

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There are no organizational banners. No advertising. No sponsors. This is all community driven. This is the one day a year where women of the community are centered as leaders, guardians, speakers, singers, protectors. It’s the one day a year we can try and gather safely and name the violence. It’s the one day of a year we can mourn our lost ones together. It is a day when we get to dismiss the burden of stigma, and celebrate the beauty of the lives we honour.

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The RCMP have referenced 1,181 Missing or murdered Indigenous women (not including girls). They are still looking at this the wrong way. They only count us when we are gone, they don’t count those of us that have survived the exact same circumstances. If you counted those of us that have survived poverty, violence and misogyny, what would the numbers look like then? How big of an epidemic of violence would you be trying to quantify if you counted survivors? We are all survivors.

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The March is led by our matriarchs, our eldest warriors with whom the wisdom of survival and resilience resides. They lead us through the DTES singing the Women’s Warrior Song. We leave medicine and tobacco at the sites in which women were last seen, or were found murdered. This year we carried the ashes and prayers of one of our elders Bea, who although gone, is by no means forgotten.

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This march first started after the brutal loss of Cheryl Anne Joe in 1992. The tragedy of her young life was one too many for the community and the first march took place in response.

The women who started this march, did so at a time when there was no public awareness, or support from any level of government. This was not the cause célèbre it is often seen as now.  Women had things thrown at them while marching. There have been years when vehicles have tried to plow through the marchers, and still women were going missing.  They have never stopped marching, or organizing.

Now,  27 years since the senseless loss of her life, Cheryl Anne Joe’s legacy is now an international movement to end the epidemic of violence against Indigenous women and girls.

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There are marches across the country, into the US and there is solidarity felt from as far as Juarez, Mexico.

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There was a public Inquiry in BC and there is currently a National Inquiry being undertaking on the issue, both largely as a result the Memorial March and the relentless efforts by the Memorial March committee advocating to end the conditions that result in women’s vulnerability.

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The theme of the march is captured in the statement “Their Spirits Live Within Us”.

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And that is never more evident than in our  collective love for our next generation.

For that reason alone, we must continue.

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I hope you’ll join us next year.

All my relations,

Jessica Wood
~Sii Sityaawks

*For more images of this years march, be sure to follow Jessica on Instagram & facebook.
Galleries will be posted on her website shortly.

The Moosehide Gathering – Shayla Snowshoe

Over the summer, I had the wonderful privilege and honor of being the head photographer at the Moosehide Gathering (MHG) in Moosehide, Yukon. Before I start, I would just like to say that I hope that I can do the gathering justice through my writing and by sharing some of my favorite photographs from the amazing weekend. The MHG is such an amazing, eye opening and life changing experience and should be added onto your bucket list.

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The MHG is 4 days long and consists of an extensive array of different, unique and cultural aspects. From the early morning hours right until midnight, there is always something going on. The stage is a constant showcase of all of the different artists and cultural performers; from singers, to drum dancers, to comedy, to fiddle music. Aside from the performances, you can also find several workshops that offered – the beading workshop always has a great turn out! There is also an artist’s tent where you can find beautiful art work from different artists throughout Canada and even from Alaska.

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There are many other beautiful aspects of the MHG that I have never seen anywhere else. There is a sacred fire that is lit at the opening ceremonies and is maintained day and night over the entire weekend. The fire is sacred because it hears and carries everyone’s prayers up to our ancestors and the Creator. I literally felt so much power and enlightenment just by sitting around the fire. There was also a Dene hand games demonstration, I got to play a few rounds, which was so fun! It was awesome to see the different styles of playing within the Yukon. One more thing that has got to be mentioned is the feast that is held every night… the cooks work all day, cooking up an amazing meal consisting of traditional delicacies, and they feed every single person that is at the gathering. AMAZING.

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My absolute favorite part of the gathering was the prayer circle that takes place during the closing ceremony. This year, there had to have been hundreds of people in the largest prayer circle that I have ever seen – the circle basically encompassed the entire village of Moosehide. It wasn’t only the size of the circle that amazed me, but the power… I could literally feel the power that radiated from every individual while in the very middle of the circle, taking photographs from every angle. It was one of the most incredible and humbling moments of my life, I even took a moment to just stand there and take it all in.

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The MHG is one of the most powerfully healing events that I’ve had the pleasure of attending for the past two years. My life literally changed within those 4 days and I leave there with a different, clear mindset and a happy heart.

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To end off this post, I would just like to say Mahsi Cho to the people and the community of Moosehide for not only hiring me, but for welcoming me so warmly to your homelands and for allowing me the opportunity to capture your absolutely beautiful culture and people. Mahsi Cho for treating me as one of your own, it means the world to me. It has truly been an honor.

 – Shayla Snowshoe, Northwest Territories

Find her on Facebook

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‘Dehcho Dene Zhatié: Indigenous Language Revitalization Program

I’m beyond thrilled to finally have a piece written up and presented to Tea and Bannock about a very special and hardworking group of Deh Cho Ladies who are involved with the ‘Dehcho Dene Zhatié: Indigenous Language Revitalization Program.

I hold this program close to my heart because firstly I saw firsthand how they have been working day and often very late nights on reclaiming their language, taking in as many Dene Zhatié words and phrases, reclaiming their space and identity as a dene person– here is a group of fearless women who are dedicated and determined to revive their mother tongue to teach their children, siblings and others who are interested. I can’t help but to feel excited and extremely proud of these ladies.

I reached out to Dahti Tsetso who is from Fort Simpson and asked if she wanted to explain who she is, why it’s important for her to attend the Indigenous Language Revitalization program and what it’s all about. Thankfully she agreed and I managed to get my mother, Joyce McLeod (who is also in the program), to send me photos to add to the blog. Thank you both (as well to the others involved) for being so brave to save such an important part of the Dene culture. I commend you for all being such trailblazers for our Dene communities!

You can find a lot of great information and videos on their facebook page called “Speak to me in Dene Zhatie.”

– shawna mcleod

{cover imageDene Zhatie Mentor Louisa Moreau teaching Joyce McLeod, Dahti Tsetso, Nicole Perron, Terri Sapp, and Leonie Sabourin Dene Zhatié phrases as they fry bannock.}

 

 

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First presentation on learning Dehcho Dene Zhatie. Everyone was required to come up with phrases and present it to the class; almost everyone was nervously shaking and scared to make mistakes.

Dahti Tsetso súzhe. Sı́ Tłıcho Dene o’tę gots’ęh Łíidlii Kų́ę́ náhnde. My name is Dahti Tsetso. I am Tłicho Dene and I live in Fort Simpson, NT. I was born here and spent my early childhood growing up by the river. I met my husband while attendıng university and am now married into the Dehcho region. The Dehcho is our home and this is where we plan to raise our family.

Practicing our Dene culture and passing the culture on to our children is very important to us. However, like so many others of our generation, neither one of us speak our Dene language. Language loss is an intergenerational impact of residential schools that has had a massive impact. The legacy of residential schools has denied almost a whole generation of Dene the ability to speak their own language. This means many of us could not communıcate with our unilingual grandparents. We could never listen to their stories, or learn our oral histories in our language. A Dene person without their language is missing a very key part of their cultural identity. And personally, it has left me feeling confused and at times disconnected from my own family and culture.

This is why learning to speak the language is such an important endeavour; for me, it has become an act of reconciliation. Learning the language empowers us to connect to our culture and elders in ways that are deeply meaningful, but it is also vital for the well being of our communities as whole. Our language is at a critical point in history. As our parents’ generation ages, the number of fluent language speakers is declining. This means that if we do not reverse this trend, we risk facing a reality that one day there will be no fluent speakers left.

Learning to speak the Dene language has been a long-held and deeply rooted goal of mine. My hope is to become fluent in the language, and to share what I learned with others. My dream is to see my children conversing in the language with their grandparents one day. I want them to learn their oral histories while immersed in the language of this land. This is why I chose to enrol in the ‘Dehcho Dene Zhatié: Indigenous Language Revitalization Program’.

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Learning nouns, verbs and incorporating into simple phrases while Cooking and sewing in Dene Zhatié- Nicole Perron, Lori Anne Bertrand and Terri Sapp learning to make muffins with Denise, Dene Zhatié Mentor.

The ‘Dehcho Dene Zhatié: Indigenous Language Revitalization Program’ is a University of Victoria post-secondary program that is being community-delivered in partnership with Dehcho First Nations, the Dehcho Divisional Education Council and the communities of Fort Providence and Fort Simpson. The goal of this language program is to create new language speakers and teachers of Dehcho Dene Zhatié.

All fluency levels was accepted into the program, so there is a wide range of language ability. From new language learners (like myself) to those whom Dene Zhatié is their first language. There are also diverse backgrounds in our program. While the majority are Dehcho Dene, I am Tlicho Dene, there is one Cree student (also married into the Dehcho region), and one very special non-Dene member.

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The DDEC board visits the Dehcho Dene Zhatié: Indigenous Language Revitalization Program’ in Fort Providence

The language program has taught each of us how to begin our own language-learning journeys, and perhaps even more importantly, it has taught us how to share what we learn with others. The program has done this by teaching us a language immersion method known as the ‘Mentor-Apprentice-Program’ (or MAP for short), and by learning language writing and literacy from highly trained language specialists from our region. Andy Norwegian and Violet Jumbo have been instrumental in teaching the language in our program. Their wealth of experience and knowledge is humbling, and our cohort is continuously grateful for their teachings.

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Indigenous Language Mentorship course – Belinda Sabourin, Leonie Sabourin, and Instructor Trish R. – Sewing Demonstration – learning Dene Zhatié words and phrases – needle, thread, embroidery, stroud, etc.

Personally, I have experienced exciting and empowering language growth since the start of this language program. Before this program I had difficulty even counting from 1-10, or greeting someone properly in the language. Like most children I knew some basic colours, a few animal names, and a few basic commands (like “calm down” or “eat” – the common phrases often expressed to children). And while I took evening classes whenever the opportunity arose, I did not retain meaningful language from those lessons for the long-term.

After almost two years in this program and 400 MAP hours, I can now have short and simple conversations in the language. I can pick out bits of fluent conversation between fluent speakers and can work to understand the gist of their conversations. Without regular practice I risk losing my language gains. Time invested in immersion is the key to achieving language progress. I am still not near fluent yet, but I’ve taken steps towards my goal and that is an amazing feeling!

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Group photo at Telemia Camp – Nicole Perron, Terry Sapp, Cecile Deneyoua, Patricia Bouiver, Gracyn Tanche, Dahti Tsetso, Trish R, Evelyn Sabourin, Kim Hardisty, Joyce McLeod, Nimisha Bastesdo, Beverly Hope, Leonie Sabourin & Jonas Landry (who has completed the program already) Missing from photo: Cheryl Cli, Belinda Constant

A major factor in my language journey so far, and one of the program’s biggest strengths is the group identity that has been fostered by the program. I have not done this as an individual, but as a member of a cohort.

Collectively, we are thirteen strong-minded women. We learn alongside each other; supporting and encouraging each other as we go. We have experienced this program and the empowerment it has brought to our lives together. We have borne witness to each other’s growth.

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Students of the ‘Dehcho Dene Zhatié: Indigenous Language Revitalization Program spent a week learning at The Telemia Camp outside of Fort Providence.

There are just six months left in this language program: some of us will choose to continue on and pursue a Bachelors degree in order to become fully certified elementary and secondary school teachers. Some of us will be satisfied to finish in April 2016 with a Diploma in this program. Whatever each one us decides to pursue, the end of this program is just over the horizon, and we will each hold our own responsibility to continue on in our language journeys. I am both thankful and hopeful for the road ahead.

Sedzée t’áh máhsi enéhthę. Łı́e dzęne, nezų Dene K’ę́ę́ gohndeh gha. Azhíi dúyé enéhthę! Mahsi dúyé!

[With my heart I am thankful. One day I will speak well in the language. Anything is possible for me! I am very thankful!].

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While at the Telemia Camp, the students learned how to traditionally tan a hide while only using Dene Zhatié words and phrase – scrapping, holes, hard surface, scrapper, etc.

In closing, I will leave you with an oath to learning Dene Zhatié. As a cohort we chose to adopt this oath and I hope that in reading this some of you might be inspired to do that same…

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