Back 2 the Land: Romanticize This!

By Moll Walker

The clear Alberta sun is shining on the south-facing wall of rock under my hands and feet, warming my back. I look down at my foot placement, and shift my weight over my right foot as I straighten up and reach for a hand hold. My brother is below me on the other end of the rope, saying something hilarious. Beside him is one of my best friends, belaying another of my best friends who climbs beside me. We reach over and high five.

My sister, grandmother*, Chelsea, her two eldest awasisak, and I sit at a large kitchen table. We just watched an incredible sunset while eating moose steak and brussel sprouts. The adults have had a glass of fancy-but-not-snootily-fancy wine. There’s a fire burning in a huge fireplace and we’re all sitting in comfy chairs and wearing lots of flannel. We mention that we all received A’s on our latest assignments, congratulate each other, share a profound sense of satisfaction related to four generations of women kicking academic ass so entirely, then pull out our homework and get started.

Generally speaking, as Indigenous people we don’t have access to empowering romanticized narratives about ourselves. Romanticization works ON and AGAINST, not FOR us, by erasing, displacing, and disappearing us. The history of romanticizing Indians, our spiritualities, life ways, cultures, and bodies has always been tied to the presumed inevitability of our dying out as settlers and settler culture consume and colonize. Everything from contact stories to national parks have used romanticization to justify Indigenous genocide and reify settler superiority. Being an Indigenous person, especially in settler spaces, often means spending significant time and energy busting myths that have sprung up from these narratives (“No, I don’t paint with all the colours of the wind;” “No I am not the last of the Mohicans.”) It’s exhausting, and I think it’s made a lot of us wary of romanticizing anything- the moment we do, it will be twisted to serve settler conquest needs and to quell settler anxieties. Or worse, what we’re romanticizing will be taken away from us, because life (especially under the capitalist colonial cisheteropatriarchy) does that to you sometimes. And sometimes it does it a lot.

The process of going back 2 the land is going to be difficult, and Chelsea and I both want to be be transparent and realistic about it. That being said, I think it’s really important that we allow ourselves to romanticize this journey as well. Especially at times like these: when we’re both super stressed and when many aspects of our lives and futures are so unstable. It can be really overwhelming! Putting on some rose-coloured glasses and thinking romantically about the future can remind us why we’re doing this to ourselves right now, and create space to work towards what we envision. Even silly little fantasies about doing homework with my grandmother or spending a day with friends actually work to create these futures, as well as explode settler expectations about what it looks like to be a native going back 2 the land.

Sure, I could have written about mastering Michif and bringing people onto the land and going to ceremony all time, and those things are definitely on my mind, but at this moment of chaos when I project myself into the future it’s at a kitchen table or spending time in the mountains. These romanticized narratives won’t hinder me in accomplishing the tasks I need to do in the here and now, but they will ground and focus me so the here and now doesn’t overshadow the future.

So excuse me, I’ve got some errand-running, leave-taking, packing, and daydreaming to do.

*In real life, my grandmother has applied to take a grad-level creative writing course at the University of Calgary this fall.