By Leigh Nunan
Community Journalism Trainer
I run a youth radio program every week. One week the kids decided to debate the merits of life on the rez versus life in the city.
Most of them clamored to be on team rez. But the few who wanted to argue for the city were just as emphatic. It’s a contentious subject.
At the time, a friend travelled to Toronto. She posted great photo of the bright city lights, commenting that Toronto was her “favourite place in Ontario.” She was giddily looking forward to trying new restaurants, meeting new people.
Another friend moved back to Eabametoong recently. She waxes poetic about life on the rez, about the people, the incomparable feeling of children running up to hug you as you walk down the street, of seeing an old friend on every corner.
Actually, they are the same friend.
Among community members here the tension is palpable, the dichotomy, the choice. City or rez?
Here, there’s no work. There’s no housing.
In the city, people throw trash at you and yell at you to go back to the rez. (And worse.)
Here, everyone knows everybody. Your friends and family are always close.
In the city, you can meet new people, try new things.
And as for me? People both here and back home assume that after a decade of life in Toronto, I’d feel stifled here, that I would get restless or bored. It’s hard to explain just how far that is from the truth.
Some time ago, I was giving a workshop on interview techniques. One trainee was practicing with me. He asked about my job, my time here, why this work was important to me. He asked whether I was bored yet here, whether I missed the city.
“I miss being able to order Indian food at 3 a.m. I miss being able to eat Indian food at all, but when I was in Toronto I missed being able to see the sky. Here, I can see the sky.”
I’ve thought about that a lot in the time I’ve been here. Time and again I’ve been walking and the incredible beauty of this place, of the sky here has knocked me off my feet.
It’s hard to put into words. Although I’ve tried.
I’ve tried, on the phone with my sister, to describe the impact of walking at night and finding yourself face-to-face with Orion or Ursa Major. Not craning your neck, not squinting at the distance, but confronted, larger than life, inescapably, by the universe itself.
I could record, the sound of young people whistling at the northern lights. Their re-telling of their Elders’ stories, of how the lights will come and take you away if you whistle at them. I could play for you the sound of their giggling and hushing as they lose their nerve – not sure how much they believe but not quite willing to test their luck in this celestial game of chicken. But that wouldn’t tell you how it feels when the lights really do come dancing towards you.
I’ve tried to capture on video and in photos the incredible riot of colour that creeps across the sky in the evening. The impossible way that the sky fills with pink, not only in the west, but somehow in the east as well. Filling the sky in a way that defies logic and everything I thought I knew about sunsets.
There is no camera that can replicate the intensity of pinks and oranges. No frame that can envelop you the way the light does when the sun dips below the horizon reflecting magically on every cloud in the sky and every ripple on the lake.
It’s only one small part of why I am loving my time here, but it may be the hardest to describe. How do you measure the ineffable? How do you do frame in black and white what you can’t even capture in full colour? What else can I say?
Here, I can see the sky.
(Leigh Nunan is currently providing journalism training in Eabametoong First Nation until March 2017.)