Kim Wheatley has always been struck by the beauty of Town Park.
The historic green space was once an everyday destination for the former Aurora resident, but last month it was the scene of mourning and memory as she led the community in a show of solidarity following the discovery of the remains of 215 children in unmarked graves on the grounds of a former Kamloops residential school.
Over the last two months, that number has tragically only swelled, and on August 14, Ms. Wheatley, a Traditional Anishinaabe Grandmother and member of the Turtle Clan, carrying the Sprit Name “Head or Leader of the Fireflower” will return to Town Park with traditional stories and music she hopes will provide “seeds of hope” and change for the community.
At 10.30 a.m. and 1.30 p.m., in conjunction with the Aurora Farmers’ Market, Ms. Wheatley will invite members of the public to sit down with her as she shares her culture.
“People come out to events in Aurora in large numbers and they bring their whole families, whole groups, and I was really struck by that whole experience of the whole community and I wanted to be able to insert authentic Indigenous voice into some of the work that was being undertaken,” she says of programs hosted by the Town, the Aurora Museum and Archives, and other organizations. “Public presentation is something that I have done for three decades and it is a way to truly connect our hearts on the road to reconciliation at this time, directly. If we can touch the hearts of just one person in the work that we do, that seed we have planted can ripple out far beyond any of the realms that we would be able to access personally and individually.”
The “heart of Aurora” is something Ms. Wheatley says really resonates with her and is something she wants to “support in its journey of learning.”
In her presentations, Ms. Wheatley says she tries to offer something that is multi-generational, often stories and song, that can be “interspersed with nuggets of information that might nudge you into thinking or doing, or maybe having discussions in your circle.”
“I want to plant the best seeds possible and leave it to you to grow your own garden,” she says.
The first lesson one learns in life, she says, is that of relationship – and forging these relationships and connections is essential moving forward, and also in repairing relationships that have been broken.
“That is where I am going to start; relationship-building can be done in how you perceive a nation of people,” she says. “I don’t just get to be Grandmother Kim, I get to be Kim, the Anishinaabe Grandmother who represents an entire nation. When you think about me, what you experience from me, paints a wide brush across the nations at large, so I want to do my best. I want you to feel better than when you came. I want to inspire you. I want to address some of the questions you might have. I want to interact meaningfully and I want to speak from my heart to your heart – and that is beautiful relationship-building. With that, you’re not compartmentalizing to one area of speaking, you can speak about everything broadly if you build it on relationship first.”
For her, music, particularly singing and drumming, is a universal language that gives a person a chance to “decompress, relax, slow down, get comfortable, and open up your listening spaces and heart.” Her songs are “medicine that help heal the spirit” and restore balance not only in spirit but also body and mind. From there, come the stories.
“I just feel the audience,” she says. “Who is there? Are there a lot of children? Should I tell more comical stories? Should I tell one with very obvious morals? I just pick and choose, but my stories are always about the natural world because those are our first teachers, and that is where lessons can come from whether you are in school or not. I want [participants] to bring their hearts so they can be present in the sharing.
“I would love for people to remember that we’re still here and our resilience has allowed that to be, that we’re going to continue pushing forward, nudging Canadians into acknowledging our sovereign status and our immense contributions to this country and our immense sacrifices. I want them to take that away and make it their dinner table conversation, to make that actionable items moving forward, to make that a priority in how they make choices in every day life as a result of. Those are the seeds I hope to plant in the hearts of those who attend. I know the people who attend come with their hearts and I experienced that firsthand. I have great hope and I am also honouring a great commitment to the Town of Aurora and its citizens in the best way that I can in this time.
“Every child matters and we can’t let this become a fatigue news item. We need to do our best to help protect the rights of children in this country, all children, but specifically Indigenous children and women. We’re the most vulnerable in this country and we are the ones still currently experiencing the most harm. Do your best to learn about it and offer meaningful support where possible whether with dollars, or actions, or petitions and be in your own community spreading the word doing something collectively that is really powerful and change-making.”
Brock Weir, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Auroran