Have you heard the story of the hummingbird?
There was once a great fire. All the animals fled in panic, but not the hummingbird. She flew to a nearby stream, picked up a single bead of water in her beak, flew back and dropped it on the flames. The animals watched her flying back and forth between the stream and the fire and they began to feel a bit defensive. The rabbit said the fire was just too hot. The wolf said there was just too much smoke. The owl was worried her wings would burn. Still the hummingbird persisted. Eventually, the bear asked hummingbird what she was doing. The hummingbird answered: “I am doing what I can.”
From the Heart, a bi-weekly library learning circle committed to listening and learning from Indigenous voices, met outside during the summer. During one meeting, when we were sitting in the heat and the smoke from nearby fires, a member of the circle told us the story of the hummingbird as she learnt it from Elder Gerry Oleman of the St’at’imc Nation. She also referenced a beautifully illustrated book called Flight of the Hummingbird by Michael Nicoll Yahgulanaas.
I tell this to you as an example of how learning in our circle often happens: bringing past teachings we have come across, relationship building, making the connections to what is happening right now around us, and of course, reading and honouring gorgeous books by Indigenous creators.
For the past year, we have met driven by the same questions: how do we make things right? How do we build good relations? The questions of reconciliation.
Colonization has been ongoing for hundreds of years, these are the right questions for us to ask and to ask each other. They are strong, guiding questions, but hard to answer because the depth and continuity of the injustice is so overwhelming, as great as an all-consuming wildfire. It can lead to a debilitating defensiveness, like the animals in our story, or a kind of paralysis, where inaction seems like the route most likely to cause no further harm.
But the hummingbird shows us a way forward: facing the uncomfortableness of that fire and faithfully doing what is possible, no matter how small. For many of us, the journey towards reconciliation starts with a commitment to deep listening and learning from Indigenous voices. Circle member Nicole Purvis says, “Reading has always been the way I learn and grow. Sharing and savouring words read together as part of From the Heart has given me a place to shelter as I learn.”
We continue to look for ways to give back and to take up our responsibility to future generations in gratefulness for the stories and teachings being shared so generously. She continues, “It’s not an easy way forward and often we don’t get it right but at the end of the day, if even a few ripples can be felt moving outward from our circle into the community I’m grateful.”
If you are looking for stories and teaching on good relations, Elder Gerry shares his wisdom in his podcast, Teaching in the Air. The library circle is always welcoming new members or check out the Explore a Topic: Indigenous Peoples, page on the library’s website. Whatever it is, let’s all find that bead of water to fill our beaks this Sept. 30.
Melodie Rae Storey is the teen and literacy co-ordinator at the Nelson Public Library.