I promised I would keep our tea family updated while I travel on the Big Island, in search of tea and learning. So here is an update.
For those of you that might be new to following Sarjesa – we (as Sarjesa feels like a living entity distinct from myself) are a lifestyle brand that raises awareness for the missing and murdered in Indigenous women (in Canada and across the world.) We help to fund violence prevention programming for women in crisis at the Awo Taan Healing Lodge in Calgary. This shelter is led by Indigenous women and grounded in an Indigenous framework and teachings – but the shelter is open to all women, and is frequently accessed by many marginalized communities of women.
The tea rose out of a deep frustration and anger that marginalized women continue to face greater rates of violence across the world, often resulting in death. Why is this so? Who does this benefit? How can we make it stop? These questions, at times, made my whole body ache – as I saw the women and communities I love (both mine and others) struggle under the weight of this oppression. This was my “why” – the reason I stood, and still stand; and it was the reason why I made tea.
Running a business is not an easy thing – I have had to learn the intricacies of systems that were never built for me, and that I was never really supposed to be a part of. At times, it has been so hard to navigate. I am blessed to be surrounded by Elders, Coaches, and community members who have been far more experienced than I. Even so, it can still be easy to lose hope when you are standing at the bottom of the mountain looking up, knowing that we have so far to go. That is why being in community, and stepping out onto the land, is so important to me. When we isolate from our roots, our communities, our home – we inadvertently lose our strength and lose sight of our why.
I have been on Hawai’i for three days – I am working alongside other students engaged in similar research and community service projects as I am. Despite having different “whys,” we are linked by a desire to stand in respectful solidarity – to lend our voices, bodies, and supports in ways that don’t take space away from these communities, but hold space and strength with them.
The past two days, we have been working with Aunty Pua on learning about Mauna Kea and how we can stand in respectful solidarity with the protectors of this sacred land. Walking through an exhibit, set up by the grassroots community, on the protection of the mountain – we heard stories from the youth who were arrested for protecting the mountain. We heard stories about the community members, Elders, farmers, regular people who have been educating themselves on the law and fighting court cases against large corporations. Their words were both humbling and devastating, humbling in that they are an example of the changes that can come about when a strong, committed group of community members stand up for the land and it’s rights. Some days are better than others; they have seen both victory and loss, but they have researched and prepared for all outcomes and will continue to move for their Mauna.
Aunty Pua taught us how to say: Ku Kia'i Mauna (someone who is a guardian, protector, steward of the mountain). She then had us formally introduce our ancestors, our Mauna, and ourselves so that her ancestors could greet our ancestors. This was a powerful moment and reminder.
Physically and geographically, my Mauna is my island (even though my island does not have a mountain – Aunty Pua said this is okay). But, perhaps my Mauna is also the women who form the heart of Sarjesa – those that have been disappeared, but who walk beside me in my work everyday. As I’m writing this, it occurs to me that I will have to check my understanding of this with some of the women I’m working with – just to make sure I am accurately understanding.
We all have places and people that we must stand with and for. This is not a practice of activism, it is a choice to live your life on purpose, making intentional decisions each day to continue to guard and protect the land, people and practices that are sacred to you.
It is only day three and I am learning so much.
Grateful to be learning from Aunty Pua for the past few days.