This summer I spent a couple of months travelling through Western and Central Canada, talking to Canadians and collecting untold stories. I was searching for the points that unite Canadians across the country. I discovered lots of interesting stories, which you can read on my blog. This post is not about the stories themselves, but about the lessons and conclusions about community that I drew from the people I met.
The theme of "community" was quite prominent in almost every story that I heard this summer. However, community meant different things to different people. Let me tell you about a couple contrasting personal communities I was lucky enough to have shared with me.
Small, tight-knit, self-sufficient
In rural Manitoba I visited Crystal Springs Hutterite colony, where 180 people lived, work, and spend their leisure time as a relatively insular and self-sufficient unit. There are visits with other Hutterite colonies, outings to the market, trips into town for appointments, and youth camping trips. However, for the most part, daily life is spent at home: in the workshops, farms, and school, or in the communal kitchen and shared spaces of the colony land. For Michelle, the young woman who welcomed me to Crystal Springs, her community revolves around the colony. Michelle explained to me that part of living in a colony is that when you fall ill, get old, have a baby, or are going through an otherwise tough time, the colony will always take care of you. This means that Michelle is surrounded by 180 people with whom she has grown up, and who she relies upon, has watched grow up, and ultimately knows very well.
Broad, heterogeneous, diverse
While in Saskatchewan, I had the honour of meeting with Chief Todd Peigan, who is Chief of the Pasqua First Nation in southern Saskatchewan; specifically the region around Regina and Fort Qu'Appelle. When I sat down with him over brunch, I was inquiring about the history of his nation, and where he sees their place in society today. At the beginning of our conversation, I was naively asking him questions about the "community" that he represents. Not two sentences into our discussion, he stopped me to say the he doesn't call it a community, because that is too broad of a concept. For Chief Peigan, he represents a band, the Pasqua First Nation. His example of a community was Fort Qu'Appelle, and it included people of all backgrounds, including German , French, English, and First Nations. For Chief Peigan, he identifies as a member of the Pasqua First Nation, but his broad, heterogeneous concept of community extends beyond that.
When you think about your community, how many people do you include? Is it small and tight-knit like Michelle's? Is it broader, including more people and a larger geographic area? Is your community your immediate support system? Does it include your neighbourhood, your city, your province, or even your country? Which group do you identify with? Are they your community?
How we understand the word "community" is very dependent on our context, whether we are representing an organisation or an institution, the network with which we grew up, and our personal values and goals. This gives Seeking Community an additional challenge, because not only are we trying to spark a discussion in our varied and multiple communities across the vast land that we call Canada, but we also have to think about what type of "community" we are discussing.