Not so different: Embracing Black and Indigenous spiritualities
Knowledge from both cultures weaves together seamlessly in my life
This story is part of the Black on the Prairies project, a collection of articles, personal essays, images and more, exploring the past, present and future of Black life in Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba. Enter the Black on the Prairies project here.
This First Person piece was written by Samira Azzahir, who grew up in Saskatchewan, has a B.A. in humanities from the University of Calgary, and moved to the Bahamas in 2012.
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The Prairie landscape has shaped every part of my being.
I understood this land as my great Mother, with her gentle worn roundness and curve, her whispers of sweetgrass and sage. The ground holds so much wisdom and strength.
Then there is her horizon. I try to explain to my friends born in the city that living with the horizon in its fullness and clear, open expanse will shift your perspective. The straight line, the union of heaven and earth, and the rising and setting of the sun all tether you to your presence within the Great Circle.
So vast is the world, so deep are the stars. You are here to bear witness.
A sense of sacredness
I consider my upbringing rather extraordinary for a girl of West Indian heritage.
I grew up in Saskatchewan with a white mother. I also had Ann and Wes Charter — Medicine Wolf Woman and Crowfeather — my surrogate family and my mother's closest friends, who had known me from before I knew myself.
We filled our home with Aboriginal and African teachings. I realize now how fortunate I was. Their knowledge provided a centring outside the sphere of whiteness.
Auntie Ann always had this way of reminding me of who I was. Uncle Wes guided me in the sacred order of Nature and the power of the Medicine Wheel. His teachings echoed the African principle of Ma'at, the divine balance and order of the universe. There was a synchronicity of thought that connected with my spirit.
Every visit they shared their memories, joys and sorrows while they smoked cigarettes at the kitchen table.
Ann and Wes brought a sense of sacredness to my life. Their teachings aligned with the horizon. When I listened, I heard the sunrise.
It made complete sense.
An honour for Creation
My father left to move to the United States when I was nine. Still, he was quietly in the background, always teaching me the ways of my ancestors and the beauty of African spiritual philosophy.
My African name has kept me whole. Like a staff, it walks ahead of me everywhere I go. Every time I write it out in its symbol form, I discover something new about myself and my purpose within the Great Circle.
My African and Indigenous Elders have instilled an honour for Creation in all her forms. Knowledge from both cultures weaves together seamlessly in my life. They have never strayed off-key. The truth of things was laid bare.
Auntie Ann was never one to mince words.
"You're lucky. You have Africa to keep in your mind and go home to one day. Where are we going to go? This is our home; we have nowhere else."
The sorrow is different, but I understand it. It runs as deep as my own.
Infinite skies and deep stars
That unspeakable sorrow that sits in my bones pushed me to move to the Bahamas. I am here teaching my community and doing what I can to help in the healing.
I am surrounded by Blackness and welcomed within the Blackness of these islands. It gives me such an overwhelming peace.
I often tell my island family that my Prairie upbringing was not so different from theirs. What has shaped them has also shaped me.
Both lands have infinite skies and deep stars. Prairie lands were also once the bottom of a great sea. If your eyes are open, you can still find bits of fossilized seashell and trilobite in some of the fields around Old Wives Lake near Moose Jaw.
They are sister landscapes with the same boundless horizons. Only the colours have changed. The soft browns, greens and golds I grew up with have become bright turquoise, teals and jade.
The skies come alive within you and the straight line is a constant companion as you walk your own journey in life.
I continue to draw and study the symbols of the Akhet — the rising light of the dawn — and the four directions of the Medicine Wheel. I see their likeness in shape, form and meaning.
Both remind me to stay connected to my spirit, my people and my path. Both remind me to look up at the heavens every now and again, and marvel.
The Black on the Prairies project is supported by Being Black in Canada. For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians, check out Being Black in Canada here.