Red Earth | Red Body

There are no words in the English language that describe the profundity of our kinship to the Land and her Waters.

By Erynne GIlpin

The purpose of this essay is to examine the discrepancies between Indigenous cultural teachings about kinship and belonging to Land and values, beliefs and assumptions of non- Indigenous Outdoor/adventure sports and industry. Through a storied-approach, the author explores the question: How do we reconcile world-views, cultural values, foundational beliefs, origin stories, languages and Land-based protocols and responsibilities within the space of Outdoor/Adventure representation and access? It is meant to be read aloud; reflective of Indigenous oral storytelling, teachings and knowledge sharing practices.


I watched you pull yourself out of the red crusted earth. The sun was high and pregnant with a fire that penetrated the Earth-land below. The Earth painted herself red from that fire above, to honour the inter-being of her body with Sun-body. They held themselves there like that, in a constellation of inter-being and inter-becoming. She urged her tree-bodies to stretch up towards the sun-body as if in praise, or maybe in an attempt to reach the unreachable, to hold that distant light, to close the space, depths and time between their inter-belonging.

You were born here.
You emerged from this place.

I watched as you pulled yourself up, like a red ember, and black eyes. Black eyes, which see better when they are closed. I watched your long, dark locks reach back towards the Earth-body, like eternal root systems, as you lifted yourself upon onto your feet. Standing there,
Red Earth | Red Body.

I watched you, baked in the blood, memory and crust of the Earth and Sun. Sacred you are. ? Red Earth | Red Body. Red Earth | Red Body.

I want to tell you to go back. That you do not belong here. That you won’t like it here. You will not find yourself here. Among the packs of foragers, adventurers, conquerers and takers.

They forgot their origin stories. They forgot about the time that they pulled themselves up and out of Earth-body, guided by the Sun-body above. You will be hurt. You will be lost. You will be exploited. In your pure light and Red Earth | Red Body.

But I watch this moment. A witness to your becoming. A witness to your kinship and place in this story. A story which will not only fold your body back to the earth a thousand times – but one- that will eventually guide us forward. Into a remembered inter-belonging, a remembered inter- kinship, a remembered inter-being with that Red Earth and that Red Fire.

And the space between …

I’ll meet you there.
In that space between.
And because I witness your unfolding, and am implicated in this story.
I can not and will not forget. Even as the world will try to steal me from you. and you from me.

So, I take some tobacco from the old medicine bag my uncle gave me,
and lay it down on the red crusted Earth
because it’s all I know what to do right now
I breath my name, my prayers and my promises into this offering, and pour some water out for the ancestors

I watch you from behind the shelter of the dry branches
and while your eyes are still closed, I know you see me, and hold this my my heart. ? and as I take in one more breath,
I watch you, take your first step.

There are no words in the English language that describe the profundity of our kinship to the Land and her Waters. I can’t find the words that express our kinship governance to the Land, Waters and everything in between. In a time of great forgetting, many turn to the “outdoors” for thrill, for adventure, for tangible moments of what we once were and what we are meant to be. Kinship. Belonging. That space that rests after the ceremony. After the lodge. In my own learnings of my own stolen language, I know the word Wâhkitowîn tells me that I am not separate from the Land and Waters which raised up my People. I know that when I grasp on to Earth-body, and memorize her lines as I climb her wrinkled faces and devastating cracks, that I am nothing. I am everything. and I am the space in between. because I belong to Land more than she belongs to me. Wâhkitowîn holds sacred power. And this power scared the newcomers. They invested time, resources and care into projects meant to sever our inter- belonging to the Land. They cut out our tongues if we spoke the languages gifted to us from our Land-relatives. They erased us from histories, so that we could not insert ourselves in the futures. And now, they turn. Now, they seek. Now, they feel, and maybe even remember. Maybe they remember their own belonging to the Land- and to the places they once pulled themselves from. And they ask for the words to express this moment. The moment where the air is sucked out of your lungs and your are left with nothing. An eternal place between inhalation and exhalation. Suspension and awe. That is the place our languages comes from. Wâhkitowîn. That is the place that that infringes on the host-comings of the takers. That is the place where inter-being and inter-belonging exists. How can this translate to the english language? How can this translate to those who have forgotten. Those who enact relationship on the Land, rather that within the Land?

Wâhkitowîn – kinship – inter-being – inter-becoming – ancestral futurity

The space our languages comes from.
This is the space that I pull governance from and embody my kinship within.
As I climb your face, I memorize the lines. I am infinite. I am nothing. I am yours. and everything in between. There is fear that rises in my throat and dry mouth as I reach for the quick-draw. This fear comes from my own forgetting that I belong to you. That I return to you. That you are my origin story and the seven sisters from Pakwungesik led me to you. I cry as I reach the summit. Not because I sent my project, or that am human, and it is a Thursday, and I have brand new climbing pants and a new puffy. But because this is why I am here.
This is why I climb.

To remember. to erase the fear that I will ever forget.
That I belong to you. That this is my governance and my treaty. And my bundle to carry into the worlds that have forgotten you. This is not my adventure, my thrill or mine for the taking. This is my only way forward and my only way back. Piskiwiw.

Wâhkitowîn – A Nehiyawewin word for Kinship/Accountability/Relative/Belonging/Responsibility/Interconnectivity

Pakwungesik – the Nehiyawewin word for the Seven Sisters constellation, otherwise known as Pleads. An important pillar within Ininewuk Creation Story

Piskiwiw – A Nehiyawewin word which translates something like “She remembers as she goes back”.

I watch you unfold yourself. I watch you shape-shift and decipher new embodiments. I watch you thunder, crack and boom. In the glory of your Red body. In the glory of your lush becomings. In the sovereignty of your grace.

I give thanks that I know the words that you speak. So that I may whisper to you and bind myself to you in new and re-imaged treaties and prayer.
As I climb your cracked face, with my brand new chalk bag and a cold beer in the cooler below – I drift between worlds. Between languages. Between futurities. Between the spaces made and spaces taken. Of what is. What has been and what is becoming.

If only, there would be a space between these worlds. A space with no words or no taking. then maybe, just maybe, we can find our way back, and re-imagine our way forward.

Inter-being.  Inter-becoming.

Red Body.
Red Earth.


Erynne M. Gilpin is a mixed Saulteux-Cree Métis/Filipina/Celtic rock climber from Treaty 5 Manitoba, Canada. She is the founder of Indigenous Womxn Climb. She works to support Indigenous communities to access rock-climbing in ways which reflect cultural protocols, Land-based values and wellness governance practices. She also works in many different spaces to educate non-Indigenous communities and climbers about Indigenous relational protocols to Land/Waters, including issues pertaining to place, power, privilege in outdoor sports/industry and representation, unpacking colonial impacts in Indigenous health, wellness and governance, and authentic community-led and self-determined story-telling through film, media and other creative interruptive tools within climbing consciousness. She is also a huge Sci-fi nerd, popcorn-addict and prefers animals to people.

Check out other Roam Award winning essays:

On Desert Time by Max Owens

Climbing Alone: Self Reliance, Making Calls and Bailing Solo by Ari Schneider

Gravity by Noah Kaplan

The Eiger, April 9th, 2015 by JT Holmes


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