Heart to heart over Zoom

By Melodie Rae Storey, Nelson Public Library
April 28, 2020

What do you do when your library is in the middle of a much anticipated, long thought through project, and the world suddenly goes still?

Well, there are many different directions one could go, but at the Nelson Public Library, we decided to keep moving forward. Here is our story.

Last year, we started to plan a Learning Circle devoted to engaging with Truth, Resurgence and Reconciliation ideals, in partnership with local youth, school, and community members, and in the hopes of inspiring community action towards a more just, peaceful and sustainable future. The plan was to center our discussion around the book Indigenous Writes: A Guide to First Nations, Metis & Inuit Issues in Canada by Chelsea Vowel, to provide members of the circle with a baseline knowledge on the history of colonization, as well as an understanding and appreciation of Indigenous culture.

We met once in the beginning of March, and it was a good meeting. We were all strangers to one another, but we asked people to introduce themselves by sharing their name, ancestry and connection with the land. In this way, we were able to connect, pass out the books and start our journey together.

Then the global pandemic happened. We debated what to do. Perhaps postpone until we can meet face to face? In the end, we decided to move the project to a digital platform.

Three Zoom meetings later, we are glad we did. Not that it doesn't have its challenges. We had one person drop out of the meetings because he didn't have the technology to access Zoom, which was a loss. As hosts, it took some adjustment. Online, it is more difficult to read body language to make sure everyone is feeling welcome, and it is challenging to not be able to use body language to affirm someone in a moment of vulnerability. But in a way, it was good for the traditional host to let go of that control, and it turned into an opportunity for the whole group to host one another. Now if one person shares something delicate, we all care for that person’s comment in the limited way we can. Even the awkward silences that Zoom is notorious for we have found helpful to our discussion. On Zoom, only one person can talk at once, and so there is more room for thoughtfulness and active listening.

Nobody's enthusiasm has been tempered. Despite the world turning upside down, members of the group are showing up to every meeting. Indeed, we might not have seen the depth of people’s commitment to this process were it not for the pandemic.

Everyone has been willing to adapt in creative ways. During the last meeting we had an hour-long brainstorming session on how we can use this learning as a spring board to the community. Some of us have big dreams of drum circles and sweat lodges and finding ways to support local languages. One member suggested that we start a google doc so that all members could revisit those big dreams on the ‘vision board.’ So that is what we did. The google doc also keeps track of our insights and favourite quotes from the book between the times we meet and gives everyone a chance to lead the discussion by offering discussion points.

Ultimately, everyone will be glad to see the back side of the pandemic, but in the meantime, our project will persist.