Write to Me: Indigenous Pen Pal Project
As part of the exhibition Transforming Grief: Loss & Togetherness in COVID-19 at Fort York I invited Indigenous people from across turtle island to participate in a pen pal project. The project has two parts. The first is the Indigenous Pals who registered and are writing to each other. The other is the gallery exhibition which displays material culture of the project and invites the gallery viewers to write letters of their own.
Write to Me: Indigenous pen Pal Project had over 126 people participate. That's 63 pairs of pals! Ages range from as young as 4 to as old as.... grandmas ;-) The number of different tribes/ nations is a little harder to describe, as some people entered their reserve affiliation while others use the name of their nation in English or their nation's language and of course many people belong to more than one Nation/Tribe/Community.
Pals requested pairs with similar interests, people with whom they could practice their language, pals of similar ages, Indigi-Queer/ Two Spirit Pals, and my personal favourite - “anyone but my brother.” Pairing people was a finicky process, mostly looking at age/location/nation: a 126-piece puzzle. Of course, we tried to make sure pairs did not already know each other, which is always a challenge with Native people!
Participants live in cities, towns, reserves, First Nations and Indigenous territories all over, as we would say in my culture, Turtle Island. The southernmost Penpal writes from Hurst, Texas, USA. The Penpal who writes from the most easterly location is in Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada. The last Penpal to experience the sunset each evening writes from Inuvik, Northwest Territories, that Pal is also the most northerly and will experience more hours of sunlight today than any other PenPal!
Write to Me: an Indigenous Pen Pal project was conceived of by Vanessa Dion Fletcher (Lenape/ Potawatomi) and would not have been possible without assistance from Colette Denali Montoya (Isleta Pueblo/ San Felipe Pueblo).