Personhood: as old as the hills

Tlahuitoltepec, Mexico © Jody Freeman

Struggles over recognition of personhood are rooted in the history of colonialism and private property. Indigenous worldviews of “Our Relations” –­ the land, and mountains and waters; the sky, sun, moon and stars; the trees, plants and rocks; the birds, fish, insects and animals (humans included) – as relatives and persons are challenging corporate “moral persons” in an urgent and protracted fight to protect the environment and prevent ecocide.

This issue is dedicated to the Innu community of Ekuanitshit who hold true to their vision and love of their territorial home of Nitassinan, generation after generation, and are leading a movement to preserve it. Our special thanks to Chief Jean-Charles Piétacho, whose efforts have culminated in recognition of the Magpie River in Québec as a person with legal rights.

The activists, artists and poets who have put their hearts into this issue evoke a deep and expansive space, where:

  •  great river stones are Nimushumenan, ancient Grandfathers protecting the river for millennia… (“When is a river a person?” – my conversation with Chief Jean-Charles Piétacho)

  •  “everything is alive, everything has a spirit, and everything is porous” (artist Alix Van Der Donckt-Ferrand, “A mixing of worlds”)

  •  a poet has “invited the tree in for a cup of tea,” a translator distills her words, and an artist traces figments of the lacy branches (“What I was missing here – six poems by Jila Mossaed” – Jila Mossaed, Nicola Vulpe and Gazelle Bastan)

  •  in a worm, “Colours glow like infancy until light grows dim / and humus holds it all, and skin is barely skin.” (Ned Baeck, “Ready, The Worm, Sogenji Suite #3”)

  •  “The thread was a rope, / stretching to the moon, / to my dark daughter / on that distant shore.” (Kathryn Jordan, “Thread and Refuge”)

  •  “… we open our tent doors / months on sledges / the perma-frost thawing / Onyx river fed by melt / climate change parable / the silence from man.” (Ilona Martonfi, “Night in the gutted house, and other poems”)

  •  “I am for the dark wood, / for the slick, invincible mountain.” (Elana Wolff, in “Knocking the Next, and At the Heart of the Ghost”)

  •  “The word Yemen / is a lemon, in government mouths …” (David Groulx, “Another word for obstruct”)

  •  “… Teebi’s storytelling brings to life the unique experiences of Palestinians, powerfully highlighting their humanity, personhood and agency, as well as their colonial dispossession.” (Zachary Jericho Couture, in “Her First Palestinian and Other Stories by Saeed Teebi: a Palestinian-Canadian review”)

  • “I awoke unafraid / for if there is an ocean / in my limbs / there must be / sky in my veins.” (Farzana Doctor, in Louise Carson’s a review of her poetry)


  •   “poems are a tribute to stillness, the moment, the secret, the earth, with a Dervesh-like swirling of the universe”… (“The Desert Speaks in Poetry and in Prayer,” Nilambri Ghai, reviewing the poetry of Yahia Lababidi)

The stars remind us on the darkest nights: all are related in our very fibre. Old as the Grandfather stones, cherished as the young ones who are still small bright stars in the sky, waiting to come.

Our atoms remember. “We are made of star stuff.”*

Thank you to all our contributors, for inspiring us with your art, your heart, and your actions. Tshinashkumitin.

* From the poem “Affirmation” by Michael Morais

(See also the quote by astronomer Carl Sagan in the early 1980s.)

Jody Freeman is a writer, translator and senior editor with Montréal Serai. Her collection of works entitled FREE: uncut poems, stories, art and drama by Michael Morais was published in 2022 (White Dwarf Editions).