PhD candidate’s anthology brings surroundings into focus

When Juan Sanchez came to Canada four years ago, he came to forge connections and foster a global community. And he’s been doing just that, using his doctoral thesis to build bridges by focusing on water and verse.

The 33-year-old Hispanic Studies and Migration & Ethnic Relations PhD candidate, who came to Western from Bogota, Colombia, recently published an anthology of poetry, The Indigenous Message on Water / Mensaje Indígena de Agua, from which he will read at the upcoming Water Rights Film Festival, taking place this weekend at Museum London.

“My research is about indigenous literature,” said Sanchez, who is originally from the Andes.

“I started working on the anthology and collecting these voices two years ago, working with the Indigenous World Forum on Water and Peace. I contacted all the writers and the people that I knew in Latin America and North America, and we created this book.”

The Indigenous World Forum on Water and Peace 2014 is a coalition of indigenous leaders, organizations, academics and like-minded people around the world who wish to protect water for future generations.

“(In Colombia), I was teaching and researching and I have worked on a lot of projects with indigenous communities relating to water and land, in the Andes, in Guatemala, in Peru and Chile. This book is the conclusion of my thesis. But this is the biggest I’ve done, because it is global,” Sanchez said of The Indigenous Message on Water / Mensaje Indígena de Agua.

The anthology features a collection of wisdom, thoughts, verses, short stories, poems, and general reflections on the various issues related to water, gathered from indigenous communities around the world, and complied by Sanchez. It contains verses in English, Spanish and a number of indigenous languages.

“In my histories and traditions, I have always related with nature. If you are working with words, you are working with nature,” said Sanchez, who met his wife, a Western History grad, in Bogota.

“The book is multilingual and it’s something that I have always been seeking – to find a link, between cultures, between the south and the north. It’s a way to try to build a cross between cultures. I have seen, I have lived myself a lot of misunderstandings and stereotypes related to race and class, spiritualties. This book is charged and full of histories and beliefs that come with them from Hawaii, New Zealand, from Russia,” he continued, noting all indigenous people, regardless of their origin, are connected and share similar stories about water, the air and the land.

For him, the book is an offering – a way of acknowledging connections to nature and a shared responsibility to speak for it.

“The message of the book and film festival is to teach ourselves about what we have, a way to create awareness about the beauty of our surroundings, but at the same time, about the dangers they are exposed to, and the importance of conserving water,” Sanchez explained.

Candace Brunette, coordinator for Indigenous Services at Western, added Sanchez’s book brings to light a multifaceted topic in an effective way.

“We share many commonalities with indigenous people around the world – our connection to land and place, our sense of spirituality and sense of culture; we understand each other and share many issues,” she said.