This week, Niigaan: In Conversation is pleased to present a series of essays written by our friends and allies who, through their work, are rebuilding relationships and reenvisioning our future. As part of the planning process behind our upcoming gala, we asked ourselves, what happened to the fire? The community rallied around Chief Spence, there was a desperate feeling, people brought wood, food, soup, medicines, water. We need to get that energy back. The problems are still here, we still have work to do.
For more information about our Biiskaabiiyang Winter Gala in partnership with Red Man Laughing, visit: http://www.eventbrite.ca/e/niigaan-winter-gala-a-live-red-man-laughing-podcast-tickets-9281807135?aff=erelexporg
There is a word in Inuvialuit that describes a drifting snow. That word is Natiruvik. And it was taught to me by Roy Goose, an Aboriginal interpreter who speaks, no exaggeration, about twenty different languages. Then there is an Inuktitut word that describes a wind that blows low along the ground and picks up drifting snow in its wake. And when it comes to another pile of snow, it picks that up and moves it along the ground and the pile gets bigger. That word is Natiruviatuk it was taught to me by the Inuk singer/songwriter Susan Aglukark.
Idle No More is a kind of natiruviatuk, I think. It started low along the ground, the grassroots, and picked up the snow…the energy, interest and people as it moved along. And like wind, sometimes it’s more evident than others. But it doesn’t go away.
When Idle No More first started gaining strength and numbers a year ago, it didn’t take long for the momentum to build. Round dances and peaceful blockades soon became teach-ins and spreecasts. Indigenous and non-Indigenous people were there together in a space for dialogue. For me, it’s been the education I didn’t get in school: a crash course in what colonialism means, what it did, what it still does. How it is a system, a structure. How it takes what is not one’s to take, how it has shaped this country.
I was so moved by the long walk of the Innu Meshkenu from Northern Quebec. They walked through the winter of 2013. When they arrived on Parliament Hill in May, I was told that there were about 2000 people there to greet them. In mainstream media reports, the last zero was dropped. The headline that day was about pandas coming to the Toronto Zoo. It reminded me of the first big Idle No More weekend of action, right across the country. The lead story on the news that night was the Ikea monkey. Surely that was a kicker, a closer. Surely, Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people coming together, often for the first time in their lives, surely that was a lead.
But I see hope in places where the media don’t go. This past winter, I was in Nain, Labrador and I met up with a young friend named Dorothy Angnatok. She has created a program where youth go out on the land, harvest country food and bring it back to a community freezer. The youth distribute it to the elders. She told me at first, the kids were shy about going to the elders homes. Now they run to their doors. They can’t wait to hear their stories and to share the food they have caught themselves. This project has brought hope and renewal to the young people and to the elders. It has improved mental health, food security and built bridges between the generations.
I was in Massett, Haida Gwaii this spring for a golf tournament for literacy. Two respected elders, Elizabeth Moore and May Russ, took me away from the event to teach me how to fillet fresh salmon. I was just awful. My salmon was ragged. I blamed my dull knife (yes, I know good carpenter never blames her tools). But the truth is, I wasn’t listening fully. The women took me through the process again and again until I got it. In other words, they didn’t give up on me. Even when I made stupid mistakes. My other indigenous teachers (many of whom are on twitter where I first learned about Idle No More) haven’t given up on me either. Their patience and generosity blow me away.
Idle No More is about a whole bunch of words that start with R: respect, restoration, recognition, responsibility, relationship, resolution, resilience, reconciliation, resurgence, reciprocity…name your R.
We need to create more places and spaces for learning and dialogue. Dialogue is the beginning of a conversation and this is a national conversation that has to happen. We need to understand and respect treaties. We need to understand why we are where we are and who we are and what we did. And do. More of this. Less of pandas and monkeys.