Video/Audio: Returning To Ourselves, December 2013

Our friend Greg Macdougall at Equitable Education filmed the complete discussion of our December 10, 2013 Returning to Ourselves event.

From left to right is Wab Kinew, Celina Cada-Metasawagon, Geraldine King, Leanne Simpson, Chief Isadore Day, Lee Maracle, Chief Derek Nepinak, and Ryan McMahon.

We partnered with Anishinaabe comedian Ryan McMahon to distribute the evening’s discussion as part of his Red Man Laughing podcast. The audio can be streamed or downloaded here:

Guest Post: Shelagh Rogers

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:


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.

National Petition – #HonourTheApology

Here is the petition for today. Please feel free to print it off and get your friends, collegues and family to sign it, especially if they can’t make it to the vigil today on Victoria Island.

Remember to bring copies with you; they will be prayed over and smudged by an Elder before presenting them to the Minister.

Petitions can also be mailed to:
Bernard Valcourt
House of Commons
Ottawa, Ontario
K1A 0A6

No stamp needed.

A printable .pdf file of the petition is available here: HTA National Petition

On June 11, 2008, the Prime Minister of Canada offered an apology to survivors of the residential school system. Naming the policy a “sad chapter in our history,” he stated:

The burden of this experience has been on your shoulders for far too long. The burden is properly ours as a government, and as a country. There is no place in Canada for the attitudes that inspired the Indian residential schools system to ever again prevail. You have been working on recovering from this experience for a long time and in a very real sense, we are now joining you on this journey.

Unfortunately, the “burden of this experience” has not yet been shared.

Whereas, while under a court order, the government of Canada has failed to produce millions of documents regarding the Indian Residential School System for the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC) and the TRC therefore has been unable to uncover details surrounding the treatment or students, movement and disappearance of children, and corroborate testimonies in court and recordings,

Whereas, historian Ian Mosby in July 2013 published research that First Nations communities – and specifically thousands in residential schools – were unknowing subjects in biomedical experiments in malnourishment between 1942-52, this is precisely the kindof history the TRC has been tasked to uncover. Due to the failure of the federal government, however, the question of how many more events like this took place remain,

We, the undersigned, believe that it is time to fully live up to the promises in the federal government’s apology for Indian Residential Schools. We believe it is time to accept the responsibility for our shared history and work to uncover the complete history of Canada’sresidential schools. We believe it is time for us all to face what happened during one of themost violent policies in this country’s history.

We believe it is time to take a journey of honesty together.

We demand that the federal government, without any further delay or conditions, release all documents pertaining to Indian Residential Schools to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada immediately.

We also demand that the federal government commission a national inquiry into the biomedical experiments performed by government officials on First Nations communities in order to fully inform the public on the extent on this project and investigate the legacies of its impact.

On Thursday, July 25, we join together with Canadians, newcomers, and Indigenous peoples from all walks of life in reflecting upon and taking action to respect Canada’sapology for the Indian Residential School System. We ask that the federal government ofthis country take these first steps towards reconciliation and join us.

Name             Address                                                 Phone #                                     Signature