Video: First Event

Most of the first Niigaan: In Conversation that was held on March 9, 2013 is now archived on our Youtube channel.

Introductions, featuring event co-organizer Linda Nothing, host Niigaanwewidam James Sinclair, Elder Albert Dumont, song from Elaine and Theland Kicknosway, and dancing by Tiffany Dumont.

Opening presentation from Leanne Betasamosake Simpson, with introduction by Niigaanwewidam James Sinclair.

Presentation from Victoria Freeman, with additional commentary and response to audience questions from Leanne Betasamosake Simpson and Niigaanwewidam James Sinclair.

Presentation from Claudette Commanda.

Presentation from John Read, with additional commentary and response to audience questions from Claudette Commanda and Niigaanwewidam James Sinclair.

Presentation from Andrea Landry.

Niigaanwewidam James Sinclair introducing Craig Benjamin of Amnesty International, in final panel discussing future actions, ally responsibilities, and implementation of United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Audience responses follow.

Sometimes there is no translation


First things first:

My earliest ancestors here in the Kichisippi watershed were named MacEwen, British people who farmed 100 acres on Baseline Road, which is now a city park. My name is Tom Fortington. I was born here almost 40 years ago. It is my home only by the forbearance and good will of the Algonquin Anishinaabeg, since we have no treaty.

I attended the inaugural Niigaan event in March 2013. In the event’s program, there were one-word headlines in a language I recognized as Anishinaabemowin. They were set in uppercase, large enough to span the page. These words demanded attention!

Reading and re-reading the document, though, I found no translation for these words that the designer had deemed important enough to display so prominently. My initial reaction wavered between puzzlement and annoyance: was a minimum level of fluency to be assumed? Did I miss an e-mail?

So I sat with this enigma and let it be. In the two months since I encountered those words, some realizations have dawned on me. Intentional or not, the typesetter had issued a challenge: You may have to seek answers using your own resources. You will rely on the knowledge of others. The sharing of knowledge is as much a gift as it is an obligation. Sometimes, there is no translation. There is no guarantee that you will understand it. It is important to try anyway.

Sometimes, fortunately, a message comes in plain language exactly when you need it. In a recent article, Mississauga Nishnaabeg author and teacher Leanne Simpson relates her experience of Indigenous diplomatic traditions as she visits a nation on the western edge of the continent:

Doug Williams from Curve Lake First Nation always makes time to meet with me and answer my questions. He reminded me to acknowledge the territory I was visiting directly after I had shared with the audience my clan affiliation, where I was from, and my name. We talked about how as a visitor in another’s territory, my primary responsibility would be to listen and to take direction from my gracious hosts. We talked about our protocols and processes of engagement that foster and maintain good relationships between our nation and neighbouring nations. We talked about how even though I am not a political leader, I carry those responsibilities no matter where I go.

Had I been moving to Victoria, this kind of diplomacy would have carried even greater responsibilities. According to my own traditions, I would have a responsibility to listen, to learn, and to appreciate the jurisdiction, political culture, and traditions of the nation within which I was residing. I would have a responsibility to understand the issues this nation was facing, and I would have an obligation to support them and to stand with them. I would have a sacred duty to learn about my place and role within their political structure and their culture, and I would expect the same if one of their citizens moved to my territory. (Emphasis mine)

Leanne Simpson’s traditions are not my own, but I am willing to take direction from my hosts. Canadian culture certainly does not encourage its citizens to acknowledge the sovereignty of other nations on territory Canada claims as its own, so if I am to do my part to bridge the gap, I need to step outside my culture and take on that sacred duty to learn about my place and role. Learning the meaning of unfamiliar language moves me toward understanding. Understanding moves me toward action. This process is what the Niigaan series is encouraging.

The first step is to listen. There will be a lot of unfamiliar words and ideas. Many of them are wonderful. There is a lot to learn.

Chi miigwech.

Assimilation? Never!

Algonquin Elder Albert “South Wind” Dumont shared an opening prayer at the first Niigaan forum in March, 2013. Below, reproduced with his permission, is a recent post from his website.

At a time of spiritual meditation
I am sometimes drawn
To point my face towards the sun
My eyes tightly shut
Still, through closed eyes
I see all the colours
Of a magnificent sunrise before me
Like the fire within the fire
The heart and spirit of the day
I see it

My childhood years and my years as a young adult were years when my spirit did not sing and dance when the eagle appeared in the sky. I denied my spirit a chance to sing for I was, at that time, on my way to becoming an assimilated Indian. I was lost. I did not stand proud as a sober Algonquin. I drank excessively and in doing so, brought heartache and tears to all who loved me. Had I continued as I was, I would either have died young in some kind of violent confrontation over foolishness or I would surely have slid into a city gutter as a hopeless and desperate alcoholic. But with the help of my ancestors I slowly regained my identity as an Anishinabe Inini (First Peoples Man). With it I discovered spirituality and with the blessings of Great Spirit by my side, I found my life of sobriety.

If the people who hoped to rob me of my true purpose of life had been successful, then today I would be an assimilated drunkard crawling in the sewer of rotgut, searching in its stench for something impossible to find there. In such a state I would not be regarded as a threat to corporations and governments who seek to rape my ancestral lands of their riches until there is nothing left on them but sand.

This land of the Algonquins was always fertile and great in natural resources. The riches on the land were not installed into it by Europeans or by anyone else who came here from a far away continent. The resources held by the land will remain where they are. If my voice has a say in it, the land will always be healthy. The next generations are counting on us to defend the land.

Whenever the opportunity arises I will dare to speak of my love for my family, my people, my land, and I will do so without fear and without concern for how superior-minded people react to it.

Keep the Circle Strong,

Albert “South Wind” Dumont.