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:

Join the Conversation

385668_10101065704956010_271296769_nInspiration

Niigaan: In Conversation was started by a conversation. The day we knew that Chief Theresa Spence intended hunger strike was a day much like this one: grey, snow lightly falling, long nights, anticipation in the air. We met with friends to talk about what was happening: chiefs breaking away to march to the Hill, Idle No More teach-ins, setting up camp on the Island, calls for firewood and medicines.  We remember songs and drums around the fire, the resonance of a drum beat in a shopping mall, and the scent of sage everywhere. Most of all, we remember the determination to ensure that this time would be the last time people would need to rise up for justice.

Birth

In the spirit of that moment, Niigaan: In Conversation was born.  We wanted to contribute to our community here by creating a space for people to come together and talk.  We knew that this strange city of bureaucracy and federal politics continues an ancient tradition: it acts as a meeting place. Niigaan: In Conversation is really about relationship building, which is another ancient tradition in this land; at every event we always offer food and there is always conversation so that people can talk with each other. Never in our wildest imaginations would we have predicted that over nine months we would develop new and wonderful relationships, organize 12 public events and a handful of private ones, or develop projects with others across Turtle Island.

The way things are now in this country is not working for everyone and it needs to change. Solutions have to emerge from within our own communities if they are going to be sustainable, forward-looking, and long-reaching. We’re not saying that we have the answers to everything, but we are willing to provide the time and space to have the conversation to work this out together.

Who We Are

Niigaan: In Conversation is four volunteers; we are students, parents, business-owners, working artists.  It takes a lot of late nights, community support, private donations, partnerships with NGOs and community organizations, and other dedicated volunteers to pull off every event we hold.  It takes a lot of commitment to relationship building. Here on unceded Algonquin territory, Niigaan: In Conversation has plans to contribute to the heavy work of unifying our community.  We want to develop more workshops that respond to community needs and current events, assist and support other grassroots educational initiatives, and organize three more flagship events. We also want to continue releasing and distributing our video and audio of past events so that other communities can access and use the material.

We also want to expand on the work that we are doing. Right now, we are developing a new project with other partners around concepts of community and culturally-based responses to violence, abuse and missing and murdered women. We also want to work with partners to develop land-based workshops to reconnect people can with their land, teachings and traditions. Our gala fundraiser will help us contribute more to our community.

Looking Forward

We have hope for this shared future that we are asking people to recreate together.  We can see people coming together to do the very difficult work of listening to each other to strengthen community. We see the language classes and camps, we see examples of traditional government, we see protectors of the land, and we see conversations happening. It isn’t easy work but it is an art – we won’t know what it’s going to look like until we are done. We can use techniques that we know will work, but we also have to be open to trying new things and being innovative in our approaches.

Gchi miigwech Ogichidaakwe Spence; we will not forget your example and leadership. We must remember that Chief Spence’s hunger strike was one of many gifts that we received last winter to inspire us. Her strike and the actions of others – the Nishiyuu Youth, the rallies, the dances, the ceremonies, the prayers, the helpers – all embody our deep desire to make real and lasting change by demonstrating our dedication to and relationship with this land and each other. These actions penetrated us to the core, brought up ancestral memory and propelled us to act.

Now we must internalize that energy. It is our hope that these conversations will turn into relationships, that will turn into ideas, that will turn into actions that every person will take on as their own.  There is so much work to do in so many areas; none of us can do it alone.

Niigaan: In Conversation will be there to facilitate, to create the space and time; the rest is up to everyone who joins us in the conversation.

NISHIYUU

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: http://www.eventbrite.ca/e/niigaan-winter-gala-a-live-red-man-laughing-podcast-tickets-9281807135?aff=erelexporg



SHELAGH ROGERS

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.

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Guest Post: Niigaanwewidam James Sinclair

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


On Creation and Re-Creation: Words as Gifts

NIIGAANWEWIDAM JAMES SINCLAIR

Aaniin, boozhoo. I want to share with you what it means to communicate from an Anishinaabe perspective. I don’t pretend to know much but I know a little bit I can share.

Communication begins with the language we use. I am definitively speaking about our ancestral languages, which have now endured over a century and a half of colonial policies meant to eradicate them. Genocide in this country has always involved separating Indigenous peoples from our languages, as these provide the deepest ties we share with ourselves, the land, and our autonomy.

I am also talking about other languages that we use.

Language is an act between two or more parties to communicate and form meaning. This is an act often spoken – but not always. Gesture is a language. Touch is a language. Silence is a language. The actions of police against our relatives in Elsipogtog is a language. Language is based in time and place, has a specific purpose, and relies on mutual understanding between two or more entities in order to communicate with one another.

When our children were removed to Residential Schools, they were not only separated from our spoken languages but also languages of love, dignity, and agency. The fact that many people managed to find these languages is a testament to the incredible power and resiliency of our people. In fact, it is a testament to their ability to find, use, and express language. I lay asemaa (tobacco) every day to give thanks for this resilience.

Anishinaabemowin is found in every aspect of Anishinaabe community today. We are not a dying people. Anishinaabe languages are found in our lodges, our homes, and our everyday dealings with each other. Our languages are continually made and re-made, whilst grounded in wisdom, bravery, truth, humility, honesty, respect, and love (often called Niizhwaaswi G’mishomisinaanig, the “Seven Grandfather Teachings”). Our languages can encompass other teachings too, ones full of pain, violence, and hurt. Anishinaabe kendaaswin (knowledge) is limitless. We are not perfect by any means.

Human beings speak with other humans and form communities constantly. There are other communities who communicate with us too, like animals, winds, and water. Language forms the terms of all kinds of relationships: intimate or extensive; open-ended or detailed; enduring or temporary. It depends on how we use our words, breaths, and gifts. Language can change friends into family. It can also form ties embedded in power. Language, therefore, is an incredible responsibility, relying on how much one listens and learns as much as speaks and expresses. Every word, action, and instance of language, therefore, represents an opportunity to access the potential for a great collaboration.

Language is much like a treaty. A treaty, from an Anishinaabe point of view, is a living arrangement that must be re-visited consistently and continually. It is not a one-time exchange but a living and ongoing set of terms that must be re-conceived and re-created every time we communicate. Like any relationship, language is a shared set of rights and responsibilities which, if forgotten or exploited, will result in conflict.

I believe that most Anishinaabe narratives teach us mino-bimaadiziwin, the “good-life.” We are motivated to take care of ourselves but also of others, the earth, and Creation itself. Stories embedded in mino-bimaadiziwin are offerings of critical and creative struggles in a long journey of relationship building. As paths often go, these can be full of twists and turns, with some sections more clear and well-travelled than others. Some lead to difficult areas, others travel in circles and danger. Some lead to safety, security, and sustenance; perhaps even new, uncomfortable places we have never seen before. Languages embedded in supporting all life, however, save us from the destruction we can bring on ourselves. They can save us from wanting to be more than the humble, inter-connected, and imperfect beings we are. This kendaaswin we learn from our stories.

The potential of our languages is limitless but we have to bravely believe in their power if we are going to create, re-create, and live into the future. This is what I know.

Guest Post: Ryan McMahon

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


We Have to Look Back to Look Forward

RYAN MCMAHON

We’re approaching the one year anniversary of the start of Chief Spence’s hunger strike on Victoria Island. We’re approaching the anniversary of a number of key dates from last year that marked the largest Indigenous resurgence this country has every seen. We’re approaching the anniversary (#J11) of the date that could have been the outright rejection of the colonial agenda set forth by the Canadian Government. We’re approaching all of these dates and at the risk of sound dramatic – does anyone care?

At the risk of throwing around tired cliches and, at this point, uninspired catch phrases, where did the fire go? Where did the spirit of the people go? What happened after #J11? These are some of the fundamental question we look to answer, or at least explore, at the Niigan: In Conversation Live Red Man Laughing Podcast taping on December 10th, 2013 in Ottawa, ON at the National Arts Centre.