Letter to Minister Valcourt

This official request has been sent to Minister Bernard Valcourt:

Hon. Bernard Valcourt,

Indigenous people of Turtle Island, the land called Canada, and their allies formally and respectfully request the Government of Canada, by way of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada to turn over its archival records on Indian residential schools to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission as per the order by Justice Stephen Goudge from the Ontario Superior Court (Fontaine v. Canada (Attorney General), 2013 ONSC 684). We further ask that you meet with the people at 1 p.m. EST on Thursday, July 25, 2013 at the Kumik, Main Lobby, Les Terrasses de la Chaudière, 10 Wellington Street, North Tower.

This meeting will coincide with a National Day of Prayer to honour the children lost to and the adult survivors of residential schools. All across Canada, people will be holding vigils within their respective communities. As local organizers, we are asking participants on this day to create personal requests to ask the Government of Canada to release these documents so that these children are honoured and their stories are heard.

Our concern is that the Federal Government is currently withholding documents pertaining to the residential schools in Canada. It is essential that these documents be released and the TRC has the ability to fulfill its mandate. In 2008 Canada apologized to residential school students—you need to honour it.

We, the organizers, are known as Niigaan: In Conversation. We are a coalition of Indigenous scholars, grassroots peoples, artists and business owners currently in Odawa on Algonquin territory. Each of us share a commitment to seeking justice on Turtle Island. The group formed as a response to the resurgence of Indigenous resistance, Idle No More and we have been hosting a series of gatherings and workshops with the aim to create a better understanding and better relations between the Indigenous and non-Indigenous people within the Odawa-Gatineau area.

As part of the vigil, we will be creating a visual representation of the personal impact from the federal government’s refusal to release the documents to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and demand open access to the true history of the residential schools.

The letters will be smudged and prayed over by elders prior to presenting them to the government. We would like to present these letters of request to you personally following this ceremony in the spirit of goodwill and friendship.

Kiih nah dimikooh chipiinahkish kawahdaw Anishniniwug.

You are requested to come and meet with the people.

Honour The Apology


Solutions through peace, friendship and respect

John Borrows will be presenting at Niigaan on June 8th. Read his bio here: http://www.law.umn.edu/facultyprofiles/borrowsj.html

Indigenous peoples’ lives are drastically shorter than other Canadians and marked by more suffering as measured by considerably higher rates of poverty, injury, and incarceration, and significantly lower levels of education, income and health. This did not occur in an instant; we have long passed the “tipping point” in the relationship between Indigenous peoples and others. We are in crisis mode, and at this moment in time there is no politically-driven prospect of salvaging the relationship; it is already broken and lies in ruins all around us.

Indigenous peoples are living through a period of profound, extended, multi-generational trauma, and this issue only comes to the attention of most Canadians every few years. At the same time, Indigenous activism is ever-pervasive and is always present within and outside of Indigenous communities. Though Indigenous activism does not often rise to the level of national ‘news’, Indigenous peoples have long taken daily and longer-term steps of resistance to protect their lands, languages and resources, even while others within their midst ‘silently’ succumb to the despair spawned by the overwhelming challenge of finding success in these endeavors.

Within current structures, the Canadian government cannot and will not be able to effectively address Indigenous issues, either through legislation, litigation, education or economic development. Throughout history they have tried—and failed—again, again, and again. No political party or philosophy will solve these issues under our present political configuration of power. We are experiencing a moral, cultural, structural, and spiritual problem of the deepest order—answers to these problems rest on intangibles which cannot be manufactured through policy or solved with money. Solutions will never arise unless we take greater steps to cultivate practical goodwill in our own and others’ hearts and minds. I will discuss the issues of peace, friendship and respect which must lie at the heart of any movement towards better relations in this field.

KAIROS calls for “right relationship”

Ed Bianchi will be presenting at Niigaan on June 8th.

KAIROS is 11 Canadian churches and religious organizations working on social justice, including Indigenous rights. Although KAIROS was formed in 2001, its Indigenous rights work stretches back to the late 60s and early 70s when churches realized that the historical relationship with Indigenous peoples had to change, and change drastically!

The change involved acknowledging that the churches’ relationship with Indigenous peoples is founded on colonial practices and attitudes. It involved shifting the focus of this relationship to the recognition and implementation of treaty and Indigenous rights; to a just, nation-to-nation relationship based on solidarity with Indigenous peoples. It involved engaging in public education and political action with governments and corporations on social, economic, environmental and cultural issues.

KAIROS calls for “right relationship” with Indigenous peoples. This means educating ourselves about how we, as churches and as settlers, have contributed to the oppression of Indigenous peoples, and how we continue to do so. It means listening and learning, dialogue and action. It means understanding the racist attitudes and policies that are at the root of current inequities and injustices. It means shining a bright light on our colonial history. It means understanding the need for systemic change.

For KAIROS, being in “right relationship” means acknowledging that we are all “treaty people” and that that means working collaboratively towards a more equitable and sustainable society. It means becoming aware of the fact that ongoing violations of Indigenous rights and sovereignty are harmful to the land and water upon which we all rely. It means understanding that injustice impacts us all and that solutions lie in working together towards our collective liberation. In short, it means realizing that, as the Anishnaabe prophecy declares, Indigenous and settler must come together to build the “8th Fire” of justice and harmony.

Ed Bianchi

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.