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:

On Creation and Re-Creation: Words as Gifts


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:

We Have to Look Back to Look Forward


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.

Guest Post: Richard Van Camp

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:

Idle No More Rules For All Eternity Forever and Ever Tapwe and Amen Mahsi cho!


December 10th, 2012, is where I set aside my mostly worry-free ways and decided to use Social Media (Facebook and Twitter) to face my fear and growing concern of what I was hearing about Canada and where it was headed. I could not believe what I was reading about the Prime Minister of Canada and these omnibus bills that were being proposed. I could not believe that so many scientists were being let go of their jobs. These were the specialists who were trained to monitor the waterways for Canadians. Here was my first social quote: “Mr. Harper, you are now in the way of clean and safe water for all Canadians. It may be the Treaties that save Canada, after all.” It received 57 likes.
I think it’s safe to say many Aboriginal people and Canadians were suddenly realizing that things that seemed unthinkable with the omnibus bills were actually going to happen. Chief Theresa Spence started her 30 day hunger strike on December 11th. As word started to spread online and in newspapers about what the omnibus bills were truly all about, I decided to post this on Facebook on Dec. 15, 2012. It was shared several times and I received 158 likes.

You know what would be awesome? If a human led Skynet sent Elijah Harper into the past to also become the Governor General of Canada and on Monday – eagle feather in his gorgeous Cree hands – he turned to the House and to the world and said, “Traditionally, the Head Man of a Nation received direction from the elders and the mothers of that Nation. Somewhere along the way, this has been lost. It has been said when you break the treaties, you break the law. Before us are these Omnibus bills, which you, Mr. Harper, opposed yourself in the past. What elected leader jeopardizes the water of its Nation for not only this generation but for generations he or she can’t even imagine? Did you not hear the warning that future wars will not be about gold or oil, but they will be about water? Sir, you have given me no choice as I, once again, raise the same eagle feather that I held up at the Meech Lake Accord hearings and say, “No. No to all that you propose right now. Canadians have asked you not to jeopardize the safety of this great nation for your greed and third party interests, and because you did not listen, it came to this: Harper versus Harper and I say, No. May this great Nation continue to grow and prosper and share its abundance with the world in a good way. A ho. I have spoken. Tapwe. The truth has been spoken here.” Now wouldn’t that be cool?”

Again, I received more “likes” and shared posts on Facebook. I think it’s safe to say that many of us were horrified that the first omnibus came to pass. We couldn’t believe it!
On December 16th as word of a grassroots movement titled Idle No More started to grow and rumors of flashmobs across Canada and in different parts of the world started to spread, and as I read more and more about what Prime Minister Harper was wanting to do with Canada, I decided to post the following Facebook post attached to a YouTube link titled “The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (2002) – Gandalf Releases Theoden.” I wrote:

Awwwwwwww you know what would be so awesome? It would be so awesome if Elijah Harper was Gandalf and Theodon was Stephen Harper and Gandalf’s staff was his Eagle feather and Elijah smudged Stephen Harper and our Prime Minister woke up and said, “I know your face. Elijah?” And Elijah said, “Breathe the free air again, Brother.” And then Stephen Harper said, “Dark have been my dreams of late.” And then Elijah said, “Your fingers would remember their own strength better if you grasped your pen.” Stephen Harper would remember everything in his heart for living in a good way, and he would realize what he was about to do to Canada and he would say, “NO. NO! We have to stop what’s about to happen with these ridiculous Omnibus bills. Why did I allow opposition only one minute in the House of Commons to state their business? They could really have something to say. Okay, where do I sign to ‘undo’ all I’ve done that would jeopardize our happiness as a great and giving nation? Sign here? Okay. Done! Voila! Thanks, Elijjah. Holy cow, man. That was close. Hai Hai.” Then Stephen and Elijah would go see The Hobbit and they’d be smiling after going “Dude. Dude.” 🙂

Here’s the link:

On Dec. 18, 2012, Keavy Martin, my neecheemoos, and I decided to go to our first outside flashmob, which ended up turning into a full-on downtown Edmonton drum dance. I posted, along with his photo:

I saw this young man at the Idle No More gathering in Edmonton on Dec. 10th. I should have asked his name. I hope Canadians know Aboriginal people are not only fighting for our Treaty rights but for water and resource protection across Canada for all Canadians and for all our future generations. This is a terrifying time for Canada and greed seems to be the order of the day. Mahsi cho!

It turns out this was Boppajay Lafleche. I love this picture! Look at the pride in his eyes. What made me so happy about this gathering is there were so many young people there and they were genuinely so mad
about what was happening in our country. I kept thinking, “Prime Minister Harper, we’re willing to fight for Canada. Why aren’t you?” I was also aware that Harper had stirred up the fastest growing demographic in Canada.
On Dec. 21, I was home for my dad’s birthday in Fort Smith, NWT, and I saw our leaders unite with a drum song and a ceremony of “Feeding the Fire” in the middle of town. Many trucks honked as they rode by and there were so many of us dancing together as Fort Smithers for the very first time. This is when it hit me that the federal government had now united Canadians and Aboriginal people: “Praying for Canada at the drum dance in Fort Smith as we honour our ancestors, the land and all future generations #Idlenommore”.
One thing I will always remember is Elder, Mike Beaver, saying that the agreements with the treaties is not with the Prime Minister. These are peace treaties between the Crown and sovereign nations. He’s right. Prime Minister Harper is counting on Canadians not knowing their history and getting Canadians, once again, to blame Aboriginal people for standing in the way of “progress” (ie. Fracking, the Tar Sands, pipelines, etc.)
On Dec. 27th, I wrote:

You know what Idle No More deserves? We need an anthem that unites us all. Take, for example, this incredible song: “Eye of the Tiger” by Survivor. Holy cow, does the lead singer ever look like Clinton Kathrein! (**a very cool dude that I grew up with) Check it out! And ‘member when Midnight Oil’s “Beds are Burning” came out? Holy cow! That stirred our blood like crazy!

So here’s my call to all musicians: please upload your song and perhaps yours will be the one that is sung all over the world in support of what everyone is trying to do with this revolution. Here’s the link to “Eye of the Tiger” if you want to rock out!”
On Dec. 30, 2012, I wrote,

Mr. Prime Minister, can you feel the drum thunder of a revolution that you and your leadership have started by underestimating us? Meet with Chief Spence and end this time of international disgrace. It’s time to build a bridge back to a transparent partnership that honours the treaties and our future together. Mahsi cho!

I linked this to the Rage Against the Machine’s song “Guerilla Radio.” I also wrote on that day:

Edmonton, see you at the Idle No More Revolution at 1 pm today at the Alberta Legislature Grounds. The sun is shining. Let us honour Day 20 of Chief Theresa Spence’s hunger strike. This is a day for all Canadians to join us in a peaceful demonstration saying we’ve had it with a leadership that’s leading a culture of extinguishment for Aboriginal people and unsafe waterways for all of our future generations. Mahsi cho!

At this time, IdleNoMore was in the papers, online, being acknowledged by the Canadian media in press and in news broadcasts, so I started to incorporate more of my Tweets and Facebook posts with their hashtag.
On January 10 (at the U of A Roundance outside), I Tweeted:

See you in the circle! See you at the round dance with our breath rising as one! Every little crow hop is a stand against greed! Our march and drum thunder are growing! Join us! #idlenomore

On January 11th, I Tweeted:

Everyone who’s dancing, marching, singing and praying in this #idlenomore revolution is a
warrior in my eyes. Mahsi cho!

Chief Theresa Spence was our hero and was bringing national shame to the Prime Minister (who was now being openly called “The Crime Minister” because rumors of his participation in automated “Robocalls” that diverted 7, 000 voters to the wrong polling station in Guelph, Ontario, were starting to grow.) Had he won the election illegally? How was any of this possible in Canada? Why wasn’t he fighting for all Canadians? Why wasn’t anyone stopping him? There were so many opportunities for Stephen Harper to address the nation and outline why he was doing what he was doing, but there wasn’t a single one that I remember. In fact, rumors were starting to grow that federal employees had received a gag order and that they were not to speak to the press without authorization.
On January 12th, I had the pleasure and joy of Round Dancing at the West Edmonton Mall in a Flashmob with my neecheemoos, Keavy Martin, and my mom, Rosa Wah-shee, with thousands of other dancers. I wrote:

So this is what a revolution feels like: the scent of sweetgrass blanketing us all; holding an elder’s hand in the Round Dance with my mom and my neecheemoos at my side; children learning about their ancestry and inheritance; Canadians asking how to help; international
and national support; awareness; unity; taking a stand for Mother Earth; the power of our
aunties leading us on. See you in the growing circle! #idlenomore

On January 28, I wrote:

Prime Ministers will come and go, but this paradise called Canada shall remain with all of her gifts and generosity. Let’s protect her for each other and the generations on their way. Mahsi cho. #IdleNoMore

On January 28th, I wrote:

Where will Big Industry be when you can’t trust the water in your taps? Where will the corporations be when loved ones, neighbours and future generations get sick from the water and food around us? Canada is worth protecting. I support the #IdleNoMore Revolution!

On May 18th, I saw how Harper was losing ground in the eyes of so many Canadians and on a national level. I Tweeted:

thatspiritofgreedandbackalleydealshasnowturnedagainstyou #idlenomore

I don’t want to believe that the prime minister won this election through fraud, but if this is true, why isn’t there a mechanism to impeach him? And if this is true, then I want these omnibus bills to be a fraud and, therefore, illegal, and I want to wake up and know that this was all just such a horrible and sad dream.
Idle No More isn’t just fighting for Canada: it’s about fighting for government transparency–which Stephen Harper promised before he became Prime Minister, and it’s for a public awareness to what exactly third party interests entail for all Canadians. This government is counting on our apathy and our lack of understanding history. The best part of Idle No More is it woke so many of us up and it informed and will continue to inform and inspire us all. See you in the Circle!

Richard Van Camp is a proud member of the Dogrib (Tlicho) Nation from Fort Smith, Northwest Territories. He is the author of two children’s books with the Cree artist George Littlechild: A Man Called Raven and What’s the Most Beautiful Thing You Know About Horses? He has published a novel, The Lesser Blessed, which is now a feature film with First Generation Films; his collections of short fiction include Angel Wing Splash Pattern, The Moon of Letting Go and Other Stories, and Godless but Loyal to Heaven. He is the author of three baby books: Welcome Song for Baby: A Lullaby for Newborns; Nighty Night: A Bedtime Song for Babies and Little You, and he has two comic books out with the Healthy Aboriginal Network: Kiss Me Deadly and Path of the Warrior. You can visit Richard on Facebook, Twitter or at his website:

This essay appears in The Winter We Danced, published by Arbeiter Ring Press and available spring 2014.  Our thanks to the editors for their permission to let us use it.  Buy the book!

Guest Post: Eric Ritskes

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:

The Chords of Sustained Indigenous Decolonization


For me, the power of Idle No More was bound to the creative resistance it manifested. More than the round dances, more than the national television coverage, and more than the hashtags – people took it on themselves, joined with community members, reached across Canada and across national borders to collectively decide to contribute something to the movement. Pamphlets were written, teach-ins were planned, art was made, sacred spaces were claimed, and highways were blockaded. Whatever it was that motivated them, people decided to put their beliefs and skills into creative contention with the ongoing colonial reality. I was struck by the diversity of actions and how spontaneously people rose up to make them happen. It was the power of Indigenous peoples and Indigenous nations on display for the world to see, the creative contention with current and historical colonial violences that couldn’t, despite best efforts, keep the spirit of Indigenous peoples from resisting and from creating. sacred fire

It was also a reminder of the power of hope. Too often we find ourselves caught up in the daily grind of decolonization – even of survival – of struggling on multiple levels against seemingly endless barriers; but what Idle No More reminded me of was the joy and hope that drives us all to imagine a different future, one where Indigenous nationhood and peoples are honored and valued. Seeing so many people join together, I was reminded of why we hope for something else – it was a small, imperfect taste of what it is to come, but a taste that lingers and can sustain us for the next step.

The challenge then, and now, is how to transform that hope into something sustainable and something lasting. The challenge is to take our dreams and figure out the practical steps needed to make them reality. It’s not a matter of recapturing the fire of Idle No More – because passion and desire are/were not enough. They are the spark, the beginning, and what is needed is collective will and organization for the hard work of decolonization, for the work that happens when the placards are put away. When we enter into long-term commitment to the struggle, we commit to giving our energy, our skills, our being to be the fuel the keeps the sacred fires burning.

This commitment demands that we look for answers beyond the institutions and structures that continually implicate us in the colonial project. We need to envision education as something beyond the colonial schools and government funding plans. We need to believe that governance and politics are more than band councils or municipal/ provincial/federal bodies. We need to understand environmentalism beyond individual cases and causes. While we are all complicit with varying systems of oppression, and we all occupy various positions on the continuum between resistance and oppression, we must all choose to work for and demand change. We need to envision and then collectively build alternatives. Our theories, protests, petitions and powerful words are only as valuable as the sustained actions for decolonization that they provoke. To be able to collectively build, to string together the moments of disruption through the chords of daily, lived out resistance, we must be willing to sustain one another. We must be able to live out the kinds of relationships, on a micro level, before they can ever become reality on a larger scale. This is taking resistance and resurgence back to the kinship level, to a relational level that allows us to hold one another up, to build and collaborate. This requires revolutionary actions like humility, self-love, and setting aside ego. It’s about allowing individual to play a role and showcase their skills within a collective that values them. It’s about building.

As I write this, I feel like what I am saying is a little simplistic, leaning a little too close to vague platitudes; but sometimes what is needed begins with ‘simple’ actions that reverberate into larger movements. We are collaborative journeying towards a tangible future of Indigenous sovereignty and nationhood, towards a collective decolonization and moments of reflection, like these, are necessary to both see what we’ve already learned and what is yet to be learned. Idle No More taught us some valuable lessons that we must learn from and build on, rather than letting them slide into that place of forgetfulness, where lessons learned through hard fought struggle are lost and errors repeated.

Eric Ritskes is a PhD student at the University of Toronto in Sociology and Equity Studied in Education. He is the founder and co-Editor of Decolonization: Indigeneity, Education & Society, an un-disciplinary online, peer-reviewed journal.

Niigaan Winter Gala: A Red Man Laughing Live Podcast

Niigaan: In Conversation is honoured and excited to partner with Red Man Laughing for its upcoming Winter Gala and Fundraiser at the National Arts Centre on December 10, 2013 in Ottawa, Ontario. The theme is Biiskaabiiyang (returning to ourselves) particularly regarding how to move forward in the collective work across the land. Please join us for music, laughter, discussion, dancing and delicious food. The Red Man Laughing Podcast will be a discussion to recreate our shared future.  It’s been a year since Chief Spence’s fast and Idle No More. It’s time to regroup, refocus and figure out what we’re doing next. We do this by looking at what we’ve done and what needs to be done and where to go next.

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.

We want to hear everyone’s contribution to this discussion;
Please join us to add your voice to this important project.

Our host for the evening is Ryan McMahon, comedian, actor, thinker and Anishinaabe living in Winnipeg. He will be joined by:

  • Grand Chief Derek Nepinak (Pine Creek First Nation, Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs)
  • Chief Isadore Day (Serpent River FN)
  • Lee Maracle (author of a number of critically acclaimed, award-winning works)
  • Leanne Simpson (author of a number of critically acclaimed, award-winning works)
  • Geraldine King (academic extraordinaire and community mover and shaker)
  • Celina Matasawagon (astounding inspiration)

Music from:

  • Gerri Trimble (Jazz singer beyond compare)
  • Mosha Folger (a.k.a. M.O. hip hop, spoken word master)

Silent Auction:

  • Christi Belcourt
  • Sonny Assu
  • Jaime Koebel
  • Mo McGreavy
  • Shady Hafez
  • Kelly-Ann Kruger

and more!

Wab Kinew, Director of Indigenous Inclusion at the University of Winnipeg, the host of CBC’s 8th Fire and Al Jazeera host, will be joining us to film the discussion between our host and our guests! In partnership with the University of Winnipeg, Niigaan: In Conversation discussion will be used to create teaching materials around the topic of Idle No More. We are so honoured and excited that the University will be supporting our work.
Eventbrite - Niigaan Winter Gala: A Live Red Man Laughing Podcast

Events to Date

Niigaan: In Conversation

March 9, 2013
National Arts Centre
Speakers: Niigaanwewidam James Sinclair, Elder Albert Dumont, Theland Kicknosway, Elaine Kicknosway, Tiffany Dumont, Thomas King, Leanne Simpson and Victoria Freeman, Bonita Lawrence and Chief Gilbert Whiteduck, Claudette Commanda and John Read LL.B., Craig Benjamin (Amnesty International) and Andrea Landry

Niigaan: An Evening of Conversation

June 8, 2013
University of Ottawa
Speakers: Waubgeshig Rice, Elder Verna McGregor, Lawrence Martin, John Borrows, Ed Bianchi (KAIROS), Chelsea Vowel, Shiri Pasternak

Honour the Apology

July 25, 2013

Speakers: Claudette Commanda, Barb Hill, Linda Koosis, Lysandra Chaplin, Geraldine King

Niigaan Treaty Workshops

July 15, 31 and August 15, 2013
Gallery 101

Speakers: Ed Bianchi, Richard Powless, Niigaanwewidam Sinclair, Rarihokwats

Niigaan: Talk Show

September 15, 2013
University of Ottawa

Participants: Native Women’s Association of Canada, Amnesty International, KAIROS, Ecology Ottawa, Asinabka Indigenous Film and Media Arts Festival, OPIRG, Families of Sisters in Spirit, Native Youth Sexual Health Network. Speakers: Ian Campeau, Qajaq Robinson, J-L Fournier, Ed Bianchi, Alexa Lesperance, Jennifer Adese

Treaty Workshop

October 22, 2013
Muslim Community Centre

Understanding Elsipogtog

October 29, 2013
Gallery 101

Participants: Richard Powless, Albert Dumont

November 2, 2013
No One Is Illegal, Re-Launch & Conference, “Building the Treaty Relationship with Settlers”