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.

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.

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


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

RICHARD VAN CAMP

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: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PY9eRkdIeuk

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! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=btPJPFnesV4”
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: http://www.richardvancamp.com

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!