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.

Why Elsipogtog Matters

A conversation about the land

On October 17, 2013, after months of vocal opposition, the Mi’kmaq defenders of the land in Elsipogtog we attacked by RCMP officers and their dogs.  What led to that confrontation and what does it mean for all of us living together because of a treaty relationship?

Please join us for learning and discussion on Tuesday, October 29 and 6pm at Gallery 101, 301 Bank Street (upstairs).

We will touch on three related areas:

Spirit: We feel such a connection to land that we will cry when we are told news of environmental devastation and distruction. We cry because we feel the pain of creation whose health has been compromized. Elsipogtog teaches us that our bodies should defend the land so that our grandchildren have something left to connect to.

Legal History: The Mi’kmaq signed a peace and friendship treaty in 1761 so that the English could settle but not to trample Mi’kmaq interests; the land was never relinquished. Before they came for shale gas, they came for the timber, the fish, and the wildlife. However, look forward to modern times the Canadian Supreme Court’s judgment in 1999 recognized Mi’kmaq rights under that treaty. What does that mean for resource extraction?

Fracking: What is it? Why do we use the technology? What are the social and environmental impacts? What is being done and how can we inform ourselves and voice our opinion?

For more information please watch this space or

Baamaa pii ga waabmin!
(see you soon!)

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

Treaty workshops

The Niigaan Coalition has received many requests for ways to get more involved here in Odawa. We really feel your energy and enthusiasm for recreating relationships here on Turtle Island.

We are very excited to announce the first Niigaan workshop series examining Treaties.

July 10, July 31, August 14
Gallery 101, 301 Bank St.
6–8pm. Donations accepted

(Note the new time!)

The exercise uses blankets to represent the lands of what is now Canada, and the distinct cultures and nations which live on those lands to this day. Participants represent the First Peoples; when they step onto the blanket, they are taken back in time to the arrival of Europeans. Two participants are selected to play the roles of the Narrator and a European while the exercise goes through the history of treaty-making, colonization and resistance that resulted in the nation we today call Canada. This workshop will be led by Ed Bianchi of KAIROS.

The workshop will be followed by discussion to ensure deeper understanding. Invited guests will be present to contribute their perspectives.

Please share widely.

For more information or to register, please email, or call 613-868-6983.