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.
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.
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.