The Wapna’kikewi’skwaq – Women of the First Light Gathering

The Wapna’kikewi’skwaq – Women of the First Light Gathering was a profound experience in the practice of sovereignty.

Members of Apaji-wla’matulinej, Righting Relations Eastern Hub gathered on Mi’kma’ki territory in Tatamagouche, Nova Scotia as they do annually, to foster their relations, support one another, share the work they’re doing, and gain direction for the year to come.

How They Work

Growing out of Apaji-wla’matulinej, Righting Relations Eastern Hub, Wapna’kikewi’skwaq model a women-led approach, creating another way than the dominant system by bringing back the Clan Mothers and righting relations with everything – the earth, water, plants, animals, between the genders. Finding the markers of Matriculture in the language to prove that they are Matricultural, this powerful network of women grounds their direction from the original treaty with Creator, is guided by ceremony and using the language as their anchor. They are always asking themselves how they can be of service to Life and the 7 Generations to come.

Cultivating Food Sovereignty

With the growing challenges presented by climate change, Women of the First Light has been working in three communities – St Mary’s, Unama’ki and Esgenoopetitj to restore traditional land-based knowledge in the community. Led by three Women of the First Light – Judy Googoo, Gina Brooks and Miigam’agan, with the support of youth mentors in each community, they are planting community gardens as a tool for education and remembering, teaching how to know which berries to eat, building a thermal greenhouse to grow food in the winter, using land-based water practices to conserve water, and reminding the community about going back to natural foods to prevent diabetes and other illnesses that are rampant in the community.

They spoke of the changes they have seen to Mother Earth in their lifetimes and the loss of clean water, animals and plants they have witnessed is striking. They understand deeply, the ecological and political significance of moving towards food sovereignty for Indigenous communities.

Gespegawagi Declaration of Sovereignty

Gary Metallic, District Chief of the 7th District Tribal Council shared a historical and political analysis of Trudeau’s Proposed Rights Framework. He cautioned people that this proposed framework, whilst couched in what sounds like rights-affirming language, in essence is another tool of the government to assimilate Indigenous people into mainstream society, reducing the power of reserves to make decisions for themselves, and revoking rights entrenched in the Indian Act to Indigenous people in Canada. He spoke of this proposed legislation as the continuance of the 1969 White Paper during the time of Pierre Elliott Trudeau, which proposed the abolition of Indian Status, and assimilation of Indigenous peoples into Canadian society. If you are interested in learning more about this, take a look at Pam Palmater’s video who breaks down the proposed Rights Framework in an accessible way.

Gary shared the Gespegawagi Declaration of Sovereignty acknowledging the treaties and the sovereign nationhood of the Mi’kmaq people. This declaration puts the government on notice that as a sovereign nation, they do not consent to this proposed legislation. This along with other similar declarations of sovereignty from across Turtle Islands will be an instrument used to defend Indigenous people’s rights, if the legislation passes. Here is a video of Gary reading the declaration with the support of the grandmothers, and one young soon-to-be mother with the future generation in your womb.

Listening to the Men: Ryan Gould – Membertou Men’s Society

Ryan Gould and Miriam Sainnawap

Ryan Gould, shared his story as a single father to four girls, who journeyed to the other side of addiction and founded the Membertou Men’s Society. The support group for Indigenous and non-Indigenous young men creates a space for men to support one another, find resources to battle addiction, mental health, to learn to love themselves and find their purpose in the community and family to take care of the children. He spoke about his work to overcome the stigma that men are not supposed to speak about their emotions and how they are bringing back the bonding that has been taken away by inter-generational trauma.

His sharing brought many to tears and was an enormous inspiration. Having the love and support of the grandmothers he said is very empowering.

Women of the First Light continue to inspire many in their restoration of the Clan Mother System, creating initiatives that consider the well-being of all life, and connecting women and increasingly male leaders throughout the East to strengthen the practice of love and sovereignty.





Nuwegati Land Based Experiential Learning Program

A conversation with miigam’agan, member of Apaji-wla’matulinej/Righting Relations about Nuwegati Land Based Experiential Learning Program in Esgenoopetitj, New Brunswick, Aug 24 – 26, 2018

Tell me about the program you hosted this past weekend?

When I first started hearing about cultural camps and land based learning, I was trying to understand it from the perspective of who was providing the view. Trying to be in their shoes. When we brought it to our Indigenous approach and views, it became “oh my goodness this is what we’ve been talking about – the work of reconnecting ourselves, our families and children with our first mother.” The whole philosophy this weekend was about working together and teaching cultural knowledge through the land. It was about connecting back to our culture.

We had 10 youth who were already engaged in leadership work in various areas in their communities. I was so impressed with their commitment and investment in the program. We had 7 Elders, and a few children. We had the opening ceremony at 8am and introduced the land-based experiential learning. We arrived as a community, and were going to create a community there. A family.

The first day was about teaching the sweat lodge – the purpose and overall benefits of the sweat lodge. Then everyone went out to gather the materials. We invited the rest of our families to help make it happen. The saplings and the rocks were gathered, with all the protocols involved with living in right relation. It’s about reconnecting with all our community that has been living here – the trees, the rocks, the water. Thanksgiving is about giving thanks to all our relations, recognizing how water is there to cleanse us. It was so beautiful!

We had a sweat lodge ceremony that went late into the night.

All day Saturday, we put up the longhouse.

We were totally immersed in the culture for three days. Working in the Indigenous way, we didn’t segregate age groups – the children, youth, adults and elders were all together. We were taught how to re-look at the small children – they’re more connected to Spirit. At the centre of our culture is the spirit of Life – the children. We re-awakened the child-like mind/way of being – being present, curious, learning, observing. Not trying to control the situation.

The land was a great influence in changing our thought patterns and our way of looking at life. Looking at language through the Indigenous lens, we see Life around us as one. We ask the tree for help as we rest the pole on her to free our hands to get the rope. We see our community as much greater than humans. We reconnect.

This was powerful for the youth, many of whom know this in theory, but less in practice. We learned so much about living on the land, and the importance of the elders and grandmothers in our community.

 At the end of our gathering, we all committed to connecting to the land wherever we are. Hopes and visions of bringing schools groups to the land base to learn and to work with Esgenoopetitj Health Centre to bring people with addictions and trauma to the land base are on the horizon.





Healing by Beading

by Marilyn A. Francis

Agnes Gould known as Ms. Aggie Baby is a radio host on a First Nations radio station and an artist from Membertou. She has dealt with grief and trauma in her life and yet shares hope and inspiration through her work. Aggie arrived in Yarmouth and held our first workshop at the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia. We began with a smudge at my home and prayers for a good day. Aggie had prepared turtle beading kits for the participants for beginners and allowing us to get familiar of the materials and beads used.

Aggie shared her personal experiences, and how our Ceremonies and way of life helped her. Aggie also spoke of there is always help and we don’t have to suffer in silence. We enjoyed our lunch break with shared talk amongst all the women who attended. We had visitors elder Doris and counselor Rachel from Acadia First Nation who were unable to join us for the workshop, but they came to visit and support the ladies who did attend. We visited the local Craft Supply Shop and bought some supplies.

From Wednesday to Saturday we worked from my home, beginning with a smudge and prayers each day. Breakfast and lunch was provided with supper for the women who stayed. A Spirit Plate was offered with each meal. We had talking circles, each woman sharing their battles, sorrows and happiness. We worked on the rise type beadwork creating a raised flower with beads. Each piece we worked with took time and taught us patience, shared laughter and memories of days gone by. It was amazing.

Our women came to join us as far as from Fredericton,NB. Non-Aboriginal women joined us in our circles and enjoyed the teaching of beadwork. We did not discriminate against any woman, they were all invited to attend this most amazing gathering of Sisterhood.

One of the ladies received news her sister was taken to the hospital and put on life support system. We gathered and supported her with ceremony of sacred fire, tobacco tie making and prayers. Our talking circle was so powerful with love, hope and serenity for our sister who shared and overcame the pain and gave her courage to move forward and prepare for her trip home. We received word the next day, her sister was coming around and eventually taken off the life support and was able to breathe on her own. Prayers were answered in a good way.

On Friday we prepared for Give Away Ceremony and Feast for the completion of the Healing with Beading Workshop. It included celebrating with one of our elder participant’s birthday joined with family and friends.

The end result was making new friends and working together to bring awareness of sexual, domestic and family abuse to the forefront and letting women know they are never alone.

Sharing this time together and listening to Aggie’s personal story of her younger sister being one of the Missing and Murdered Aboriginal Women showed us strength, life and love, inspiration to move forward with hope and courage. Spending this time uplifted our women’s spirits and offered us knowledge we could get through anything. Healing with Beading was more than just beading, it built a support system, made sister/friends and know we are not alone.

Pamphlets were give out with information for Violence and Mental Illness Support Groups, Sexual Abuse Services/Support contact information, Emotional Abuse information, Elder Abuse/Youth contact information. Which included, phone numbers, email address to reach out to when needed. (Provided by Tri-County Women’s Ctr.)

I want to thank everyone again from my heart for collaborating and working together in providing a safe place for our women to come, even if for just a short while. It opened our eyes in ways that will give us courage, strength and self-esteem and inspire us to move with confidence in each step we take.

Each woman was given a beading mat, beads, needle and thread to continue to bead if they chose to.

If you need any more information or if you would like me to facilitate a Healing with Beading for our women/sisters, please feel free to contact me.

With Respect and Sisterhood,

Marilyn A. Francis,