The birth of the traditional wi’kuom at Mt. St. Vincent University

Being present and assisting in the birth of the traditional wi’kuom (wigwam) on unceded Mi’Kmaq territory, was a deep honour. Members from Apaji-wla’matulinej (Eastern Hub of Righting Relations) had been invited to support this work. In fact, it was brought about through our Advisory Committee member Catherine Martin, as her parting act as Nancy’s Chair at Mount St. Vincent University.

 

 

It was a two day labour and just like the journey of giving birth, it had moments of frustration, moments where some support people got out of harmony with each other, didn’t listen to the “being” being born. We had a grandmother huddle where we discussed what we saw happening and how could we bring back the harmony and working as one, so that the wi’kuom was welcomed into this world in a good way.

We had moments of deep joy and complete awe, when the poles were placed on the ends and the shape of the head emerged. At that moment elder, Lottie Mae Johnson remembered seeing this structure as a young child on Chapel Island. It is deeply moving how a teacher from another area can rekindle and bring back local traditional knowledge. It was an historic event.

 

 

Teaching that emerged, sometimes through pain and frustration were that the women are responsible for the home. The women have the say and are the ones who build the home with help from men. “We say where the sink will go,” explained Catherine Martin. It was, in fact, an Indigenous woman, Marilyn Francis who envisioned bringing back the traditional wi’kuom. She had contacted Tony Solomon, a well-known and respected teepee maker and teacher to create it for her. They did research and had many discussions. Tony often reminded us that he is Anishinabe. He did his best on the research but felt as the Mi’Kmaq used the wi’kuom and listened to her teachings, there would be adjustments and new understandings.

This was reflected in a comment by Sherry Pictou, who has just become the first permanent Indigenous Professor at Mount St. Vincent University, “ Thank-you to Cathy Martin and Tony Solomon for providing us with such incredible teachings and inspiring us to learn more about how our ancestral homes are our lifeways.”

 

 

It was an extremely hot and humid day to be working out in the sun. As we worked, some tension emerged as men who are used to just jumping in and doing, didn’t listen or argued with the women about how it should be done. Some women felt their voice was being denied and some moved a distance away. The grandmothers gathered everyone and spoke about the reasons this was important and how we needed to work as one, listen to each other and to the spirit of the wi’kuom. And the wonderful part was we all learned. At the evening reflection a man spoke emotionally about seeing what he was doing and learning to step back and let the women do it and then help where needed.

 

 

The next day, we did it all again! We wanted to make sure we would remember how to do it. Tony reminded us, “There are no mistakes. If something is not working, stop and listen. What is this telling us?” So we learned that the stakes need to be put in differently than a tee pee. She needed support along the middle first. We all learned to respect the time when we are putting on our grandmother’s dress. Just like when you are dressing or undressing your grandmother, you do not take pictures. Anyone who comes to the doorways is invited in. They do not stay standing in the door way as if they don’t belong in the circle. All our welcomed in and given a place to sit. Their voice is just as valuable as everyone else’s. In the western way of thought, the poles would be considered dead. The Indigenous way, they still contain spirit and can be our teachers.

 

Tony Solomon, Mukaw Tee pees

While we worked or took breaks, we talked about the Truth and Reconciliation recommendations. People felt so good that Mount St. Vincent University was listening to Indigenous voices and working with Indigenous people to create this legacy. Catherine Martin said some people have teepees in Halifax and N.S., which is the name for an Indigenous western home, as far as she knows this is the first Mi’kmaq wigwam on a university campus. That a traditional wi’kuom will be used as a class room and teaching space for both Indigenous and non-indigenous people just felt so right!

And we talked of the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous people (UNDRIP). People were saddened and upset to learn that at the Grand Pre 150 Celebration a non-native person has been contracted to provide 15 tee pees. The celebration is to honour the 400 year old friendship between the Indigenous people and Acadians. Having a German make the tee pees flies directly in the face of UNDRIP which Canada has signed. It is deeply insulting when there are Indigenous people who can and should be doing this work. So while we were uplifted by what we were doing, we knew there is still much to be done. And hopes were expressed that the wider community will learn to ask the advice of Indigenous women. The women would have brought up the future generations – saying “what will our children years from now learn looking at a structure created by a non-native. They will think this is our way and will not be able to find their way to the traditional teachings that come from our authentic ways of being and living.”

We ended by celebrating the birth day of the wi’kuom. Tony shared how to make a traditional Anishinabe corn soup. During the morning it was cared for by two women. It was brought into the centre of the wi’kuom. Serving in the Indigenous way, rather than the western way of doing things, young men quickly gave out bowls and filled them with steaming soup, followed by Labrador tea while songs were sung.

Reflections were shared and everyone was so thankful.

“I feel like I have come home.”

 

 

The 4Rs Youth Movement National Learning Community

Chippewas of Rama First Nation, May 18-21, 2017

by Rehana Tejpar

Righting Relations National Program Facilitator

Last month I had the honour and privilege of being invited to co-facilitate and participate in the 4Rs Youth Movement’s National Learning Community, on behalf of Righting Relations. Gathered in the territory of the Chippewas of Rama First Nation along the shores of Lake Couchiching, young Indigenous and non-Indigenous change-makers from across Turtle Island came together around the question: How do we hold meaningful and relevant conversations in our communities that lead us closer to reconciliation?

The National Learning Community is made up of pairs of young people from Yellowknives First Nation, Nanaimo (BC), Vancouver (BC), Oxford House First Nation (MB), Calgary (AB), Peguis First Nation (MB), Saskatoon (SK), Ottawa (ON), Nogojiwanong/Peterborough (ON), London (ON), Halifax (NS) and Nain (NF).  Over the course of this year, with the support of 4Rs, they will be hosting conversations in and around their home communities on reconciliation.

The 4Rs Youth Movement (Respect, Reciprocity, Reconciliation, Relevance) is a collaborative, youth-led initiative seeking to change the country now known as Canada by changing the relationship between Indigenous and non-Indigenous young people.

 

 

The 4Rs has outlined their approach to cross-cultural dialogue in Seeding Reconciliation on Uneven Ground. Grounded in an earth-based metaphor, their practice is rooted in convening people from different cultures in face-to-face gatherings (on the land when possible), to have critical conversations and build deep relationships of trust.

What brought me into conversation with 4Rs were the striking similarities in the work and approach between 4Rs and Righting Relations. Common to both networks/movements is a centering of Indigenous knowledges and peoples, a participatory leadership model, the use of a popular education framework, a holistic approach to social change that welcomes the whole self – mind, body, heart and spirit, honouring the healing journey that this work of reconciliation requires as we move towards justice.

 

(Phoenix, Chippewa of the Thames, harvesting chaga)

The 4Rs has been playing with the use of Theatre of the Oppressed (TO) as a way to explore “big concepts” like reconciliation and decolonization.  These words are thrown around, but how do we understand them, really?  TO is a body-based approach and popular education methodology for exploring personal and collective struggles and pathways to liberation, which centers the body and people’s lived experience as the primary site of wisdom and transformation. Together with the National Learning Community I was invited to experiment with using TO to unpack the concepts of reconciliation and decolonization.  As always, we had limited time, and these concepts are not big, they’re huge, multi-layered and complex.  And yet we played with them a little bit through Image Theatre, and shone some light on what reconciliation and decolonization looks and feels like in the body, to us. Here are some insights we uncovered:

What does Reconciliation Look Like?

 

What do you see? Here’s what we saw:

 

What does decolonization look like?

(From left: Jermaine, Cheyenne, Evelisa.  This is one of the many iterations of what decolonization looked like that day)

What do you see? Here’s what we saw

What does decolonization feel like?

 

What does it feel like to you? (really we would love to know, please share)

Being amongst young Indigenous and non-Indigenous leaders from across communities and nations on this land devoted to the work that reconnects us was truly inspiring. I witnessed Indigenous youth reaching within their cultural bundles and ancestral teachings for the medicine and strength to heal the wounds of colonization. I witnessed courage and resilience of the highest order. I witnessed the bravery of the human heart to heal and move forward in a good way. I listened to stories of colonization that enraged me. Rivers of tears flowed from the overwhelming sadness of perpetual and calculated genocide on these lands.  I witnessed forgiveness and guilt. I became a bit closer to understanding what ally-ship means. I witnessed people stretching their eyes and minds open to make room for other, lesser-known realities. I witnessed deep listening. I witnessed people seeking to learn what we need in order to right relations and to unlearn what is holding us back. I witnessed love and opening. I witnessed, and I was witnessed. And for all of this I am humbled and grateful.

Thank you to everyone at 4Rs for all of your amazing work and for welcoming us on this learning journey with you.  We wish you a year (and many more) of abundance, truth and opening on the road to reconciliation.

 

Rebecca Tabobodung, a member of the Wasauksing First Nation (Parry Island, Ontario), is a poet, activist, and filmmaker. She lives in Toronto. This poem appears in A Healing Journey for Us All, United Church of Canada, page 11.

4Rs National Learning Community, May 2017