Righting Relations at Ignite Change: Global Gathering for Human Rights Treaty 6 Territory/Edmonton, AB

Righting Relations members from across Turtle Island gathered for the first time representing the four directions: East, South, West and North at Ignite Change Global Gathering for Human Rights, in Treaty 6 Territory. Ignite Change is a global gathering for human rights defenders, protectors, promoters, facilitators – those with a concern about the current human rights climate we live in, and are working to build peace and take action globally and locally.

For five days we examined how to address four key issues from a human rights lens: human trafficking, arms, drugs and hate. We explored ways as global citizens, to amplify voices and perspectives on these issues and translate concerns into non-violent direct action. The gathering was organized by Righting Relations Western hub partner – The John Humphrey Centre for Peace and Human Rights.

The gathering opened on Aug 21st, 2017 the day of the total solar eclipse with a pipe and a water ceremony. Lewis Cardinal, spoke of the meaning of Treaty 6 – a Peace and Friendship Treaty, which brings us together as relatives. He reminded us that treaties are made when we join together as nations, and that this is a sacred relationship, one of becoming family, and living side by side. Without treaties, he said, Canada cannot exist, by legal definition. Treaty defines who we are, and our roles and responsibilities, as we are all treaty people.

Compelling speakers pulled back the veil on complex human rights issues. Sarah Curtiss spoke of the struggles faced by Indigenous survivors of sexual exploitation, Petra Schultz told the story of loosing her son to Fentanyl, the opioid crisis and the need for drug policy reform; Bashir Mohamed reflected on Edmonton’s racism – past and present, Dr Ingrid Mattson spoke of Islamophobia, and so much more. Dynamic workshops created spaces for dialogue around non-violent strategies for addressing injustice such as using popular theatre for social change with Mirtha Rivera and Dialogue for Peaceful Change with Ishbel Munro – both members of the Righting Relations network.

Popular Theatre with Mirtha Rivera

Righting Relations hosted a space within the gathering, which became a space for reflection, for doing deep inner work, healing and relationship building. As much as we examine the patterns of violence, hate and exploitation in the outer world, we must also examine them in the inner world, within ourselves. What we know is that how we operate internally, is how we operate externally and that in order to right relations with others we must right relations with ourselves.

Every afternoon, Righting Relations hosted a circle in the teepee, on the land, and it was open to all, for the exchange of knowledge around specific teachings. Melaw Nakeh’ko from Yellowknife, NWT lead us through a process of moose hide tanning, Vanessa Cook from Treaty 1/Winnipeg lead a circle on the meaning of our names as a way of understanding our life purpose, Barb Frazier from Treaty 4/Moosejaw lead a circle on the role of women in water protection and shared teachings on medicinal plants. Ishbel and miigam’agan shared on the experience of building Apaji’wla-matulinej, the Eastern hub of Righting Relations, through a women-led approach.

We hosted two Women’s Wisdom Circles to harvest collective wisdom on the Child Welfare System and the relationship between healing and radical social change.  In our discussion on child welfare, we explored how we might be able to claim collective family rights and thus, make claim to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) in Canada. If UNDRIP speaks in terms of collective rights, how are these rights claimed in Canada whose legal system speaks of individual rights?

Women’s Circle on Child Welfare and Collective Rights

We talked about the importance of rebuilding the kinship system – looking after one another beyond blood relations. How do we rebuild support systems in the community so that families receive the support they need to be able to care for their children and not have them apprehended by the child welfare system? We talked about family abuse, how prevalent it is, and how we need to speak more openly about it to address it, heal from it and stop perpetuating it. We talked about love, keeping our hearts wide open and the sacred responsibility that is parenting.

 How does Healing bring about Social Change?

“Indigenous women have not been heard for 100s of years – for their voice to come out, healing is needed for confidence.”

 “Leaders are expected to be strong – they never get to be vulnerable, but they need those opportunities. They can’t always hold it together for us all the time.”

 “When women and young women are healing, we have a better co-vision of how we want to be together.”

 “Healing is important in order to create the community we really want – to respect and really listen.”

 “If we don’t right relations with ourselves, we will pass the hurt to our children.”

In the spirit of both Indigenous ways of teaching/learning and popular education, we used our lived experience as a launch pad for understanding and transforming systems in our world. And in the process of witnessing each other going deep into the places of our inner pain, beauty, hope, distrust, fear and limitation, we began to shed the protective layers that keep us divided and build a container of collective love and support.

We began to weave a quilt of our relations from all four directions and build a circle of sisterhood, strength and support. We stood in solidarity with one another and embodied kinship, togetherness and belonging. We worked in a way that was women-led, trusting the wisdom of the circle, being transparent and sharing leadership.

 “This is the first time in my life I feel I have support”.

 “I feel I found a place I do belong.”

 We are righting relations…

Righting Relations Members at Ignite Change

 

Righting Relations, the Story of an Emerging Women-Led Network of Popular Educators and Indigenous Knowledge Keepers from Across Turtle Island

We are living in a time of prophecy. Many nations prophesized that there would come a time when people must choose between living a material way of life or following the Original Instructions – the spiritual way. They spoke of the time of the 7th Fire where there would be fires and floods. A time when Mother Earth would be sick and would shake. Some nations spoke of a giant spider web forming over the world, others spoke of black snakes across the land. In this time of power lines and pipelines we see the visions of the ancestors coming true. They spoke of a time of rising temperatures, of fighting and division. Some saw visions of water burning and what seemed impossible to the ancestors’ eyes has been made a reality by the fracking industry.

“Many people will turn away from the teachings of the Elders”, they said.

It was also prophesized that in this time of the 7th Fire, there will be people who will retrace their steps to find what was left by the trail. They will speak to the Elders, and bring back the Original Instructions. They will come together in sisterhood and brotherhood across nations.

They will seek to right relations with all of life, because this is the only way that life will continue.

We are Righting Relations, a women-led network of adult educators for social change, in partnership with the Catherine Donnelly Foundation. We are coming together across cultures as change-makers, who work with Indigenous, Immigrant, Refugee and low-income communities to co-learn, build networks of support, and strengthen our capacity to bring about radical social change.

The ways we are coming together are unique. We are aware that the political and economic systems are fraught with inequity and that we have inherited structures of power, which are colonial, patriarchal and destroying life in our communities, destroying our Mother Earth and the water. We are coming together in ways that are intentionally different, rooted in heart-based, land-based, inclusive and life-affirming principles. We are popular educators[1], adult educators, Indigenous knowledge keepers, artists, activists, grandmothers, aunties, fathers, healers, community organizers and people who want to model another way of being together. A way of being that supports and nurtures ourselves, each other and all life to thrive on this planet.

Currently we are convening change-makers in three hubs: Apaji’wla-matulinej in the East on the land of the Peace and Friendship Treaty, with an Indigenous focus; South/Central – Tkaronto, Dish With One Spoon Treaty Territory and on the unceded traditional land of the Algonquin Nation, a.k.a Ottawa, with an Immigrant and Refugee focus; and in the West in Treaty 6, 1 and 4 (Edmonton, Winnipeg and Regina) with a focus on Low-Income. We are beginning to build relationships in the North West Territories with Dene Nahjo, who are advancing social and environmental justice and fostering Indigenous leaders in the North.

We are women-led, but not women-only. Women in our leadership who are Mi’kmaq, which is traditionally a Matriculture, have taught us a great deal about what this means. Women-led to us, means that we honour heart-centered leadership. We listen to the wisdom of the heart, and we engage with that wisdom in our ways of doing. It’s a way of leading and following in which there is no one leader, rather a circle of leaders. We are all involved in shaping what we create and how we come together. A women-led approach excludes no one. There is a role and value for everyone in the circle. It’s a way of being that centers being authentic, building kin-like support networks, being vulnerable, honouring the Sacred, and acknowledging multiple ways of knowing, including the intuitive.

We believe in the power of circle learning. The circle is present in cultures the world over and is an ancient way of being together. In the circle, everyone has a place, nobody is above any other, and we can all be seen and heard. Everyone is a sacred being, full of wisdom. We learn to listen deeply to each other’s stories. We see ourselves in each other. We start where people are at, and our lived experiences of colonization, of injustice, reveal to us the systemic and interlocking nature of our oppression. It reveals to us that our liberation is interconnected – my liberation is connected to your liberation. It shows us that all of us here on Turtle Island must heal from the wounds of colonization – whether we are survivors, victims or perpetrators – we have all been deeply wounded. Without healing the wounds of colonization, we will make the mistake of recreating the same structures and patterns which separated us from the land, each other and our ancestral teachings in the first place.

We are bridging worlds, histories, cultures and knowledge systems, weaving a quilt that embodies Righting Relations. Each person who enters the circle, brings with them a piece of their culture, their story, their identity, their methodologies in adult education, and each piece is sewn into the fabric of our living tapestry. In the process we are learning about ourselves, building solidarity across peoples, learning from each other tools for transformative radical education with marginalized adults, and bridging a knowledge gap between popular education and Indigenous ways of knowing.

We know this work is generational, and the seeds we are planting together are rippling out on the personal, interpersonal and systemic levels. We have broken the isolation and the silence of pain many of us experience, and are breathing life back into the practice of critical adult education in Canada. We are building the confidence and courage to speak out against injustice, and building the support systems to stand alongside each other when we do choose to speak out even when there is a risk of loosing our livelihood. We are learning how to slow down, listen again and be the kind of leader that uplifts us all as leaders.

To find out more and to join us, please visit www.rightingrelations.org

 

[1] A dialogical and experiential process of facilitating collective reflection and action towards societal transformation, with a focus on the most marginalized sectors of society. Everyone is a teacher and a learner, and we begin with people’s lived experiences as a site for developing critical consciousness and awareness of power.