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.

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

 

The Power of Collective Strength

By Louise Pozdzik

Sometimes sharing stories of others who have faced their own challenges stresses the importance of sharing those stories to improve our collective human experience. Being courageous is only half the battle. You have to keep going. You have to persevere. And you must be aware that you are not in this alone. Being human is both singular and plural – I am human and we are human. Though we are, each of us, more! Talking and listening to each others’ stories can be the antidote to fear associated with this journey, and the key to creating genuine understanding and empathy of our joint experiences.

Women are a source of strength, of power, of influence. Yet, many do not understand their own ability to tap into the Inner Strength.

While listening to or reading inspiring stories may be an uplifting experience for a time for some, the stories are not enough on their own to motivate. Making the conscious choice to accept and pursue a challenge that is staring you in the face requires commitment. Excitement is a key ingredient in commitment, motivation and success. Success in facing challenges is diminished when fear is overwhelmingly present. Fear comes from childhood conditioning, societal and educational conditioning, messages from the false belief systems that we have held throughout our lives which tell us that we are not good enough, that we are not enough, that we will fail.

Desperation to survive, to protect and to provide for ourselves or our children, is often the motivator for change in a situation. After many failed attempts to face severe life challenges, I acknowledged and accepted that I am never alone, help is only a prayer away. I stay open to whatever and whomever arrives as a response. I am not advocating any religious practices. What I am saying is that sincere prayer produces miracles often in ways that we could not even imagine. Now on to my personal story, which has changed from the way I used to tell it as I consider myself Victorious rather than a victim.

In 1982 my husband was unemployed and attending therapy with the Workmen’s Compensation Board so our income was severely reduced. Not accustomed to being unemployed and at home on the farm with us, he was miserable and abusive towards our three children and myself.

Before driving to work as a camp attendant, I dropped him off at the bus terminal in the local town so that he could attend his appointment in Edmonton for physiotherapy. He was going to come home that same evening, though I didn’t receive a call from him to be picked up. Days passed and still no word from him. I continued to go to work at the nearby construction camp where I assisted the cook in meal prep, baking and cleaned the men’s rooms. One of the men was conscientious and always put down newspapers at the entrance to his room. Every day I picked up the carefully placed papers without taking the time to read anything in them. This day was different. The name Pozdzik in the Edmonton Sun caught my eye so I read … He had been picked up by the police and was in the Remand Centre after having been charged with theft of a vehicle, threatening a taxi driver with a dangerous weapon and resisting arrest. I was stunned!

He was sentenced to 2+, a federal sentence, and was sent to Drumheller, a maximum security institution. I managed to get focused and completed all of the tasks required of me in camp and drove home thinking, “O God, now what am I going to do?” That night I stayed up all night and prayed. At 7 am, my brother-in-law phoned me and asked if I would consider being a hotshot driver! After hearing all of the details I said, “YES!”

As I only had a small car, I knew that I would require a pickup truck so I called the owner of a vehicle dealership and arranged to have a suitable vehicle delivered to the local town. Joe told me not to worry about financing and to just go to the bank and make arrangements and then let him know.

Brian, the bank manager, had no problem giving me the credit without a down payment as he knew me well. Everything just fell into place!

The next day I received a call from an engineer on a rig nearby who had been in contact with my brother-in-law. I drove to the rig and was put on ‘standby’ for the next 24 hours. They had lost the bit in the hole and the roughnecks had to go ‘fishing’ for it. I earned enough to pay for the pick-up that time! During that time on ‘standby,’ my father-in-law had my truck outfitted with an ax secured behind the driver’s seat, a set of tire chains that he had bargained with a neighbour for, a shovel and a fire extinguisher. A few days later I was on my way to Calgary with my first core samples. From that day on, I was kept busy by three engineers in the area. My children and I never lacked for anything in the two and a half years that my then husband was in jail. We even enjoyed a shopping spree and a holiday!

On my own, I would have been challenged to arrange all that had to be done in order for me to prepare for the job. My prayers and constant gratitude started the ball rolling and kept bringing me the people that fit into the divine plan … Collective Strength! To my amazement, all of the people were men … Gary, Joe, Brian, Dad, George, Eugene and the three engineers. More, two years after X was released from incarceration, I filed for divorce, left the farm and began to move forward in my life.

 

What Does Women-Led Look Like to Us?

A reflection on the experience of the Righting Relations Southern Ontario Hub

By Rehana Tejpar

Where do the strong women go for support, when everyone goes to the strong women for support? They go to the other strong women – Righting Relations Eastern Hub Member

 We came together today, each one of us carrying a bit of the world on our shoulders. As women and people across genders in Righting Relations, we often carry more responsibility than our bodies can hold. Today, our meeting began with many of us feeling overwhelmed with the weight of our responsibility to our children, elders, organizations and communities. “I’m tired. So tired.”

Many of us thought we couldn’t make it. Many of thought we couldn’t stay. And yet, we came. And we stayed.

We begin by a check in, and we breathe. We eat. We laugh. We cry.

And then…we organize!

Today we’re designing a workshop on Community Organizing and Popular Education to offer our community of practice of transformative/popular educators in Southern Ontario who work primarily with marginalized, immigrant and refugee communities. We listen, ask critical questions, give feedback, offer thoughts, tools, methodologies and design processes that can facilitate a deeper reflection on our praxis (theory + practice) and move our communities and our world towards greater justice. We are motivated by love and passion.

What does women-led look like? We’re learning as we go. It looks like people being able to show more of their whole selves, even the vulnerable parts, and be seen. It looks like uplifting each other’s ideas, and seeking to build upon them, rather than breaking them down. It looks like feeding one another, checking in, laughing, playing and sometimes crying. It looks like rigorous thought, critical action and hope. It looks like thinking about those who are most impacted by systems of oppression. It looks like doing the best we can, with what we have, even when it’s hard. It looks like doing it together.

It’s not everyday that we get the space to stop and reflect on our praxis and learn together, bringing our whole selves in. Righting Relations is becoming a sacred space that truly recognizes how much we need each other in order to be strategic and healthy in our work. And although it’s sometimes hardest to come when we most need the support…we are grateful for the space and the door held open for us to come.