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 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

 

The Virtual Talking Stick: Reflections on Apaji-wla’matulinej Women’s Gathering

May 2017

Apaji-wla’matulinej – When a Mi’Kmaq speaker translates this word for non-speakers, they always use their hands to show a turning over and speak of how it means returning to the right way of being, right relations. And as always there is a loss in translation as the depth of the meaning is hard to describe in English. In our four-day gathering near Elsipogtog on unceded Mi’Kmaq land, we saw it become reality.

We began with a Pipe Ceremony and a welcoming to this territory by Josie Augustine. She told us this work is long overdue, that the ancestors were happy we were doing this work and that it must continue. And that it will continue to grow and bring healing. We talked of how healing the women, heals the families and then the communities, bringing things back to right relations.

As we spent time together, we continued to listen, and be guided by Creator. And our trust grew. We each became more present. There was a beautiful, gentle opening and sharing of who we truly are as human beings.

The reflection below are a “virtual” talking circle shared through emails.

Greetings everyone.

As I hold the Talking Stick, I am reflecting on our time together.

As a woman who has been sitting in Circles for some time, one of the things that stood out for me is that the topics of concern for women is also moving through the circle.  Elders and youth have been the main topics of concern for some years now. This time it was on men. I am not sure why I was surprised by this.  Perhaps it is because there are huge gaps in services for men and so I have felt quite isolated in my work with them.   I was so grateful to be surrounded by women for  four days.  It is so nurturing and helps to give me the balance I needed to continue to do my work with men.  I think that in today’s fast paced world and with so many community concerns, that often we do feel isolated from each other.  I think too that perhaps because we often are existing in survival mode, we can’t always see the bigger picture.  That changes when we are able to gather together.  We are surprised and impressed at what others are doing, and that validates everyone.  As we begin to move back into our natural rhythm together, we also get the opportunity to realize how separate we have become from the original instructions of the land.

I went into the gathering wondering how I could manage to be away from everything that depends on my for four days.  Now i am wondering how it could have been as impactful to me if it was less than that.  It takes that long to decompress and to really move back into the rhythm that sustains us – that is life giving.  i feel stronger now since the gathering and wish to thank all the amazing women and the wisdom of those who realized how life-giving women who gather really are.

Welalio,

Cathy Gerrior

Participating in the gathering has deepened the urgency with which I do my work. Observing Trudeau’s government slither away last week from 6(1)a All The Way, an amendment which would have recognized Canadian Indigenous women as equal to Canadian Indigenous men under the Indian Act, brings home to me again that the colonial state is determined to lower the number of Indigenous women wherever it can, as a way of slowly assimilating First Nations people.

Right now, bringing scholarly attention to the central role of women in many Canadian Indigenous cultures is my contribution towards change in this country. I don’t know where it will lead, but I know that for mainstream society and elsewhere, having knowledge recognized and
documented in a formal way is respected and may be influential.

Personally, I came away from the gathering strengthened and inspired, and feeling deeply grateful for your warm welcome.

Miigwetch
Linnéa

I pass on the Talking Stick…

Being part of Apaji Wla’multulinej gathering at Richibucto Resort, was amazing. The stories of truth, struggles and inspirations filled the room with a spirit and the heart of one being in the four days we enjoyed together.

The women’s experiences and lives became entwined with each other’s stories, which brought an air of strength, courage, familiarity  and hope for a better tomorrow. The children’s laughter and footsteps as they came into the room and the sound of healthy crying from one amazing little gift from Creator, brought our women to attention with a smile, the baby’s fine, just waken up.

For me, when I got home having the opportunity to sit back and contemplate, left me with peace, happiness and a full heart of great memories. Two young Sisters shared the love of family and not to take family for granted stood out to me. It left me with an amazing feeling of unconditional love for my family and reflecting with memories of special moments with them. I expressed to my children, grandchildren, family and friends, how dear they are to me and I am blessed to have them in my life. Yes, it is important not to take your family for granted. They could be there one day and then gone the next.

I would like to thank each and every person who made this event possible. A special thanks to all the women who attended, you were all awesome thank you for allowing me to be part of your circle.

Much love, peace and acknowledgement.

Marilyn Standing Bear Francis

I have to say, it took me a while to allow myself the honor of being “in” the circle.  I hold such great respect for all the beautiful women I was so privileged to meet.  I look forward to the teachings ahead and will carry all that I have learned to every table I sit at.

Donna Smith, Tearmen House Shelter

What an amazing time…the organizers did a terrific job of pulling together a great combination of people, issues, and time together.

Gathering among women was much needed for all who made it.  It felt like a homecoming. The mix of participants was so important.  Listening to some women speak the truths of their painful experiences for the first time, in the same circle where we heard about initiatives addressing those violent conditions that are led by local Indigenous women, as well as learning of the international work being done on matricultural societies was incredibly visionary.  It gave us the necessary connections among the strands of the lived experiences, the capacity to build community woman based responses, and the global Indigenous societies that have been offering distinct social structures for centuries.

As a settler woman, I felt warmly welcomed, and supported.  As we agreed the first night, we were to spend the time with each other ‘being accepted unconditionally for who we are, as we are’.  This enabled those of us with different views and experiences to treat each other with respect and support.

In our evening activity, being taught how to weave a basket gave us the right image:  we started the basics of a basket, but did not have time to finish them.  We agreed that was what happened in those four days – we wove the beginnings of our community together.

How the weaving was taught reflected how the circles of women worked during our time together.  I do not have good eye hand coordination skills, and usually avoid such activities. This time, sitting with others who had a variety of ability to make a good looking basket gave me a sense that we were all accepted as we are, yet were encouraged to do better to build the best basket we could.  This was done by learning from a skilled patient Indigenous woman teacher.  We sat waiting for instructions, building caring community as we learned what to do next, being corrected and supported at the same time.   This was how the whole 4 days went – those from the community with the skills and knowledge leading the rest of us in such a variety of different aspects of supporting women.  Each of us had strengths that were highlighted at one point or another.  The leaders did a great job of weaving us into a basket. The objectives were achieved at our gathering.

We witnessed and experienced a model of women’s way of being.  It was a very empowering confirmation that we can find our way to using this experience in our lives after.  I have shared the incredible depth of care and support I felt and was able to give, with many others since. My gift of non-touch healing was accepted and appreciated in a deeper way than I’ve ever experienced.

The discussions I have had with others since the event have led to me becoming clearer about what it was I experienced, and how it affected me. Their questions and interest make it clear that the impact of the event will continue to have ripple effects.

I continue to reflect on the intricate interweaving of relationships that developed there.  Intense listening, responding, and learning led to deepening understanding and care as the event progressed.

Penni Burrell

As I think back on our gathering, I am in awe! I am in awe and humbled by how the Creator directed us all. It was such a gift to be shown how life should be. We were shown how when we open ourselves up as one hurt human to another, we learn how to support each other. We learn how to trust and how to share our gifts with each other. And each gift shared, helped someone else in the circle – whether it was dancing to a rock song to release the tension, or standing beside someone as they shared deep pain or sharing a Sacred song or an ancient craft. We shared our hearts, minds and spirit.

How has it changed me? How has it changed the way I do my work? I trust myself more. The inside my mind doubting self-talk has decreased and when it pops up, I replace it with faith and trust. I also see more clearly the link between healing and empowering women and healing and empowering men and our communities. I speak my truth much more often and am also mindful when to just listen. My hope has grown as I have witnessed the power of women to make changes in ourselves and I know this will continue and we will make healthy changes in our communities and the world.

Ishbel Munro

This gathering gave us a glimpse of the longhouse way of life. I am longing for the rituals that help us practice the longhouse way of life. Apaji-wla’matulinej – to build trust healing, celebrating ourselves and model women-centered ways of being We are wrapping each other in the healing blankets and love them to remind them who they are.

Miiga’magan

Thoughts from the closing circle below as the talking stick was passed:

It was an Amazing and Awesome gathering of love, strength and courage for Sisterhood & families. Welalioq

Where’s the hope? This is the hope, in gatherings like this – there’s no other space like it

Learning how to trust again

I’m allowed to be myself

Find ways of being more present to what’s happening around me and open to hearing what’s happening around me

It changes the way you see the world, being here

It’s a blessing to be amongst such powerful women

It makes me feel stronger because all of you are out there doing the same kind of work

It can get really lonely to do this work, when you’re called on to lead

Nobody listens when you have a need, they want you to fix their stuff

I witnessed healing within myself and others, I’m taking away teachings

This is what it’s going to take to restore our relationships as indigenous women – 500 years of colonization

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.

 

Walking with Our Sisters Exhibit

By Ishbel Munro

Walking With Our Sisters (WWOS) was a commemorative art project honouring missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls and two-spirited people, whose numbers exceed 2000 over the last 20 years. The project included more than 1800 pairs of moccasin vamps (representing those who were lost) decorated by contributing artists, and arranged on the floor in a winding formation. Visitors removed their shoes to walk alongside the vamps, on a pathway of cloth, to engage in reflection and show solidarity and respect. This decolonizing project, carried out by local Elders and volunteers, and guided by the Indigenous National Collective that organized the show, transformed the gallery into a ceremonial site of healing. Many of the visitors commented how unlike a conventional art exhibition it was.

Visitors to the exhibition were formally greeted by volunteers and guided on the protocols of walking the path alongside the unfinished moccasins and offering tobacco. The gallery provided an additional room where volunteers interacted privately with grieving relatives and friends. Volunteers also supported visitors who were emotionally overcome by the exhibition.

MSVU Art Gallery was the sole venue in the Atlantic Region, on the 29-stop national tour. The Gallery accepted the responsibility of providing assistance with travel to the many families and friends of the Indigenous “sisters” from this vast region who have succumbed to violence.

The opening ceremony was attended by Elders, including many from our Right Relations Hub and MMIW families from all of the Atlantic Provinces. We met the day before and our members and others planned the flow of the opening, discussed issues and shared stories. It was deeply moving. Representatives from as far a ways as Labrador and from across Atlantic Canada shared stories, teachings and songs with the more than 500 persons who attended the Welcoming Ceremony. It was inspiring to see how many non-natives came and were open to learning about Indigenous culture and the issues facing Indigenous women and communities.

Many of the MMIW families ceremonially laid in new pairs of vamps representing their loved ones. It was a powerful ceremony and took much longer then thought. It was moving how many people patiently waited for the ceremony to end so that they could through and view the exhibit.

Over the 2.5-week span of the exhibition, a further 3,000 visitors attended the exhibition. The gallery has never seen attendance like this. People lined up for an hour to get in. The exhibit brought the most media coverage that gallery has ever had, as well.

School groups were prevented from visiting by the Nova Scotia Teachers Union work to rule. However, volunteer engagement was intense, with about 150 volunteers donating their labour. Volunteers included persons of Indigenous, Caucasian and international backgrounds, aged 18 to 80. The volunteer WWOS Halifax Planning Committee was composed of about 16 individuals.

Two key objectives of the exhibition were to help MMIW families heal, and to raise awareness and cultural understanding in a very mixed public. The exhibit certainly increased the general public’s understanding of social justice issues through an experiential exhibit. It also brought healing to those whose family’s members are missing or murdered. It is hard to describe the impact and how it undermines a person when a loved one is gone through tragic and socially unjust circumstances. It can be crippling on so many levels. The transformation that comes from acknowledgement of your experience and sharing space with others who know just how you feel, helps a person to move forward in a good way.

This was also a community re-building event. In the past Indigenous communities were built on mutual support. Over time, through western influence people have become accustomed to being paid an honorarium to drum or paid as head dancer, or attending a conference or as an elder. This project was designed to re-kindle the spirit of community. Just like a wake, people were invited to do whatever they could to help out. People brought food, supported elders and family members and took care of each other. The full event was guided by the grandmothers who created a collective wisdom for how things would go. People became like a flock of birds, soaring together, checking in with each and adjusting the flight plan as they went. It was very organic and beautiful.

The surge of interest and good will from the general public also suggests that the presentation of WWOS in Halifax has advanced the national project of Reconciliation. We were proud and honoured to be a part of this excellent “teaching” event.

By Ishbel Munro

In May of 2016, 40 mostly Indigenous women gathered to talk about working together to create positive changes for their communities and beyond. Right from the start, there was a sense of hope and excitement. Drawing on the deep wisdom carried by the natural world and women’s connection to that, we quickly renewed living our values as women. We were all leaders, teachers and learners. There was strength in sharing our pain, our vulnerabilities.

“It’s being led by women and its going to end well.”

We shared our stories – stories of the impact of colonialism from Vietnam, Korea, and African Nova Scotian to the intergenerational impact of residential schools, the 60’s scoop and many community killing policies. And yet what shone was the astounding fact that women were still resilient, still looking for hope, looking how to move forward and make things better for their children and those to come.

“What is the story of Indigenous women? It is not the story of trauma. It is the story of resilience, power, hope and love embodied. I do not want to be defined by my trauma. It is time to change the story.”

We talked about the importance that this is a women led project. That is what drew people to it. Women are sacred. We carry life. And yet western society sends many messages causing confusion and pain for women and men. First Nations men are going against their natural grain. When women reclaim the language and culture, they are empowered and this brings a balance to our families and communities.

“I trust this circle, the process and the experience of women’s ceremonies because it’s not hierarchical, it’s collective, everyone has responsibility.”


“Change is happening, there’s a shift happening and it has everything to do with women, and I need that on a personal level, that is the thing that is keeping me going – connecting with strong women, believing that something else can happen and we need to make it happen.”

We all were working in very different ways to make the world a better place. When we thought of what we could do together, there was an overflowing of ideas. We soon came to realize that we couldn’t support a hundred different projects but we could support and strengthen each other. We are always giving to others, concerned for other. If we strengthen women, we strengthen our families and our communities.

“We’ve been divided – different cultures – we’ve been doing our own work in isolation. We need to stand together as sisters and walk together and do this work at the same time in our communities, empowering ourselves and each other.”


“Change is happening, there’s a shift happening and it has everything to do with women, and I need that on a personal level, that is the thing that is keeping me going – connecting with strong women, believing that something else can happen and we need to make it happen.”


“Developing a women-centered way of living.”

Through building an alternative; modelling what a women-led approach is, we are creating a model that is based on respect for all life; nourishing and strengthening our spirit. We are encouraging each other to overcome the “you are not good enough” attitude that we have internalized and to share our gifts with our families, communities and the wider society.

“The time is right for women to take the lead, especially our Indigenous communities – they are the carriers of knowledge of so much on how to take care of Mother Earth.”


“Rebuilding Canada from the ground up with right relations.”