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.
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?
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…