by Miriam Sainnawap
My name is Miriam. I am Oji-Cree from Kingfisher Lake in Northwestern Ontario. Righting Relations is a powerful, women-led, pan-Canadian network of which I am a coordinator for the Winnipeg circle. Righting Relations strives to build the capacity of adult educators and grass root organizers to create radical social change in our respective communities.
We are adult educators building capacity and networking to support each other. New opportunities are created to empower young leaders.
Since being a part of the Righting Relations circle, I’ve been healing and coming to know my strengths. Often I have sat in circle, and had moments of profound learning about myself, getting to know myself better. I had let ignorance cloud my judgement at times, and I am coming to understand my relationships to people. I’m learning to live from a place of how I can embody my values with integrity and honesty. This has called me out of my comfort zone. Learning to live from the spirit of being in right relations.
I was invited to the Wapna’kikewi’skwaq – Women of First Light gathering in Nova Scotia, which is a part of the Righting Relations network. I heard stories from the Mi’kmaq women and men from Wabanaki Territory. I was new, hardly knew anyone and I was welcomed to the circle. For the next 3 days, I came to know the women in the circle, they are grandmothers, mothers, knowledge keepers and teachers. They have been discussing topics that matter to them and committing their lives to heal their families and communities. The conversations held interconnecting threads of colonialism, discrimination and the past grievance that remains ever present in Indigenous life. There has been dispossession, continuous land destruction from natural resource extraction and environmental contamination, imposed poverty, assimilative polices and gendered violence. Yet, the women in circle hold their values, wisdom and knowledge of the revitalization efforts to reestablish traditional governance systems, recovering the roles and responsibilities, mentoring young people and restoring the language. It showed me the incredible power of coming together in circle.
The gathering also included men. They were invited in circle to participate with a time set aside for them to speak and share their experiences. I admit I had a reaction to this part as I knew I was avoiding going into my feelings of discomfort. I felt like for too long, I’ve been hearing men speak of and for women, and the gathering was the opportunity for women to speak now. I sat in my discomfort with thoughts running through my mind, if I should get up to leave or remain inside the circle. A moment that changed for me was hearing Ryan Gould, who is a passionate and dedicated father, raising his teenage daughters. He shared without hesitation about his involvement in the Membertou Men’s Society. He formed a group of men’s healing circles to gather and learn about cultural teachings to give support to men in their everyday lives. The space has brought healing to Ryan by helping him overcome his addictions and support on his journey of recovery from trauma. This turned into a place created to help men heal. While I was listening to Ryan, I came to know that there are very few services available for men. What I took away is that men who are ready to commit to making changes in their lives are hardly taken seriously. If they are not taken seriously, how will men learn to heal and come to live respectfully? I learned about the significant barriers men face to overcome the perceived stigma of not being qualified fathers and the discrimination of being Indigenous. I admire Ryan’s courage to take steps to create a better future with his daughters, family and community. It is possible.
After the gathering ended. I left feeling inspired, empowered and invigorated. What legacy do I want to leave behind? We speak of supporting each other in being in right relations with everything and everyone. Yet, we forget to mention our men in our lives who need our support. When we talk of restoring the balance in our communities, we remember our roles and responsibilities to protect our women and our children. We live in a critical time where we know we must build trust and respect for one another. We leave a lasting legacy for our children and grandchildren of something to be proud of. Having healthy and vibrant communities.