It has been over a month since I’ve published anything on my own blog, and for that I apologise. I’ve been plenty busy in other ways but I have such a long list of articles I want to write that I feel constantly guilty about not being able to squeeze out a few more precious moments to get them done! Well, eventually they will be.
On January 26th, I hosted my first Spreecast, which is a free web-based video conferencing platform much lauded by Ryan McMahon and others. My reason for wanting to hold a Women’s Townhall (men were welcome and present as well) are outlined here. It was organised very last minute, but Christi Belcourt, Leanne Simpson, Tania Cameron and Koren Lightning-Earle were all generous enough to share their time and speak. We also had some amazing people share with us near the end of the 90 minutes. If you missed it, fear not! The entire thing was recorded below and you can watch it all you’d like!
Essentially, the open-ended topic, “What we’re doing, where we’re going” was intended to draw out women’s perspectives on both short and long term planning for a sustainable indigenous resurgence.
Before you become engrossed, however, I’d like to tell you that underneath the embedded Spreecast, I’ve broken down some of the information that was shared with us and grouped it loosely by topic. I like video as much as the next person (okay maybe not quite as much), but I have an affinity with text that requires me to get this down in writing so I can digest it in the stomach juices of my soul. Obviously, what I pick out and highlight are things that spoke to me, personally. Maybe I miss things that speak to you personally, so feel free to comment and add your own thoughts on the dialogue last night!
These tidbits were offered as examples of what is already being done, as well as suggestions for future individual and collective action. No one expects anyone to do it all. I think it is very important to see if any of these suggestions resonate with you particularly, and if you choose to focus on one or two things, then you are more likely to be engaged in the long-term. I would also suggest that these ideas/suggestions are as applicable to settlers as they are applicable to indigenous peoples.
Indigenous Language/Reclaiming Names
Learn an indigenous language, even if it is the language of the territory you are in and not the language of the territory you come from.
- Christi pointed out that though her family comes from the same community as mine, Lac Ste. Anne, Alberta, the Cree language was lost in two generations. She explains that she has begun learning Anishinaabemowin as this is her partner’s language and she lives in Anishinaabek territory.
The struggle over whether to try to learn one’s own language far from home (and other speakers) or the language of one’s new home, is a very common one. Sometimes we wait, holding out for resources and materials in our own language, but the fact is, our ancestors whether indigenous or settler, were often multilingual. It is normal for human beings to speak more than one language. Learning an indigenous language, your own or that of the people whose territory you reside in, is of intrinsic value and vital to sustainable resurgence.
- Leanne Simpson discussed a Language Nest she has set up to help adults and children learn the language in a positive and natural environment. She explained that you only need to know three more words than everyone else each week to keep it going.
While it does take effort to learn any new language, it is also true that it takes even more dedication to learn an indigenous language. This is because materials are scarce, and fluent speakers perhaps even scarcer. Using a language is the most vital component to truly learning it. This is in great part why Language Nests have become much more common.
Based on Maori revitalisation of language, the Language Nest approach takes language learning out of the classroom and into our every day lives. Whether you meet in a community centre, in living rooms, out on the land or in urban green spaces, Language Nests are meant to help adult and children learners access language in more natural ways. Most of all, Language Nests are meant to nurture and inspire, so that the approach to learning indigenous languages remains always positive. It should also be fun!
Reclaim indigenous place names
- Christi also discussed reclaiming the original names of places, by asking Elders, or doing historical research.
Wikipedia has a list of many place names throughout Canada, with translations of their meaning into English. Many of these place names have been anglicised or francisised however. Here is an annotated bibliography from 1997, of various resources that focus on indigenous place names in Canada, as well as in other countries. These resources may help people find place names in their area. Tom Fortington has begun an Original Name reclamation project that you can contribute to directly online via Google Docs. I’ll get on this when I can, because there are so many place names I know of from back home that should be on here!
- Related to reclamation of names, Leanne Simpson mentioned that there have been some ‘guerrilla signage’ put up in Toronto. Christi explained that in rural areas, you can sometimes pay a fee of about $50 a year for a sign along the road, which could be used to display the original place name. There are many ways in which we can actively reclaim these names and bring them to the attention of everyone living in those territories.
Resisting and raising awareness of unjust laws
- Christi discussed how in Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba, the following Indian Act section applies:
32. (1) A transaction of any kind whereby a band or a member thereof purports to sell, barter, exchange, give or otherwise dispose of cattle or other animals, grain or hay, whether wild or cultivated, or root crops or plants or their products from a reserve in Manitoba, Saskatchewan or Alberta, to a person other than a member of that band, is void unless the superintendent approves the transaction in writing.
On further research, it seems that this section has been essentially made void by a 2010 Order Exempting Bands from the Operation of Section 32. The section is still written into the Indian Act, but cannot be enforced any longer.
However, the section was brought up as an example of an unjust law that could be challenged through direct action, and there are certainly other laws which could be found and challenged in this way. For example, although a court case (Connolly v. Woolrich (1867), 17 R.J.R.Q. 75, 1 C.N.L.C. 70 (Que. S.C.)) determined that traditional indigenous marriages are valid, we are nonetheless forced to abide by provincial laws which impact the solemnization of marriage. Meaning native people can have any sort of marriage ceremony they want, the form is fine, but for it to be legally binding you must acquire a marriage license, and have the whole thing signed off on by people recognised by the Canadian state. The difference between form (ceremony) and solemnization (recognition of validity) is only really important in a legalistic sense. In practice it means despite claims to the contrary, our customary marriages aren’t respected. Similar legal restrictions are placed on customary burial practices.
Another thing Christi mentioned was that her partner is trying to legally change his name to his various Anishinaabemowin names, which will probably be too long to be allowed. Doing these kinds of things raises the issue of why our names are being restricted. For what real purpose?
- Leanne reminded us that we haven’t won anything yet; we still do not have jurisdiction over our lands or our waters. She called for an intensification of action, acknowledging that pushing for this kind of change is going to ‘be messy’ and conflicts will happen. She anticipated an intensification of primary resource development in the near future, and that direct action to protect the lands and waters are probably going to be necessary. She also noted that the public education campaign is very important, but also that there needs to be more dialogue about tactics and strategy. “We need everyone contributing”. She reiterated that “land, culture and language” are the areas in which there seems to be unanimity in terms of recognising sovereignty over these areas as vital.
Refusing to accept arbitrary divisions and non-indigenous restrictions
- Christi also brought up the fact that the Indian Act imposes the concept of First Nations, Métis and Inuit, rather than the concept of nationhood. She asks why we have let our political structures be defined by provincial or even Treaty boundaries rather than traditional boundaries which existed before the Indian Act and Confederation.
Not all native political structures are formed along provincial or Treaty boundaries, but in the cases where this is true, what are we doing to rethink these divisions? What are we doing to rethink the way that indigenous peoples are segregated from one another based on Canadian notions of Status, and court-based decisions on identity?
Christi also brought up the fact that many indigenous governance structures use the Roberts Rules of Order, and questions why that is and whether these rules fit into indigenous consensus-based decision making. She points out that the Roberts Rules are not conducive to ensuring information flows to the rest of the community.
Staying healthy and engaging in reflection
- Christi started a blog called Divided No More, where various people have been posting opinion pieces meant to share their vision and thoughts on Idle No More. Submissions should be 1500 words max, and can be emailed to Christi Belcourt at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Koren described the backlash against indigenous people as a “closet door” that has been opened. She discussed the need to remember that true revolution happens at home; making sure our families are healthy and supported wherever they go.
A major theme throughout the Townhall was in making our presence known outside of the ‘acceptable’ spaces like powwows and history texts. Sometimes this will open us up to attack and ridicule, and as such, it is sometimes an exhausting thing to do. However, not all spaces are inherently unsafe, and there are many opportunities we and our children have to bring our indigeneity back into public spaces. Reminding ourselves that, as Leanne puts it, “this is coming from a place of love, not anger” will go a long way to making sure that what we commit to sustains rather than drains us.
- Leanne again pointed out that whenever there is a resurgence among indigenous people, the backlash is often directed at our children and women. Ensuring we are keeping one another as safe as possible must be a focus in anything we do.
- Eva Jewell pointed out that Idle No More has fed into a deep need for renewal and resurgence and said that this has been very positive for her community, and that in particular, women have been showing much leadership.
Communication and flow of information
- Koren discussed the way in which Samson Cree First Nation has been sharing information on their website, on Facebook, twitter and through a newsletter.
All participants discussed the need to get information out to both community members and Canadians at large. Tania noted that Idle No More has been largely seen as an urban phenomenon, despite the fact that there have been many actions taken in rural communities as well. The lack of access to internet or social media is also something we need to be mindful of, and other forms of sharing information should be utilised, including community radio stations, pamphlets in community gathering places, and more community meetings.
A number of Idle No More pamphlets have been put together in order to more quickly provide information to whomever may need it. One put out by Taiaiake Alfred and Tobold Rollo, and based on the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples report, is available to print in English, French and Spanish. I know more have been produced and if people post links to others in the comments, I will put them up here as well.
Later on in the Townhall, a participant (@RedIndianGirl) brought up the issue of the need for clarity in the media. She points out that we need to be mindful of the fact that the media is looking for 30 second soundbites, and that however we may dislike that, we do need to be prepared to distill some information down so that it actually gets out and is understandable.
- Tania said that in her community, Shaw offered free access to the studio to produce a quality informational program that could be broadcast locally and then be uploaded to YouTube to ‘cast a wider net’. She suggested looking into these kinds of local resources to help us develop resources that can be shared widely, and for minimal cost. She said this was particularly important in small communities.
Some amazing ideas from native youth
Gabrielle Fayant came on camera near the end of the Townhall and really blew us away with some incredible and very concrete ideas that came out of a youth conference she had just attended. I wanted to put this into a section of its own, just because it was all so awesome! Here are some of the recommendations she shared with us:
- The goal is to educate others in a coordinated effort, all of it to be inclusive and accessible.
A proposal was put forth to do 12 weeks of nation-wide Aboriginal education class for the public, with one Aboriginal theme/topic per week. All Idle No More activities for that week would focus on this theme/topic. For example, week 7 would be Residential Schools.
Activities could include: book club meetings; peaceful rallies; “send a link to a friend”; writing to MPs; blogging; Facebook status updates; round dances; articles written for magazines; radio station interviews; classroom presentations; teach-ins; art exhibitions; pamphlets; ‘education circles’ (perhaps more interactive than teach-ins have been); helping mobs (where people are slowed down but then provided with lots of information and sometimes coffee/tea and bannock); YouTube videos; and info tables set up like an embassy; street teams to poster walls and so on “to name a few”!
- What is activism: Taking care of our bodies; connection to family; human rights; personal; inter-generational; journey to justice; mentorship; “the little things”; art; different talents; culture (can be anything).
- Barriers that come along with activism: our focus on Canadian government; fear; resistance to change; mainstream media; low morale; silence; discomfort with certain issues (for example sex, violence); bureaucracy; gender; framing women’s issues; grief.
Suggestions were made for how to work around these barriers creatively, and understanding that these barriers do need to be addressed in order for activism to be effective.
I cannot wait to see what else came out of this amazing workshop! Gabrielle said there were also workshops on Treaties and environment. I think that the concrete suggestions around Education in particular are something very much worth planning, ASAP.
Stop asking permission and just do!
- Tania helped organise a boycott of businesses in Kenora to draw attention to the way in which this local economy relies on surrounding First Nations, and to raise awareness of the Idle No More movement.
- Koren said that her Band Council has helped to provide transportation to events, bagged lunches and other forms of support to help people organise their own actions with support from the community. Samson Cree Nation also organised a roadblock but has backed away from that kind of action as backlashes become more heated.
- Leanne brought up the fact that we can go into the schools that our children attend to provide more balanced information about indigenous peoples than is likely provided through texts and via teachers. This is a particularly pressing need in school districts where there has been little curricular development to include indigenous histories and realities and where teacher training does not include this background either. This can be done in conjunction with pushing for curricular reform.
- Gabrielle talked about ‘doing it on your own’, organising first through Facebook, meeting and within a week doing a fundraiser lunch-in during the Attawapiskat crisis.
- We mentioned Listuguj Mi’gmaq First Nation which created and enforced its own Fishery Laws. Fred Metallic, from Listuguj, defended his PhD thesis in his own language.
- The Haudenosaunee Development Institute was created in 2007 to provide a direct alternative to the oft-ignored Duty to Consult.
These are just some of the many examples of people and nations not asking permission, but instead, exercising self-determination and raising awareness. Idle No More is still simmering, but we need to bring it back up to a boil. I am hoping that this Townhall will spark ideas, and inspire people to share their own successes (and failures!) so we can learn from one another.