Blood memory: Anishinaabemowin on the Road to Niagara

I couldn’t believe it. I thought to myself: “How the hell did I end up here?” I was sitting in a room with a bunch of people that I looked up to, and we were asked to introduce ourselves before we started sharing some ideas. I chose to introduce myself in Anishinaabemowin, and I messed it up. In front of everyone. It was embarrassing, but not enough to discourage me.

“Bangi Anishinaabemowin” – I know a little bit of Ojibwe.

Prior to that meeting of political minds, we had been to a pipe ceremony earlier in the day on the outskirts of Niagara. The pipe ceremomy started at 7:30 that morning, led by Manitoba elder Harry Bone. Bone described the protocols in Anishinaabemowin and later explained the importance of the pipe ceremony. While he was speaking in the language, I couldn’t help but pray. For the first time in my life, I prayed that I could learn the language. The older that I get, the more that I realize how important language revitalization is to our communities.

The thing that has surprised me over the last week (on the road to Niagara caravan) was how much I can actually remember the language. My favorite part of the whole trip was being able to travel to various Anishinaabek communities to meet the people, and to hear the stories/ceremonies being spoken in the language.

Hearing the language makes me feel like I’m at home.

When I was young, I would travel across the Salter bridge every weekend to visit my grandma. She would pray every night before bed and every morning when she woke up. I remember being around 4 years old and asking her at night, “what are you praying for?” She replied to me that she wasn’t praying for anything in particular, but that she was giving thanks. She didn’t have much, but every single day, she gave thanks for life.

On the weekends, she would pull out her bundle, light the smudge, and smoke her pipe. I would watch. And I would listen to her pray in the language. Its something that I miss as I no longer have that many family members that can speak fluently.

While we were out in Niagara, I had the chance to speak to Carson Robinson from Sagkeeng. He explained to me the proper pronunciation for Ndinawemaganadog (my relations). During that conversation I was telling him that I was going to make a legit attempt to learn the language. Despite knowing a little bit of the languauge, I am encouraged to continue making an attempt to learn as much as possible.

So if you’re out there, and your reading this: I want to be fluent, and I want to be able to read and write Anishinaabemowin. Don’t hesitate to start a conversation with me when you see me.

Empowering Indigenous People

What is it that divides our communities?

Sometimes I think about what divides our communities. Some of it is well documented. Our people are divided by what they identify with, status/non-status, on-reserve/off-reserve, the organizations we work for, class, our political/non-political affiliations, our families, and you could even add gang affiliations. There are so many different factors that contribute to our people not being able to work together.

Red Rising Magazine is a reflection of the community.

So, what is it that allows for us to unite? I want to talk about Red Rising magazine. Red Rising magazine is really representative of a community of people. I wish that I could sit here and tell you that I made everything happen and made all of the decisions for it. I don’t. I am not the boss, and I don’t make decisions on my own. The truth is that the decisions of what happens with the magazine are really the result of a collective group putting their talents to work, for free. Nobody gets paid to be a part of it. Everything is volunteer work, and I can guarantee that everyone on our team has put a lot of effort into the first 2 issues.  It is not a mainstream media outlet either. We want to use the magazine to empower Indigenous writers, thinkers, and artists. We would hope that we can promote ideas and talents within our community depending on what the community wants to see. We want to be able to inspire people to share their gifts and use the magazine as a tool to bring people together.

What are we talking about if we are not talking about empowering each other?

On the surface it might seem that I make a lot of the decisions for the group, but that is untrue. We want to be sustainable and hopefully make it to 5 issues.

One of the things that I hope people understand is that none of us created a magazine before. It is a brand new experience for us. Mistakes are bound to happen. With anything else in life, it is important for us to learn from those mistakes. I wanted to make this clear for people so that they have a general understanding that our intention is really to create an avenue that might not be available for everyone. I would like to sincerely thank everyone for the support, and I hope that people can feel excited about the second issue.



Artwork: Jackie Traverse

Questioning the media attention.

If you were given an international platform to paint a picture about the relationship between Canada and its Indigenous peoples, what would that picture look like?

The media, and social media often misconstrues the message of what we are trying to accomplish. Through events, and our own social media presence, we are trying to inspire and empower Indigenous youth to not only question, but to challenge the colonial structures that are meant to keep our people oppressed.

Are we talking about neo-liberalism and individual success? The idea that if we’re talented and we work hard enough we can own property? Or are we talking about an ongoing cultural genocide and full-on assimilation? This ongoing genocide is not taking 100 people out and murdering them at the same time. It is having systems in place that prevent communities from being healthy. We’re talking about people in our community that die 30 years younger than they are supposed to, with missing limbs amputated from diseases like diabetes.

The media has been giving a lot of attention to both positive and negative stories this year, which makes our people question each other’s integrity and intentions.I would like to flip that question and ask “what is the intention of the media?”. What is the purpose of the media, is it to showcase and spotlight people that are making things happen? Is it to compare and contrast- The good Indians, and the bad Indians? or is it possible to use media as a platform to talk about things like systemic oppression, and assimilation.

If you are judging us only on the media interviews, you’re missing the message of what we are trying to say. That message being- opening people up to the idea of Indigenous leadership (ground up, not top down); empowering voices; restoring power back to the individual level in overall communities; and challenging the status quo. What is happening right now in Winnipeg might be an expression of urban Indigenous sovereignty.

If we are to describe the Indigenous people’s situation in Canada, we might be able to use an analogy of that of a burning house. We need to take into consideration that not everyone is going to want to leave that house. Some people are going to want to use the front door, and some people are going to jump out the windows. Our way is not the only way out of that house, and we recognize that there are a lot of people that out there who are trying to change systems from within.

At the end of the day, The best thing we can do to restore healthy communities, is to raise healthy families.

Measuring What Matters: Taking a Strength Based Approach to Success

North End MC

resilience 1

In 2012, Winnipeg Police Service began measuring Violent Crime in Winnipeg and from January to December were able to observe a 3% decrease in City wide violent crime. They also measured the Livesafe area, a 21 block area that includes the Bell Tower, many non profit organizations and the recently closed down Merchant’s Hotel among the Dufferin/William Whyte neighbourhood; it is within this area we saw an even larger decrease in violent crime (according to WPS). This observation and reason for celebration is one of the benefits of documenting statistics over time so you can measure progress. Kudos to the WPS for taking the time to share this measurement tool with the community/media so we can see that progress as well. The collection of these statistics allow us to measure what matters. Less crime. Less victims. While I find this conclusion positive, I do take issue with the main item being…

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Why we hustle

We can hustle for dollars. Or we can hustle for change. I’m not out here trying to make a million dollars. We often think of success as something financial, but I’m less interested in titles, and more interested in trying to advance solutions to the problems that we see in indigenous communities. I think that there are some things that I could do better, and I strive to do more, but I trust in the process.

I think that it is important for us to consider everything that we’re up against. We talk about systemic racism, and what that means. Racism in this city often comes from the people that we rely on for services of need. I would never use a sweeping generalization on any of the occupations and careers that people do for a living, but we need to consider the context: Cops, courts, corrections, medical care staff, paramedics, income assistance, and teachers. Often these occupations have to deal with many of our people who are at a point in their lives that we would generally consider “rock bottom”. If a paramedic only ever sees indigenous people as the drunks on Main Street, they go home with all of these negative stereotypes about who we are as a collective. This also plays out in our schools, the poverty and unequal access to opportunities leads teachers to believe that we are not good enough.

Racism and reconciliation are trendy words of the day. Why does there have to be a negative stigma attached to them? What we are really attempting to do is expose some of the many injustices that our people have faced since the beginning of Canada’s history. The word reconciliation needs to go hand in hand with “truth”. We are merely telling our truths. The telling of our truths is going to require education, and is going to require us to tell it in a way that is going to make people feel uncomfortable at times, but we need to continue to be vocal.

The problems that we see within our communities are going to require solutions. Solutions that we cant waste time thinking about. We can’t afford to waste time fighting with each other either. Think about what we are up against, as a collective. Pull yourself up by your bootstraps up and get to work.

“Indigenizing the Academy” without Indigenous people: who can teach our stories?

Erica Violet Lee

“The Indigenous person engages in philosophy by thoughtfully examining the world. The outsider examines Indigenous philosophy by thoughtfully interacting with the Indigenous philosopher.”

— Thurman Lee Hester Jr. and Dennis McPherson, “The Euro-American Philosophical Tradition and its Ability to Examine Indigenous Philosophy”1

With the release of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Report on residential schools in June 2015, “Indigenizing the Academy” is a hot topic in Canadian universities. As institutions explore the introduction of Indigenous content, we have to question what is defined as Indigenous content, who this content serves, and how the pursuit of “indigenizing the academy” can easily become exploitative.

In 2013, I helped put together a new syllabus for an Indigenous Philosophy class at my university. The philosophy department wouldn’t consider allowing someone without a PhD in philosophy teach this course, but pairing an Indigenous undergrad with a white philosophy professor was, apparently, acceptable. (Oh, the power…

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Face2Face, Kapyong Barracks as an urban reserve

On November 4th, The Canadian Mennonite University hosted a discussion called “Face2Face –An Urban Reserve at Kapyong- imagining a future”. I went in there expecting to see some heated discussions but was surprised at how calm and respectful people were being. The area surrounding Kapyong has tremendous economic potential and according to Long Plains Chief Dennis Meeches, “the deal is really close to being done”.

Partnering with other chiefs from the treaty 1 territory, Dennis Meeches is beginning to plan what a future urban reserve in Kapyong would look like. He asserted that the widening of Kenaston Street would be the main priority.

Some community members had questions about taxes and how the tax situation would work out for the people in the area.  The panelists, who included Treaty Relations Commissioner Jamie Wilson, assured concerned residents that the proposed urban reserve would follow the city of Winnipeg by-laws and tax guidelines.

A couple weeks ago I had the chance to attend Osoyoos Indian band in BC, with a delegation from the city of Winnipeg. The trip was part of a “fact finding mission” to see what the band does well and to see if that success could be duplicated here.  Osoyoos Indian band is regarded as one of the more financially prominent first nations in Canada. Under the leadership of Chief Clarence Louie, the band has many economic developments happening which employs many of his community members.

There are a lot of business relationships that Osoyoos has with the non-indigenous community surrounding the area. The band leases land to prospective tenants and has ventures such as a golf course, wineries, and gas stations. When you are on the territory, it is hard to differentiate what the difference is between reserve and town land because of the way that it is developed.

I have no doubt that a project the size of Kapyong will have the right people on board and it is hard to see it being managed improperly. What we need to do as a city, is move past our indifferences. People should not be in fear of first nation’s communities having economic development. I would like to view this potential project as something that would be beneficial for everyone involved. If executed properly, the reserve has the potential to employ many first nations’ people, and also add to the value of the surrounding area. Critics will argue that the reserve will benefit only a select few, but an economic development zone like that could be duplicated in other areas in the city (North End) and will serve as a test to how far this city has come since the release of the MacLean’s most racist city article.

The Kapyong discussion was concluded by a question and answer period for the panel. An indigenous man capped off the event by making an observation aimed at the residents in the room. What he asked the crowd was, how can the city of Winnipeg, the Province of Manitoba, and the city residents provide tax subsidies for a multi-national company like Ikea (who’s profits leave the country) with no opposition, but struggle with the idea of an urban reserve. The profits generated at an urban reserve would be going to local companies, with much of that money being spent in the City of Winnipeg. Good points.

I envision a potential Kapyong urban reserve being successful. The success will be based on one thing: relationships. People need to think outside the box and imagine an urban reserve as something that will benefit everyone in the city.

National Treaty Meeting

The last 2 weeks of my education have been interesting. It started off with a guest lecture with Dr. Leroy Little Bear breaking down the identity of Canada, and him arguing that Canada is suffering from an identity crisis; due to the country not fully embodying the values of the original inhabitants of this country. I went to Osoyoos Indian Band, with a delegation from the City of Winnipeg, to learn about community economic development with Chief Clarence Louie. Went to a Midewiwin sweat lodge last weekend. I just finished spending the weekend in Regina for a national treaty meeting. The intention of this meeting was to start passing down the treaty knowledge from the elders to the next generation, and to continue building the treaty alliance between Indigenous peoples of the numbered treaties.

We headed out to Regina on Friday morning, and arrived around 5 pm. From there we went straight to the First Nations University of Canada to the youth forum. The youth forum was held in a university classroom and was live-streamed on the internet. The main theme of the youth forum was to ask the question of  “what does being sovereign mean?” We answered the questions as groups and it was opened up for individuals to voice what was on their mind. I was able to see some of the passion of the next generation of leaders, and it was humbling to see the knowledge and passion that the youth carry.  Some of the issues that were discussed in the youth forum included; cultural revitalization; using ceremonies as the backbone when it comes to decision making; rebuilding the treaty alliances; being proud of who you are; returning to matriarchy; educating the youth who are not aware of their identity that they are treaty people; and moving away from inter-generational trauma to inter-generational love.

There was a presentation that was done after the youth forum where the guest challenged the status quo of the Indian Act and suggested replacing the word “Indian” from the act with any other racial slur, to point out exactly how racist the Indian act is as a form of legislation. It is easy to see why some of the older generation is upset. Many people talked about the sense of urgency that is required to address some of the problems that exist within our communities. It is justified that people are angry, but we need to be strategic in the way that we move forward.

The federal election has brought out this discussion of a “nation to nation” relationship between parties, and indigenous people. Throughout the course of the weekend I was able to have some interesting discussions with indigenous people from across Canada. We talked about what nationhood looks like. Sunday was an opportunity to hear from Rarihowkwats, an elder from the Mohawk territory. The presentation talked about the spirit and original intent of the treaties from an indigenous perspective. He told the crowd about some of the legal issues that would be available to indigenous people from the numbered treaties, and how we could use these legalities as a way to move forward in dealing with each other as indigenous nations, but also with the government of Canada. They also talked about the federalism from the Canadian perspective of when the treaties were signed. The federalism back then had a mutual understanding that we would be walking in paths that were respective of each others governance.

If we are to start talking about a “nation to nation” relationship with the government of Canada, we need to start defining what that nation is. We are not one homogenous group of indigenous people, we are separate nations that need to work together as a collective. We will not be able to challenge the status quo if we continue to operate within it. Colby Tootoosis said this weekend that “the heart of indigenous governance exists within the family structures… and we will no longer see ourselves as the mistakes of the older generation”. Were not proposing a new style of leadership. It’s an old style of leadership that is being revived, and its time to start defining what nationhood looks like.

I’m not voting strategically

Today was my first time voting in a federal election. I didn’t vote strategically. I voted for the party that closest reflects the government that I would like to see in parliament. I’ve always been skeptical of the change that can be created through electoral politics. So far, it has been a very long election with daily polls. Enough polls to make people not care about the election. Day after day, through various media and social media sources, we hear about how much of an influence the indigenous people can have on the federal election. How much of these polls are influencing people and the way that they vote?

A lot of people want change. I get that. What is strategic voting? is it merely a way of saying that we are not going to vote for the party we would normally vote for? What the hell is a democratic system worth, if our vote doesn’t count for what its supposed to count for? I would like to think that I’m voting for electoral reform. The current system dissuades people from participating in the vote based on where they live. The Manitoba Interlake region is a good example of that. It has traditionally been a conservative riding. The electoral maps are drawn out in a way that will exclude the indigenous vote from ever becoming a true voting block.

I don’t feel like my vote is going to make as much of a huge difference as people say it will. I voted for the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People. The TRC report recommendations. The Nation to Nation relationship between Canada and the indigenous population. If my vote is not worth enough to change, I am OK with that too. Regardless of who wins the election on October 19, we will still continue to do the same work that we are doing. I’m hoping that the people pushing their focus and energy into the vote, would be just as passionate in doing what they can to create change outside of the electoral system. We’re going to continue to see the same problems, I hope that people start pushing real, tangible solutions.

Winnipeg’s LOCAL racial inclusion summit.

On September 17th and 18th, 2015, Winnipeg Mayor Brian Bowman will be hosting the “Mayors National Summit on Racial Inclusion”. This is a good idea. Earlier this year, Mcleans magazine wrote an article “Welcome to Winnipeg, where Canada’s racism problem is at its worst”. This article was written based on the experience that Indigenous people in this city face. The mayors racial inclusion summit is being done to repair the cities image. Rightfully so.

I have had the opportunity to engage with many people since the announcement of the mayors summit, and the overall feeling of the community is that the summit is merely political lip service. There is questions as to why there is a $50 fee, why it is being held at the Canadian museum for human rights- where the conversation of the Indigenous genocide is not taken seriously enough; why there was no consultation with people in the community as to what the summit is, what its going to look like, and who the people speaking at the event are.

This is not a knock on anyone, but the racial inclusion summit could have had more local people at the summit talk about what the urban indigenous experience is like in Winnipeg. Bringing people from outside of the city doesn’t give the participants an authentic view of what the realities are. We live in a city that is segregated, and very much divided by streets, bridges, and rivers. Just how inclusive is a racial inclusion summit going to be, if you are not including the people that face a majority of the racism in this city?

As a community, we are planning a local inclusion summit. This local racial inclusion summit will be for people who are not registered for the mayors sold-out summit, and will coincide with the first day of the mayors summit on Thursday, September 17th. It will be independent from the national summit. The plan is to bring people from as many diverse nationalities together, and to have a discussion with tangible goals. We would like to host an event that truly includes people from every background and hopefully have people walk away with a better understanding of the neighbours that we share this city with. We are hoping to have speakers that are representative of this cities diverse nationalities that live here.

We are going to have a conversation in the middle of the event that will give participants a chance to answer questions like, what can we do to create a better city for Winnipeg? The whole idea of the event is really to give local people a voice, and to create a better understanding on why things are the way that they are, for Indigenous people in this country. This is also an opportunity to develop a relationship with non-Indigenous people in this city, so that they can leave the event with ideas on how to be good neighbours. Racial inclusion is not always about an opportunity, but rather a chance to break down fears that people have, and give strangers a chance to say “hello” to each other on the street.

We would like to live in a city that understands each other, and we want this event to be as respectful as possible. We want people to believe that they can live in a better city. The challenges that this city faces, in terms of race relations, is something that we must tackle together as a community. It also means giving Indigenous people, a chance to lead those conversations. We have been able to effectively engage with as many non-Indigenous people as possible, and we believe that it is really the start of concrete change.

The event will take place on Thursday, September 17, 2015 at the The Forks at 6 pm. It will be open to anyone and everyone who is sincere about talking about racism in this city, and is open to hearing about ways to combat it. All that we ask is people show up with an open mind to change.