WINNIPEG – Portage and Main, the busiest intersection in downtown Winnipeg was closed to traffic and instead rang out with jingles, drumming, whoops, and singing on Saturday morning. UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous People James Anaya was being welcomed by more than 600 Aboriginal people and allies.
Portage and Main is not a pedestrian crossing corner and vehicles reign supreme so it being filled with people required police to redirect traffic well away from the intersection. This very public event was not seen publicly by very many people other than the participants. The public dimensions were some brief news clips and sharing on social media.
Shannon Bear, Aboriginal graduate of the University of Winnipeg and Jingle Dancer, was instrumental in calling this gathering. She has seen the healing power of the Jingle Dance in her own life and that of other Aboriginal women and hoped non-Aboriginals will come away from the event with a relational connection.
James Anaya’s arrival was met with a flurry of cameras and a cheer from the assembly. Three Jingle Dances were conducted by two drums in the centre of the intersection. The crowd paraded up Main Street to the Thunderbird House, an Aboriginal gathering place where coffee and a snack were served. Anna Jacobs, Cayuga (Six Nations) living in Manitoba, said, “The energy you get from being together and seeing everyone is really good.”
James Anaya and the Manitoba chiefs moved to the Radisson Hotel a few blocks away to receive short five minute presentations by a whole variety of speakers addressing Indigenous needs in Manitoba. Anaya will then report back to the UN concerning Indigenous Rights in Canada. While Ananya received a lot of good will at the Jingle Dance event, some questioned the ultimate helpfulness of the UN Special Rapporteur’s efforts.
“How will Dr. Anaya present our colonial struggle to colonial bodies? Oversight and paternalism will not liberate us” was how Sarah Koi; Nakawe (Saulteaux) from Sakimay First Nation, posed it. Sarah is a proponent of Indigenous nationhood that preceded all colonial history and law. She is one of a growing body of advocates who seek to foster grassroots invigoration of Creator given nationhood connected to the land.
Ms. Koi was slated to address Mr. Anaya in the Treaty Four Governance Centre in Fort Qu’Appelle, SK on Sunday, but was unable to speak after time ran out. Youthful female voices are often overlooked or ignored in the political struggle. Undeterred Sarah says, “With or without the UN, our people shall rise.”
The goodwill feeling for the participants at Saturday’s Jingle Dance in downtown Winnipeg was evident in all the smiling faces and whoops. The sober reality that one Indigenous man, the UN Special Rapporteur, faces a huge challenge in writing a report that seeks to bring change to Canada’s long history of Indigenous rights violation is reflected in Sarah Koi’s words. Shannon and Sarah share a belief in the healing aspects of Indigenous culture and the reality of Indigenous nationhood. The whipping cold winds in Winnipeg and threat of rain did not dampen their enthusiasm and neither will the colonial state of Canada.
Adrian Jacobs, Ganosono, Turtle Clan, Cayuga Nation, Six Nations Haudenosaunee Confederacy, Six Nations Reserve, ON is a father of five and grandfather of two grandsons and lives in Manitoba. He is a writer and public speaker, who addresses Indigenous issues in cross cultural settings. Follow him on Twitter @Ganosono.