Onkwehonwe Week in Review: July 6 2016

Mohawk Institute to become educational centre

Reconciliation has become one of the biggest buzzwords of 2016. Last year, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Report (TRC) was released after years of testimony from survivors of residential school. The term “intergenerational trauma” was given relevancy and priority by the incoming Liberal government.

With $1.4 million from Ottawa, $220,000 from Six Nations and matching funds from the City of Brantford and local groups, the Mohawk Institute, also known as the Mushhole, will become a place of education, in order to take steps towards reconciliation between Canada and Indigenous peoples. “This place needs to be kept so people know what happened,” said former student Dawn Hill, one of the Mushhole’s survivors.

The Woodland Cultural Centre has been hosting tours and talks by survivors. It has also been leading a fundraising campaign called Save the Evidence. “Some wanted the school torn down,” said Six Nations Chief Ava Hill, “but we need to save the evidence so we can remember what happened to First Nations peoples for more than a hundred years, so it will never happen again.”

Survivors want to plant a memorial garden. “It would help to balance out all the negative that went on. We’ll put Indigenous plants and maybe some local art to help tell the story,” said Dawn Hill. The funds raised will contribute to enriching the educational experience already happening at the Mohawk Institute. With more than 10,000 visitors a year, including principals and teachers from both the Catholic and public school boards from the Greater Toronto area, the interpretive centre will help to retell the story of cultural genocide in Canada.

MPP David Zimmer, Ontario Minister of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation said that, “It’s presence will always be a reminder of colonization and the racism of the residential school system, one of the darkest chapters on Canadian history.” An advisory committee has been formed to help design the new centre.


M’chigeeng First Nation is working to create a bilingual community

After drafting and signing a Constitution, the Chiefs of M’Chigeeng First Nation on Manitoulin Island now have the ability to alter its school curriculum to teach children Anishnaabemowin.  The community is also working to ensure all services and schools become fully bilingual by the year 2030.

The constitution gives Chiefs the power to overrule the requirements of the Ontario curriculum so they can expand their traditional language programs. “We have the right to present and to teach whatever we want in our schools,” said Glen Hare, Deputy Grand Chief of the Union of Ontario Indians and former Chief of M’Chigeeng First Nation. “That is the given right under our constitution.”

Many challenges present themselves in the quest to decolonize Indigenous education on reserve. Acquiring resources that are culturally appropriate presents itself as one of the main challenges. “When you start reading in English, you start reading things like Dr. Seuss and all these other readers,” explained Alan Corbiere, Language Revival Co-ordinator at Lakeview Elementary School in M’Chigeeng. “But in Ojibwe we don’t actually have those types of resources in the necessary quantities at this point.”

Another big challenge is to convince the people that Anishnaabe language revitalization is important enough to break the stigma that European education practices are the best learning practices for Indigenous peoples. Classroom learning is not enough.

“If you actually have a co-ordinated and innovative community language plan then your language will hopefully last a bit longer and you’ll instill a bit more pride in speaking that language,” said Corbiere. Anishnaabe language education is mandatory until Grade 8 at Lakeview Elementary School.


First Habitat for Humanity Home opens on Flying Dust First Nation

More than 5,000 hours were donated by Flying Dust First Nation community members and allies to build a 10-unit Elder’s Lodge. “It’s beautiful,” said Jayshree Thakar, manager of Habitat for Humanity Canada’s indigenous housing program. The lodge has been named “Kikinaw” which translates to “Our Home” in the Cree language and is located near Meadow Lake, Saskatchewan which is about 300 kilometres northwest of Saskatoon.

The project has helped to provide skill based training for Indigenous youth and women. The idea for a two step project was borne out of a First Nation Housing and Infrastructure Symposium hosted by the Assembly of First Nations. Then Chief Robert Merasty approached Habitat for Humanity about a partnership. The first step was to build a wheelchair accessible 10-unit elder’s lodge. The second step was to retrofit the homes that the elder’s vacated for young families.

Two women from the community are leading the commitment to retrofit these homes. The elders are happy. “Not only the elders are delighted, so are their immediate family members because imagine to be able to do things on your own without looking for someone to help all the time,” said Thakar. “It’s all about taking leadership. The first one has taken the lead, other First Nations are going to see this. The trust has been built between First Nations and Habitat and the partnerships are being forged.”


Gwich’in runner Caribou Legs stopped by Alberta RCMP

Caribou Legs is a long distance runner that has crossed Canada five times in the past few years. Each time, he has undertaken the responsibility of running for important causes like the protection of watersheds. This year, he is running from Vancouver, B.C. to St. John’s, N.L. to raise awareness of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women (MMIW).

Police received reports that “there was a crazy Indian running along the highway waving a gun.”  Although he wasn’t charged, Caribou Legs, also known as Brad Firth, is no stranger to confrontations with police along his journeys. “I’m kind of used to it. It’s just a lot of people don’t know much about what I’m doing,” he said. He was also stopped in Edmonton, A.B. for jaywalking and in Calgary, A.B. for an unpaid C Train ticket.

Caribou Legs is running in traditional regalia and carries a hand drum. With his face painted, he also speaks along the way to communities and schools about the importance of consent. Firth’s sister died last summer, so the issues are important to him.

Firth’s running career began as a homeless drug addict on the streets of Vancouver. “I used to get chased by the Vancouver city police, and it was put to me by one of the police officers, ‘you have a gift.’” Since then Firth has become a top marathon runner. He credits running with turning his life around and placing him on the path to recovery.


Enbridge’s Northern Gateway pipeline approval overturned by Federal Court of Appeal

In a landmark decision, the Federal Court of Appeal finds that Canada failed to consult with First Nations on pipeline projects. “We find that Canada offered only a brief, hurried and inadequate opportunity … to exchange and discuss information and to dialogue,” the ruling said.

“It would have taken Canada little time and little organizational effort to engage in meaningful dialogue on these and other subjects of prime importance to Aboriginal peoples. But this did not happen.” The decision was signed by two of three judges on the Appeal Court Panel.

“At every turn, you’re going to see nails in the coffin of the Enbridge project,” said Peter Lantin, president of the Council of the Haida Nation, one of the parties that appealed the approval. The federal government gave the go ahead to the Northern Gateway project after the National Energy Board joint review panel gave its approval, which was subject to 209 conditions.  However, the Canadian government is still obligated to meet its constitutional requirements of consulting with Indigenous peoples.

The Northern Gateway pipeline project would significantly impact the territory of Gitxaala, Haisla, Gitga’at Kitasoo, Xai’Xais, Heitsuk, Haida Nation, Nadleh Whut’wen and Nak’azdli Whut’en. The ruling noted that Aboriginal groups availed themselves to Joint Review Panel hearings, submitting both oral and written testimony to the National Energy Board.

Judges found that reasonable effort to inform and consult was not undertaken by the Canadian government. “The inadequacies — more than just a handful and more than more imperfections — left entire subjects of central interest to the affected First Nations, sometimes subjects affecting their subsistence and well being, entirely ignored. Many impacts of the project, some identified in the Joint Review Panel, some not — were left undisclosed, undiscussed and unconsidered.”

The ruling goes on to say that the government can reconsider submissions already on public record. The court found that the government is entitled to come to a decision by balancing economic, cultural and environmental considerations affecting the project. Once the process is completed, approval of the project will go back to the federal government.

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