Onkwehon:we week in Review: March 30th 2016

Indigenous language immersion houses popping up across the country

Onaman Collective, an arts based group, has been busy helping to rejuvenate Indigenous language through immersion houses, where community comes together to speak only Anishnaabemowin or Nehiyawewin for up to three days.

The organizers are hoping to create a community of learners who find inspiration in the beauty of our languages. Erin Konsmo, a Metis artist and member of Onaman Collective said that the energy is contagious and that people are excited, especially the youth.

“I think young people see an urgency about keeping it around, not just to speak it or write it but because it literally tells us how to live … with the land and all of creation,” said Konsmo.

Language is shared through storytelling, interactive games and one on one lessons by elders and teachers. Onaman Collective recently wrapped up an Anishnaabe Wiigwam in Serpent River, Ontario. The next language house will take place in Edmonton, Alberta and will focus on Nehiyawewin (Cree) language from April 8 to 10. “The language is essential to our identity,” said Christi Belcourt, Metis artist and member of Onaman Collective.  “It’s essential to our nations. The language is central to who we are as Indigenous peoples.”


Welcoming ceremonies revitalized after decades of non-practice for Snaw-Naw-As First Nation

The Snaw-Naw-As First Nation near Vancouver, British Columbia are busy reclaiming vital parts of their existence.

Two dozen babies and children were recently welcomed into the community with a welcoming ceremony historically practised by their people. The children will be raised collectively, re-establishing kinship systems that were nearly destroyed by the residential school system. The little ones were introduced with songs, blessings and light. It’s an exercise in helping families to reconnect with each other and the community that hasn’t been practiced for decades.

“We can make the next generation stronger. If we raise her in the proper environment, be the best parents that we can beand she could succeed at a level we only dreamed of in our lives,” said Leslie Sam, one of the parents who participated in the welcoming ceremony.

The community is also planning a second welcoming ceremony for the survivors of residential schools.


Perry Bellegarde declares federal budget “historic” while critics say otherwise

The federal government released the details of their budget, which included an $8.4 billion commitment to Indigenous peoples and institutions. Cindy Blackstock, head of the Child and Family Caring Society said, “When we look at the global figures, it’s pretty encouraging. When you look at how these are distributed over fiscal years, less so.”

$634 million has been allocated for improving child welfare over five years. Blackstock insists that First Nation children and families require, at least, a $200 million injection. “We are going to work with Dr. Blackstock and First Nation leadership to make sure we can get less children in foster care and have them growing up with a secure personal cultural identity,” said Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs, Carolyn Bennett.

Sheila North-Wilson, grand chief of the Manitoba Keewatin Aski said that, “First Nation communities need $2 billion alone just to address the severe housing crisis.” Alvin Fiddler joined in the chorus of First Nation leadership critical of the federal budget. He argues that $82 million per year is not enough to address First Nation needs for health facilities. The youth suicide rate is 50 times higher than anywhere else in the country in Nishnawbe Aski Nation, of which Fiddler is the Grand Chief. Natan Obed said that there hasn’t been any money allocated to address mental health and suicide prevention in his communities. “There has been improvement, but it’s not transformative,” Obed said.


Health Canada declares Keshechewan children’s ailments “not a medical emergency”

After alarming photos were posted on Facebook, people are wondering what is happening to these babies who were experiencing unexplained skin lesions.

Keshechewan is a fly-in community, hundreds of kilometres north of Sudbury. Thirty-four children, and possibly one adult, were diagnosed with scabies, mild impetigo and excema, said Keith Conn, associate deputy Minister of Health Canada’s First Nation and Inuit Health Branch. Three children are being treated outside of the community because their conditions were made worse at home.

However Dr. Gordon Green, a family doctor and the Chief of Staff for Weeneebayko Area Health Authority said that 23 out of 34 people he examined had excema while others were treated for acne, psoriasis while one person had a mild case of impetigo. Green did not say that any of the people he examined had scabies contradicting Conn’s earlier diagnoses. But those seem to be the least of their concerns with the community worried about the effectiveness of the water treatment plant in their community.

Conn argues that, “there’s been no such evidence of such and the community has regular testing of water quality.” Alvin Fiddler, Grand Chief of Nishnaabe Aski Nation said that independent testing of the water and the plant is the only way to address the community’s mistrust.


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