By: EMILY COOK
The sound of young Theland Kicknosway drumming filled the room as over 100 people held hands in a traditional dance, symbolizing the conclusion of a day centered on unity.
The Niigaan: In Conversation symposium took place Saturday afternoon at the National Arts Centre and ran into early evening. The host, Niigaanwewidam James Sinclair, said the event was held to give voice to the Anishinaabe people and to ask where the Idle No More movement is headed now.
“Land, land, land, this is who we are,” said Claudette Commanda, part-time professor of Aboriginal Studies at the University of Ottawa. Her words exemplified one of the main discussions of the day: land claims of the First Nations people.
The atmosphere was attentive as people leaned forward in their chairs to better hear the speakers. They responded with spontaneous clapping and hoots of encouragement to statements that resounded with them.
One of the grievances brought by the speakers was that the federal government is not consulting First Nations about decisions that affect their rights, particularly about their land. This included a discussion of Bill C-45, one of the issues that inspired the Idle No More movement a year ago.
“Nothing about us, without us,” said John Read as he explained the concept of duty to consult, and the need for more dialogue between First Nations people and the government.
Commanda expressed another idea, saying there’s a need to reform laws that are, in their essence, colonial in nature and racist.
“Canada needs to clean up its own backyard, first and foremost, before it goes out and helps anybody else,” said Commanda as she encouraged the participants to learn more about the colonial history of First Nations.
This theme continued with Craig Benjamin, Amnesty International’s Campaigner for the Human Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Benjamin said it’s this generation’s duty to ensure the next one doesn’t inherit a colonial system.
The symposium may not have resulted in concrete solutions, but attendee Sherry Dion said it fulfilled its purpose of educating First Nations about their rights.
From an Aboriginal community in Ontario, Dion said it was important for her to come to this event because her community is in negotiations with the government to become a municipality. This would mean losing self-governance, which Dion said would be a threat to her community’s culture.
“I’m hoping to bring back information to my chief in counsel, and my community, and say don’t sign. You’re signing away your collective rights, and let’s fight this and take them to court collectively.”
The five-hour event concluded with organizers expressing their hope this will become a quarterly event, where facilitation of discussion between Aboriginal Peoples and non-Aboriginals will be continued.
Andrea Landry, youth executive for the National Association of Friendship Centres, summarized the expectation for future meetings, saying that “Through these kinds of dialogues and these kinds of discussions, we can heal our ancestors, we can heal our future generations, and we can heal ourselves.”