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2016 – Aski Learning Tour (Ottawa & Timmins, Ont)

Fighting The Flu

By | 2016 - Aski Learning Tour (Ottawa & Timmins, Ont), Education for Reconciliation, Short-Term Trips | No Comments

[The final post in a six part series from SSU students participating in a First Nations Learning Tour, hosted by Mennonite Central Committee. The group is travelling in Ottawa & Timmins, Ontario from April 26th – May 8th, 2016.]

I have never quite been able to wrap my head around the concept of working with a corporation to solve a problem that they have caused. I have always thought it to be like trying to treat a flu with the influenza itself. While the symptoms of a flu cannot be lessened by further exposure to the virus, prevention of the infection’s recurrence can be achieved thusly.

The application of this sickly metaphor to the situation of corporate-social responsibility in Timmins, Ontario is entirely appropriate. To briefly summarize the history of Timmins’ industrious past, it would suffice to say that mining is the purpose and the sustenance behind this community. The town’s geography is credited to the long stretch of mines that border the highway, making Timmins one of Canada’s largest municipalities in terms of landmass. It is as though there is something in the water in Timmins, (other than high metal qualities) that infuses residences with a passion for the mining industry.

Entrance to the Goldcorp Dome Mine in Timmins

Entrance to the Goldcorp Dome Mine in Timmins

Recently in Timmins, the remaining active mines and mill have been acquired by a massive gold extraction company called Goldcorp. As a part of this transaction, Goldcorp was required to assume the responsibility of restoring the old tilling sites, (these toxic waste pits are ecological tragedies aesthetically comparable to Mars, and chemically post-apocalyptic). In years past, Goldcorp had simply blockaded these areas, before coating these former tilling sites in a layer of spray-on grass. Standing on this softwood and straw covered property, I could sense that something was not quite right within the underlaying soil.

A reclamation site in Timmins

A reclamation site in Timmins

Before my conspiracy theories could grapple me into a Jesse Ventura-like trance for the remainder of the afternoon, we were hurried onto a bus to visit a reclaimed tilling site dedicated to the regions First Peoples.

Timmins is a city rich in cultural diversity, with approximately one third of the population being of Aboriginal descent. Here, we continued our dialogue with our Goldcorp representative Mary and her associate, Martin. Martin is a First Nations man and a traditional healer. He has decided to partner with Goldcorp in their efforts to reestablish a Native presence on the once uninhabitable land. Martin has been encouraged to plan what sounds like a retreat-oriented educational facility, where participants could participate in traditional dialogues and healing practices, such as the sweat lodge.

Learning about traditional practices in the sweat lodge

Learning about traditional practices in the sweat lodge

As much as I would love to be totally optimistic and believe that Goldcorp will fully follow through with their commitment to the First Peoples of the region, I am not entirely convinced that Goldcorp is a lone wolf in the corporate world. Canadian mining corporations are famous for disturbing the sacred lands of our First Peoples and never quite making things right (at least outside of the scope of the public eye). However, in this case, I would be thrilled to be proven wrong and see Goldcorp fully take responsibility for the irresponsible waste that has occurred and empower the region’s First Peoples to reclaim their territory.

My most realistic outlook returns to the initial flu metaphor: although the symptoms of influenza cannot be treated by the virus itself, it’s future occurrence can be prevented by it’s presence. In order for this to function in a community similarly to a vaccine, a community must work like a body to form an immunity towards the virus’ future detriment by recognizing it’s manageable presence. The community must lose it’s soft spot for sickness, and learn to stand guard against the symptoms of illness. With an appropriate presence and responsible management, Goldcorp’s mineral extraction can continue peacefully in Timmins while the First Peoples are permitted to preserve the land that is rightfully theirs.

Finding Identity

By | 2016 - Aski Learning Tour (Ottawa & Timmins, Ont), Education for Reconciliation, Short-Term Trips | No Comments

[The fifth in a six part series of posts from SSU students participating in a First Nations Learning Tour, hosted by Mennonite Central Committee. The group is travelling in Ottawa & Timmins, Ontario from April 26th – May 8th, 2016.]

Driving into the Mattagami First Nation I was taken aback by how beautiful the area is. Situated along the Mattagami river, spruce and birch trees line the community while the lingering rain clouds add an air of mystery and green signs of spring to the forest floor. The houses were plain, two stories with trucks in the driveway. The buildings, small. As we drove in we kept turning left, up the hill to the band building. Our big group walked inside and was ushered through a small curved hallway into Chief Walter Naveau’s office, there he greeted us.

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Only a few could fit inside the office and, as my attention turned, I heard him quietly tell Lyndsey, our MCC representative, that his own son had asked if the residential schools actually existed. Continuing on about miseducation, Walter said that after 150 years of learning someone else’s history, it was time the people learn their own. He said, “how can we learn someone else’s history and culture when we don’t even know our own.” His office has taken three years to develop a module curriculum in which the people of Mattagami are able to learn their people’s history. The people of Mattagami are now able to learn their own history and traditions in order to find their identity.

I have been learning that a result of residential schools and restriction of First Nation peoples to a reserve has resulted in a loss of identity. Symptoms of that loss include addictions to drugs and alcohol and most importantly; suicide. For generations Anishinaabe people have been told that their traditions, such as sweat lodge, smoking pipe, engaging in ceremony, and doing round dances (all part of their culture and spirituality) are evil. They adopt the mentality of the white man but at the same time are not accepted in the white man’s world.

Today elders in Mattagami do not approve of playing the drum, or performing ceremony. They are scared of the spirituality the actions bring because they believed the white man’s lie. The lie that their spirituality is wrong. Instead, ignoring and losing their traditions has resulted in loss of identity and brought on a reality of youth suicide pacts like those in Attawapiskat. Losing their traditions has brought more harm than good and Chief Walter is doing everything he can to bring back native customs by teaching their history and the real truth behind residential schools.

Once, in his youth, Walter was addicted to drugs and suicidal. The first moment he experienced a drum circle he knew who he was and his life turned around. Now he dedicates his life to rebuilding his community by giving his people identity through education and experiences like the one that changed his life. The admirability of his story impacted me. I believe that First Nations people can bring themselves out of their identity crisis as long as they can find who they are once again through the renewing of traditional practices.

Moose Bones and Truth

By | 2016 - Aski Learning Tour (Ottawa & Timmins, Ont), Education for Reconciliation, Short-Term Trips | No Comments

[The fourth in a six part series of posts from SSU students participating in a First Nations Learning Tour, hosted by Mennonite Central Committee. The group is travelling in Ottawa & Timmins, Ontario from April 26th – May 8th, 2016.]

Well folks, here we are in Timmins, a city so dusty that many of the graffiti tags are done with fingertips on glass windows (I don’t know whether to blame the spring, the mining, or the unfrequented selection of roads along our route). This marks the beginning of the segment of our journey with Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) for the Aski Learning Tour. Today was a day of exploration. We started with a presentation by CreeGeo Mushkegowuk Information Services, and from there set out on winding back roads that surrounded our train of vehicles with grey clouds of dust to get to Miken-otaski. When the tall teepee and glow of the warm fire became visible, we were welcomed with smiles and got the opportunity to participate in a traditional cookout consisting of goose, moose, bannock, dumplings, and Labrador tea. After our stomachs were stretched to their full capacity, Annie pulled out a box of freshly caught whitefish to smoke over the fire. We stood in awe as she dexterously decapitated and gutted the fish. However, we were not warned that we were standing directly in the splash zone of the gory deed. That’s a story for another time, but I just had to mention this incredible feast.

The real highlight of my day was what began as nothing more than an impromptu stroll. Amanda (the 14-year-old daughter of our MCC Learning Tour coordinator, Lyndsay) led me down the trail to see an older cloth teepee on a nearby site while pointing out different plant species and their uses along the way. We found that the teepee had been taken down, but I learned a lot from the 4-foot-something wealth of knowledge on the expedition. In addition to the typical conversations about school, pets, and family, she told me about exciting and hilarious encounters with animals in the woods we were travelling in, identified droppings, and explained several traditional ceremonies. By this time, we had been joined by a few more members of the group. We decided to make the most of this time by doing some exploring in the area surrounding the trail. In the clear, flat area where the old cloth teepee once stood, we came across scattered bones of some poor unfortunate soul that were picked clean. Among these remains was a spine, the size of each vertebra comparable to a small dog’s pelvis. Based on this enormity, it was unanimously decided by our bunch of unqualified people that this thing must have once held a moose together. In myself, this discovery revealed a possibly morbid fascination in skeletal systems and paleontology.

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Don’t fret: this little excursion did not pass by without a lesson. If I hadn’t gone on this little hike or cut up my legs by trudging through thorns and branches in the woods, I wouldn’t have found those bones. I wouldn’t have had my interest in historical traces peaked, and I wouldn’t have learned from Amanda. Something I’ve noticed in my observations of the First Nations cultures is the great amount of value they place in the passing-down of knowledge and tradition. Amanda (an indigenous girl herself) is more aware of her culture’s traditions than any non-indigenous person her age that I’ve met. I myself know close to nothing in comparison about my own ancestral history, but a new determination to dig for it has been placed in me. Like the moose bones and truths about First Nations, it will have to be intentionally sought after. In the same way, if you don’t go out seeking answers and truths for First Nations issues, you won’t find them. They are intentionally buried, and you won’t just stumble upon them by walking along the beaten path. The government and the public make sure of this by working hard to conceal the abominations to this nation and to our own unearned European dignity. If we sweep all of our unflattering history under the rug, we won’t ever need to address it– out of sight, out of mind. But the truth is that it did happen, and it’s time to move the rug and clean it up. The key is knowing where we come from and who we are, awareness, and education– whether it be self-education, curriculum-based education in school, or educating the public on corrected misconceptions of indigenous issues and the people themselves.

On another note: although today I ate moose meat for the first time- heck, I even held the very core of the animal’s physical body in my hands- I still have yet to see a living, breathing moose. I’ve made it one of my goals on this trip to spot at least one of these (increasingly likely to be mythical) creatures, which has proven to be a challenge. Wish me luck.

The Danger of an Uncritical World

By | 2016 - Aski Learning Tour (Ottawa & Timmins, Ont), Education for Reconciliation, Short-Term Trips | No Comments

[The third in a six part series of posts from SSU students participating in a First Nations Learning Tour, hosted by Mennonite Central Committee. The group is travelling in Ottawa & Timmins, Ontario from April 26th – May 8th, 2016.]

We met with the Assembly of First Nations (AFN) on Friday, April 29th, 2016. We were scheduled to meet with Jon Thompson, the Director of Health & Social Development, but were also given the pleasure of dialoguing with one of his associates William David. William David was “the mining guy”, being heavily involved in mining policy at the AFN. He was an extremely articulate gentleman with an incredible breadth of both educational as well as hands-on experience.

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We talked about many things including the AFN’s relationship with the Hill, how change is made in policy and government, First Nations people’s right to self-determination and how to engage non-aboriginal people in conversations about First Nation’s issues. However, by far, what has most securely captured my attention are William’s words concerning people and the terrible things they do.

It is so easy to demonize those that commit human rights violations. Their actions are often so shocking that they quickly become an all encompassing label, excluding the possibility that the subject in question was anything but an atrocious human being. However, William had a unique perspective that helped to frame human rights perpetrators in a much more forgiving and human light. While not removing the responsibility of any given person for their actions, Will added a specific qualifier, which also served as a challenge for those who wished to be a force of positive change in the world. He said that people, as in, anybody, can do the most dangerous things when they are uncritical of what they are doing and the systems that they serve.

It can be easy to do something terrible unintentionally, especially if a person is not critical about what they are doing or what they are supporting. Sometimes, the tendency is to imagine that those who have committed the worst human rights violations were terrible from the start, perverted by nature and only committed these specific crimes after hours of prolonged thought about how to make the world a worse place than it was before. However, Will’s perspective allows for a much more nuanced approach. Anybody has the potential to do terrible things. Everyone is capable of great evil, but they are also capable of great good.

In this case, the worst actions are conceived when people to not take the time to think about what they are doing or who they are supporting. People must learn to take the time to reflect on their lives, especially on how their actions might affect others. Rarely do our choices only affect ourselves, more often, they have a wide reaching impact on both those dear to us but also on those unknown to us. The world is an interconnected web of relationships and systems, therefore, it is imperative that we examine both our relationships as well as the strings that run between the various systems of which we are apart. No man is an island; everyone belongs to the system of the world and each of us is responsible to our neighbor at home and abroad.

Education for Reconciliation

By | 2016 - Aski Learning Tour (Ottawa & Timmins, Ont), Education for Reconciliation, Short-Term Trips | No Comments

[The second in a six part series of posts from SSU students participating in a First Nations Learning Tour, hosted by Mennonite Central Committee. The group is travelling in Ottawa & Timmins, Ontario from April 26th – May 8th, 2016.]

 

View from the Peace Tower on Parliament Hill

View from the Peace Tower on Parliament Hill

It’s a beautiful morning here in the capital as we gather ourselves to cars and head down to the Bronson Center. We are scheduled to meet Ian and Katie from KAIROS this morning and the group seems to be buzzed to see what’s in store for us. We arrive into a jungle of an office; trees and plants climbing over stacks of books, the sun streaming in the windows over the ensemble of broken furniture patched together to form a communal table. We gather and share names and stories.

KAIROS, a Canadian Ecumenical justice initiative, partners with existing advocacy groups in countries and communities that ask for help to support the local efforts around advocacy. Today, we learned that, on the Canadian front, KAIROS partners with the Legacy of Hope Foundation. The two have put their efforts into raising Canadian awareness around the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s 94 Calls to Action which focuses around the impact of residential schools and their negative inter-generational impact.

Right now, their approach to the conversation is through education as practical action. To accomplish this goal KAIROS’ employees and teachers use the acronym EPIC: Engage, State the Problem, Inform about Solutions, Call to Action. They provide material such as Education for Reconciliation Action Toolkit to engage audiences. Anyone can obtain this toolkit, take it back to their communities, and introduce these topics to groups, students, and friends. In the booklet they state that their goal is, “to ensure every Canadian child learns about the Indian Residential Schools, Treaties, colonization and the contributions of First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples to Canada’s past and present and can then be a leader in the long-term work of reconciliation.” Approaching education through truthful story telling will teach children, as upcoming leaders, how to make better decisions for our collective future.

Through this conversation the inclusion of the Indigenous voices is the only way to change perspective and approach for this conversation to continue within each specific community across Canada. The goal of KAIROS calls us as citizens to acknowledge a responsibility we have to our country–peoples to share the true history of our ‘home and native land’ so all it’s residents can be ‘glorious and free.’

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My intention after hearing their passion for the education of individuals and after gathering their materials is to practically apply this to my life back in Halifax. Ian and Katie have connected me with some local partners in my area and I am anticipating how I can contribute my skills in a practical and helpful way when I return home.

Community, Conversations & Wonder

By | 2016 - Aski Learning Tour (Ottawa & Timmins, Ont), Education for Reconciliation | No Comments

[The first in a six part series of posts from SSU students participating in a First Nations Learning Tour, hosted by Mennonite Central Committee. The group is travelling in Ottawa & Timmins, Ontario from April 26th – May 8th, 2016.]

We have started off our Learning Tour in the nation’s capital.  We have quickly found that Ottawa is filled with many kinds of people. We met with the staff at Mennonite Central Committee’s  (MCC) Ottawa office this morning. This was a great way to start off our trip seeing that we will be with MCC in Timmins next week. Rebecca  (policy analyst) and Esther (intern) had a great amount of wisdom to share with us about advocacy work.

Throughout the day the significance of community was brought to my attention. There is value in spending time with people over a long period.  Nothing can replace this time it takes to build a strong community. Yet there is also significance in finding others to partner with.  Individuals and groups can and do make a difference but they cannot make change alone. As Rebecca and Esther shared about their work it was apparent that they have the same heart that the SSU community shares.

Rebecca and Esther are constantly learning and sharing about people and the issues that they face. For them every person they meet matters. They celebrate when one person sees victory in a situation that they have been facing. They shared a story about one indigenous man in Canada who had been stateless for most of his life. This means that he didn’t have a birth certificate and therefore could not get necessary documents for living in western society. He could not get a driver’s license, health card, loan, or even legal guardianship of his children. When our goal is seeing the value of people, we shift from trying to make an issue go away, to helping find a solution for each person.

We learned that we each have different roles to play in advocacy but there are key political actions we can all participate in. The first thing to remember is that the politicians we elect into office work for us.  It is important to tell them what matters to you.  One way to talk to an elected official is to set up a meeting. Another way is to write them a letter.  Writing a letter is easy and the great thing is that there is free postage when sending a letter to your MP.  Another great way of supporting an issue that matters to you is to either start or sign a petition.

By the end of our time at MCC it was clear that education matters and can make the greatest difference. I am so thankful that we have this time to learn from people who are devoting their lives to listening to and helping others. It is like a web that will be ever extending: after this trip we each will be going home to our communities. We have an opportunity to share what we have learned and hopefully those we share with will tell others too.

Visiting Parliament Hill!

Visiting Parliament Hill!

When our group was touring Parliament I saw the potential influence we each have.  We stepped into the elevator of the Peace Tower at the end of the tour. We were filled with awe and wonder and apparently bubbling enthusiasm.  The tour had just taken us through elaborate architectural feats where we heard about some Canadian history and saw many pieces of art (these are some of our favourite things).  As the elevator reached the top of the tower the attendant told us to turn around to see the bells.  We were amazed! The attendant said that she never saw anyone get so excited to see them.  Our excitement and questions opened up all kinds of conversations with everyone we met during the day.

Some may say that we are just a small group of nerdy young people. This is probably true but at the heart of it all we are filled with wonder. Each of us in our own way has a passion for seeing the greatness of our world.  We are going to take this opportunity to learn and understand.