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Indigenous struggles toward period equity  

May 29, 2024

Author

Bethel Alemaio

By: Bethel Alemaio (she/her)

Money is Cheaper, Period. By Lauren C.

Many Canadians struggle to gain equitable access to menstrual products. Plan International Canada’s Menstruation in Canada Views and Realities reveals the consequences of unaffordable and inaccessible menstrual products among youth and adults. One in five (22%) of the respondents ration their products, and this number rises to 33% for those with household incomes less than $50,000 (Plan International Canada 2022). A recent report focusing on menstrual needs in northern communities noted that 74% of Indigenous respondents in remote communities and 55% of Indigenous respondents in non-remote communities “sometimes” or “often” have issues accessing menstrual products (Lane 2024). Resulting from this, in recent years, Indigenous leaders nationally have fought for easier access to period products (Toory 2022).  

Sol Mamakwa, MPP of northern Ontario, is one such person. In 2021, after Shoppers Drug Mart announced its plan to donate menstrual products to public schools, 120 federally funded First Nations schools were excluded from this distribution. Mamakwa was outspoken about the province’s discriminatory practices, which violated Jordan Principle. Within this policy, it is mandated that the needs of First Nations Children to access “products, services, and supports” (Indigenous Services Canada, 2024) requires the collaboration of both the federal and provincial governments in a timely manner. Mamakwa further indicates his disappointment as the products were a private donation and did not require the spending of provincial funding.   

Moon Time Connections, a national organization dedicated to providing menstrual products to Indigenous peoples throughout Turtle Island, shares Mamakwa’s concern. Working with the Ontario chapter of Moon Time Connections, Veronica Brown recognizes the government’s actions as a “colonial barrier” (McGillivray 2021) to equitable access to period products.   

Nichole White created Moon Time Connections because she discovered Indigenous students learning in remote and rural areas were missing school due to a lack of access to menstrual products. The first chapter was created in Saskatchewan, previously known as Moon Sisters, and the organization expanded to Ontario, Manitoba, and British Columbia. They actively work toward period equity in collaboration with 120 northern Indigenous Communities from coast to coast. 


References 

Lane, Heather. 2024. “An Assessment of Menstrual-Related Needs in Northern Communities.” Moon Time Connections. True North Aid. https://truenorthaid.ca/wp-content/uploads/2024/03/An-Assessment-of-Menstrual-Related-Needs-in-Northern-Communities-FINAL.pdf. 

McGillivray, Kate. 2021. “MPP Calls out Province’s Free Menstrual Products Plan for Not Including First Nations Schools.” CBC News, October 23, 2021. https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/toronto/mpp-calls-out-province-s-free-menstrual-products-plan-for-not-including-first-nations-schools-1.6219813. 

Plan International Canada. 2022. “Menstruation in Canada – Views and Realities.” Plan International. https://www.multivu.com/players/English/9052951-menstrual-health-day-2022/docs/ViewsandRealities_1653434611799-556425632.pdf. 

Toory, Leisha. 2022. “Menstrual Health Is a Public Health Crisis for Indigenous Youth.” Toronto Star, October 13, 2022. https://www.thestar.com/opinion/contributors/menstrual-health-is-a-public-health-crisis-for-indigenous-youth/article_d8f3098b-1a61-52b7-a9c1-a8bdb9dc926d.html. 


May 28th is menstrual hygiene day, and this year, the theme is “Together for a #PeriodFriendlyWorld.”  While this observance was originally framed as menstrual hygiene – we follow the lead of the World Health Organization, who calls for menstrual health to be recognized, framed, and addressed as a human rights issue, not a hygiene issue.  Framing menstruation as such is a reflection of the taboo and stigma around periods. The labelling of period supplies as “feminine hygiene products” is incorrect since as Dr. Jen Gunther explains “needing them is not a sign of being feminine – it’s a sign that you need something to catch blood – and they’re not hygiene products because menstruating is not unhygienic.”

In 2023-2024, the Centre for Human Rights Research at the University of Manitoba has worked on the “Period Poverty & Equity, On Campus and Beyond” project to assess access to period supplies for the University of Manitoba community and to work towards menstrual equity, on campus and in the community. This series of essays is part of the Period Poverty & Equity, On Campus and Beyond project and aims to explore issues of menstrual justice that are often overlooked.

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Menstruation and Gender: Beyond Cisgender  

May 28, 2024

Author

Mikayla Hunter

By: Mikayla Hunter (she/they)

It is not only cisgender women who menstruate. For some, this idea may be something they are already aware of and understand to be true. For others, it may be a little more difficult. To understand that menstruation is not an experience specific to women, we must first understand what we mean by gender.  

Image: Mikayla Hunter

The term cisgender refers to a person whose gender identity aligns with the sex they were assigned at birth.1 Transgender is a term for people whose gender identity does not align with the sex they were assigned at birth.1 It is important to note that both ‘cis’ and ‘trans’ are simply prefixes that add additional information to a word or an idea, and neither of these terms are slurs. For example, we can refer to a book as a hardcover book to give more information about the book that we are talking about. Cis is a prefix that means ‘on the same side as’ and trans means ‘on the other side of’. This means that a cisgender woman is a woman whose gender identity is ‘on the same side as’ the sex she was assigned at birth. A transgender man is a man whose gender identity is ‘on the other side of’ the sex he was assigned at birth. With these ideas in mind, we can understand that both cisgender women and transgender men may have a uterus and experience menstruation. However, it is not just cisgender women and transgender men who may have these experiences.  

Gender diverse people have a wide range of gender identities and/or gender expressions that do not conform to socially defined gender norms of men and women.2 There are many terms and identities that people may use to describe themselves including non-binary, agender, genderqueer, and gender non-conforming to name a few. Gender diversity does not look a specific way, and the experiences of gender diverse people can (and do) vary. For example, not every gender diverse person will dress androgynously and not all of them will experience menstruation. However, some of them will. Similar to how both cisgender women and transgender men can experience menstruation, so can gender diverse people. A person who menstruates doesn’t look any one specific way or identify as a woman. 

Importantly, menstruation can cause gender dysphoria for transgender and gender diverse people. Gender dysphoria is the experience of discomfort or distress because there is a mismatch between a person’s sex assigned at birth and their gender identity.3 For some transgender and gender diverse people, they may undergo procedures such as hysterectomy to relieve gender dysphoria and as a part of their gender journey. However, not everyone has access to these surgical procedures for a variety of reasons and so, menstruation can be all the more difficult for transgender and gender diverse people.  

Image: Mikayla Hunter

Femininity and menstruation do not go hand-in-hand. A person’s gender identity is their internal sense of gender, or lack thereof. The biological function of our bodies is not directly tied to our gender identities. And so, saying that only women menstruate is incorrect. As Kimberlé Crenshaw explains,4 when policies that support women only support women and policies that support Black, Indigenous, and People of Colour (BIPOC) people only support BIPOC men, BIPOC women are not supported by either policy. When we consider the idea of menstrual equity, we need to ensure that all bodies that menstruate are included and not just cisgender women. Otherwise, we haven’t achieved menstrual equity at all if people are being left out of advocacy and policy changes.  


References

[1] Rainbow Center. (2018). Rainbow Center’s LGBTQIA+ dictionary. The University of Connecticut.  

[2] https://www.dictionary.com/browse/gender-diverse  

[3] https://www.stonewall.org.uk/list-lgbtq-terms  

[4] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ViDtnfQ9FHc  


May 28th is menstrual hygiene day, and this year, the theme is “Together for a #PeriodFriendlyWorld.”  While this observance was originally framed as menstrual hygiene – we follow the lead of the World Health Organization, who calls for menstrual health to be recognized, framed, and addressed as a human rights issue, not a hygiene issue.  Framing menstruation as such is a reflection of the taboo and stigma around periods. The labelling of period supplies as “feminine hygiene products” is incorrect since as Dr. Jen Gunther explains “needing them is not a sign of being feminine – it’s a sign that you need something to catch blood – and they’re not hygiene products because menstruating is not unhygienic.”

In 2023-2024, the Centre for Human Rights Research at the University of Manitoba has worked on the “Period Poverty & Equity, On Campus and Beyond” project to assess access to period supplies for the University of Manitoba community and to work towards menstrual equity, on campus and in the community. This series of essays is part of the Period Poverty & Equity, On Campus and Beyond project and aims to explore issues of menstrual justice that are often overlooked.  

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Reflections: Encampments and Human Rights

May 17, 2024

Author

Adele Perry and Pauline Tennent

By Adele Perry and Pauline Tennent

As of 9 May 2024, there were at least seventeen encampments or protests on Canadian university campuses in support of justice in Palestine, and disclosure and accountability of institutions with ties to the Israeli state. At the University of Manitoba on Treaty 1 territory, the encampment was set up by the Students for Justice in Palestine on 7 May; the following week, an encampment was set up at the University of Winnipeg.

In these spaces, students and allies engage in some of the most timeworn and treasured practices of social action: they educate themselves and others, they raise attention, they make connections between struggles here and across the world. In tents and on tarps, people organize and share meals, make decisions about how to do things, hold prayer services, organize soccer games, demand that local politicians search the landfill, and on the biggest tarp – listen to lectures. In encampments we see solidarity, care, deliberative governance, and education in practice.

These forms of protest are the kinds expressly protected by both domestic and international human rights instruments and Indigenous protocols. Mohawk leader Ellen Gabriel reminds us that university campuses like McGill’s are on Indigenous lands, and that students “must be protected on our lands as they strive for human rights for all Palestinians.” In Canada, section 2(c) of the Charter protects “the freedom of peaceful assembly,” defined by courts to include peaceful demonstrations, protests, parades, meetings, and picketing. The status as to whether universities fit under the Charter, however, can be unclear. The Manitoba Organization of Faculty Associations highlights the importance of this freedom of expression and debate, even of contested points of view as “essential to learning and the advancement of knowledge” and go on to add that limiting or pre-empting such gatherings fails to “uphold the foundational purposes of our institutions.”

Earlier this month, the forcible removal of the encampment at the University of Alberta and the University of Calgary echoed events south of the border and have rightly garnered concern across Canada, including from the Canadian Association of University Teachers. Indigenous signatories from Treaty Six identified the removal as violation of treaty principals and Indigenous law that did “real harm to students, staff, and community members, Indigenous and non-Indigenous alike.” In Quebec, courts have rejected efforts to have injunctions granted to remove encampments. Quebec Superior Court Justice Chantal Masse found that “the balance of the inconvenience leans to the side of the protestors, whose freedom of expression and peaceful assembly would be seriously effected” by the relocation of the encampment. 

The Manitoban reports on student protests against the Vietnam war on Oct. 24, 1967. Available at UM Archives.

These efforts of students protesting the atrocities in Gaza on the campuses of public universities have particular meaning in a context where educational facilities including schools, libraries, archives, and heritage sites in Palestine have been systematically damaged or destroyed, while all twelve universities in Gaza have been destroyed in what has been called scholasticide. These efforts also have meaning in the context of Canada and institutions committed to decolonization, equity, and justice. UBC’s Institute for Gender, Race, Sexuality and Social Justice remind us that encampments for Palestine are part of a “long global legacy of student activism” against segregation during the US Civil Rights movement, apartheid in South Africa, the wars in Vietnam and Iraq, and in support of Black Lives Matter, Indigenous self-determination, and more. Writing “in profound support of our students’ actions in solidarity with Palestinian people and in protest of the genocidal violence, occupation, and dispossession occurring in Gaza and the West Bank,” the University of Victoria’s Indigenous Governance programme explains that the goal is “to empower our students to think and act within a framework that is critical, anti-oppressive, and relational,” goals that are furthered through the kind of “grounded and activist practice, critical and transformative thinking, knowledge mobilization, and relational and coalitional work” that occurs at encampments. The Race Equity Caucus of York University’s Faculty Association argue that responses to student demands for divestment reflect “broader dynamics surrounding anti-Palestinian racism” and call for solidarity with student demands.

The Centre for Human Rights Research (CHRR) has a mandate to foster and disseminate research related to human rights, broadly defined, on campus and in the wider community. This is a mandate that is invariably shaped by both long histories and current events unfolding in real time. In different ways, we have seen each of the CHRR’s four research themes – the right to food and water, Indigenous people and human rights, borders and human rights, and reproductive and bodily justice – shaped by the violence that followed attacks on southern Israel in October last year. In March 2024, the UN’s Special Rapporteur reported that “the overwhelming nature and scale of Israel’s assault on Gaza and the destructive conditions of life it has inflicted reveal an intent to physically destroy Palestinians as a group,” and constitute reasonable grounds for the commission of the crime of genocide.

"Wāpikwanīya (Flowers)"- a digital illustration. It features an arrangement of flowers positioned at the base of the composition, set against a backdrop of tall prairie grass and sky.
“Wāpikwanīya (Flowers)” is a digital illustration that features an arrangement of wāpikwanīya or flowers positioned at the base of the composition, set against a backdrop of tall prairie grass and sky. Artwork by Carly Morrisseau.

In an earlier webinar, the CHRR explored connections and solidarities with Palestine, and our upcoming podcast will include Winnipeg Centre MP Leah Gazan, Independent Jewish Voices Harold Shuster, University of Ottawa’s Alex Neve, and University of Toronto’s Youcef Soufi on this question. They remind us that is a crucial time for individuals, communities, and institutions to stand firmly for human rights. These include the rights of people to live free of the human rights violations and international crime that have marked decades of occupation and violence in Israel and Palestine, and to respond to these injustices by assembling. In The Guardian, journalist Osita Nwanevu reminds us that in the last sixty years, student activists have “passed every great moral test American foreign policy has forced upon he public, including the Vietnam war, the questions of relations with apartheid South Africa, and the Iraq war.” In encampments across Canada, including those at our own campus, students and allies are working to bring attention to a genocide unfolding in real time, and to remind us of the power and possibilities of mindful, relational collective action in the face of it. 

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Reflections: Solidarities + Connections with Palestine

February 23, 2024

Author

Adele Perry and Pauline Tennent

By Adele Perry and Pauline Tennent

Since 2008, Manitoba has celebrated Louis Riel Day with a statutory holiday. Other provinces call their February holiday Family Day, or Heritage Day. Manitoba’s day recognizes Louis Riel, Métis leader and elected president of the Legislative Assembly of Assiniboia who was put to death for the charge of Treason in 1885. Louis Riel Day is a celebration of local history, and an important reminder that this province was born in struggle with colonial governments, in this case Canada’s. These are histories worth recalling as we bear witness to the ongoing violence, displacement, and resistance in Palestine. 

Entangled Roots

These are difficult circumstances that are rooted in both long histories and recent events. It has been four months since armed Palestinian groups launched rockets toward Israel, killing more than 1,200 persons, and abducting around 240 people. The state of Israel followed with a military attack by land, air, and sea. The results have been devastating, what UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres describes as “appalling human suffering, physical destruction and collective trauma across Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territory.” UN Women reports that as of 12 February 2024, that at least 28,340 Palestinians had been killed in Gaza, 70 percent of them women and children. This staggering loss has come alongside damage to basic human rights and security, including forced displacement on a massive scale. Institutions of cultural memory, archives, learning, and research including all or parts of Gaza’s 12 universities have been  destroyed. 

In January 2023, South Africa argued before the International Court of Justice (ICJ) that Israel’s actions amounted to “genocidal conduct” and breached the 1948 Genocide Convention. It was a harrowing and careful case, rooted in international law and backed evidence. The ICJ responded with provisional measures against Israel, demanding that they prevent and punish incitements to genocide, allow humanitarian aid, ensure that evidence of alleged crimes be preserved, and report back within a month.   

Canada’s response to this ruling, and to ongoing questions about its support for the Israeli government, revealed the limits of Canada’s supposed commitment to international law. It also reflected Canada’s relationship to discussions of genocide, settler colonialism, and Indigenous sovereignty within the Canadian context.1 Legal scholars Heidi Matthews, Faisal Bhabha, and Mohammad Fadel argue that Canada’s response to the ICJ ruling response represented a “deliberate indifference to atrocity.” In the months since the ICJ’s ruling, little has changed. Israel has targeted medical facilities, impeded food aid, used seawater to flood Gaza, and expanded its operations toward Rafah. At the ICJ, more than 52 states – most of them from the global majority – are seeking a nonbinding legal opinion against Israel’s occupation of the West Bank, Jerusalem, and Gaza since 1967. 

"Wāpikwanīya (Flowers)"- a digital illustration. It features an arrangement of flowers positioned at the base of the composition, set against a backdrop of tall prairie grass and sky.
“Wāpikwanīya (Flowers)” by Carly Morrisseau is a digital illustration that features an arrangement of wāpikwanīya or flowers positioned at the base of the composition, set against a backdrop of tall prairie grass and sky.

Across the world, and with particular visibility in the global south, people have advocated for a ceasefire and expressed solidarity with Palestine and Palestinian liberation movements. Indigenous intellectuals and artists have written that it is “heartbreaking and unsurprising to see the colonial powers in Canada, the United States, Australia, New Zealand and Europe line up behind this genocide.” More than 200 legal scholars and practitioners have demanded that Canada support a ceasefire and effectively support the “vital international humanitarian and human rights legal standards that Canada regularly champions around the world.”  

Scholars, activists, and ordinary people with opinions have had to navigate a chilled environment that has too often equated critiques of the current Israeli state with antisemitism and, as Ethel Tungohan’s podcast explains, uses the language of equity, diversity, and inclusion to silence those who critique Israel, or even call for peace. These dynamics have also played out close to home at the University of Manitoba, amid rising anti-Palestinian racism, Islamophobia and antisemitism. The venerable student-run newspaper, The Manitoban, has emerged as a crucial voice for careful and engaged conversation. Jonah Corne, a professor in the department of English, Film, and Theatre at the University of Manitoba explains that we have had to navigate “increased fears about what one can and can’t say, particularly when it comes to voicing criticisms of Israel,” fears that were made concrete with the suspension of nursing student Arij Al Khafagi in the fall of 2023. The suspension was overturned by a discipline committee in February 2024, and as historian and advocate Ben Baader explains, it reminds us of the need for “free political contestation in a dramatic situation of war and destruction.” This includes the kind of critical engagement with the mobilization of Indigenous and Black feminist language offered by the Manitoba chapter of Faculty 4 Palestine, including Serenity Joo and Dana Medoro

On 28 February at 3pm CST, the CHRR will host a webinar discussing solidarities and connections with Palestine. Our panel includes Winnipeg Centre MP Leah Gazan; lawyer and human rights advocate Alex Neve; long-time Winnipeg activist Harold Shuster; scholar and community organizer Youcef Soufi; and York University professor and extraordinaire Ethel Tungohan. Each of these people bring different knowledge to the table, and we look forward to an important conversation about global events that are connected to histories of colonialism, dispossession, and resurgence within our own territories, and that demand our attention and action.

  1. This is a point made by Heidi Matthews and Alonso Gurmendi, in “HMOD Episode 12 – Hague Wars: The Global South Strikes Back,” https://soundcloud.com/hmodpod/hmod-ep12-haguewars?utm_source=clipboard&utm_medium=text&utm_campaign=social_sharing.

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Reflections: Marking NDTR and Reading the OSI Interim Report

October 03, 2023

Author

Adele Perry

By Adele Perry

Like the rest of the University of Manitoba, the office of the Centre for Human Rights Research (CHRR) closed in recognition of the National Day of Truth and Reconciliation or Orange Shirt Day. Last week, the CHRR joined with others on campus to build a Heart Garden in the Quad and host a Teach-In for Reconciliation, where about 500 people heard from speakers including CHRR research affiliates Dr. Cary Miller, Dr. Sean Carleton, and Brenda Gunn, alongside Marc Kruse.

The whole week was busy with events  in the community. On Saturday, walking with 5,000 plus people in the Wa-Say Orange Shirt Day Survivor’s Walk and Pow Wow was a reminder of the power of collective action in the face of tragedy and loss. Elsewhere people made art and listened to speakers at the Winnipeg Art Gallery, or bore witness to the unveiling of the Assiniboia Residential School Commemorative Monument and Gathering Place.

Heart Garden in the Quad. Image: Mike Latschislaw
Image: Mike Latschislaw

In different ways, these events all foreground the need for truth before reconciliation, and the connections between residential schooling and related institutions and histories.  The Indian Residential School System existed for more than a century, and is inextricably tied to a range of other institutions, including segregated medical treatment for Indigenous people, child welfare systems, and the ongoing crisis of Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women, Girls, and Two Spirit people. As much as researchers have learned in the last decade, there remains a great deal to be learned about those interconnected systems, and what they meant for Indigenous and non-Indigenous people in Canada.  There also remains substantial barriers for Indigenous communities who are seeking to document the impact of colonial institutions on their past, present, and future.

This is one of the points made by the Interim Report of the Independent Special Interlocutor for Missing Children and Unmarked Graves and Burial Sites associated with Indian Residential Schools (OSI).  Kim Murray, the Special Interlocutor, was appointed in June 2022 with a mandate to collaborate with First Nations, Inuit, and Métis communities and survivors to recommend a new federal framework to ensure the “respectful and culturally appropriate treatment of unmarked graves and burial sites of children associated with former residential schools.” The OSI builds on the crucial work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, especially Volume 4’s focus on Missing Children and Unmarked Burials associated with Residential Schools.  It also responds to the announcements of potential unmarked graves that have been made since 2021, announcements which have confirmed longstanding community knowledge and shaken a wider Canadian public.

At an event sponsored by the University of Winnipeg’s History Department Indigenization Committee on 25 September, Dr.  Mary Jane Logan McCallum noted that there is much for researchers to think about in the OSI Interim report. Referencing international human rights law, Murray’s introduction reminds us of the need for ethical truth-telling and justice-seeking research. She that her role is “not to be neutral or objective – it is to be a fierce and fearless advocate to ensure that the bodies and Spirits of the missing children are treated with the care, respect, and dignity they deserve.” (p. 3).

Every child matters vigil. Image: THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

For communities and families seeking answers about children who never came home, the barriers to the truth and justice continue to be steep. The OSI Interim report documents how Canada’s current legal system and multi-jurisdictional patchwork stymies efforts to learn about individuals, families, and communities whose histories were touched by federal, provincial, and municipal institutions and their respective policies.  The report documents the continued barriers communities face in accessing relevant records and potential burial sites, and in executing ground searches. The OSI Interim Report affirms Indigenous data sovereignty, and notes that mainstream media attention and an environment of increased residential school denialism pose additional challenges. So too does the lack of sustainable, long-term funding and Indigenous health and wellness reports. The Interim Report argues that there needs to be an Indigenous-led and sustainably funded policies for the repatriation of children who died at Indian Residential Schools, ceremony and burial sites. There need to be accountability and justice for survivors and their families and a new legal framework to protect “protect unmarked burial sites and support the recovery of missing children.” (p. 132).

As the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation 2023 fades away, I urge you to read the OSI Interim Report. It reminds us of the work that still needs to be done, and the systems that need to change, in order for Indigenous families and communities to have the fullest understanding possible of the acts of genocide that took place in Indian Residential Schools, of those children that never came home.

Read the OSI Interim Report, “Sacred Responsibility: Searching for the Missing Children and Unmarked Burials” (June 2023) from the Independent Special Interlocutor.

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Reflections: Connecting through Water — Nibi Gathering 2023

July 10, 2023

Author

Eliza Maharjan

By Eliza Maharjan

As I sit here reflecting on my first ever Nibi Gathering, I realized that the experience could not be summed up in a few sentences. It was an experience jam-packed with learning and sharing, stories and humor, laughter, and tears. Co-led by Anishinaabe legal scholar Aimée Craft and Anishinaabe environmental justice scholar Deborah McGregor, the gathering took place at Manitou Api, Whiteshell, Bannock Point on May 25-28, 2023. With a focus on “Building Water Relationships,” the gathering highlighted the importance of the language, songs, ceremonies, and teachings of the water.

Landscape image of the Whiteshell.
Whiteshell. Image: Eliza Maharjan, 2023.

Before attending the Nibi gathering, water, for me, was merely this non-living entity that aided my survival. But as I reflect on the teachings from the Nibi Gathering, I’ve come to see that water – Nibi – is life. It is to be protected, respected, and in the end, celebrated.

Attendees gathered in the teaching lodge, coming together in a collective spirit, to learn from stories and teachings. Smudge welcomed us to the teaching lodge helping purify and cleanse our souls and environment of any negative thoughts. The gathering embodied many Anishinaabe teachings. The Circle of the Medicine Wheel comprises the four elements: earth, water, air, and fire. Each of these elements accompanied the gathering. The lodge housed a sacred fire that was surrounded by the participants in a circle, the gathering was on land meaning the participants had a chance to connect with Mother Earth. The river enveloped the gathering place and the air helped keep the sacred fire alive. In a way, the gathering showed that everything is connected, just as the circle.

Image shows water, with four people sitting on the rocks by the shoreline.
From Left to Right: Anamika Deb, Laura Westfall, Adele Perry. Front: Alejandra Diabb. Image: Jocelyn Thorpe, 2023.

My day at the Nibi Gathering began with a water ceremony, led by women, symbolizing life and the significance of women as caretakers of the water. The teachings covered the value of water, the role of women as protectors of water, and how water is changing in their communities.

Throughout the day, we heard from different speakers about the sacred nature of Nibi (water) and the work being done to protect the water. This included guests from Colombia and Australia, who brought with them stories and teachings. The gathering fostered a sense of community where people from across the world could come together and share their stories. Their stories made me realize that distance didn’t affect the connections, their stories were similar, and this is what the gathering was about – connectedness.

The afternoon saw a water walk to the river led by a water song. Each song was engaging and came with its own knowledge. The group was led to the nearby river where they could offer the water from their land and connect with the water there. The songs echoed in the vastness where the songs carried generational knowledge. Initially, it was led by a single individual, but as they spent more time around the water, the voices grew louder, and the water heard different songs from different parts of the world. Again, geography might separate individuals, but the songs and collective shared experiences never fail to bring people closer; this was definitely the case in the Nibi gathering. The common theme that echoed during the water walk was that the body of water has roles and responsibilities, but importantly, so do we, and it is thus important to take care of it.

There were teachings about treaties, the importance of Treaty education, and the water treaty. The speakers talked about the relationship of Anishinaabe people with water and the responsibilities people have to protect it. Recognition of water as a spirit and having a life, can help in decision-making, the water governance process, and recognizing their rights. Another important idea that was discussed was decolonization which simply means having the freedom to make your own choices. So, giving rights to water and acknowledging the roles and responsibilities is a step closer to decolonization and this gathering succeeded in promoting this.

Laughter filled the lodge with stories and teachings shared by the Elders. I felt like the gathering was all about connectedness. The language was used as an instrument to connect with the land and decolonize. Education was then a tool used to rebuild languages. And lands and water are active participants involved in the process of learning. So, all of these components are interrelated. Nibi Gathering is thus unique, and inspiring, and provided a safe space for learning, healing, and connecting. The gathering gave me a new outlook on water and as an Environmental student, it has prompted me to respect the water and taught me a decolonized approach to seeing water and its protection. Water is integral to our survival, so it is our duty to respect it and finds ways to celebrate it.

To Learn More:

Craft, Aimée. (2023): https://aimeecraft.ca/

Craft, Aimée. (2021). Treaty Words: For as Long as the River Flows. Annick Press.

Craft, A., McGregor, D., Seymour-Hourie, R., & Chiblow, S. (2021). Decolonizing Anishinaabe nibi inaakonigewin and gikendaasowin research: Reinscribing Anishinaabe approaches to law and knowledge. In Decolonizing Law (pp. 17-33). Routledge.

Craft, Aimée. (2013). Breathing Life into the Stone Fort Treaty: An Anishnabe Understanding of Treaty One. UBC Press.

Craft, A., & King, L. (2021). Building the Treaty# 3 Nibi Declaration using an Anishinaabe methodology of ceremony, language and engagement. Water, 13(4), 532.

Decolonizing Water (2023): https://decolonizingwater.ca/

McGregor, D. (2004). Coming full circle: Indigenous knowledge, environment, and our future. American Indian Quarterly, 28(3/4), 385-410.

Nibi Declaration of Treaty 3 – Draft Toolkit: http://gct3.ca/wp-content/uploads/2019/05/2019-TREATY3-NIBI-TOOLKIT-FINAL-DRAFT-May-2019.pdf

University of Manitoba United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 6: https://umanitoba.ca/research/united-nations-sustainable-development-goal-6

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Reflections: An Event in Honour of Red Dress Day

June 07, 2023

Author

Laura Westfall

By Laura Westfall

The content in this blog post may be difficult and/or triggering. If you or someone you know needs emotional assistance related to this topic or the information in this article, help is available 24/7 through the MMIWG Support Line, 1-866-413-6649.

An Event in Honour of Red Dress Day

Artwork (gouache and watercolour on paper) by Sherry Farrell Racette.
Ancestral Women Taking Back Their Dresses – 1990. By Sherry Farrell Racette.

On May 4th, the Indigenous Engagement and Communication team and the Centre for Human Rights Research held ‘An Event in Honour of Red Dress Day.’ It took place one day before Red Dress Day – the National Day of Awareness for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls and Two-Spirited People (“MMIWG2S+”). The event consisted of a seminar by Sandra DeLaronde and a beading workshop led by Gerri-Lee Pangman.

Sandra DeLaronde began by emphasizing the long history of Indigenous women’s activism in response to MMIWG2S+, as well as initiatives and government-based inquiries set to address the issue. From the Aboriginal Justice Inquiry in 1988, to the Missing Women Commission of Inquiry (“Pickton inquiry”) in 2010, and more recently, the National Inquiry into MMIWG in 2015, the issue of MMIWG2S+ is not a new phenomenon. Rather than meaningfully act to address the issue, governments continue ordering studies and inquiries for information they already have. The state’s inaction towards the issue frustrates many advocates who say there needs to be more accountability from the federal government. This history shows that MMIWG2S+ has become so “normalized” that, too often, the police and the public are apathetic when a family is concerned about their missing relatives. Thus, advocates such as DeLaronde urge that we de-normalize when Indigenous women and children go missing.

DeLaronde identified a step towards this de-normalization in developing a “Red Dress Alert” system. Red Dress Alerts (RDA) would be similar to Amber or Silver Alerts, which alert the public to missing children and seniors, respectively; in this case, RDAs would alert the public when an Indigenous woman, girl, or Two-Spirited person goes missing. Lakota woman and Member of Parliament Leah Gazan presented a motion to “declare ongoing violence against Indigenous women, girls, and two-spirit people a national emergency,” which The House adopted unanimously. Additionally, Gazan’s motion called for “the government to provide an ‘immediate and substantial investment’ to create a public alert system for missing Indigenous women, girls, and two-spirit people.” However, DeLaronde said it is important that the decision to issue RDAs rests not with the police, but with a committee of survivors, families, and other community members.

DeLaronde’s presentation was titled Giganawenimaanaanig, meaning “we all take care of them” in Anishinaabemowin (Ojibwe), and she provided helpful advice when pronouncing daunting Ojibwe words: start from the end and work backward (“nig” –>“naanig” –> “maanaanig,” etc.). One of my favourite features of my language is the inclusive/exclusive “we,” with exclusive-we referring to “us but not you” and inclusive-we referring to “us including you.” In beginning her talk this way, I understood DeLaronde’s title as an implicit call to action for the event’s participants; that rather than continually “studying” this issue and its importance, we (including you) should support the work of advocates and pressure governments to meaningfully address the issue of MMIWG2S+.

Following DeLaronde’s presentation and a lunch provided by Indigenous-owned Brownee’s Urban Bistro, Gerri-Lee Pangman led a beading workshop where we made Red Dress pins. Pangman started with her sister’s story, Jennifer McPherson, who was murdered just over ten years ago, on April 29, 2013.  Jennifer was murdered by her partner—a man who had gotten away with murdering another Indigenous woman, Myrna Letandre, in 2006. Gerri said Myrna’s disappearance was known to her family but not properly investigated by police. However, had a Red Dress Alert system been implemented, Jennifer would not have been killed; it took Jennifer’s murder to even discover Myrna’s.

Gerri-Lee Pangman and CHRR Office Assistant Denise McInnes work on their Red Dress pins.

Following this solemn story highlighting the importance of an RDA system, Gerri guided us through a beading session where we made Red Dress pins. She explained how she turned to beading to honour her sister’s spirit and to process her grief. The pin we were making was simplified to enable completion within a couple of hours; we were provided felt cut-outs of red dresses, then we were to bead a few flowers and finish with the edging. People chatted with their table-mates and helped explain the beading process to one another. I was inspired the next day, so I went out to buy more beading supplies to start beading on my own. Perhaps by next year, I’ll have completed a fully beaded red dress pin.

I don’t always understand my feelings in the moment; I know I felt honoured to be there, for having these women’s knowledge and stories shared with me. It was easier to recognize my feelings afterwards as I was doing background reading for this post: anger rooted in grief. This is the kind of hopeless anger that, previously, I would have wanted to hide from by studying more abstract topics. However, listening to these women speak highlighted the importance of not surrendering to apathy or hopelessness. By focusing on the good that women like Sandra and Gerri do for MMIWG2S+, I hope to carry their strength forward.

Further Reading

National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. 2019. Reclaiming Power and Place: The Final Report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.

2021 Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, Girls, and 2SLGBTQQIA+ People National Action Plan: Ending Violence Against Indigenous Women, Girls, and 2SLGBTQQIA+ People. https://mmiwg2splus-nationalactionplan.ca

Native Women’s Association of Canada. MMIWG Fact Sheet.

“A Human Rights Crisis at Home” by Adele Perry at CHRR.

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Reflections: Fighting to have our Voices Heard: Moving Winnipeg Towards a Human Rights City

December 23, 2022

Author

Carlie Kane

By Carlie Kane

In acknowledgement of Human Rights Day, the Centre for Human Rights Research together with the Centre for Social Science Research and Policy at the University of Manitoba hosted a virtual conversation with scholars, practitioners, activists, and people who identify as all three, entitled “Imagining the Peg as a Human Rights City” on December 9, 2022.

Image from UN Repository showing Eleanor Roosevelt holding the UDHR
Eleanor Roosevelt of the United States holding a poster of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Lake Success, NY, November 1949. UN Photo.

We were joined by panelists, Dr. Warren Clarke (Assistant Professor of Anthropology at the University of Manitoba), Dr. Nathan Derejko (Assistant Professor and Mauro Chair in Human Rights and Social Justice at the UM Faculty of Law), Reanna Merasty (Artist, Author, and Chair of the Welcoming Winnipeg Committee), Dr. Joel R. Pruce (Associate Professor of Political Science and Director of Applied Research and Learning at the University of Dayton Human Rights Centre), and Karen Sharma (Executive Director of the Manitoba Human Rights Commission and member of the UM Master of Human Rights Program Committee). Introductory remarks were from Leah Gazan, Member of Parliament for Winnipeg Centre, NDP critic for Women and Gender Equality; Children, Families and Social Development; Deputy Critic for Housing. Erica Bota, an illustrator from Thinklink Graphics also participated in the event behind the scenes, graphically recording the conversation.

Human Rights Day is observed every year on 10 December — the day the United Nations General Assembly adopted, in 1948, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). The UDHR is a milestone document, which proclaims the “inalienable rights that everyone is entitled to as a human being – regardless of race, colour, religion, sex, language, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth, or other status.” (United Nations, n.d.)

[su_pullquote]“We have a long way to go in Winnipeg to ensure we are a human rights city. We need to fight for human rights for all and the time is now.”

– Member of Parliament for Winnipeg Centre, Leah Gazan[/su_pullquote]

In the week before the event, the Treaty 1 territory was dealing with the devastating and disheartening news. A serial killer targeted and took the lives of four Indigenous women; Morgan Harris (39), Marcedes Myran (26), Rebecca Contois (24), and a fourth victim who has not yet been identified, but named and addressed by Elders as Mashkode Bizhiki’ikwe, or Buffalo Woman. Only a few days later, Kayla Rae, a member of North Spirit Lake First Nation passed away in a Winnipeg Transit bus shelter.

“We are raw right now, we are shaken right now, and to be honest we were unsure of moving forward with this event.” Dr. Shayna Plaut stated as she prefaced the discussion. However, the decision to press forward was inspired by the strength of the families of these women, as well as Indigenous activists and advocates who were speaking truth to power and demanding justice.

What are your passions?

Reanna Merasty, constantly being aware doesn’t align with safety and freedom from fear.

Image of Reanna MerastyReanna Merasty is Nihithaw from Barren Lands First Nation, and is currently an Architectural Intern at Number TEN Architectural Group. She holds a Master of Architecture and a Bachelor of Environmental Design from the University of Manitoba. She is an artist, writer, and advocate for Indigenous inclusion, representation, and Indigenous rights in design education and urbanism. Her work centers and amplifies Indigenous voices and communities. Reanna is the Chair of the Welcoming Winnipeg Committee with the City of Winnipeg, guiding the process of renaming place names to reflect and honor Indigenous histories, and the contributions Indigenous people have had in the city. Additionally, she is a board member of the local design advocacy organization Storefront Manitoba, co-founded the Indigenous Design and Planning Student Association, and co-edited the publication “Voices of the Land: Indigenous Design and Planning from the Prairies,” a book addressing representation and dedicated to Indigenous youth.

Reanna emphasized that her lived experience is one of always being vigilant, and that this does not align with feelings of safety, a right to security of person, and freedom from fear. As an Indigenous woman, she shared her experiences moving to the city and navigating the colonial system on her own. Reanna’s father always told her to stay safe, because he knew there was a target on her back. As an Indigenous woman, it’s not a way to live or move about across the city. She told of witnessing youth in care being mistreated and discriminated against by the child welfare system, a system that should work to ensure the safety of Indigenous children. Reanna emphasized, “to achieve safety, we must create spaces that provides comfort, confidence and pride for Indigenous peoples.”

For Reanna, “a human rights city is one where we no longer seen as unworthy of safety and security, one where we are no longer seen as insignificant, and one where we no longer have to reiterate and preface young indigenous women that they are unsafe.”

Warren Clarke, Appreciation of lived experience and building solidarity.

Dr. Warren Clarke is an assistant professor at the University of Manitoba in the Department of Anthropology. Warren focuses on sociocultural anthropology, with research in youth cultures, social citizenship, neoliberalism, gentrification, race and ethnicity, anti-colonialism, social justice, and masculinity. Dr. Clarke is also a consultant who leads anti-oppression and anti-racism programs to create and sustain a more inclusive work environment for Canadian organizations that seek to understand the complexity of managing diverse teams of people with different social identities and lived realities.

Warren’s appreciation of lived experience stems from establishing solidarity with all people by way of recognizing and identifying that everyone is unique. Considering the tragedies in Winnipeg, Warren spoke about the importance of having difficult conversations that can allow for heal for some, but also work to educate folks and raise awareness. Warren emphasized the importance of dismantling barriers and challenge systemic oppression in areas like access to housing. For Warren, “this is a social oppression that impacts everyone.”

Nathan Derejko, human rights at a community level.

Dr. Nathan Derejko is the Mauro Chair in Human Rights and Social Justice and Assistant Professor of Law at Robson Hall Faculty of Law. Derejko’s research and teaching interests span three interrelated fields of international law: international human rights law, international humanitarian law, and collective security and the use of force (jus ad bellum). He has a particular interest in the applicability and application of human rights law during armed conflict, counter-terrorism and human rights, climate change and human rights, and the law and practice of non-international armed conflict.

Nathan’s passion for human rights begins at community level and building bridges between academia and grassroots organizations by respecting a diversity in tactics for building social justice and human rights. Nathan highlighted a participatory approach and the importance of listening to those most impacted by the issue. He turned the conversation to how we can mobilize communities to move towards a human rights city, as individuals, organizations, and communities. He also stressed the importance of a transparent process which recognizes issues such as access to housing as a human right, rather than a commodity. Once something is considered a human right, it is a legal right, which means we should have guaranteed access to them, and that the government should be held accountable to uphold that right. Policies and the law could be an avenue to leverage compliance and action within the government to uphold these rights. “Human rights are almost always realized on the ground at the bottom at community level.”

Karen Sharma, bringing that ‘Auntie energy.’

Karen Sharma (She/her) is a first generation South Asian, living in Treaty 1 territory. She is A/Executive Director with the Manitoba Human Rights Commission, where she oversees the Commission’s complaint process and human rights education mandate. Previously, Karen worked with the Commission as the Director of Investigations and Policy, and with the Government of Manitoba as the Director of Labour Market and Strategic Initiatives for Manitoba Labour and Immigration, and the Manager of the Secretariat to the Federal/Provincial/Territorial Working Group on Foreign Qualifications Recognition of the Forum of Labour Market Ministers. Karen is pursuing her Masters in Public Administration from the University of Manitoba, where her research and publications focus on the use of apologies as instruments of public policy. Karen co-chairs the Board of Directors of the Women’s Health Clinic and is an organizer with Queer People of Colour Winnipeg.

Karen has a passion of being an auntie. Karen acknowledges and honours the aunties in our life that have supported the work they have done, celebrated them, and gave them safety. Karen works to strive to bring that aunty energy in the community work they do. “My passion is about doing community work, supporting my community, and being a good aunty to members in my community”

Karen discussed the disconnect she sees from Winnipeg’s identity of a human rights city to how that plays out in reality. Winnipeg is home to various academic programs focusing on human rights, as well as home to organizations and institutions such as the Centre for Human Rights Research and the Canadian Museum Human Rights Museum, and with that, it seemed that there was an opportunity to brand ourselves as a human rights city, as claiming that identity. But for Karen, the city lacks the policy and legal infrastructure that is required to be a human rights city in practice.

Dr. Joel R. Pruce, dreaming of a better future.

Joel R. Pruce is Associate Professor in the Department of Political Science at the University of Dayton and Director of Applied Research and Learning at the University of Dayton Human Rights Center. Joel is the author of The Mass Appeal of Human Rights (2018) and the editor of The Social Practice of Human Rights (2015). Through his work with the UD Human Rights Center, Joel leads the Moral Courage Project: a Storytelling Initiative that foregrounds the voices of individuals who shaped major human rights events and produces traveling exhibitions, interactive websites, and a podcast series, Moral Courage Radio.

Joel passionate about dreaming about a future better than the society we currently have. Joel increasingly wants to spend all effort and time building communities in power with others. “Human rights is a central thread, organizing, shaping movements, and to be able to dream and build together.” Joel is very active in the Human Rights Cities movement in the United States.

Moving Forward in the Fight for Human Rights

More than 100 attendees tuned into this event signalling the importance of this much needed conversation. This conversation was powerful, insightful, and liberating. Listening to all the speakers and hearing from the audience through questions, clearly showed how engaged everyone was and how passionate our community is for human rights. As Nathan shared, human rights begin at a community level. Further, with this conversation and many more conversations in the future, will impact how we move forward as a human rights city.

This image was taken at the intersection of Portage and Main during the Wet’suwet’en Protest against the Coastal GasLink Pipeline. In the moment I took this photo, the temperature was cold, but the feeling was powerful. The beat of the drums kept everyone’s motivation and spirits high. Reflecting upon this moment, and what is currently happening in Winnipeg, we need to continue to fight to have our voices heard. The fight does not stop, but having each others support makes it bearable, manageable, and not completely impossible.

If you missed the event, you can check it out on CHRR’s YouTube channel.

To see the graphic recording of the event, click here.

For more information on human rights cities and for some resources, check out here!

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Reflections: A Human Rights Crisis at Home: MMIWG2S+

December 21, 2022

Author

Adele Perry

By Adele Perry

The content in this blog post may be difficult and/or triggering. If you or someone you know needs emotional assistance related to this topic or the information in this article, help is available 24/7 through the MMIWG Support Line, 1-866-413-6649.

On 1 December 2022, a Winnipeg man with a history of intimate partner violence and far-right racist, bigoted, and misogynistic views, including residential school denialism, was charged with first degree murder of four Indigenous women. We must begin with their names, and the communities they have been taken from: Rebecca Contois of O-Chi-Chak-Ko-Sipi First Nation, Morgan Harris of Long Plain First Nation, Marcedes Myran of Long Plain First Nation, and a woman who elders have named Mashkode Bizhiki’ikwe or Buffalo Woman.

The losses of these four women to violence is a sharp reminder that murdered and missing Indigenous Women, Girls, and Two-Spirit, Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Questioning, Intersex, and Asexual Plus people (MMIWG2S+) in Canada is an ongoing human rights crisis. Colonialism has created a world where Indigenous women and Two-Spirit plus people can be, and too often are, targeted for violence, where Indigenous advocates and activists have been silenced or ignored, and where available responses and remedies have too infrequently been marshalled in response to that violence.

‘Injustice’ by Jacqueline Traverse. See: https://www.jackietraverse.com/

The events of early December 2022 also remind us where social and historical change most often comes from. We have seen MMIWG2S+ families and Indigenous leadership work tirelessly to demand appropriate resources and attention from all levels of government. The Harris family have spoken difficult truths to entrenched power. Winnipeg Centre MP Leah Gazan has used her position as opposition member to demand federal resources and initiate a parliamentary “Take Note” debate on MMIWG2S on 7 December 2022. Long-term Manitoba advocates including Sandra DeLaronde, former co-chair of the Manitoba MMIWG Coalition, Nahanni Fontaine, MLA for St John’s, and Bernadette Smith, MLA for Point Douglas and sister of Claudette Osborne-Tyo, missing since 2008, have worked to demand action. First Nations governments, including Southern Chiefs Organization, the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, and Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak and the Assembly of First Nations have all called for the Winnipeg Chief of Police’s resignation.

The crisis of MMIWG2S+ is far from new. The targeting of Indigenous women is embedded deep in Canada’s history. So are the social, economic, and cultural circumstances that enable it, and the failure of available institutions to substantially respond to violence against Indigenous women, girls, and Two-Spirit plus people.

In the past three decades, Indigenous women’s activism has forced Canada to recognize MMIWG2S+ as a problem that is widespread, damaging, and pressing. Manitoba’s Aboriginal Justice Inquiry, struck in 1988 and tabled in 1999, was in part a response to the murder of Helen Betty Osborne in The Pas in 1971. In 2004, Amnesty International released Stolen Sisters: A Human Rights Response to Discrimination  and Violence Against Indigenous Women in Canada and the Native Women’s Association of Canada launched the Sisters in Spirit  initiative. The National Inquiry on Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women began 2016 and tabled its two volume report three years later.

The Centre for Human Rights Research (CHRR) at the University of Manitoba was established in 2012 with the goal of supporting and fostering research around human rights, broadly defined. Researchers associated with the CHRR are addressing MMIWG2S+ in a range of ways. Dr. Kiera Ladner and Dr. Shawna Ferris are leading the effort to create a digital archive of the Walking With Our Sisters project initiated by Métis artist and activist Christi Belcourt. Dr. Karine Duhamel, Dr. Adele Perry, and Dr. Jocelyn Thorpe have been examined some of the links between MMIWG2S+ and dwindling public transit options. You can listen to some of that work on a podcast produced by Olivia Macdonald Mager. Professor of Law Brenda Gunn has argued for the importance of using a human rights based approach to understand and address violence against Indigenous women.

The events of December 2022 have made clear that MMIWG2S+ continues to be a human rights crisis that demands our consideration and action. MMIWG2S+ families, Indigenous leaders, and First Nations governments have drawn appropriate and needed attention to the lacklustre response of the relevant settler governments and agencies, especially to the Winnipeg Police Service’s decision to not search relevant landfills. On 13 December, a coalition of Indigenous organizations and governments called on the federal government for immediate resources, and to invite the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples to oversee the search.

It is a good time for all of us, including non-Indigenous people like myself,  to ask why Indigenous families, communities, and activists must do so much to get so little. It is also a good time consider how all of us can contribute to the ongoing efforts to understand and address this human rights crisis of MMIWG2S+.

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Reflections: 2nd National Truth and Reconciliation Day at the Winnipeg Art Gallery

October 12, 2022

Author

Carlie Kane

By Carlie Kane

Some of the information and content in this blog post may be difficult and/or triggering.

If you or anyone you know is experiencing difficulty related to this topic or the information in this article, help is available 24 hours a day through the Indian Residential School Survivors Society Crisis Line, 1-866-925-4419.

For the second National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, the Winnipeg Art Gallery (“WAG”) in collaboration with the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation, hosted various programming throughout the day honouring, reflecting upon, and listening to survivor stories. As a daughter and granddaughter of Indian Residential School survivors, I showed up in my ribbon skirt and orange t-shirt ready to learn, remember and honour my family members.

Programming began with a survivor’s circle which featured a series of short episodes from Indian Residential School survivors. The series began with a story from John Thomas of Halalt First Nation in British Columbia and a moving story of John’s late uncle, Richard Thomas, who attended and had died at Kuper Island Indian Residential School. John talked about his life living on Halalt First Nation, and his childhood living with the intergenerational impacts of residential schooling. During the course of the interview, the interviewer shared with John that he had discovered a few stories written by Richard Thomas at the Vancouver Library. One of Richard’s stories was about Halalt First Nation origins and how the Halalt First Nation was named after a powerful matriarch. John never knew about this story and to experience this archival finding for the first time was emotional and beautiful. John said, “a piece of Richard was found.” On June 2, 1966, Richard, 16, was found dead, hanging in the school’s gymnasium, just days before his Grade 8 graduation. Richard’s stories recount instances of abuse. While the official explanation stated that Richard died by suicide, Richard’s family and friends felt this couldn’t be true.

Following this series of episodes, the WAG hosted NCTR’s live video Remembering the Children in Ottawa, Canada. This event was attended by Justice Murray Sinclair, Her Excellency Governor General of Canada Mary Simon, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, and others. Justice Murray Sinclair spoke about the importance this day brings for Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples alike. It is because of the courage and strength of Indian Residential School survivors that there is a Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Sinclair states “For the non-Indigenous people, the way you have been educated has had an influence on who you are and who we are (as Indigenous peoples).”

Beatrice Deer, an Inuk singer from Nunavik performed a moving song for the mothers whose children were stolen to these schools. While singing she wore traditional Inuit parka amauti which beautifully carried and allowed her baby to rest behind her.

A speech by Stephanie Scott from the National Truth and Reconciliation Centre reiterated the importance of understanding the truths from these schools. “For too long, the truth was hidden and denied. Children were taught to keep it hidden.” This day marks the importance of bringing Canada together to acknowledge the on-going impacts of the Indian Residential School System.

As emotions continued, a drum group performed an honour song while the National Students Memorial Register, a 50-metre red cloth had been carried through the crowd that contained all the names of the children that had been stolen to these schools. There were so many names. Everyone stood in silence and disbelief. Something so visual put into perspective all the lives lost, all the generations lost.

Dennis Saddleman shared his poem Monster: A Residential School Experience, a poem that allowed the audience into the perspective of an Indian Residential School survivor. Monster was a powerful poem filled with sadness and triumph. Saddleman’s poem shared his hate for residential schools, while eventually coming to peace and forgiveness.

This was just a short perspective of the programming that took place on September 30th at the WAG. The WAG’s display of Indigenous art and artists, highlighting the importance of Indigenous traditions, culture and history made this event a success in so many ways.

As an Indigenous woman, this day was more than wearing an orange t-shirt, it’s my reality. It’s the life I was born into, and through all the difficulties and trauma, it will always be the life I am proud of. However, Indigenous peoples need allies, we need people to support us and learn these truths. As Stephanie Scott said, “Indigenous peoples cannot walk alone.”

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