I grew up in the Canadian north of Watson Lake, Yukon. My elementary years were spent in a public school with children of the Kaska nation. As I became an adult I was pretty proud of my exposure to and knowledge of indigenous people. But it took a return to Canada after a seven-year sojourn away to make me realize that I knew very little. I did not like the discomfort I had as I walked the city centre streets in Winnipeg, Manitoba, home of the largest urban indigenous population in Canada.
It was then I decided I had to learn. Over the last two years I have pushed myself to read and sit and listen.
Since early December 2012, the Idle No More movement has entered our city, province, country, and world and has provided many opportunities to do just that. It was amazing to join the round dance that stopped traffic at Winnipeg's biggest intersection, especially since two weeks before I had never even heard of a round dance. Indigenous and non indigenous alike were welcome and joined in the joyous event.
On Feb. 24, Winnipeg Peace Alliance organized a public forum. Six local indigenous leaders from different walks of life shared their personal stories and why they were excited about Idle No More. Learning and connecting together emerged as themes over the three hours. Jerry Daniels of Long Plain First Nation saw INM as a time of coming together. There are people in his own community who do not know about the treaties and their culture. Information needs to be easier to understand, both for indigenous and non-indigenous people.
Chickadee Richards of Bear Clan sees that "it is a way to rebuild relationships. We have forgotten how to care for one another."
Michael Champagne, who grew up in North Winnipeg, clarified that by saying "If you are hurting, I am hurting. If I am hurting then we all are hurting. Idle No More hopes to connect our young people to the [indigenous] teachings. Then they can share these teachings with the rest of the world."
Lori Mainville, who is involved in INM as a mother and grandmother, stated, "We are all learning together. We are running to catch up on hundreds of years of history."
Leah Gazan, an indigenous professor, sees INM as being about "waking up."
"We are only as strong as we find a way to stand together," she said.
All six speakers stressed that this movement is essential for all who live on this land called Turtle Island. They have a dream that "people of African heritage, of Chinese heritage, of Indigenous heritage, of Ukrainian heritage" (to name a few) will one day all sit together at the table to hear each other's stories and work together to provide a safe and sustainable world for all those to come.
Champagne closed the meeting with the call, "Do you drink water? Welcome to Idle No More."
Kathy Moorhead Thiessen is a member of Hope Mennonite Church in Winnipeg, Manitoba. She serves half of her year in Kurdish Northern Iraq with Christian Peacemaker Teams. Learn more about the Idle No More movement HERE. This blog post originally was published HERE.