Thursday, 8 September 2016

On Oneness – O’ahu, Hawai’i

By Jasmin Winter, soon-to-be 2nd year MDP student 

Although my tan may already be beginning to fade, my memories from this summer certainly won’t any time soon. I can honestly say that the transformative nature of the time I spent in Hawai’i merits the cheesiness of that opening sentence. 

In three months I went through the process of first adapting to and then striving to understand Honolulu and Hawai’i to the best of my ability. I learned so much from the team at We Are Oceania and my friends in Honolulu about Hawai’i, the Pacific, and new ways of looking at the world at large. The challenges and experiences that I encountered this summer also taught me a lot about myself, my values, and my priorities. 

The We Are Oceania 'ohana

In the weeks since I wrote my first blog post, my role at WAO shifted incrementally. After completing a digital storytelling project about the cultural importance and relevancy of basket weaving, I was asked to create more educational, informational videos regarding migration, health care, and tax systems and processes. My projects changed in tandem with the advent of WAO’s deadline to become an independent charity. By the end of my placement, WAO’s parent organization had yet to decide if they wanted to continue the mentoring relationship that had been established, and WAO has therefore not met this goal. Although tensions rose during this transition period, I would not have wanted to do my placement at any other time, because I grew that much closer to the team at WAO and felt genuinely invested in their success. In this way, my placement is not really ending even though I have left Hawai’i. The expression “A hui hou” means “Goodbye, until we meet again,” and I will definitely be keeping up my relationship with WAO until I can physically return. 

The final product of the basket weaving workshop
There’s a lot of talk about “culture shock” when going to a new city or country, but this trip is the first that I have taken where I have felt a sense of shock coming home. Although I have always been very analytical about Canada, having this experience in Hawai’i as a direct comparison has further widened my perspective, shedding new light on both positive and negative aspects of the place that I have come back to.

The piece of insight that I think most resonated with me is the distinction between “oneness” and “sameness,” which, when intersected with the nuances between “equality” and “equity,” teaches the need to be open about engaging with multiculturalism or any inter-group dynamic through the understanding, not the dismissal, of differences. Oneness acknowledges the importance of history, heritage, and traditional knowledge, and helps us paint a much more complex picture of humanity and society.

I am really excited to begin the new school year with this, and everything about this summer in mind.

Tuesday, 6 September 2016

Sharing Back the Research with the Community

By Sarah Wood, 1st year MDP student

For the second half of my placement, I returned to Winnipeg to work on data entry and analysis of the information gathered in the surveys on maternal health services that I collected in Norway House last month. After a month or so of this work, I returned to Norway House for Treaty and York Boat Days to disseminate some of the preliminary findings to community members during the health fair. The health fair drew a wide audience on this rainy August day. The participants explored the displays from various health initiatives in and around the community and filled out a health fair “passport” to win prizes.  

Our table at the health fair

Through working with Norway House during this stage of the project, I was able to gain a deeper understanding of the importance of reciprocity and sharing back the information gathered through research. Research has a long colonial history that must be acknowledged and challenged. Research should not be extractive, but reciprocal. During the health fair, quite a few people took the time to read through a pamphlet which graphically displays some of the results of the survey. There seemed to be significant interest from both men and women about the future of maternity care in the community.

I was also able to witness an exciting presentation in another area of Indigenous health during Treaty and York Boat days. Cindy Blackstock, First Nations child welfare advocate, was honoured by Norway House for her work with Jordan’s Principle. Jordan’s Principle, which seeks to end delays due to jurisdictional disputes surrounding healthcare for First Nations children, is named for boy named Jordan who was from Norway House. 
I was able to learn a lot about Indigenous maternal health during my time in Norway House and Winnipeg, but was also able to learn about many other intersecting health issues and initiatives under way in this vibrant Cree community.  

I would like to thank Norway House Cree Nation leadership for hosting me during my placement and Councillor Gilbert Fredette for his support in Norway House, as well as the staff at the Health Division for their help in ensuring I was able to distribute the surveys! I would also like to thank the research team at the University of Winnipeg, Dr. Jaime Cidro and Betsi Dolin for their guidance and support!

Cindy Blackstock speaking in Norway House

Saturday, 3 September 2016

Standing on the Precipice of Uncertainty

By Stephen Penner, 1st year MDP student

Hold back from the LG2 Dam in Radison, Quebec

After 15 weeks of consultations with over 300 different members of the Eeyou Istchee from Chiefs to small entrepreneurs the facilitation team are to wade through the data, consult with our Director and respectfully and honestly give voice to the people in terms of the creation of the framework for a trade and commerce agreement.

Carrying the academic and experiential learnings that I have been honoured to have received is a critical part of the process. Along with these lessons it is also central to hold the principle accountability back to the people of the Cree Nation, who have entrusted us with this critical job.  To facilitate agency and respect the sacredness of story telling is the third pillar I have carried on my journey.  All of these weave their way through the long hours of trying to sort the responses and write a cohesive and coherent interim report.

These last few weeks have been tinged with a sense of loss, of leaving new friends too early, departing from a magnificent and sacred territory too soon and of trying to fill the upcoming void that will be missing the laughter and story telling that I have barely begun to scratch but have come accustomed too.  Like a tattoo, some things do not have to take a long time too mark you forever.

Old Northwest Warehouse in Fort St. George, former home to the Chisasibi Cree Nation before Hydro Electric Development

The report is very near completion.  I have a sense of anxiety that in order to deliver on the promises that we have started with this engagement, it will take structural change within the Cree Nation Government. As a facilitation team we had the privilege to hear the lived experiences and to have listened to voices of the people of Eeyou Istchee who were asking for a tool facilitate letting them live “Miyo pimatisiwin.”   With economic leakage of dollars south at upwards of 70% these voices seem to be reaching a unified call for change and asking for a way to reverse this trend.  As the leader of one of the largest Cree entities said “Our world demands jobs for our people.”

We were not doing a research project but actively engaging key community stakeholders and providing a platform with which they can shape policy.  Consultations felt like holding onto a treasured object- one that offers the possibility of turning wishes into actions.  The report once it is filed will have a life of its own.  It is my hope is that through the act of broad community consultation, the report, will ignite the fires of change and illuminate the way towards a brighter future for all of Eeyou Istchee.



Facilitation Team members playing pool (and eating wings!) at the Retro Daez Café in Chisasibi. A business that received funding from the Department of Commerce and Industry