Tuesday, 21 March 2017

Ogijiita Pimatiswin Kinamatwin

By Esther Awotwe, 2nd year MDP student 

These powerful words greeted me at the door when I first reported for my domestic field placement at the office of Gang Action Interagency Network (GAIN). GAIN is a grassroots community organization with about 25 partner agencies and organizations in Winnipeg dedicated to curbing gang violence in the city. The mission of GAIN is to collaborate community resources, consistently share service and awareness information, build strong relationships within agencies and the community in order to effectively administer gang prevention, intervention and exit strategies for gang involved youths. Gang related violence in Winnipeg is a reoccurring issue which is of great concern to GAIN and its partner organizations. 

The city of Winnipeg in 2011 recorded an unprecedented high of 39 homicides with over one third of these crimes involving youths aged 14-24. Coming from an Indigenous development background these numbers were quite troubling and worrisome to me and instinctively the first question I asked myself was where did we fail as a society? What support systems are available for our youths who need help? Even if support was available, how has it been administered? Is it through labelling, ‘us’ versus ‘them’ or rather through a reciprocal system of love, mutuality and responsibility? As I began to delve deep into these initial thoughts during my orientation at GAIN, “Ogijiita Pimatiswin Kinamatwin” the words that greeted me began to make sense to me. Ogijiita Pimatiswin Kinamatwin originated from an Ojibway Elder and Ogijiita means the spirit of both a warrior and a provider of the community. Pimatiswin means “good life” and Kinimatwin means “to walk a good life”.

GAIN in collaboration with its partners seek to help the youth to reclaim their future through strategies and programs that seek to empower the youth to be brave warriors; people who are not afraid to confront the past, surmount all obstacles and build the necessarily skills to posses their bright futures. I was therefore excited to learn that I will be working on the mentorship component of the gang exit strategy. An arduous task I must say but I am excited to draw on the skills developed in the MDP Program and in my human resource degree to work on this exciting project. Communities that children grow up in do have a profound effect on the adults they become so it is imperative to create safe, enabling, peaceful and loving environments now for youths in order to enjoy violence free communities in the future.

Mentoring provides an opportunity for the youth to be role models and develop life skills that allow them to be positive citizens. An important aspect of adopting mentorship as a component of gang exit strategy is the socio-cultural identity it offers the youth; knowing who they are, where they come from and imbibing the cultural and social values of high self esteem, respect and reciprocity is crucial to the emotional strength that these youths require to lead the good life. I am excited to see how the mentorship component unfolds as I interact with all the various partners for this project.   

Thursday, 2 February 2017

“Indigenization” in Business and Economics

By Vanessa Tait, 2nd year MDP student

As an Indigenous Ithinew Iskwew (Cree woman) from O-pipon-na-piwin Cree Nation, I have always had an interest in business. When I was a teenager, I witnessed both my parents open a small business in my community and saw the challenges they faced with mainstream business protocol.  During this time, I knew that I wanted to gain a greater understanding of mainstream business practices to share with our people and communities. Therefore I began my formal educational journey at the Asper School of Business at the University of Manitoba, and in 2012, I graduated with a Bachelor of Commerce Degree, majoring in Aboriginal Business Studies. Currently, I am completing a Master’s in Development Practice: Indigenous Development Degree (MDP) at the UWinnipeg. 

Throughout my education and life experiences I have overcome challenges of isolation and the impact of ignorance of my culture and ways of life. While in business school, I found that there was a lack of Indigenous content and focus in the program other than if you majored in Aboriginal Business Studies, which very few do. I had to take other courses from other majors, and it is in those classes that I found a lack of Indigenous content or even mention of our peoples and communities. The business school had an overall misunderstanding and misinterpretation of Indigenous peoples, values, leadership and history of business endeavours that are vibrant in our communities.  There was no mention of the role we played historically to present day in the economy and business environment in Canada.  Feeling isolated, judged and at times a sense of discrimination I realized that after leaving the business school there was still a missing part of what I was seeking in my education. 

 So here I am, doing my second MDP field placement with the Business and Economics Department at the UWinnipeg. I ponder and wonder if the universe has brought me here for a reason? Is this something that I have been asking for and now I am here looking to see how I can be a part of a journey to “indigenize the academy,” in particular, the business school.  I am no expert, but I can point out a lot of things that I see are missing and can be incorporated. I am but one person, but I know many Indigenous business, economics and like-minded folks that we can invite into the circle to explore this indigenization in a strategic way.  

The reason why I agreed to explore and gain insight on how this Indigenization can be rolled out, is because, I do not want another Indigenous student to go through business school feeling isolated like I did. I would like to have Indigenous communities and peoples included in the content when speaking of business and economics. We are also part of the story and there are many successful entrepreneurs, community development projects, and success stories that can be shared and explored. We need more Indigenous students graduating from business and economics as well, so that our communities become self-sustaining in their own way and a part of the growing economy.

Lorne Pelletier, Executive in Residence at UWinnipeg, and Vanessa Tait
Since the beginning of the field placement I have met many folks that are interested in the Indigenization of the University of Winnipeg.  I have attended events that discuss the indigenization and reconciliation with Indigenous peoples and communities.  It is through dialogue and discussion with Indigenous people and communities where we will be able to gain insight into what it means to incorporate and include Indigenous content and information into the academy.  I ponder now the question of why it took so long to have Indigenous content at the focal point of the institutions that are on Treaty land.  But, I know that in reaching this point we need to make sure that we are not missed this time and we are included in the education system and that our knowledge, stories, values and ways of knowing are incorporated and need to be shared.

Tuesday, 11 October 2016

“Let’s Have a Cup of Tea”

By Vanessa Tait, 2nd year MDP student

The analogy of a cup of tea really resonates with my journey in Aotearoa (New Zealand).  Each time you would be asked "let’s go for a cuppa" or "would you like a cup of tea?" meant that there was going to be some knowledge exchange, a Hui (meeting/workshop) would take place, a story told or an opportunity to share your stories, knowledge and teachings. It was a moment of cross cultural learning from one Indigenous group to another. 

As I travelled through the many different places: Ngaruawahia / Hopuhopu, Auckland, Waireinga/Bridal Veil Falls, Ragland Beach, Rotorura, Taneautua (Ruatoki Marae - TÅ«hoe Iwi), Whanganui, Hobbiton, Otorohanga – kiwi house and local museum, and many other places along the way; I was amazed at the beauty of the landscape, the water and the people that I crossed paths with.

The valuable aspects of this experience were the importance of whaanau (family) and language, being proud of who you are as an Indigenous person, and meeting many amazing Maori who truly welcomed me and embraced my presence. I am inspired by the vision of the Waikato-Tainui College for Research and Development and I take home with me the desire to hopefully one day have a building and a place of learning for the Indigenous peoples and communities in my region.  It was amazing meeting the many people that walked through the doors of the College and hearing about their stories, research, goals and aspirations. The College provides a safe space to come together and learn from one another.  

 I would like to acknowledge Sir Robert Mahuta and the ancestors of this territory, the journey to Aotearoa had a true purpose and with their visions, dreams and teachings still alive in this sacred place it truly was a journey to remember.

Whaanau in Aotearoa

Sarah-Jane Tiakiwai (L) and Vee (R)

An inspiration, role model, and Maori scholar, Sarah-Jane Tiakiwai, was my mentor who took me under her wing and showed me so much in my short time in Aotearoa.  Sarah-Jane welcomed me into her whaanau and took me for a visit to meet them in Taneautua.  This was an amazing experience and I will never forget so many people. Manawa, who brings such love to this whaanau and to me. Aunty Ami and Uncle Tim, my caregivers at the College, shared many stories, taught me many things, and made me feel at home. Jube definitely was my greatest teacher, he shared so much knowledge and we had many cups of tea together exchanging many stories. Cuz Ruby and her whaanau shared so much knowledge, teachings and even a few adventures. Amy and her two children were such a joy to be around and our trips together will forever be remembered.  The College, whaanau and staff; each and every one of them were a part of my journey and shared so much with me.  I felt welcomed and embraced.  Whaanau is important and welcoming others to your family circle is amazing.  No matter where they come from there is always room for another in the house, there is no such thing as a nuclear family there.

Trip to Whanganui

Trip to Whanganui
We had the opportunity to travel to Whanganui by way of a 6.5 hour bus ride through hills and mountains, following the river (awa).  Many great moments were had while visiting Whakauae Research for Maori Health and Development and their amazing circle of women.  It was refreshing to see how they worked, prayed, sang and had a feed together. The togetherness and the community spirit is truly a wonderful thing to experience and observe. I had the opportunity to share the bear song with them at the whakatau (welcoming and introductions) that began our journeys there. We had the opportunity to go on the waka on the Whanganui River (Awa) with four of the ladies. Grateful for this experience, I was able to share a prayer and offering of tobacco with them to the awa when we had completed our paddling journey.  This was such an honour to share this moment with them, as my grandmothers and traditional women teachers have taught me to always give thanks to the water, the life blood of Mother Earth.

Research and Project
Journey in Aotearoa - Beautiful
With the Waikato Raupatu River Trust, I researched and worked on a framework for Indigenous tourism development for Indigenous peoples and communities. It utilized an Indigenous social enterprise approach that incorporates the “quadruple bottom line” to guide the process forward that is holistic in nature and involves the community.  In order to explain the Indigenous Tourism Framework, I used three Canadian First Nations case studies, the Gitga’at Nation (West), Mi’kmaw Nation (East) and Northern Quebec Cree, to give insight and identify themes that could be found within the quadruple bottom line. The document identified potential goals and factors for tourism development and provided some recommendations, next steps and a possible path forward. 

Finally, these words resonate with me “be proud of who you are and tell your story” - this is what I hold in my heart. My journey and experience in Aotearoa really shed light on this statement because the Maori are amazing, sovereign, strong, and inspiring people and this field placement had a purpose and it was not just an academic one, but one of spirit and of understanding the gifts we have as Indigenous people. There was so much more to this journey, which I will share with you over a cup of tea.

Ekosi, Vee