Thursday, 18 September 2014

Sad to Say Goodbye - NWAC - Part 2

By Trudie Broderick, 1st year MDP student
Trudie and Michelle Odette, NWAC President

After completing a three month volunteer placement in Ottawa with the Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC), sadly my summer has finally come to an end.

I have now arrived back in Manitoba in time to begin my final year in the MDP program.

My time at NWAC helped deepen my understanding of First Nations, Inuit and M├ętis communities in Canada. In particular, it broadened my understanding of issues impacting Aboriginal females across North America.

NWAC’s work currently focuses on the serious issue of the significant numbers of missing and murdered Aboriginal women and girls. At present, it primarily aims to challenge laws that fail to protect Aboriginal women and girls from sexual violence including trafficking for the purposes of sexual exploitation.
This was not an area that I had worked in prior to arriving on NWAC’s doorstep – the lessons I have taken from NWAC will stay with me forever. Learning about the experiences of women and girls who have been or are being trafficked for sex gave me no choice but to think about my own life as a woman. It forced me to think about the treatment of Aboriginal women here in Canada and then reflect on the position of our women and girls back home in Australia. Our shared historical experiences demonstrated just how closely aligned we are even though we are from opposite sides of the globe. 

During my time with NWAC, I participated in everything from fund raising activities, to creating surveys and drafting internal and external reports and articles for the annual newsletter. I gained experience in drafting media releases and assisted in organising NWAC’s 40th Annual General Assembly (AGA). Held in Halifax, Nova Scotia, I was fortunate enough to be invited to attend the AGA and then to stay on for the Assembly of First Nations 35th AGA which occurred around the same time.In addition, I participated in several peaceful protests on Ottawa’s Parliament Hill during the drafting of Canada’s new anti-prostitution Bill.

Trudie on Parliament Hill

David & Goliath in the Coastal Waters of BC

By Jessica Numminen, 1st year MDP student

coastal waters and fish
Over your lifetime there are moments that are eternally etched in your mind, a moment where time slows down and a part of you is fixated on what is unfolding in real time while another part is looking back at you. Wondering is this for real, checking your surroundings, a span of time eternally etched in my mind. I will never forget that day and there are only a few of these days in my 32 years of existence. 

Princess of Wales's car accident, 9-11 and watching the towers coming town, the birth of my daughter… cooking in the kitchen, sun shining and looking from the kitchen window…when the announcement came over the hand held radio used in every home in Hartley Bay... the green light had been given for Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline Development…. Silence….Time stood still....A second announcement followed, in light of this development the Band office and fuelling station will close for the remainder of the day.  Silence, the feeling of a death, loss, mourning. 

My friend and I, were for the next few hours, in a haze of emotion and tears that I cannot not say, I have ever experienced…I do not understand why this could happen. I cannot imagine hundreds of tankers passing by Hartley Bay...An even more pressing burden on the Gitga’at because life as it exists for them is now at stake. I bear witness to the personal sense of loss experienced by the Gitga’at at this announcement but most Canadians just saw a news clip with respect to this Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline Development, not knowing or seeing the community living at ground zero, from Alberta to the Coast and waterways of the Gitga’at. What would the animals, plants and other beings have to say or tell us? Unlike humans they only take what they need to survive.

Floaters with messages
The Chain of Hope
 The blow of Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline Development was followed by another lifetime event that same day the preparation for the Chain of Hope had been underway before my arrival in Hartley Bay. All the women and children in the community crochet rope out of yarn. The first meeting I had attending all the rope had been collecting. The next meeting I attended was the same evening of the pipeline announcement. The energy in the room was of hope and everyone was busy at work from counting the rope, joining each individual piece and rolling it on a huge spindle which became the Chain of Hope. It's total length was over 20,000 ft. Others decorated messages on floaters that would be attached to the rope.  I will never forget this day because of the beauty and resilience of the Gitga’at people, the Guardians of their territory, and of hope for a different future where development is done differently. The Chain of Hope was placed across the Douglas Channel on June 20th, 2014 a symbolic blockade to show the opposition of oil tankers and oil spill in coastal water of British Colombia.

With gratitude I would like to say a big thank you to the community of Hartley Bay for allowing me this opportunity and for making me feel at home.

For more information on the Chain of Hope click on this link

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Creating Opportunities for Marginalized Women

By Margaret Lewis-John, 2nd year MDP student

For the last couple of weeks of my field placement I was involved in a seminar on Girl Child education and development.  The aim of the seminar was to identify challenges affecting the development of the Girl Child in nomadic pastoralist communities in Kenya and to make recommendations on the way forward to the difficulties they experience. Through various focus group discussions, relevant strategies which could remedy the situation were identified for implementation. Additionally, the workshop allowed past scholarship beneficiaries of Indigenous Information Network (IIN) to share their experiences and challenges in completing their education.  This enabled us to recognize successful interventions which can be used to address the Girl Child education and development now and the future.  From the seminar deliberations, a work plan was formulated, a report was compiled and a proposal developed from the findings and submitted for possible funding.

Margaret (L) sharing a moment with Girl-Child participants

Based on my experience it seems natural when a child is born the parents start thinking of a school they will send the child and the potential of a career which is articulated to the child in toys and story books. However, this kind of prospect is not the reality for many children in Kenya, especially among pastoralist Maasai girls.  The reality for many is milking cows, taking care of animals in the hot scorching sun and walking long distances to fetch water and firewood.  Moreover, some never make it to a classroom since within nomadic pastoralist communities in Kenya there is a low status given to girls as compared to boys.  The preference for boys in pastoralist communities is cultural and historically based on the patriarchal system of inheritance.  Many girls are physically and emotionally abandoned or perceived as less important.  Subsequently, this perception is demonstrated even through celebrations prepared for the birth of a boy as opposed to the birth of a girl.  From the seminar I advocated for the setting up of funds for the education of girls and met with various private sector stakeholders who can assist in support of the girl child education and development. 

Margaret at WYLDE International Seminar on entrepreneurship
Furthermore, it was recognized that low economic status among women makes them vulnerable to continue their traditional ways of life which impacts on girls as they do not have the necessary funds to send them to school even though in Kenya there is a policy on free primary education.  Consequently, I attended a workshop held by WYLDE International on business development, which offers consulting, coaching and training on business as a way to help them to find their edge in whatever business opportunity they pursue.  This allowed me to develop a training manual for IIN which can be used for entrepreneurial training in pastoralist communities, especially among women. Also, going to the Massai market, I made many friends and taught them the hair style of interlocking dreads which many will use as an alternative means for income generation. 
As I reflect on my time in Kenya and with my host organization IIN, I can think of these words: it was truly memorable, educational and informative. It was an occasion in which I can certainly ponder and say, I will return in the foreseeable future.    
Margaret (L) and Maria (R) after hair locking at Maasai Market

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

“Love is the Movement” - Tar Sands Healing Walk 2014

By Dulce Maria Gonzalez Ramirez, 2nd year MDP student

The weekend of June 27-29th was the fifth and final Tar Sands Healing Walk in Fort McMurray, Alberta. Manna and I joined, hundreds of First Nations, environmentalists, activists and other folks from across Canada, the United States, and far beyond to walk together along the Syncrude Loop. This was not a protest or a rally but a different way to connect the issues and mass environmental destruction that has been affecting people, land, water, air and other beings.

On Friday they held a series of workshops emphasizing the litigation processes, the violation of rights such as the lack of free prior and informed consent/consultation, violation of treaties, the environmental and health issues such as rare cancers and lupus. It was very interesting to listen to Dr. John O'Connor as part of the health panel talking not only about his research but also about the harassment from the government stopping him to publish his findings and chasing him away from the province. Then, we all questioned, if civil disobedience the option? Well, in the United States marches and unity helped to stop war in Vietnam.

On Saturday, after a pipe ceremony we were guided by elder women around the Syncrude loop. The caravan stopped in four main points to pray and put down offerings. These were powerful collective moments of reflection and prayer.

As part of the landscape, we saw how the company has guns going off and scarecrows looking like workers all around tail ponds. Still the birds are attracted to them because they look like small lakes from above. In 2012, due to extreme cold weather a flock of birds flew down into the water and all died. The company was taken to court, but the verdict was that the birds were at fault! It seems that the law is made to protect the companies more than the environment. 

In some First Nations communities like Fort McKay located along the banks of the Athabasca River, there are reaping some benefits such as building new resource centers. However, they eventually will need to be relocated because the water is becoming unusable and filled with chemicals that cause cancers. Water needs to be brought in to the community. Even after hundreds of years, the chemicals will stay in that land, what is the “great legacy” for the next generations?

After the weekend, it was clear to me that rallies or other movements can raise awareness, but issues keep growing while government keeps claiming “development.” At the same time, I questioned my own role, commitment and responsibility: 

Dulce Gonzalez Ramirez
I'm here not solely because I’m a development practitioner or in solidarity for the disastrous devastation of other's land, but because we all belong to Mother Earth we all have responsibilities. I'm here to acknowledge devastation, to stand up for the earth. I’m here to pray for the healing of “Pachamamita," for healing for the affected communities, for healing  myself and for all beings that inhabit this earth because it is truly needed.

Many First Nations and allies are fighting NOT to get a bigger share of the economic benefits, but to avoid the devastation. Gitz Crazyboy (Dene/Blackfoot), a youth worker working against the injustices of development, in his first big protests said that frustration, anger and other feelings will go away but love will remain. Through all this is the recognition of the love for their people and their land because “Love is the movement.”