Teach-in brings issues of aboriginal concern to general public

M’CHIGEENG—Every three months, the Kenjgewin Teg Educational Institute (KTEI) in M’Chigeeng offers a teach-in that is open to the public. As Brenda Francis, director of operations at the college explained, “We host a teach-in quarterly. The objective is to bring an awareness and understanding of an Anishanebek issue, topic or event that we are facing. We want to bring the subject to the forefront and educate.”

On February 10, the focus for the teach-in was on the United Nations Declaration of Indigenous People (UNDRIP) as well as talks on traditional approaches to personal wellness. Speakers for the courses included Josh Eshkawkogan, the elder in residence at KTEI who has offered traditional help for the past 10 years, Kelly Crawford, a First Nations capacity building advisor and a teacher, professor and freelance writer, Lynzii Taibossigai, the founder of LOVE Shkakmi-kwe (Mother Earth) project, a volunteer oriented youth environmental awareness program and a co-facilitator of a pilot project called M’Chigeeng Lil’ Sisters (an empowerment project for females) and Gloria Oshkabewisens-McGregor, an elementary school teacher, elder in residence for students in Lakehead University’s Native Language Instructor Program and a traditional elder for the Shhkaagmik Kwe Health Centre in Sudbury.

The UNDRIP was adopted on September 13, 2007 by the United Nations General Assembly and described as setting “an important standard for the treatment of indigenous peoples that will be a significant tool towards eliminating human rights violations against the planets 370 million indigenous people and assisting them in combating discrimination and marginalization.” Canada adopted the declaration in 2010 although the federal government said that it contained elements that were incompatible with legislation already in place.

The students at the class at KTEI broke into groups with each discussing different articles of the UNDRIP and reporting back to the class. The members were to talk of ways in which First Nations members are exercising their rights and also to come up with new ideas. For example, Article 8 states that indigenous people and individuals have the right not to be subjected to forced assimilation or destruction of their culture. The students reported that those attending ceremonies would do so openly, proudly and without shame. They also said that people have the right to participate in community hunts and to protect their inherent right to hunt and fish on traditional lands and to assert their right to access resources on Crown land and to teach children and youth to live off the land. It was also noted that education could be used to celebrate success and that the promoting of the language is very important.

For Articles 15 to 17, which is the right to education, public information and employment, the group members reported that radio station 94.1 has a show with First Nation language and jokes and also said that education does not have to be linear, education can come from the land and that is what the government does not understand. They also stated that “our language can’t be manipulated, it cannot be changed.”

Part of Article 22 states that governments will ensure that indigenous women and children are free from all forms of violence and discrimination. The class members reporting back spoke of the need to keep continuous community awareness and support, to teach the traditional ways and to stop the cycle of generational repeating and to get men involved in the discussion.

After the class reports, the students gathered in a circle at one side of the classroom to participate in a smudging ceremony and to listen to elder Josh Eshkawkogan who said, “I start with the smudging ceremony. There are different types of smudges to cleanse different emotions. We talk about resilience. What does it mean to you? It’s about being strong and being able to handle a situation. We have strong resilience within ourselves and to the land. A lot of things were taken away from us, but we have always had that unity. Anishanebek people have to start appreciating ourselves.”