Candice Hopkins (Tlingit) is an independent curator and writer based in Albuquerque, New Mexico. She has published extensively on history, art and vernacular architecture, and has lectured at venues including Witte de With, Tate Modern and the Dakar Biennale. In 2012, Hopkins presented a keynote lecture on the topic of the “sovereign imagination” for dOCUMENTA 13. Her recent projects include Close Encounters: The Next 500 Years, a multi-site exhibition in Winnipeg co-curated with Steve Loft, Jenny Western and Lee-Ann Martin, and Sakahàn: International Indigenous Art—the National Gallery of Canada’s largest survey of recent Indigenous art—co-curated with Greg Hill and Christine Lalonde. With Lucia Sanroman, Irene Hoffmann and Janet Dees, she is curator of the 2014 SITE Santa Fe biennial exhibition, Unsettled Landscapes.
Dylan Miner (Métis) is Associate Professor at Michigan State University, where he coordinates a new Indigenous Contemporary Art Initiative. He holds a PhD from the University of New Mexico and has published more than fifty journal articles, book chapters, critical essays and encyclopedia entries. In 2010, he was awarded an Artist Leadership Fellowship from the National Museum of the American Indian (Smithsonian Institution). Since 2010, he has been featured in thirteen solo exhibitions and been artist-in-residence at institutions such as the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, École supérieure des beaux-arts in Nantes and Santa Fe Art Institute. His work has been the subject of articles in publications including ARTnews, Indian Country Today, First American Art Magazine, The Globe and Mail, The Guardian and Chicago Sun-Times. Miner is descended from the Miner-Brissette-L’Hirondelle-Kennedy families with ancestral ties to Indigenous communities in the Great Lakes, Prairies and subarctic regions. dylanminer.com
madeskimo is the ongoing project of Geronimo Inutiq, an Inuk electronic artist, music producer and DJ drawing on the use of instruments, digital and analogue synthesizers, as well as the remixing and processing of samples from a large variety of sources—including traditional Inuit, Aboriginal, modern electronic and urban music—in order to create an experimental platform. madeskimo has performed at numerous events and festivals, including the Igloolik Rockin’ Walrus Arts Festival, Sakahàn in Ottawa, 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics Four Host First Nations Pavilion, Winnipeg Aboriginal Music Week, Québec 400e Hip Hop Tout en Couleurs with Maison des cultures nomades, and Berlin’s Transmediale and Club Transmediale. His multimedia works have been shown in group exhibitions at grunt gallery in Vancouver, Musée de la civilisation in Québec City, Vancouver Art Gallery and the Cerny gallery in Berne, Switzerland, among others. He is an active member of the Montréal Aboriginal community and has studied anthropology and sociology at Concordia University. umati.ca
“Disability Justice work is … new in the sense that we’re building the shared political framework and shared language, so it’s also a very exciting time.” – Mia Mingus
Disability Justice deals with the oppression of disability, but at the same time deals with other systems of oppression and injustice – it is a ‘multi-issue politic.’ It moves beyond rights- and equality-based approaches, beyond access and inclusion in unjust systems, instead working towards collective justice and liberation, towards transforming society as a whole.
This interview with Mia Mingus, one of the leading articulators of what Disability Justice is about, was done recently in Ottawa, where she gave two talks on ‘Beyond Access: An Introduction to Disability Justice.’ The outline of the talk consisted of:
I’m Mia Mingus and I’m a Disability Justice activist. I am a writer and I do a lot of political organizing as well.
Q: Yeah, and you’re here in Ottawa to talk about Disability Justice – you were just giving an address to us all. How do you find people come to the topic of Disability Justice, whether they’re coming from an experience of identifying with disability, or also if they’re coming from a space of recognizing the interconnections with other forms of oppression – how do people find Disability Justice, and what’s their reaction when they learn about it?
A: I think people find Disability Justice in all kinds of ways, I think a lot of disabled people come through their own process of coming to terms with being a disabled person, or coming out as being a disabled person, maybe to themselves or you know, a lot of people have been living very disabled lives but have never really thought of themselves as disabled.
And I think a lot of other people also come to Disability Justice through social justice work, through an intersectional, multi-issue framework and a place where, I think a lot of folks who are doing intersectional work are, a lot of our work overlaps because we’re trying to build multi-issue politics, we’re trying to build work that’s not just single-issue. And so I think a lot of people come to disability who are already involved in that type of work because, because fundamentally too, justice work and justice frameworks are, or is that notion of like right, it’s really important that we all move together, that it’s important to talk about different systems of oppression and different forms of violence, no matter what work you’re doing.
So I feel people come in all different ways, a lot of disabled people come to Disability Justice because they didn’t see themselves reflected, or don’t see themselves reflected, in the more mainstream disability rights movement. Yeah, there’s lots of different reasons I think why people come to Disability Justice work. And Disability Justice work is still very, I mean it’s new in the sense of, that we’re building the shared political framework and shared language, so it’s also a very exciting time. So a lot of people I think haven’t even necessarily heard of it, or are still just receiving – not notice, but receiving – information about it.
Q: Yeah, and why would you say it is so important? In your view, why is Disability Justice vital work for people to acknowledge, participate in, to center?
A: Oh, so many reasons, so many reasons. I mean there’s so many reasons why I think Disability Justice work is so important and one of them is that disabled people are everywhere, and we are part of any community. Whatever, any community that you’re doing work with, you’re doing work with disabled people, you may not even know it, you may not know it yet, they may not be out to you, they might have a hidden disability or a non-visible disability.
But I think also in the culture and society that we live in right now, where we live in a society of just relentless violence and intense amounts of oppression and discrimination. And in a society where there’s so much violence and oppression, I don’t know how we could not talk about disability, because people are becoming disabled through violence, they’re becoming disabled through trauma, or not having access to resources. And so even people who are not necessarily born with their disability, the disabled population as a whole, our group is growing. And we are one of the largest oppressed groups in the world.
And the other piece why I think it’s so important is that disability is one of those, it’s a very unique, it’s a different identity or political experience than a lot of the other work that we do, in the sense that we’re all becoming more and more disabled, just simply as we age. We are all, could become disabled at any point in time. And that feels very different to me than a lot of other political experiences or systems of oppression or identities that we work on, and I feel like it is inevitably something that we’re going to have to confront, and politically, and we can keep pushing it away, we can keep pushing it around on our plates so to speak, but eventually we’re going to have to recognize and come face-to-face with what do we do with disability and how are we going to think about it politically as social movements who are trying to build a just world. And what does justice and liberation look like for disabled peoples and our communities?
Because the thing about disability also, is that I think most people have a lot of experiences with disability, and intimate experiences with disability. They may not be thinking about it as disability, but most people know someone who is disabled, most people have an aunt or an uncle or an elder in their life who is disabled, most people – so many people have disabilities, or different types of abilities, in their life, in themselves, that maybe they haven’t come to terms with. So I also feel like it’s important because, it’s already there.
Disability is already around us, and ableism is already a huge system of oppression that gets leveraged all the time. And I would say, that gets leveraged all the time in service of the very things that we claim to be fighting. It gets leveraged in service of white supremacy, it gets used as a tool to help maintain and perpetuate patriarchy and male supremacy, transphobia, I’m thinking about class and capitalism, like all of those things. And if we are for, for example, racial justice, we have to talk about ableism because there are very deep roots to ableism and racism that we, that we have to look at and that will help us to understand more pieces of racism and white supremacy that we haven’t otherwise known. And hopefully to expand our movements to be one that includes disabled people of color, in this example. And I could say the same thing around gender, I could say the same thing around immigration, I could say the same thing around lots of our other struggles that we have.
Q: And you were talking in the presentation about how, about the importance of centering Disability Justice, and there were a lot of things you talked about, but just where you mentioned that in these other social movements it’s often an afterthought, if even if that. So it seems that centering is one of the principles that you touched on, but there were a number of principles – where would you like to start in helping people understand what Disability Justice actually is?
A: Well there’s so much that we cover, so much that I cover in the Introduction, I mean I talk a lot about access and about how to me, a very central piece of Disability Justice that separates it from other work around disability is that we’re not just talking about access by itself, we’re talking about moving beyond just access. And to me, I think access is one of those things that, any work you’re going to do around disability, you will have to confront access, you will have to do work around access, there is no choice in that matter because we live, the nature of the ableist world that we live in, is that things are incredibly inaccessible for all disabled people.
And, I think that an important piece of Disability Justice is that we’re not just doing access for the sake of access, that we’re not just doing access for assimilation, and we’re not just fighting to get access to the horrible system, current system that we have, but that we’re doing access that moves us beyond just access towards the world that we actually want – access for the sake of justice and liberation, access for the sake of deeper connection and breaking isolation. To me, that is what is so liberatory about a Disability Justice framework, and that we use access as a tool to help us get to the world that we want. And I think that the way that I have grown up understanding access, as a disabled person who’s been disabled since I was six months old, I’ve known it, I grew up with it, done as a form of charity, most often, or a form of guilt, or as sometimes even as this kind of reluctant obligation type of feeling to it. Or I’ve known it as assimilation, or as a way for people to get more privileges, to not necessarily build a just world but so that a few privileged disabled people can get a few more privilege crumbs to subsist on. And I think that with Disability Justice, we’re really saying, no actually, we want a different way and we don’t want access just for the sake of access – we don’t want disabled people only to have access to the same crappy system that everybody else has, we want to actually think about how we move towards what a just world would look like for us all, and what liberation really looks like. So that’s one core concept.
I think another big concept, at least that I talk about in Disability Justice work, is interdependency and thinking about how do we build relationships and how do we build in such a way that really pushes back against the myth of independence and this myth that we can and should be able to do everything on our own. Or even this myth that that’s what everybody wants to do, that that’s what everybody desires, is to be independent. And I think interdependency is really asking, what does it mean to move from a place of where we need each other, what does it mean to not move from a place of like, oh you’re dependent on me and I’m a benevolent oppressor, and I’m going to give you pity and help you do this thing so that I can feel better. But what does it mean to actually move from a place of interdependency, like we both are bringing things to the table, we both have things to offer, and where we really value everybody. It’s like, in some ways it’s such a simple concept, and I feel it’s such a hard practice, and I think a lot of Disability Justice activists are really grappling with what does interdependency look like and mean.
Q: I know one thing I think that helps people with, you were explaining there’s a medical model and there’s a social model of disability, and how much of a leap forward it was to go to understanding disability from a social perspective, but then you were talking Disability Justice wants to be more complex and bring back some of the, looking at the bodies, our bodies themselves.
A: Yeah, I mean I think with Disability Justice, part of what we’re saying is we can’t get away from our bodies either, we can’t just talk about socially-constructed this and that, or we just can’t talk about things being the way that everything is … One of the things that we say, one of the simplified ways, I’ll call it the quick and dirty ways that we explain the social model and the medical model, is under the medical model for example, you hear messages like, the body is wrong, like my body is wrong, and it needs to be fixed, whereas under the social model you might hear messages that are similar to, no maybe my body’s not wrong, maybe there’s something wrong with the world, and maybe the world is where we need to fix or make changes happen. And I think that we can’t lose our bodies completely, and I feel like yeah, we need a little bit more complex understanding because, you know I always joke, I don’t want to be wearing my I-heart-disability sandwich board and ringing my bell all day long, there are real hard things about disability and about bodies that we just can’t get away from. We can swing on a vine all day long yelling ‘socially-constructed’ but eventually I think we would hit a brick wall and I think that brick wall is our bodies. Like, what do we do with chronic pain, what do we do with days where, I wake up and it’s really hard to be disabled. It doesn’t mean that I want to be dead instead, but it means that I want to have a complex framework and a place where I can talk about how hard it is, and what chronic pain feels like, for example. So in that sense, we’re looking for a more, I think something beyond just the medical model or the social model, and I hope that Disability Justice will be part of creating a framework that can hold all the complexities of what our bodies have.
Q: You started off your talk with a framework of how to think about, or the approach of, Disability Justice. So can you just give a brief overview of what that entails.
A: Yeah there’s like three main pieces I feel like to Disability Justice that I think are important right now. One is that it’s a multi-issue politic, which is just a fancy way of saying that it’s not single-issue, it’s not just talking about disability, it’s talking about, we’re including class, we’re including race, we’re including gender, citizenship, I’m thinking about colonization, thinking about war and militarization, like all of those things. It is a multi-issue politic, that it’s not just about ableism and disability, that it’s also about other systems of oppression, institutions and forms of violence, because disabled people aren’t just disabled people, we are also mothers and fathers and women and trans people and queer people and young people and old people, we are so many things and there’s so many things that impact for example my life, it’s not just ableism, that I also need to be able to talk about and think through.
The other piece is that it is moving away from just a rights-based and equality model. So it’s not just about, how do we expand the ranks of the privileged to include a few more people, it’s actually saying, no we don’t want to just expand the ranks of the privileged and just, what usually happens is just to add a few more people who had privileges and were at the top of that group anyways, who was getting included. But it’s actually saying, questioning that whole system and that why some people are constantly and perpetually at the bottom, right, and who never get included into that expanded ranks. It’s talking about redistribution. It’s also saying, we don’t necessarily believe that – what am I trying to say – that that approach is necessarily going to work anyways, like we haven’t, there’s nothing that has shown us that simply expanding the ranks of the privileged to add a few more people has actually led us to a more just world.
And then the last piece of it is, is that it’s really talking about what justice and liberation would look like, not just equality which is very different than justice, but what justice and liberation would look like for disabled people and our communities. So again, not just disability, and not just, I think for me, like what liberation would look like for me is not just liberation for my disabled communities that I’m a part of, but also for the queer and trans people of color communities that I’m a part of, also the Korean communities that I’m a part of, also the radical women of color communities that I’m a part of. So it’s also talking about connecting disabled people to our communities, which I think is so important, especially in a society, moment in history, and a history, a legacy of people who have been doing, where it’s been so individualized, our notions of justice are so individualized in terms of, oh you sue somebody and you get a settlement and that’s justice. Or, oh you send that person who hurt you to jail and that’s justice. No, we’re talking about a much more collective form of what justice would look like, and hopefully deeper form.
Q: And you were talking about liberatory practice as, one part of that being the building connections and breaking down isolation, and so you seem to find that important.
A: I think it’s hugely important because isolation is such a huge theme within most disabled people’s lives, and I know from my own life has been a huge theme as well, because things are so inaccessible, and isolation gets used as such a tool to deny disabled people access, particularly to things like community, to relationships, to love, to human connection even, and to access as well. I mean, isolation gets used as a tool across the board, against so many people, but it’s also something I think that colors so many disabled people’s lives.
Q: Can you talk a bit about, you mentioned you do building alternatives as a main focus of your work, can you mention what you’ve learned from that, what might help others to think about building alternatives.
A: I think we need more people doing building alternatives work, and helping to build, hopefully build the things that will be alternatives to the current systems that we have, cause right now, one of the things that helps to maintain the current horrible systems that we have is that they consistently are, pretty much one of the only main viable alternatives. So, I do a lot of work around community responses to violence, particularly transformative justice and community accountability work around violence, and that’s definitely true around responses to violence, particularly I’m thinking about intimate violence. That right now, calling the police, locking somebody up in jail, that’s pretty much one of the main viable options that we have out there for people. And we don’t necessarily have viable alternatives of what community accountability would look like, or what alternatives to calling the criminal legal system into your life looks like, to respond to violence. And so, that’s part of the work that I’m involved in, and I feel really excited about that. Whatever work that you’re involved in, whether you’re doing Disability Justice work around what care collectives could look like, or what community care for disabled people could look like, so that as we get disabled people out of abusive and horrible and horribly violent group homes, we can say and our communities are actually a better place to be, because right now, that’s actually not necessarily always the case – we can’t guarantee that our communities will be safer, necessarily, than say a group home. So hopefully, we can build those alternatives so that that could be an option and that we could offer to people.
Q: Alright, well, thank you
A: You’re welcome. Thank you
Mia Mingus’ website is LeavingEvidence.wordpress.com
3-1/2 minute video clip where Mingus explains the three aspects of the framework of Disability Justice. Recorded November 18, 2013 in Ottawa as part of a longer 20 minute video interview that will be posted sometime soon.
Yeah there’s like three main pieces I feel like to Disability Justice that I think are important right now.
One is that it’s a multi-issue politic, which is just a fancy way of saying that it’s not single-issue, it’s not just talking about disability, it’s talking about, we’re including class, we’re including race, we’re including gender, citizenship, I’m thinking about colonization, thinking about war and militarization, like all of those things. It is a multi-issue politic, that it’s not just about ableism and disability, that it’s also about other systems of oppression, institutions and forms of violence, because disabled people aren’t just disabled people, we are also mothers and fathers and, women and trans people and queer people and young people and old people, we are so many things and there’s so many things that impact for example my life, it’s not just ableism that I also need to be able to talk about and think through.
The other piece is that it is moving away from just a rights-based and equality model. So it’s not just about, how do we expand the ranks of the privileged to include a few more people, it’s actually saying, no we don’t want to just expand the ranks of the privileged and just, what usually happens is just to add a few more people who had privileges and were at the top of that group anyways, who was getting included. But it’s actually saying, questioning that whole system and that why some people are constantly and perpetually at the bottom, and who never get included into those, that expanded ranks. It’s talking about redistribution, it’s also saying, we don’t necessarily believe that, what am I trying to say, that that approach is necessarily going to work anyways, like we haven’t, there’s nothing that has shown us that simply expanding the ranks of the privileged to add a few more people has actually led us to a more just world.
And then the last piece of it is, is that it’s really talking about what justice and liberation would look like, not just equality which is very different than justice, but what justice and liberation would look like for disabled people and our communities. So again, not just disability, and not just, I think for me, what liberation would look like for me is not just liberation for my disabled communities that I’m a part of, but also for the queer and trans people of colour communities that I’m a part of, and also the Korean communities that I’m a part of, also the radical women of colour communities that I’m a part of. So it’s also talking about connecting disabled people to our communities, which I think is so important, especially in a society kind of like moment in history and, a history, and a legacy of people who have been doing, where it’s been so individualized, our notions of justice are so individualized in terms of, you sue somebody and you get a settlement, and that’s justice. Or you send that person who hurt you to jail, and that’s justice. No, we’re talking about a much more collective form of what justice would look like, and hopefully deeper form.
Mia Mingus’ website: LeavingEvidence.wordpress.com
Interview/video by Greg Macdougall, EquitableEducation.ca
Interviewed here by Craig Fortier for a research project on decolonization and Indigenous solidarity, Greg Macdougall has been active with IPSMO, the Indigenous Peoples Solidarity Movement Ottawa, for the past five years. Prior to that he was already involved in independent media organizing and media-making; he has published an Aboriginal Understanding booklet that includes some of his earlier writings, and you can find a complete collection of his writings and videos on Indigenous issues at this link.
Listen to the interview (70min) or download the mp3,
and/or you can read the full transcript below
This interview is divided into six sections (themes):
Note: I want to thank Craig for doing this research (he’s interviewing a lot of people on these topics, and compiling the results into something that collectively makes sense, which will be a great resource). Personally upon reading this transcript a few months after the fact, I find there is a fair bit more that could be said – other things I’d think of to add in, but also some more detailed explanations of what I was originally saying. But that’s just the nature of having discussion / dialogue / conversation, there’ll always be more that could be said … hopefully at least some of this makes sense to you, and maybe helps you think about things at least a bit differently. Thanks for taking the time — Greg
Theme 1: History + Background
Question: Talk a bit about how you identify yourself, where you situate yourself in the movements that you are involved in and maybe a little history of how that came about.Greg: I guess I identify myself, just as, a white male kind of coming from a privileged background, I guess, kind of like mid/upper class. And not really getting involved in any kind of activism until I was about 23 years old, no probably a bit younger, but around then. So, not when I was like a teenager. I think, two things that opened my eyes was hip hop culture and also Adbusters magazine. Those were things when I was a teenager that I was reading or listening to, but not really being socially active. But then what happened was that I went to Queen’s University for a year of teacher’s college and took a teaching for social justice class and that was more of a formal introduction to oppression and privilege and injustice. Cause I was taking math at University, so it wasn’t really … and I think I really liked it because it was more about problem solving, logical thinking, and that kind of thing, which are more transferable skills….and I interviewed Ward Churchill and he said that most systems of education are indoctrination, so they teach you what to think, and that’s something I agree with, so I think I’m glad that I didn’t go to university to learn how to think about injustice. I think it was better to develop it informally, in community and all that kind of stuff.
So anyways, I was at Queen’s for the year and I led a workshop on access to education and that was in 2000 and also at the same time I got started writing for the (Waterloo) student newspaper. I was on the track team and we needed someone to write articles about our meets, so I started writing and then I went back to Waterloo to end my original degree and started writing about other stuff for the student newspaper. So I got involved through that, just what was going on on campus in terms of things that I was interested in. I edited a Buy Nothing Day feature, wrote a piece on Anti-Car day or whatever it was and with the Buy Nothing Day feature I got involved in the media activism group at WPIRG (the Waterloo Public Interest Research Group) so that was kind of how I got involved in activist stuff. We started the Independent Media Centre in Kitchener-Waterloo, which was also the base for the Ontario Indy Media site, so I was doing media stuff for both the student newspaper and indymedia stuff and organizing in this group called Media Watch.
I was just writing about whatever I was interested in – some social justice stuff, some art stuff, some whatever was going on – but some of the stuff that I covered – the first thing was a talk by some Christian Peace Maker Team people who had been to Burnt Church. WPIRG put on this talk and they invited the student newspaper to cover it so I went – that was my first Aboriginal event I attended. And it wasn’t even an Aboriginal event, because it was allies talking about it. And then Ward Churchill came to talk; I got to interview him before the talk and that was kind of eye-opening and I think he had some good things to say.
I think really just picking stuff up along the way and kind of gradually informing my thinking. He was big on knowing your history, knowing how we got to this point so that we can understand what we can do about it. So anyways, that was early 2000s and then I left Waterloo, came to Ottawa, was kind of in and out of activism for a while and in 2008 I was doing media stuff again (2007-2008) and kind of getting involved more in the community again about what was going on locally in terms of activism or social justice work and I got involved in media stuff through Linchpin which is the newspaper for Common Cause, which is an Ontario anarchist group. There was a few events that were called “anarchist assemblies” here in Ottawa and at one point someone from Common Cause came down introduced what they were doing, they were based in Toronto and Hamilton at the time. It was actually some people from Ireland that came over and really got it started and they were part of, I think it’s called the Workers Solidarity Movement in Ireland, but anyways, so I got involved in Common Cause and I remember the first thing I heard about Barriere Lake. Maybe it was the solidarity group, but they sent us a message in March 2008, I think it was, and that was when there was a coup on the reserve where the government was deposing their traditional council and putting in a new Chief and council and there was protests in the community and the SQ (Securité du Québec) was like escorting this new Chief and council onto the reserve against community pressure.
So anyways, that was the first I heard of Barriere Lake and then I guess it was a couple of months later, the community was coming to Ottawa to put pressure on the government. I think there was six of us, we didn’t have a group going, but there was six of us who got together to support those actions. There was a few actions over the summer, where community members would come from Barriere Lake, Barriere Lake (Rapid Lake) is situated 3.5-4 hours north of here in Quebec in the La Verendrye Park. We were doing organizing support around them coming to Ottawa to do protests and kind of in the fall we decided we’d like to form a group that would be able to support Barriere Lake on an ongoing basis, but also like do other Indigenous solidarity work. So we were having some meetings and we were getting 15-20 people and it just so happened that there was a group already called IPSMO (Indigenous Peoples Solidarity Movement Ottawa) that was an action group of OPIRG-Carleton. Some were students and some weren’t and it had been going for a couple of years, but I guess that people had been away over the summer so no one of the IPSMO group over the summer had been involved in the Barriere Lake stuff, so when we started to have these meetings to form a group and some of those people came. We were trying to figure out what name we should have for this new group and we figured that IPSMO sounded good. So it was kind of like we formed a new group that was kind of continuing what they were doing, but different at the same time. It was like, more community-based and less on-campus, but we still are an action group of OPIRG Carlteon to this day, as well as OPIRG Ottawa. That’s how I got involved in what I’m doing now, and continuing to do media stuff as well, just covering issues for rabble or Dominion.
Question: What ideas, experiences, traditions underlie the practices that you engage in as a radical?
Greg: I got into it through communication, trying to raise awareness and get the word out about things. That’s really a principle of what I do and I think our group does it as well. Like I was saying before with Ward Churchill, I just picked up a few things there and every time I went to an event I picked up some ideas that kind of shaped how I view what solidarity is or what Aboriginal culture is or what we are fighting for.
Question: And what would you say are some of those ideas?
Greg: One thing that stands out was this workshop with Herb Joseph, who is from Six Nations, and that was in Hamilton. First off, it was at Ana’s Village which was an anarchist conference and I was presenting there with the Hamilton Media centre and they just had a thing saying “suggest other workshops you’d like to see” and I had started attending some Aboriginal events in K-W and at some point, I don’t know where this fits in, but I was taking a course in Ojibwe and I just suggested that they should have a Native workshop and I think that is why they ended up having Herb Joseph there. He was talking about a couple of things, like he gave some history about what had gone on and stuff, but I think he was talking about the importance of non-native people standing up in partnership with Native people has made a lot of difference, especially, I think, when Native people were so disenfranchised. Knowing that history and that it’s been collective efforts that have done stuff.
There’s a lot of different ideas that I picked up here and there that I can’t put a finger on.
Theme 2: On Decolonization
Question: I’m wondering if you could talk a bit about your own understanding of what decolonization means to you? and within the collectives you work with?
Greg: I think in terms of how we work as a group, its very much, there’s kind of like three different – I guess you could call it pillars – that we try to organize around. One is providing direct support to Indigenous struggles, efforts, and that’s been with Barriere Lake especially over the last few years, but it’s kind of like, taking leadership and providing whatever support we can offer – whether its communications, fundraising, whether its going to protests, rallies, coordinating other people to go. So, however we can support what communities are already doing. Also, the second thing, we recognize the need of education (both for ourselves and also the general non-native population) and that’s something that shouldn’t be left to Native people, to have to educate everyone about everything. So I think that’s a role that we’ve identified as important and take on. And the third thing is that we recognize it’s important to build relationships between the people we work with and try to work on that on an ongoing basis. To know that its not just about whatever immediate efforts, but actually trying to develop things over the long term – get to know people better.
Question: Can you talk about the role of relationship-building in decolonization?
Greg: Yeah, I was thinking about this and I was thinking about the role of community in relationships and how it seems that our communities are really fractured things and they are more like personal networks than it is like being in a community. I was just at a conference yesterday, it was on mental health, and we were talking about really good points (like about intersectionality) but the thing was it was all these people, I knew a few of them, but also many I’ve never seen before and will never see again. I think if you can actually be in spaces, I was thinking about it in terms of community as a geographical space, if you are actually seeing people on a day-to-day basis what kind of relationships you could have there. Where there is space to grow and develop understandings of what’s important to people and how they understand the world and how you can share your own perspective of the world with other people, whereas, it seems with activism it is very much based around having to do this thing – so we don’t really focus on the relationships. I dunno, facebook seems like a cool way to stay connected with people and just have that ongoing on again/off again conversations. I think we need better things than facebook, especially when we are not even in the same city, its hard to have good relationships. We’ve identified this as something that’s important, but I don’t know how good we’re doing at it, but it’s definitely something to reflect on.
Question: What are the outcomes we are seeking through decolonization?
Greg: It seems like it’s very much personal. You start personally and you are always interacting with all these different people everyday and you are on different wavelengths. So I think it’s important to centre it, figure it out for yourself how to approach the world and not relying on systemic change as something that is going to be the thing that solves things. Knowing for yourself what’s a process of decolonization, how you change how you see the world and also having space to share that. I was thinking actually, why I’m focusing on the individual thing, is because we don’t have, for lack of a better word, a school that accredits you in knowing what decolonization is. It’s kinda something that you have to figure out for yourself and figure out with other people who are interested. It’s very ad-hoc and everyone is going to enter through different ways and build different understandings. So it’s a mix of understanding it for yourself and looking into things, things that interest you. And also trying to build collective knowledge, whether that’s personal or impersonal. Looking at stuff online so that we can see how each other are thinking even if we don’t know each other. I think also building institutions, I know that at a conference I was at in Kitchener-Waterloo, it was called “From the Ground Up” it was in 2002-2003 about building healthy communities and I guess this has probably been said elsewhere too but you can confront the system and try to change the system or your can build alternatives, kind of new things, that will gradually outgrow the old problematic things. Building new structures and new institutions an new things that can actually embody some values that are different from this colonial thing and personally I look at it as though it’s kinda like a dominator culture.
It’s global, right? So there’s so many different cultures that get stomped on in different ways but also in similar ways. Just like with the residential schools, I was reading, I think the guys name was Rupert Ross, a lawyer that worked up north in Aboriginal communities, and wrote just what he learned – and just talking about the difference in culture and I don’t know if I’m remembering this totally right and its kind of like a stereotype, but it’s also an insight into a different cultural way of dealing with things – but if there’s painful experiences you don’t necessarily want to talk about them or focus on them. I think with residential schools people don’t talk about it, some survivors just don’t want to go there. And you can run up against a culture that says you have to focus on everything that’s bad and clear it out. So, just to know that there is different cultural ways to deal with things and so we’re brought up in one way, it’s pretty messed up, but we kind of accept it as normal, this is just an example that there is different cultures and different ways of living and to impose how we think things should be dealt with is not necessarily helpful.
Theme 3: Ideas + Desires + Principles = Practices
Question: I have a hunch that the ideas, desires, and principles we share with each other or develop collectively in radical spaces influences what we do, how we do it and who we do it with politically/socially. It’s not just what we want but how we do it that matters….I’m wondering if there are particular desires, principles, ideas that you organize under that help you to navigate your own understanding of what the process of struggle looks like?
Greg: Something I picked up from a number of places is about the role of healing. I don’t know if it’s especially true in activism, but I think it’s true everywhere, but people have all these wounds and act them out and maybe think that they can change everything outside of themselves and that will solve problems, but we have to understand that maybe people always have emotional wounds or whatever kind of wounds. But really that’s an important thing to focus on is healing, however you do that. So that’s one kind of principle I think?
Also, when you look at colonialism in Canada it’s obviously associated with Europe. European people came here and colonized it. I think looking at, like I was saying before the importance of understanding history … the two most telling ways I picked up this information was through John Trudell and Starhawk – just about the whole importance of burning times in Europe and that was like this huge colonization of tribes of Europe and over many generations of people living in this time where if you don’t conform to what is being pushed upon you, you get burned – especially women. So, I was talking about healing and wounds, and John Trudell just says that your whole mindset is based on religion but these people who’s ancestors went through that and now have a new way of living because of that history and coming here and the same thing happens again. It’s this whole societal wounding. So if you trace it back, and understand what there was before that – there was paganism and there was wiccanism and there was whatever. I think it’s a helpful thing to include in our understanding of colonialism. And also I saw an article by someone who had talked about their position as a Muslim person in Canada and how they approach colonialism, but then a comment was that Muslim culture was pretty colonial too and did all this stuff – but they didn’t do it here. So you might forget about it. I guess where I was going with this is to understand humanity and to understand that there’s a reason why these things are happening and to not blame people so much. To kind of have this empathy.
Question: How do you respond to criticisms that your way of thinking might be “utopian” or “ideological”?
Greg: I would say that those are definitely different things. Utopianism, I think, we can do a lot better than we are doing now so we might as well work towards that. And to have an idea of exactly what’s it’s going to look like, I don’t think we can know.
Ideological, I’ve seen some criticisms of dogmatism or whatever, and I think that’s very true. I was reading a thing about how our society might fall apart in the next while, however long that is, and how the really important thing is going to be what people do at a local level to build things that are alternatives to this really crushing system. What they were saying is that there are already all these positive local examples at work, whereas a big problem is that we often have this “ideology” that “this is how it should be done” – even if its not tested. Even if its not gonna work, maybe, we don’t know if it’s going to work, but if it’s actually like things that work on a small scale we can use those things because they are proven.
I think just believing in theory divorced from experience isn’t great. But I think Utopianism is having principles and values that you act from. That’s how I see a difference. Like I said, I think we can do a lot to improve the way the world is.
Question: What would you say the role of imagination is in all that?
Greg: I think it’s really huge, just because we’ve been raised in this limited way of thinking. So to challenge how we see things and to see other dimensions of things is important. I think, when you have this imposed religion and spiritual way of looking at things versus these really time-tested spiritual traditions that are based on nature and based on a totally different way of understanding things. I think if you can’t use your imagination to move beyond what you’ve been raised in, then we don’t have a whole lot of hope. It’s like unlearning, but it’s also being open to what might be true.
(end of part 1)
Interlude: Greg Macdougall Unprompted Thoughts
Greg: To jump back to how I identify, something I thought of is – I did this Myers-Brigg personality test and I got INFP, but whatever it was I remember that the person who did it said that I was the exact opposite of what is dominant in our society. So I think maybe there is more built-in empathy to understanding different ways of being and understanding if you don’t fit in and how that is.
It also made me think of something that I heard once, when people are really involved in activism and doing a lot of stuff, the regular person says“so how can I be involved, but not like how you do it”, like, “what can regular people do?” I think it’s important to understand that perspective – it’s not just people who are really involved and really active, you have to look at a broad understanding of where people are at and how people can be involved in this process. Whether that is through psychology or whether that’s through having different definitions of what inclusive means, I think that’s important.
A neighbourhood kid was just walking by while I was having a smoke a few days ago and she had her school book with her and I asked what was in it and it ended up she was going to study with a friend for a test on Aboriginal people. So I was able to give her two copies of my booklet, one for her and one for her friend and that also made me think – I think a lot of times people think of Aboriginal people as like other and not part of us and living out there or whatever, maybe on reserves – but they are just people like us, living in the same city and having a lot of the same experiences but also different experiences.
Going back to Herb Joseph, he was talking about the fact that spirit doesn’t see your colour. But I think identity, a good understanding that I got, when you talk about identity politics its not about really your identity – it’s about your lived experience and how that’s shaped by whatever group you might be put in. So understanding that there are these different experiences but that we are still all kind of the same as well.
I was thinking also, to not fetishize confrontational approaches. I think in activism a lot of it is based on “we have to resist” “we have to fight” but I know particularly Grandfather William Commando, who was a spiritual elder of the Algonquin people and spiritual leader and a big thing of his was on forgiveness. And maybe even just like turning the other cheek kind of thing, but really recognizing people as people and not forcing things on people. Just kind of walking a good path and things will change. Still doing things right and working for a better way, but I think maybe the whole fighting thing (Judy Rebick had a good piece talking about Idle No More and the future of feminism) and this is a new way that is not necessarily so confrontational. You can often get caught up in that whole dominator behaviour pattern and then you’re not really changing things, so just understanding that there are different approaches. And I think, reconciliation, when you are talking about – because all these really bad things have happened and continue to happen – and how do we reconcile that with creating a better way forward. The state doesn’t represent people. You can understand where some people are coming from, just not knowing or really feeling disempowered and taking out this frustration on this group they see as other – which is more easier than understanding your own position as being disempowered and dealing with that themselves.
And another thing, when you are looking at culture, I was just talking to someone about – there was an Earth First! gathering somewhere in the States recently and a major focus of it was especially tar sands, but more broadly Indigenous struggles.
Craig: Oh, in Ohio?
Greg: Yeah. One major thing there is that it was actually a dry event – there was no alcohol and this is coming from an Earth First! culture that is very much based around drinking, a drinking culture and maybe drugs, I don’t know. But just having that respect, that maybe we have to change our social ways of being, because alcohol is kind of just like this really accepted way of being social with people and the impact it’s had on Aboriginal communities is pretty drastic. And to respect that and to understand that maybe we don’t want to impose that on them.
Theme 4: Historical, Political, Social, Economic Context
Question: What effects does the current historical, political, economic context (especially the rise of neoliberalism) have on your practices of decolonization?
Greg: The one thing that comes to mind, with Common Cause, we hosted a book tour that was called “Black Flame” and I haven’t even read the whole book, but it’s a very in-depth history of anarchism and syndicalism throughout the whole world with some focus on decolonial movements elsewhere. The parallels of decolonial movements, which I don’t really know a lot about elsewhere…but in Common Cause we really tried to have a focus on developing our internal politics and on self-education. That was something that was new to me, so much of the activism that I’ve been involved with historically and even in the present is about getting things done and its not about really developing a common base of understanding to do that work. It’s like you come in to the group where you are at, with your own understandings, people might share some things (you probably share some things just because you came together over a certain project) but I think the whole thing ideologically, tactically and strategically – its important that we come together collectively if we are going to work together and develop a common understanding of what we’re basing this action on. Whether it’s values or principles or ideology or whatever. I think that’s something that I obviously have been lacking and it didn’t work too well from my experience in Common Cause, we weren’t really cohesive enough to really get that going well (and this was in Ottawa which is a smaller group). I think that they had more success in Hamilton and Toronto.
I think a lot of activism is too much about “we have to do the next thing” and we don’t take the time to build and reflect and create a basis of understanding. Or if we do, it’s often in these one-off conferences and workshops or whatever, which don’t have the space for that ongoing building.
Question: Can you talk about what you’ve seen over the last 4-5 years that has been different in terms of how people have engaged with Indigenous struggles or processes of internal decolonization from within their movements?
Greg: I think one thing is that people are talking about it more and have that awareness and realize its importance. There’s a really good collective will to be working on this and trying to understand it more. I don’t get the sense that there is really a shared collective understanding of what we mean and what we are talking about. There was this discussion on ‘Queering and decolonizating anti-oppression’ workshops – anti-oppression is always a buzz word, it’s not really doing all that, but I think that even decolonizing is a buzz word and we don’t have a great understanding of what we are doing. Again, I think that everyone comes at it from their own perspective and their own experiences and their own learning that they’ve done and it’s all different. I think having these opportunities to really have conversations about that is important and that’s something I really think we need to do more of in our own group. I can’t really speak to what other people are doing, other than I know that (or I think) that people are taking it seriously – I mean, it’s on their agenda.
Question [Reworded]: What effects does the current historical, political, economic context (especially the rise of neoliberalism) have on your practices of decolonization?
Greg: The one aha moment I had, I was just downtown one time wandering around and I just saw this one person and it made it clear to me that people are in shock, like it’s hard to function sometimes, it’s hard to be really coherent, as John Trudell likes to say, and clear about what’s really going on because there’s so much going on all over. I think we have to deal with so much that it’s hard to really be diligent with keeping focus and I find it hard to have an ongoing focus on building anything – because there is so much going on. I mean, I do media work and I’ll do an interview on one subject then something on something else. While they are connected and while they compliment a building of a holistic understanding, it’s hard to bring everything together. I don’t want to say it’s a cop out, but to have one focus, you want to bring everything else into it but at the same time it’s overwhelming.
Question: There was an academic argument back in 2005-2009 between an article written by Bonita Lawrence and Ena Dua who wrote that radical communities need to put Indigenous struggles at the centre of their work. What do you think of that concept?
Greg: Yeah, to apply that you have to look where people are at and what they are struggling with. The immediate things that people are dealing with don’t necessarily afford everyone the opportunity to focus on centering Indigenous struggles or centering decolonization. I think that’s what I was getting at when I was talking about neoliberalism, just this all out assault on people’s lives and people’s communities means that you have to deal what’s in your own life and sometimes that ends up sidelining what we should be centering.
What I’ve experienced is that I almost put aside my own life or my own immediate concerns to do solidarity work. I think I’m working to see how they go together better, but it almost feels like its doing separate work. It’s kinda like, “What do I have to do for my own life today and what do I gotta do in terms of activism for Indigenous solidarity”. That’s also what I was saying about how people ask “if you’re not this full-time committed activist then where do you fit in?” I think a lot of times people don’t make the connections between their own life and their “change the world” work and I think it’s important to put those two together. So it’s a question of how you relate decolonization to all your different personal struggles and your community’s struggles.
Theme 5: On Relationships + Contradictions
Question: Can you talk a bit about the relationships that you’ve had that have helped you to think through your own processes of struggle and decolonization? What type of relationships you envision as being important to the types of autonomous spaces that you’re trying to create?
Greg: I think really having community spaces that are there on an ongoing basis and that bring people together is really important. It doesn’t have to be to bring people together to the next action or to do the next whatever or even to formally get taught about anything. Community is more that people have connections with all these other people but do we really have functioning communities? I think building those spaces, Alan Sears talks about “infrastructures of dissent” – do you know about that?
Greg: It’s just – what is the infrastructure we need to build movements? What are the physical spaces? What kind of resources, whether they are like learning resources or access to whatever. It’s just this whole concept of building infrastructures that hold together and provide space for these movements to really grow and for people to be a part of them – so that we’re not all fragmented. I think that’s a really key thing because I think if you have the space where people are connecting you can build community around that. And it’s kinda like, instead of framing things about what we are against and building communities around what we are against – you are kind of building community (and I can’t remember exactly) but you are focusing on the “we”, what are our values? What brings us together? And forming spaces around that.
Question: Can you talk about contradictions and failures that you’ve experienced while engaging in Indigenous solidarity work?
Greg: I’m not really sure if I have a good answer for that. The one thing I’m thinking of is the amount of resources that get devoted to going to court. So two things: one is, this is based on some blockades that happened just off the reserve for Rapid Lake, which is where the Algonquins of Barriere Lake are. So one thing is there were both people from Ottawa and I think from Montreal too and also from the community that were charged. In terms of solidarity support, we could mobilize, say like 10 people to drive up to Maniwaki to attend the court cases of people from Ottawa but when people from the (Barrier Lake) community would go [to court], say if they had different dates, no one from Ottawa would go up to support them. So that’s one thing where it’s like really kind of supporting your friends but not going broader than that.
The other thing that bugged me was that you can get 10 people to go to sit in court all day (making like a ten hour commitment) but those same 10 people won’t put 10 hours into trying to organize what we are trying to work on. So I don’t think that’s really answering your question, but its just those are experiences that we have that I think point somewhere.
Craig: Why do you think that is that people are more willing to do the 10 hour trip? Do you think it’s because they’ve built that relationship with that friend?
Greg: I think that’s part of it. Like, I gave a workshop on outreach and recruitment and it just occurred to me when I was going over there about how to open it up because I was doing it based on some marketing principles I learned about entrepreneurship. So the point I made in the workshop was that we could actually learn some things from business approaches because even though we aren’t trying to make a profit but businesses if they aren’t making a profit or they’re not achieving their goal they stop doing what they are doing. I don’t think we really challenge the way that we do things or think through what we do – we just kind of do what we think is expected or what we’ve seen other people do. We don’t think what’s the most effective thing we could do – ways we could spend our time, that kind of thing. So I think court support is just something that you do and it ends up taking way more resources than anything else that we do and it’s not all that effective. I mean, does it help that you have ten people sitting in the courtroom rather than three or four? Maybe that’s an answer?
Theme 6: On Resurgence
Question: Building on this idea of resurgence…remember ways of relating to each other outside of the capitalist logic in their day-to-day work. Can you talk about some of those practices of resurgence in our day-to-day struggles?
Greg: Seeing traditional Indigenous cultures as having things that are viable and things to think about today. Bonita Lawrence was doing a booklaunch and we hosted here in Ottawa and I think it was Bob Lovelace who was saying how basically they didn’t have a wage-based society. And that’s back to imagination and back to different ways of organizing society – you can see that that is a viable way of organizing – you don’t all have to go and work for a wage to live. Like there’s different ways of organizing society, they existed in the past, and they’ve kinda been stamped out. One of our members of Common Cause wrote an article about how residential schools were basically (one aspect of what it was doing) was to take this Aboriginal community and force it into the wage economy. So that there’s not this alternative existing in Canadian society that non-indigenous people can look at and say “wow that’s really different and maybe it’s better than our society” and instead they don’t want to have that in existence anymore.
That also made me think of stories of settlers who abandoned the settler colony to go and live with Indigenous people when those two cultures were existing side by side and Indigenous ones were still more in tact. They just saw it as maybe that’s a better way to live and I don’t have allegiance to the state. So I think that Aboriginal or Indigenous communities and ways of life really got stamped out because they were this alternative.
Craig: And that was dangerous?
Question: The context of resurgence among Indigenous peoples has some parallels and similarities with the ideas, desires and principles being practiced by a number of non-indigenous radicals within settler states. How does this particular concept resonate with you? What is the danger of remembering both Indigenous and non-Indigenous ways of being that exist outside the logics of capitalism?
Greg: Along those lines an Algonquin spiritual teacher was telling how when he is passing on teachings to non-native people, how its really a way for them to reconnect with their own lost spiritual practices because I guess they share similarities. There’s a whole lot to say about cultural appropriation and stuff but I think connecting with what was lost or what was stamped out in whatever ways could be pretty powerful.
Question: Others have suggested that instead of building something new, are we instead trying to reassert long-standing ways of engaging in relationships that are outside of the capitalist/patriarchical/heterosexist/ableist relationships we have grown up with? What role do you think this plays in your thinking about your actions as a radical? Are the two mutually exclusive?
Greg: I think a lot of people have these values that don’t fit into capitalism or to neoliberal society or however you want to say our society is organized. A lot of it is community and we’re really broken up. I think what you were saying about inside the home as an example of how you can treat each other differently. I think if you have strong communities where you have good relationships with people the stronger connections you have in an ongoing community the more chance there is to bring back those values. Because otherwise there is not really a place for them, if its more like transactional relationships.
Question: Do you have anything else that you want to add?
Greg: Yeah, I think I mentioned some of this – but we’re all kind of coming into learning about decolonization through different ways, having different experiences – so there’s not necessarily a shared understanding. So I was thinking about how is it an individual responsibility to build your own understanding versus a collective responsibility? Like are we gonna share our understandings and prioritize that? What that brought up to me was thinking about accountability and its like who are you accountable to? Because you might not have strong relationships with people you should be accountable to or are you just self-accountable – do you have to be responsible to bring things up with people you should be in relationships with because they’re not going to hold you accountable if you’re not doing it? So just some thoughts on that.
by Elena: email@example.com
On May 17th, 2011, Grandfather William Commanda smoked his last pipe. Four people were present: Larry McDermott of Plenty Canada, me and my daughter, Veronica, and Romola Trebilcock, Grandfather’s close friend and assistant.
Grandfather’s years and kidney disease were catching up with him. He still didn’t look his ninety seven, but he was visibly in pain and, at times, as if in another dimension. After lighting the sage and spreading his sacred items for the ceremony, Grandfather began to assemble his pipe.
This pipe was a wonder in itself. The bowl was made of red pipestone, carved by a gifted artisan into an eagle’s head. “You see”, Grandfather told me once, pointing at his pipe bowl, “the male eagle may think he is the boss and all, but he is nothing without a female eagle. She is a true boss”. I never asked which eagle’s head was on Grandfather’s pipe, male or female, but I wonder now.
For the last seven years, whenever Grandfather was in Ottawa, my children and I were faithfully present for his full moon pipe ceremonies. Sometimes, we were the only ones to share it with him and Romola, and sometimes, there were others to join us.
Grandfather loved it when people gathered around, especially to share his pipe. His own stories were exchanged with others; Grandfather’s face would light up when he heard of other people’s journeys and their honest search for the sacred. All faiths were welcome. Grandfather’s sincere interest and respect for other people’s beliefs were remarkable. He, himself, having been through the Catholic Church in his early years, would occasionally sing to us in Latin.
It was a presence I always felt when Grandfather smoked his pipe. I could almost see the long line of Grandfather’s ancestors, smoking their pipes on this ancient land before him. The unbroken line of prayers, moving through Grandfather’s pipe to all of us and into the future. “You have to be careful when you smoke the pipe”, Grandfather told us at his last pipe ceremony, “You can never use the pipe to do harm or wish anything bad. Your heart has to be pure, when you smoke it”, he touched his own heart, “or the pipe will come back to destroy you”.
With these words, I believe, Grandfather warned us against focused malicious intent, but not against the usual pitfalls of our human nature, which we cannot help but have.
Grandfather was always very tolerant of our human condition. He often said that Creator is very forgiving of us too. Sometimes a visitor would come, whom we thought disrespectful or even hostile towards Grandfather, but Grandfather still listened patiently, maybe, with a bit of humour but always with love. I asked him once, after one particularly difficult visitor, how can he still love someone like that, and Grandfather told me, “If I could change, and I was the worst drunk on my reserve, then he can change too”. “So”, I asked, “you see potential in everyone then, right?” “Yes”, Grandfather said, “that’s right, in everyone.”
Grandfather spoke to us often of his years of drinking. “Sometimes, I would wake up in the ditch with the rain water flowing through me. I taught my little brother to drink. We used to come home to our parents passed out with the bottle between them. I tried the bottle first when I was eight.”
Cancer followed his hard years of drinking and in his forties Grandfather was left by the doctors to die, as nothing they could do to save his life. “The pain was so great that I prayed to the Creator either to save me or to take me. If Creator was to save me, I promised to serve Him to the end of my days. I was on my knees and cried so hard that the floor under me was all wet. And the little bird came, sat on my window and sang such loud and beautiful song. I knew then that Creator heard me…”
Grandfather was healed of his cancer by his wife and other medicine women and by a skilful healer, of whom Grandfather always spoke with greatest respect. “This healer told me, I would never have cancer again”, said Grandfather and to the end of his days he had been, indeed, cancer-free.
Grandfather kept his promise to the Creator and on the first weekend of August, 1969, he held his first sacred gathering at his home grounds in Maniwaki. He hosted it every year since and towards the end of his life, this event brought together thousands of people from all over the world. The spirit of Grandfather’s pipe traveled back to every corner of the globe.
Grandfather believed that the greatest power is the power of prayer. We lost count how many people were helped when Grandfather smoked his pipe for them. Seemingly hopeless situations resolved and life-threatening illnesses reversed.
Grandfather started every pipe ceremony with prayers to the four Elements and all Directions. “The Elements: Fire, Earth, Water and Air, don’t want to be worshiped, they want to be respected”, he taught me. After Elements and Directions, Mother Earth was honoured by his pipe. “Our Earth is our mother, we don’t own our mother, she owns us. In spite of what we do to her, she is still taking good care of us.” Grandfather was deeply connected to everything living around him.
Grandfather often spoke of the act of creation being reflected through the pipe. “The bowl is female and the stem is male, we join them together when we smoke the pipe.” Sacred union of male and female energies creates most profound magical mystery. According to Grandfather, that is what makes the pipe prayers so powerful.
And so on that day in May, after saying his prayers to the Elements, all Directions, Mother Earth and Grandmother Moon, Grandfather suddenly began to speak to us with such urgency of the pipe, how to do the prayers, to honour everything living and how to do the ceremony itself, and I was flooded by the feeling that it was Grandfather’s last pipe that he smoked in his lifetime. I don’t know how he knew it. He passed on August 3rd, 2011, almost three months since our last pipe ceremony.
And after he told us all he wanted about the pipe, he was silent for a long time and when I looked at him, I saw tears streaming, like a river, down his face. I never saw Grandfather cry before, and I remembered how during one of his gatherings a great rain suddenly broke, out of nowhere, right from the bright blue sky and Grandfather said to us then: “These are tears of the Ancestors, flowing down on us”.
This article was also published in Tone Magazine.
November 11, 2013 marks 100 years since Grandfather William Commanda’s birth. Part of the legacy he left with us is the vision for the National Indigenous Centre / Peace Centre/ Healing Centre at the Asinabka site, Chaudière Falls / Victoria Island on the Ottawa River (Kitchissippi) in between Ottawa and Gatineau. You can find out more about this vision at the Asinabka website, or watch this 3minute video. You can also find the Circle of All Nations website, or on Facebook the William Commanda Legacy page.
Grandfather William Commanda, Tribute to the legacy of a legendary Peacemaker (4min)
“November 11, 2013. In remembrance of a legendary Anishnabe Elder and Peacemaker, who was born 100 years ago today.
His mother called him Ojikgwanong, meaning: ”He brings out the morning star”. He became known worldwide as Grandfather William Commanda, Founder of A Circle of All Nations, A Culture of Peace. He has been an inspiring example, a precious teacher and guide for me, as for many others around the world.
This is a short tribute to honour his immense legacy.
A guide to understanding and using multimedia to build stronger communities through diversity in Canada — from the Multimedia & Multiculturalism Initiative of the United Nations Association in Canada.
View/download it at this link (82-page PDF):
From the introduction:
This M&M Toolkit is about you. You will discover a wealth of tips, guidelines, and testimonials on how to initiate and promote inclusive media within your community of diverse cultures and heritages. The M&M Toolkit can be used by anybody with interest in using media and communication tools to bring together a group, neighbors, schools, employees or a ‘community’ to explore solutions towards building a socially cohesive society in Canada.
A reader/user will gain knowledge and in-depth understanding of:
I was asked to contribute some thoughts to this toolkit,
and on page 25 they feature some of my words:
Tips from an independent media maker:
“Involving different people is key from the outset. Get feedback and input on the initial idea: How could it work better? Who else could be involved?
Giving people different ways in which they can participate and be a part is important. Identifying barriers to participation, and figuring out ways to overcome them can help ensure that the different people who can benefit from the project are able to be involved.
Involvement includes having a sense of ownership, buy-in, connection and deriving value from the project. Extend this to media-makers, organisations and communities that are served by, or benefit from, the project.
To be successful, there must be well-thought out plans and strategy for both organisational and economic sustainability – making good media is not enough. Also ensure that the project is providing something of value to people/communities on an ongoing basis”
About the M&M Project
The Multimedia and Multiculturalism Initiative website is www.mmunac.org. It was a three-year project that is just now drawing to a close.
For an introduction to the project, you can see my article, podcast and videos from the 2011 M&M launch in Ottawa.
I also video-recorded their later event, Telling Our Own Stories.
By: Greg MacdougallNiigaan: In Conversation is a grassroots project that brings Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples together for dialogue and discussion through workshops and symposiums. The most recent Niigaan event was the Odawa Community Talk-Show on Sept 15.
The name Niigaan is an Anishinaabemowin word that the organizers chose to represent the themes of “at the front,” “leading,” or “looking towards the future.”
Building relationships and preparing the way for ever-deepening discussions around the way those relationships work are both keys to the future.
According to Niigaan volunteer and supporter Andrea Landry, an Anishinaabe-kwe from Pays Plat First Nation, “This is a kind of a ground point, we’re building the base of creating a better future between, if I were to have children and they [non-Indigenous] were to have children, those children will be able to have these kind of dialogues and discussions, but they’ll be a lot more advanced.”
The project began earlier this year in March, building on the energy of the Idle No More movement.
The first event brought together a couple hundred people for a series of paired discussions on different topics.
Landry was one of the speakers there, in one-on-one conversation with Craig Benjamin of Amnesty International Canada. They discussed Indigenous issues as they pertain to an international context through work being done by the United Nations. The UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues and the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples are both important for application here in Canada, they concluded.
Landry and Benjamin also discussed what Landry explained as “the concept of land ownership, and how a lot of our people are saying we need to take back our land, yet the Canadian government are saying ‘We want to own your land.’”
She elaborated on the conflicting worldviews concerning land ‘ownership:’ “We can’t own land, because once we own something, we’re enslaving it…we need to get out of that concept of the colonial mindset, of ownership in itself.”
Since that first event, Niigaan has held quarterly public symposiums.
Over the summer, they also held a series of four workshops on treaty relations in partnership with KAIROS Canada.
And they also organized the local event that was part of the national “Honour the Apology” campaign — demanding the federal government make available all residential school documents to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission — leading a march to the doorstep of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada headquarters in Gatineau.
The next Niigaan symposium is set for December, and there are other ideas about where this project could lead.
The organizers want to build on the especially positive feedback from the workshops they held in partnership with KAIROS, to extend the focus on learning about treaties. As well, they are looking at “developing more of a free-school model, where we’re also talking a lot about what we need to do to Indigenize and reclaim knowledges, whether that’s a relation to land and learning what plants it is that grow on this territory…and get people reclaiming their languages across all generations,” said Melody McKiver, one of the core Niigaan organizers.
In addition to the learning and discussion forums, she added, “we also recognize the importance of direct action and mobilizing on the streets.”
Niigaan: In Conversation has been well received by the community, judging by both attendance and the positive reactions and discussions that have been stimulated.
And it hasn’t been limited to Ottawa.
Sparked by social media, people from Toronto to Yellowknife have been in touch with Niigaan with positive feedback and reaching out for support and advice on how they can lead similar initiatives.
Further local community support came at the end of August, after Niigaan organizers had submitted a proposal to Soup Ottawa and were chosen to present their project alongside other community initiatives vying for the winner-takes-all funding.
Around 160 people each contributed $10, dined on donated soup and listened to the various pitches.
They were each then able to cast a vote towards the project they felt most worthy of support. Niigaan received the most votes, taking home all the money raised.
McKiver said that “there are these people who aren’t familiar with Niigaan before, but now, one, decided that they wanted to support our work, and two, are really interested in what we’re doing and putting the word out that way.
“So it’s a way of continuing to build these relations…and it’s also really affirming for us to see that the community wants to back the work that we’ve done to date and to see it continue.”
Landry has found Niigaan to be personally uplifting and reinvigorating, and feels that it is doing the same for others.
She said it is distinct from many other political spaces that centre on confrontation and butting heads. She described Niigaan as “safe and open honest discussions on Indigenous and non-Indigenous relationships in Canada,” before adding, “it’s a matter of creating change by shifting our dialogues and having more open minds in these discussions.”
“This will build on to a stronger base, a stronger ground point, and stronger relationships between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples, and I think that’s integral to the foundation of creating momentum and prominent social change in Canada.”
Audio interview with Andrea Landry and Melody McKiver (20min)
Video: Odawa Community Talk Show, Sept 15 2103
Seven guests discussing Indigenous-settler relations, Indigenous naming, the Nepean Redskins name, and what decolonization means. Length: 1hr.
Speakers (left-right): Jennifer Adese, Alexa Lesperance, Neal Freeland, Ed Bianchi, Jean-Luc Fournier, Ian Campeau, Qajaq Robinson. Host: Darren Sutherland.