I think it is time for my second blog. This is Week 8 (of a 10 week placement) with CES and time has flown by. I can say it has been a great learning experience and also one that I have very much enjoyed. I would like to acknowledge the generosity that was extended to accommodate my placement here - thank you all!
CES is a small group with a great network of support and this is their 16th year of operation - no small feat and I offer my own congratulations. I respect their independence, innovation and commitment that is not only professional but also very personal to their development in eco-tourism services. They have expanded over the years to offer comprehensive support for economic development and have targeted Indigenous communities. It is inspiring to work with people who truly love and believe in what they do.
Last Monday, I had my first net meeting with everyone here including the President Clinton Belcher, Office Manager Margaret Zinowko, Project Manager Jessica Degraave and Project Liaison Amanda Huculak. I was asked to make my own report at the net meeting and was surprised by how much I have been able to achieve here in a short time of seven weeks:
Vision Quest, May 14-16, 2013. Highlights were Crystal Shawanda, singer and Board member for N7, Nike program for Native people; and presenter Ernesto Sirolli (of the Sirolli Institute) who spoke on community development and entrepreneurship.
MKO (Manitoba Keewatin Okimakanak) 'Charting Economic Success on Our Sovereign Nations', May 27-29, 2013. Highlights were learning about northern Manitoba Indigenous issues firsthand from the communities themselves.
Creation of Wealth Forum, June 14-16, 2013. I also worked at this conference that was hosted by the National Council of Indigenous Elders (NCIE). As Bill Gallagher, one of the distinguished speakers at this forum, said of the elders, ‘they are providing the leadership that is needed for Indigenous economic development’. There was a range of incredible speakers as well as an Honoring Ceremony for three business leaders selected by the NCIE.
Seine River First Nation-
The bulk of my time with CES was spent with a particular community, Seine River First Nation. Jessica and I travelled to Fort Frances and Seine River First Nation in the first week of June. I had been in this area once before for a Treaty 1-11 Gathering hosted by Treaty 3 in Fort Frances. It was great to walk on the pier that extends into the lake on the shore of Pithers Point again - I remembered being here with my mother and brother. I made great new memories on this trip - it’s such a beautiful location.
Meeting the people of Seine River was really wonderful - from the high school students in Fort Frances to the elders in their beautiful roundhouse at Seine River to the Chief and Council, band staff, and finally, the community members at the Open House we attended. I cannot forget our guide Ira Johnson. I said he reminded me of a friend from back home - Errol Kinistino - not knowing they knew each other. And did I know Simon Moccasin? We had a good laugh, what a small Indian world especially for Indian actors/singers/performers.
Someone is playing Neil Young music here in the office this morning. It feels like summer is going by too quick as well as my time here, nostalgic. I am reminded of another singer, Chester Knight, who is like our own Indian Neil Young. I encourage you to Google Chester and take a listen to anything he has on YouTube - he is a treasure.
Part of my work here has been editing documents which has been a great way for me to review information and to have my own input which they are always graciously open to. One of the discussions we had was on the word ‘culture’. I said it is sometimes overused, a catch-all term sometimes void of any real meaning. What is ‘culture’ really? Spirit and identity, for example, seem more specific. Now this is about life and this is the importance of language, songs, stories.
Community development is about the dreams of the people. I sat at the CES table at the Seine River First Nation Open House with a map of their community - Jessica knew this would draw the people. We put Mylar plastic over top so we could write on it. Community members would drop by and recognize points on the map and offer stories of their experiences. There were two sisters who pointed out the places where they would canoe then portage on a trail. They talked about the locations for berries and plants along the way. They would go out for a day and make their way back again by canoe. They were talking about great childhood memories and of their father - they were like little girls again. This is life and blood making their cheeks rosy with their memories and laughter. And when they shared this with me, I wanted to be on that canoe, picking those berries, walking that land, coming back with the sunset at the end of an adventure filled day. For now, I drew my little squiggly lines over the map and shared their dreams. The dreams of the people are based on where we come from, who we are.
On the way home from Seine River, we made an unplanned stop at a Heritage Centre. There was a beautiful building with walking trails along the river. And inside there was a gift shop, restaurant, and heritage centre with local Indigenous staff. I came out happy with a birch basket, book on local plants, a t-shirt for my nephew. It was an informative, enjoyable stop on our journey. For the Indigenous community, this centre was the important preservation of their history, valuable employment, and pride in sharing the wealth of who they are.
For the Children:
I met Bill Gallagher at the Creation of Wealth Forum. He is a lawyer and author of Resource Rulers: Fortune and Folly on Canada’s Road to Resources, a book on the impressive amount of Indigenous court wins for resource issues. He contends that Indigenous people can translate this legal leverage to determining ecological and economic priorities for development. I have listened to Bill speak a couple times now and in each case, he relates that any development is ‘for the children’. I have heard this stated in other ways but mainly from Indigenous perspectives. It was heartening to hear this from someone like Bill.
Many times, it seems that we are at war - as Indian people, as young Indian people, as young Indian men...we are at war. Sometimes our battle is in living every day. We are called marginalized, oppressed, colonized but the translation of this is the personal attack on our spirit and identity as Indigenous people. Yet our history is tied to the beginning of this land and the foundation of this country.
All of our development - community, economic, etc. - comes back to why we pursue this. It is to make a difference in lives. And it is for the children - their spirit and identity. The dreams of the people are their children.
- Evelyn Poitras