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From February 18 to 21, Trent University Peterborough hosted the Canadian Indigenous / Native Studies Association (CINSA) Conference 2020, in collaboration with the Urban Aboriginal Knowledge Network (UAKN), and the Chanie Wenjack School for Indigenous Studies at Trent University.
This year, the conference’s theme was “Imagining and Creating Indigenous Futures,” particularly in urban spaces. The conference featured presentations, discussions, film screenings, and performances that highlighted community-driven research on the theme.
“CINSA 2020 is in celebration of the 50th anniversary of the founding of Indigenous Studies at Trent University and the 20th anniversary of the Indigenous Studies PhD program at Trent,” said David Newhouse, Chair of both Indigenous Studies at Trent University and CINSA 2020. “Truly, it’s a time of reflection upon where we’ve been, where we are and where we’re going as Indigenous peoples.”
On Wednesday February 19, the panel discussion “Let’s Heal Each Other: Walking with Our Children and Youth” brought Indigenous artists, educators, and leaders in the Peterborough-Nogojiwanong community together with the goal of sharing experiences as knowledge keepers, organizers, activists, artists, educators, parents, and mentors to youth.
The panel was introduced by Gaelle Mushyirahamwe, Research Assistant for the National Association of Friendship Centres. Missy Knott, local singer-songwriter and Curve Lake First Nations Anishinaabekwe, chaired the panel.
The panel featured Knott alongside Crystal Hébert, Nimkii Osawamick, Liz Osawamick, and Crystal Scrimshaw.
Crystal Hébert is an Anishinaabekwe and resilient survivor of the child protection and foster care system. She has been working with the Peterborough AIDS Resource Network (PARN) to increase community capacity for service, space and care in the area.
“When we’re talking about systemic changes, systemic barriers, a lot of that is kind of moving at a glacial pace,” she explained. “It’s really interesting to see how colonial systems have created these little pathways into a lot of our social failures, like homelessness, sexual exploitation, human trafficking, and what we see locally with the opioid crisis.”
“A lot of what I’m doing is just trying to better serve people,” said Hébert. “Meaningfully engaging with those with lived experience to better serve those coming after into those same systems.”
Liz Osawamick is an Anishinaabe Midewiwin-kwe community leader, Water Walker, activist, jingle dress dancer, and Anishinaabemowin language teacher. She teaches at the elementary, secondary, and post-secondary levels. She also teaches contemporary Indigenous dance. She will be doing a Water Walk around Pigeon Lake during Mother’s Day weekend (May 9 to 10) this year.
Liz explained that her first language is Anishinaabemowin, having learned from her father and her aunts.
“Bringing the language and the culture helps [youth] to know who they are, where they come from,” she said.
Elder Shirley Williams, who is Liz’s aunt, also spoke briefly about the importance of language. She had just received news that her language course for the Summer semester would not be running.
“We still have a lot of work to do with the administration [and administrative bodies] because they don’t see the value of the language. The only thing that they look at is economics,” Williams said, explaining that courses need to have at least 15 students to be funded to run. “So even before we got started, they already cut it off.”
Nimkii Osawamick is a singer, hoop dancer, drummer and cultural educator. He just returned from the second annual Indigenous Music Summit in New Orleans, Louisiana. He has been working, touring and performing with Juno Award-winning group Digging Roots. Nimkii is Liz Osawamick’s son.
“When I tour around, I find that a lot of the youth go through the same struggles,” he said of his travels. “It doesn’t matter where you come from or what background your ancestors were: we all have similar things [in our experiences] and that all kind of leads back to the system.”
However, the reception has not been entirely positive when he has brought his cultural teachings across Turtle Island, particularly up north. He explained that there have been tours he has not been able to go on because he was considered “too Indigenous.”
“They’re still hiring Native people but it’s nothing to do with the culture,” Nimkii explained. “It’s pretty alarming. These are the places where there’s [higher] suicide rates, and these kids that really need the culture, the stuff that I bring to the table – stuff that helped me grow as a kid, because I had an outlet.”
Hébert also noted that research has shown that Indigenous homelessness is distinguished from other demographics’ experiences of homelessness by the lack of access to culture.
Nimkii still hopes to bring his work north to more isolated communities.
Crystal Scrimshaw is a Northern Alberta Cree social justice activist and Water Protector. She is the Secretary for the Lovesick Lake Native Women’s Association and a board member for the Community Race Relations Committee.
Scrimshaw explained that both she and Liz demonstrated solidarity for other Indigenous peoples on Turtle Island by going to Standing Rock, where Land Defenders opposed the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) project, albeit not at the same time.
“When I found out that [Liz] was headed over [to Standing Rock], the wolf in me wanted to make sure [she was] protected and safe, looked after, brought to the right people,” she said of her fellow panellist, who was recovering from an illness when she went to Standing Rock.
Peterborough-Nogojiwanong has also seen several demonstrations of solidarity with the Land and Water Defenders on Wet’suwet’en territory who have seen increased and violent presence of Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) enforcing an injunction on the behalf of TC Energy (formerly TransCanada Corporation) and its Coastal GasLink natural gas pipeline project.
Hébert and Scrimshaw have been organizing multiple rallies and demonstrations in Peterborough-Nogojiwanong, and have had a hand in empowering youth in the community to organize further. Liz has also helped youth plan for Wet’suwet’en solidarity actions, as well as gone to visit the CN railroad blockade on Tyendinaga Mohawk territory, southeast of Peterborough-Nogojiwanong.
On Monday February 23, Scrimshaw also went to Tyendinaga to stand alongside the Mohawks while they face an enforced injunction and arrests from the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP).
“I’m so grateful to see people taking those steps and taking the initiative, learning to use their voice and creating that space for other people,” she said at Wednesday’s panel.