Posts By: Danny Beaton, Turtle Clan Mohawk, Six Nations Haudenosaunee

The Sacred Garden/Six Nations Territory

In Memory of Alicja Rozanska
and Three Sisters Corn, Beans and Squash

Every time I would go back to Six Nations and visit my elders Alice and Lehman, they would say: “What’s new in Toronto, Danny? Are you fighting more environmental issues? Are things getting better or worse over there?” Alice would say: ”Go out in the garden, Danny, and eat some fresh rhubarb.” Our elders knew how to keep happy and make others happy just by sharing food and good ideas and honoring Creation all around them. Our elders have been taught by their elders the traditional native culture and that the natural world would take care of them if they took care of all natural life around them. Many of our elders have spent their life in the forest living a good life of hunting and gathering and some still do, and they were also able to work in the cities and earn a living building structures and high-rise apartments that housed mostly non-native Europeans. Many of our people maintained farms and kept growing food while working in cities doing construction. This continued for many years, and many Indigenous people were able to take time to go hunting and fishing for their families throughout the year because they knew they had to eat real food and maintain Sacred Thanksgiving ceremonies to the life-giving forces. Ceremonies were maintained on many reserves even during first contact, but it became harder up north, as the new people coming had their own ways of life that were not Indigenous to Indigenous territories. All of this information must be kept alive and preserved, because our younger generations are now struggling to protect the old hunting grounds and rivers where our ancestors fished for food. Even our medicines and berries are in danger of being killed from urban sprawl and resource extraction. Our old way of life, when our elders were happy from sharing, is hard now, because natural life is not what it used to be once you enter the cities. We have survived colonization, we have survived residential school, now we have to survive Global Warming, Climate Change and Infectious Virus. Nothing has been easy for Indigenous people in Canada or the USA, but we are still trying to protect Mother Earth and keep our way of life going, hunting, fishing and farming.

We all are living a Human Experience of learning, building, teaching, seeing, feeling, creating, and sharing what we have experienced with the community, with the world around us, with life, with our thinking, with work, words, art, dance, song, everything that is going on around us we learn from and communicate and grow like a garden in the world. As native people, our elders and leaders teach us how to communicate and be connected to all the natural world and life around us, even when we dream at night, we can hear life talking to us through our relatives. We also have our own instinct and intuition like an animal hunting in the forest. We too are hunters and seekers, gathering experiences, teachings, lessons that will bring us peace, harmony, health and the ability to share and help others. Our people have always been builders and organizers, but in our way of life our work never destroyed life around us. Our communities were also farmers, and in Canada and North America Indigenous people shared and traded in order to have a better life, and things were very good until the fur trade and gold rush created greed. At the same time, alcohol came into our communities, and our healthy communities soon were sick from the new poisons. Later, Indigenous people began the return and restoration of their healing culture, but things have not been the same; they never will, but we never stop trying to heal.

Our  elders know what is happening on Sacred Mother Earth. They have spent their whole adult life in ceremonies and council with Great Creator and Life-giving forces. Our people on Six Nations are holding the original instructions just like all native communities across Turtle Island for Natural Life. Only some people have got lost in all the inventions and foreign ideology. Because Indigenous Culture is one of healing and harmonizing, we all need to focus and balance ourselves in the messages and teachings of our sacred ancestors and Indigenous Values and Thinking. Just start by talking about what needs to be done to achieve justice and healing for Mother Earth and society at the breakfast table. Even writing our ideas down can help share the dreams we each carry and hold in our minds, body and spirit. Do not get sucked into negative thinking or action. Our elders have said peace and gentleness is our greatest strength! Tom Porter says we need to arrange ourselves like a bouquet in the Garden of The World. 

Lehman Gibson, Mohawk Six Nations Haudenosaunee, Speaks Out

“This struggle has brought unity to the community”, said Lehman Gibson, a Mohawk Farmer and Traditional Elder of the Six Nations Territory.  “I have never experienced such unity and strength of our people up until now.  The elected council is supporting our old traditional government of our Clan Mothers as equals. Everyone has come together for peace here. Everyone has come to defend the protestors and our original territories.  Our homeland.  We are finally united as a People, as a Nation.  For our Sacred Traditional Longhouse values, the Way of the Good Mind, where our Clan Mothers are respected as leaders. At this time we are being respected as a Nation. But who knows for how long… There are 350 police ready at the airport.”

John Gibson, Mohawk Six Nations Haudenosaunee, Speaks Out

Ultimately we want to leave a legacy for our future generations by thinking ahead. Its all about our future generations, the unborn, our family, showing them that we made a commitment to the environment, to the land. We fought for it. That is how we got here in the first place. That is why we have been here- camped along the Grand River for the last 200 years. This has affected every human being on the planet. We need to harmonize ourselves, to live in peace. All the principals that the Iroquois Confederacy stand for, all the laws we stand for, are about keeping the great peace.

That is why when we talk about the environment we are talking about everybody’s rights. The vast majority of people, including non-native people support what we are doing, they understand the struggle has always been going since day one. The media are selling newspapers because of the violence, the confrontation. I think people are not stupid because they realize how important it is to protect the environment, our Sacred Mother Earth. Its not just the Grand River, it is everywhere; there is a problem of land theft all over the world.

They cannot break that bond that we have, it is something that we are tied to. There is nothing they can force upon us. The Canadian government cannot violently impose laws and regulations on us. They beat us up and it did not change things. We are still here and we are more determined to protect our children’s future. We are still fighting, we are not done and we might never be done as long as there is Mother Earth. My dream is world peace, people living in harmony with natural justice. People doing what is right, living by what is right. People living with the truth. There is justice and karma out there that comes back to bite you. 

This is happening now. Mother Earth is wounded, she cannot do what she used to. All we have to do is watch the weather, the universe is speaking on behalf of Indigenous Peoples. If we do not change our ways and stop polluting the planet, it is going to destroy Mother Earth. Mother Earth is suffering, there are too many people taking from her. Millions of people are immigrating out this way, immigrating to the green lands, we are losing the agricultural base here. New subdivisions are piling up, people are piling up on top of each other. This is not a harmonious way to live in the country. It is adding to the pollution of the air, everything is getting polluted by overpopulation. Over population is polluting Mother Earth. To us the fight is not with ourselves, it is with the power to understand that you cannot eat money and that money is not everything. You have to look at our lifestyle, you have to look at the way of life for all humans. In Canada, the people can be the catalyst for the environment, but it is not happening, because they are not listening to the Aboriginal People here, the Native people here. We are the heartbeat of the environment.

My family have been here, in Six Nations, seven generations along this Grand River. Everybody has seen the development, we have been pushed and pushed and pushed. Now we are on a little patch of territory. We have been pushed back to a tiny patch. We can no longer hunt and do what we need to along this river which was our sustenance. The river is heavily polluted with all the cities dumping their sewage into the river, You cannot eat any of the fish anymore.

After all the years of pollution along the Grand the fish are heavily contaminated. It all goes back to the Great Lakes, the contamination is affecting everyone, not just Native people. Everyone should be speaking out. What happens to Six Nations People happens to everyone.

One day there will be no land here, there will be no water, only sand, it will be made into a desert, barren, no trees, no nothing. We have been ignored, our pleas have been ignored, we have been asking the government to be accountable to the people and to the environment, to Mother Earth. But we have been ignored. That is why there is an explosion of all these forces, it died down this winter but spring is back and we are organizing. We want to be heard, we have been sleeping outside on the roadblock for a year. Real issues are affecting all of our children’s future. Hopefully, more people will understand our plight and be enlightened.

Five questions with Chloe Crosschild (Iitapii’tsaanskiaki), RN

Chloe Crosschild (Iitapii’tsaanskiaki), RN, graduated from the University of Lethbridge with a Bachelor of Nursing (BN) in 2014 and a Master of Nursing (MN) in 2020, and won the uLethbridge School of Graduate Studies Silver Medal of Merit – Master of Nursing. A talented Blackfoot nursing scholar, Chloe is committed to research and practice that supports Indigenous health and well-being. Her thesis included a unique Indigenous methodology based on Blackfoot Ways of Knowing, providing potential roadmap for future health research with Blackfoot peoples. Since completing her MN, Chloe has been working as an Indigenous advisor to the Nursing Education in Southwestern Alberta (NESA) BN programs and has started her Nursing PhD program at the University of British Columbia. 

What is your most memorable uLethbridge experience?
“Sitting on the Graduate Students’ Association Council as the Indigenous Representative was very important in making my graduate experience because I was able to learn from students, faculty and staff in other disciplines throughout uLethbridge community.”

Did anyone at uLethbridge help shape your uLethbridge journey?
“My mentor, role model and thesis supervisor, Dr. Peter Kellett was an important influence in my uLethbridge experience. I met Peter while completing my undergraduate degree and he has been there to support and guide me in my professional journey. Through his mentorship, I gained the confidence I needed to push past my own expectations. I am forever grateful for Dr. Kellett.”

What is the most important lesson you learned?
“The most important lesson I learned was to be true to myself in everything I do, including my research and academic work. Despite being an Indigenous woman, I was primarily trained and educated in a colonial system. It was in my graduate school journey that I was able to fully embrace the importance of my background and identity and draw on my Blackfoot values to guide me in my school work. I found myself in a unique position to explore how two worlds collide in health care, especially when Western and Indigenous ways of being clashed.”

What are your plans for the future?
“My plans are to complete my PhD in nursing. I hope to find opportunities throughout my career to work alongside Indigenous Peoples and communities toward health equity.”

What advice would you give to students about to begin their post-secondary education?
“My biggest piece of advice for students is to be open-minded to different worldviews and perspectives and try to be comfortable with being uncomfortable. We aren’t expected to know everything when we start our academic journeys, so it’s okay to be wrong or feel challenged because that is the only way we can grow as students and scholars.”

BC Nurses’ Union is committed to reconciliation

The BC Nurses’ Union (BCNU) recognizes that colonization, racism and systemic discrimination have profoundly  impacted the lives of Indigenous peoples and their ability to access holistic, culturally safe health care. The  recent publication of In Plain Sight: Addressing Indigenous-specific Racism and Discrimination in B.C. Health  Care has merely confirmed that these factors remain endemic to our care systems, while reminding us of the work  that must be done to remedy the many harms done to Indigenous people.  

To this end, BCNU is committed to fostering Indigenous cultural safety, through cultural humility, and eliminating  Indigenous-specific racism throughout our organization. Our commitment is framed through an ongoing  undertaking to establish a genuine and just process of reconciliation with Indigenous peoples. 

One aspect of this commitment is the establishment of a $1,500 bursary to be awarded annually to an Indigenous  student enrolled in a post-secondary nursing program in British Columbia. 

The BCNU Provincial Indigenous Student Nurse Bursary is an initiative of BCNU’s Indigenous Leadership Circle  and reflects the Union’s support for the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s 94 Calls to Action, and  in particular, the call to increase the number of Indigenous professionals in health care. 

The bursary recipient will be announced on National Indigenous Nurses Day, which is commemorated during  National Nurses Week, May 10-16, 2021. 

As we strive to create a more equitable union, we will continue to draw on the expert knowledge of Indigenous  members – nurses and health care workers – to help inform the actions we must take and the paths we must  pursue. BCNU is committed to ending racism and discrimination wherever it is encountered. We recognize that  this work must be ongoing—within the union as well as in our workplaces and our communities. 

Christine Sorensen 
President, BC Nurses’ Union

Anishinaabemowin and Plains Cree Green Jobs guide

The Anishinaabemowin translation of Project Learning Tree Canada’s (PLT Canada) A Guide to Green Jobs in Canada: Voices of Indigenous Professionals has just been released, and the Plains Cree translation is coming out soon. 

“The revitalization of our cultures includes language. Offering these translations is a way of acknowledging and respecting the culture and traditions of Indigenous Peoples,” said Dean Assinewe, one of the people profiled. 

The free guide features first-person stories from 12 Indigenous leaders working in the forest, conservation and parks sectors and green career fact sheets. 

“It’s important to reach people in their first language, and we hope the guide can also be used as a learning tool for others who are trying to learn their language,” said Assinewe, a member of Sagamok Anishnawbek.

Anishinaabemowin is spoken by approximately 28,000 people, and Cree is spoken by around 96,000 people. They are two of the most widely spoken Indigenous languages in what is now Canada.

Efforts to preserve, promote and revitalize Indigenous languages is part of reconciliation, and the United Nations declared that the International Decade of Indigenous Languages will begin in 2022.

In fact, it is already a best management practice in industries like forestry to put notices out in Indigenous languages as well. And there are many initiatives within communities to reconnect younger generations with their language. For example, the Aamjiwnaang First Nation used the cultural activity of making maple syrup to teach Anishinaabemowin vocabulary with a YouTube documentary, Ziidbaatogeng. 

Assinewe, who now works as PLT Canada’s Indigenous Opportunities Advisor, said activities like this connect us to the land. His love of nature was influenced by his father, who was a trapper in his youth.

“We spoke quite a bit about his experience and his spiritual relationship with the land. In our culture, we’re all connected,” he said.

Assinewe was working for a pharmaceutical company in Toronto, but he found himself wanting to go home and be outdoors. So he switched gears and pursued his Registered Professional Forester (RPF) designation.

One of the goals of A Guide to Green Jobs in Canada: Voices of Indigenous Professionals is to inspire Indigenous youth to pursue green careers. PLT Canada has placed more than 500 Indigenous youth from over 80 different Nations into high-quality green work experiences—many of whom found placements in their own communities.

“If First Nations can help take a lead in how development happens, Canada and the rest of the world will be better for it,” said Assinewe. “We have to draw careful connections between our environment, our culture and traditions, and how we develop our natural resources.”

Check out A Guide to Green Jobs in Canada: Voices of Indigenous Professionals in English, French, Anishinaabemowin and soon Plains Cree for free at  

National chief pans systemic racism as AFN launches virtual general assembly

National Chief Perry Bellegarde speaking from Ottawa at the virtual general assembly. Photo: APTN

The national chief of the Assembly of First Nations (AFN) blasted systemic racism and laid out his lobbying plans for the remainder of his term during the organization’s annual general assembly on Tuesday.

An emotional Perry Bellegarde held back tears as he mentioned Rodney Levi, Chantel Moore, Joyce Echaquan, and all those who died in 2020 at the hands of authorities charged with their protection.

“To all those who have been lost, to all of those who’ve been taken from us I say: We love you,” said Bellegarde, who paused, overwhelmed with emotion, before continuing. “We value you. We remember you. And you will continue to motivate us to create the change we all want and we need.”

First Nations chiefs normally travel to Ottawa in Algonquin territory for the December gathering but went online this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau addressed the leaders in the afternoon and fielded a series of questions from the chiefs.

“We’ve made tremendous progress in just a few years. But if this pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that there is much more to be done. I hear you when you say that the status quo isn’t good enough,” said Trudeau.

“I hear you when you say, to quote National Chief Bellegarde, that this pandemic exacerbates the already dire circumstances in which too many live. I hear you and I agree.”

Prime Minister Trudeau answered questions from his office during the general assembly. Photo: APTN/File

Bellegarde announced Monday that he won’t seek another term when chiefs cast their votes for a new AFN head in July. His speech touted progress First Nations made over his six-year tenure as national chief and called for immediate action to stamp out institutional racism in Canada’s policing and health-care systems.

“Cultural safety must be integrated into national health-care standards. Failure to meet these standards must have real consequences, and our people need a safe way to report mistreatment and abuse that will produce results,” said Bellegarde. “No one wants the death of Joyce Echaquan to have been in vain.”

Echaquan, 37, an Atikamekw Nation mother of seven, recorded health-care workers taunting her with racist insults before she died in a Quebec hospital in September.

Levi and Moore, who were both First Nations, were shot and killed by police only days apart in New Brunswick.

Reforming policing in Canada

On that subject, Bellegarde said the country needs to make First Nations-led policing an essential service and deliver on RCMP reform, which Trudeau promised to do.

Bellegarde stressed the urgency by accusing the RCMP of betraying the Mi’kmaq as they exercised a constitutionally-protected treaty right to fish in Nova Scotia.

“We witnessed the racist backlash that followed. The overtly racist actions of the commercial fishers was disheartening but not entirely surprising,” he said. “What was shocking was the betrayal of the local RCMP officers who ignored the mounting tensions and allowed this violence to erupt. This is what we mean by systemic racism.”

Had the roles been reversed, the Mounties never would’ve allowed the attacks to escalate as they did to floating blockades, boat chases, mob vigilantism, assaults and arson, Bellegarde added.

Trudeau also condemned these instances of death and violence.

“No one should face threats while exercising their treaty right to fish. No one should face violence at the hands of police and no one should face fear about what may happen or has happened to a mother, sister or daughter. That is unacceptable.”

Pandemic recovery

Like the rest of the country, First Nations spent the bulk of 2020 dealing with the potentially deadly pandemic. Communities made use of stringent lockdowns, travel bans and checkpoints to weather the first wave.

But the second wave landed hard in some First Nations.

“There is an opportunity to build back better,” said Bellegarde, echoing language Trudeau used to describe Canada’s pandemic recovery plan.

“But more than that, I would say that Canada must build back better – and must be better and do better as a country.”

This means addressing the gap in the quality of life that exists between First Nations and non-Indigenous communities, said the national chief. He pointed to a lack of access to health care, the housing crisis and lack of potable water on reserves.

During the height of the second wave, Neskantaga First Nation members had to be evacuated from their northwestern Ontario homes after an “oily sheen” tainted the community’s water supply.

Residents of Shamattawa in northern Manitoba highlighted the housing crisis on their reserve not long before positive coronavirus cases skyrocketed and military aid in the form of the Canadian Rangers had to be deployed.

“That gap amplifies every threat and every harm from this pandemic – from this risk of infection to the stress of lockdown,” said Bellegarde.

The opening song was broadcast online instead of played live in a crowded room as usual. Photo: APTN/File

The Liberal government recently admitted they would not fulfill their promise to end all long-term drinking water advisories on First Nations reserves by March 2021.

Trudeau said they did manage to lift 98 long-term advisories and prevent 171 short-term ones from becoming long term. The Liberals proposed to invest $1.5 billion for water as well as $1.8 billion over seven years for infrastructure during their fall fiscal update.

Many of the chiefs’ questions centred on the difficulty communities face in navigating the federal Indigenous bureaucracy in order to quickly obtain funds for clean water, housing, health services, education and more.

“I think your bureaucrats are not doing you justice in terms of the things that you are trying to do, and I say that respectfully,” Chief David Monias told the prime minister.

Trudeau replied that “a whole series of interconnections” need to happen before cash that Ottawa pledges actually gets into people’s hands to make a difference.

“These are all things that we need to work on together, and folks in Ottawa don’t always know how they best fit together,” he admitted.

“Ottawa can’t drive these. You need to drive these and we need to be there to support you with the money and the resources and the capacity to develop that. It takes a little longer, and sometimes it’s frustrating, but ultimately it is what will best serve you and your community to be in charge of your own future and that’s the work we are doing together.”

Lack of MMIWG action plan and a proposed UNDRIP action plan

The national chief voiced support for Chief Connie Big Eagle and the AFN women’s council as First Nations push governments to act on the recommendations of the national missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls (MMIWG) inquiry.

Another missed deadline, the Liberals promised to deliver an action plan to implement the inquiry’s calls to justice on the final report’s one-year anniversary. Trudeau re-committed to accelerating the work.

“It’s now a year and a half later, and still there is no plan,” said Bellegarde. “The families who poured their hearts into that inquiry deserve action.”

But the Trudeau administration did meet one deadline, a promise to table legislation by end of 2020 that would help align federal laws with the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP).

Justice Minister David Lametti introduced Bill C-15 in the House of Commons last week. The new statute, if passed, would affirm that the declaration applies to Canadian law and create a framework to implement UNDRIP’s 46 articles, which lay out global human rights standards for the survival and well-being of Indigenous peoples.

Bellegarde said there would have been “no hope” four years ago for such legislation or the Liberals’ other two reform laws they say they designed with UNDRIP in mind: the Indigenous Languages Act and the Act Respecting First Nations, Inuit and Métis Children, Youth and Families.

The proposed UNDRIP act would require an as-yet undesignated cabinet minister to lead development of an implementation action plan, with annual reporting on progress made, not make UNDRIP itself a law.

The prime minister referred some questions to his cabinet ministers, who are slated to answer queries later tonight.

The general assembly is scheduled to wrap up Wednesday evening.

Enabling Indigenous Academic Success in a Pandemic

The Indigenous Student Success Cohort (ISSC) program at the University of Lethbridge (UofL), is a well-recognized, successful first-year program that provides a solid academic foundation and skill set to enable Indigenous students to succeed in their degree of choice. Key to the success of the ISSC is the bridging of Indigenous and Western cultures, the creation of community, a culturally relevant, highly interactive, learning and supportive environment, and attention to Indigenous Ways of Knowing and Learning (IWKL). When the Covid-19 Pandemic hit, schools and universities suddenly closed in March, and we scrambled to go online in a matter of days. This had a negative impact for many students, but particularly Indigenous students, many who had to move back to community and complex situations. There was little time to plan and there were many challenges in completing courses. It was stressful for all. It soon became evident that this was going to be the “new normal” for post-secondary education for the 20/21 academic year. As the Coordinator of the ISSC, I know first-hand the struggles and challenges Indigenous students experience with the Western way of learning, particularly in transitioning into mainstream university education at the best of times, so deciding how to deliver the entire program online was a deep concern.

Most ISSC students didn’t have a reliable laptop computer or internet so the first issue to address was technology. In Spring 2020, just before Covid hit, the UofL had partnered with the philanthropic Master Card Foundation (MCF) in a 5-year renewable commitment to increase Indigenous academic achievement across all levels of education and into first year university, with a specific focus on the ISSC program. As part of the commitment, students have their tuition fees and books paid for and are provided with a computer. However reliable connectivity for many still remains an issue.

In the ISSC, students take a core set of courses (mathematics, library science, writing and Quest for Success I) in the fall semester and a smaller core (Interdisciplinary studies and Quest for Success II and 2 or more mainstream electives from our approved list) in the spring semester. This enables the students to get a strong academic foundation in the first semester and then build on that foundation in the second semester while feathering into mainstream larger class sizes with the supports of the program.

One of the courses I teach in the program is the year-long course, Quest for Success (Q4S I & II). In the “Old Normal” we met Monday and Friday at noon over a meal. Sharing a meal is in keeping with Indigenous ways of building relationships and is a great way to disrupt barriers of shyness and difference. During the course we cover a variety of topics focused on enabling Indigenous academic success by bridging cultures and ways of knowing with mainstream education. This is a critically important course to the program, as it creates a community that is foundational to developing the supportive network needed as students continue through their degree. Creating that same environment online has been challenging this term and students have commented often that they feel disconnected from their cohort, the program, and university in general. “It’s just not how we are”, said one student. I hear often, “I can’t learn this way” and others have spoken to increasing anxiety in trying to work in the unfamiliar online space. “There are too many things to get around and I never know if I’m doing it right,” said one student. “Everything takes so long online,” is a common statement. With the pandemic situation now moving into its ninth month, it is beginning to feel like it will never end. For many it is discouraging, and it is getting harder to stay positive and focused and to stay the course.

Marathon runners have a term called “hitting the wall”, the point when you have no fuel left and you feel like you just can’t go on and if it is severe enough, you can’t finish. For many of us dedicated runners, this is devastating. Many students, Indigenous and non-Indigenous, are beginning to experience what I call Hitting the Pandemic Wall Syndrome. How do we get over this and make it to the finish line? is a central question. In the Q4S we have shared extensively in virtual talking circles (Figure 1) and have had numerous presentations and sessions from experts and elders on physical, mental, and spiritual health and wellness; about how to stay positive and develop our own tools for overcoming The Pandemic Wall Syndrome. The following are some of the outcomes of our Q4S sharing that might benefit others.

Figure 1: ISSC 0524 Quest for Success Class – Online: The New Normal

Understanding the New Normal
It takes time to adjust to new ways of working and being and it is important to acknowledge that your work may be impacted. While that doesn’t mean one should give up, letting go of high, and maybe unrealistic, expectations at this time can help us find balance and a new normal. Without our normal routines many have struggled with finding a new rhythm and are finding it difficult to focus and be motivated. This leads to frustration, anger, and anxiety, and we often take it out in negative ways. It is important to develop some sense of a “new normal” routine – get up at the same time every day, get ready, do your work at the same time, and finish as you normally would. Having a routine will give structure to what seems to be an endless amount of empty time and space. It will also give you a sense of accomplishment at the end of the day. Try to focus on the immediate and have micro goals rather than looking too far into the future. If it seems never-ending then it is easy to get discouraged.

Stress and Resilience
We often think of stress as the enemy, but how we perceive our stress dictates how we experience that biologically. If we think stress is bad for us, then it can have negative consequences such as depression, anxiety, and even physical illness. If we think stress isn’t bad for us (i.e. that it motivates us) then we can use it to benefit us. Some call this resilience – changing how we perceive something. So, while we are in this Pandemic Crisis, think about how you might change your negative perceptions into more positive ones so you might build your own personal Resilience Toolbox.

Self-care – What does this mean?
Self-care is about taking care of our own mental and physical wellbeing. It means Cultivation of Self and is focused on nurturing our personal needs; allowing ourselves to relax, regenerate, and recharge in meaningful ways. Everyone knows what works for their own self-care but often we put that aside in our care for others, in the stress of the situation, or because we lack the energy. Often the attitude “what’s the point” prevails especially when we can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel and are discouraged. But if we don’t care for ourselves, then we aren’t able to care well for others, or care about the things that are important to us.

I use the Medicine Wheel (MW), which is foundational and sacred to many Indigenous cultures, in much of my teaching as it can represent a multitude of concepts: the seasons, the four directions, personal well-being, the stages of life, et cetera. By its circular nature, the MW illustrates the continuity and inter-relatedness of its components. Figure 2 is a Self-care MW compiled from our talking circle conversations about the things we do for our own self-care. Beginning on the right and moving clockwise the components of self-care are physical, emotional, intellectual and spiritual.

Figure 2: Medicine Wheel of Self-care

Physical – Eating well and staying hydrated are key components of your physical well-being. Prioritize sleep. Making sure to get some exercise and fresh air every day. Walking is one of the best forms of exercise and it gets you out in nature breathing in fresh air which helps us calm down. In terms of your own workspace, think about light. Try to have your workspace in a location where there is good natural light. Natural light is easier on the eyes and makes us feel brighter and lighter.

Emotional – Recognize and accept that stress can make you emotional and everyone suffers from some level of anxiety and depression in stressful situations. The challenge becomes when anxiety and depression are prolonged and extreme, and they impact our relationships or our ability to perform our normal tasks. If that happens, then it is important to seek professional help such as your doctor for medical intervention, an elder or counsellor for someone to talk to, or a combination of both. Seeking professional help, is not a sign of weakness but rather it is being proactive about one’s self-care.

Intellectual – You might think being in school is intellectual enough, but it is important to have something outside of that. Having conversations with someone about important and Non-Covid and interesting topics or the latest book you read, or Netflix show you saw over a Zoom-coffee can be refreshing and intellectually stimulating – a breath of fresh air.

Spiritual – What is good for your soul and your inner being. What are the things unique to you that ground you but also lift your spirit? Perhaps they are smudging, praying, talking with elders, ceremony, etc. For me, it is running in the coulees. I love the beauty of nature, the animals, the river, and the fresh air. I feel grounded to Mother Earth, the Creator and my inner self where I can think and reflect. I call it running meditation. It is important to find your “thing” that fulfills you spiritually.

Building Your Resilience Toolbox
Each person’s toolbox will be different because we are each unique. Sometimes we need only one tool to handle a situation and other times we might need the whole set before we find one that works. Some key tools for your toolbox are:

Figure 3: A Resilience Tool Box

a) Respect your mental health. We each have different responses depending on where we are in our own mental health. The key is to let go of things you can’t control. Maintain an optimistic outlook. We all know the adage “every cloud has a silver lining”. Can you turn a negative into a positive? Practice the attitude of gratitude and joy through laughter. We often hear, “laughter is the best medicine”. It is true. Take breaks during the day or when you are feeling stressed and just breathe. Breathing is one way to reset our anxiety.

b) Create social connections. Develop a strong supportive network of friends, family, and cohorts. People who are experiencing the same situation or who have been through something similar are valuable resources. Knowing that we are not the only one who feels a particular way is helpful as it normalizes our feelings. A student in the ISSC said in a sharing circle, “It makes me feel better to know I’m not the only one who feels this way, not that I want anyone to feel this way. It’s just helpful to know I’m not the only one”.

c) Make every day meaningful. At the end of each day, review your accomplishments and then set your priorities for the following day. Sometimes lists are beneficial but don’t make them so long that they are daunting. Address concerns about deadlines and deliverables early so that you aren’t stressed. The news and social media can be great sources of stress as they tend to sensationalize the news and report more on the negative than the positive. This can be a great source of anxiety for many people. Try to minimize the number of times you engage with the news and social media including responding to emails.

d) Set boundaries. It is important to make a distinction between school and the rest of your life. Take time away from school. Celebrate successes and acknowledge your efforts, even if they seem small. Be proactive; don’t ignore issues as they can get out of control quickly, and know that your situation can improve if you actively put energy and attention into it.

MOST IMPORTANTLY: Practice self-compassion. It is a difficult time and being kind to yourself will go a long way to handling the challenges we are all facing. We will reach the finish line.

University of Sudbury Indigenous Studies – since 1975

The University of Sudbury (UofS) is a bilingual and tri-cultural university committed to promoting the culture, values, perspectives and realities of Indigenous peoples. It is located on the traditional lands of the Atikameksheng Anishnawbek and the Wahnapitae First Nation.

The UofS offers programs in Indigenous Studies, Philosophy, Religious Studies, Folklore and Journalism.

Indigenous Studies
This long-standing department promotes an understanding of Indigenous peoples, their ways of being and knowing, aspirations, rights and contributions. It welcomes Indigenous and non-Indigenous students, and is inclusive of First Nations, Inuit and Métis perspectives. It is a leader in providing quality education in Indigenous knowledge and practice, within traditional and contemporary contexts. Key areas of study include:

Health and wellness – examines contemporary health problems that Indigenous peoples face.
Politics and law – encompasses Indigenous and treaty rights, governance and decolonization, Indigenous sovereignty and settler relations.
Social justice – examines issues in family and community life, from the perspectives of social policy and family law.
Traditional environmental knowledge – takes a traditional approach to global environmental challenges.
Culture – focuses on the interplay of traditional values, identity, spirituality and the language;
Courses on Nishnaabemwin and Cree are also offered.

Currently, all classes are offered in a distance format. Normally, delivery options include: In-class, distance, part-time

Nishnaabe-gkendaaswin Teg Arbour (“Where Indigenous Knowledge is”)
This is a sacred outdoor space to sit with ancestors, receive teachings, explore one’s place within Creation, and share in peace, understanding and contemplation. It is mainly used by the students and faculty of the UofS, but available to others for appropriate ceremonies and occasions.

Fiancial Aid
The UofS is dedicated to making education financially accessible by providing many scholarships, bursaries, and awards. Some of those offered specifically to Indigenous students:


With the help of donors, the UofS is pleased to offer substantial continuing scholarship opportunities ($5,000 to $7,000 yearly, per recipient) to Indigenous students.

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BC Nurses’ Union is Committed to Reconciliation

We recognize that First Nations, Inuit and Métis experience disproportionate levels of social, economic, political, and cultural challenges in our province and across the country. These challenges are rooted in colonialism, residential schools, racialization and a political process that has failed to meet the needs of Indigenous peoples.

The BC Nurses’ Union (BCNU) is committed to a genuine and just process of reconciliation based on the calls to action published by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada.

In the Workplace

As nurses, we are uniquely placed to advocate for the dismantling of systems of oppression, because every day we see how the health and wellbeing of individuals and communities are negatively impacted.

The nursing community can support the calls to action through advocating for: funding of Indigenous healing centres; recognition of the value of Indigenous healing practices; encouragement of government to recruit and retain more Indigenous health care professionals; and, nursing school requirement of all students to take a course in Indigenous health issues.

The delivery of health care should be undertaken in a way that is respectful of Indigenous cultures. It is essential that nurses have a strong foundational knowledge of Indigenous health issues in the context of colonialism, social determinants of health (such as housing, education, food and water security), and current policies and legislation that directly affect the health of Indigenous peoples.

We are responsible and accountable for creating a culture of safety and humility in our relationships with Indigenous people and co-workers. We must take our role in the delivery of direct patient care seriously and use this opportunity to change the status quo.

In our Union

To provide opportunities for Indigenous voices to be heard in the BCNU governance structure, we supported the formation of the Indigenous Leadership Circle (ILC) in 2005. The work of the ILC is to help advance Indigenous health status outcomes and to contribute to creating a more culturally fluent organization.
As a union, we will continue to foster cultural safety and humility by supporting on-going education and raising awareness, both with our members and external partners, of issues vital to the health and well-being of Indigenous peoples.

Christine Sorensen
President, BC Nurses’ Union

College of the Rockies announces winter semester plans

College of the Rockies’ focus remains on ensuring students get the education they need to prepare for their futures, while keeping health and safety as the priority.

Therefore, the College’s winter semester will look very similar to the fall’s, with most programs being delivered online. On-campus learning, including a blend of online and face-to-face, will continue for programs which require hands-on learning, delivered under enhanced health and safety protocols, as directed by the Provincial Health Officer.

“Most students will complete their courses online, however programs like health, trades, and science labs do require some on-site participation,” said Paul Vogt, College of the Rockies President and CEO. “Any on-campus classes will take part in small groups, with physical distancing and other public health guidelines in place.”

In the fall semester, 40 per cent of students took part in either face-to-face (f2f) or blended (both f2f and online) learning. The College anticipates a similar look to the upcoming semester.

All College campuses remain open and will continue to operate in a different way. Students with a current student ID can access the Library, Campus Store, Enrolment Services, some computer labs, and quiet study spaces. The gym and weight room will also be available to support student health and wellbeing. Services like academic advising and counselling are being delivered virtually.

The College’s Indigenous Education team, consisting of Resident Elders, Student Navigator, Student Mentors, Indigenous Education Coordinator/Advisor, and Director of Indigenous Strategy and Reconciliation, are also available through virtual appointments. This team can assist with funding applications, financial supports, awards and bursaries, applications, advocacy, academic planning, and more.

With more than 20 years of experience in offering classes, and even full programs, online, College of the Rockies faculty are well-prepared to meet the learning needs of students.

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Decolonizing Justice: Case Comment on R. v. Turtle

In the face of oppression, racism and physical violence, Indigenous peoples across the country are demanding protection of their ancestral lands and recognition of their Aboriginal and Treaty rights.

As part of these efforts, the role of the criminal justice system in upholding the status quo and undermining Indigenous interests is also being challenged.

In R. v. Turtle, 2020 ONCJ 429 the Ontario Court of Justice confronts this issue head on, highlighting the colonial roots of Canada’s justice system and its persistent failure to “serve and protect” Indigenous peoples.

What is it about

Pikangikum First Nation is a fly-in, Treaty #5 community located in Northwestern Ontario, 225 kilometres northeast of Kenora. 

Six Pikangikum women, all mothers residing on reserve with their young children, pled guilty to drinking and driving offences that carried mandatory minimum jail sentences of not more than 90 days. Under the Criminal Code, the women could request to serve their sentences intermittently, likely on weekends. However, because of the reserve’s remote location, with the nearest jail located in Kenora, the women argued that it would be financially and logistically prohibitive for them to travel to and from the jail to serve their sentences intermittently. 

The Pikangikum members brought an application alleging that their inability to avail themselves of an intermittent sentence as a result of their residency on reserve violated their section 15 equality rights under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. As such, they requested a constitutional exemption from their sentences.

Photo credit: Richard Foot

What the Court said

The Court held that the practical unavailability of an intermittent sentence for the Pikangikum female applicants as a result of their status as on-reserve band members discriminated against them and unjustifiably violated their section 15 equality rights.

In his reasons for judgment, Justice Gibson described the negative implications for the applicants of having to serve a continuous sentence, emphasizing the overcrowded conditions of the Kenora jail and the destabilizing effects of removing the applicants from their children and the community for extended periods of time. 

The Court declined to offer the applicants the constitutional exemption as requested because the Crown had undertaken to transport, at its expense, all the applicants back and forth to the jail until their sentences were served. Justice Gibson did, however, encourage the Crown to consult with Pikangikum about the administration of justice in its community.

Photo credit: allaboutgeorge

Why it matters

R. v. Turtle is an important reminder of the damage that results when Indigenous peoples are forced to rely on legal regimes grounded in inherently discriminatory practices that have no understanding of or respect for Indigenous realities. 

In coming to its decision, the Ontario Court of Justice commented extensively on the “corrosive effects of colonialism” experienced by Pikangikum members, particularly in the context of the justice system.

Pikangikum members and Elders presented evidence before the Court explaining that, prior to colonization, Pikangikum relied on its traditional practices and legal processes to keep peace within the community, which it exercised in accordance with its own inherent jurisdiction and understanding of justice.

Over time, the disruption to Pikangikum’s traditional way of life as a result of the Crown’s colonial and racist policies gave rise to high rates of criminality, alcoholism and suicide within the community. According to Pikangikum Chief Dean Owen, “Being forced to adopt the ways of others was not what our ancestors intended when they entered into Treaty with the Queen.”

Despite this, the imposition of foreign laws on Indigenous peoples without any recognition or regard for the existence of their own legal systems is a common theme of Crown-Indigenous relations in this country. 

As demonstrated by the response of law enforcement to Indigenous rights defenders across the country over the past year, concerns about the application of Canada’s criminal justice system to Indigenous peoples extend beyond the particular provision of the Criminal Code at issue in this case.

Whether it’s the violence perpetrated by police in Wet’suwet’en and Haudenosaunee territory or their non-response in Mikmaki, the message seems to be that the protections promised by Canada’s legal system are unavailable to Indigenous peoples.

When we consider this history of violence, broken promises and continuous denial and degradation of the rights of Indigenous peoples, is it any wonder that Indigenous peoples lack confidence in Canada’s justice system? How can Indigenous peoples be expected to put their lives in the hands of a system that has persistently failed them and more often than not been used against them?

In this regard, the Court’s decision in R. v. Turtle is a clear call to reform Canada’s justice system.

Photo credit: Jason Hargrove

Looking ahead

Pikangikum has indicated that it intends to pursue negotiations with the Crown to reclaim and revitalize its own legal system in a manner consistent with its Anishinaabe laws.

Pikangikum is not alone in its demands to reform the justice system. Earlier this year, the BC First Nations Justice Council and the Government of British Columbia signed the BC First Nations Justice Strategy, aimed at transforming the relationship between Indigenous peoples and the justice system.

In other parts of the country, Indigenous groups, tired of waiting for government reform, are exercising their inherent jurisdiction and seeking to develop their own strategies to take control of their legal systems.

The significance of this work cannot be overstated. This is not about devolving certain administrative powers to Indigenous governments. This is about breaking down legal regimes that have consistently failed Indigenous peoples and rebuilding them in accordance with Indigenous laws and priorities. This is about decolonizing the justice system by enabling Indigenous peoples to reclaim the legal processes that traditionally served their communities.

Angela D’Elia Decembrini is a lawyer at First Peoples Law Corporation.

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