This email is being sent to all OPSEU Indigenous members who requested updates and to participants of the Indigenous Conferences. It contains a brief update on OPSEU’s efforts to promote Indigenous-Labour Reconciliation. This is the first email sent since June 9 and we hope everyone is remaining safe and healthy during this time.
OPSEU Indigenous Circle Call for Representatives in Regions 3 and 4
The OPSEU Indigenous Circle invites OPSEU members who self-identify as Indigenous to apply for a position on the OPSEU Indigenous Circle to fill vacancies in Regions 3 and 4.
The role of the regional representative on the Indigenous Circle is to create and maintain networks within the region, to develop and promote programs, to encourage First Nation (Status or Non Status), Métis and Inuit members to participate in union activities and to increase the awareness and understanding of Indigenous issues throughout the OPSEU membership.
Interested applicants shall submit a statement of interest that outlines:
- Who are you? Describe the traditions or culture you are from, (if known).
- How have you been involved in your community, union etc.?
- What strengths (personal, social, cultural) do you bring to the Indigenous Circle?
- Why do you want to be a Representative on the Indigenous Circle?
The Equity Unit will ensure an anonymous selection process.
The Indigenous Circle will select the new Region 3 and Region 4 representatives based on the following considerations:
- previous activist experience;
- willingness to share cultural knowledge to the Indigenous Circle and OPSEU; and
- openness to learning various Indigenous cultural activities.
A decision will be made before the Provincial Indigenous Circle meeting on October 1 2020 and all applicants will be notified accordingly.
Please forward completed statement of interest to the Equity Unit (e-mail to email@example.com or fax to 416-448-7419) no later than 5:00 p.m. on September 16, 2020.
If you have any difficulty reading the application, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
COVID-19 and Indigenous peoples’ resilience on the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples
We reflect on the challenges COVID-19 has placed on Canada’s Indigenous population as we mark the UN International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples on Sunday, August 9.
The OPSEU Indigenous Circle encourages all OPSEU members to take part in a webinar planned for August 10, 9 am to 11 am on the theme “COVID-19 and indigenous peoples’ resilience.”
Webinar access and information available here: https://www.un.org/development/desa/indigenouspeoples/international-day-of-the-worlds-indigenous-peoples/2020-2.html
OPSEU President Smokey (Warren) Thomas says the solidarity union members show every day can help the world’s Indigenous communities cope with COVID-19.
“COVID-19 has a devastating impact on more than 476 million indigenous people around the world, but showing solidarity can bolster Indigenous resistance,” said Thomas. “OPSEU stands with Indigenous communities as they battle the effects of the pandemic.”
The OPSEU Indigenous Circle and the OPSEU Social Justice Fund have a strong track record on global Indigenous solidarity that includes:
- Participation in the October 25-28, 2016 Prior Learning Assessment Recognition (PLAR) Conference and visits with Mapuche communities in Santiago, Chile. This trip included a Meeting with Canadian Ambassador to Chile (Marcel Lebleu) on education, government, healthcare, culture and language, where the Ambassador expressed little knowledge of the existence of Metis in Ontario.
- All Circle members participated in the WIPCE Conference July 24-28, 2017 that included a presentation by two members of the Indigenous Mobilization Team.
- The Indigenous Circle-Maya Ki’Che partnership that includes the Guatemala Solidarity Tour (February 7-17, 2020), knowledge exchange in Toronto on November 1, 2019, a visit with Maya Ki’Che midwives at the OPSEU Head Office in March 2017, member Geri Kakeeway meeting with Mayan partners during a trip to Guatemala (February 6-18, 2017 ). Maya Ki’Che midwives attended the OPSEU Indigenous Water Ceremony and symposium (March 2, 2017) and led a workshop at the Indigenous Conference on Manitoulin Island (June 22-24, 2018).
- A Partnership with Horizons of Friendship to support Migrant Workers impacted by COVID, many of whom are Indigenous people displaced from Central and South America due to colonialism. The impact of COVID has been most severe on Indigenous and Black communities both in Canada and globally.
Indigenous Circle Chair Krista Maracle says more needs to be done to protect vulnerable Indigenous communities throughout the world and that “this effort begins at home by demanding that the Government of Canada move beyond lip service and revise all its laws to reflect the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, especially respecting the right to free, prior and informed consent.”
OPSEU, environmentalists cheer as Nestle sells water business
News that the multinational Nestle is selling its Canadian bottled-water business is being greeted with cheers from environmentalists across the province, including OPSEU and the OPSEU Indigenous Circle.
“Water isn’t for profit. As the members of the OPSEU Indigenous Circle say, ‘Water is life,’” said OPSEU President Warren (Smokey) Thomas. “I’m glad to hear we’ve helped force Nestle to abandon its water profiteering. But we have to stay vigilant: another company is rushing in to pick up where Nestle left off.”
For years, OPSEU members have joined grass-roots environmental groups across Ontario — including the Wellington Water Watchers — in condemning Nestle for buying water for next to nothing and then selling it at a huge mark-up in environmentally unfriendly bottles.
OPSEU has supported the Water Watchers’ campaigns over the years. And the OPSEU Indigenous Circle’s 2017 Water is Life Symposium dealt with the damage done by water privatization like Nestle’s.
“Water should be like air – it should be a basic human right,” said Thomas during the symposium. “It should never be sold for a profit and what we’re seeing around the world is that water systems are being privatized for profit rather than being for people.”
“When you see the greed of corporations that separate out those people who can afford to pay for a bottle of water from those who can’t, it becomes a moral imperative to be able to say ‘We need to stop this. We need to return to something sane,’” said symposium participant and human rights activist Karl Flecker.
“It is important to join the fight against water privatization,” said one of the symposium’s organizers, OPSEU Indigenous Circle member Crystal Sinclair. “Water protection is very important – it’s our most precious resource.” Link to OPSEU Water is Life video
Honouring the Wampum Belt Treaty on National Indigenous Day (June 21)
On June 21, Canadians celebrate National Indigenous Day to honour the unique heritage, diverse cultures and outstanding contributions of First Nations, Métis and Inuit peoples. Respecting the Two Row Wampum Belt and its vision of peaceful co-existence among distinct peoples on Turtle Island is a good way to celebrate this day in 2020.
Three rows of white beads symbolizing peace, friendship, and respect separate the two purple rows. The two purple rows symbolize two paths or two vessels travelling down the same river. One row symbolizes the Haudenosaunee people with their law and customs, while the other row symbolizes European laws and customs.
The Guswenta Two Row Wampum Belt, a symbol of sovereignty, is the first peace treaty made in North America between Indigenous nations before European contact. (Made between the League of Five Nations and its allies, and the confederacy of Anishinabek and allied nations). In 1613, the Mohawks noticed people coming into their territory unannounced. They had entered the lands of the Haudenosaunee and were now occupying some of their empty land. As the Haudenosaunee and Dutch discovered much about each other, an agreement was made as to how they were to treat each other and live together. Each of their ways would be shown in the purple rows running the length of a wampum belt. “In one row is a ship with our White Brothers’ ways; in the other a canoe with our ways. Each will travel down the river of life side by side. Neither will attempt to steer the other’s vessel.”
Indigenous Nations always remained faithful to the treaty by never imposing their ways onto the settlers. However, settlers were quick to violate the treaty and Canada’s genocidal assimilationist policies are well known. Forced assimilation based on a white supremacist ideology of European domination continues to harm not only Indigenous peoples but all who do not subscribe to the supremacy of European culture and “whiteness.” National Indigenous Day is a time to reflect on the traditional Grandfather teachings of Love, Honesty, Humility, Truth, Wisdom, Bravery and Respect – teachings that provide a way out of current global crises that threaten Mother Earth.
June 21 was first celebrated as National Aboriginal Day in 1996, after it was proclaimed that year by then Governor General of Canada Roméo LeBlanc. This date was chosen as a holiday for many reasons, including its cultural significance as the Summer solstice and because it is a day on which many Indigenous peoples and communities traditionally celebrate their heritage. It was renamed from National Aboriginal Day to National Indigenous Day in 2017
OPSEU President Warren (Smokey) Thomas thinks “there is a strong feeling among Canadians that it’s time for action against colonial genocide” and that “we should take advantage of National Indigenous Day by celebrating Indigenous cultures and supporting policies and practices that reverse the harm done to Indigenous communities.” Renouncing assimilationist policies and honouring the promise of the Wampum belt is a concrete way to strike at the heart of white supremacy.
OPSEU members are strongly encouraged to celebrate National Indigenous Day by participating in events that highlight the achievements Indigenous peoples have made throughout history. Events include summer solstice festivals, sacred fire ceremonies and traditional feasts.
The OPSEU Indigenous Circle is spearheading a campaign to make Indigenous Day a statutory holiday in Ontario. The campaign hosted a legislative breakfast and a Kairos mini-blanket exercise for MPPs at Queen’s Park in December 2019 to call for such a holiday. Until such a holiday is formally recognized, union members are encouraged to work with their unions to recognize their right to take this day as a paid holiday, such as by utilizing available credits under the collective bargaining agreement to access time off.
Declaring June 21 a statutory holiday is one step toward re-writing the narrative of Canadian history into one of reconciliation that honours the cultures and achievements of First Nations, Métis and Inuit peoples. Krista Maracle, Chair of the OPSEU Indigenous Circle, challenges all members to “remember the promise of the Wampum Belt Treaty, walk with Indigenous communities to forge a new path together with nation to nation relationships based on mutual respect.”
For more information on National Indigenous Day celebrations check out the following webpages.
For information on OPSEU’s June 21 Campaign:
National Indigenous Day deserves to be a statutory holiday.
Please watch the June 21 campaign video and distribute widely.
Chi Miigwetch, Nia:weh, Wliwni and Marsee for all you are doing to promote Indigenous-Labour Reconciliation.
Remember Orange Shirt Day on September 30, 2020