Education is a key priority discussed at the Anishinabek Nation’s latest UNDRIP engagement session

ANISHINABEK NATION TERRITORY— The Anishinabek Nation Legal Department continues to house its United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) Act virtual engagement sessions with the third in the series held on August 10.

Anishinabek First Nations leaders and citizens were invited to participate in the Miigizi (Eagle) Dodem (clan) session exploring themes on UNDRIP and discussing priorities, including, but not limited to, l education, culture, language and other relevant issues.

An introduction to UNDRIP was discussed and shortly thereafter the Miigizi (Eagle) Dodem session was led by Anishinabek Nation Legal Counsel Leanna Farr. The roles and responsibilities of the Dodem Miigizi were presented, including an explanation of how the dodem has a role of spiritual leader and is responsible for transmitting oral histories, traditional stories, ceremonies and providing guidance .

The history of First Nations and how government policies made concerted efforts to eradicate First Nations languages ​​and the consequences of that eradication are still being felt.

“When our children were born and welcomed into the world and into our communities through ceremony, the first language our children heard was Anishinaabemowin and that was important,” said Nokomis Elsie Bissaillon, participant and Advisory Board member of Getzidjig.

Participants indicated that currently there are many barriers to language preservation. For example, our fluent Anishinabek Getzidjig (Elders) who are not recognized for teaching the language, and more importantly, are not recognized as bilingual, in many non-Aboriginal institutions. Bilingualism has been formalized in Canada’s federal language policy and also guarantees recognition of minority languages, but unfortunately new research shows a slight decline in the number of people who can speak an indigenous language.

Education concerns have arisen, including policies regarding funds for college education; the need to enable lifelong learning; increases in subsistence allowances; the need to broaden education policies to include transitions to new careers; or occupations in demand, perhaps a second career clause. In addition, a funding exemption clause allows individuals who wish to learn and be certified in their First Nations language. Other educational issues include when communities do not have secondary schools and young people must attend cities, there are no funds available for parents to temporarily move to town and live with young people; however, funds are available to allow young people to stay with foreigners in cities. Participants explained that there should be consistency in the programs and level of education received for children in the First Nation and/or in the cities (i.e. breakfast programs, cultural activities and indigenous languages). In order to revitalize the language, it is essential that children learn the language from birth – one suggestion was to have native immersion schools.

Many pointed to the need for protections for culture, ceremonies, sacred objects (turtle rattles, etc.), traditional medicines (cedar, willow bark, etc.), traditional foods (wild rice, wild meats) and historical pictographs need protection. These pictographs tell a story, teach a historical movement, or provide a lesson (i.e., of a specific plant or lake). Other equity concerns, such as why can’t indigenous people bring traditional meat like a moose to the butcher? Participants identified legal challenges and other barriers to traditional food harvesting and sharing activities (particularly in urban settings where these traditional meats are used for feasting). Feasting is part of the culture and due to safety regulations, Indigenous organizations cannot offer wild meat to the public.

However, it is recognized that there has been a movement towards change and acceptance of traditional First Nations activities. For example, the Ontario court system now allows the Miigizi Miigwan (eagle feather) to be used as an oath of truth, as the Miigizi Miigwan is held in high regard in the culture. The Anishinabek Nation Child Welfare Act is an example of First Nations asserting inherent jurisdiction in the area of ​​child welfare. The Anishinabek Nation Child Welfare Act is currently implemented in 22 of its member First Nations. Each First Nation has developed community standards based on their traditional and cultural practices.

The Anishinabek Nation encourages Anishinabek Nation First Nation leaders, staff and citizens to help change Indigenous history and pave the way for a better path forward for future generations. Citizens are invited to attend upcoming virtual sessions to provide critical feedback and/or questions related to key aspects of UNDRIP. The Anishinabek Nation will welcome any comments provided on what the Anishinabek would like to see in Canada’s 10-year action plan and what changes need to be made to federal legislation over the next decade. A report will be submitted to the federal government outlining the comments and identifying priorities for necessary federal legislative changes.

The next virtual engagement session will take place on August 24, featuring the Ajiaak (crane) dodem, which involves discussions on family relationships, matrimonial real property and youth.

Other upcoming sessions include:

  • September 7, 2022: Shiikenh (turtle) Dodem – justice and criminal law;
  • September 21, 2022: Maang (Loon) Dodem – Equality and discrimination, wills and estates, employment and labour, human rights; and
  • October 5, 2022: Mukwaa (Bear) Dodem – Health, police, military and other issues.

If you or someone from your First Nation would like to participate in these sessions or would like to request a separate session, please contact the Anishinabek Nation Justice Manager, Kristy Jones: [email protected]

Registration for virtual engagement sessions available here.