What does it mean to be an ally? Indigenous Allyship, Faith Groups and Climate Justice.

“We indigenous people were systematically separated from the land we lovingly call Mother Earth. Together we are returning to the sacred teachings of the land. This is healing, this is Truth and Reconciliation.” Anishinaabe Kwe Knowledge Holder, Dorothy Taylor. 

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“Salmon” by Don Skillen, Metis Artist 4. Change.

What does it mean to be an ally? And how do we get there?  When it comes to Aboriginal rights, reconciliation, and reparations for the hundred plus years of cultural genocide at residential schools, and the living legacy of centuries of oppression committed by treaty people of Canada, asking how we move forward together is a question on the minds of many people.

Last year, the Truth and Reconciliation report came out after six years of collecting heartbreaking stories across the country of untold abuse by the Indian Residential School legacy, with 94 recommendations for change in policies.  Just weeks ago, the federal government embraced a United Nations declaration on Aboriginal rights. But action speaks louder than words.

‘Words are not enough’ to atone for residential schools, Commission chair, Justice Murray Sinclair says, and National Chief Perry Bellegarde tells the feds that they must give Canada’s indigenous people the “right to say no” to development on their traditional lands (Globe and Mail).

No where are the voices for land and water protection louder than in First Nations communities across the country (think Grassy Narrows,  and its mercury-laden river of fifty years, anti-fracking protesting Mi’kmaq in Rexton, New Brunswick and British Columbia Northern Gateway pipeline protests to name a few examples).

Climate protection and Indigenous rights are inextricably linked. First Nations are the poorest people in Canada, but Canada’s wealth was built at their expense—and that of the environment.

Melissa Ireland is Aboriginal Student Support Coordinator for the Wilfred Laurier University, Waterloo campus. Ireland emphasizes the indigenous perspective when it comes to effective allyship: “I think that it’s important to help aspiring allies understand the struggle for decolonization, and nationhood,” she says. “This involves all areas, including education, politics, and climate change.” According to Ireland, for reconciliation to be meaningful, it has to be framed in the context of accountability. “Allyship is an ongoing process,” Ireland notes.

Given the legacy of harm that religious entities have visited on First Nations in this country, some faith-based groups are viewing climate justice as an opportunity to help right wrongs towards Indigenous peoples.

The United Church of Canada (UCC) has been on a journey of reconciliation for thirty years. UCC has created a task group on implementing the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

Mardi Tindal, former moderator explains that the UCC has been working to lift up Indigenous knowledge and utilizing inclusive language. The UCC sent a delegation to the Climate Paris talks last year, to this end, and back in 2012, they revised the UCC’s crest to include the sacred directions, as well as the Mohawk words about right relations. “This embodies our commitment to continue this journey of right relations symbolically as well as practically,” Tindal says. “The reality is, we are all in this together in spite of cultural spirituality. We are profoundly interconnected with one another and life.”

Tindal points to the heart of the complexity, where the challenge is living in humility. “Things are changing everyday. Innovation is on the clear track and we must put Indigenous understanding in dialogue. It’s the dynamism of both ancient and postmodern understanding that will get us there.”

Both Ireland and Tindal will be speaking at a daylong forum this coming June 11th.

Climate Justice & Indigenous Allyship is organized by the interfaith organization, Faith and the Common Good, in partnership with Divest Waterloo, Sacred Water Circle and other local Indigenous groups, and the Green Awakening Network, with support from the Justice & Reconciliation Fund of the United Church of Canada.

Forum takes place at the Senate and Board Chambers Wilfrid Laurier University, 75 University Avenue West, Waterloo. 10 to 4pm.

To register or for more information, click here.

Featured Speakers:

Elder Myeengun Henry is an Aboriginal Traditional Counselor from Chippewa of the Thames First Nation near London Ontario. Myeengun teaches at McMaster University and Conestoga College.  He will discuss the importance of reclaiming and using traditional knowledge to address complex environmental challenges, and the importance of honouring treaties and of consultation with First Nations.

Sheri Longboat is a member of the Six Nations of the Grand River. She works with First Nations communities implementing GIS technology for community-based land and resource management.  It is her belief that solutions for current social-ecological challenges require multi-disciplinary approaches and collaboration among shared responsibilities.

Melissa Ireland was a driving force behind the creation of Laurier’s Indigenous Allyship An Overview – a toolkit for change. Serving with pride as the Aboriginal Student Support Coordinator for the Waterloo campus, Melissa has Anishinaabe (Ojibway) heritage from Curve Lake First Nation and is Marten Clan.

Byron Williston is an Associate Professor of Philosophy at Wilfrid Laurier University and a member of the Interdisciplinary Centre on Climate Change at University of Waterloo. His latest book is The Anthropocene Project: Virtue in the Age of Climate Change (2015).

Lindsay Gray is an Aniishinaabe, Potawatomi, and Delaware from the Aamjiwnaang territory. A two-spirited land defender against Chemical Valley. Working grassroots with Aamjiwnaang and Sarnia Against Pipelines..

John Dillon is Ecological Economy Coordinator at KAIROS: Canadian Ecumenical Justice Initiatives and author of Indigenous Wisdom: Living in Harmony with Mother Earth

Mardi Tindal, former Moderator of the United Church of Canada, has collaborated with faith leaders throughout Canada and around the world, to encourage action on the moral challenges of climate change.

John Milloy is a former provincial cabinet minister and is Assistant Professor of Public Ethics, Waterloo Lutheran Seminary; Co-director, Centre for Public Ethics, Waterloo Lutheran Seminary;

Leah Gazan is a member of Wood Mountain Lakota Nation, located in Treaty 4 territory.  She is currently teaching in the Faculty of Education at the University of Winnipeg.  Leah has recently founded the #WeCare campaign, aimed at ensuring the end of violence against Indigenous women and girls.

Kelly Laurila is the drum keeper of Mino Ode Kwewak N’Gamowak (Good Hearted Women Singers) and song carrier of many Indigenous songs.  Dorinda Kruger Allen is a member of Mino Ode Kwewak N’Gamowak.  Mino Ode Kwewak N’Gamowak is a drum circle made up of Indigenous and non-Indigenous women who support each other and the community through the power of song.