Coffee, seed saving, traditional knowledge, and justice: Reflections from Indigenous Guatemalan accompaniment training

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Breaking the Silence co-founder Kathryn Anderson holds up a handmade clay bust of a Mayan Elder © 2019 Karli Zschogner

By Karli Zschogner

[LONG READ]

A one-way, rural Nova Scotian road is not the most obvious place to train and learn the critical value of solidarity in accompanying Indigenous Guatemalans threatened for speaking up for justice, land and human rights.

“Once you know, you can’t unknow,” says Kathryn Anderson, founder of the Breaking The Silence Maritimes Guatemala Solidarity Network (BTS), as she describes how the voluntary network began answering the call for partnership 31 years ago from Guatemalans facing persecution. She holds a hand-sculpted bust of a Mayan elder which she says was given to her by a Guatemalan refugee in Canada. 

As the tides flow in and out, draining the salty ocean waters, the Tatamagouche Centre is my home for the next six days. Tatamagouche, deriving from the Mi’kmaq term Taqmakujk, or “barred across the entrance with sand,” is connected to both the Mi’kmaq First Nations and French Acadians. 

Having learned the expressed value of learning and maintaining Anishinaabemowin while living in Naotkamegwanning First Nation, I take comfort in a Maritime map labelling the regions’ original names in Mi’kmaq, which were placed at the entrance of the multicultural and multi-spiritual centre. I am encouraged by it, viewing it as a de-colonial symbol and educational act towards the First Nations territory I am in.

However, the push for re-education of traditional Indigenous knowledge and language is not limited to Canada, nor just a talking piece for 2019 as the United Nations International Year of Indigenous Language. Guatemalan survivors, such as Jesús Tecú Osorio, a BTS partner, have channelled their trauma to fill the gaps that their government continues to ignore and deny

While continued devaluation of the Mayan including refusals from government to support, one of Jesús’ efforts was the creation of a land-based school, to counter the harms and degradation of Mayan language, knowledge and culture. Students, with a newly built greenhouse and learning cultural teachings around weaving, can graduate as a ‘rural wellbeing technician’.

Coming in contact with BTS while living in Nova Scotia and having previously covered a news story on their fundraiser coffee partnership, I also craved connections to those who have shared a similar connection to Guatemalans as well as the heart-wrenching but empowering stories of Indigenous Mayan resilience, which I had documented in 2015. When I saw the network had opened up a cooperant program, I immediately applied.

Not a business, nor a not-for-profit, or a charity, the volunteer-based network has been responding to the needs and issues defined by their partners, and supporting not with money but in supporting them in taking charge of their own lives. In explanation of their solidarity, the group has stuck with the following quote as their motto:

“If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time…but if you come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together,” spoken by Lilla Watson an Australian Aboriginal activist and organizer.

The network, BTS, evolved in the 1980s at the height of the country’s 36-year internal armed conflict and genocide against the Mayan Indigenous and any who opposed the government. While advocating for the Government of Canada to condemn the violence, the network began offering accompaniment alongside Canadian advocacy for Guatemalans to ensure their safe passage back home in testifying.

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Mayan creation stories are laid out for discussion through a circular timeline © 2019 Karli Zschogner

Spiraled red yarn becomes our interactive historical reference to Guatemala as we take turns laying out dates of major struggles and powerful milestones. Not starting from colonial contact as most colonial history lessons do, we start at the seed of Mayan creation story and their age of great civilizations including their leaps in architecture, agriculture, mathematics, and astronomy starting in 250 AD.

We take turns unscrambling pieces of their history and providing any reflections we have. “Land is central to everything,” says the cooperant program leader, a Guatemalan. “So much it gives to the world, but at the expense of others.”

During the activity, we broke down the international involvement not just from governments but the role powerful corporations play in exploitation and conflict. For the internal conflict, it was the control of land and labour under the United Fruit Company beginning in the 1930s, to the dehumanization of those who challenge or opposed. In this case, it was the use of the term ‘Communist’ during the Cold War’s fear-mongering.

Flashbacks of emotion come to me during the training of my trip to Guatemala, including the feelings I had experienced while meeting the collective of female Mayan weavers who had lost their husbands, and touring morgues home to those lost in gangs and murdered women.

Despite accomplished milestones such as having the first openly Indigenous lesbian politician and successful guilty trials to those sexually violent towards Mayan women, BTS facilitators give examples of their partners who continue to experience slander, unwarranted arrests, death threats and murders including under multiple large Canadian mining projects. 

These examples remain the reason why BTS’ partners continue to seek a notable international presence regarding reporting and advocacy in Guatemala and, in Canada, organizing tours for Guatemalans to share their stories and political advocacy.

“I want the companies every day to think of us,” says BTS Coordinator Lisa Rankin who’s permanently working in Guatemala. She says the main part of her advocacy is pressuring investors and companies.

The network’s partnership allows organizers like survivor Jesús more more safely continue his legal clinic, another created initiative, which is currently serving survivors in testifying in ongoing national and international cases related to the genocide and ongoing land claims.

In Tatamagouche, we video call in with a Guatemalan survivor Jeremias Tecu, now working in New Brunswick in refugee settlement. He shares with us the horror of the polarizing violence and the pain of losing so many family members and his determination to advocacy in justice and healing.

“I have an obligation to the world,” he says, speaking of his position as a Guatemalan genocide survivor. 

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The group takes turns defining terms such as oppression, privilege and intersectionality © 2019 Karli Zschogner

BTS also partners with a group called Instituto Mesoamericano de Permacultura (IMAP). They are currently working towards maintaining traditional Mayan knowledge through permaculture farming as local sustainable solutions to climate change. One of their unique initiatives, a library seed bank, is intended to preserve near extinct species of edible plant resources. To compliment their work, they also utilize fish-farming within the same area for later use as plant fertilizer. 

The fourth Guatemalan partner is a committee of small farmers known as Comité Campesino del Altiplano (CCDA), a group within the business-agriculture sector that are helping take back traditional knowledge. With growing momentum due to some of their members being elected into Congress, their direct advocacy for their own Indigenous and land rights remain deeply at risk with threats of assassination.

With respect of processes of truth and reconciliation commissions, I have learned that without the process of first laying out the truths, the full history, there cannot be open doors for justice and reconciliation. Systemic issues do not fix themselves, especially when the government denies or does not hold value in education and justice processes. It is not surprising that the most successful initiatives come at the grassroots, from the ground up. 

Stripping down of what accompaniment and cooperant support is, I am learning that especially when fear is used as a tactic to prevent action, it is to help people to feel not alone and having someone’s’ back. As I think of all the unsolved missing and murdered women cases in Guatemala and Canada, being there as offering moral or technical support is critical in documenting in non-bias observation as a last witness in preventing impunity and seeking justice.

When I am moved, upset, shocked or reflecting on something I have learned firsthand of in news, what is often missing is the ‘calls to action’ or what we can do about it. In discussion of examples of concrete ways to make a difference, we watched a video clip of former BTS delegate Hannah Martin directly speaking in the House of Commons to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau at an event called Daughters of the Vote, calling for accountability of the damages of Canadian mining companies she visited. 

Hannah was then video called in to us, introducing herself as a Mi’kmaq youth of Tatamagouche and having lived in Millbrook First Nation.  

“Collectively, we are not much different,” she says in our video chat in reference to Indigenous peoples in Canada and Guatemala. She says, however, being an Indigenous Canadian living and learning from Indigenous Guatemalans, she sat with realizing her own form of privilege as a Canadian citizen. 

Currently a student at McMaster University in Hamilton, ON for Indigenous Studies, she expresses solidarity for her as “using our privilege as Canadians on a global scale”.

Since my return from Guatemala and the personal experiences shared with me in 2015, I also began realizing the privilege, including as a Canadian citizen including access to services, technology and other products from around the world, and most critically, being able to use your voice without a constant fear of death. 

It is why I’ve become more conscious to what I buy and the business behind it. I have learned that as a buyer, there is power in choice and as an act of solidarity. Even through the challenge of living on a small budget, I have learned that this power of choice remains, whether selectively buying items that may on the surface be more expensive, or choosing between wants and needs.

In a reflection exercise, trainers were asked to pick a quote that resonated with us most and draw something to symbolize its theme of solidarity. I chose the one below:

“To love. To be loved. To never forget your own insignificance. To never get used to the unspeakable violence & vulgar disparity of life around you. To seek joy in the saddest places. To pursue beauty to its lair. To never simplify what is complicated or complicate what is simple. To respect strength, never power. Above all, to watch. To try and understand. To never look away. And never, never, to forget.” 

 – Indian author Arundhati Roy

Karli Zschogner is a guest contributor. She is the former journalism trainer for Naotkamegwanning First Nation, from September 2018 to March 2019.

Rez Life

By Virginia Loon

This reserve is better since the last story I wrote. Usually, I’m always busy doing something else or focused on school. I really love the reserve how it is now, rather than the way it was before. There is still bullying around but not as much as before.

But can’t anybody start activities for youth on weekends? I always see kids bored, walking around, or trying to vandalize.

Potholes in Naotkamegwanning

By: Laval Namaypoke

Our community, Naotkamegwanning FN, has been dealing with tricky roads for a long time and they will always be around due to unaffordability and other factors. Over time, most of the community’s members and regular visitors have been able to figure out the pothole hot spots – which makes it less bothersome.

The employed group that officially repairs the community’s potholes is the Operations & Maintenance crew. Though sometimes community members take time out of their days to fix the pothole problem themselves, they only provide a temporary solution. With the help of the O&M crew and community members, we do our best to ensure safe and smoother passage into our great community for visitors and our fellow community members. They always do a great job and they always make the roads smooth as they can be. Those people are always thanked and very appreciated for the repairs on our roads.

How I Became a Jingle Dress Dancer

Photo Credit Ozaawaa Paypompee
Okima poses for her sister over winter in her new jingle dress (Photo Credit: Ozaawaa Paypompee)

By: Okima Paypompee

When I was nine years old, I decided to learn how to dance pow-wow. I saw a lot of people around me dance and it made me feel happy inside, but I was so shy. I asked my mom if could ever do that too and she said it was up to me and my own decision.

About a year later, determined to have my own, at a pow wow, I asked a man if I could purchase  this beautiful blue and pink fancy shawl dress. He told me it was $200 but I did not have that amount. Although, after some discussion with his wife and my dad, he agreed to trade with my dad his painting of a wolf and the moon.

I was so excited. I began teaching myself, whether through youtube videos or focusing live when women and girls danced. Fancy Shawl dancing, a highlight in pow wow competitions, is considered a reflection of a butterfly as the girl or women moves her ‘wingspan’ and feet lightly. It takes so much foot and arm coordination. Ever since I started dancing, I fell in love with it.

For years, I travelled with my family to pow wows, competing, receiving from fourth place to second place. Delighted for that moment, I felt my years of practice was paying off  when I received that second place win in the 2016 Grassy Narrows pow wow.

But, I didn’t want to just stop there. I wanted to keep learning. I wanted to dance jingle dress as well.  I loved the colours, the presentation, and the sounds of the cones jingling together. When I danced fancy shawl, I was still so shy, worried what others think. But I didn’t want to be shy anymore.

On my own, I began practicing the dance, preparing myself for the jingle dress dance. I began asking around of where I could purchase or have a jingle dress made for me but the costs were too high for me.

Then, on the first day of Shawendaason’s first annual cultural camp in October, Rolanda Wilson happened to announce she was selling a jingle dress she made herself. I went over to ask her and I was delighted to be able to purchase this beautiful blue, orange, yellow, green and pink dress with copper jingles.

I was so excited, so proud to be able to purchase it with my own money I saved. Rolanda suggested I dance with it at the end of the camp’s pow wow at the Naotkamegwanning roundhouse. Learning about Naotkamegwanning’s origin to the jingle dress, discussed at the camp made me even more excited to have this dress of my own. After the grand entry, I felt the feelings of shyness leave me, dancing counterclockwise beside the people I knew.

Being a jingle dress dancer means a lot to me because I love showing the skills I have learned. From now on, I want to show others how proud I am.

Like with learning fancy shawl and now jingle dress, I want to show my family and friends that I can learn on my own.

 

Mentorship is the Key to Learning and Growing

By: Isaac Kavanaugh

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Roland White drafts ideas for the group (Photo credit: Isaac Kavanaugh)

Earlier this month I attended a conference dedicated to youth of treaty three dedicated to the importance of mentorship in college or university.

Six of us high school students from Whitefish Bay attended the Grand Council Treaty Three youth mentorship conference held in Fort Frances at the La Place Rendezvous Hotel on January 11 and 12.

One of the things that stuck out to me was a presentation by Dr. James Makokis from Saddle Lake First Nation. He introduced himself in his language which is Little Boy Drum (Anishanabe name). He talked about his Cree background and how the Ojibway and Cree culture and language are similar, just taught differently and how the language is said. He also talked about the Alberta Jasper Park mountains and how you can see the marks left from the Creator and the great Nana Boozhoo.

Uniquely, Carol Easton the Fort Frances Tribal Health Unit gave a presentation about sexual education. During the presentation they talked about how to get tested and how the Sexual Transmitted Infections (STIs) are all different, how they affect the body, and how to receive treatment.

The next presentation was about human trafficking and how this sexual exploitation is happening around us. Speaking about trauma and survivors, they explained how one can recover from such a monstrous act with the help of support workers and seeking help. They explained that the main spots for human trafficking takes place in Fort Frances ON and Thunder Bay ON.

They did a demonstration on how young girls get caught by the traffickers. To explain, she set up a profile of a little girl (aged thirteen plus) and within twenty minutes that profile she made as an example got 35 friend requests on Facebook from older men, she also said that traffickers will use language like “I can help pay your bills”.

On the final day, they asked us to write down our insights and how we felt. Asking what we would like to see at the next conferences, many of us across the different nations said language and culture. When asked to share from our table, many of my peers asked if I would speak but I told them that I cannot always be responsible for them but to speak for themselves – that they have their own voice and experiences.

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Corban Crow speaks for his table (Photo credit: Isaac Kavanaugh)

Corban spoke of our table’s suggestions on the next conference locations including Kenora and Winnipeg. Baibombeh teacher Roland White spoke saying he was happy to see youth engage in wanting to see more native language. He also recommended that the next time youth be split up so that they can meet each other better.

Isaac Kavanaugh is a Grade 11 student at Baibombeh Anishinaabe School.

Whitefish Bay Predators Win Shoal Lake Tournament

 

WFB Predators Jan 18 to 20 Shoal Lake Tournament (Photo Credit: Rod Crow)

By: Rodney Crow

Our Whitefish Bay Predators won the Men’s Hockey Tournament in Shoal Lake from January 18 to 20. It was hosted by Stewart Redsky. We played our first game at 10am Saturday against Pikangikum and we beat them 9 – 2. Our next game that evening, we beat Long Plains 6 – 0. Our third game we won a close one 3 – 2 against Shoal Lake Flyers. Then we met up with Long Plains again in the championship game where we beat them 5 – 4. We were exhausted playing all weekend but somehow managed to win. The last time we were in Shoal Lake was 5 years ago and we won that tournament too with 7 players.

Our team is: Goalie: Everett Cowley, Defencemen: Mario Gauthier, Jamie Mandamin & Dave Crow. Forwards: Rhyse Mandamin, Eli Paul, Maverick Blackhawk, Damien Paypompee & Rodney Crow. (This was NOT an oldtimers tournament!)

London! Paris! Rome! The Baibombeh Anishinabe High School Travel Club

Travel Club members Adam Skead and Ireland Bird with her mother Leigh Green at first fundraiser Bingo December 10, 2018 at Baibombeh Aninishinaabe School Gym (Photo Credit: Xavier Ranville)

By: Marietta Patabon

The Baibombeh Anishinabe High School Travel Club is open to students enrolled in grades nine through 12. In May 2019, a group of 10 – 12 students and four chaperones will take a nine-day educational tour of three of the oldest cities in the world: London, England; Paris; France, and Rome, Italy! The tour was set up through EF Educational Tours Inc. at www.eftours.ca with expert travel consultants & tour guides that help every step of the way. Each student is currently working on fundraising ideas to help cover the full cost of their travel expenses.

As of January 2019, students should have already made two payments and are still fundraising in order to reach their goal. All students are currently working on their passport applications to ensure that they are prepared to travel.

Bingo Dabbers at Travel Club’s First Fundraiser Bingo December 10, 2018 at Baibombeh Aninishinaabe School Gym (Photo Credit: Elena Kejick)

To date, the travel club will already have hosted two merchandise bingo’s as well as one Christmas raffle. The first bingo was held on December 10th, 2018 and raised a total of $700. The second bingo was held on January 13th, 2019. This bingo did not get the turnout the club had hoped for. However, the bingo carried on without any profit gain. The Christmas Raffle gained a total of $2,066. Students and families have also taken to individual hockey pool’s, and mini draw’s.

Travel Club’s First Fundraiser Bingo December 10, 2018 at Baibombeh Aninishinaabe School Gym with food canteen (Photo Credit: Elena Kejick)

Here are some upcoming events the Travel Club will be hosting:

Merchandise Bingo, Monday, February 11, 2019 at Baibombeh School. Doors will open 6:30 p.m. Stay tuned for the Poster and list of Prizes. An announcement will be made soon for the next BIG Raffle with excellent prizes and where to purchase your tickets. Another fundraiser for the club is a cute one, candy gram sales at Baibombeh School for Valentine’s Day, orders can be made at the school. Lastly, the travel club will be at the Family Day Pow Wow, a canteen and a menu will be posted via Facebook.

Miigwetch for all your kind donations and support towards our Baibombeh Anishinabe High School students. 

SCREECH! AGH! GROWLL! Traditional storytelling through a graphic novel

By: Landon Joseph

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An example of what the graphic novel looks like inside (Photo credit: Carter Nash)

I recommend the graphic novel Eagle Girl  to other students because it’s about shapeshifting.

Shapeshifting is when a human transforms into a creature. They might look or act like the creature. Shapeshifting is important to many first nation cultures.

The story takes place in the plateau region in western Canada and the United States. The two students in the book I read in grade seven, Shay Feather and Kyle Wolf, find out that they can shapeshift. After meeting Kyle, Shay had a dream about an eagle and a wolf who had Kyle’s eyes.

Shay asked why she felt annoyed and felt a zap of electricity when she touched Kyle, the new boy in town. Her mom told her about her family history of shapeshifting into a eagle and about her family feud between the wolf and the eagle.

When Shay and Kyle confronted each other again, and turned into a wolf and an eagle, somebody got hurt. They realized they should stop fighting.

“Whatever happened long ago between our families is no business of ours. This feud needs to stop right here and now….. With us!,” said Shay.

The main conflict was when Shay and Kyle were fighting in the woods.

I loved the book  for its storyline about shapeshifting. I also liked it because of the art work and the animals.

The book is by Robert Cutting, under Turtle Island Voices, which is a series of 30 levelled readers designed to foster awareness and understanding of Aboriginal cultures for both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal students, and was published by Pearson Canada.

The following story has been re-drafted one-on-one with journalism trainer.

Ballin’ for Our Elders

By Marietta Patabon

Late last summer, a heartfelt gesture of wanting to provide an amusing time for our elders presented itself to Debbie Meekis. Remarkably, an idea on how to fundraise a Christmas shopping trip for our elders was born.

“I just wanted to take them out where they can enjoy themselves and be out where they don’t have to worry about anything and just to be out,”  said Debbie. She said selling Bingo balls was suggested as the best way to shape this dream into reality.

Debbie works with Naotkamegwanning region’s elders everyday and she holds every recollection of the stories, gifts, and their happy memories she has met thus far.

Our elders adventured off to Black Bear Casino for two nights, and Duluth, Minnesota . Everyone enjoyed themselves, as Debbie recalls. The looks on their faces was the grateful feeling for her efforts of fundraising, she said. A donation of $250 was also presented to one of our elders in need, after an unfortunate event.

Aside from working, and the lack of communication with her family back home in Deer Lake First Nation, Debbie said she enjoys the task of opening all the tabs and sending pictures of confirmation to supporters, which presents as a big undertaking. With the support of Waylon Namaypoke at home, her efforts have been extremely gratifying for family and all supporters, she said.

The last of her fundraising will end after all current tickets are sold and includes for elders’ birthdays, she said.

With all appreciative gratitude from all us here and surrounding supporting areas, Miigwetch!

Recognized animal caregiver: Local resident caring for all living creatures

By: Donna Namaypoke

On Saturday December 8, 2018, just before 11:00 am, my mother phoned me to tell

photo video credit melissa
Jyles Copenace prepares to capture the snowy owl (Photo credit: Isaac Kavanaugh)

me that she’s over by the garbage can in the west end so naturally my reply is “oh”.  She then proceeded to tell me that she was driving and Brian Copenace, who was sanding our roads at the time, stopped her and pointed towards the garbage can and that’s when my mother saw a beautiful snowy owl sitting in the middle of the road.

“I think it’s injured and there are a couple of ravens bothering it,” she said, asking what could be done. So I messaged Jyles Copenace to see if he was in the community and could go and check on it.

She said she would stay there and wait. I immediately messaged Jyles, who was pretty quick to respond and say he would be right over.

About an hour and a half  later, Jyles messaged me and told me he got the owl and that it was  malnourished but should be fine. He thanked me for calling on him and asking for his assistance. Meanwhile I’m thinking, “Who else would I call” but replied with, “No problem”.

You see, this past summer my mother-in-law called and said there is an injured eagle over by her place. After exchanging a conversation regarding the eagle, we hung up and I continued on with my day at home. About two hours later, she called again and said that eagle had moved.

Sure enough there was this beautiful golden eagle sitting in the tall grass. I tried to go close to it just to see if I could force it to fly away, but it didn’t. Instead it flapped its wings and hopped further way.

Not wanting to stress it out, I backed away. I decided to call the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (MNRF). The man on the phone  replied that at the moment they didn’t have the manpower to deal with injured animals and that there were many wildfires in the region. He did give me the name of a woman and a phone number, which I called and left a voicemail.

After waiting and hoping that the lady would call, I decided to call the MNRF again. This time a man asked me where in Ontario.  “Whitefish Bay right by Sioux Narrows,” I said.

“Isn’t there a guy there that helps out injured birds?” he said.  I asked him if he was referring to Jyles Copenance and he agreed.  

I said I would see if he was in the community as it was pow wow season, and usually he and his family are traveling, but luckily he wasn’t. Jyles said he would be over as soon as they are done eating. I told him that we would  wait there with the eagle until he arrived.

He and his family arrived within a half hour and right away he said that it was not a golden eagle, but a young bald eagle! He explained to us that the birds look like golden eagles when they are young and that the feathers change.I had no idea that he knew so much about them.

Jyles and his son decided that his son would walk to the left of the eagle while Jyles went to the right and whichever way the owl would move, then the closest one would throw a blanket on him.

It was all very interesting to watch, especially how efficient they were, like it was an everyday thing.  I asked him a week later how the eagle was doing and he said he had it at his house for a couple days and released it at my mother-in-law’s. It flew away without any issues.

As of this morning, December 10, 2018, the snowy owl was released in good health. Thank you Jyles!