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.

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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 youth powerfully demonstrate musical skills and talents

 

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Natalie Copenace-Kelly, 14 of nearby Onigaming First Nation, sings cover of “Beautiful Thing” by Grace Vanderwaal (Photo Credit: Karli Zschogner)

Live performances and movie screening at Netaawgonebiik Health Centre captivates audience.

By: Damon Hunter

The once quiet healing room of the Netaawgonebiik Health Centre had transformed into a flashing sequence of revolving lights and was cheerfully occupied by an applauding crowd this past Sunday, January 20.

“It was such a good show. I enjoyed it and I’m going to watch the show again,” said Leila Paypompee who brought along her children.“That film really inspired me. My perspective changed on music and history”.

The aforementioned show in question is Rumble: The Indians Who Rocked the World. The internationally award-winning film had garnered the attention of the community journalism trainer Karli Zschogner and willed her to initiate a screening here in Whitefish Bay, along with the opportunity to host a few debut performances from local musicians.

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Hanisha Singer Teddy Copenace performs opening drum songs to the audience of 30. (Photo Credit: Karli Zschogner)

Teddy Copenace of Naotkamegwanning’s Hanisha Singers elevated the room’s spirituality with his strong vocals and hide drum. Second to perform was Natalie Copenace-Kelly, 14. Utilizing her self-taught ukulele skills, she sang a powerful cover of “Beautiful Thing” by Grace Vanderwaal.

“[I] was hecka scared but I felt better afterwards,” said Natalie. “That’s why I like doing it, because I feel so much better after it.”

Following was Connor Kakeeway’s expertly played two piano performances, both of which were self-taught by the 17 year old multi-instrumentalist only three years ago he said. He played his pieces ‘The Wind Palace’ and ‘The Night Before July’. All musical performances had generated great applause from the crowd.

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Connor Kakeeway performs one of his two original pieces ‘The Night Before July’ he says inspired by a Japanese exchange student. (Photo Credit: Karli Zschogner)

“I really enjoyed the talent of our young people. Showcasing talent and having a platform for them is definitely needed,” said Rhonda White, 7th grade teacher at Baibombeh School.

Rumble, named after the 1958 influential rock and roll anthem by Shawnee Link Wray, reveals the unrecognized Indigenous contribution to several genres of music across history. The influential lives of these people wowed viewers as their background was not commonly known trivia.

Simple folk music was soon electric guitars and thrashing whips of dyed hair. The film included the backgrounds of Jimi Hendrix, Ozzy Osbourne, Buffy Sainte-Marie, swing’s Mildred Bailey and The Black Eyed Peas’ Taboo.

“The movie was really interesting. I’m a big music lover,” said guitar playing Brody Allen of Onigaming First Nation. “[I] never knew how much influence indigenous peoples had on music.”

The final set of musical performances occurred subsequently to the film opening with Natalie and then Connor with a second original piece. Closing the evening was the debut of the 19 year old, Cayne Kakeeway. Accompanied by community member Glen White on guitar and Connor on keyboard organ, Cayne rapped his own composition of self-written lyrics.

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Naotkamegwanning community member Cayne Kakeeway debuts his first original rap and mixed beats supported by brother Connor Kakeeway on organ and Glen White on bass. (Photo Credit: Karli Zschogner)

The event had been brought to the attention of renowned guitarist, Stevie Salas. Salas has worked among the more larger bands of the rock genre, most notably Hardware. He has also collaborated with music giants such as Justin Timberlake, Mick Jagger, and Rod Stewart.

Both Salas and Tim Johnson, Executive Producers of the film, agreed to answer community gathered questions following the event through Naotkamegwanning Mazina’igan. These will be answered in our next issue.

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. 

More than just the beauty

Local aesthetician Jermaine White is helping build girls’ self-esteem one nail, curl, and lip at a time.Ozaawaa2

Jermaine White helps other women build up their self-image (Photo Credit: Ozaawaa Paypompee)

I first went to Jermaine White of Naotkamegwanning earlier this month, curious if she did make-up. Sitting down with her, she made me feel good. She taught me different tips and how I can learn how to do things myself.

I am very happy, she is offering to share her many skills: nails, makeup, and hair salon cuts, colours and extensions, to help others build their confidence.

On Tuesday October 9, Ozaawaa and I went to sit down to interview her and one of her clients.

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Jermaine says she decided to channel her creativity into cosmetics (Photo Credit: Ozaawaa Paypompee)

OP: How did you come into doing makeup? 

JW: I’ve always wanted to be a makeup artist since I was young. I decided back in 2014 after I graduated from high school. I decided to Nuwave (School of Hair Design) in Thunder Bay for hair, nails and makeup.

OP: Why do you do you offer different beauty services?

JW: I’ve always had a passion for  it. I have a creative mind, so I thought I’d put my creatively to use. Why better not then to become a makeup artist!

OP: How does it make you feel?

JW: It makes me feel good to be in this makeup industry. It’s really exciting really. It makes me feel good.

OP: Why do you do this for others?

JW: To give everyone experience, what I can do and show off my skills.

OP: Where do you get your makeup from?

JW: I’ve been to three different makeup schools so everytime I go to a new school I get a new kit.

OP: Do you have any Ojibwe/Anishinaabe influence in your work?

JW: When I started to get into nail design I actually tried to include nails designs, Anishinaabe flowers and floral nail artwork.

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    She says she is excited to start hosting workshops called ‘Beauty for the Soul’ (Photo Credit: Ozaawaa Paypompee

OP: What does it mean to be Anishinaabe?

JW: It means to be inspiring, strong, following your heart and doing what’s best for you.

OP: What are people’s feedback when you help them?

JW: They get really excited to try something new. It’s also exciting for me when I see people’s expressions when I give them what they want, or give them something new and exciting.

OP: What is next for you? Do you have any workshops?

JW: I do these workshops, ‘Beauty for the Soul’, it includes nail polish and makeup application. I’ve been working with the community to set up workshops. I’m looking forward to setting up something soon.

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Jermaine White helps other women build up their self-image through makeup (Photo Credit: Ozaawaa Paypompee)

Cassidy Copenance does beading in the community. She says she was a client of Jermaine three years ago, sitting down to do her nails and makeup.

OP: What do you think she means for the community?

CC: I think it’s good that she is close because people don’t have to drive to Kenora. I know she has done makeup for a couple ladies’ weddings and I think that’s really good because they were thinking about her.

OP: Can you speak about her character?

CC: She is a great person. I’ve had a couple troubles of my own and she’s been there. She is just a really good person.

She’s just a really good makeup artist and she is trying to further her education.

OP: What is it about makeup or hair that empowers or uplift women?

CC: If I’m feeling really crappy then I will happen to put makeup on or do my nails and I’ll feel good about myself.