Agnutmaqan (Stories) from Mi'kma'ki – An Important Virtual Discussion

On November 13, 2020, a virtual talk was held, titled: Agnutmaqan (Stories) from Mi'kma'ki. It featured moderators Professor Tasha Beeds, Mide-Kwe Water Walker, and Sylvia McAdam Saysewehum of Idle No More, conversing with two Mi’kmaq Land and Water Defenders: Dorene Bernard from the Sipekne'katik Nation and Tara Lewis from the Eskasoni Nation. This event was made possible by the collaboration of: the University of Sudbury's Indigenous Studies Department, the University of Windsor's Indigenous Legal Orders Institute, the Faculty of Education and Office of Indigenous Initiatives at Queen’s University and Dalhousie University's Canadian Studies Department.

Screenshot of the Zoom call that was streamed live on Youtube, featuring the photos of the 2 moderators Tasha and Sylvie, and the 2 guests, Dorene and Tara  A number of participants from across Turtle Island tuned in to hear this compelling discussion, where important stories surrounding the recent fishing rights disputes on the East coast were shared. The guests were engaged and had many questions – more than could be answered.
Personal experiences and observations were shared, many surrounding the intimidation, racism, and injustices faced. “There would be about a hundred [non-Indigenous fishermen] coming to us, and there would only be about a handful of us frontline workers – this is when it all started – and some of the women were just like “call 911 – everyone start calling 911” trying to make our voices heard. It was scary. All we had to defend ourselves were our phones, to be going live so that the world could see what was happening to us. That was our defense; that’s how we were defending ourselves,” shares Tara Lewis, one of the speakers. “It shouldn’t have happened, especially in 2020,” she continues. 

Important issues and questions were raised throughout. All the women expressed that these are the lands and waters of their ancestors and that “it is our cultural and inherent responsibility to protect our Mother Earth, the water and the environment for our future generations,” as stated by Dorene Bernard. They highlighted how Indigenous peoples want to keep feeding their families and have an inherent right within their respective Nations to sovereignty and self-governance; to have their own regulations, principles, jurisdictions, and more.

“We went to the Supreme Court of Canada to have these Treaty rights recognized and affirmed – in the highest courts of the land – yet here we are still fighting, for the right to fish, and the right to hunt, and why is that?,” states Water Walker and Grandmother Dorene Bernard. “It’s enshrined in the Constitution, the law of this land in Canada, and yet we struggle and fight every day for the right to live and be Indigenous people in our own lands, in our own skin – just to be.”

She continues: “Making land acknowledgements and raising a few flags is not true reconciliation. Upholding our Treaty rights and our sovereignty; our inherent rights […] is the reconciliation that we want and we deserve, and this is what we need, so it’s important that all Canadians hold Canada accountable to implementing the Calls to Action in the spirit of Truth and Reconciliation.”

Despite the conflict and trauma, “there were also beautiful things,” highlights Tara, recalling the events on the front-line, such as her people drumming and singing, the sense of community to help one another, and true ceremony by Indigenous peoples.

“We do have protocols on peaceful resistance and many times, on the front lines, ceremony comes first,” noted Dorene. “We share this land and we need to do this together, in a peaceful way, in a good way, to show our children that this is who we are, and that we want to be respected, and that we have rights – we have human rights but we also have Indigenous rights.”

In response to questions on what can be done, especially by non-Indigenous people, a recurring answer was continuing to support, and encouraging better education and understanding. Writing letters and communicating with leaders or educators is important, to help amplify voices and demand more education on Indigenous rights and Treaties, to help the general population understand what these are, and the responsibilities that stem from them. It was resounding that educating people for better understanding is crucial.

“I think it starts with Treaty education, because that covers it all. It talks about our right to be, our right to life and dignity in our own lands and living off our resources. We share – those Peace and Friendship Treaties share – but it never prevented us from exercising our rights, our right to our own land. We never ceded the land, we never surrendered our land, we never sold our land – it’s always been a part of who we are – and I think that’s the kind of education that needs to be out there for our understanding,” stated Dorene Bernard.

 

A recording of the full discussion can be seen here: https://youtu.be/_dVBqIoog2I

More information on the speakers and moderators can be seen on the PDF poster found on this page.

A few resources:
Treaties and Agreements in Canada
Truth and Reconciliation Calls to Action
National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation
United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples
Report of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples

 

Logos of all the sponsors listed at the beginning of the article

A- A A+