Yesterday, I had the opportunity to participate in the City for All Women Initiative (CAWI)‘s The Indigenous Truth: Our History, Our Stories, Our Lives Action Forum. Living in Ottawa, we are blessed to have a lot of opportunities to learn from and engage with indigenous community members at events like this.
And we need to take as many opportunities as come our way because, as Claudette Commanda, a legal scholar and the grand-daughter of the late Algonquin Elder William Commanda, stated at the beginning of the session “How do you go over 500 years of colonialism in 15 minutes?” Well, you can’t which is why we have to each commit to on-going learning.
As part of the event, we were gifted an image of a feather with the name of a missing or murdered indigenous woman. I was given a feather with the name Angela Holm. When I got home I googled the name Angela to see what I could learn about her story. Angela Holm was murdered at the age of 16. She struggled throughout childhood with the rare immune deficiency hypogammaglobulinemia. She was murdered by her step cousin who was suffering from untreated schizophrenia.
For people who were unable to attend, I am including bios and links so you can learn about the speakers at the session.
Claudette Commanda was born and raised on the Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg Algonquin First Nation community located in one of the ancestral territories of the Algonquin people, the province of Quebec. Claudette is an alumni of the University of Ottawa Faculty of Law and Faculty of Arts. In 2009, she was inducted into the Common Law Honour Society for her work in promoting First Nations education, language and culture. She lives and practices her Anishinabe traditional beliefs and upholds the sacred teachings with utmost respect and responsibility. She is the proud mother of four children in addition to raising a foster daughter; and has nine grandchildren.
Also check out Claudette Commanda’s speech available online “Justice or Just-us” where she reflects on the struggle for justice for missing and murdered indigenous women
Elder Thomas Louttit was born on September 4, 1948 in Coral Rapids, Ontario where his father was stationed with Ontario Northland Railroad. He is second oldest of nine children. Thomas spent his early years being cared for in Moose Factory by his parents and his maternal grandfather. At five years old he was sent to Fort Albany Indian Residential School in Ontario and at nine to Fort George, Quebec. In the 1965 Thomas was placed in the care of Children’s Aid Society. For next three years he lived in many different foster homes throughout southern and northern Ontario. Thomas moved to Toronto where he became a Flat Roofer, a career that would last 32 years. In the early 1980s he began to construct a life free of alcohol, abuse and other destructive patterns that he addressed through traditional ceremonies. He has spent many years pursuing his own healing from physical and sexual abuse. In 1994 he graduated from the three-year Ontario Native Education Program.
Thomas describes himself as an Oskabay-wis, “a helper to the people“. He spent thousands of hours assisting Elder Jim Dumont, Elder Roger Jones, and Hectory Copegog; Enaathig Healing; and Onkwatenro`shon:` a Health Planners Lodge (Dr. Ed Connors); and various others as a traditional fire keeper for Sacred Sweat Lodge and most recently conducting Sweat Lodge. For the past twenty years he has been facilitating Traditional Healing Circles, mostly for men’s groups. Thomas is highly sought after by schools and community groups to speak on the Indian Residential School experience and to share his personal healing journey. Presently, Thomas provides elders services for the Assembly of First Nations, Aboriginal Peoples Television Network, and the Government of Canada, to name a few. His volunteer work includes being a founding member of the Barrie Native Friendship Centre.
Neal Shannacappo is a Saulteaux (Nakawe) artist, graphic novelist, filmmaker, writer, poet and Social Service Worker graduate from Algonquin College April 2013. His people come from the Rolling River First Nations in Manitoba. Neal’s clan is the Wolf, his spirit name is Oshkabay’wis. Neal was adopted when he was 5 years old, and has lived largely in colonial society since then. He follows a traditional/urban lifestyle, smudging, attending ceremony and carrying tobacco for offerings when he can.
Neal has been drawing comic books since he was 12 years old, at which time he began to take the craft seriously, currently he’s completed Navriss, roughly five versions of the Krillian Key graphic novel and countless side story lines which have helped him shape his novels. Mashkiikii Miikana – Medicine Road marks the first collaboration with another artist.
In this video Neal’s discusses his experience as an indigenous adoptee
Maria Jacko is Algonquin from the Kitigan Zibi community, which is just about hour outside of Ottawa. She is the aunt of Maisy Odjick, who, along with her friend Shannon Alexander, are among Canada’s missing indigenous women. In 2008, Maisy, 16, and Shannon 17, disappeared from Kitigan Zibi.
Maria discusses the struggle to find Maisy and Shannon
Michele Penney worked as the Aboriginal Court Support Program worker with the Odawa Native Friendship Centre for many years. She shared her experience as a survivor of The Sixties Scoop, which saw many indigenous children taken from their families and communities and put into foster care and/or adopted into White families. The Sixties Scoop followed the Residential Schools as a form of assimilation of indigenous communities and many would say this process continues today as can be seen in the dramatic overrepresentation of indigenous children in Canada’s child welfare system.
5 Things to Know about Ottawa’s Aboriginal Community (CBC Ottawa)