The OPSEU Region 3 Indigenous Conference held October 20-22 took participants on a journey.
It was a long journey, one that went through the pain of loss and on to the path of healing. Survivors of the “Sixties Scoop,” which saw Indigenous children taken from their families and raised in non-Indigenous households, were the guides on the journey. OPSEU participants walked side by side with survivors, and bore witness to their stories – and their resiliency.
One participant expressed feeling “compassion for those affected, infuriated at the government, impressed by the Indigenous people I met…. They are strong, proud and still find joy and laughter along with the tears – and hope.”
That kind of resiliency is a way of life rooted in Indigenous culture, informed by traditional teachings, and celebrated in ceremony. It was the guiding principle of the conference, which was organized by Indigenous OPSEU members and the Chippewas of Rama First Nation, on whose traditional territory the conference took place. Cristine Rego, OPSEU Region 3 Indigenous Circle rep, was the lead facilitator; Elder Austin Mixemong provided guidance, counsel and teachings throughout the weekend. Darlene Kaboni and Crystal Sinclair, members of the OPSEU Indigenous Mobilization Team (IMT) were also on hand as co-facilitators. Danielle Kahn Da Silva and Nadya Kwandibens of Photographers Without Borders, a community of storytellers that empower grassroots initiatives worldwide, were on hand to document the event.
The conference opened Friday evening, October 20, with a welcome and land acknowledgment by Dan Shilling, Band Manager of Chippewas of Rama First Nation, followed by a welcome from Sara Labelle, OPSEU Region 3 Regional Vice-President, and a prayer by Elder Myrna Watson.
Saturday morning began with a blanket exercise, a visual and emotional representation of Indigenous cultures being stolen by colonialism. Participants watched the OPSEU video, Coming Home: Sixties Scoop Survivors Reclaim their Culture; they also took part in a sharing circle and small group discussions, and discussed plans to move forward on the path of reconciliation between First Nations people and other Canadians.
Participants came from many OPSEU sectors, including corrections, the Liquor Board Employees Division, health care professionals, and community health services. With the sun smiling at the edge of Lake Couchiching, participants greeted Sunday morning with a celebration of culture with the Coldwater Ojibway Singers and Dancers and two members of the Métis Fiddler Quartet.
It was a weekend of education, of healing, and of reconciliation.
Region 3 RVP Sara Labelle felt honoured and privileged to be invited on the journey.
“The real measure of success for this conference will be a large gathering of OPSEU members at Parliament Hill to demand justice for Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women, healing for Sixties Scoop survivors, and respectful relationships that undo colonialism for seven generations.”
Labelle thanked Region 3 equity representatives for their work on the conference, in particular Ron LePage, who built bridges to the local Indigenous community, as well as Michael McKeown, Region 3 Provincial Human Rights Committee rep, and Tammy Carson, Indigenous Circle rep. Staff support for the conference was provided by the OPSEU Equity Unit.