During the World Indigenous Peoples Conference on Education (WIPCE) in Toronto from July 24 to 28, OPSEU and the Indigenous Circle showed that they're at the forefront of building powerful partnerships between First Nations and trade unions.
"Unions are a force for doing good," said OPSEU President Warren (Smokey) Thomas. "I'm humbled and proud to see that Indigenous members of OPSEU are using this union as a platform to support events like this conference.
"They're doing good for themselves and for their communities."
WIPCE is held every three years in locations around the world. OPSEU and the Indigenous Circle were major sponsors of this year's event. It was the first time that a trade union and its members had played such a major supporting role.
"I am proud to be part of a union that is at the forefront of the movement towards true reconciliation," said Theresa O'Connor, an OPSEU member who attended the conference.
"The shared experience of colonialism is truly heartbreaking but it's the resilience that stands out. Coming together has encouraged my belief that we as Indigenous people on Turtle Island must come together and rebuild our old alliances of the past."
Members of the OPSEU Indigenous Mobilization Team (IMT) made a well-received presentation during the conference about Indigenous-Labour reconciliation.
"After our presentation, a gentleman from Australia told me that it made him hopeful for a future filled with strength and solidarity," said Russ Jock, an OPSEU OPS member and a member of the IMT.
"We are part of something very special here. History will show our generation played a role in Indigenous People standing back up and regaining our pride and dignity."
Nearly a dozen Indigenous OPSEU members attended WIPCE. Here are some of their impressions of the event:
- "No matter what part of the world we come from, Indigenous people are dealing with the same colonization issues as we are here." — Paige Malcolm
- "I am so touched with the connections made and shared knowledge on Turtle Island. " — Chris Koptie
- "This conference has been absolutely eye opening. Being able to collaborate and learn from other Indigenous groups has been one of the best opportunities I could have. One of the most important things I have learned is that we need to focus on education. Learning from the past will help everyone to grow together and move forward towards healing." — Krista Maracle
- "I feel privileged to be attending the workshops and meeting many beautiful determined people with similarities in culture and challenges." — Lauren Fong
- "Sharing ideas, methodologies and strategies on how to protect, preserve, and promote our languages, cultures, and traditions is vital to our survival as a people." — Darlene Kaboni
- "I am feeling the need to be a part of the educating of all members within the OPS. We need to find a way to have mandatory courses in order to give them all a better understanding of Indigenous issues as they pertain to truth and reconciliation." — Lise Dampier
- "The opportunity for international and domestic networking for members of the Indigenous Circle and OPSEU will prove to be invaluable, as we strive to reach out and share our stories and build on our foundation of solidarity." — Geri Kakeeway