A few weeks before Christmas we found out about The Ballantyne Project; an initiative that was designed to collect items for Indigenous children who live in reserves across Canada. The Ballantyne Project was conceptualized and brought to fruition by Dwight Ballantyne. Please check out his story via The Ballantyne Project.
As we found out about the project during the busiest time of the year we only committed to sending one box but we are hoping to spread the word and make it an annual tradition to help the Indigenous community by participating in this initiative as well as the many others that we will talk about below. We would also like to take this opportunity to not only educate ourselves further but to also share what we have learned with you in order to help facilitate a deeper understanding of our Indigenous neighbours. We hope our words and actions build bridges so that we can all feel more connected to one another on this beautiful land we call home.
The Ballantyne Project:
We had asked if we could specifically help a community in Ontario and were assigned Kingfisher Lake First Nation (located in the area we know as Northern Ontario).
Here is a little bit of information about Kingfisher Lake First Nation:
The predominant mode of travel to this community is through air transportation. However, on a seasonal basis you can temporarily access this reserve using winter trails and winter ice roads. Kingfisher Lake cannot be accessed through provincial highway, and there are no road connections with nearby reserves.
What does this mean? The cost of goods is extremely high for this community. Indigenous people have been compared to living in 4th world conditions. What does that mean? Some Indigenous communities don’t have access to clean drinking water and are living in poverty while having to pay a considerable amount more (in some cases 2-4 times what we pay for goods). Do you know that there is an initiative (Moon Time Sisters) out there to collect tampons and pads for girls/women who live on reserves because the cost of these items makes it hard for them to go to school? We were shocked when we found out. When we posted about collecting items for these boxes we were approached by a member of our community who shared the following story with us:
"I used to live in Inuvik, NWT. Where not a reserve, it is isolated and limited to products. I know in 1990 to 1993 a carton of milk was $8. A carton of cigarettes was $80-120 while here it was $30-50. One case of pop was $30. I had a total culture shock. When I went to the pharmacy to buy hair spray or mouth wash, they were behind the counter. The liquor store, when closed, had a metal gate drop down in front of the door. No windows."
We had read similar stories on our search for more information but to hear it from someone who lives minutes away that had experienced it first hand was definitely eye-opening.
This is why its imperative for us to share this message especially during the pandemic. The last few months have been hard for most of us; shortages at grocery stores, increased prices, temporary and permanent closing of businesses and living in isolation. However, do you know that those who live on reserves have dealt with those conditions almost all their lives? This is why we were deeply touched by Dwight Ballantyne’s Project and wanted to share this message with our community.
We put out a request to collect the following items:
-pencil crayons, felt markers, crayons, drawing pencils
-colouring books for children and adults
-puzzle books, sudoku books, crossword puzzle books
-small board games, card games, decks of cards
-beading kits, painting kits, knitting kits
Thank you to those who have helped us thus far! Originally the boxes were supposed to be submitted by January 15th, however, the date has been extended to January 31st. We have also been approved to send more boxes to this community and will be collecting items until this Friday.
What are other ways we can help? By educating ourselves and helping spread this information to others around us.
We live in Brampton, Ontario (Region of Peel) and were both humbled and grateful to find out we live in an area that is already taking steps to heal our relationship with the Indigenous People of this land.
This link shows us how we can respect Indigenous values by showing respect to the land through an acknowledgment statement. Acknowledging the land is an Indigenous practice that has been happening for thousands of years. It recognizes and respects the legal and spiritual relationship Indigenous peoples have with their territories. The following guidance was provided by the Region of Peel and further information can be viewed at the following link above:
Hosting a public gathering in Peel?
Please consider opening your public meeting, presentation or event with this Land Acknowledgement.
“We would like to begin by acknowledging the land on which we gather, and which the Region of Peel operates, is part of the Treaty Lands and Territory of the Mississaugas of the Credit. For thousands of years, Indigenous peoples inhabited and cared for this land. In particular we acknowledge the territory of the Anishinabek, Huron-Wendat, Haudenosaunee and Ojibway/Chippewa peoples; the land that is home to the Metis; and most recently, the territory of the Mississaugas of the Credit First Nation who are direct descendants of the Mississaugas of the Credit.
We are grateful to have the opportunity to work on this land, and by doing so, give our respect to its first inhabitants.”
If you live in another part of Canada and would like to learn about how you can recognize the Indigenous land that you are on please check out the following link: Ontario First Nations Maps | Ontario.ca to view a copy of the First Nations Map and Treaties map.
What are other ways that our community is recognizing Indigenous traditions and customs?
Heart Lake has its own Medicine Wheel Garden. "The concept of a medicine wheel garden at Heart Lake came as a vision from a male elder of the Anishnawbe Nation. Working together, Toronto and Region Conservation Authority (TRCA), Peel Aboriginal Network, Heart Lake Community Action Area Group and the City of Brampton, created the Medicine Wheel Garden (Gitigaan Mashkiki) at Heart Lake Conservation Park, a space for healing, celebration and peace." Please learn more about the Medicine Wheel Garden at the following link: Heart Lake Conservation Park - Toronto and Region Conservation Authority (TRCA)
The Government of Canada has also set up an account for & about the First Nations, Inuit and Metis People of Canada at www.canada.ca/Indigenous or on Facebook and Instagram at @gcindigenous. This is a great resource for you to learn about how you can support and celebrate our Indigenous people not just on National Indigenous Peoples Day on June 21st but every day!
Please also check out the following guidance/resources provided by True North Aid (HOW TO HELP FIRST NATIONS COMMUNITIES IN CANADA True North Aid) on all the ways we can help FIRST NATIONS COMMUNITIES IN CANADA:
There are many Canadian charities and organizations serving and supporting northern Indigenous communities and True North Aid is one of them. Consider supporting our work and/or the work of others through financial partnership. Our work is expensive as we serve hard to reach northern remote communities.
Listen to Indigenous Canadians and be educated on their culture and history. There are many different cultures and traditions represented amongst our First Nations, Metis and Inuit Communities with a variety of perspectives and yet they all have this in common: An abusive history of mistreatment, oppression and inequality towards their people. A history that continues to this day and found in many forms including the way we ignore their needs and their right to self govern and live as a prosperous and thriving people.
We cannot ask them to forgive until we have listened to the whole story, to understand them, their way of life, culture and traditions and their history, good and bad. The message is clear that we must engage in thoughtful, honourable dialogue if together we will improve their quality of life in Canada. See article engagement with first nations
Although we have made some progress in recent years with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, with increased awareness of the plight of northern peoples and other problems, there is still a very long way to go. We could learn so much from the ways of First Nations’ people, to teach us better how to steward the land we live on, our water, rivers and habitat and how to honour and respect a culture and a people different from our own.
True North Aid can use your help. Volunteering with charities and organizations like ours will help offset the many costs that can be better used for the acquisition and transportation of humanitarian aid. Consider helping us with content for our websites, fundraising or being a part of a True North Aid fundraising event!
Attend a First Nations traditional event like a Pow-wow
Pow wows include traditional costumes, drumming, singing, and a dance competition and there are many held across Canada like the Six Nations Champion of Champions Pow Wow in Brantford, with over 400 participants annually and attended by more than 20,000 people. There is also the largest pow-wow in Canada the, Manito Ahbee Festival in Winnipeg. Not every pow-wow is open to non-natives, so be sure you are welcome before planning to attend.
Attending pow-wows and traditional native events are practical ways to meet with and talk to Indigenous Canadians, to make friends and learn about their culture, way of life and concerns. Connect with a local college/university and search for local native associations in your area. Check out CBC’s Maggie Moose’s tips for attending a pow-wow.
Attend a Kairos Blanket Exercise
The KAIROS Blanket Exercise program is a unique, participatory history lesson – developed in collaboration with Indigenous Elders, knowledge keepers and educators – that fosters truth, understanding, respect and reconciliation among Indigenous and non-indigenous peoples. Our Indigenous Medical Alliance Team hosted this event in 2018 in Kingston and it was well received.
Check out KAIROS’ website and the great work that they do, including their blanket exercises at www.kairosblanketexercise.org
Read Indigenous Literature
There is a great list of Indigenous authors. Reading Indigenous authors will provide you with a different perspective and books written by non-indigenous authors. We heartily recommend that every Canadian reader of any seriousness take the time to read Indian Horse by Richard Wagamese, Kiss of the Fur Queen by Thomson Highway and The Inconvenient Indian by Thomas King or 21 Things You May Not Have Known About the Indian Act by Bob Joseph.
Other great authors are Lee Maracle, Eden Robinson, Thomas King, Tanya Talaga, and so many others.
Love reading? Here are some starting points:
Watch and Learn from Indigenous Film and Television
Established in 1992, APTN airs and produces programs made by and for, Indigenous peoples in Canada and the United States. You can watch the news, and find out what makes news in their communities, from their perspective. Watch shows like Cashing In, to see their stories on screen. APTN’s First Contact reality show is also a great way to learn about the beautiful and diverse culture and teachings of Indigenous through the experiences of the participants on the show. Watch these episodes on demand at https://aptn.ca/firstcontact/video/season-1/
CBC also has some great series on their CBC GEM website that tells Indigenous stories and features many documentaries about life in northern communities. Check those out HERE.
In recent years, many great films have been released depicting life in northern Canada and the residential school system. Watch “Indian Horse” on Crave, or catch a community screening or purchase “The Grizzlies” on DVD/Blu-Ray.
Listen to indigenous music
Live music is the best, and if you have ever heard a First Nations drum circle, it is astonishingly unique. If you see it in person (at a pow wow, for example) you will see how it is created, the arrangements of the singers and how the voices unite, rising and falling and rising again, as they drum together.
Aside from that, there is a wealth of recorded Indigenous music in all styles, from the folk of Susan Aglukark and Tanya Tagaq, to rock like Hawk and Eagle or hip hop like A Tribe Called Red, to classics like Buffy Sainte Marie. There is something for everyone and if you find the right music it will deepen the connection you will feel with our Indigenous people. Check out the indigenous music awards to find out what’s current.