Canada 2017·Opinion

Meeting the world's Indigenous peoples changed how I saw colonialism — and Canada

'We can come together collectively, as Indigenous nations, and bring revolution to our own peoples.'

'We can come together collectively, as Indigenous nations, and bring revolution to our own peoples.'

Travis Mazawaficuna of the Dakota Nation (Sioux) outside the United Nations headquarters in New York in commemoration on International Day of the World's Indigenous Peoples, 2013. (Adrees Latif/REUTERS)

Today is the International Day of the World's Indigenous Peoples. For me, it's a reminder that Indigenous systems — and kinship between global Indigenous peoples — are true resistance to the world's colonial systems.

I learned about the importance of Indigenous kinship and Indigenous systems in 2012, as I navigated the rigid confines of New York City to attend the 11th Session of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Peoples, where I became the North American Focal Point to the Global Indigenous Youth Caucus.

I learned this, in part, from an older woman from the Ogiek people in Narok country (in Kenya) named Ana Namaret ena Sena, who later told me to call her Mama, walking by my side.

I first saw Ana in the lobby of the YMCA that we were staying at. She was in her traditional wear, much of the beadwork similar to my own in Pawgwasheeng, also known as Pays Plat First Nation in Northwestern Ontario.

"Are you here for the forum?" I asked her.

She nodded.

"How long have you been here in the lobby for?"

It was 5:45 a.m. I had come down for a long run before I started my day.

"I am not sure. I don't know how to work the clock in my room. I came down when I woke up."

It was still dark out. I did a short run that day and went to meet her for breakfast.

"Are there people in these big tall buildings?" she asked me, as she pointed to the skyscrapers outside. 

I nodded my head yes.

She stared up at them in bewilderment. We walked some more. She spoke again.

"You know, in my country, people are starving to death, and here, everyone is so big." 

I didn't know how to respond. 

We had our coffee; it became our morning ritual.

Common experiences

Every year, Indigenous peoples converge from their motherlands to the stolen lands of New York City to take part in the working groups, meetings, declarations and other tools hand-crafted by UN member states. These tools are used to attempt to demand justice and equality for their bereavements and suffering from the very same hands of those who made the tools.

Nepalese Indigenous women are pose for a picture before attending a parade to mark the International Day of the World's Indigenous People in Kathmandu, 2011. Various ethnic and indigenous people of Nepal took part in the parade calling for a preservation of their cultural identity. (REUTERS/Navesh Chitrakar)

In 2012, Ana told all of us attending about her work around resolving the crisis of female genital mutilation, with limited help from the Kenyan government. She shared with us other stories from her homelands that resonated with the young Quechua woman from Peru, the Gurung gentleman from Nepal, the group of Sámi women hailing from Norway, the Maori woman from New Zealand and the countless other tribes and nations.

These stories revolved around stolen lands, assimilation policies, the rape and murder of Indigenous women, limited access to safe drinking water and the unlawful removal of original peoples from their lands and territories — experiences that felt familiar to so many of us from around the world.

When these truths are spoken, the hope is that these arenas — the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues and the Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples — might bring justice or even an end to these crises. However, here's the reality: colonialism will always act like, operate as, thrive upon and respond as exactly that. Colonialism.

Medicine for our nations

The truth is this: we can come together collectively, as Indigenous nations, and bring revolution to our own peoples.

Ana's problems, much like my own and those of all the other nations and tribes who came together collectively at this forum, will only resolve if our own people do the work themselves to resolve them.

International Day of the World's Indigenous Peoples was first pronounced in 1994. Here, in 2007, PIng Pu lowland Indigenous Peoples of Taiwan conducted a spiritual offering on the day on the sacred ancestral ground of the Indigenous Ketagalan tribe. (Wally Santana/AP)

The stories she told me, and the realizations I watched unfold for her during her time in those cinder-block buildings on stolen lands, showed me that although colonial systems like the UN are not the avenues that will bring justice and equality to our nations, they can help unify our nations, globally.

Even though colonial systems attempt to destroy our nations daily, our ability to revolt and survive will carry us, along with the prayers from the old ones. And that in itself is enough to continue to fuel the process of resistance and revolution that our children, and future generations, need in order to survive.

Let's allow ourselves and our children to fall in love with Indigenous systems rather than attempt to control and change the outcomes created by colonial systems.

Because when Indigenous peoples come together globally, we become a powerful threat against colonialism. 

That will be the medicine for our nations.


Andrea Landry

Freelance contributor

Andrea Landry is a mother, an Indigenous rights defender, a freelance writer and a life skills coach. She teaches for First Nations University in the Indigenous social work program. She is originally from Pays Plat First Nation in northern Ontario and currently resides on Treaty 6 Territory on Poundmaker Cree Nation in Saskatchewan.