'Where is our revolution?' Former Manitoba grand chief fasts 27 hours in replica of Nelson Mandela's cell

A Manitoba Indigenous leader says he hopes to send a message of freedom and change after spending 27 hours in a replica of the tiny cell where anti-apartheid leader Nelson Mandela spent 27 years.

Derek Nepinak sees parallels between apartheid in South Africa, treatment of Indigenous people in Canada

Former Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs grand chief Derek Nepinak spent 27 hours in the replica cell at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights — one hour for each year Mandela spent in the real thing. (Megan Goddard/Radio-Canada)

A Manitoba Indigenous leader says he hopes to send a message of freedom and change after spending 27 hours in a replica of the tiny cell where anti-apartheid leader Nelson Mandela spent 27 years. 

Derek Nepinak, the former grand chief of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, did not eat or drink during his time in the cell, measuring roughly two by two-and-a-half metres, at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights. The cell is part of an exhibit on Mandela's anti-apartheid struggle that opened at the museum earlier this year.

"Despite the challenges we face as human beings, the systems of oppression that are out there, we can still challenge these together," Nepinak said after stepping out of the cell on Tuesday afternoon.

"And we can find hope and we can find love, and we might just find freedom at the end of the trail somewhere."

This year marks the 100-year anniversary of Mandela's birth. The anti-apartheid leader and first black president of South Africa, also a Nobel Peace Prize winner, is being celebrated around the world.

'The resolve to continue to push forward'

Nepinak said the celebrations come at a time when he's reflecting on the parallels in the challenges of apartheid and the challenges faced by Indigenous people in Canada. He pointed to the apprehension of Indigenous children, epidemic rates of suicide, poor housing conditions and a lack of access to clean drinking water in many Indigenous communities.

"I wonder sometimes, though, where is our mobilization?" he said.

"Where is our revolution to overcome the challenges we face in a nation state where sometimes … those barriers that we have to address are a little bit more subversive, or a little bit more hidden from a blind eye?"

He said a conversation about peace and freedom is especially important now, as global migration increases and climate change affects inhabited areas worldwide.

He's hopeful that in Canada, the potential exists for positive change, led by Indigenous peoples and systems.

"I'll continue to go to the sun dance and learn our governance system through there and share my thoughts and ideas with people of like minds, and we'll hopefully build a momentum towards rebuilding our traditional forms of governance here," he said.

"And that's what I take away from this, is the resolve to continue to push forward."