New website aims to help non-aboriginal Canadians learn about indigenous issues
Groundworkforchange.org gives access to network of First Nations, Métis and Inuit information
Pulling up a YouTube video of Buffy Sainte-Marie standing on the steps of the Manitoba Legislature in 2013, Winnipegger Monique Woroniak reflects on the early stages of the Idle No More movement.
"I remember thinking, 'Oh, something has changed today … something is about to change," Woroniak says, adding that gathering of indigenous people "can only be called an assertion of their sovereignty, an expression of their culture."
Woroniak grew up in a non-indigenous working class family in Fort Richmond. Her early education in the city's public school system didn't include much instruction on aboriginal culture, treaties or colonialism.
Woroniak says her first real memory of seeing an aboriginal person was watching The National with her father in her preteens when a clip of Elijah Harper during the Meech Lake Accord hit the television screen.
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Fast forward two decades and Woroniak is now one of the brains behind Groundwork for Change, a new project designed to help Canadians educate themselves about aboriginal issues.
When the Idle No More movement gained momentum late in 2012 and early 2013, Woroniak says she knew she wanted to be involved.
"As someone who knew enough to know that Canada's relationship with indigenous folks … was really, really problematic … something had to be done."
She attended many round dances, rallies and marches, met a lot of great people and began to feel more connected with the aboriginal community.
'Fresh air rushing in'
"[It] felt like a cracking open to me, felt like all of this fresh air rushing in," Woroniak says. "Anything is possible now…. How can we support [it] in responsible ways?"
It was that question, and others from friends and acquaintances, that led to the idea for a website with lots of information based on indigenous perspectives.
We all share the same water, the same air, the same space and right now in Winnipeg I feel like people are looking for solutions.- Michael Redhead Champagne
In theory, people could then go to a single spot online to get educated on everything from First Nations history, treaties, residential schools and the Sixties Scoop and form connections with local indigenous groups.
"People have these questions, we know they do. Where are they finding the answers? You're talking about generations of non-indigenous people in Canada who did not receive a public education about these issues in any way that could be called adequate," Woroniak says.
Meet Me at the Bell Tower
The site seems to be gaining some traction. Since its launch at the end of June, the site has had more than 5,000 unique visitors across the country and has more than 18,000 page hits.
For Michael Redhead Champagne, the new site, created by non-indigenous Winnipeggers, was at first a bit of a surprise.
"The approach of Monique and the people at Groundwork For Change is one of 'let's respect indigenous sovereignty, indigenous knowledge, indigenous wisdom, indigenous leadership,' and approach indigenous communities from the perspective of 'I'm here to help and I'm here to learn,'" says Champagne, who is well known in the city for his community work and helping to start the 'Meet me at the Bell Tower' movement.
Part of the hope is the larger community will take notice of grassroots indigenous organizations and help support those community efforts.
"I think it's important for indigenous and non-indigenous folks to be working together because we all share the same water, the same air, the same space and right now in Winnipeg I feel like people are looking for solutions," he says.
"People are ready for the 'isms' to be passed and we are hungry as a city to find a way to move forward together.
"We cannot move forward when a whole segment of our Winnipeg community is struggling with poverty, is struggling with child welfare, is disproportionately affected by violence," says Champagne.
Woroniak agrees: "I think that these are Canadian issues — these issues belong to all of us."