'What is the use in spending so much time studying failure?': Indigenous leader

The University of Manitoba honoured Marion Ironquill Meadmore of Winnipeg with a Lifetime Achievement Award this week.

Indigenous leader Marion Ironquill Meadmore wants universities to help First Nations become more independent

Marion Ironquill Meadmore, a member of the National Indigenous Council of Elders, wants universities to put more time and resources helping First Nations become financially independent of Canadian government. (Temari 09/Flickr)

The University of Manitoba honoured Marion Ironquill Meadmore of Winnipeg with a Lifetime Achievement Award this week. This outstanding indigenous leader is the first indigenous woman lawyer in Canada, a founder of the National Indian Brotherhood, the Indian and Métis Friendship Centre, Kinew Housing and much more. 

Marion was married to Winnipeg Blue Bombers lineman Ron Meadmore and raised three boys before she returned to school to get her law degree.

Marion is honoured to be acknowledged in this manner but she has never been much for awards. When she was informed she was going to receive the Order of Canada, Marion wasn't going to travel to Ottawa until she learned that Anne Murray was being honoured at the same time. Marion is a huge fan of the Nova Scotia songbird and just could not pass up an opportunity to meet one of her favourite entertainers.

Future > past

Awards are about the past and Marion is about the future. There are still a lot of things that she wants to get done and she wants universities to be her partner. So, Marion was there to accept the U of M's lifetime achievement award because the occasion provided her with an opportunity to share an important message with today's post-secondary educators.

Marion isn't very fond of how universities spend much of their time and resources on things like the history of the Indian Act, colonization, traditional lifestyles and culture and so on. 

We need to get rid of those systems and develop completely new ways to move forward.- Marion Ironquill Meadmore 

"It's time to put all that behind us and focus on the future," Marion said. "Otherwise, we are still living under colonialism.

"It's time to turn the page and prepare for the world the way it is now and the way it is going to be. This is where the vast majority of time and resources used for studies and research needs to be."

New paradigm

Marion Meadmore is a member of a group called the National Indigenous Council of Elders (NICE). This group of about 20 of Canada's most respected Elders doesn't have time for anything but building a positive future for their children and their children's children.

And that means building a new paradigm.

For instance, Marion knows that the social problems of indigenous people are rooted in poverty but she isn't going around cap in hand saying, "We are poor and we need your money to help us."

What is the use in spending so much time studying failure?- Marion Ironquill Meadmore

"First Nations are one of the richest peoples in the world," Marion said. "We just do not have access to our own wealth that we can invest and rebuild healthy communities and restore the self-sufficient nations under our own governance so we can do things our way.  

"For example, there is over $500 billion in Indian Trusts here in Canada, and over 200 court decisions [that] support our share of over $650 billion in mineral royalties on traditional lands in western Canada alone."

NICE has identified 20 sectors in which there is enormous wealth First Nations can use if everybody concerned joins together. The group is calling this collective effort "The Creation of Wealth."  

"Universities must play a crucial role in all of this," said Marion. "You have research capabilities that we need to analyze these sectors and develop models for wealth creation. You have students who can use this research for their thesis and special projects. The knowledge we gain is future curricula for your MBA and commerce programs."

Learning from past mistakes

Marion is well aware of the adage that we learn from history so that we don't repeat the mistakes we've made in the past.

"The systems which have caused those mistakes are still in place," Marion said. "What is the use in spending so much time studying failure?

"We need to get rid of those systems and develop completely new ways to move forward."

I first met Marion when she attended a Liberal womens' caucus to develop a bill to reverse a law which caused an Indigenous woman to lose her Treaty status if she married a white man. Marion was the only woman in attendance who was affected by that law and she shocked the bleeding hearts who were patting each other on the back for redressing this horrible wrong.

Marion knew that a lot of Indigenous men, and little boys (and girls), were unfairly losing their status through a myriad of other provisions in the Indian Act.

Indigenous veterans would lose their treaty status if they obtained a home through a G.I. bill. Rather than wait decades while their names found their way to the top of long waiting lists with the Department of Indian Affairs, many Indigenous men gave up their status so they could provide their family with a safe, decent home much sooner, like when their kids were still young enough to live at home.

"What the Indian Act took away we must put back," Marion said. "And I won't use this new Act to get my own status back unless we include the other people who have been unjustly denied their rights."

As a child, Marion's favourite doll got stuck under a shifting house. There was no way to get the doll out without damaging it.

Marion's solution?

"Move the house!"

Marion is obviously one of those people who thinks "outside the box".

That's because she has always been five years ahead of her time looking to the future instead of the past.

Marion ended her brief thank you speech by saying, "And so to you, the University of Manitoba, I say, 'Will you be a NICE partner?'"

Don Marks is a Winnipeg writer.​


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