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Human Rights Quilt stitched with stories from Thunder Bay elders

Elders at the Thunder Bay Indian Friendship Centre have unveiled a quilt that is the culmination of eight months of work.

Elders crafted the quilt of self-portraits while sharing stories and discussing human rights

Elders and staff of the Thunder Bay Indian Friendship Centre gather around the quilt unveiled at the Baggage Building Arts Centre on Jan.22. (Amy Hadley)
It's a quilting bee of a different sort. Elders at the Indian Friendship Centre in Thunder Bay pieced together a quilt based on their life stories....And learn about justice and human rights issues at the same time. 6:54

Elders at the Thunder Bay Indian Friendship Centre have unveiled a quilt that is the culmination of eight months of work.

The Access to Justice Legal Education workshops were an opportunity for elders, many of whom have moved to the city from their home communities, to learn what their rights are and how to exercise them when it comes to everything from finding housing to facing systemic discrimination. While they crafted the quilt, they shared their life stories and discussed justice and human rights. ​ 

"They weren't even aware of their basic rights, lots of them," said Kathy Spence, the lifelong care support worker with the Indian Friendship Centre. 

"They've faced a lot of discrimination and I think they just have to learn basically you have a right to say 'no, I'm not going to this', I have a right to an apartment, I have a right for my needs to be met."

Michelle Richmond-Saravia, who organized the program, said she hopes that by sharing that knowledge with elders, it will also reach others. 

"It's important because elders are so important in our culture, they are the knowledge keepers," she said.

Quilt tells rich stories

Richmond-Saravia said the group discussed everything from safety to housing to violence against Indigenous women. 

They're not easy topics to tackle, she said, but the quilting helped to bond the group together and get people talking and sharing their own experiences.  

The elders each crafted one square of the quilt into a self portrait, representing their story. 

For Susan Moonias, that story is one of travelling from her home in Neskantaga to Thunder Bay to access health services ten years ago. 

She has no family in Thunder Bay, and can't return to her community because of ongoing health problems, she explained in Ojibway, through translator Sarah Beardy.

Moonias enjoys visiting the Friendship Centre to be with other elders. 

"She says she enjoyed the stories that were shared during the making of the quilt, and for her too to share," said Beardy.

The Access to Justice Legal Education program was delivered by the Thunder Bay Indian Friendship Centre, in partnership with the Kinna-aweya Legal Clinic, the Human Rights Legal Support Centre, Community Legal Education Ontario and the Law Foundation of Ontario.

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