From L to R front row:  OFL Executive Vice-President Terry Downey; UFCW Canada HRED National Office Representative Joyne Lavides; OFL Chair for Aboriginal Circle Joanne Webb; Aboriginal storyteller Priscilla Yellowhead Tobey; and UFCW Local 1000A member Lorraine Anderson.  From L to R back row:  UFCW Canada Local 1000A members Kim Johns and Pred Gajic. To see the full photo gallery, click on the image above.

UFCW Canada at "Walking in Our Moccasins,” OFL’s 2nd Aboriginal Gathering from June 17 to 19 in Port Elgin, Ontario.

UFCW Canada social justice activists recently came out in force to learn and support in "Walking in Our Moccasins", a second Aboriginal Gathering sponsored by the Ontario Federation of Labour (OFL) Aboriginal Circle in Port Elgin, Ontario.

UFCW Canada Local 1000A members Lorraine Anderson, Kim Johns, and Pred Gajic (an active member of Community Action Network) and National Office Human Rights, Equity and Diversity Department representative Joyne Lavides joined other activists from across Canada at the three-day gathering.

Vernon Roote, Councillor and Former Chief of Saugeen First Nations and Council Chief of the Anishinabek Nation performed the smudge ceremony during the Welcome and Opening Circle.  A group of aboriginal sisters also offered songs, and Joanne Webb, OFL Chair for Aboriginal Circle, led the Strawberry Ceremony.

Interactive teaching workshops such as the Traditional Way of Life taught participants the essential importance of air, water, fire, and vegetation to Mother Earth and highlighted the meaning of animal symbols in aboriginal culture: Bear for Courage; Big Foot for Honesty; Eagle for Love; Buffalo for Respect; Beaver for Wisdom; Wolf for Humility; and Turtle for Truth.

"Being exposed to the traditional aboriginal way of life helped me a lot in understanding the culture of our aboriginal sisters and brothers," says Sister Lorraine.  

"It was a great learning experience for me and a good way to build meaningful ties with our aboriginal sisters and brothers," added Brother Pred.

The Residential Schools workshop dealt with the hideous history of aboriginal children in Christian residential schools where some were tortured, experimented on, sterilized, and even murdered.  One of the prime factors in establishing the Residential schools was to "civilize"  and "Christianize" aboriginal communities across Canada.  During the workshop, facilitator Grandmother Rose shared her personal experience as a survivor.

"My journey took me right into conflict and forced me to deal with issues that I had been hiding about," said Grandmother Rose. "To other survivors out there, you don't have to walk in our moccasins alone any more.  Apigsigtoagan is a model that is used in our territory of the Mi'gmaq nation and it is honoured by four reserves."

"It was appalling to learn about the human rights injustices committed by the Canadian government to our aboriginal sisters and brothers in residential schools," says Sister Joyne. "Grandmother Rose opened our hearts to walk with our Aboriginal sisters and brothers in their moccasins."  

One of the engaging activities of the gathering was the Inuit Games. As well, a powwow dance number was performed by a husband and wife team who shared insights about the meaning of their costumes and instruments. 

"I enjoyed watching the games and the dances because they were colourful expressions of who Aboriginal people are and what they rightfully represent in Canadian history," says Sister Kim.

"These are immense learning opportunities for our members and staff such as Kim, Lorraine, Pred and Joyne as they help to define our mandate as Canada's largest private-sector union," says UFCW Canada National President Wayne Hanley. "In the past, and far too often, trade unions have ignored the mammoth contribution of Aboriginal communities across Canada. For this, we must not only be thankful but we must also be watchful of those, especially the Harper Tories, who continue to deny our Aboriginal sisters and brothers their rightful and respected place. Our work in supporting the aspirations of Aboriginal organizations such as the FNCFCS and its work on Shannen's Dream and Jordan's Principle must wholeheartedly continue over the years to come.”