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Toronto – June 17, 2019 – From June 11 to 12, UFCW Canada leaders, Indigenous members, and allies came together in Toronto for the UFCW Canada National Indigenous Peoples Conference, where participants engaged in two days of education and celebration of the upcoming National Indigenous Peoples Day on June 21. Held annually since 2016, this year’s conference had the largest attendance yet and was envisioned by members of the UFCW Canada Indigenous Sub-committee.
At the conference, attendees participated in a sunrise ceremony, a pipe ceremony, and a field trip to the Wandering Spirit First Nations Junior and Senior School of Toronto. Activists also took in a food sovereignty tour led by Chef Johl Whiteduck Ringuette of NishDish Marketeria & Catering, and visited the Anishnawbe Community Health Centre.
The conference focused on exploring the value of bridging union solidarity with the important work being done by Indigenous community organizations. As well, attendees from across Canada signed a letter supporting Bill 230, which calls on the Manitoba government to proclaim May 10 as Spirit Bear Day. This day brings attention to Jordan's Principleand reminds the government that, much like the Canadian federal government, it has failed to fulfill its obligation to create full equity for First Nations children. In addition, UFCW Canada activist and students from the Wandering Spirit School each received a bear in recognition of the Spirit Bear initiative.
Another significant focus of the conference dealt with missing and murdered indigenous women, girls, and 2-spirit persons. Presentations were made by the Ontario Native Women's Association, Dawn Lavell-Harvard, and Lyndon George exploring this topic and two-spirit identities.
Later, conference-goers attended a National Indigenous Peoples Day feast and celebration, where Qajaq Robinson and Brian Eyolfson, Commissioners of the National Inquiry into Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women and Girls, discussed the inquiry’s final report. At the evening event, activists were joined by participants from the UFCW Canada Young Workers Internship Program (YIP). The celebration also featured poetry by Chief R. Stacey Laforme, music by the Big Drum Group and Aqua Nibii Waawaaskone, and a hoop dancing performance by Rhonda Doxtator.
Also of note was a special presentation by the members of the UFCW Canada Indigenous Sub-committee in which they gifted a handcrafted drum with visual art to recognize and honour UFCW Canada National President Paul Meinema’s dedication and commitment to Indigenous justice in our union. The drum was thoughtfully made by UFCW member Lorraine Anderson of the Algonquin Nation, signed by the UFCW Canada Indigenous Sub-committee members, and blessed by UFCW elder and member Eric Flett - Ojibway of Ebb and Flow First Nation.
"The UFCW Canada National Indigenous Peoples Conference was a very special event that allowed us to learn from one another as we work towards Indigenous justice,” says President Meinema. “The conference also provided an opportunity to engage with Indigenous UFCW members, celebrate everything we have accomplished together, and reaffirm our union solidarity with Indigenous rights.”
As Canada’s leading union, UFCW is committed to achieving Indigenous justice and advancing Indigenous rights in Canada. To find out more about our work in this area, visit ufcw.ca/socialjustice.