We Are All Treaty People

Mawe Wicihitowin – Learning from one another to build community

  • Published - 12/01/2016
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  • Posted By - OTC
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Response to the first Mawe Wicihitowin Conference left organizers surprised by the numbers and community interest.

The Aboriginal engagement conference was held in Saskatoon, Nov. 17 and 18, 2015. It was filled to capacity at 300 people; even then there was the need to turn away another 300.

“We realized maybe we’re on to something here, maybe there’s a real thirst out there for this information,” Brad Bird, Aboriginal cultural coordinator, Aboriginal Friendship Centres of Saskatchewan, said in an interview.

The conference was part of an ongoing initiative to bridge the gap between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people, and to enhance participation of Aboriginal people in non-Aboriginal organizations, particularly in Saskatoon.

It is part of an ongoing, made-in-Saskatchewan plan for reconciliation initiated in June 2015 by the Office of the Treaty Commissioner Saskatchewan.

The purpose of the conference was to bring people together and provide information on the history of and current issues facing Aboriginal people and thus enhance cross-cultural understanding.

“Organizations are wanting to know how to engage the Aboriginal community as far as having Aboriginal people part of their organization,” Bird said.

The conference involved sessions and speakers on Treaties, the role of elders, employee recruitment and retention, services, anti-racism education, Metis specific cultural awareness and the residential school impacts.

The keynote speakers, Stephan Kakfwi, former NWT premier, and Justice Murray Sinclair, chair of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), played a large role in the success of the conference.

“Justice [Sinclair] coming in, he closed the conference, just the power from what he spoke about with the Residential School experience … people in the audience hadn’t heard somebody talk about the Residential School experience that truthfully, with that much information and it really touched them.”

While some participants thought Sinclair gave too much information, Bird said, he hoped it would spur people on to do their own research into some “bad” history. “It gave these organizations and individuals some keys on how to engage the Aboriginal community.”

For the purpose of the conference the Cree title, Mawe Wicihitown, translates to “working together.” The Aboriginal Friendship Centres of Saskatchewan, the United Way, Saskatoon Health Region and the City of Saskatoon were partners in the organization of the conference.

With the strong response to the conference, organizers were encouraged to continue with a Wicihitowin Speakers series throughout the year and leading up to a second Mawe Wicihitowin Aboriginal engagement conference to be held Mawe Wicihitowin translate to “working together.”

“We want to keep up the momentum; we don’t want anybody to forget about this … we feel it’s an important message,” Bird said.