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Aboriginal Speakers' Series - Winnipeg

The Boreal Forest: Our Land, Our Stories, Our Responsibility.

It’s no accident that the land is the way it is.

Our ancestors took care of it.

Sophia Rabliauskas

Aboriginal luminaries share stories with Manitoba audience

Visit our Youtube channel to see videos of this event!

Sophia Rabliauskas speaks softly, but her words carry great weight. Addressing the audience at the University of Manitoba earlier this month she, like her copresenter Stephen Kakfwi, told personal stories that underscored a common theme — caring for the Boreal Forest is a sacred duty passed from generation to generation.

 

“We strongly believe that, in order to restore the balance in our community, we need to teach our children the importance of the relationship that our people had with the land, and how our life depends on it more than ever,” said Rabliauskas.
Larry Innes

The inaugural The Boreal: Our Home, Our Stories, Our Responsibilityevent took place earlier this month in Winnipeg, on a warm spring night at the University of Manitoba.

 

Our expectations for the evening were high, as we had managed to secure some phenomenal speakers: Sophia Rabliauskas, winner of the Goldman Environmental Prize , spokesperson for proposed UNESCO World Heritage site Pimachiowin Aki and member of Manitoba’s Poplar River First Nation; and Stephen Kakfwi, former Premier of the NWT and President of the Dene Nation. They each told powerful and moving stories about caring for the boreal landscapes so critical to the survival and livelihoods of their peoples.

 

The Canadian Boreal Initiative’s Larry Innes kicked off the evening, introducing Dave Porter. Dave, from the Kaska Dave PorterNation in northern British Columbia, emceed the event. A longtime partner of CBI, Dave is the chair of the Boreal Leadership Council, a group made up of Aboriginal groups, industry leaders, environmental organizations and financial institutions, that works together to realize conservation and development strategies for Canada's boreal region.

 

Sophia, whose community, Poplar River First Nation, lies just north of Winnipeg, spoke of the teaching of her elders, and her efforts to share their wisdom with today’s young people. In Sophia’s community of Poplar River, they feel fortunate that they have not lost their rights in their traditional territories, as have so many First Nations.

 

Sophia recalled that as soon as she was able to speak, her grandfather taught her to respect all life:

The elders gave thanks for things that they took from the land. They gave thanks to the animals that gave them their lives, so that we could survive. If trees were cut, they were seen as gifts, as were the animals, fish, and plants.

Because these things were given life by the Creator, they saw it as their duty to protect and preserve them. Sophia stressed the interconnection between land and people:

The elders did not only think of their community. They had a worldview. Everyone’s Sophia Rabliaukashealth and survival depend on that land, because we believe that we are an integral part of that ecosystem.

The respect that Sophia demonstrates for the elders in her community is a value that she is passing along to the young people that she is teaching today.

We’ve been very proud of our people and our community. A healthy community is built on being proud of who we are, and recognizing the importance of what the Creator gave us. Our vision has always been to protect that land. It’s no accident that the land is the way it is. Our ancestors took care of it.

Stephen Kakfwi, also spoke of the vision of his elders when it came to protecting a land, a vision he has realized as a respected Aboriginal leader who has spent more than 35 years fighting for the proper stewardship of Dene territory in the NWT. He spoke of the early years of his journey. Looking back, he acknowledges that he has never walked this path alone:

From the very beginning, we have done this with the blessing and the guidance of elders, and the exuberance, courage, and hope of youth.

Early on, the enthusiastic and fired up young leaders encountered some hard truths. They realized that they would not succeed if they started negotiating only as the Dene, and would have to partner up with the Inuit and the Métis people. And they needed the women to help them mobilize. But the women didn’t jump at their offer:

We asked the women to join us, and they said: Sober up, first. Sober up. Because you can’t do a damn bit of work unless you’re sober. And we did that, we quit drinking.

Stephen KakfwiStephen said that, of the about 80% of the leaders and chiefs who had been drinking, within five years, not a single one was drinking. And they got the work done.

There are already people who believe that the Earth should be saved, the land, the water, the birds.

In our language, the Creator’s name is “The One Who Made the Earth.” The things he made for us are sacred.

“We, as First Nations,” said Kakfwi, “have to take the lead, in doing something.”

 

We thank Sophia, Stephen, and Dave for sharing their intimate and inspiring stories. We all left the room that night feeling a renewed sense of purpose in our quest to ensure the protection of at least half of Canada’s Boreal Forest, with only sustainable development in the other parts. In the fall, our speaking series will continue, visiting universities across Canada. Drop us a line if you have suggestions for venues or speakers. We also welcome your questions.

 

Visit the Pimachiowin Aki web site to learn more about the proposed UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Attendees of the event enjoyed some fabulous music by the multi-talented local band Eagle and Hawk. We very much enjoyed their charming presence and excellent tunes.

Visit our Youtube channel to see videos of this event!

 

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