Mi’kmaq History Month Events: Treaty Day & Sisters in Spirit Vigil
By Genevieve Allen Hearn
October is an important month for raising consciousness about Mi’kmaq history, culture, and the current issues facing Indigenous communities today. September 30 was Orange Shirt Day, an initiative designed to promote awareness about the residential school system and the impact this system has had on Indigenous communities in Canada. October 1 was Treaty Day, celebrated in Nova Scotia to recognize the treaties signed between the British Empire and the Mi’kmaq people. These treaties state that the Mi’kmaq never gave up their land title, and outline Mi’kmaq rights to fish, hunt, and forage. October 4 is the Sisters in Spirit Vigil to honour missing and murdered Indigenous women in Canada. In 1993, October was declared the official month to recognize and celebrate Mi’kmaq culture and heritage.
Rachel Whitney and Mika Francis organized an event at NSCC’s Kingstec campus on Monday, October 1 in recognition of both Orange Shirt Day and Treaty Day. “Our hope is that events like these serve as a foundation for ongoing inclusion of Indigenous knowledge and perspectives in education and in our society as a whole,” Rachel says. “I like to think of these events as a drop over a still pond: when people become aware, that knowledge will ripple outwards. We hope that one day Indigenous knowledge and perspectives will be woven throughout the fabric of the student experience.”
Rachel and Mika formed the NSCC Kingstec’s L’nuek Alliance last year as a way of bringing Indigenous and non-Indigenous people together to foster an inclusive environment for all students, and share Mi’kmaq knowledge and ways of being with the campus and surrounding community. They say, “even though our organization is registered through Kingstec’s student association, we welcome anyone from in or outside of our campus to attend meetings, help with event planning, and participate in the activities we organize.”
Darlene Copeland and her daughter Sandy-Lynn Fisher are involved in organizing the Sisters in Spirit Vigil at Glooscap First Nation. In previous years, the event was held on Acadia University’s campus. Darlene and Sandy-Lynn say that since the Sisters in Spirit Vigil started, they have seen more awareness about the violence experienced by Indigenous women. Sandy-Lynn says, “My nine-year-old daughter comes to the event…She needs to understand that there is a higher risk for aboriginal daughters.”
The Sisters in Spirit Vigil takes place at Glooscap Landing from on October 4 from 3pm-6pm, and anyone is invited to attend. The president of the Nova Scotia Native Women’s Association, Lorraine Whitman, will be opening the event and sharing current statistics that have come out of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women. Darlene says, “There will be red hearts and people are invited to write something to recognize missing and murdered Indigenous women.” Participants will then be led on a walk through the new Nitap Friendship Trail, and candles will be lit on the journey back. The ceremony will close with a BBQ and open dialogue.
Darlene comments, “People should keep an open mind and be aware of what is happening.” Her daughter adds, “People are wondering what they can do, and this is one of the ways you can educate yourself. We aren’t looking for suppressed guilt, we’re just asking that you know what the numbers look like compared to the non-Indigenous population.”
Rachel also believes that education is key to reconciliation. “We all need to understand the complete truth of our history and how it impacts us today, so we can move forward together towards reconciliation. Read the works of Indigenous authors, listen to Indigenous speakers, enroll in courses centered around Indigenous knowledge. As you learn about our history, culture, and present-day concerns, share that knowledge with other non-Indigenous people. Recognize that we all live on unceded Mi’kmaq territory, and honour treaty rights.”
She continues, “Read through the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s 94 Calls to Action – choose one that aligns with your interests and experience, and take action!”
For more information about Mi’kmaq History Month visit mikmaqhistorymonth.ca. To access the Truth and Reconciliation Calls to Action, visit trc.ca.