TheIndependent.ca’s newest columnist introduces himself, and our first aboriginal issues column…
Kwe’! Ni’n teluisi Sa’n Geodol aqq nin tleyawi Miawpukek, Taqamkuk.
For those of you rusty in lnui’simk, my name is John Jeddore and I am from Miawpukek First Nations, Newfoundland and Labrador. To many of you, Miawpukek might be better known as Conne River. The term ‘Miawpukek’ (me-aw-boo-gehk) is our traditional name for the land we reside on and means “middle tidal river”. In the future I will touch more on the rich history of my community. And in this column, I’ll be focusing on everything aboriginal – history, culture, issues, and more.
When I was approached to write for this paper, I was ecstatic, not just because I love speaking to people about my culture, but because I realized there were people out there eager to actually listen and learn. You see, growing up in Miawpukek, aspects of our culture were integrated into nearly everything we did. We learnt the language (Lnui’simk) in school, there would be drumming and dancing after school and during the summer we would have retreats where we hiked traditional trapping grounds of our ancestors. This was a great experience and I am thankful I was given these opportunities as I grew up.
…the fact that the drug store is so close causes us to disregard the medicines of our ancestors.
However, since we were all exposed to this in my community at the time, there wasn’t really anyone from outside to talk to and share this knowledge with. At least, not until I began attending post secondary in St. John’s. When I first came to St. John’s, I had difficulty finding my place. I was unsure how I, as an aboriginal person, would fit into the grand scheme of things. It seemed as though everything I learnt growing up was not as valuable in the city as it was when I was living on the reserve. For example, traditional medicines, plants used by many of us in Miawpukek for their rehabilitating effects, are very difficult to find. That, combined with the fact that the drug store is so close causes us to disregard the medicines of our ancestors.
I began to get involved in the Memorial University Students’ Union (MUNSU) and the Aboriginal Resource Office at Memorial University of Newfoundland. I met many aboriginal and non-aboriginal students who were eager to learn about this nation’s first peoples and share their own life experiences with me. I learned about the numerous campaigns MUNSU was involved in regarding aboriginal students, including but not limited to the fight to rid the Post Secondary Support Program of its 2% cap (an unjust restriction on federal funding for aboriginal post-secondary education, which is a treaty right), the Stolen Sisters campaign (demanding a national action plan by the federal government to combat violence against young aboriginal women, who are five times more likely as other women their age to die as the result of violence) and reinstating permanent funding to the First Nations University of Canada.
I really wanted to get involved as much as I could to increase awareness of aboriginal issues in post secondary education. I was elected as MUNSU’s Aboriginal Student Representative in 2010 and was recently selected to represent the province’s aboriginal student population for the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS). This has been a great experience for me, and I have a very optimistic outlook about what the CFS is doing for our people around post secondary education.
Since then, I’ve also branched out to focus on wider aboriginal issues. For some time now I have been working with the Four Winds Aboriginal Youth Centre in downtown St. John’s, helping urban aboriginal youth get in touch with their roots. I believe that many social problems affecting the urban aboriginal population have to do with the void which now exists where one’s cultural identity should be. I have been working to help fill that void and teach people the ways of their ancestors.
The history, traditions and culture I learnt growing up were not usually written, but passed down to me orally. This means someone from another community may have grown up learning something differently. This doesn’t make one right and the other wrong, but instead shows the wide array of interpretations and stories our people have.
So that brings us to today. As I said, I was very happy to be given the opportunity to write this column. However, I would be lying if I said there were no apprehensions I felt when I first thought it over. First, I am a very opinionated person (if you talk to any of my friends, they’ll be sure to reiterate this point) especially when it comes to aboriginal issues. In the media, this can be both a good and bad trait. Having a strong stance on issues is very important, however being ignorant of others’ opinions can be disastrous. So I will try to be as open as possible when writing this, keeping in mind the views of other people on issues. Secondly, I’m just one person with one life story. The history, traditions and culture I learnt growing up were not usually written, but passed down to me orally. This means someone from another community may have grown up learning something differently. This doesn’t make one right and the other wrong, but instead shows the wide array of interpretations and stories our people have. What I write comes from my life journey in Miawpukek. They do not necessarily reflect the opinions and attitudes of all people from my reserve, nor do they reflect that of all Mi’kmaw, or even aboriginal people as a whole.
I’d like to begin by giving those who are unaware a quick rundown of the aboriginal people that make up this province and where we are. There are three major groups that constitute Newfoundland and Labrador’s first people: these are the First Nations, Inuit and Métis. My people, the Mi’kmaq along with the Innu are considered First Nations. There are also three reserves in this province, Aosamia’ji’j Miawpukek (Mi’kmaq), Natuashish (Innu) and Sheshatshiu (Innu). Nunatsiavut, located in Labrador is the governing body for the Inuit people, the Federation of Newfoundland Indians represents the Mi’kmaq who are not a part of Miawpukek First Nations and NunatuKavut oversees issues regarding the Labrador Métis Nation. Together, they all make up a large population of people with their own rich history, traditions, language and spirituality, giving us all our own unique culture to be proud of.
So, what will this column consist of? For lack of a better word… everything! I’m very involved in history, language, traditional medicines, spirituality and music. You can expect me to touch on these things in each column. But I will also focus on issues facing aboriginal people today, from post secondary education to discrimination and everything in between. If you have questions or issues you’d like me to discuss, feel free to suggest them in the comments section below.
I look forward to speaking out for our people, and I really hope you all look forward to reading the things I have to say! Wela’like – thank you, everybody.