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Toronto – June 9, 2021 – Approximately 75 Indigenous members, leaders, and allies gathered online to take part in UFCW Canada’s Fifth Annual National Indigenous Rights Conference. The 2021 conference theme was “Grounding Our Indigenous Spirit” and called upon participants to reflect on the diverse ways Indigenous rights are embedded in activism, culture, language, and healing.
Hosted by UFCW Canada and envisioned by the Indigenous Sub-Committee, the conference highlighted the commitment and dedication of sub-committee members who spend many months curating this special gathering.
The conference was followed days after Tk’emlups te Secwepemc First Nation discovered remains of 215 children near the grounds of the former Kamloops Residential School. UFCW Canada Resident Elder Eric Flett opened the conference with a special teaching and candle lighting ceremony in memory of the children.
UFCW Canada National President Paul Meinema spoke about the need for justice, accountability and solidarity with Indigenous communities. “The recent discovery of mass graves are symptoms of a much more egregious societal issue – the ongoing racism and discrimination that persists in systems and policies operating just as they were created to do: oppress Indigenous peoples,” said Brother Meinema.
Participants listened to reflections by sub-committee members who led a segment entitled, “Why I am Proud to Be Indigenous.”
“This conference provided healing for us at a time when we are mourning the loss of the children found in Kamloops,” said Tom Biebrich, UFCW Canada Indigenous Sub-Committee member.
Stephanie Harpe, Missing and Murdered Indigenous Exploited Peoples Advocate provided the keynote address and NDP MLA and leader of the Opposition in the Legislated Assembly of Manitoba, Wab Kinew shared in conversation.
Participants also received an Ojibway language lesson, a Métis Jig lesson and participated in a medicine bag-making workshop with teachings on the four sacred medicines.