SPEECH BY OVIDE MERCREDI
OCTOBER 5TH, 2004,
ABORIGINAL GOVERNMENT EMPLOYEES’ NETWORK
“MAMWATOSKEWAK-THEY WORK TOGETHER” CONFERENCE
THE ROLE OF INDIGENOUS MEN IN WELLNESS
I begin by thanking AGEN for inviting me to speak at your gathering.
Then, I thank all of you for listening to these words. What I say here is my
thinking, and it does not represent the views of any of the people that invited
me to speak today. I do not ask you to adopt my views nor to accept my
message. I learned a long time ago that most times we only listen to
ourselves anyway, and occasionally we may listen to the words and thoughts
The Aboriginal Government Employees’ Network keeps growing each year,
and I predict its influence will only increase in the years ahead. AGEN’s
primary contribution will be to enhance public service employment
opportunities for aboriginal people but its work will be felt in all areas of the
workplace. This will make it a powerful reform agent bringing in necessary
changes in the public service that will accommodate the best interest of the
aboriginal people and their communities.
Some members of the public service, the union movement and even the
government will see AGEN’s growing influence as a threat to the status quo
just as it should be since the status quo does not embrace the rights and
interests of the aboriginal peoples, their cultures and their Nations. I see
AGEN as being a forerunner of things to come, as Canadian society comes
to understand that its diversity and future begins with the Indigenous
peoples. How it treats us is how it will become in the end. I say this as part
of our belief system as Indigenous Peoples is how you treat someone is
precisely how you will be treated. If you are kind, you will get kindness in
return. If you are unjust, so too will you face injustice. If you are abusive to
others, you too will face abuse in your life.
The United States of America, as we have seen in the past decade since the
Free Trade Agreement, has challenged not only Canadian sovereignty but
has began to look longingly at the resources, including oil and gas, north of
its border at a time when the supply of oil from other countries is vulnerable
and insecure. Will Uncle Sam be a good or bad uncle to Canada? I wonder
how Canada wants to be treated with respect to those lands, resources and
authority that was once all ours within the past century? I ask will Canada
become the new Indian in North America.
My friends and relatives, I am here to talk about our future and the role of
our men and women in that new walk to victory. But, like all good story
tellers, I must first give you a background that is; in this case not all peaches
Given the demographics of the First Peoples within the Prairie Provinces,
these three Provinces cannot afford to become the three stooges of the status
quo. Affirmative action and employment equity will no longer be sufficient
to respond to the emerging aboriginal workforce that keeps growing each
year in leaps and bounds. More significant and permanent measures in
education, training, employment, business development, and community
economic growth is needed in order give the aboriginal people more than
just a hand-shake but a real and lasting fair deal in the workforces and in the
economies of the Prairie Provinces.
To do less than what is needed and required will lead to the social crisis the
Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples warned against in their important
report that has since been collecting dust by the purveyors of business as
usual within all governments, federal and provincial. The clock is ticking.
The Owl is calling. There is precious little time to waste unless this country
is content with the knowledge that inaction will waste another generation of
aboriginal people to deplorable conditions of poverty and under-
I do not think that the aboriginal people will remain passive in the face of
neglect and dismissive attitudes any longer as the suffering brought about by
aggressive injustice is no longer tolerable nor acceptable to our people.
Genocide, whether it perpetrated with infested blankets or a slow death in
sustained poverty, is not an option that the aboriginal peoples will tolerate in
a country that has gained its international reputation as one of the best
countries to live, a standing it has obtained by exploiting our traditional
lands and resources. It is time for an accounting. It is due time for this
country to share our wealth with us. Our continued poverty and under-
development is not an option for our present generation, just as it was never
acceptable to past generations of our people. We care too much for our lives
and future to allow the status quo to remain unchallenged and unaltered.
These are strong words. They have to be said, even if it means that some of
our friends and co-workers become uncomfortable because of their
discomfort in hearing our truth. I do not think that Canadian unease with our
truth is any reason for me to hide the harsh reality of our human conditions.
The discomfort our people experience each day within the prison of the
status quo is what concerns me. That is the discomfort I chose to alleviate.
I was asked to talk about wellness, particularly aboriginal men’s wellness.
I begin by telling you what I think about all this attention about our wellness.
Wellness is often spoken nowadays in relation to the present condition of
our people. It describes what has become of us, after so many years of
oppression and external control. It does not mean that we are all sick but the
current focus on wellness does say something to us and about us.
What does wellness mean to you? Is it just another way of saying that we
need help? Or can it be a reflection or barometer of the progress we are
making towards the fulfillment of our Indigenous Destiny? There is after all
more to our lives than just what happens with us or around us in our
individual capacity. We are part of a greater whole. In our case as
Indigenous Peoples, we are part of a grander design, the destiny of our
cultures, languages, and Nations of people. Thus we cannot simply talk
about men’s wellness without talking about the group’s or Nations wellness
What does wellness mean for you as an individual, to your family, to your
community, and to your Original Nation?
As you provide your own answers to these questions, here is some more
food for your thoughts.
We carry a burden, you and I. It is inherited from past generations. In many
ways we carry it like a badge to commemorate our losses, for the victories
are few and far between. That burden is colonialism. It is inter-generational
and lasts as longs is it is allowed or permitted to last.
We have been shown by liberation movements around our Mother Earth,
that colonialism is the anti-thesis to freedom, democracy and, in our case, to
our Indigenous survival. I am not suggesting that we cannot survive
colonialism as clearly we have learned from our own personal experiences
that we are capable of becoming assimilated into the Canadian mainstream
society in our individual capacity. However, that assimilation is at a price
and a high cost to our collective survival as Distinct Peoples and Nations.
Colonialism is the deliberate and sustained act by one society to dominate,
overtake, disempower, manage, control and suppress another group. In my
view it is unnatural to human wellness and contrary to the laws of Creation.
Ultimately it leads to societal dysfunction, and more often than not, to
violence. For you and me living under Canada, the ultimate aim of this
burden is the loss of our distinctiveness and our collective soul as a people.
We are expected to loose, obstensively for our benefit and progress, all our
rights, interests, and freedoms as distinct peoples, cultures, and Nations in
the name of progress or civilization. In this type of relationship, when the
State or county makes gains, we lose as a group. For example, it could be
land in one instance, language in the next, our traditional ways and
spirituality in another instance and our freedom in the end.
You must have heard someone say: “Aboriginal People are getting better”.
Better at what? At masking our suffering? At adapting to Canadian laws
and programs? Or, perhaps we are better at playing the political game?
I think we are better at assimilating along individual lines. I think too we
have lost some of our collective capacity to preserve, protect and promote
our collective rights and freedoms that belong to us by virtue of the fact that
we are indigenous peoples to this land. If we lose our collective soul as First
Peoples on the one hand, is it worth anything to talk about men’s or
women’s wellness on the other hand? Are we not the same—our
individuality and our collective personality?
We are the victims of Canada’s success. That is the effect of our collective
burden. But, we cannot afford to accept the psychology of defeat. We must
see ourselves as having the capacity and power to over-come our issues and
problems, especially the accumulative psychological impacts of inter-
generation oppression. We have to become the champions of a new and
better destiny wherein colonialism no longer resides and where freedom
prevails. In other words, we have to consciously re-caste our political
struggles as a great struggle for decolonization of all Indigenous Peoples on
Mother Earth. After all by helping ourselves become free of oppression, we
also help the Province and the Country. After all the altruistic greatness of
decolonization is this: by freeing ourselves, we also free the oppressor.
We have to change the paradigm of survival.
It is very possible that we have become trapped in the paradigm of life as
defined for us by our colonizers who still see our human condition as a sad
case of a lower caste people not managing to survive, without help from
them, inside their self-proclaimed modern, advanced and democratic
When most people talk about wellness, it is generally about such things as
getting rid of social problems like alcoholism, addictions and other social ills
such as suicides. It can also embrace the idea of mental health, physical
health and spiritual health—all from the context of defeating a social ill or
curing a medical condition. Seeing wellness in this way keeps us thinking of
getting better, as opposed to thinking of those conditions that would ensure
that we stay better. I am getting better means just that. And, not much
Yet, I take the view that our collective wellness, not just our individual
wellness, requires a change in our thinking. Health should not be a journey
that last forever. Instead, health should involve a state of being or
permanent condition as opposed to being on a journey towards wellness.
Wellness is not a journey; it is a way of life or a state of being.
In the Cree language we say Minoawin to describe wellness.
Minoawin is above all a free people living a life that is of their choice and
design. It entails what many call self-determination. But, really it is about
freedom and the avocations of life. Minoawin is freedom to live as we
choose, on lands that we govern, developing wealth from the abundant
resources within our territories, and respecting and uplifting our people at all
times. Minowin is a state of being before colonization, before Canada
defined to its satisfaction what aboriginal and treaty rights meant to the
survival of the State. Minoawin is a way of living that respects the Earth
and the environment. It is a way of protecting the water, the air, the land, and
the people. Minoawin is showing respect and deference to our Creator, the
Kichi-Manitow or the Great Spirit.
Alcoholism, drug addiction, suicides, diabetes, and social problems do not
define what minoawin means. Under minowin, these social problems that
exist today would not be pervasive nor be of paramount importance. Under
minoawin, these social problems that so occupy our time, energy and
resources today would not define who we are and how we behave as human
beings. Instead of becoming our pre-occupation, social problems would
decline and stay fully manageable once we retain and exercise our self-
Take for example, the poverty that currently undermines our development
and progress as individuals and as Indigenous Nations? Our Colonial
Masters allow our poverty. It serves them well. They have the resources to
address this poverty but will not do so. If we do not take charge of our
poverty, our suicides, and our social problems will escalate. If we so
nothing, we will deserve to stay on the road that keeps us on the course of
“getting better” as opposed to “staying better.”
A free and self-determining people, who have “minoawin”, would take
immediate measures to eradicate poverty. With freedom to rule their lands,
resources and people Indigenous Nations would not delay generating the
kind of wealth we disparately need to sustain and nurtures all our people and
communities. For that reason, we must end the status quo and take control
of our destiny before it is too late to reverse the tide of cultural and physical
And so my friends, we meet again. We gather, as usual, to consider a
question. This time we do so to draw attention to the role of Indigenous men
in society. Not just any societies mind you, but their own, which like them,
has undergone considerable changes in the past century.
Many of the changes have altered the course of the First Peoples history in
ways that have not always been done in the best interest of the First Peoples.
Very few of these changes have transpired as a direct result of the role of the
Indigenous man. Yet, these changes that have for the most part been the
influence of external sources and forces have most definitely had a dramatic
impact on the status and condition of the Indigenous man.
You have to wonder, at what cost to his ego, his identity, his traditional role
as provider, and his notions for self-worth. You have to wonder out loud,
how these changes have altered his understanding of his original role as the
principle author of his personal future, and that of his family, community,
and Indigenous Nation.
We look. We look around. We are looking for answers. Why? Why do our
men stay behind? Why do they stay behind in education? Why do they stay
behind in careers? Why do they stay behind in employment opportunities?
Why do they stay behind in business opportunities? Why do they stay
behind? We do not want them to stay behind.
We look. We look around. We are looking for answers. Why? Why do our
men lead in the rates of incarcerations in federal and provincial correctional
facilities? Why do our young men lead in the rates of detention in Youth
Detention Centers? Why do our men lead in crimes of violence? Why do
our men lead in dropping out of schools, colleges, and universities? Why do
our men lead in all the wrong places? We want our men to lead good lives
and to excel in their respective roles in society. We do not want them
leading in all the wrong places.
We look. We look around. We are looking for answers. Why? We are
looking for the real indigenous man, not the one who stays behind and not
the one who leads in the wrong places. We are looking for them and to them
to take their intended place in society. We want them to return to greatness,
to find their substantive lives and to contribute to the development of the
golden age for Indigenous peoples. That is why we are looking around. We
are looking for the real Indigenous man to come out of his shell and take his
rightful role and place alongside all his Indigenous sisters who are already
making major contributions in re-shaping Indigenous lives and in re-
invigorating our common and collective destiny.
We want our men to stand up with pride, integrity and honor sharing their
great and abundant achievements with humility and in gratitude. We want
them to discard their “dragging and waiting life” and instead embark in a
way of life that lifts up all our people, our communities and our Nations.
We want them to lead us back to Minoawin. We want them to walk on the
road to our freedom. We want them to take their place, along with youth,
women and elders, in the restoration of our Nations.
We have to take a conscience and subconscious decision to secure our
wellness or minowin within a single generation. Our current dependence on
the State for resources to finance our efforts at healing is having a
detrimental effect on our collective wellness. Our waiting on resources is
delaying our work to restore and keep our wellness. We have to develop our
own resources for wellness that includes a program of action to decolonize
our people and Canada.
We cannot settle for just anything. We must strive to obtain what belongs to
us, not tomorrow but now. It is this sense of immediacy or now ness that
must drive the Indigenous Men forward to restore their minoawin.
Instead of resignation which is an act of defeatism, our men need to assert
their destiny without reserve, doubt and procrastination.
Our Indigenous men need a right of passage. Their right of passage is to
work on their wellness and to obtain within a single generation the collective
wellness of all our Indigenous Nations. There is no greater calling than to
come to the aid of your people, community and Nation. It is time to put
away all the foolishness and accept the responsibility of securing the state or
condition of permanent wellness for our people and Nations for the rest of
My friends and relatives, these are my thoughts.
I thank you for listening. If you heard me, I thank you for that too.