A Couchiching First Nation band member had some eye-opening experiences at two conferences she attend over the past few weeks.
First, Dobi Frenette was in Vancouver on July 20-23 for the joint meeting of the Assembly of First Nations of Canada and the National Congress of American Indians.
Then she attended the World Indigenous Peoples Conference on Education in Hawaii last week.
“It was amazing--there were 3,000 to 5,000 people there,” enthused Frenette, who returned to Laurentian University in Sudbury on Sunday.
Frenette, an honours student in Native Studies, made a presentation at the Hawaii conference on behalf of the university’s Native Student Association, speaking before a true mix of indigenous peoples.
“We were really well received, which is incredible given that there was such diverse groups represented there--Maoris, Aborigines, Native American, Native Canadians, Hawaiians, and more,” she remarked.
“Overall, I learned that all indigenous cultures go through the same struggles as Canadian natives have,” she added.
“[Unfortunately] other countries don’t learn from others’ mistakes or successes in this area, and each struggle is on an individual basis,” she continued.
Frenette said there was an underlying sense of unity among conference delegates, whether they were from Auckland or Honolulu.
“It’s an inspiration to see people coming together like that. Being able to see people out there fighting to improve the ways things are for their respective people is eye-opening,” she remarked.
“For them, it’s a balance between going out into the mainstream and keeping true to tradition,” she added.
Despite being an honours student dealing with aboriginal culture, Frenette admitted she was surprised at how broad the definition of “indigenous” was.
“When people talk about ‘white culture,’ you think ‘European.’ But I met some people who were native Europeans and it was a wake-up call,” she explained.
“You tend to forget that there are indigenous peoples all over the world,” she stressed.
Overall, Frenette was pleased with her experience at the world conference.
“It blows your mind to know that all these people have come together to share a vision,” she said, adding Hawaii also was a beautiful place.
“It’s a really spiritual land, and the people were so friendly,” she noted.
Before heading to Hawaii, Frenette had the honour of attending the first meeting between Canadian and American First Nations in more than 50 years.
On hand to receive the $2,000 Omer Peters Award from the Assembly of First Nations, Frenette said that trip was much more than a chance to accept a prize.
“This was the first year the organization flew anybody out to receive the award--it was high profile,” she noted. “But it was a real honour because it was the first year the award was actually given to a woman.”
Frenette also gave a speech there on her views on native education in Canada. “They really listened. It was an important moment,” she said.
But there’s not much time for a break. Frenette next will present her honours thesis at a conference in Sault Ste. Marie, Mich. later this month.