By Erin Brohman, CBC News
‘We really need to find a good place,’ says Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs leader
The grand chief of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs is preparing for a four-day ceremonial fast on the island below Parliament Hill next month, so that he can arrive at a “good place” spiritually before he and other indigenous leaders start working with the new Liberal government.
Derek Nepinak says it’s not about him or a specific cause. It’s about the power of ceremony.
“I myself had received a vision of myself fasting in Ottawa,” he said.
“I observed protocol and I spoke to some of my spiritual leaders, and they gave me guidance.”
He said he’s been getting encouragement from those spiritual leaders in recent weeks, telling him the time is now.
“I think it’s important that people understand that this isn’t my fast … I’m just announcing it,” he said.
“I’ve been identified as someone who can announce this and start to draw people to the centre of the ceremony and where the fire will be.”
Nepinak plans to head to Ottawa in the beginning days of December. So far three others have committed to joining him there, and 15 have expressed interest. The group will stay in a teepee, likely setting up on the island at the base of the Parliament Buildings.
A fire will burn around the clock to keep them warm. Anyone can participate.
‘This is for everybody’
“Ceremonies don’t really know the politics of identity, or the politics of race … this is for everybody,” he said.
The fast will involve the total deprivation of food and water. Nepinak said he’s participated in several before.
He’s been preparing for the fast by exercising and maintaining a diet of traditional foods, including elk, moose and blueberries, as well as exercising to build up his strength.
This particular fast is special, he said, as it was prompted in part by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s expressed interest in consulting with Canada’s indigenous peoples.
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“We have to take it upon ourselves to define who we are as nations of people, and we can only do that from a good place,” he said.
“So we really need to find a good place. I think it starts with ceremony, and then go from there.”
Nepinak added that he feels this is a special time in Canadian history.
“I would certainly say that there’s a spirit of reconciliation that’s in the air amongst indigenous people and non-indigenous people, and I believe that spirit of reconciliation creates outcomes,” he said.
Nepinak highlights the issues of missing and murdered indigenous women and aboriginal children being taken into care as issues that have angered him and other indigenous leaders in the past decade.
He said the ceremony will bring about emotional healing through prayer.
“We have a tendency often times to lash out, to say, ‘Do this or face this consequence.’ And to me, that doesn’t garner the energy or the support that’s going to be needed to overcome these things. We have to turn inward and we have to consider what is our contribution to moving forward in a good way,” he said.
A reminder about access to food, water
Nepinak said the fast is also a reminder that some in Canada are living without clean drinking water or access to affordable food, and “everyone” must do their part.
“You begin to realize the deep relationship you have to food and water, and in that deprivation state you begin to go through a process of mourning the loss of that and recognizing how important water is in everybody’s life,” he said.
Nepinak’s Facebook post about the ceremonial fast has already been shared hundreds of times, with words of encouragement coming in from across Canada.
He said some who can’t go to Ottawa next month have told him they’ll be fasting from their own home fires. There’s strength in that, he added, especially during the days of deprivation.
“You get very tired and very weak very quickly, and what carries you through is your connection to your prayers and your songs,” he said, adding that the shared experience brings him closer to those participating.
“Then we come out at the other end of it.”
Nepinak says a camp day will soon be announced. He encourages others who “want to ensure that there is a place for your children and our ways in our collective future, maybe you can fast too.”
He said, “It’s our turn to participate or begin our processes and begin to really start to enrich that dialogue about what reconciliation might be … and we have to follow spiritual paths to do it.”