March 11, 2018


Anyone attending the tribute to Ukraine's greatest poet, Taras Shevchenko, at the large monument erected in his honour on the west side of the grounds of Manitoba's Legislative Building, would have noticed a shift-make abode and a few individuals pacing nearby. They caught one's eye because they were dressed head to toe in military camo fatigues and carrying bright red flags and patches.

Who are they? Well they have set up camp on the front lawn of the Legislature, albeit in a wooded area and they plan to stay as long as it takes to have the voice of their people heard. Their people are Manitoba's indigenous people, especially some more northern communities. They feel that their people, both men and women, but especially the young, are not being given a fair deal by the government, by the judicial system and, perhaps to one degree or another, non-indigenous peoples in general.

The two gentlemen that came forward to speak were very courteous and knowledgeable about the issues. Vern and Joe, as they introduced themselves, shared both statistics and anecdotal information to suggest that the system is not working for many.... seemingly the majority of the provinces aboriginal peoples. They want both their peoples to have a voice and for the rest of us to hear that voice.

It made me wonder about what the relationship was and is between Ukrainians, especially those that came here as pioneers at the turn of the last century and Canada's indigenous peoples. I had heard that my grandfather had always given natives visiting the town shelter in his poor house in Russell many years ago. Himself a poor man, he had a heart for others in a similar condition. I had also heard that the local native peoples saved Ukrainian immigrants in Manitoba's southeast district who otherwise would have starved. They showed them which roots and berries were edible and sellable in the city. There are probably many such stories that would tell us a lot. This is surely a part of history that needs to be explored and built upon for mutual benefit.

The gentlemen are part of an organization known as the First Nation Indigenous Warriors. Their Facebook page [HERE] offers some information as to what they are all about.

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