SGEU is stepping up the provincial dialogue around better cultural awareness by relying on some of the province’s rich Aboriginal traditions to help improve workplace harmony.
SGEU’s ‘Unionism on Turtle Island’ event aims to debunk old myths and stereotypes continuing to linger around those of Aboriginal and First Nations descent in the spirit of the Great Turtle legend.
Turtle Island is the name of North America, according to many aboriginal groups who site the oral of Sky Woman falling to the earth covered in water. Various animals tried to swim to the bottom of the ocean to bring back dirt to create land. Muskrat succeeded in gathering dirt, which was placed on the back of a turtle, which grew into the land known today as North America. The recording of the ancient Great Turtle wisdom dates back to 1678 and has been carried forward as an integral component in Aboriginal history through spoken word and birch-bark scrolls.
For SGEU, the legend is an important tool in the union’s ongoing commitment to promoting respectful, safe and harmonious environments for all its members across the province through its annual four-day Unionism on Turtle Island course. Besides in-class learning and collaborative discussions, the event includes traditional practices including an off-site sweat lodge at the Piapot First Nation.
“This is one of our most important initiatives here at SGEU because it affects so many of our members across the province,” says Michael Sherar, SGEU’s education officer. “We have a mandate to promote non-discriminatory workplaces in all that we do, but this initiative represents our most intensive concentrated effort of the year to eliminate racism and build cultural awareness and understanding.”
The event kicked off with a traditional circle ceremony with the passing of the talking stick and turtle for the participants, made up of SGEU members in all sectors of employment. As the stick was handed, members described their intentions of being inspired to take the course to foster a deeper appreciation for Aboriginal and First Nations values, traditions and history in their own work environments and in their communities. Some of the participants with an Aboriginal background discussed their desire to better share their own traditional Aboriginal values and put an end to workplace divisiveness across cultural lines. The talking circle was followed by a Cree prayer by facilitator, Jeff Cappo.
Cappo, a youth facilitator at the Paul Dojak Centre, uses his painful childhood memories spent in a residential school to help employees across the province better understand the lasting impact of discrimination.
“I have people who hear me speak and see that I am gainfully employed say to me, ‘You’re one of the lucky ones,” for finding some measure of success after residential school when so many do not. But what does that mean, I ask – no one is lucky to have to deal with the lifetime effects of racism. I continue to deal with it internally every day. This is why it is so crucial to tell people about the lifelong perils of stereotypes and discrimination.”
Sherar adds SGEU is committed to doing its part as the representative of some 20,000 workers across the province to encourage a new and improved paradigm of cultural celebration across workplaces and the community at large.
“We want to move beyond just trying to enforce a non-racist environment,” says Sherar. “We want to make sure we are actively celebrating our province’s rich Aboriginal and First Nations history and culture. This kind of initiative empowers our members as agents of social change, as union leaders, and as community leaders in general.”
The event, which takes place in SGEU’s Regina head office as well as on the Piapot First Nation, is open to all members and staff.
Media is invited to conduct interviews either by phone or at the picturesque backdrop of Thursday afternoon’s sweat ledge event at the Piapot First Nation near Regina. Please call for directions and arrangements:
SGEU Communications Offficer
Unionism and Turtle Island event facilitator
SGEU Education officer