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Happy Indigenous Peoples Day 2020

June 18, 2020

Sunday, June 21 is Indigenous Peoples Day.

The news is a daily reminder of the work required to achieve reconciliation between Canada and Indigenous peoples. But Indigenous Peoples Day is a day to celebrate the culture and accomplishments of Indigenous peoples in Canada.

In that spirit, the Society of United Professionals is highlighting Manitoulin Island’s Wikwemikong High School robotics team, which the Society is honoured to support as a sponsor.

Wikwemikong Robotics Team

The award-winning Wikwemikong Robotics Team competes against their peers in Ontario and internationally by building industrial robots that can accomplish a series of tasks. Started in 2015, students began their robotics journey using salvaged materials like old computer parts. Today, 20 of the school’s 160 students are part of the robotics program. They are also the youngest team and first all-First Nations team – as well as one of just two Canadian teams – to be named a finalist for the prestigious international Chairman’s Award at the international championships. The international championship includes 600 teams comprised of 20,000 participants.

The team’s teacher-supervisor Chris Mara says that robotics teaches both hard and soft skills, including coding, electronics, machining, critical thinking, problem-solving, entrepreneurship, resilience and collaboration. The long-term goal of the program is to “inspire First Nations students to see themselves as innovators with important contributions to make in the areas of engineering, science and mathematics.”

Mara also sees robotics as a way to build confidence in the Indigenous teens he teaches. “I want to give them opportunities to see how they are in relation to their peers, that they can stand shoulder to shoulder with the best and brightest not just in Ontario, but in the world.”

Watch a short video of Wikwemikong students talking about what their robotics experience means to them:

Wikwemikong First Nation is unceded territory that is home to the people of Three Fires Confederacy: an alliance of the Ojibwa, Odawa and Pottawatomi nations. It is the largest Anishinabek community on Manitoulin Island.

Continue learning about Indigenous peoples in Canada

Film Watch Party

As part of Indigenous Peoples Day, the Ontario Federation of Labour is holding an online watch party of the film Invasion, followed by a discussion panel. Invasion is a film about the Unist’ot’ten Camp, Gidimt’en checkpoint and the larger Wet’suwet’en Nation standing up to the Canadian government and corporations. The event is hosted by the OFL’s First Nations, Metis and Inuit Circle. Sign-up to participate at:

Recommended books

The Society’s Indigenous Relations Committee also invites interested members to join its book club. The club is currently reading Braiding Sweetgrass (more information below), and will meet via conference call in September to discuss it. To join the book club, email [email protected].

To continue learning about Indigenous peoples in Canada independently, here are two recommended books (check your local library or bookstore or use the links below to purchase a copy):

By Tanya TalagaSeven Fallen Feathers

In 1966, twelve-year-old Chanie Wenjack froze to death on the railway tracks after running away from a residential school. An inquest was called and four recommendations were made to prevent another tragedy. None of those recommendations were applied. More than a quarter of a century later, from 2000 to 2011, seven Indigenous high school students died in Thunder Bay, Ontario.
→ Purchase Seven Fallen Feathers


By Robin Wall KimmererBraiding Sweetgrass

Drawing on her life as an indigenous scientist, and as a woman, Kimmerer shows how other living beings - asters and goldenrod, strawberries and squash, salamanders, algae, and sweetgrass - offer us gifts and lessons, even if we've forgotten how to hear their voices. In reflections that range from the creation of Turtle Island to the forces that threaten its flourishing today, she circles toward a central argument: that the awakening of ecological consciousness requires the acknowledgment and celebration of our reciprocal relationship with the rest of the living world. 
→ Purchase Braiding Sweetgrass

To learn more about the Society’s Indigenous Relations Committee and the union’s commitment to Indigenous communities visit:

Happy Indigenous Peoples Day from the Society of United Professionals!

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