Alex Cole, co-owner of Little Foot Yurts, at work in Wolfville, N.S. (CBC) An event being held next month in Grand Pré, N.S., to celebrate the historical ties between the Mi’kmaq and Acadians is taking heat over a decision to contract the work to build 15 teepees to a company that’s not Indigenous-owned.
Mi’kmaq lawyer Natalie Clifford said the move runs counter to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which Canada adopted last year.
Under the declaration, Indigenous people have the "right to maintain, control, protect and develop their intellectual property over such cultural heritage, traditional knowledge, and traditional cultural expressions." Natalie Clifford is a Mi’kmaq lawyer based in Halifax. (CBC) By contracting out the teepee work to a non-Indigenous firm, Clifford said this goes against to the declaration.
"I find it kind of a disheartening, disappointing move on behalf of our own chiefs here in Atlantic Canada," Clifford said.
"It’s not about excluding non-Indigenous people from taking part in our culture, but it’s about empowering us to be able to learn and move forward and create our own works that are of our culture and our historical knowledge." Nova Scotia firm is building the teepees
Organizers say they opted for a company that’s not Indigenous-owned because there’s no other option to get the structures made nearby.
"The only other way to get teepees these days would have to be to order them from Manitoba to Alberta," said Morley Googoo, regional chief for Newfoundland and Nova Scotia with the Assembly of First Nations.
"There’s nobody here, and the next best thing was to keep it local." Morley Googoo, the regional chief for Newfoundland and Nova Scotia with the Assembly of First Nations, said there wasn’t a local Indigenous company that could make the teepees. (Emma Smith/CBC) Little Foot Yurts, a small, family-owned firm in Wolfville, N.S., is making the teepees. Owners Selene and Alex Cole learned specialized manufacturing techniques from local Indigenous communities, as well as by travelling around the world.
"We’ve become like a sponge to learn not only about Mi’kmaq shelters, but also Sioux style and many other First Nation styles of living," said Alex Cole, who is from England. ‘My doors are 100% open’
He’s hoping that Indigenous elders and youth will be involved in helping to erect the teepees at the festival site, and said he’s happy to share his expertise about how to build them, free of charge, with Indigenous people.
"I’m a very willing and intentional holder of this information, and I’m very excited about the opportunity to pass it back," Alex Cole said. "My doors are 100 per cent open."
Googoo said he visited Little Foot Yurts and said he’s proud of the work a "humble family" has put into the teepees.
While he understands why some people might be discouraged with the awarding of the contract, he said there’s still much more work to be done "to catch up on the supply and demand" after adopting the UN declaration.
"We’re still growing from a time where all our cultures and items were suppressed," he said. "So while we look at this as a disappointment for some people right now, we have to look at it as an opportunity our people need to get into."
With files from Stéphanie Blanchet
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