This story is part of the series We are human rights changemakers to celebrate Equitas’ 50th anniversary. All through 2017, we invite you to discover stories of 50 inspiring human rights changemakers. These are but a few of the hundreds who have changed lives around the world through human rights education with Equitas’ support.
“My identity is intimately connected to my activism.” It is through the gaze of the Other that Widia examines her Indigenous roots. In primary school, her teacher introduced her to her classmates as a Montagnais. Her mother taught her that she is rather Algonquin by her maternal lineage. Her brother, meanwhile, was bullied in high school for being Indigenous. When Widia became aware of what it means to be Indigenous in Canada and the serious colonial past, she decided to devote herself entirely to her community. “The average Indigenous population is younger than the non-Indigenous population. It is important for young people to develop in a healthy and culturally safe environment. ”
Indigenous communities represent 4% of the Canadian population. However, suicide rates are five times higher for Indigenous communities than among non-Indigenous people. The risk of Indigenous women being reported missing or murdered is also eight times higher. There are also alarming statistics with regards to the representation of Indigenous people in prisons. These injustices are part of a long history of assimilationist policies and discrimination.
With this in mind, Widia, now a young woman involved in her community, defines herself as a human rights educator. Through Mikana, an educational organization that she co-founded, she has organized workshops and presentations that challenge prejudices about Indigenous people among the Quebec public.
How does she feel the impact of her training? “People are often shocked to have never been made aware of the history of Indigenous peoples and the consequences of this history on their present situation. People are aware of the issues and the discourse changes with respect to the needs of Indigenous peoples. Access to drinking water or living in a safe environment are basic rights, they are not privileges.”
Widia hosted a conference at Equitas’ 2016 and 2017 International Human Rights Training Program (IHRTP) on the situation of Indigenous peoples in Canada. Human rights educators from around the world were surprised to learn that issues related to the respect of rights of Indigenous peoples also exist in Canada.
Widia is involved in a project led by Quebec Native Women, for the prevention of bullying for Indigenous youth, particularly young women. This project aims to apply conflict resolution methods based on Indigenous values to support youth in their interpersonal relationships. Widia hopes that her interventions contribute to the development of self-esteem and pride of youth. For the first time, she took Equitas’s Speaking Rights training in 2012 to refine her teaching and pedagogy for working with young people through a human rights based approach. “In the workshops we use an activity from Equitas on the perception of the levels of violence that we have adapted to the Indigenous situation. This allows young people to discuss the situations in which they live.”
In 2012, the Idle No More movement took off across Canada. Indigenous people from different nations took action and protested to denounce omnibus bills that would affect the rights of Indigenous people. Widia was a co-founder of the movement in Quebec. Simultaneous actions (events, education, flash mobs, and others) across the country made Indigenous issues headline news. “For young people, Idle No More rekindled pride in their identity and stimulated their involvement in their community. Public discourse changed and many young people were able to express themselves through the movement. There is a will to act and involvement on their part.” Widia also noted a high presence of young dynamic women in the movement. For her, the presence of these women challenges the stereotype that Indigenous women are victims.
For Widia, education spearheads change. “Indigenous people should have access to education that reflects their realities and their culture and non-Indigenous people must also be educated about Indigenous issues.” Widia has recently began an Algonquin language course, which is of benefit to her personally and also collectively. For the first time, she will be able to engage with her own culture through language, after having studied French, English, Spanish and German. “It’s a good way for young people to reclaim their culture, because it is our responsibility to revive it.”
WIDIA LARIVIÈRE – Montreal, Canada
Co-founder, Mikana, Montreal, Canada
Youth Coordinator, Quebec Native Women, 2009-2016
Co-founder of Idle No More Quebec
Resource person, Equitas International Human Rights Training Program, 2016 and 2017
Participant, Speaker Equitas Rights Program, 2012, 2013 and 2016; Participant, Equitas Young Women Leaders Program, 2014
Recipient of the Amnesty International Ambassador of Conscience Award, 2017
Story written by Paule Portugais-Poirier, Communications intern, Equitas