The warmth of Saskatchewan

Barbara Wood, CoDev Executive Director, shares the last in her 3-part report on Berenice Celeyta’s (NOMADESC) 2011 visit to Canada.

“When I told people I was coming to Regina in early March, everyone looked horrified. I want you to know, though, that I have never felt so much warmth from people – you have made me feel at home.” With those words, Berenice began her address on March 9th to the delegates of the CUPE Saskatchewan convention. She thanked CUPE and all the Canadian unions for their ongoing support through letters, program funding and delegations. She thanked CoDev for facilitating that solidarity and the people present for their warmth.

The day before Berenice spoke with members of CUPE Saskatchewan’s Aboriginal Council. She shared stories of the dignity and strength of the Colombian indigenous people. She also spoke of the similarities between the aboriginal cultures here and in Colombia – the respect for the earth, respect for elders, respect for one another and for differing opinions. She shared with the aboriginal delegates how the Colombian indigenous people from Cauca led a national movement that held a People’s Congress last October in Bogota. At the congress, 25,000 participants from different sectors and regions met and talked for four days about what they want for Colombia and what they need to get there. On the last day, the participants marched to the central plaza where they took their place as the People’s Congress, right outside the National Congress.

When Berenice finished speaking, aboriginal leaders offered her sweet grass, a miniature Métis sash and then wrapped her in a traditional blanket for protection.

The next day, at the end of her presentation to all the convention delegates, Berenice again thanked the aboriginal delegates for the blanket, saying she felt that protection would help her continue her work. In exchange, Berenice removed from her neck a beaded necklace made for her by the Nasa people of northern Cauca and gave it to the CUPE Aboriginal Council.

The exchange was a meaningful and concrete example of the solidarity fostered by CoDev and embodied in this case by Berenice and CUPE Saskatchewan. An act of mutual recognition and respect. A step towards equality and justice.

Berenice has returned to Colombia where she will continue her work alongside many other courageous women and men who stand up for human rights and work for justice every day.

Be sure to read the first and second parts of this series.

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