Eva McKaeff – Prairie School for Union Women

Saskatchewan Federation of Labour (SFL)

Prairie School for Union Women

June 9 – 13, 2013

Waskesiu, Saskatchewan 

Approximately 80 km north of Prince Albert, Saskatchewan, tucked away amidst the beautiful evergreens and poplars, is the scenic town of Waskesiu.  The Saskatchewan Federation of Labour hosts the annual Prairie School for Union Women attracting Sisters from all over the Province/Canada from the various Unions (ie CUPE, SGEU, COPE, UFCW, CUPW, ATU, et cetera).  There were approximately 150 Sisters enrolled in the 2013 school.  Many repeat students and many, like me, attending for the first time.  

There definitely was a buzz of enthusiasm at the Opening Ceremonies – a few familiar but many new faces of women trade unionists.  The atmosphere was very inviting.  The evening was an opportunity to introduce ourselves with each other after a plenary session discussing building labour movements. 

My first choice of class was to be Transforming Conflict into Union Activism; second choice was Unionism on Turtle Island.  I was enrolled into my second choice.  At first I was a little disappointed but very soon after my attendance into this class, I was thrilled that this was the class for me. 

*Unionism on Turtle Island

This course was designed for non-aboriginal workers who wanted to learn more about Aboriginal issues and who wanted to work in solidarity with their First Nations and Metis brothers and sisters.  Issues discussed included, history, spirituality, creating a representative workforce, Aboriginal issues and the bargaining table, opening the union to Aboriginal activists.   

I had no idea of what to expect – Unionism on Turtle Island?  For many years I have heard about this and only understood that it had to do with something about Native Studies.  Interesting but my thoughts were that it really was geared more for the First Nations peoples.  I was pleasantly surprised that it benefits us all learning about treaty rights; residential schools; Metis history; Myths and Misconceptions about First Nations and Status peoples; First Nations terms; OKA stand-off; Indian Act; Racism; Partnership Agreements.   

Our class size was small compared to the others.  There were 14 students and two facilitators.  The class had a good mixture of ethnic backgrounds that made the class that much more interesting.  The Facilitators were both of Metis ancestry and spoke of both current and past events affecting First Nations peoples.  They also spoke openly about personal experiences.   

I would encourage everyone to consider taking an educational from their respective Division affiliates.   

In this report I can easily just site off the hand-outs that were distributed throughout the week.  This class offered was very intense with many tears shed.   Tears shed when we watched the video about Residential Schools; or when we watched the documentary on the OKA Stand-off.  I realized how little I knew of these two subjects.  I mean I’ve heard about both, mostly from what the media broadcasted, but never any stories from the directly affected First Nations peoples.   

I would like to close off by sharing with you The Story of Turtle Island

Long ago, before the Earth was here, all was water.  Many creatures lived in the water, swimming about. 

Far above the clouds, there was however, a land where lived a powerful chief.  His wife was going to have a baby.  In that Sky-Land was a great tree with four large roots, stretching out to each of the four sacred directions, and bearing many kinds of fruit and flowers.  One night the chief’s wife dreamed that the great tree had been uprooted.  The chief perceived that this was a dream of great power, and thus must be fulfilled. 

With great effort, the tree was uprooted, leaving a large hole in the sky.  The chief’s wife leaned to look through the hole, but lost her balance and fell.  Grasping at the tree as she fell, she only managed to hold onto a handful of seeds.  The water creatures below saw her falling.  They realized that she was not a water creature and tried desperately to think of a way to help her. 

“I have heard,” said one, “that there is earth far below the waters.  Perhaps we should try to get some for her to stand upon.” One by one the animals tried to dive down far enough to retrieve land, but one by one they failed. 

Finally brave little muskrat tried on last time.  Deeper and deeper she dove until her little lungs almost burst.  Suddenly she found a bit of land.  Scooping it up, she frantically swam to the surface.  But alas, where to put the land?

Turtle said, “Put it on my back.  I will hold up the Land and the Sky Woman.” 

And so they did.  Sky Woman landed safely on Turtle’s back and was very thankful.  She cast the seeds about.  The Land became ever so beautiful.  Some people call that land “America”.  Others call it “Turtle Island”.

 Respectfully Submitted,

Eva McKaeff