wâhkôhtowin Plenary Speakers

Friday, September 19

Paul Martin - “Indigenous Education: My Journey”

Paul MartinThe Right Honourable Paul Martin was the twenty-first Prime Minister of Canada from 2003 to 2006, Minister of Finance from 1993 to 2002 and he served as the Member of Parliament for LaSalle-Émard in Montréal, Québec from 1988 to 2008.

During his tenure as Minister of Finance, he erased Canada’s deficit, introduced the largest tax cuts in Canadian history and the largest increases in the federal government’s support for education, and research and development.  He restored the Canada Pension Plan, securing it for future generations.  While Prime Minister, Mr. Martin set in place a ten year, forty-one billion dollar plan to improve health care and reduce wait times; signed agreements with the provinces and territories to establish the first national early learning and child care program and created a new financial deal for Canada’s municipalities. Under Mr. Martin’s leadership in November 2005, the Canadian Government reached an historic consensus with Canada's provinces, territories, First Nations, Métis Nation and Inuit leaders that would eliminate the gaps between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Canadians in the areas of health, education, housing and economic opportunity. This agreement became known as the Kelowna Accord. Further, he introduced the Civil Marriage Act which redefined the traditional definition of marriage to include same-sex couples. He reached out to a number of world leaders in an effort for them to accept the Canadian-initiated Responsibility to Protect.

In the media, Mr. Martin has numerously raised concerns about the serious failures of the government to provide adequate funding and support for Aboriginal students, and in  2013, Mr. Martin establish the "Martin Aboriginal Education Initiative(MAEI)," which works to support and empow Aboriginal students in their secondary, and post-secondary academic endeavours.  Current initiatives incude the: Aboriginal Youth Entrepreneurship Program, Accounting Mentorship Program, Bank Mentoring, We Stand Together Campaign, Model School Projects, and Promising Practices in Aboriginal Education website.  More abaout the MAEI can be found here.  In more recent news, Mr. Martin has challenged Bill C-33, known as the "First Nations Control of First Nations Education Act. 

Saturday, September 20

Be'sha Blondin - “Land is our Education” 

Be'sha BlondinMedicine woman, healer and Dene Elder

Be’sha Blondin is a First Nation’s Elder from the Sahtu Region of the Northwest Territories with forty years of experience in Indigenous traditional healing, and living in harmony and balance.  From her youth, Be’sha learned environmental laws, traditional law, life skills, and knowledge and medicines of the land from her family and Elders. She speaks to preserve and to revitalize Aboriginal cultural knowledge and belief system.

Be’sha smudges her ceremonies with medicine plants, uses a drum beat, and sings traditional chants.  She is sought after for her invaluable knowledge and experience.  For example,  she conducted workshops at Ancient Voices Wilderness Camp to strengthen and empower troubled, high risk, traumatized, and suicidal youth in retreats, and in different treatment and health centres to deal with personal illness and family issues.

Be’sha focuses her holistic self-healing programs to help Indigenous youth, residential school survivors and their families, to empower them through a reclamation of traditional culture in their communities by holding sacred healing circles, workshops, training, and she also provides counseling and healing one on one.  She has led opening ceremonies and presentations at many conferences.  Willing to share her traditional knowledge and practices across cultures, she also provides healing to non-Indigenous people, works along side with health care practitioners, professionals, educators, social workers, and government departments.  Be’sha teaches, using humour with her gentle personality, wisdom, and healing abilities, to complement her knowledge of empowerment. She helps people reclaim their traditional cultures and power in their communities by providing culturally-based services in a good way.

Be’sha teaches alternative Indigenous cultures education to help youth succeed at the Dechinta Field University, the credits of which can then be transferred to the University of Alberta.  From there, students are prepared for further education, especially in community development, wellness plan, ceremonies, healing practices, and traditional knowledge.  Their education also promises a future in wellness and approaches in many communities, regions, reserves and many cities in Canada, United States, and other countries.

Prior to becoming a lifetime traditional healer, Be’sha was a successful Northern Health Officer and Manager of Health and Social Services with the Dene Nation, and worked for the NWT Court Worker Association as a court worker for the Sahtu region. She is certified in community development, management development, family development, anger management, trauma management, health and social development.

Be’sha has received awards from the Status of Women Council of the Northwest Territories, North Slave region, and the Wise Women Award in 2004.  She has been interviewed numerous times in local papers, radios interviews and television interviews wherever she travels.  Her traditional knowledge and Dene way of life teachings are documented, not only in the media, but also in the evidence of the changes she has made in peoples' lives.