First Anishinaabe Racial Justice Conference tackles discussions local and national discrimination

Published: Apr. 16, 2018 at 6:09 PM EDT
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The first ever Anishinaabe Racial Justice Conference was held at the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community for three days.

And despite the weekend's snowy weather, people from all over Michigan and nearby states traveled to Baraga to discuss topics like work injustice, mascots, discrimination and treaty rights in terms of hunting, gathering and fishing.

Venison, white fish, and berries, these are just some of the foods considered traditional in many Native American communities.

However, members said their access to these foods today is limited because of what they call, food sovereignty.

"With the treaty rights, we have certain rights, but that's kind of limiting. You can't hunt fish and gather in one person's backyard like we would have been able to do before colonization," said director of the Native Justice Coalition, Cecelia LaPointe.

In the state of Michigan, it is illegal to trespass on private property without the owner's permission. Tribe members say the confusion between treaty lines and house property often leads to discrimination.

"When we want to ice fish, someone might not want us in their own backyard, but this is our territory. This is our homeland," said LaPointe.

Native American Communities used the conference to explain what living in perfect harmony with their neighbors would look like.

"Treaty rights do not give us preference rights, there more rights that we need in order to continue our life ways and because of the injustice, we need these rights so we can be protected when we fish, gather and hunt," explained LaPointe.

This three-day conference gathered people from all over Michigan and nearby states with organizers hoping it could start conversations--conversations to educate each other and outside communities.

Organizers said the this first conference was a success and hope to continue the conference for years to come.

"We want to continue this and we are open to seeing the ways that it can grow because the need is huge, unfortunately," LaPointe said.