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First Nations shaming ceremony aims to challenge federal government

07/27/2014 05:00 EDT | Updated 09/25/2014 05:59 EDT
A traditional shaming ceremony being held on the steps of Parliament is meant to challenge the federal government to renew its troubled relationship with First Nations, says a prominent West Coast artist.

Beau Dick, 59, a master carver and hereditary chief from the Namgis First Nation, explains the ceremony, taking place Sunday, July 27, involves taking a large copper shield and then cutting or breaking it.

“Breaking copper is a challenge, it is also a shaming, and it is also about banishment,” Dick explained.

“There are a lot of layers to this. Some people have described this as a protest and that is valid," he said. "[But] it's beyond that. What it is, is about waking up the conscious.”

Once practised throughout the Pacific Northwest, the copper cutting shaming rite had all but disappeared until Dick revived it with a ceremony in front of the B.C. legislature in 2013.

Giindajin HaawastiGuujaaw, a master carver who served as president of the Council of the Haida Nation for 13 years, provided the copper for the shield that will be broken Sunday. Guujaaw has been a high-profile figure since in the '70s, when he led efforts to protect Haida Gwaii from logging and other destructive resource development.

“[The] copper that is being provided is brought forth by the Haida Nation who have suffered atrocities over the last 150 years, almost totally alienated through genocide," said Dick.

Dick and other supporters from B.C. First Nations began their journey to Ottawa earlier this month, leaving Vancouver on July 2nd. Travelling over 5,000 kilometres, they made several stops along the way to meet with various communities.

By the time the group arrived in Ottawa on Saturday, they were 20 strong and the included members of the Blackfoot nation in Alberta.

Although the ceremony on Sunday is meant to shame the federal government, Dick says it also symbolizes an opportunity for the country's leaders to renew what is seen as a deeply fractured relationship with First Nations.

And he hopes it's a wake up call for all people.

“Hopefully we can touch the conscious so people will start caring more and work towards creating a world of well being for all of our children and our mankind," he said. "People need to be aware of the situation that we’re in in regards to our environment.”

But he says it also goes beyond that: For instance, there are long-standing aboriginal concerns to do with education, mental health and social injustice.

The shaming ceremony is scheduled to take place at 2:00 p.m. ET in front of the Peace Tower on Parliament Hill.

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