William Wuttunee discusses history of aboriginal activism

William Wuttunee, 89, took part in Mount Royal University’s recent Native Awareness Month.

Wuttunee, an elder statesman of the First Nations politics, gave a series of lectures in March to interested university students and faculty.

“Coming out and talking to the youth is always important,” Wuttunee said. “Too many don’t have any idea as to what is going on in native communities.”

Wuttunee, who currently lives in Calgary, was Western Canada’s first aboriginal lawyer. He recounted his experiences forming the National Indian Council in 1961, now called the Assembly of First Nations.

“It was difficult getting all the tribes and bands together,” Wuttunee recalls.

“The biggest struggle was over the Metis people, because they were traditionally off reserve and not fully in either the white world or the native world.”

After frustrations with the Assembly of First Nations, Wuttunee helped to create the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples for off-reserve aboriginal people, consisting of both First Nations and Metis.

However, Wuttunee left the organization soon after and called its recent history “tragic” when it was under maligned senator Patrick Brazzeau.

William Wuttunee discusses aboriginal activism. Produced by Baj Visser.

Wuttunee’s discussions with various MRU groups focused largely on aboriginal activism. He discussed the grievances behind protests such as the Idle No More movement and the Nishiyuu Walkers, a group of Cree youth from northern Quebec who trekked 1,600 kilometers to Ottawa to rally for better conditions on reserves.

“I get the sense that many don’t realize we’ve been here for a very long time,” Wuttunnee said. “And we’ll be here for a longer time yet.”

This year marked the 20th anniversary of Native Awareness celebrations at MRU. In addition to speakers such as Wuttunee, audiences were treated to native dance demonstrations, a powwow, an aboriginal film festival and panels about current aboriginal issues.

Organizer Cory Cardinal said the events offered opportunities for non-native students to learn about Canada’s aboriginal peoples, and for MRU’s native student body to share their talents.

“We try to use students as much as possible,” Cardinal said. “It gives us an opportunity to share our culture with our Canadian brothers and sisters.”

bvisser@cjournal.ca