Plenty for Everyone: an Interview with Joanna Jack of Plenty Canada - theHumm September 2020
Plenty for Everyone: an Interview with Joanna Jack of Plenty Canada - theHumm September 2020
theHumm is reaching out to members of our Ottawa Valley community to ask how they are finding ways to use their gifts and skills in these challenging times. Today’s subject is Joanna Jack, Programs Manager at Plenty Canada, an Indigenous-led non-profit organization that facilitates access to and shares resources with Indigenous peoples and other community groups around the world in support of their environmental protection and sustainable development goals. We contacted her to find out about some fascinating projects that Plenty Canada is currently engaged in.
theHumm: In case some of our readers are hearing about Plenty Canada for the first time, could you give us a quick overview of the organization, and explain how it came to be located in Lanark County?
Joanna Jack: Plenty Canada has quietly been operating from its current location near Lanark, with Larry McDermott as its executive director, for more years than some might realize! While one of our more active areas of work these days is the development of a land-based learning centre and associated programming on the Algonquin protected lands where our office is located, our mandate is quite broad. To illustrate, Larry was involved with a response to the Guatemalan Earthquake in 1976, which was one of Plenty’s first projects, and now we’re once again working together with people in that region, supporting community and Indigenous-led emergency COVID-19 relief to help them get back on their feet.
Can you describe some of your programs that are specifically targeted at youth (both Indigenous and non-Indigenous)?
We’re currently offering a Truth and Reconciliation Training Program for Indigenous and non-Indigenous youth aged 15-30. This remarkable program, now in its second year, enables young people in this area to engage with inspiring knowledge-keepers, changemakers and artists while working together to make the positive change they too wish to see in the world. The program launches in mid-September and will run until the end of March next year. We will be providing a series of monthly online workshops as well as in-person events on the land, paired with opportunities for community engagement. The lineup includes workshops with Tim Johnson, executive producer of the feature documentary Rumble: The Indians Who Rocked the World; Jeff Beaver, a much-respected voice on manoomin (wild rice); Chuck Commanda, master birch bark canoe builder, and more!
The best thing of all is that we are able to offer such high-quality programming free of charge to our participants, thanks to funding from the Government of Canada through their Canada Service Corps program. Registration is now open and we are accepting applications online at plentycanada.com , where more details about the program can be found.
Why is it important to engage young people, and what do you hope that they take away from their involvement with Plenty Canada programs?
While we may only hear about a small number of young leaders in the news, like Autumn Peltier and Greta Thunberg, many young people are already quietly engaged in creating positive change in their communities. We hope to offer further inspiration, tools and trainings that will empower them to continue to engage, advocate and learn about both the land and our collective futures.
I understand that you will be hosting a “celebration of wild rice” on September 12. Can you tell us more about that, and about the significance of wild rice to this area?
Yes, our Manoomin (wild rice in Anishinaabemowin) Celebration will be held from 10am to 12pm on Saturday, September 12 at the Plenty Canada office near Lanark. If you have always been curious about wild rice, it is a great opportunity to learn about its significance both as a food and culturally. You will be able to witness how it is processed and learn about where and how it grows. The event will be held in mnoominii giizis (wild rice moon), which is when wild rice is harvested. Wild rice is a central aspect of the Anishinaabe migration story, as the nation was told to move west to the place where the food grows on the water. The grain is an important aspect of the traditional food systems in this area.
How can the community best support Plenty Canada in their work right now?
We are currently working on a number of projects and would love any support, whether it is volunteering, a financial contribution, or participating in our public programming. You can visit plentycanada.com or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org .
What are you personally most concerned about during these tough times?I am concerned for the health of our community here and globally during these isolating times. Now, more than ever, is such an important opportunity for reflection but also reconnection — to each other, to the land, and to the planet. In any given situation we have to choose how we will respond, and I hope that our choice will be to set our course towards a more kind, just and sustainable future.
What are you optimistic about in terms of Indigenous issues, environmental protection or sustainable development during and after the pandemic?
I am optimistic about the change that this disruption to our lives could catalyze. The pandemic is a symptom of a much deeper issue — the degradation of our natural world. This is a reality that’s been recognized by both western science, which I’m trained in, and Indigenous traditional knowledge, which I’ve been fortunate to be exposed to over the course of my work. COVID-19 is showing us that addressing the biodiversity and climate crisis is not a luxury. I’ve heard others suggest, and I believe, that this situation is offering humanity an opportunity to reflect and step up to the plate.
Above all, though, I’m inspired by our youth. Earlier this spring I was in a meeting with Alex Kay, one of our non-Indigenous participants of the Truth and Reconciliation program and a recent high school graduate. She referred to comments circulating online about humans being the virus of the earth, in response to noted improvements in water and air quality since March. I’ll never forget when she stated “I disagree. Let’s look at how Indigenous peoples have always taken care of this land. Ignorance is the virus of the earth, that we forget that we have this connection to it. I don’t think it’s fair at all to say that it’s humans when so many people have taken such good care of the earth for so many generations.” To hear that level of thinking from emerging young leaders as they begin to really engage with these issues helps fuel my optimism for the future.
By Sally Hansen
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theHumm is reaching out to members of our Ottawa Valley community to ask how they are finding ways to use their gifts and skills in these challenging times. Today’s subject is Joanna Jack, Programs Manager at Plenty Canada, an Indigenous-led non-profit organization that facilitates access to and shares resources with Indigenous peoples and other community groups around the world in support of their environmental protection and sustainable development goals. We contacted her to find out about som......
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