By Gisele McKnight
Ready to board his flight back to Toronto, Dr. José Zárate declared his week spent in Fredericton a great success and a wonderful experience.
Dr. Zárate is the coordinator of indigenous communities for the Primate’s World Relief and Development Fund of the Anglican Church of Canada (PWRDF), the Canadian Anglican response agency for emergency relief, refugees, development and justice.
He was here the week of March 20 at the invitation of the University of New Brunswick and its Mi’kmaq-Wolastoqey Centre, to present, lead discussion and educate on the indigenous community development projects supported and led by PWRDF.
“PWRDF has approved a new strategy called indigenous maternal health midwifery practices, with three partners — Canada, Mexico and Peru — to promote maternal health,” he said. “It was because of that UNB invited me. They are interested in how they can learn from our experience and apply it.”
Dr. Zárate is a Quechua from Peru who moved to Canada in 1984. He earned a PhD in education and international development from the University of Toronto and has worked for PWRDF since 1996.
He had a busy week with several engagements at the university and an invitation to join St. Mary’s First Nation for its ceremony marking World Water Day. He feasted on moose meat and fiddleheads after the ceremony and led a discussion on reconciliation.
“I think the element that caught my eye was the intentional invitation of the elders to the youth,” he said of his visit to St. Mary’s First Nation.
“After 20 years I am familiar with the protocols — the ceremonies and feasts. What is the common denominator is the thinking of the future. The term I use is ‘seven generations.’ I saw it here too — the involvement of the kids.”
During his week in Fredericton, he was UNB’s Colloquium Series guest, leading a talk on PWRDF’s work in indigenous communities.
He cited the TRC (Truth and Reconciliation Commission) and the UNDRIP (United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples), “and how we apply those principles to our work,” in his presentation.
“It went very well,” he said. “At the end there was very frank discussion. It was very healthy.”
On Wednesday, besides the World Water Day ceremony, he was part of a panel discussion after the screening of a film called Daughter of the Lake, a documentary of a young woman who fought a gold mining company on her Peruvian ancestral land.
“It was an interesting discussion because there were elders — knowledge keepers — who talked about what happened here years back with the fisheries,” he said.
On Thursday he met with upwards of two dozen people at UNB’s Mi’kmaq-Wolastoqey Centre.
“They invited me to talk about indigenous maternal health and explore further discussion with institutional collaboration.”
In his many years as the coordinator of indigenous communities, he has participated in programs in Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, Cuba, Peru, and of course, Canada. He has seen the lows of poverty and injustice, racism, violence and discrimination, both abroad and in Canada.
“The conditions that indigenous people live in are so-called third world,” he said. “I have visited many of them. I am very conscious, as an indigenous person myself, that the realities of indigenous people in the south are very similar to those faced here.”
But he sees hope in PWRDF’s projects, some addressing such issues as Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, the preservation of indigenous languages, improved maternal health and many others.
“I have seen their resilience and visionary wisdom that comes from within, from their ancestral histories and stories,” he said.
In his culture, the condor represents indigenous people from the south. The eagle, he said, represents indigenous people of the north.
“In prophecy, when the eagle and condor encounter each other, humanity will live in peace and harmony,” he said. “What we are doing, especially the maternal health partnership of Peru, Mexico and Canada, is putting into practice this prophecy.”
After 20 years, he still enjoys working to foster development in indigenous communities and form partnerships with them — all in an atmosphere of mutual respect and trust.
“I love my job!” he said. “I am blessed to do this work. Everything I do — the sharing, the meeting — is a collaboration. It’s not my own information, it’s the collaboration of all those who came before me.”
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World Water Day celebrated
By Gisele McKnight
Bishop David Edwards was a special guest at a celebration of World Water Day hosted by Elder Imelda Perley, the University of New Brunswick’s Mi’kmaq-Wolastoqey Centre and St. Mary’s First Nation in Fredericton March 22.
The celebration was held at St. Mary’s Old Reserve on the city’s north side on the bank of the St. John River. The outdoor ceremony was attended by about 45 people, and was the first time World Water Day was celebrated by the partners.
Dr. José Zárate was another special guest at the event. He is the coordinator of indigenous communities with the Primate’s World Relief and Development Fund in Toronto. He is a Quechua from Peru, and has worked for PWRDF since 1996.
Elder Imelda Perley led the celebration, explaining the traditions and importance of water in the lives of First Nations members.
“We are honouring Wolastoq,” she said, adding that Wolastoq is the original name of the St. John River.
The river figured prominently in the ceremony. Each person present was invited to put snow in a large copper bowl, and then Bishop David prayed Jesus’s blessing on the water. After that, the elders and Dr. Zárate walked down to the river’s edge to leave the snow on the ice. A group of young women sang and drummed during this part of the ceremony.
”I’m an ambassador for Canada 150, so my contribution as an ambassador is to showcase the resilience of my people — that we still have our language, we still have ceremonies like this,” said Imelda.
After the ceremony, everyone was invited to a feast which included moose meat and fiddleheads. The afternoon continued with Dr. Zárate leading a Talking Circle on Reconciliation. He gave other presentations and attended events at UNB during the week.