An activist for important causes and a documentary maker, Sipi is a friendly man who welcomes us at his home. From there, we head toward a calm bay on the shore of Kempt Lake to conduct the interview. He tells me about his Atikamekw roots in the territory of Manawan, where he was born in October 1989 and lived as a child and teenager. Although he has been away from his community for a number of years, preserving Atikamekw culture remains at the heart of his activities and accomplishments.
He completed his bachelor’s degree in political science at Université Laval, as well as studying Western philosophy for one year at the same institution. His activism led him to take on various roles, including spokesperson for the First Nations Youth Network and leader of Université Laval’s indigenous students’ association.
On a professional level, he was in charge of political, legal and social affairs at the Quebec Native Women organization and a project manager at the Regroupement des Centres d’Amitié Autochtones (Quebec Association of Native Friendship Centres). In August 2018, he was elected to the Manawan Atikamekw Council, serving as community engagement coordinator and vice-chief. Passionate about global indigenous issues, he’s currently working on a master’s degree in indigenous studies, with a focus on governance, at the Université du Québec en Abitibi-Témiscamingue.
In his capacity as a councillor, he wants to generate discussion of the social, political and environmental issues facing his territory. As an example, he mentions large-scale mining projects and forestry activities. “Families, clan chiefs and territorial chiefs should speak out and clearly express their needs and concerns about all projects undertaken in the territory of Nitaskinan,” he remarks.
On a related note, he acknowledges the progress that has been made in negotiations relating to forestry activities. “Genuine dialogue is taking place. The forestry industry is listening to us, making compromises and modifying their forest land use plans to take our priorities into account,” says Sipi.
He also mentions the requests made to the government by the Manawan Council and the Atikamekw Nation Council regarding the establishment of an Atikamekw park intended to ensure the conservation of Kempt Lake’s ecosystems. This is a project that’s close to his heart.
“Racism and discrimination exist everywhere,” states Sipi. “To put an end to unacceptable behaviour, intolerance or ignorance, there’s still a lot of discussion and awareness-raising to be done. Indigenous people have a responsibility to attend and take a proactive role in commissions of inquiry, public commissions and parliamentary commissions.”
Sipi is an inspiring leader who in turns draws inspiration from indigenous leaders from other countries. For over ten years, he has been involved in cultural exchanges as well as giving lectures in places such as Chile, Peru, Paraguay, Colombia and Mexico. In his talks, he speaks about indigenous culture and traditions as well as his vision of cinema as a tool for sharing traditional knowledge, which he views as “essential for preserving our indigenous identity.”
He takes great pride in now being able to convey his message in Spanish, a language he learned over the past few years. With a similar sense of satisfaction, he discusses his experiences taking part in powwows and his skill in creating his own ceremonial regalia.
In his short films distributed via Wapikoni Mobile, he addresses subjects that prompt reflection about indigenous and Atikamekw identity. These notably include the legacy of elders, the role of women, the preservation of the Nitaskinan territory and ownership of social and environmental issues by young people.
Sipi, who took part in the September 2019 climate march in Montreal with Greta Thunberg and 14 other young indigenous leaders, is persuasive when he talks about the relevance and urgency of his fight to gain recognition for indigenous people’s rights and culture. His points about Atikamekw pride and the importance of passing on indigenous values and identity are certainly convincing. The fact that he’s devoted to working with others to achieve reconciliation is great news for all of us!