Roger Obonsawin is a member of the Abenaki Nation who grew up in Sudbury, Ontario. I interviewed him twice at his office which was then in Toronto, though it has since moved to the Six Nations Territory of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy. As a student in Toronto in the late 1960s he was peripherally involved in some of the organizing against the infamous 1969 White Paper on indigenous issues produced by the Trudeau government. At that time, he also began a decade-long involvement with the network of indigenous organizations known as Friendship Centres — he eventually worked for the centres in Red Lake and Toronto, as well as playing a founding role in the National Association of Friendship Centres. His work since then has included publishing the Anasazi newsletter on indigenous issues in Canada, legal battles around indigenous rights with respect to taxation, grassroots mobilizations against attempts to dismantle the collective land base of reserve communities, and activities through his business ventures to make the skills and capacities of indigenous people available to meet the needs of indigenous communities. He was also centrally involved in the founding of the Aboriginal People’s Council of Toronto.
Material from Obonsawin on this site:
- As the only paid staff of the Native Friendship Centre in Red Lake (a town in northwestern Ontario) in the early 1970s, Obonsawin was very involved in struggles to make the town a less hostile place for the indigenous people who lived there. In this audio clip, he talks about some efforts related to housing.
- In this audio clip, Obonsawin talks about his involvement in efforts that succeeded in blocking a government effort to begin privatizing reserve lands in the early 1990s.
- In this short audio clip, Obonsawin sums up his views on the Department of Indian Affairs, on state funding for indigenous organiations, and on tactics to achieve change.