Plenty Canada has long been an organization that both attracts and nurtures exceptional talent. Guided by our values and collaborative practice of partnering with other community-minded individuals and organizations to complete good works over a period of 45 years, we’ve aligned with some truly inspiring professionals.
To mention just a few who I believe would qualify as significant leaders among their people were John Hardbattle, who advocated for the rights of N/oakhwe communities across Botswana. The N/oakhwe, who are more commonly referred to as the Bushmen, Bararwa, or San, are an Indigenous people of southern Africa. John was an amazing cultural interpreter who gathered the testimony and expressions of village leadership and helped us all better understand the impacts and distress caused by Botswana’s resettlement program, of life before and after fences divided the Kalahari, and of the needs of the country’s Indigenous people to sustain their traditional food supplies and lifeways. John died far too young and will forever be missed by those of us who knew and loved him.
Sam Mercado, a Miskito leader from the Atlantic Coast of Nicaragua, was instrumental in securing and directing reconstruction and rehabilitation resources to Indigenous communities destroyed during the Contra War. It would be impossible to overstate Sam’s carefully guided management and delivery of Plenty Canada resources used to replant fruit orchards and to rebuild homes and community buildings. Sam was instrumental in the development of Pana Pana (Asociación para el Desarrollo de la Costa Atlántica) which leverages resources from governmental and non-governmental organizations to promote and strengthen the development of sustainable infrastructure to deliver potable water, sanitation, and hygiene services. He continues to work hard for his people.
In our April donor letter, I highlighted the work of Mwana Bermudes, who deserves additional affirmation here as Plenty Canada's stalwart field project coordinator in southern Africa. Our association with Mwana extends back to our earliest years in the 1980s when Plenty Canada was developing the Village Technology and Training Centre (VTTC) in the Quthing River Valley of Lesotho. Over a period of more than 40 years he’s led numerous projects (potable water, sanitation, agriculture, forestry, etc.) that have improved the lives of thousands of rural villagers. His generous and genuine soul, combined with his multiple skill sets and talents, including music and photography, make Mwana Plenty Canada’s favourite renaissance man.
Peigi Wilson, research manager for the First Nations Information Governance Centre in Ottawa, supports the development of Indigenous capacity as an important pathway to First Nations self-determination. As a board member of our organization, she has provided stable guidance and applied a broad range of skill sets that have strengthened our work across the board. From serving as the director of Environmental Stewardship at the Assembly of First Nations, to facilitating municipal water service agreements at the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, and as a consultant for Global Affairs and Canada employees on recognition and reconciliation issues, Peigi brings to the table significant policy experience and professional practice.
It’s been an honour to have been associated with so many admirable and highly credentialed colleagues over the years.
Jeff Beaver, a long-time associate who hails from Alderville First Nation has led many programs for Plenty Canada. His life’s work, which has upheld the knowledge and traditions of the Mississauga Anishinabeg of the Ojibway Nation, is comprehensive. From working with Parks Canada in many capacities including that of Wasagaming Townsite warden, through his service as resource management co-ordinator and facilitator of projects with the Indian Agricultural Program of Ontario, to working with our organization on developing youth training around manoomin (wild rice) seeding and harvesting, he’s become a respected and cherished member of our team.
Another of our standouts is esteemed Mohawk elder and midwife Katsi Cook, who led a Plenty Canada-supported program called The First Environment back in the 90s and who remains a close friend to this day. Katsi is an advocate of Indigenous women’s health, drawing from a longhouse traditionalist perspective the idea of Woman as the First Environment. For the past 25 years she’s worked at the intersections of environmental health and justice and reproductive research and policy. Katsi is a founding member of the National Aboriginal Council of Midwives, a researcher, and a lecturer on Indigenous environmental reproductive health. She is currently the director of the Spirit Aligned Leadership Program.
Mafika Ludidi arrived in Canada after being exiled from his home country of South Africa during the Apartheid scourge. He never once lost sight of his own people’s plight while working as a development education specialist with Plenty Canada. When conditions were right for his return, Ludidi was greeted as a hero by his community in the Transkei region. Among our staff who were present and fortunate to have witnessed the event, they likened his entrance into the celebration hall to that of Moses parting the Red Sea, as throngs of well wishers joyously jumped into the air as he walked down the aisle. Ludidi went on to initiate Plenty Canada projects dealing with potable water supply and agriculture before his untimely death. His story and that of John Hardbattle remind us of just how precious and precarious life can be, but also of the significant impacts one can have when dedicated to right and just causes.
And then there’s Tim Johnson, Mohawk from Six Nations of the Grand River, who served as communications director for Plenty Canada back in the early 1990s and continues to be an active partner today. His work built a loyal donor base for our organization, which has remarkably survived through some 30 years of institutional evolution. Tim’s career eventually led him to the Smithsonian Institution where he served in senior management at the National Museum of the American Indian for 11 and ½ years, ten of those as associate director for Museum Programs overseeing exhibitions and public programs. Many of you may know Tim for his multiple award-winning film RUMBLE: The Indians Who Rocked The World, which emerged from a Smithsonian exhibition he initiated and directed. Tim currently heads up our Six Nations bureau office.
This partial list (with apologies to dozens of others who’ve built impactful careers and successful lives) provides insight into how even a modest grassroots organization like Plenty Canada can make a difference in the world. Our primary goal for the past 45 years has been to simply help people where and when we can, particularly those who’ve been neglected, mistreated, or otherwise ignored, like Indigenous peoples. And when I look out at the incredibly bright and talented young professionals who’ve come through Plenty Canada in more recent years, I’m encouraged by their intelligence, commitment, and decency.
Together, our accomplished elders and talented young people give me cause to believe in a bright and hopeful future.
Chi Miigwech. Niá:wen. Merci. Thank you.