Canadian-born NSW MP meets Canadian Indians at the Sydney Jewish Museum

April 23, 2013 by J-Wire Staff
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Sydney Jewish Museum recently hosted a special event linking the Sydney Jewish community with a delegation of Canadian First Nation people from Alberta.

The event was called “People of the Book; People of the Earth”.


 Terry Daniels, Elder Traditional Artist, Spiritual and Culture Teacher Kirby Poucette, Youth Traditional Culture and Skills Youth representative with CEO Norman Seligman

Terry Daniels, Elder Traditional Artist, Spiritual and Culture Teacher Kirby Poucette, Youth Traditional Culture and Skills Youth representative with CEO Norman Seligman

The Stoney Nakoda people held a special smoking ceremony and were hosted by Annette Johnston.

Stoney Nakoda elder, Helmer Twoyoungmen performed the Bow Instrument and Stoney Nakoda member, Kirby Poucette performed “Spirit of The Eagle Play”. Among the audience was Jewish communal leader, Mrs Josie Lacey, who is active in inter-faith dialogue and Mrs Margaret Gutman of the Sydney Jewish Museum.

State Labor shadow minister, Walt Secord, who is also Parliamentary Friends of Israel deputy chair as the keynote speaker. (Mr Secord migrated to Australia in 1988 and is the son of a Mohawk-Ojibway First Nation from southern Canada. He is State Labor’s Shadow Minister for Water and Shadow Special Minister of State.)

“It was a beautiful and overwhelming event,” Mr Secord said.

In his address to the function, Secord said:

“In Australia, when we acknowledge a Country, we remind ourselves of the importance of truth telling, restitution and the custodianship of the land on which we stand. We remind ourselves that we are indeed, just custodians – passing through, with an obligation to do so with care.

Elder Kirby Pucette, Walt Secord and Josie Lacy

Elder Kirby Pucette, Walt Secord and Josie Lacy

I also acknowledge the Stoney Nakoda and Sioux First Nations – and for the unique opportunity to witness a traditional smudging ceremony – a rarity in Australia.

I would like to welcome you all here today for this unique experience to witness the fusing of two ancient cultures: the People of the Book – the Jewish people; and the People of the Earth – Canada’s First Nations.

My name is Walt Secord. I am a Labor Parliamentarian and the State Shadow Minister for Water.
[For the benefit of our Canadian guests, I would be the equivalent of an New Democrat Party (NDP) Opposition frontbencher in a provincial parliament.]

Meeting the community

Meeting the community

I am an Australian citizen, but my accent gives away the fact that I was born, educated and raised in southern Ontario, Canada. I am, in fact, a person of Canadian Aboriginal descent. My father is a Mohawk-Ojibway First Nation – and my mother is a fifth generation Anglo-Anglican Canadian- a person of European descent. I am the product of an inter-racial marriage and was raised as a Christian.

However, for reasons I will come to shortly, it has been the Jewish faith, and the influence of Jewish people in my childhood that perhaps most shaped my unusual journey to be here this afternoon.  And it has resulted in my life-long support of the Jewish community and the State of Israel.

In fact, these two unlikely connections: one to my former indigenous homeland; and the other to a faith that is, arguably, not even ‘mine ‘have shaped my perspective – and my political philosophy.  Of course, I never imagined they would come together as beautifully as they do today.

I grew up and was educated on the Mississaugas of the New Credit First Nation Indian Reserve near Toronto and Niagara Falls.  My parents still reside there and run a craft shop. They also create burial outfits for traditional funerals and provide other materials for traditional native dancers on the pow wow circuit.  My brother, who is much younger is active in Native affairs and is active in promoting traditional culture. However, I chose to strike a very different path and migrated to Australia 25 years ago.

Soon I found my first job here. I worked for the Australian Jewish News in this very building. I have to admit that on first blush that I was an unlikely applicant for a position as a reporter at the Australian Jewish News.

Joining in the dancing

Joining in the dancing

Some of you are aware of my personal story. But, for the benefit of those who do not; it is sufficed to say that my life has been connected to and shaped by Judaism.   It has shaped my views on racism, intolerance, education and social justice.

As I told Parliament in my inaugural speech in June 2011, my links to the Jewish community predate my coming to Sydney and stretch back to the Indian reserve. I also owe a special debt of gratitude to a wonderful Jewish man, a mentor from my childhood.

He is the late-Godel Silber; a Holocaust survivor who became friends with my father when they worked together in scrap metal recycling.  Mr Silber always saw the best in people and supported anyone who asked to help. He lived by the Hebrew phrase Tikkun Olam – repairing the world.

Mr Silber believed that Jewish people were not only responsible for creating a model society for themselves – but, they were also responsible for the welfare of society at large. Mr Silber was extremely observant and worshipped at an Orthodox Adass shule in southern Canada.

He taught me about kashrut, Pesach, Chanukah, the shabbat, the State of Israel, the Shoah and the need to fight racism and intolerance.

Mr Silber was born near Warsaw in June 1921 and was transported to Auschwitz in late 1942.  Somehow, he survived. After liberation, he married another Holocaust survivor, Cilka and they made their way to Canada.  Mr Silber saw something in me and insisted that I go to university.

He reinforced one message to me over and over again: Get an education. Like Mr Silber, I believe that education is the great leveller in an unfair society.  Education was my opportunity.
I am proud to have known him; and by doing, so changed my life.
Because, as unlikely as it seemed on an Indian reserve in Canada in the 1970s …I stand here today as a Labor Member of the NSW Parliament, but also as the Deputy chair of the NSW Parliamentary Friends of Israel.  So, being here today is also about catching up with old friends.

In the last almost two years as an MP, I have spoken on many other issues of interest to the Jewish and Aboriginal communities and indeed, all those interested in freedom of belief and expression.  I have spoken in Parliament on the wonderful Rona Tranby Trust – linking the Jewish and Aboriginal communities which records Australian indigenous history.

I have spoken at length about genocide.  Not just in the Jewish context, but within the context of universal human rights, and the divisive and dangerous tactics that can serve to undermine them.

I have spoken of:
·         the massacre of the Dharawal people at Appin 197 years ago this week – which is being commemorated at this very moment in a special ceremony at Cataract Dam in Sydney’s southwest;
·         The Shoah and the Armenian Genocide; the recent persecution of Coptic Christians in Egypt; the annual Srebrenica commemoration at Parramatta; and
·         Saddam Hussein’s genocide against the Kurds.

I believe that all genocides require constant remembrance.   After all, the perpetrators of such atrocities rely on their deeds being overlooked in time.

For those, unaware, it was Adolf Hitler himself who, asserted that Final Solution would be forgotten by history.  He famously said in August 1939: “Who, after all, speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians?”  Hitler was referring to the 20th century’s first orchestrated genocide – the Armenian Genocide.

I my own personal capacity I have studied and travelled to numerous sites of oppression and genocide around the world including Auschwitz-Birkeneau, Yad Vashem in Jerusalem, the ancient ruins of Western Armenia and Iraqi Kurdistan seeking to understand two things: How do these things begin? How are these things prevented?

And while many of these studies have been difficult, I have been pleased to have brought my insights to my work and to the NSW Parliament.   Not only for their relevance to specific communities in NSW like the Jewish, Armenian, Kurdish and Aboriginal communities, but for the Australian community as a whole.

I know from my upbringing in an inter-racial family;  from lessons learnt at the knee of a Holocaust survivor; from my privileged experiences with the Sydney Jewish community and the Sydney Jewish Musem – just how vital the constant defence of freedom, tolerance and education are.

I owe my opportunities to a person of the Jewish faith, tolerance and education who opened my eyes as a young boy on an Indian reserve in southern Canada to a greater world.
Therefore, I intend to use the privilege of my position as a MP to advocate policies that – I hope – will make the Jewish and indigenous communities proud and which support tolerance, education and opportunity for all.

Finally, in closing at this unique Jewish-Canadian-Australian-Indigenous event, I encourage you all to inspect a small display in this museum dedicated to an indigenous Australian.

In 1938, this man, William Cooper, was living without any legal recognition at the time in his own nation.  Yet he made an extraordinary protest. Not for himself, but for the Jewish people of Europe.  He marched to the German consulate in Melbourne where he sought to formally lodge his protest at the events of Kristallnacht.

At the time, it was the only protest made to any German diplomatic mission in the world.  His protest was ignored at the time, obviously, by then German representatives, but also by Australia, who did not even count him as an Australian citizen as he was an Aboriginal person and was considered “fauna”.

I am pleased to say that neither of these things are true today. William Cooper’s name is now recorded in Jerusalem at Yad Vashem and his protest has been formally recognised.

The SYdney Jewish Museum’s Aviva Wolff added: “The Sydney Jewish Museum was proud to welcome, on their first visit to Australia,  two respected traditional Stoney Nakoda elders who have lived on reserve in Alberta their entire lives as well as youth representative, Terry,  from this ‘Canadian First Nation. The event began with a  Traditional ‘smudging’ ceremony  elder Helmer Twoyoungmen.  Following the ceremony the  Hon. Walter Secord MP gave a wonderful presentation and told the audience about his life growing up on a reserve in Canada and then coming to Australia.

The youngman, Terry, then went  on to explain the meaning and symbolism of the eagle to the Stoney Nakoda and Kirby Pucette then  told of the Spirit of The Eagle Play with song, drumming and dance with the audience joining in.”

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