Sol Mamakwa

A Member of Community and Parliament: Sol Mamakwa Represents Hope and His People

“The creator creates a path for you so long as you work hard,” says Sol Mamakwa, a member of Kingfisher Lake First Nation, a fly-in community in Northwestern Ontario where he grew up. He shares his pride in who he is. “I think that's the uniqueness of our culture, of who we are. There's teachings in the language and… there's always humour,... no matter how down we may be, because it's so important that we laugh, as well. That's part of who we are,” he elaborates.

"The creator creates a path for you so long as you work hard."

As a child, he attended an Indian day school and left to go to high school. After attending residential school and going to high school, he graduated and went home for a few years before deciding to go to post secondary. He attended a program called public administrative governance and learned how public policy is created. 

Half of the year when he was growing up, his parents brought him on the land, creating a strong connection to where he’s from and teaching him history and their way of life. What he learned on the land stayed with him. “We need the land, we are the caretakers of the land, and the land needs us and we need it to learn to be who we are,” he asserts. He still speaks his language, explaining, “It's beautiful when we speak the language that the Creator has given us.” 

Now in his second term as a member of provincial parliament, he was elected for the Kiiwetinoong riding in 2018, Ontario’s biggest riding. Of the 31 First Nations in the territory he represents, 24 are fly-in. Politics was never part of his plan but he worked in health policy as a health advisor for Nishnawbe Aski Nation for a few years. Given health is typically 20% of the funding communities receive, he knew he would have an opportunity to speak to the social determinants of health, like education, housing, overrepresentation of Indigenous people in the prison and child welfare system. Inspired by that, he ran.  

Through education, Mamakwa got a different perspective on life on reserve, his day school experiences and the world outside of it. He brought his own perspective, too, reflecting, “Both sides are important, whether it's formal education and also our own ways of life, the things that we do, the ways of being, as Indigenous people… it's really important that we learn those things because two heads are better than one. That's what education does.”

While politics wasn’t his plan, he’s made the most of it. “When you do the work, no matter where you are, you work hard. No matter where you are, no matter the work that you do, you do your best to try to address the inadequacies that are there within the system, or some things that we can prevent,” he shares. His approach has been to learn more by asking questions and adding to his responsibilities as he learns more. Leaving his community wasn’t part of his plan either, wanting to maintain access to fishing and the land but he learned he could do that in other places, too. 

Illustration by Shaikara David

His advice for Indigenous youth considering doing the same is, “As Indigenous people, we always deal with racism, colonialism, and oppression...Don't lose your way of life, don't lose your language. Don't forget the people where you come from, but also learn the language of others… go to the formal education system that's there.” When it comes to language revitalization, Mamakwa doesn’t believe in relying on schools. “It depends on every one of us. Young people, elders and parents, grandparents, it begins at home,” he declares.

In Parliament, he’s the only First Nations representative and he’s not allowed to speak his language in the house. “You see colonialism, oppression, and racism in action on a daily basis because I know the system that's here was never built for us. It was never built for me, for people like me, that look like me. It's also important to be part of that so you can understand what's going on. No matter where you are, no matter who we are, we can achieve things,” he confides. 

From a lack of access to education in community, the high cost of food, the overcrowding, to suicides and chronic mental health issues and crises in community, these are the things Mamakwa asks the government about.  “It's not by accident, these things happen. The systems are working exactly the way they're designed to, which is to take away the rights of the people to the lands and the resources that are up there,” he says.  

“Sometimes when we live in it on a daily basis, you just learn to accept that that's just the way things are. That's the status quo... That's how colonialism and oppression works, to get you in that state, because we're not supposed to get up as people. We're not supposed to rise as nations. That's what we have to overcome, that train of thought that nothing is possible,” he continues. 

If he could give a message to his younger self it would be, “Listen to people, to elders, to your parents, because there's teachings and stories in there. It's so important to listen to those.” He would also share the importance of being on the land, something he was lucky to do growing up. 

To maintain his mental health, he listens for the sounds of nature when he’s too far to participate in land-based practices like he did at home, like fishing, boating and hunting. He spends time with family and tries to keep technology from overrunning his life. When he travels, he is inspired by the land, looking out the window to see nature’s beauty below. He’s also inspired by the people he represents. While Mamakwa has regular access to politicians, what he treasures is phone calls and visits with people in the community, the place he feels true power resides. 

Knowing the creator creates a path as long as you work hard, Sol Mamakwa has been doing just that on behalf of his constituents as a member of provincial parliament. Equipped with formal and informal teachings, he believes two heads are better than one and that there’s power when people work together. Working in a system not built for him, he brings the wisdom of the land and of his people in hopes of improving their conditions.

Thanks to Alison Tedford Seaweed for authoring this article.

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Key Parts

  • Career
  • Identity
    First Nations
    ,
    ,
    First Nations
  • Province/Territory
    Ontario
  • Date
    April 2, 2024
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  • Discussion Guide
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