Kana Wain Dida International Gathering Event Debrief: Sharing Stories of Indigenous Resilience During the COVID-19 Pandemic

From May 20th to 22nd, 2021, Indigenous People and allies from around the world came together at the Kana Wain Dida International Gathering. Kana Wain Dida is an Anishinaabe translation meaning ‘looking after each other,’ a phrase that was embodied over the three days of the conference.

The gathering was unique, not only as one of the few conferences that has focused on worldwide Indigenous responses to COVID-19 and well-being, but also as one that featured over ninety percent Indigenous presenters. Kana Wain Dida was hosted by Kitatipithitamak Mithwayawin, an Indigenous-led organization, and the University College of the North, and featured representatives from countries around the world, including Finland, Australia, and New Zealand.

The event was intended as a celebration of Indigenous strength and resilience, where presenters and attendees shared positive stories about COVID-19 amidst the surging case numbers of a third wave. Time was taken to discuss how governments have supported, and conversely, undermined Indigenous leaders in their response to the disease. The Kana Wain Dida gathering provided an international space for Indigenous communities and organizations to learn from one another, discuss their ongoing responses to COVID-19, and plan for future pandemics.

Bearing witness to this storytelling and networking on an international scale was a moving experience for many. Kimberley Wilde, the project coordinator for Kitatipithitamak Mithwayawin, reflected on her own experience at the conference:

“I felt very moved by all of the speakers and presenters for their absolute commitment to change and transformation and ensuring that this experience that their communities are going through is going to be different than past pandemics and past experiences with colonization. That they were so dedicated to that was a huge inspiration to me, and a huge testament to their gifts, and to who they are as people.”


For Moneca Sinclaire, another Kitatipithitamak Mithwayawin team member, the biggest takeaway from the event was the knowledge that there are other Indigenous people facing the same challenges who keep working in spite of them. “I don’t feel alone. They gave me hope to just keep going, to do what I’m doing.”

The conference spanned three days and featured over forty sessions, but its discussions only scratched the surface of Indigenous responses to COVID-19 around the world. Francesca Espiritu, a conference volunteer, says “it became clear that there’s a huge need for an international space to talk about and celebrate Indigenous-led countermeasures to health issues.” Though each community has its own stories, there is a significant amount of shared experience between countries and even continents. 

According to Emily Unger, who played an instrumental role in planning the conference as the Kitatipithitamak Mithwayawin Communications Coordinator, the Kana Wain Dida conference was a step in the development of this international discussion space. “All these communities are doing all these awesome things but they really don’t have the opportunity to connect.” The gathering’s presentations were an opportunity to connect and discuss pandemic response strategy on an international scale.

The conference may be over, but Kitatipithitamak Mithwayawin, the conference organizer, hopes that these discussions have only just begun. They are looking for ways to continue sharing resources, stories, and programs from around the world, and may host another conference next year.

If you missed the Kana Wain Dida International Gathering, highlights are available on the Kitatipithitamak Mithwayawin website. To hear similar stories, you can subscribe to the Kana Wain Dida newsletter, if you haven’t already. If you have stories or programs from your own community that you’d like to share, please email us at info@covid19indigenous.ca. We would love to hear from you.