Indigenous leader spending 27 hours in prison cell without food or water to honour Mandela

Former AFN Grand Chief Derek Nepinak.
Former AFN Grand Chief Derek Nepinak. The Canadian Press

A local Indigenous leader is honouring late South African civil rights icon Nelson Mandela at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights.

Derek Nepinak, former grand chief of the Manitoba Assembly of Chiefs, is spending 27 hours without food or drink in a reproduction of Mandela’s prison cell – one hour for each year Mandela spent in prison for fighting apartheid.

“My intent here today is to draw recognition to the fact that while it is important to celebrate victories over colonialism and human rights abuses, Indigenous peoples here still face an ongoing reality of colonialsm and genocide, right here in the nation-state of Canada,” said Nepinak in a video statement on the museum’s Facebook page.

“Nelson Mandela’s life taught us that even while contained in the most oppressive and violent of racialized colonial state mechanisms, love and freedom of spirit can persevere.

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“Mandela’s example should continue to not only bring us lessons of resistance, but it should also bring hope to us as Indigenous people living our colonization here in the nation state.”

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Nepinak said walking through the museum’s Mandela exhibit shows a number of parallels between apartheid South Africa and the experience of Indigenous people in Canada.

Derek Nepinak examines a replica of Nelson Mandela’s cell before starting his 27-hour hunger strike. CMHR / Facebook video

The museum’s president and CEO said part of the CMHR mandate is to act as a national platform for dialogue between communities.

“Mandela’s example continues to be a source of inspiration for people around the world – including here in Canada – who are striving to build relationships in the shadow of gross human rights violations,” said John Young.

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“We welcomed this opportunity to encourage conversations about human rights and forge connections between communities.”

The Mandela: Struggle for Freedom exhibit looks at Mandela’s life and the movement that formed around him.

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