Indigenous leader spending 27 hours in Mandela exhibition cell

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A man wearing an eagle-feather headdress, holding a pipe, kneels over a fur pelt in a room that resembles a small prison cell.

Photo: CMHR, Keith Fraser

News release details

Indigenous leader Derek Nepinak is spending 27 hours in an eight‐foot by seven‐foot replica of Nelson Mandela’s tiny jail cell as a personal journey to reflect on the parallels between the apartheid system in South Africa and the experience of Indigenous people in Canada.

Niibin Makwa (Nepinak) began his ceremonial fast this morning at 10 a.m. in the Level 1 Gallery at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights (CMHR), where a replica of Mandela’s Robben Island prison cell is part of the exhibition Mandela: Struggle for Freedom. Mandela spent 27 years in jail for his actions against apartheid, a system that enshrined racism and inequality in South Africa.

Nepinak will remain in the cell, without food or drink, until tomorrow at 1 p.m. Media are invited to speak with him at that time.

“Nelson Mandela’s life taught us that even while contained within the most oppressive and violent of racialized colonial state mechanisms, love and freedom of spirit can persevere,” Nepinak said in a statement he delivered on video before entering the cell this morning. The video has been posted on the CMHR Facebook page.

What: Interview opportunity with Derek Nepinak

When: 1 p.m., Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Where: Mandela: Struggle for Freedom exhibition, Level 1 Gallery CMHR, 85 Israel Asper Way

CMHR president and CEO John Young said the Museum’s role includes acting as a national platform for dialogue about human rights from multiple perspectives. “We welcomed this opportunity to encourage conversations about human rights and forge connections between communities,” he said.

“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.”

Nepinak is a former grand chief of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, former chief of the Pine Creek First Nation and former chair of the West Region Tribal Council. Over the past few years, he has initiated several actions to raise awareness and spark conversations about Indigenous rights in Canada, including a 120‐kilometre “Walk to Remember” last year from the former site of his mother’s residential school to his home First Nation, where another residential school once stood.

Media contacts

Maureen Fitzhenry