Proud Metis

My Insights as an Indigenous Adoptee

North Slave Metis Alliance Board Members & President (l to r): Alan Harman, President, Bill Enge, Marc Whitford, and Arnold Enge.

On January 20th, 2018 I attended my first North Slave Métis Alliance (NSMA) annual general assembly. This AGA was important to me because I did not grow up with my Metis culture or with my biological family. I was adopted at birth and I found my birth father, Bill Enge, the President of the NSMA in 2006. When I met him, at the age of 26, I was given the gift of learning what it meant to be Métis. His position as a political leader and champion of Métis rights has given me a thorough education. I am grateful to be connected to my culture and I would like to share my story of reunion with my family and why I’m a proud Métis cultural ambassador.

First, let me share my personal journey of reuniting with my family (also available on the Women Warriors podcast) and my re-education as an Indigenous adoptee learning my culture.

The first act that my biological mother committed on my behalf was to give me up for adoption. She tells me when we have reunited 29 years later that her mother gave her an ultimatum, give me up for adoption or be cut off from all family support. It was 1980 and her family was wealthy, conservative, and White. Her mother disapproved of my Métis father and racism separated us.

Here begins my lifelong journey back to my ancestral homeland and culture.

I grew up in the agricultural community of Castor, Alberta, a population of one thousand, consisting of members of predominately European descent. My parents were of French and German descent, and we were raised in the Roman Catholic faith. I used to sneak into my parent’s filing cabinet and look at my adoption papers – Metis descent. What did that mean? I had no idea what a Metis was, and there was no cultural activities or education in my small community.

The questions surrounding my identity peaked after working and traveling around the world on board a cruise ship for a year and realizing the importance of knowing where you are from – your roots and heritage.

I stepped off the plane in Yellowknife to meet my birth father, and my family, the Enge’s and experienced an immediate sense of belonging. I had read about the concept of blood memory – a term used in Indigenous culture referring to memory stored in the cells and passed on genetically. I felt connected to my biological family, and I was grateful for the opportunity to meet all of them including my grandmother, Anne, a respected Métis Elder, and leader. She was a true Matriarch and a strong Indigenous woman that had overcome great odds in her lifetime to make meaningful contributions to Yellowknife.

For the past eleven years, Bill has been an important part of my life. He has taught me about our family history including our ancestral ties to Francois Beaulieu (II), “Le Patriarche” – a legend in Northern Métis history, and our rightful claim, as Powley-tested North Slave Métis, to our ancestral homelands, the region north and east of Great Slave Lake, Northwest Territories.

Since I’ve known him, Bill has always been locked in litigation with the Crown. We have celebrated several legal victories together, including the 2013 Bathurst Caribou lawsuit, and most recently the Federal Court of Canada decision that the North Slave Métis Alliance (NSMA) was not adequately consulted by Canada respecting the Northwest Territory Métis Nation Land and Resources Agreement-in-Principle signed July 31, 2015 (NWTMN AiP).

When I met my distant cousin, Julie Lys this past summer she talked about the importance of knowing family genealogy. I understand this knowledge on a deep level. To me, it’s more than a piece of paper with a map of your family tree. It’s the stories that come with that lineage and the strength that is born out of knowing who you are. I will never take my family history for granted, because for most of my life – 26 years, I didn’t have it. I am proud Métis because I know the battle stories of my ancestors and family members, and I honor their struggle with a great sense of pride, and enthusiasm in sharing my culture.


My cousin, Julie, myself and my daughter, Kayla at the National Aboriginal Day celebrations in Yellowknife, 2017.

 

Legal counsel for the North Slave Metis Alliance, Chris Devlin & Kate Gower of @DGW_Law explaining to members at our AGA the legal intricacies of our court win against the Gov’t of Canada. #courtvictory #Metis #legalhistory #lawsuit #NWT.

 

The North Slave Metis Alliance AGA included a presentation by our legal team, Chris Devlin & Kate Gower @DGW_Law on our legal victories against the GNWT & Govt of Canada starting in 2013 to current win Oct. 2017. President, Bill Enge discussed asserting our rights based on our #Metis ancestry – all of our members are Powley tested Metis.

 

My beautiful, new moccasins purchased at the Gallery of the Midnight Sun, Old Town, YK. Our kittens went crazy when they smelled them! #NWT #YK #supportindigenousartists

 

Our Metis cat. My girls named him Josh, but his Metis name is Francois! The painting is by NWT artist, James Wedzin.

 

How I Know My Cat is Metis

Every morning, around 6 am this cat comes into my room, and he lets out the loudest, most demanding MEOW for his food. He doesn’t quit until that bowl is in front of him. He’s a vocal advocate for his rights, exactly as the Metis have been to get their rights recognized as one of the three Aboriginal groups in S.35 of the Constitution Act, 1982. This cat has the makeup of a Metis – he won’t shut up until he’s recognized, he’s in it for the long haul and he makes sure he gets his fair share. Then he naps.

Women Warriors Updates

Several exciting announcements:
1) Women Warriors – 8 Weeks to Healthy Living is being piloted by the City of Calgary.
Location: Village Square Leisure Centre, 2623 56 Street NE, Calgary.
Dates: March 14, 21 April 4, 11, 18, 25 May 2
Time: 7:00 pm -8:15 pm.
Dr. Wicklum will be involved with the research for this program and hopefully our Master’s student, Megan will be a support. I will be training a facilitator of this program in late February.

The contact person for this pilot is:
Bev Renaud
Aboriginal Community Social Worker BSW, RSW.
Calgary Neighbourhoods
The City of Calgary | email: Bev.Renaud@calgary.ca 

* If you are interested in running a Women Warriors program in your community please contact me for details.

2) I have been invited by the editor of the Yellowknifer, James O’Connor to be a bi-weekly contributor. I will be sharing all my Metis insights and experience as the facilitator of Women Warriors with the residents of the Northwest Territories. You can access my op-ed pieces on the website Northern News Service Online. You can subscribe online or view articles on their Facebook page.

3) Women Warriors was featured in the Globe & Mail’s weekly newsletter, Amplify.

4) The Women Warriors podcast is now featured on Nuxalk Radio 91.1 FM, broadcasted from Bella Coola, BC.
* Nuxalk Radio aims to be a part of building a grassroots Indigenous radio network with the focus on maintaining our languages, healing and empowering our Nations.
* A recent review on iTunes from PepperK2 states, “This podcast is incredibly empowering. I listen to them with my daughter and she loves them too. Please make more!”
* Please do me a favor and leave a review on iTunes if you have received any benefit or enjoyment from my podcast.

5) I’m excited to announce that the Arctic Indigenous Wellness Foundation, which I featured in my newsletter, Reconciliation in Health Research: Spirituality and Science were awarded the $1 million dollars Arctic Inspiration Prize. NWT winners of $1 million prize promise ‘a brighter future’. I wrote an article for the Yellowknifer about it that will be published next Wednesday. We are in the midst of planning an Elder and researcher gathering in Yellowknife this coming summer/fall.

6) My last newsletter, Being an Informed Indigenous Ally – Insights and Resources for Non-Indigenous Community Members is being published this coming Monday in Yellowknife’s other paper, News North.

7) The funding fate of the Onion Lake Cree Nation program will be decided next Wednesday, February 7th. I will let you know the outcome as soon as I know.


I am still accepting the Power of Mentorship profiles. Due to the fact that this newsletter is lengthy with many updates, I will be sending out a separate mentorship newsletter this coming week. I’m excited to share with you the profiles of Tala Tootoosis and Marcel Petit. Please email me if you’re interested in contributing. Shelley@womenwarriors.club.

Reconciliation in Health & Healing in the North

The Arctic Indigenous Wellness Foundation wins the $1 Million Dollar Arctic Inspiration Prize

Members of the Arctic Indigenous Wellness Foundation going home with their cheque from left: Jean Erasmus, Nicole Redvers, William Greenland, Donald Prince, Magnolia Unka-Wool, (MP) Michael MacLeod. Front from left: Rassi Nashalik, Be’sha Blondin

This article was published in the Yellowknifer newspaper on Wednesday, February 7th. It was based on the original Women Warriors newsletter, Reconciliation in Health Research: Spirituality & Science published December 14, 2017. 

When I met Dr. Nicole Redvers, the chair of the Arctic Indigenous Wellness Foundationand Elder Be’sha Blondin at the Institute for Circumpolar Health Research in Yellowknife this past November they had no administrative help and no access to federal funding for their program, The Arctic Indigenous Wellness Project.

What they lacked in funding they made up in passion and commitment to making operational, their urban land-based healing program, targeting at-risk First Nations, Metis, and Inuit in Yellowknife. Their goal was to keep it simple – grassroots – canvas tents set up for Elders, staffed half days during the week, to share their traditional knowledge, provide mentorship and traditional counseling, share their traditional language, do traditional food preparation, and facilitate cultural gatherings.

From the start, they were concerned about funding. Their current grant would run out in June 2018 and they could not rely on the Government or Western institutions for money because of skepticism of Indigenous based healing programs. Evaluations to prove the validity of health practices often rely on hard, biomedical outcomes, which are not compatible with the spiritual nature of Indigenous healing.

Elder Be’sha states, “The cultural way is very different than the modern system – the way they look at people. The modern system doesn’t have a spirit, but the traditional way has a spirit. We make sure when a person comes in for healing that it’s up to me to diagnose them for healing. Before I can heal that person I need to know their story because what that story tells me is what created them to be where they’re at. I look at it as a spiritual person and healer; I make sure they have a way of healing themselves first.”

Also, the policy framework of health institutions and research often has the assumptions of Indigenous inferiority – how can speaking your language or making a drum possibly heal trauma and disease?

Nicole states, “The primary point is demonstrating that when people go back to culture, not necessarily just going out on the land, because there are lots of on-the-land programs that do cultural work, but they don’t do healing – let’s bring in this healing aspect as an effective tool and revitalization process where young and old reconnect with the healing traditions of their culture. It is addressing some of the traumatic issues people have had in their lives, and finding ways to get people excited about coming to work on the issues they have in an environment where they feel safe and comfortable.”

Nicole highlighted during our meeting that western medicine was not helping Indigenous people heal from the legacy of residential school. She states, “What we’re doing right now is not working. And what we’re doing is trying to indigenize western models of care, which is not the same as Indigenous healing. We need to ensure that the structure is what we need and to fit western medical protocols into that as opposed to the other way around.”

The outcome from our meeting was the collective agreement that this coming summer Dr. Redvers, the Elders and knowledge holders from the Arctic Indigenous Wellness Foundation (AIWF), and allied scholars would meet in Yellowknife to create new methodologies and frameworks for capturing outcomes from on-the-land cultural activities and traditional healing practices. We recognize the need for change in how we deal with traditional medicine projects, and the creation of funding policies that align with the sacred work of traditional healers, while not sacrificing the sacredness of the practice.

The $1 million dollars Arctic Inspiration Prize has given the AIWF the opportunity to conduct long-term research and create new, culturally appropriate methodologies and frameworks. This program, which likely would not have been funded by Western institutions, has become the ultimate act of reconciliation in Indigenous health.

It has also given the Elders the opportunity to pass on their traditional knowledge, which was at risk of being lost due to the lack of spaces to practice traditional healing, and because our elders are passing away.

This prize, and the further committed $60 million dollars on behalf of the founders of AIP, Ms. Sima Sharifi, and Mr. Arnold Witzig, has given the Metis, Inuit and First Nations of the North the ability to heal on our own terms. It is a gift of health, and an important step in recognizing that Indigenous ways of knowing, and healing are as valid as Western methods.


The sixth annual Arctic Inspiration Prize Awards Ceremony was held in Ottawa, Ontario, January 31, 2018.

 

Jean Erasmus states on her facebook profile, “Having a nearly million dollar cheque in my hand was awesome!”

 

Please listen to my interview with Jean on the Women Warriors Podcast
Season 2, Episode 2: Jean Cardinal (Erasmus) on Vulnerability as Medicine & Supporting Men on Their Healing Journeys

Jean is the co-founder of Dene Wellness Warriors, an Indigenous focused wellness business based in Yellowknife, Northwest Territories that offers one-to-one counseling, wellness coaching, and workshop facilitation. She is a member of the Canadian Professional Counselors Association, and she is the only Indigenous therapist recognized by Health Canada to work with Residential School Survivors and their families. Dene Wellness Warriors has recently been contracted to facilitate a New Day Program, a program for men who have used violence in their relationships but want to change this behavior to better their relationships with themselves, their partners, their children and their communities.

Marcel Petit is a proud Metis. He is a well-known Saskatchewan filmmaker and photographer. He has worked with several community action groups in the Saskatoon area, such as STOPS to Violence, STR8-UP, Core Neighbourhood Youth Coop, Gordon Tootoosis Nīkānīwin Theatre, Saskatoon Indian Metis Friendship Centre and Saskatoon Open Door Society.

 

Oct 2016. Marcel was a presenter at our violence awareness and prevention conference, Rise Up Mighty Warrior. He discussed the importance of art in healing and his photovoice workshop with Women Warriors.

 

With the theme of this weeks newsletter being reconciliation and Indigenous healing, I’d like to discuss supporting our men on their healing journeys. When I hosted our violence awareness and prevention conference, Rise Up Mighty Warrior in October 2016, the feedback that I received from the 90 attendees, composed of mainly Indigenous women, is they want more healing resources and conferences for their men.

This request to heal our men is echoed in many articles I read on CBC North including:
1) Abused as a child, became abusive husband: Man testifies at MMIWG Yellowknife, then supports others
‘We are healing. But without you we are nothing. Women give life,’ says James Jenka.

2) MMIWG hearings shed light on lack of mental health services in Canada’s north
Families testified about struggles with poverty, addiction, abuse, and violence.

Excerpt from the article:
Advocate Lydia Bardack, that has worked in the justice field for many years in Yellowknife states, “I know we want to focus on the women, but the women are asking for help for their men.”
She says sheltering a woman from an abusive relationship is a start, but there has to be a focus on preventing the trauma in the first place.
She frequently speaks with men in custody who have witnessed and suffered abuse as children and later became violent as adults, which is why she says programs need to focus on helping them.
“Because if we want to keep the women and children safe, we have to heal the men.”

3) In this Globe and Mail article, Fred Sasakamoose: Survivor, trailblazer, leader, hero, Fred speaks about the devastating effects of residential school on his emotional well-being. He states, “It was hard to continue because my life was always away from my parents. I never received a hug or a kiss for 10 years.”

My friend and artist, Marcel Petit openly shares his healing journey with people. I met Marcel in 2016 in his role as a SaskCulture Community Engagement Animator. I invited him to Lloydminster to do a Photovoice workshop with members of Women Warriors so they could present their viewpoints on health and safety at our conference, Rise Up Mighty Warrior. You can view these photo voice presentation on the Women Warriors Youtube channel: Ashley and Chris.

Marcel shared with me that his mother was a residential school survivor and placed him in foster care at a young age. During our interview last Sunday he talked about his unstable childhood. He stated, “Everyone kept leaving me. In your spirit you become disposable. That’s how I felt and I didn’t realize how much I hated myself and my mom. I didn’t want to be my family. I wanted them out of my life. I spent twenty years of my life trying to die.”

The trauma from his childhood manifested in alcoholism, anger, and self-hatred. The turning point came at the age of 31 years old, when he was stabbed 19 times in Wekwheti, NWT and knowing if he didn’t quit drinking and hiding from his past, he was signing his own suicide.

His greatest mentor and healing ally became his mom. He stated, “She was the cause and effect of everything that was awful about me in the first place. My mom taught me that everything we need is inside of us. We just need to wake-up.”

Marcel’s healing involved participating in Sundance, sweats, weekly counseling sessions, and forgiveness. He said about his mom, “I had to learn to forgive her. I learned about her experience in residential school and all the things that happened to her including sexual abuse. She didn’t leave because she hated me. She let me go because she needed to. I had to learn how to forgive, and how to forgive myself.”

Marcel now mentors youth and talks about how every single relationship brings him healing because “most of these kids we work with are a reflection of ourselves.”

He discussed a specific youth that triggered him after disclosing that his mom had been murdered and found by a garbage dump. He stated, “I just wanted him to cry. I hate the fact that kids have to be so strong. It killed me to know this kid can’t be a kid, and I know what that feels like. I told him ‘just cry’ and don’t hold that stuff in.”

He believes that “Indigenous peoples are born with resilience. It is in us. It’s a prerequisite because of the hell we’ve been through in this country.”

His advice for healing from trauma, “First step, talk about it. Don’t hold it in. Don’t make it about you. Don’t hate your parents for what they are. Talk and deal with it. You’ll never fully be you until you figure out who you are. Go stand where your Great-grandparents have. Those ancestors overcame great odds to make sure we knew our culture. And don’t pretend to be perfect. We’re going to make mistakes when we’re changing patterns.”

The Power of Mentorship with Marcel Petit 
1. Who was the most important mentor in your life?
The most important person in my life was my mother without her guidance and love I wouldn’t have found my way out of the dark2. How did you find them or approach them to be your mentor?
I was lucky she was always there, I just needed to open my eyes and ears3. What are your top three lessons learned from your mentor?
Confidence is inside you
Forgiveness
What do you want from life

4. What qualities make a good mentee?
Share Knowledge
Guidance without judgment
Conversation
Commitment
Honesty
Generosity
Just be there

5. What have benefits and/or rewards have you received from mentoring?
‘I’ve learned so much from the people I’ve worked with over the past 20+ years. It has been such an amazing journey. The rewards has been just the honoured to work with and alongside some amazing people along their journey

6. What personal development practices do you have?
Meditation
Breathing
Reading
Art (film, Photo)
Camping

7. What book most impacted your life?
The One and Half Men (the story of Jim Brady and Malcolm Norris) and any book on Poetry.


I am now a proud bi-weekly contributor to the Yellowknifer newspaper. If you’re interested in staying up-to-date on the North please subscribe to their newspapers here. My content for the newspaper will be original so you won’t want to miss out. Also, make sure to subscribe to the Women Warriors newsletter here.

Being an Informed Indigenous Ally

Insights & Resources for Non-Indigenous Community Members.

Women Warriors at the Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women’s Walk hosted by Lakeland College, October 2017.

When I first moved to Lloydminster in 2009, I came from Edmonton where I attended the University of Alberta during the school year and lived in Yellowknife during the summer months. My family is from Yellowknife and I visit them on a regular basis. The most difficult adjustment I had when I first moved here, and continue to have, as an Indigenous adoptee with both settler adoptive parents and an Indigenous birth father, is the lack of spaces in this community for Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples to intermingle and spend time learning from each other.

It was out of my need to have the same type of space that Yellowknife offers – a safe space for all cultures and peoples to interact – that I created Women Warriors. It is an Indigenous focused program, but I encouraged all women from this community to join. I loved having a diverse group of ladies, including non-Indigenous and Indigenous, coming together to honor our mind, body, and spirit well-being and share our universal stories of womanhood.

During my two years as facilitator of Women Warriors I watched beautiful friendships blossom between non-Indigenous and Indigenous women. We supported each other in the group, had the privilege of learning more about the Cree culture, since most participants were from Onion Lake Cree Nation, and we attended events together like the Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women’s Walk held at Lakeland College this past October. In the picture featured above there are two non-Indigenous allies in the group, Helen and Brenda that were great supporters of the program.

This past Monday I returned from Yellowknife, where I attended the North Slave Metis Alliance’s Annual General Assembly, to some controversy over the Indigenous student lounge that opened at Lakeland College this month. It pained me to read comments on social media, and in the comment sections of online media, questioning why Indigenous students should have “special treatment” with their own space – even going as far to label it a backwards step in the process of reconciliation.

Every time I return from Yellowknife, where my family is politically active, and proud Metis, I am reminded of the stark contrast between Yellowknife and Lloydminster in the understanding of Indigenous peoples history and the relationships between non-Indigenous and Indigenous peoples. I return from Yellowknife knowing what true reconciliation can look like in Canadian society, and I’m reminded why I must fight for the rights of Indigenous peoples and take a stand against ignorance, prejudice, and racism.

I would like to share with you the conclusion of my Sociology 288 essay titled, Reconciliation as a Social Movement.

Conclusion: It’s Not Out There. It’s Us. 
In conclusion, Canada’s colonial history and use of residential schools to commit cultural genocide of Indigenous peoples can no longer be denied. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada used the testimony of residential school survivors to create ninety-four Calls to Action that are the basis of the reconciliation social movement. The point of contention in the reconciliation social movement lies in the incongruent definitions of reconciliation between Indigenous and non-indigenous peoples. The first step in implementing reconciliation is to acknowledge that racism still exists within our institutions and is an ideology that continues to serve the purpose of keeping Indigenous peoples oppressed. If the success of this social movement is the implementation of every Call to Action, then Canada is currently failing; however, I argue that reconciliation is a multi-generational movement that is difficult to evaluate. The World Wide Web plays an important role in building relationships and respect between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Canadians. Social media including individual personal accounts via blogs allows for niche perspectives on reconciliation. Also, the web offers Indigenous peoples the ability to counter mainstream media messages about them and help non-Indigenous Canadians understand reconciliation and their role implementing it.
The TRC Summary Report (2015) states, “Reconciliation begins with each and every one of us” (p. 238) and I was encouraged by this report and sentiment to enact reconciliation in my daily life. Social media and the World Wide Web allow me, a Metis mother, a minority in this social movement, to share my stories of reconciliation via my website, newsletter and my podcast (womenwarriors.club). I feel a responsibility to engage in this social movement, to create a dialogue with all Canadians, and help my daughters and future generations understand why it is important that we build respectful relationships between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples in Canada. While I know that this social movement will take many generations to realize the impacts of residential schools on Indigenous peoples and the ways that colonialism continues to benefit all Canadians, I am hopeful that each small act committed by reconciliation change makers will have an impact.

I know that Lloydminster has many allies in the reconciliation movement and I’m hopeful that they will continue to learn about the history of colonization and how they can be an informed Indigenous ally in this community. I honor those people that I see countering racist ideology and white privilege, because I know it’s not easy to take a stand against our neighbors, families and friends. However, it is our individual responsibility to create the type of future we want for our children – one that is free from intolerance and ignorance.

As someone that created a safe space for both Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples to meet and share their cultures, and learn from one another, I know the value of these types of spaces. I believe that Lakeland College took a brave step towards reconciliation in this community, and I will continue to write about and support reconciliation in any way that I can. With that in mind, Lloydminster now has a reconciliation group called, “The Heart of Treaty 6 (formally known as Reconciliation Fort Pitt). It is a group of individuals, community-based organizations, governments and businesses from Onion Lake Cree Nation, Lloydminster, Frog Lake First Nation and Poundmaker Cree Nation.
They have been discussing the strengths of the group and how to take action on reconciliation, and what it can look like in north-west Saskatchewan” (Lloydminster Source, Improving the history of our future). If you’re interested in learning more on how to be an informed ally, please contact this group and learn about the events they are hosting in Lloydminster.

Resources for being an informed Indigenous ally:


Updates on Women Warriors 

I’m excited to share that Women Warriors was featured in the Globe and Mail’s weekly newsletter, Amplify. You must subscribe in order to view the article. Subscribe here.Here’s an excerpt from the article…

“Shelley Wiart remembers watching her dad suffer with Type 2 diabetes in 2015, and thinking how susceptible she’d be if she didn’t make changes. Having struggled with her own weight issues – at 21 she was 220 pounds – the 37-year-old Métis woman and mother of three living in Lloydminster, Alta., decided she needed to learn how to eat and exercise properly.”

Women Warriors Pilot Program in Calgary –  The City of Calgary will be piloting a Women Warriors 8 Weeks to Healthy Living Program. I will be training a facilitator and Dr. Wicklum has agreed to help with their pilot.
The contact person for this program is:
Bev Renaud
Aboriginal Community Social Worker BSW, RSW.
Calgary Neighbourhoods
The City of Calgary | email: Bev.Renaud@calgary.ca


Rick Harp is the host of Media Indigena, my favorite Indigenous podcast.

The Power of Mentorship

With the theme of this week’s newsletter being an informed Indigenous ally, I’d like to introduce you to my favorite Indigenous podcast, Media Indigena. It’s important that Indigenous voices have their own media sources to discuss the current event relevant to them, from an Indigenous perspective. Each week, host Rick Harp has a roundtable discussion on hot topics affecting Indigenous peoples across Turtle Island. I make a monthly donation of $5 to this podcast because I believe this podcast is an important tool to build relationships between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples in Canada. If there is only one thing that you can commit time to, to learn how to be an Indigenous ally, make it this weekly podcast. Also, if you receive any form of education from it, be sure to make a donation in the form of a monthly Patron sponsorship or a one-time donation.

Read everything and anything I can. Plus, if you’re wanting to learn something new, chances are good that someone’s posted how-to videos on YouTube that would be helpful. And, of course, I try to connect and network with people in the same boat—aka peers who don’t see my success and their success as mutually exclusive.

1. Who was the most important mentor in your life?

As someone who grew up in the city, my access to Indigenous mentors was not what I would have liked, so I had to take what I could get, wherever I could get it. I also feel mentorship can come in many forms: sometimes books can be a trusted source of advice to guide and inform your actions. Among my more memorable in-person Indigenous mentors was my boss at my first big broadcasting job at an all-Aboriginal media outlet. We were all part of a start-up enterprise, built from scratch and in a hurry. He had a vision for the operation that ensured we knew not only what we were doing but why we were doing it. His constructive feedback on our approach challenged us to tell stories that mattered in the clearest way possible. He also let us try new things: some of which worked, some of which didn’t.

2. How did you find them or approach them to be your mentor?

In this case, it was built into the job: he was the most senior editorial person at the station. That said, I don’t know if everyone always took the opportunity to seek or utilize his counsel to the fullest.

3. What are your top three lessons learned from your mentor?

These will be media-centric, but they likely apply to other spheres. One, think deeply about what story you’re trying to tell before you set out to document it with real people in the real world. We were taught to focus it down to its barest core: ‘somebody doing something for a reason,’ i.e. who-what-why. It’s deceptively simple but when you establish the ‘why,’ it anchors the purpose of your work.

Two, when in a leadership position, take risks on your people (as I feel my boss did by hiring me, a relative newbie to the role of hosting a television program) and in turn let them take risks in their work. Obviously, some risks are more potentially consequential than others but there’s no reason experimentation shouldn’t be encouraged and explored: so often, ‘mistakes’ breed and precede something better. There’s a saying I like: “The master has failed more times than the beginner has even tried.” Again, there’s a lot of ‘failure’ on the road to success.

Three, take time out to celebrate your team’s successes. Sometimes, we look ahead so much we neglect to look back at how far we’ve come.

4. What qualities make a good mentee?

I’d say take the approach that no experience is wasted; many times, skills acquired in one job can transfer over to other areas. Ask questions: some mentors don’t necessarily know all that they know, if you catch my drift. Demonstrating curiosity can help you stand out.

5. What benefits and/or rewards have you received from mentoring?
By helping and supporting someone the way someone had enabled you to get where you are, you feel like you are part of something bigger than yourself. I’d say that’s the chief reward of any mentor-like role I’ve ever played.

6. What personal development practices do you have?

Read everything and anything I can. Plus, if you’re wanting to learn something new, chances are good that someone’s posted how-to videos on YouTube that would be helpful. And, of course, I try to connect and network with people in the same boat—aka peers who don’t see my success and their success as mutually exclusive.

7. What book most impacted your life?

This is a hard question to answer for me, because different books have greatly impacted me at different stages in life. If I had to pick one, though, I’d say The Autobiography of Malcolm X.

The Power of Mentorship

January 17th International Mentor Day

January is Mentoring Month and today is International Mentor Day. I asked guest writer, Helen Knott, to share her experience with mentorship. Her piece below highlights the importance of mentorship, within our Indigenous communities, and how mentors can come in the form of our family members, traditional healers, and Elders, a person that we admire in our community, or a public figure that we’ve never met.

During my interview process with 20 Indigenous women from across Canada on the Women Warriors podcast I learned that each of these women rose to success with help. Most guests credit the strong female role models in their lives, like their Mothers, Aunties or Kohkoms for teaching them to rise above the circumstances in their lives and persevere. These interviews reminded me that mentors are important to help us become the best versions of ourselves and that we all need someone to believe in us.

In Robin Wall Kimmerer’s novel, Braiding Sweetgrass (which I highly recommend you read) she shares the stories of reciprocity between nature and people, and how we can translate these teaching into relationships; reciprocal relationships are the foundation of Indigenous communities. The Chapter titled, Mishkos Kenomagwen: The Teaching of Grass, she states, “With their tobacco and their thanks, our people say to the Sweetgrass, “I need you.” By its renewal after picking, the grass says to the people, “I need you, too.” Mishkos kenomagwen. Isn’t this the lesson of grass? Through reciprocity, the gift is replenished. All of our flourishing is mutual.”

There is mutual benefit in the mentor-mentee relationship and it brings the gift of positive impact to the entire community. If you have someone in mind that would be a great mentor for you, ask them. You are not putting them out, or being a burden. I must advise if this person has a demanding job or valuable skills, be mindful of the time you ask for and be respectful of every minute they give you. Some mentors have more time than others to teach, and some mentees don’t need much time. Decide together what this relationship looks like and set boundaries/expectations.

I’ve had many mentors in my life and I’d like to share three different relationships:

1) Family. I am blessed to be guided by my dad, a Metis politician in Yellowknife. His form of mentorship is through storytelling. He has a mind like a steel-trap – he recalls in great details the stories about his and he’s an excellent storyteller. Last time I visited Yellowknife we sat at the Gold Range Bistro for three hours while he shared stories of the North. There’s always lots of laughter and some interesting insights on human behavior. We talk about a wide range of topics from the characters of Yellowknife like Margaret Thrasher almost-mayor story (listen here), or his early school years in Inuvik. It is with certainty that we talk Metis politics and strategies of resistance via lawsuits.

2) Public Figure. I personally admire Pam Palmater and I subscribe to her Youtube channel, “State of the Nations.” She shares her opinion on all things Indigenous. I like her no-bullshit delivery and the hard truth and facts she states that expose the Canadian’s government oppression of Indigenous peoples through policy and systemic racism. She challenges my beliefs and makes me question the intent of systems and people – a great mentor will never give you the answer, but ask you to look deeper into the problem. Moreover, it took her many years of academic learning and life experience to be able to develop these insights, and she’s gifting them to me for free!

3) Elder. Using proper protocol I asked an Elder to guide my questions for guests on the second season of the Women Warriors podcast. I felt it was appropriate to ask for help from an Elder since the theme of healing was a sensitive topic and I did not want to overstep my boundaries on traditional teachings.

The commonality between all these mentors is they have my best interest at heart. They will tell me the truth, regardless if it hurts my feelings or I disagree with them because they want me to succeed. They are also there for the dark nights of the soul when you feel done with life, to tell you that bad times pass, and they help you believe there’s a greater force at work. They keep faith when you have none. Finally, nothing is sweeter than sharing success with someone that has helped you grow into that success. They remind you that success is a group effort and that humility and giving back are at the foundation of it.

Having had the benefit of many mentors, and knowing their valuable contributions to my life, I’ve decided to focus on cultivating a network of Indigenous mentors that can provide my audience with insights on mentorship. I have asked Indigenous leader and professionals from a variety of backgrounds, from non-profit, the arts, academia, and politics, to answer the same seven questions regarding their own experience with mentorship. I’ll be featuring these profiles in the upcoming newsletters. If you would like to contribute a profile please contact me via email and I will send you the questions. Shelley@womenwarriors.club

Please use these twitter hashtags if you are quoting this newsletter or want to contribute thoughts on mentorship.
#MentoringMatters
#MentoringMonth
#MentoringIRL  (In Real LIfe)
#ThankYourMentor


Helen Knott is of Dane Zaa, Nehiyaw, and Euro descent from Prophet River First Nations, living in Northeastern B.C.

Mentorship

by Helen Knott

I was twenty-two when I first started to contemplate finding a formal mentorship. The concept was a little foreign to me, which is funny because the concept of mentorship exists within Indigenous communities but in an informal unnamed capacity. Mentors take the form of our mothers, fathers, aunties, our adopted aunties, our sisters, our spiritual teachers, our grandmothers, grandfathers, uncles, and even our best friend’s aunties or our sister’s second cousin’s girlfriend who lives in town. Cha, just kidding on that last one… but you never know.

Some of these “mentorships” may be in a more formal capacity where tobacco or gifts are given, advice is sought, and/or a more formal cultural knowledge transference takes place over time. The point is that we had societies and roles that were based in active mentorship.

I didn’t know how to go about getting a “mentor” but I had read a self-improvement book at that time that highly suggested one. “Okay, Helen. Mentorship is needed, this book says successful people have them. I don’t know how these people in this book went about getting them but just bite the bullet and get it done,” I told myself as I tried to get over the awkwardness of stepping out of my comfort zone as a young Indigenous woman fumbling over Western steps towards the obtainment of “success”. I mustered up the courage to approach a Nehiyaw woman named Connie Greyeyes that I admired. At a community event I stood beside her and I just asked her point blank, “Hey uh, so, I umm…was wonder if you would be like… a mentor to me?”

The worse she could say was no right?

“Yes, I would love to be your mentor!” she exclaimed.

I smiled. She smiled. We hugged.

It was never made formal with routine or structure but it helped knowing I had her in my corner. Whenever I needed advice I could, and still can to this day, seek her out for a conversation or a quick coffee. If ever I am feeling overwhelmed, overworked, or need the help to say “no” to something she is always there to give me a pep talk and speak from her own experience. As I have grown in a professional and leadership capacity over the years, I have been able to be that place for her as well. A space has opened up in my life to give back from, and this space was not made possible without her and countless other informal mentors that I have had in my life.

I believe we should all seek out a variety of mentors because we are not one-dimensional people. We have to be able to feed and balance all aspects of ourselves. The mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual. Thus, we need teachers for all of these aspects so that we are reminded to grow holistically as a complete being.

I am thirty years old now and still have the need for informal and formal mentors in my life. I have grown in so many ways but the key to continual growth is humility and understanding that other people ALWAYS have something to offer. At this stage, I have personally have been wanting to give my knowledge and insights to young women, much like my mentors have done for me. I understand now why she was so eager to say yes to me so many years ago, it is because there is still a lot of work to be done and we are stronger as a people if we choose to lift others up. Our younger generations are our future.
If you’re looking for a mentor or have been wanting one don’t be afraid to ask and definitely don’t be afraid of not knowing how to approach it. You can always follow my “point blank, sink-or-swim” model, complete with awkward stammers if need be. If you can’t think of anyone you want to ask, then pray on it and ask for those teachers to come into your life and trust that they will in due time.

You can listen to the Women Warriors podcast interview with Helen on the website.
EP07 Helen Knott on Accidental Activism, Politics & Healing Addiction

Connect with Helen Knott
Her blog Reclaim the Warrior
Instagram

Helen’s first book will be published 2019 by the University of Regina Press. I’ll keep you updated on where to purchase a copy.

 

Success Takes a Village -Thank You For Helping Me

I started my journey with Women Warriors on June 8th, 2015 at the Lloydminster Friendship Centre. I was inspired to start this group after training for a half marathon for Team Diabetes, in honour of my birth father’s type II diabetes diagnosis, and witnessing that there were few Indigenous women at the gyms that I trained. Being Metis and witnessing the health issues of my family, and my own emotional journey of obesity from childhood to early adulthood was my why. I knew the despair of hating my body and wanting to make healthy lifestyle changes, but not knowing where to start, or being intimidated to walk into a gym.

My introduction to the reality of Indigenous people’s health, other than my family’s history, started with reading statistics about type II diabetes on the Diabetes Canada website, “Diabetes rates are three to five times higher among Aboriginal adults than the non-Aboriginal population. High rates of diabetes among Aboriginal people are attributed to many factors, including genetic predisposition, decreased physical activity, increased obesity and dietary changes from traditional unprocessed food to high-calorie processed foods, among others” (2012).

I recall reading this Globe and Mail article that alerted me to the disproportionate rate of type II diabetes and the serious health implications this meant for Indigenous women:

“Over all, the incidence (the frequency of development of diabetes in a population over a given time period) and the prevalence (the number of people currently suffering from the disease) were both about four times higher among aboriginal women and 2.5 times higher among aboriginal men” (2010). Furthermore the article states, “the age of onset has serious implications; diabetes is one of the principal causes of blindness, amputations, kidney failure and heart disease.”

My early focus of the 8 Weeks to Healthy Living Program was type II diabetes awareness and prevention. Our first group I met Ashley, the longest attending participant of the program. She had received an unexpected type II diabetes diagnosis, and the diabetes nurse referred her to our group; she was exactly who I had hoped to help by starting this program. I also had the privilege of getting to know nine other ladies that joined, sometimes with their children because it was summer vacation. It was the beginning of an amazing journey of growth and inspiration for me.

Over the course of six month, I worked with Dr. Wicklum to obtain funding – we received an Alberta Government Recreation and Physical Activity grant starting 2016 and continued 2017. It was an incredible gift to be able to offer free fitness classes and nutrition education to the women of this community. I’ve met at least 100 women in this community through the program. I am grateful for the women that have attended the program; given me support and thanks, and that have referred others to attend. I now know a large group of women from Onion Lake Cree Nation, and I’m grateful that you welcomed me, an outsider, to your community of strong, and resilient Indigenous women. In particular, I’m grateful for my friendship with Trysta, my #1 supporter, the first featured Woman Warrior Wednesday and a great promoter of the program to her friends and family!

I’ve also had incredible opportunities through Women Warriors to travel including a trip to Montreal to the Girls Action Foundation conference, and many other conferences and events that have helped me build an amazing network. I’ve been blessed with many new friends and supportive followers. Big thanks to my friend, Stephanie Harpe that has supported me from the day we met in Cold Lake at the Indigenous Women’s Traditional Gathering and who brings light everywhere she travels.

I want to acknowledge the support of the fitness instructors and business owners in Lloydminster. Many of the instructors that taught the first session including, Tiff Soleil, owner of Oasis Hot Yoga Studio, Jo Tickowsky, owner of Muscles & More Bodybuilding & Health Supplements, instructors Sue Garand, and Kim Kutz have been in attendance at every session – 8 in total. Also, special thanks to the instructors that joined us when they could including Jennifer MacEwan, owner of Even Star Fitness, Jenna Noble, Priscilla Smith, Rita Ermine, Erika Schroder, Priscilla, Brandy-Lee Maxie, Leah Tolcher, Chasity Dougan, and Emmy Lou Wicker.

Also, thank you to executive director of the Lloyd Native Friendship Centre, Bonnie Start for the free space and support with the RPAD grant, Alicia Oliver that helped me with nutrition education at the beginning of this program, Mallory Clarkson that helped me with social media and posters, (free of charge and out of the goodness of her heart), the Prairie North Health Region diabetes educator, Connie Brausse and nutritionist, Helen Rogers, and RN Jennifer Workman and Courtney Koch, and Lloyd PCN dieticians, Jillian Nault and Heather Reid, and Shoppers Drug Mart pharmacist, Aaron Lyons. Also, my next door neighbour, Christy that I wrangled into all kinds of volunteer activities for this program and supported me with her excellent excel spreadsheet skills.

In addition, when I held Rise Up Mighty Warriors I had the support of many organizations in Lloydminster including Lakeland College, the Interval Home, the Lloydminster Health Foundation, FCSS Lloydminster and the Saskatchewan Indian Gaming Authority. Also, to my speakers that generously donated their time for a small honorarium or gift including Stephanie Harpe, Brandy-Lee Maxie, and Marcia Mirasty.

As you can see, this program was reliant on the help of many incredible community members, the majority of whom are women. I am forever grateful that they helped me bring Women Warriors to this community.

Finally, I want to acknowledge the role of the University of Calgary in creating this program. It was the dedication and hard work of Dr. Sonja Wicklum that allowed this program to exist. She was a tremendous support and believer in this program from its inception. She has a special place in my heart from supporting me when we had zero funds to encouraging me to go back to university. Also, to researchers Dr. Rita Henderson, a guiding light for me, and a great advisor for navigating academia, and Dr. Lindsay Crowshoe, the lead researcher and brilliant Indigenous academic that has many obligations and responsibilities and made time for this project.  Also, thanks to our Master’s student, Megan that moved here for eight weeks because she was dedicated to immersing herself in the program.

When you read about Indigenous women, whom continue to endure the poorest socioeconomic and health status of all Canadians, it’s an overwhelming picture of despair. Their social determinants of health (SDH) are stark in comparison to the majority of Canadians. For clarity, the World Health Organization defines social determinants of health as, “the conditions in which people are born, grow, live, work and age. These circumstances are shaped by the distribution of money, power and resources at global, national and local levels. The social determinants of health are mostly responsible for health inequities – the unfair and avoidable differences in health status seen within and between countries.”

This report prepared by the Native Women’s Association of Canada, Submission to the World Health Organization’s Commission on the Social Determinants of Health (2007) states:

The poor health status of the Aboriginal women due to inequities in SDH in Canada is quite well documented. For example, in 2001 the Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada noted these include, “lower quality housing, poorer physical environment, lower educational levels, lower socioeconomic status, fewer employment opportunities and weaker community women are at higher risk for alcohol and substance abuse, mental illness, suicide, diabetes (including gestational diabetes), cervical cancer, as well as more frequently experience deleterious circumstances such as poverty, alarmingly high rates of spousal, sexual and other violence, inability to access safe, secure, affordable, non- discriminatory housing for themselves and their families (on- and off-reserve, in rural, remote and urban settings), and barriers and lack of access to higher education, job training, employment, entrepreneurial loans and investments, and related socioeconomic. (p. 5)

What I know from doing health promotion for two years with Women Warriors, is that Indigenous women are in desperate need of Indigenous focused and culturally relevant health programming. If you build it, they will come. Public health funds need to be invested in health prevention and health promotion, which are hard-to-find funding dollars.

One of my participants, Cheryl pointed out that I have no alphabet soup after my name, which allowed me to navigate this space without expectation or the participants feeling intimidated. I believe that health promotion programs, like Women Warriors, benefit from being run by community members. Health professionals should train community lay people like me – a mom, a Metis woman, and a concerned community member – to run programs. It helped that I was not part of an institution like the health care system or social services because my participants knew I did not want anything from them, except for their step count and regular attendance. It allowed them to feel safe. There are very few spaces in our society where Indigenous women feel safe. In my opinion, the most important aspect of this program was creating a culturally safe space for women to relieve stress, form connections and socialize, and learn about health, without fear of being judged or an expectation of results.

The two most significant barriers for attendance were childcare and transportation. Most of the participants had at least two or more children and lacked reliable transportation. What I suggest, if you decide to start a health promotions program in your community, is to offer free rides and allow children to attend. When we held our classes in Jack Kemp gym there was enough space for kids to run around and play, and moms to exercise. I believe it’s important for kids to see their moms engaged in exercise and taking care of themselves. Sometimes the kids participated and had fun – I liked creating a family environment in the program and I missed the kids when we changed locations to Motion Fitness, where children were not allowed.

My last class as facilitator ended on November 29th and I’m currently enrolled in Athabasca University to finish my Bachelor of Arts degree (11 courses to completion). It is through my research experience with the University of Calgary, my practical knowledge about Indigenous women’s health gained through facilitation, and the inspiration and strength that I drew from all the participants, that I am planning on pursuing a Masters in Public Health.

I am still driven by the same motive that I started with – helping as many Indigenous women as possible to learn about and implement good health practices in their lives – but now I have a larger vision. There is a need for health prevention and promotion programs that cater to Indigenous women’s needs. In January I’m taking my first research methodologies course and I’m focusing on tobacco reduction within Indigenous populations, which is another area that I identified as lacking in Indigenous-specific programming.

I’ve had many people help me on this path. I offer my sincerest thanks and I’m letting you know, what you’ve done has made a difference in Indigenous women’s lives. Not only the participants, but also my own. I have great hopes of continuing on this path and making significant contributions to the health of Indigenous women. I refuse to listen to naysayers and realists, the people that spew their pessimism everywhere because they’re too lazy to take action or too scarred that they will fail – that big dreams are possible. I started off small, ten women and I enrolled people to help me because I was passionate about this project, and unwilling to take “no” for an answer. I have learned one of the most important lessons in life from Women Warrior: Give freely of yourself, without expectation of anything in return, and a thousand gifts will come your way.

Merry Christmas everyone!

**I have no news to share about the program moving to Onion Lake. I will post any information I recieve on the facebook group.

 

Our first group at the Lloydminster Native Friendship Centre June 2015.

 

Jack Kemp Community School – classes were held here Jan-Dec. 2016. I wanted to point out that some of the kids are doing yoga with their mom’s.

 

Medicine Wheel talk with Elder, Verna Buffalo Calf at Motion Fitness, 2017.

 

Our last Women Warriors class this year – Nov. 2017.

 

Baby photo from a former Women Warrior participant, Carmen. She started the program, stopped because she had a high risk pregnancy and recently had a healthy baby girl. Former participant, Verna Buffalo Calf made the ribbon skirt as a baby gift! It makes my heart happy when I see all the participants kid’s pictures on social media. It also inspires me to continue working on my degree so I can make positive contributions to Indigenous women’s health.

 

Merry Christmas from my family to yours! My three girls ages 8, 6, and 4.5.

Reconciliation in Health Research: Spirituality & Science

The Arctic Indigenous Wellness Project

Friday, November 24, 2017. The Institute for Circumpolar Health Research: (l to r) Dr. Nicole Redvers, myself and Elder Be’sha Blondin.

Last Friday, November 24th I had the pleasure of meeting Dr. Nicole Redvers, a Metis naturopath and Elder Be’sha Blondin at the Institute of Circumpolar Health Research in Yellowknife. I had reached out to Nicole in mid-September to discuss hosting an Indigenous health symposium. My podcast guest, Jean Cardinal and my cousin and nurse practitioner, Julie Lys (read our interview Healing on the Land: My Vacation in Yellowknife Part 3 of 4) recommended her as a valuable resource for Indigenous health and wellness. I decided to ask for Nicole’s email from her sister and my podcast guest, Tunchai Redvers.

While I was recording my second season of the Women Warriors podcast, I had been exploring the idea of bringing together the Indigenous health researchers that I had the pleasure of knowing through my connections with the University of Calgary and the Indigenous health professionals I knew in Yellowknife. My initial idea, a gathering of Indigenous academics and health care providers was based on the idea that our inherent wisdom as Indigenous peoples is told to us through our connection to the land, our cultural teachings, and our bodies. Our blood carries the voices of all the ancestors before us, known as the field of epigenetics, and we have the strength and support of all our ancestors – 10,000 Voices was the initial name for this gathering. The exact purpose of the gathering needed to be clarified, but I had a strong feeling that it was needed.

Nicole and I connected late September on a phone call in which she described her role in the Arctic Indigenous Wellness Foundation (AIWF) as a board member, and assisting local Elders to develop an on-the-land urban camp in Yellowknife. The ultimate goal was to build a traditional wellness center: “The vision for the centre is to serve the needs of the NWTs 30 First Nations, Inuit and Métis in a distinctly Indigenous way,” stated in this APTN video, Elders discuss how to bring Indigenous wellness center to NWT. Furthermore, it is an act of reconciliation as highlighted in this CBC North article, Indigenous health group strikes out on its own in quest for wellness centre, “Increased respect for Indigenous health practices in the Northwest Territories is one of the recommendations from a recently-released report into the death of Hugh Papik and is one of the recommendations from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.” In specific, this healing centre enacts the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s twenty-first call to action:

We call upon the federal government to provide sustainable funding for existing and new Aboriginal healing centres to address the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual harms caused by residential schools, and to ensure that the funding of healing centres in Nunavut and the Northwest Territories is a priority (2015: 3).

In addition, it fulfills the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, article twenty-four, point one and two:

Indigenous peoples have the right to their traditional medicines and to maintain their health practices, including the conservation of their vital medicinal plants, animals, and minerals. Indigenous individuals also have the right to access, without any discrimination, to all social and health services (2006: 9).

Indigenous individuals have an equal right to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health. States shall take the necessary steps with a view to achieving progressively the full realization of this right (2006: 9).

Before our meeting I knew that Nicole had entered their on-the-land camp, The Arctic Indigenous Wellness Project defined as, “A healing program for Inuit, First Nation and Métis who are at risk of suicide and/or incarceration in the Northwest Territories, the project aims to combine Indigenous cultural education and traditional interventions in a “wilderness urban setting” into the Arctic Inspiration Prize. On Thursday, November 30th, they were shortlisted for the $1 million dollar prize category, which you can read about in this CBC North article, Arctic Inspiration Prize announces 10 finalists for up to $3 million in funding, or watch their CBC Northbeat interview with Dr. Redvers and Elder Rassi Nashalik starting at 19:53.

During our meeting Nicole and Be’sha both stressed that the traditional wellness knowledge and healing held by Elders is in jeopardy of being lost to future generations. There are many factors contributing to this loss including:
1) Inability to access federal funding dollars due to the funding structures in the NWT. During the 80’s the health transfer agreement was amended so that health dollars went directly to the territorial government. They oversee all First Nations health dollars instead of Indigenous government/communities.
2) No designated facility for traditional healing. For now, they are starting their camp in canvas tents with Elders providing traditional healing and cultural teaching for half days, five days a week. Anyone is allowed to access these services, but their main demographic is the homeless.
3) A small population base in the NWT means there are fewer Elders with this specialized knowledge. Recently, an Elders’ passing served as an urgent reminder that the wellness Centre is top priority.

The part of the conversation that I wanted to focus on is Nicole’s insights about western medicine not helping Indigenous people heal from the legacy of residential school. She discussed high youth suicide rates and stated, “What we’re doing right now is not working. And what we’re doing is trying to indigenize western models of care, which is not the same as Indigenous healing. We need to ensure that the structure is what we need and to fit western medical protocols into that as opposed to the other way around.”

Nicole refers to not just the need for decolonizing research, (which our Master’s student Megan discussed decolonizing evaluation approaches in our last newsletter, Reflections from the Tamarack Institutes “Evaluating Community Impacts” Workshop) but also the need for new research methodologies and performance measurements for Indigenous health.

Elder Be’sha stated in our meeting, “The cultural way is very different than the modern system – the way they look at people. The modern systems don’t have a spirit, but the traditional way has a spirit. We make sure when a person comes in for healing that it’s up to me to diagnose them for healing. Before I can heal that person I need to know their story because what that story tells me is what created them to be where they’re at. I look at it as a spiritual person and healer; I make sure they have a way of healing themselves first. I give them homework and I look at what they’ve done through storytelling, writing and letting it go, then the doors open for healing.”

I alluded to the spiritual aspect of healing in my newsletter, Healing on the Land: My Vacation in Yellowknife stating, “Indigenous knowledge systems including spiritual healing through the land cannot be validated through Western research methodologies, thereby discounting their significance.” Reconciliation in health research is the understanding that spirituality cannot be measure through current evaluation methodologies and frameworks, and that we need news ways to validate our Indigenous healing practices.

The outcome of this meeting was the collective agreement that this coming fall Dr. Redvers, the Elders from the Arctic Indigenous Wellness Foundation, and select Indigenous academics that we invite will meet in Dettah to discuss how we can develop new methodologies and frameworks for capturing outcomes from Indigenous healing. This gathering speaks to the possibility of saving Indigenous knowledge and healing practices by validating them and perhaps creating and refining these methods to use on a global scale.

This gathering is about awakening the collaborative spirit and building new ways of evaluating. I feel that my role in this gathering is not to be the expert, but to connect the experts. With that in mind, I am looking forward to someday becoming the expert and I hope that this project will lead me on the path. I have no answers about “how” we’re going to do this challenging task, but I had a dream about it. In my dream on Novemeber 10th, when I had my doubts about going to Yellowknife to meet with Nicole, I received a message: I am ready. I am willing. I am open. In my experience over these past two years of creating a program from scratch, sometimes the most important part is showing up and the “how” will find you.

If you have any questions aobut this newsletter please feel free to email me: shelley@womenwarriors.club.

Santa Claus Parade – Saturday, November 25th. It was chilly, around -25C but weather never stops Yellowknifers from enjoying events!

 

My new favourite restaurant in YK – Thornton’s has an amazing Sunday bruch 10 am-2pm with unlimited coffee, fruit, eggs, pancakes, french toast, ham and potatos for $26. A must do family event!

 

Wednesday, November 29th marked a bitter sweet day for me as it was our last Women Warriors class in Lloydminster. I am no longer facilitating this program, but we do have a manual for the program and I encourage anyone interested in running this program in their community to contact me.

 

Women Warriors Podcast Season 2 Highlights

The three most downloaded episodes of this season are:
You can access these episodes on our website or iTunes. If you enjoyed the content please do me a favour and rate, review and subscribe in iTunes. You can listen to all 20 interview with amazing Indigenous women from across Canada on either forum.
I am excited to announce that the Women Warriors program, and research through the University of Calgary and the podcast will be featured in UToday, the University of Calgary’s daily newsletter. We are in the preliminary stages of planning and I’ll post the links for the features in my newsletter.
To update everyone about our 8 Weeks to Healthy Living Programs – our last session ended on November 29th. I do not have any updates about it potentially being moved to Onion Lake Cree Nation in 2018.
I want to send a big thank you to Megan, our Master’s student from the University of Calgary that helped me throughout the program and wrote two articles for the newsletter. I am proud of her hard work and engagement with the Women Warriors participants. I’m looking foward to reading her brillant thesis and I’m certain that she’ll be a shining star in whatever organization or field she chooses to work in.
I will be taking a break from writing the newsletter while I write a paper on Reconciliation as a social movement this month. I’m resuming full-time studies this coming January. Plus, planning the gathering mentioned above. I’m never without projects (wink Sonja).
I wish all my readers a very Merry Christmas and a healthy 2018!

Reflections from the Tamarack Institutes “Evaluating Community Impacts” Workshop

Standing in front of the Tamarack’s Idea Wall – participants were asked to reflect on a variety of questions throughout the three days. From left to right, Elder Gilbert Kewistep, myself & Megan.

Last week Megan, our graduate student from the University of Calgary doing her thesis on food security with the Women Warriors in Lloydminster (read her preliminary research findings here) and I attended Tamarack Institute’s “Evaluating Community Impact” workshop in Saskatoon, November 14th to 16th. Thanks to Rhett Sangster, Director, Reconciliation and Community Partnership, Office of the Treaty Commissioner for sharing this event via email with us and being a welcoming presence at this conference.

My purpose for attending was to learn how to better capture results from community health initiatives and to keep growing as an evaluator. Although I am taking a break from Women Warriors to finish my BA degree, I hope to return to the field of Indigenous health. Also, I have a deep interest in reconciliation and the workshop was using the reconciliation efforts, on behalf of the Saskatchewan Treaty Commissioner, as a case study. I will share what collective community impact is, and through my lens as a Metis mother and social innovator in Lloydminster, I will explore some of the barriers to implementing collective community impact in Indigenous communities.

Collective community impact is solving complex community issues through cross-sector coordination “to create mutually reinforcing community-wide strategies that yield big changes as opposed to hoping that the individual efforts of organization and services end up being more than the sum of their parts.” (Evaluating Community Impact Workbook, 2). This cross-sector alignment of government, non-profit, corporate and philanthropic interests must have five basic conditions for collective impact including a common agenda, continuous communication, shared measurement systems, mutually reinforcing activities, and a backbone organization. Together these organizations create a collective vision, implement a shared measurement framework, evaluate and capture outcomes – intended and unintended, and communicate their results.

The first way of understanding complex issues is something that most people can relate to – parenting. Complex community problems like health disparities, food security, homelessness or reconciliation, are like raising a child in that there are no best practices. While organizations and evaluators love their best practice guidelines because it provides security, we must be fluid with our strategies. As a mother of three girls with very different personalities I relate to this analogy. Tackling complex issues takes a participatory, experimental approach with perpetual planning. Social innovators, like parents are hunch testers that use statements like “What will it take to…?” or “What if…”

The adage of “parents know their children best” can be applied to complex community issues. Institutions like the government may formulate solutions and best practices based on their data, but do not have access to the unique variables in each community. We need agile approaches, especially in Indigenous communities where cultural diversity and region specific issues exist. In fact, Indigenous communities want to solve their own issues. In this CBC article, ‘These are our children’: Sexual abuse and suicide rate among Indigenous youth” Cynthia Wesley-Esquimaux, Lakehead University’s chair on Truth and Reconciliation states, “It’s not about incarceration — it’s about healing these communities and giving them the opportunity to do that work together. And that means putting the resources in the right places. It’s about getting at the root causes of a systemic problem.” This idea of addressing systemic problems is summarized in a quote from the workshop,
“Programmatic interventions help people beat the odds. Systemic interventions seek to change the odds.” Indigenous communities need systemic interventions, which are community driven.

Adequate funding and resources for capacity building in Indigenous organizations is the main barrier to Indigenous communities implementing their own collective community impact initiatives. First, Indigenous communities are missing basic infrastructure like clean drinking water, safe housing, and basic health care. On November 6, 2017 the Honourable Jane Philpott, Minister of Indigenous Services made a speech at the National Conference on Public-Private Partnerships drawing attention to these issues. She states, “Basic infrastructure needs that most Canadians take for granted are missing in far too many Indigenous communities. From reliable access to safe drinking water, to basic medical care, all-season roads, quality housing and schools, shelters, broadband connectivity, cultural and recreational spaces… What most of us consider essential for our quality of life is absent from the daily reality for thousands of Canadians.”

Furthermore, Minister Philpot recognizes in her speech that a new approach to solving complex issues in Indigenous communities is needed. She rallies the private sector, corporate businesses to partner with First Nations, and explains why we need a collective impact approach. She states, “Some of you will view a role for P3s in addressing the infrastructure gaps for Indigenous peoples as a matter of corporate social responsibility.  Others may view it from the perspective of enlightened self-interest. Either way, you’ve figured out that it’s smart to invest in Indigenous infrastructure, Indigenous communities and Indigenous people. First Nations, Inuit and Metis peoples are the youngest, fastest-growing segments of the Canadian population. Their economic and social achievements can drive Canada’s prosperous future. Last year the National Aboriginal Economic Development Board analyzed what Canada loses from the gaps in employment and economic outcomes between Indigenous peoples and the non-Indigenous population. They determined that closing that productivity gap would mean an estimated increase in GDP of $28 billion annually, about a 1.5% boost to Canada’s economy.”

A challenge for Indigenous communities utilizing collective community impact lies in the many levels of colonial systems that they must work with. In this CBC article, Indigenous care options and solutions for indigenous people, the levels of systems are demonstrated in the quote, “How much fixing can you do to a system which includes police, jail guards, lawyers, prosecutors, judges, social workers, probation and parole officers, child care workers and more cemented into a well-established industry?” Indigenous peoples are forced into colonial systems with colonial frameworks. The frameworks, methodologies and evaluation methods of collective community impact must allow for Indigenous ways of knowing – that means decolonizing and indigenizing tools and methods for interventions. (Meagan discusses decolonizing evaluative approaches below).

As mentioned earlier, one of the five basic conditions of collective community impact is a backbone organization. I assert that this organization must be healthy, and stable with strong leadership skills. Indigenous communities are at different levels of healing from the trauma of colonization and the legacy of residential schools. Not all communities may be able to shoulder the responsibility of collective community impact. For example, there are strong leaders like Osoyoos Indian Band, Chief Clarence Louie telling everyone to “‘Get a damn job’: Chief offers blunt remedy for what ails First Nations” and on the other side of the spectrum check out this post by Tammy Roberts, a Saskatchewan political blogger on “Saskatchewan’s Cote First Nation: What In the Actual F**ck Is Going On?

Moreover, how can Indigenous communities build strong leadership and healthy organizations when their children are caught in a continued cycle of poverty and trauma due to colonial policies and structures, underfunding, and institutional racism? This Vancouver Courier article, Disproportionate number of Aboriginal children in foster carestates “Most children in care are Aboriginal — 62.7 per cent — while only about nine per cent of all kids are Indigenous.” These kids in care turn into adults in prison. This CBC article, Gaps between Indigenous and non-Indigenous inmates growing, latest statistics show states “In federal penitentiaries, the Indigenous population has increased by 16.6 per cent over the past five years and almost 40 per cent since 2006. Indigenous men represent 25.2 per cent of all in-custody males, while Indigenous women represent 36.1 per cent of all females behind bars. According to Statistics Canada, five per cent of Canadians are Indigenous.”

The Indigenous communities that currently have the resources, healthy organizations and strong leadership to implement collective community impact, will find it a natural fit with their values of cooperation above competition. For Indigenous peoples, pre-colonization, cooperation was an inherent process embedded in their Indigenous governance structures. In the article, Indigenous decision making processes: what can we learn from traditional governance, George Erasmus (1975) states, “The government of the Dene before the Europeans was one of collective agreement. We did not have people, leaders sit by themselves somewhere and make decisions and come back and impose them on our people” (3).

In summary, collective community impact is the best method for Indigenous communities to bring systemic change. In order for interventions to work in Indigenous communities, the colonial frameworks and evaluation methods must be decolonized. Minister Philpott provided the economic “why” it is in Canada’s best interest to partner with Indigenous communities. I argued that some Indigenous communities are better suited than others to create these initiatives and that there is much work to be done on healing communities and providing the fundamentals of life like clean water, and safe, affordable housing.  Through multi-sector cooperation, we have the power to disrupt the cycle of poverty that results in Indigenous children being apprehended and being fed into an institutional life of foster care, and a high likelihood of prison. This disruption is the work of reconciliation and it is why all Canadians should be involved in implementing the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s 94 Calls to Action. Reconciliation is the ultimate collective community impact initiative that has the power to transform our society.

Our workshop was held at the beautiful Delta Bessborough hotel, a historic castle located downtown Saskatoon. I’m with the facilitators of the workshop, Mark Cajab and Liz Weaver.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rhett Sangster, Director, Reconciliation and Community Partnership, Office of the Treaty Commissioner. 

 

My three girls after skating at the Servus Sports Centre. I feel blessed to be a parent AKA hunch tester and I believe it makes me a better person and social innovator.

Decolonizing Evaluation Approaches by Megan Sampson

When Shelley brought to my attention that Reconciliation Saskatchewan would be using their efforts at reconciliation in Saskatoon, Regina, and Lloydminster as a case study in this workshop, I decided that it would be beneficial to attend. As mentioned when I guest-authored the Women Warriors newsletter earlier this month, Indigenous women’s nutritional realities and the barriers they face in trying to manage their diets and health have direct implications when considering the TRC’s calls to action. The Tamarack Institute rightfully emphasized the complexity of the social issues which workshop attendees and the organizations they represented seek to ameliorate. I appreciated their view of successful social programs as “resilient” rather than the “sustainable”; this acknowledges that societal factors are always in flux and that one approach or solution will not remain efficient without frequent tweaks and corrections in response.

When Reconciliation Saskatchewan presented their case study to the workshop attendees, they asked us to consider a number of questions. Essentially, they were asking us to discuss the challenges of “measuring” reconciliation, and how to avoid colonial frameworks in this process. My particular table group was asked to consider Hamber and Kelly’s[i] definition of reconciliation, and to provide suggestions about how to go about evaluating cultural and attitudinal changes as they relate to reconciliatory efforts. While I was excited to find out that Reconciliation Saskatchewan is attempting to decolonize their evaluative approaches, it did occur to me that the majority the Tamarack Institute’s attendees have received training in colleges, universities, or similar institutions that favour settler/colonial hierarchies, theories, and pedagogies. While recent efforts are being made to decolonize these settings, much work has yet to be done. In a chapter dedicated to decolonizing evaluation practices, Maori scholar Alice I. Kawakami describes wariness towards “’experts’ from prominent Western institutions and academicians”[ii]. Like Vine Deloria Jr[iii]. and other influential Indigenous authors, she recognizes that these institutions encourage evaluation based on Western standards and ways of knowing. Therefore, while it was extremely exciting to be in a room full of passionate people discussing reconciliation, and while there certainly WERE Indigenous thinkers and professionals in attendance, I do hope that Reconciliation Saskatchewan continues this discussion outside of the workshop and continues to consider the input of those who may not be considered “experts”.

With those thoughts in mind, I would like to share some of the recommendations made by my group in this discussion.

  • Making evaluations longitudinal in recognition of the fact that reconciliation is a long-term process and cultural and attitudinal change does not occur overnight.
  • Prioritizing Indigenous language in the evaluation process—evaluating by Indigenous standards using Indigenous concepts.
  • Recognizing that reconciliation is not necessarily something with an “end point”.
  • Relatedly, recognizing that unlike traditional evaluative strategies based on a Western capitalist rhetoric, to the goal of this evaluation should not be to identify whether or not reconciliatory efforts are a “success” or “failure” (with that said, we do understand that some form of evaluation is necessary in order to create accountability).
  • Incorporating qualitative data and gathering testimonials over time about individuals’ quality of life and changes they have noticed.

Everyone at my table was somewhat daunted by the task at hand when asked to consider the case study set forth by Reconciliation Saskatchewan and provide our input. It was certainly humbling to realize the limitations of our “expertise”. All in all, I do believe that the case study and related activities were at the very least a great demonstration to attendees that reconciliation will require ongoing conversation and constant reflexivity. Those attempting to enact it should consistently be questioning their methods to ensure that they are not perpetuating the very colonial structures and forces reconciliation is aimed at eradicating.

Here are some interesting articles to consult if you’re interested in learning more about decolonizing evaluative strategies: Johnston-Goodstar, K. (2012). Decolonizing evaluation: The necessity of evaluation advisory groups in indigenous evaluation. New Directions for Evaluation, 136, 109-117. LaFrance, J., & Nichols, R. (2010). Reframing Evaluation: Defining an Indigenous Evaluation Framework. Canadian Journal of Program Evaluation, 3(2), 13-31.
[i] Hamber, B. & Kelly, G. (2004). A working definition of reconciliation: SEUBP & Democratic Dialogue. Published with PEACE II funding guidelines.
[ii] Kawakami, A.I., Aton, K., Cram, F., Lai, M.K., Porima, L. (2008). Improving the Practice of Evaluation through Indigenous Values and Methods: Decolonizing Evaluation Practice—Returning the Gaze from Hawai’i and Aotearoa. In N.L. Smith & P.R. Brandon (Eds), Fundamental Issues in Evaluation (pp. 219-231). Spring Street, NY: The Gailford Press.
[iii] Deloria Jr, V. (1969). Custer Died for Your Sins: An Indian Manifesto. New York, NY: Macmillan.

National Addictions Awareness Week 2017

In honor of National Addictions Awareness Week, November 12th-18th, 2017, I am sharing insights about addiction(s) from guests on the Women Warriors podcast. Each of these guests has struggled with addiction(s) and are open about their healing and recovery. Their full podcast interviews can be accessed on the podcast section of this site.

A special feature this week includes season 2 podcast guest, Juanita Lindley sharing her insights in a post about boundary setting for those in recovery (featured below).

Stephanie shares:

  • Her dark period of addiction after her mother’s murder in Edmonton.
  • How she started her healing journey and accessed professional help.
  • Her journey to sobriety.
  • Her healing resources.

Connect with Stephanie Harpe
Facebook
Website

Helen shares:

  • Her struggles with alcohol addiction.
  • How traditional treatment & ceremony helped her heal.

Connect with Helen Knott 
Blog
Instagram

Patrice shares:

  • The day she decided to quit drinking alcohol.
  • Her advice on going to Alcoholics Anonymous (AA).
  • Navigating drinking culture.

Connect with Patrice 
Twitter
Facebook
Instagram
Website

Boundaries
by Juanita Lindley BGS, CHADII 

A boundary is an affirmation to self that you are important, and that you value yourself enough to have them. Having boundaries is like drawing an invisible line – it’s the space where you end the other person begins. During childhood, boundaries are built in by the way our family responds in a situation and we may learn that it’s normal to be mistreated. When the sense of identity is not present and replaced with addictive behavior it’s likely that boundaries are not a priority.

When recovering from active addiction having boundaries is presented as easy, and as though everyone has them. The reality is that setting boundaries for the recovering addict is challenging, and our friends and family on the receiving end struggle accepting them, and there may be setbacks. We first must understand that having boundaries to say no to a substance is a much larger practice and takes time.

In my personal experience, I was fearful to set boundaries in early recovery because I did not want to appear disrespectful or self-righteous towards my family and friends. At first, setting boundaries felt like a literal battle and I was ready to fight for what I needed. It also felt like an out-of-body experience because the brain and body are experiencing rapid change during early recovery. It’s also about learning to find your voice, but more importantly your self-worth.

What does setting a boundary sound like? Identify what you need in a situation. For example, I remember when I first set the “no alcohol or drugs in my home” rule and had a group of friends drop by to drink, as was the norm prior to my shift in my mindset. I recall my fear – the way my voice quivered – when I told them no alcohol and they need to understand and respect my space. It was really hard for me to say no. I remember my honesty coming out and they were like,  “oh shit ok I am sorry, we can go.” I cried afterward because it was an emotionally charged incident and I was unsure of the response I would receive. I was proud of myself at the time because I learned at that moment I was going to change my life.

I know my experience is unique but the commonality for all us is, we have a divine right to grow and evolve in our lives. We are worthy of having the full experience that our soul has come to learn. Boundaries are a way of loving yourself enough to create the space to live the life you deserve. No one has a right to steal or impose his or her shit on you. If they do, then you are allowing it to happen. Finding balance and grace in the way those boundaries are delivered is also a form of self-respect.

Connect with Juanita
Keepin’ it Real Addictions Services Ltd.
Email

Food Security & Needs in Lloydminster

University of Calgary Graduate Student, Megan Shares Her Preliminary Findings from Lloydminster & Onion Lake Cree Nation

Current Women Warriors, Peggy Harper (left), and Brenda Rediron-Chocan (right), both school cousellors at Eagle View Comprehensive High School, and Brenda’s daughter, Jasmine and granddaughter, Sophia. Peggy & Brenda organized and started a thrift store and food bank in Onion Lake. It’s located next to the Catholic church right by the 4 way stop.

As a graduate student from the University of Calgary’s Department of Anthropology, I have been partnering with Women Warriors over the past month and researching the nutritional realities of local Indigenous women (Cree and Metis) in Lloydminster and surrounding areas.  Women Warriors’ founder and facilitator (and the usual author of this newsletter), Shelley Wiart, has observed that certain participants experience unique barriers to balanced eating and food security which impact their success in the program. Women Warriors celebrates Indigeneity in its design which is offered free of charge to its participants. Due to the large number of Indigenous women of various ages and walks of life enrolled, it provides a fruitful context to explore the diets of participants and their needs, values, and preferences concerning food and health. I would like to acknowledge that I myself am not Indigenous and do not claim any expertise in Cree, Metis, or any other Indigenous cultures. Many thanks to the Indigenous women and local health professionals who’ve been kind enough to share their time, stories, and experiences with me thus far.

Recommendation 19 of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s Calls to Action states that measurable goals must be set to address health disparities between Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities in this nation. Recommendation 20 emphasizes that off-reserve Indigenous peoples must be considered and included in these goals. Diet can be directly linked to several health conditions which disproportionately affect Indigenous communities, such as obesity and diabetes. Furthermore, Indigenous women experience disproportionate rates of gestational diabetes, which can negatively impact the health of their children. While genetic predisposition may play a role, international and domestic research suggests that factors such as income, education, and food security are central to the development and progression of Type 2 diabetes[i]. Indigenous women may face marginalization based on race, gender, and socioeconomic status. Given the foundational role Indigenous women play in their families and communities, it is clear that their opinions and experiences regarding their diet and health are worthy of exploration.

Many of the friends and acquaintances I’ve made since embarking on this project have asked “why Lloyd?”. While the TRC’s recommendations are addressed to the federal government, they must be enacted locally—not just in metropolitan centers or on reserves, but in small cities like Lloydminster, and in their surrounding areas. While the majority of participants in this research reside outside of Lloydminster (in Onion Lake or neighboring towns or villages), every one of them accesses services and institutions in the city on a regular basis. With this in mind, I will share a few preliminary findings.

Traditional/Country Foods

Almost every participant interviewed for this study thus far indicated that they access wild game (most commonly moose and deer), fresh fish, and/or wild berries throughout the year. However, there has been much variation in how often these foods are accessed. Some consume these foods upwards or three times per week during certain times of year, while others only consume them on special occasions or joint gatherings.

Several participants indicated that it is important to them to share traditional food practices with their children and/or younger generations. Explanations for this varied: some view this as an ideal and effective way to connect them to their culture, others emphasized the health values of such foods, and others still view them as an essential buffer against food insecurity. A few participants indicated that they wished they were more exposed to these traditional foods in their youth; these participants became connected to these foods and food practices later in life.

Supportive Networks and Food Sharing

Several participants in this study have young children and/or grandchildren who they are regularly responsible for preparing meals for. Furthermore, many regularly share meals with family outside of their household, such as parents, grandparents, children, and siblings. Many dine with these family members more than once a week. It has not been uncommon for participants to indicate that the foods they choose to buy, prepare, and consume are largely influenced by the preferences of these household and family members. Participants commonly indicated that they placed the dietary preferences of their families over their own (“if I made that, nobody else would eat it”, “I don’t love it but I make it because the kids like it”).

Some participants are involved in well-established food sharing networks with family, friends, and community members. These networks involve informal exchange or food items, such as baking, meat, berries, and gardened produce. Participants describe these food sharing relationships and practices as serving a variety purposes ranging from traditional to relational to necessity.

Food Security

Some participants indicated that they feel that they cannot afford to eat balanced meals due to financial limitations. Dietary restrictions, and the high cost of allergy-friendly food products may further exacerbate this. Reported coping strategies included reducing meal sizes, borrowing money or food from supportive contacts, or self-provisioning through gardening or acquiring country foods. As of yet, no participant has reported using the local food bank or soup kitchens, although participants have indicated use of the Midwest Food fresh food box program.

Ideas About Local Services/Programs

When asked what programs or services should be offered locally to improve the health and nutrition of Indigenous women, participants came up with numerous thoughtful suggestions. Several participants claimed to struggle with planning balanced meals. Many participants reported a family history of diabetes, heart disease, and struggles with weight. Some reported that either they or their parents experienced a lack of food security growing up which led to their family developing a taste for cheap, processed foods. The impact of residential schools and the poor diets they imparted on attendees was also discussed. The connection between colonial violence and health was perhaps most pronounced in these conversations. One participant claimed with frustration that “Nobody ever taught [them] how to eat healthy, and [so they] never taught [their] kids how to eat healthy”. Even participants who did not recall food security being an issue in their family suggested that they could benefit from local resources to provide them with knowledge about planning nutritious meals. Other suggestions included:

  • A program or service providing healthy groceries to expecting mothers in need throughout the duration of their pregnancies
  • Programs to promote opportunities for Indigenous women to learn to garden.
  • Free or affordable cooking classes teaching how to prepare meals with affordable ingredients.

There was a desire among participants to see such programs and services offered in the evenings, so that they are able to attend once they are finished work.

This research is still in the early stages of data collection and analysis. As it progresses, I am excited not only to continue to learn from participants about the challenges they face relating to health and nutrition, but also to hear about what supports they feel may help address these challenges. In doing so, I hope to collaborate with Indigenous knowledge holder and local service providers to create strategies that benefit participants and local Indigenous women more generally.

 [i] Hill, J., Nielsen, M., & Fox, M. H. (2013). Understanding the Social Factors That Contribute to Diabetes: A Means to Informing Health Care and Social Policies for the Chronically Ill. The Permanente Journal17(2), 67–72. http://doi.org/10.7812/TPP/12-099

Megan has been volunteering on the weekends at the Onion Lake food bank and thrift store. They need volunteers to help make meals, distribute food, and stock the thrift store. If you are interested in volunteering please contact Brenda Rediron-Chocan at brendarc.eagle@gmail.com.

 

Megan has interviewed eight participants of the Women Warriors program and local health professionals including Alicia Oliver, RD, CDE at the Onion Lake Health Centre (third from the left), and Heather Reid, RD, CDE for Lloydminster Primary Care Network (PCN) and social worker Cora Lee from the Lloydminster PCN.

 

Megan and I are attending Tamarack’s Evaluating Community Impact: Capturing and Making Sense of Community Outcomes workshop in Saskatoon November 14th to 16th. We are looking forward to learing practical evaluation ideas and practices.

 

Season 2 Finale of the Women Warriors Podcast


EP20 Patrice Mousseau on How Women Are Leading the Way in Business & Taking Risks


ReconciliACTION & Indigenous Women in Politics – Part Three

Three Female Candidates Share Their Insights From
Running In Municipal & First Nations Politics

Fostering Indigenous women leaders and building our participation in politics, and policymaking is an important form of reconciliation in Canada. According to the website Equal Voice, “the United Nations says that a critical mass of at least 30% women is needed before legislatures produce public policy representing women’s concerns and before political institutions begin to change the way they do business.”[1] Currently, “women are under-represented in leadership positions in Alberta, especially on municipal councils. In the 2013 municipal elections, Albertans elected women to 490 of 1,874 positions – an average of 26 per cent.”[2] (I could not find the exact numbers of self-identified Indigenous women holding elected positions in Alberta, but I’m certain it’s not enough). I suggest that electing more Indigenous candidates, especially the most vulnerable of our population, Indigenous women, to all levels of government, is a fundamental step to enacting reconciliation.

As I stated in the first newsletter on Indigenous Women in Politics, I believe that Indigenous women have important perspectives on collective community decision-making, gender equality via matriarchal societies, and reconciliation that are needed in Canadian democracy and policy. For the past two newsletters Indigenous female candidates shared their insights from running in Alberta municipal elections: Michelle Robinson, Calgary City Council Ward 10 and Miranda Jimmy, Edmonton City Council Ward 5. I would like to dig further into the barriers that Indigenous women encounter in politics.

First, this Facebook post from our third candidate, Dolores Pahtayken that ran for 4th Vice Chief of the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations on October 26th, highlights the financial strain that politics presents for women. Her opponent, Heather Bear won by 28 votes.

“One of the harsh realities of running in this election is that it costs a lot of money. Apparently I have to book and pay for a whole hotel of rooms for people to come vote for me, and I have to give people gas money and pay for meals and solicit major funders to pay for my meeting rooms for two days.

All taken into consideration that I am a single mother of 4 children, a university student whom I have to subsidize, as well as nurture and feed my other 3 children, as well as my own community. So I have to borrow money to run and win this election? And take money from any organization of funders meaning they will expect some kind of special considerations if I win the election? Totally against my beliefs!

What happened to intent and purpose of this organization? It’s very disheartening to myself because I only have the heartfelt desire to take care of our exceptional needs people (special needs), our Elders, and children. I have no money to buy for anyone’s votes. What I have to offer is me – my passion and desire to make a difference.”

I asked both Miranda and Michelle their campaign costs and Miranda replied, “a winning Councillor campaign in Edmonton is about $80,000. I spent about $35,000,” and Michelle replied “I’ve seen campaigns in the tens of thousands. I’m not sure yet my costs but it wasn’t that much and I would be surprised if it were over $5000.”

In this Globe and Mail article, “Women should get more financial support to get into politics, minister says,” Patricia Hajdu, the Minister of Status of Women from November 2015 until January 2017, and now appointed as Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Labour states, “Politics continues to be a rich man’s game. There is no doubt that we need to look at how we support women financially to become politically active.”

For Indigenous women the barriers extend past financial pressures into systemic privilege and affluence. Miranda Jimmy stated on her blog mirandajimmy.com on October 17th that:

“Despite a groundswell of support, despite months of hard work, despite the personal belief that I am the best person for the job, I didn’t win. This makes me sad and angry, not because I lost but because it has become clear to me that the political game was created for people like me not to win. The campaign has broken my belief in representative democracy and I will be mourning that loss for a long time.”

She wants to start a public discussion on the barriers for women like herself in politics and the advantages for others. She states these categories are separate but related:

  • Political Affiliations
  • Affluence Equating to Influence
  • Systemic White Privilege

Miranda connects reconciliation to her political campaign and loss by stating “I need to challenge the norms and shake the foundation of entitlement. Last fall at the Banff Forum, I had an interesting conversation with a fellow participant about having difficult conversations. Both of us had experience working on the cause of reconciliation and pushing this issue into places where it needs to be pushed. I had been referring to the need to create safe spaces for the difficult conversations – respectful spaces where people felt supported to share openly, free from criticism. In our interaction, my fellow Banffer challenged this notion and said we don’t need safe spaces we need brave spaces – spaces where people feel brave to share how they truly feel filled with people brave enough to listen and learn. This has stuck with me over the last year. Be brave, not safe.”

In relation to Miranda’s reconciliation bravery I had an interesting twitter conversation with Dr. Carrie Bourassa in which she tweeted to me “I heard a knowledge keeper speak today. He says there can be no reconciliation without truth. That really impacted me. Lots to think about.”

I tweeted back to Dr. Bourassa that “there’s a lot of courage involved in reconciliation. You can’t have truth without being uncomfortable. When I speak it I get backlash. Thick skin and purpose.” She replied, “Yes, so true. Because the Knowledge Keeper said that this means people will need to give up some of their power. So that makes people uncomfortable.”

Miranda faced some public backlash from her opponent calling her public truths a form of “sour grapes” and suggesting that she’s a sore loser. To connect all these insights together – we need to tell the truth about the systems that keep us oppressed. That is what Miranda wants to discuss and what I speak to every single day when I do my podcast and write this newsletter. We need more of these spaces and we need to be open to being uncomfortable and brave.

In conclusion, all three of these candidates lost, but they’ve done something much bigger – opened the door to uncomfortable truths – and begun the process of reconciliation in a system of oppression. Finally, I want everyone to reflect on this quote about reconciliation and politics from Tina Keeper, former Liberal MP. “We need to acknowledge that we’re all part of this country and that a First Nations leader can be just as effective as a mainstream Canadian in that role.”[3]


[1] Equal Voice. (2017). Fundamental Facts (The Facts, Ma’am: Facts about women in politics in Canada). Retrieved November 3, 2017 from https://www.equalvoice.ca/facts.cfm.
[2] Alberta Government. (October 4, 2017). Helping Indigenous and immigrant women in politics. Retrieved on November 3, 2017 from https://www.alberta.ca/release.cfm?xID=48714103D1715-AAFB-0BA5-12208D2B5721E9C9
[3] CBC News Indigenous. (December 04, 2016). Indigenous women still face resistance, but making gains in politics. Retrieved on November 3, 2017 from http://www.cbc.ca/news/indigenous/indigenous-women-politics-1.3875301