Kent Monkman – The Truth, Residential School, and Not Saying Sorry Twice.

Glenbow Museum, Calgary, AB, August 21, 2017. Kent Monkman Exhibition Shame & Prejudice: A Story of Resilience. The Scream, Acrylic on Canvas.

I am a parent that believes in telling my children the truth. I don’t shelter my girls from the evils of the world, and I tell them the truth as much as I deem appropriate for their age and understanding. I do not consider these painting too explicit for them. If you do not agree with me, then keep your opinion to yourself. I will educate my children on reconciliation in ways that I, their loving mother, believe will help them grow into compassionate, well-informed, and responsible Canadian citizens.

It was our first time visiting the Glenbow Museum in downtown Calgary. I knew that Kent Monkman’s exhibition Shame and Prejudice: A Story of Resiliencewas on display, but I did not inform the girls what it was about. I wanted to see their reactions, without any of my influence.

When we arrive at the painting, The Scream, I watch them closely. It’s graphic. The RCMP, priests, and nuns are ripping children from their parents arms; I can feel the agony of the parents and siblings being torn apart. I hear the crow overhead cawing amongst the screams, and crying – confusion and panic fill the painting. I hear the dog barking defending its fallen Master and I see the older kids running for their lives. There is a lone RCMP standing calm, feeling justified with his shotgun. Is he going to shoot the parents that refuse to give up their children? Is he going to shoot the children that run? Why does he need a gun against defenseless women and children?

My four year old is sucking her thumb with her Claire bag in-hand. We came from our back-to-school shopping at Cross Iron Mills that morning. My eight year old looks close at the mother being held back by two RCMP officers, her hair is being ripped from her head, while a priest carries off her child still in diapers.

I ask, “What is this painting about?”

My six year old, the most introverted and pensive of all my girls’ replies, “residential school.”

“How do you know?” I ask.

“Because you told us about it before. Kids were taken from their mommies and daddies,” she states.

“How does it make you feel?”

“Sad,” she replies, “I wouldn’t want to be taken from you or daddy.”

When I view this painting from my perspective as an adopted child, and I insert myself into one of the children in the painting, I ask my burning questions that I longed to know the truth of: Why did they give me up? How did it happen? Do they still think about me? What did I do wrong?

When I view this painting from my perspective as a Metis mother of three girls, and I insert myself into one of the parents of this painting, I ask myself: Who gave them the authority and permission to take my child(ren)? What choice do I have –get shot or beaten so my child is alone? Why are they taking my children? Creator please help me?! HELP ME!

From a modern perspective I morph the priests, nuns, and RCMP into social workers, and government bureaucrats in Canada’s foster care system. Dr. Cindy Blackstock, executive director of the First Nations Child & Family Caring Society of Canada and activist for First Nation children in care has labelled the child welfare system as the modern form of residential school. According to this CBC article, Where the kids are: How indigenous children are over-represented in foster care, “Aboriginal children ages 14 and under represented 7% of all children in Canada in 2011, yet they accounted for 48% of all foster children in the country.”

In an Amnesty International interview Dr. Blackstock states “I would argue that we’re going to see many of those same harmful effects in this generation of First Nations children that we saw in residential schools if we don’t stop what we’re doing right now and make sure these kids have a proper chance to grow up with their families because that’s where they learn their cultures.” She ends the interview with “reconciliation means not having to say sorry a second time.”

I watch my three blonde-haired, blue-eyed (their father is Dutch) girls examine The Scream. They will never be the kids in this painting. I also know I don’t want them being the ones saying sorry to the kids in this painting. They have the truth of what happened, they have parents that teach them what the world is capable of, both the good and the bad, and they have compassion in their hearts.

* Glenbow Museum offers Free First Thursday Nights. Free Admission from 5pm – 9pm on the first Thursday of every month. Presented by Servus Credit Union.

Yellowknife’s Prince of Wale’s Northern Heritage Center had an exhibition, My Residential School Experience by Fort Smith born artist, Robert Burke that portrayed his personal journey and healing process. We visited it June 2016.

Glenbow Museum, Kent Monkman, Shame and Prejudice: A Story of Resilience. Nativity Scene. Kayla identified this installation was about baby Jesus. There were highly inflated sticker prices on the food.
After visiting the exhibits, Glenbow offered a craft space for families. We made our own canoes and hung them on display.
Canoes created by visitors from around the world.
One of Glenbow’s permanent exhibitions is Niitsitapiisini: Our Way of Life. The Winter Count was a fascinating document in which the leaders of the Blackfoot kept track of significant events during each year from 1764-1924. There is a replicate binder that you can look through at the exhibit.
Yellowknife’s Prince of Wale’s Northern Heritage Center exhibition, My Residential School Experience by Fort Smith born artist, Robert Burke. June 2016.
Robert Burke. I added this painting because it is this artist’s reflection of Kent Monkman’s, The Scream.

Season 2 Women Warriors Podcast: Healing

When I first approached my Elder with tobacco to ask for a blessing for Season 2, with the theme of healing, she told me to careful. She wants me to be very clear that we do not offer Elders teachings or spiritual healings in our conversations. I am abstaining from talking about any specific Indigenous ceremonies or teachings. Also, the Elder was clear that I ask for as many resources as possible for my audience to access after listening to our conversations. There will be resources for healing located in the show notes and I will dedicate a page on the website for listeners to access.

I am excited to announuce my list of guests for season 2. In addition, my collaborator, Dr. Sonja Wicklum and I will do a special podcast introduction to how Women Warriors was created, results from last year’s research and our future plans for the program.

Guests
Dr. Carrie Bourassa – Scientific Director, CIHR –Institute of Aboriginal Peoples’ Health.
Jean Cardinal – Dene Wellness Warriors, only Indigenous therapist in NWT that is certified by Health Canada to do counseling, residential school survivor, faciliatator of a New Day Program, NWT’s only healing program for male perpetrators of domestic violence.
Nancy King AKA Chief Ladybird – First Nations (Potawatomi and Chippewa) artist.
Carly Morton – First Nations Psychic Medium. Specialize in readings that connect people with passed loved ones.
Patrice Mousseau – Ojibway entrepreneur, Founder of Satya Organic Skin Care.
Juanita Lindley – First Nations Founder of Keepin it Real Addictions Services. Inspiring individuals, families and communities to heal from intergenerational trauma through social media, counselling and inspirational speaking
Dr. Karlee Fellner – (Cree/Métis)|Ph.D. Assistant Professor, Indigenous Education Counselling Psychology, University of Calgary.
Dr. Jennifer Leason – (Saulteaux- Métis Anishinaabek Kwé), Ph.D. Assistant Professor, Department of Anthropology, University of Calgary. Specializes in maternal health in Indigenous communities.
Helen Oro – Fashion designer/producer, Helen Oro Designs Inc.
Jannica Hoskins – Metis, independent filmmaker (founder of Fallen Feather Productions). Dating Indigenous men/intimate partner violence.

Please catch up on first season here: Women Warriors itunes or our website.

Indigenous Women’s Health: Closing the Health Gap by Addressing Violence

Indigenous Women’s Health: Closing the Health Gap by Addressing Violence

The GRIP (Group for Research with Indigenous Peoples) Research Forum: Urban Indigenous Health. Dr. Rita Henderson, and I.

On May 9th, 2017 I was invited by researcher, Dr. Rita Henderson to attend the University of Calgary Group for Research with Indigenous People (GRIP) forum. We presented on Rise Up Mighty Warrior: Indigenous Women and Stakeholder Engagement for Meaningful Health Promotion. (Power point available here).

Last October, Women Warriors hosted a violence awareness and prevention conference in Lloydminster, Rise Up Mighty Warrior  in which participants of our group used photo voice to discuss Indigenous women’s health and safety. Please view two of our presenters, Ashley & Chris on our Youtube channel.

It was an honour to present with Dr. Henderson and it was my first time attending an academic conference aimed at Indigenous health research. I gained amazing insights about Indigenous research and reconciliation from the urban Indigenous health panel, the keynote Marcia Anderson DeCoteau, MD MPH FRCPC Head, Section of First Nations, Metis and Inuit Health, University of Manitoba, and our TRC working groups of researchers. (Hi Sue! I’m still interested in connecting re: info on menopause).

Disclaimer: I am not a formal researcher. I was introduced to the research world through my collaborator, Dr. Wicklum, associate professor at the University of Calgary. I started this program because my family has a intergenerational history of type II diabetes and I wanted to help Indigenous women, whom are 4 times as likely to develop type II diabetes as non-Indigenous women, to prevent or live well with this disease.

A health panel member shared their Indigenous framework policy that I believe any institution, organization, or business that wants to engage in reconciliation work can use:

  1. Value Indigenous ways of knowing.
  2. Authentic engagement and building trust is crucial.
  3. Use humor.
  4. Stop using a need based lens to view Indigenous people. They have plenty to give.

I relate to this framework because I feel my role in Women Warriors is to provide a culturally safe space, build trust, listen, and when appropriate, have some laughs. I also know that these women have given more to me, than I to them, by sharing their lives and culture with me.

My observation about Indigenous women’s health, especially after hosting Rise Up Mighty Warrior, is that their health is linked to their safety. Also, their trauma, often a result from not being safe in their home or community, is not being addressed in the western medical system. The challenge of creating programming for Indigenous women is that their disproportionately high rates of violence, such as domestic violence or violence within their communities make them a challenging group to research.  Furthermore, that the research methodologies must be mixed qualitative and quantitative to get a full picture of the complexity of Indigenous women’s health.

For example, I cannot rely on attendance as measure of success in the program. This year I wrote down the reasons women were missing class. For one class I recorded:  back injury- in the hospital, daughter’s dance recital (single mom), recent cancer diagnosis, undergoing surgery, terminally ill mother, murdered relative, no ride from Onion Lake. The data shows 7 missing participants from one day. I see violence and chronic illness from trauma.

The violence is a constant in Indigenous women’s lives, and while not perpetrated directly at our participants, still affects them. If you watched the video of Ashley’s photo voice in October you would hear her explain that her cousin was murdered on Little Pine First Nation two days before Rise Up Mighty Warrior. Here’s the CBC article, Woman dead, sister wounded in Little Pine First Nation shooting that led to B.C. manhunt

Two weeks ago on July 29th, Ashley posted a picture of her roasting marshmallows inside her house with a lighter because she was too scarred to take her kids outside due to a shootout with RCMP.  The next day the media reported “2 men arrested after shootout with cops on Onion Lake First Nation.

Two days after the incident Onion Lake Cree Nation Councillor Dolores Pahtayken posted this commentary on her facebook:

“This afternoon as I drove to the office, I drove like it was a Sunday afternoon and just observed everything around me. There were young women with pails in hand, gathering berries…
There were children jumping on a trampoline in one of the most well cared for yards in this community…There were men working on a truck, hoisted up in their yard.. helping each other..
The trees are green and lush… there is still so much beauty in this community…
What hurts the most is not feeling safe here anymore, what hurts the most is that we have lock everything up nowadays.. feeling so unsure of the ground we walk on.. making sure my gun is within reach and my head is spinning because of what we have allowed to happen..
People might not like what’s going to happen here in the near future.. people are going to defend their children and grandchildren and defend their rights. But what about the rights of the children and elders and everyone of the 4500 people who deserve to live in a safe community.. because we are all tired of living in fear and if you expect us to make a difference then you have to support us…”

I asked to use Ashley and Dolores’ posts because I felt like they were an honest reflection of the daily-lived realities of Indigenous women. I also want to point out that they love their community and as Ashley messaged me, “a few bad apples doesn’t mean we’re all bad.”

In conclusion, in order to decrease the gaps in Indigenous women’s health we need to address the violence in their daily lives. The Canadian government is failing in this respect as reflected in MMIWG loses another key staffer as families slam ‘colonial’ inquiry process, demand hard reset. A letter from families of MMIW explains that “Instead of drawing on Indigenous knowledge and practices, the inquiry has been rooted in a colonial model that prioritizes a Eurocentric medical and legal framework, it reads. Such an approach is rooted in a broader culture of colonial violence that is inherently exploitative towards Indigenous peoples and causes ongoing trauma and violence for us as families.”

What I have heard from community and researchers, like Dr. Carrie Bourassa, Scientific Director of the Institute of Aboriginal People’s Health, a branch of the Canadian Institute for Health Research (CIHR) that I interviewed yesterday for the second season of the Women Warriors podcast, is that we need to listen to Indigenous communities – they know what they need, and researchers need to approach them with an asset based lens (as opposed to a need based lens) and focus on wellness based solutions.

The best that I can do is continue offering women a safe space to improve their health in mind, body, and spirit and connect them with community resources. Currently, we don’t have funding for next year, and I’ve been inspired by all these researchers to hit the academic pause button to complete my last year of my BA starting September. I will facilitate my last session of Women Warriors starting Monday, October 2nd.

I want to leave you with a video of a Women Warriors round circle discussion that was inspired upon returning from the GRIP conference. My question was “What is good health?”

GRIP Research Forum: Urban Indigenous Health Panel Discussion May 9, 2017.

 

Rise Up Mighty Warrior – Women Warriors presented photo voice projects about their health & safety. October 2016

 

Onion Lake Cree Nation Councillor, Dolores Pahtayken and I at Toastmasters. February 21, 2017.

 

Ashley’s facebook post on July 29th at 8:55 pm: Promised them smores but with everything going on I’m too scared to go outside so a lighter will have to do.

 

Pre-program round circle with Elder Verna Buffalo Calf. She’s sharing her teachings about the Medicine Wheel. March 2017.

International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples

Today, August 9th is International Day of the World’s Indigenous People. The theme this year is the 10th Anniversary of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP). According to un.org this document “establishes a universal framework of minimum standards for the survival, dignity and well-being of the indigenous peoples of the world and it elaborates on existing human rights standards and fundamental freedoms as they apply to the specific situation of indigenous peoples.”

There is controversy about the Canadian governments failure to embrace and implement UNDRIP. OpenCanada.org has an interesting article highlighting the controversy, “Why the UN’s declaration on Indigenous rights has been slow to implement in Canada.”

There is hesitation to support UNDRIP, specifically with the phrase “free, prior and informed consent” in Article 10 which states:

“Indigenous peoples shall not be forcibly removed from their lands or territories. No relocation shall take place without the free, prior and informed consent of the indigenous peoples concerned and after agreement on just and fair compensation and, where possible, with the option of return.”

This Globe editorial The ‘Duty to Consult’ Indigenous Canadians and its limits pinpoints why the phrasing could lead to conflict between Indigenous peoples and the Crown:

“Right now, the Crown has a legal duty to consult, but there’s no requirement for Indigenous consent. The language of UNDRIP, however, appears to make consent a legal obligation, which implies a veto. No wonder the Trudeau government increasingly sounds like it wants to embrace UNDRIP more in principle than in law.”

In relation, there were two independent and important rulings in the Supreme Court of Canada delivered on July 26th about energy projects on Indigenous territories: seismic testing in Nunavut opposed by Inuit and the Enbridge Line 9 pipeline opposed by the Chippewas of the Thames First Nation in Ontario. The rulings were divided – the Inuit won and the Cheppewas lost and you can read more about it in this CBC article “Supreme Court quashes seismic testing in Nunavut, but gives green light to Enbridge pipeline.”

What these rulings mean is “Indigenous interests don’t automatically trump all others” as stated in this star.com commentary, “Supreme Court makes it clear Indigenous peoples can’t veto pipelines: Walkom.”

In essence, UNDRIP is a framework for decolonization and gives Indigenous peoples power over their land, territories, and resources, among other things. My four part series on Healing on the Land summarises the different motives the Crown and Indigenous peoples have for land. Indigenous people are calling for the full implementation of UNDRIP into Canadian government systems and legal framework as the ultimate form of reconciliation.

It’s important if you work in the field of reconciliation to understand UNDRIP and it’s implications for Indigenous peoples because “when Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission called on all levels of government to implement the declaration in 2014, it sent out a clear message that it should act as a framework for reconciliation with Indigenous people in Canada.” (opencanada.org). For a better understanding of UNDRIP please check out this introductory handbook.

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Women Warriors Podcast Season Two

Why I Dedicated the Second Season of the Women Warriors Podcast to Healing.

The first time I heard a residential school survivor speak was March of 2009 in my class at the University of Alberta Native Studies 380/Women Studies 494: Challenging Racism and Stereotypes. It is a vivid memory because I was pregnant with my first child, and I had just learned at my 20-week ultrasound that I was having a girl.

It was the first time she shared her story in public. Our instructor must have guaranteed a safe space with compassionate ears since our whole class, 12 of us were Indigenous women.

She was removed from her home at the age of 8 where she remained until graduation at age 16. She married a non-Indigenous man at age 18 and immediately became pregnant. I will never forget what she said next, and I paraphrase, “I did not know how to love. I did not know how to show intimacy to my baby girl. I had not been hugged or kissed as a child, except when I was sexually abused, and I did not know what love felt or looked like.” She never bonded with her children and her husband never understood why she was a “bad” mother. She never told her husband the truth of residential school and what had been taken from her.

It was only when I gave birth to my daughter five months later that I understood the impact of her loss. I also started to understand how intergenerational trauma is carried from parent to child. In this academic article, Intergenerational Trauma: Convergence of Multiple Processes among First Nations people in Canada, p.16 figure 1 shows how adverse childhood experiences are passed from one generation to the next. Furthermore, the field of epigenetics has proven trauma can be passed through our DNA. The article ‘Trauma May be Woven Into DNA of Native Americans’ makes the connection between trauma and physical illness:
“it suggests that our genes can carry memories of trauma experienced by our ancestors and can influence how we react to trauma and stress. The Academy of Pediatrics reports that the way genes work in our bodies determines neuroendocrine structure and is strongly influenced by experience. [Neuroendocrine cells help the nervous and endocrine (hormonal) system work together to produce substances such as adrenaline (the hormone associated with the fight or flight response.] Trauma experienced by earlier generations can influence the structure of our genes, making them more likely to “switch on” negative responses to stress and trauma.

Also, Indigenous peoples health disparities can be linked to colonization:

“According to researchers, high rates of addiction, suicide, mental illness, sexual violence and other ills among Native peoples might be, at least in part, influenced by historical trauma. Bonnie Duran, associate professor in the Department of Health Services at the University of Washington School of Public Health and Director for Indigenous Health Research at the Indigenous Wellness Research Institute says, “Many present-day health disparities can be traced back through epigenetics to a “colonial health deficit,” the result of colonization and its aftermath.”

In that same course, we were presented with an academic article, The Embodiment of Inequity: Health Disparities in Aboriginal Canada where research showed that Indigenous peoples had a “disproportionate burden of ill health and social suffering.” I wish I could say that since that article, March/April 2005, we have made significant progress in closing the gaps in Indigenous health, but they have increased.

What makes that article memorable to me is my fellow classmates reaction to it. She was Inuit from the Northwest Territories taking her Bachelor of Arts degree in Native Studies. As the professor went around our circle of desk asking us what we thought of the article, she started to cry. She stated that she had tried to read the whole article the night before but quit three pages in when she read this stat, “As of 1990, Inuit men (57.6) and men living on-reserve (62) have the lowest life expectancy of all the Aboriginal populations.” (S49).

It was a reality check for me that research on Indigenous peoples in the form of charts, stats, data in general compiled in Western ways of thinking – cold, hard facts was not helping us.

The most important concept in this article was, “We must come to understand that conventional clinical approached may not fit well with traditional Indigenous values or with the realities of contemporary settlement or urban life.” Also, “we need to rethink the applicability of different models of intervention from the perspective of local community values and aspirations. Indeed, if we are to understand “healing as the rebuilding of nations” and as a process of de-colonization, then we must find ways by which health can be effectively articulated at the levels of individual, family, community and nation.”

Grassroots healing. We hear it from Indigenous communities all the time – they know what they need in order to heal. This CBC article, “These are our children’: Sexual abuse and suicide rate among Indigenous youth” is one of the many examples of Indigenous peoples stating that “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.”

When I started my first Women Warriors program in June of 2015 I wanted to create a healing space for Indigenous women. I literally said it in the first video I made about our program on our Youtube channel.

Two years later, 8 programs completed, over 100 hundred graduates here are my lessons:
*Disclaimer – I am not a professionally trained researcher or mental health therapist.

  1. The western, colonial medical system is failing Indigenous people.
  2. Racism is everywhere including the medical system, and it’s preventing Indigenous people from getting quality medical care.
  3. The western medical system fails to treat trauma.
  4. Our communities are suffering from unresolved grief and intergenerational trauma.
  5. There needs to be a baseline understanding of the effects of colonization for everyone.
  6. There is a lack of culturally appropriate services including mental health supports.
  7. Women need help connecting with existing health resources.
  8. Women need help learning to be their own best advocates in the health system.
  9. There is a migration of Indigenous peoples from reserves to urban centers, and they cannot access traditional or on the land cultural practices for healing.
  10. There needs to be more emphasis on mind/body/spirit connection and healing.
  11. Indigenous healing must be community driven. There is not a one-size fits all plan.

These lessons have led me to researching Indigenous ways of healing. I like this CBC interview with Don Burnstick, a popular Indigenous comedian in which he states, “There are four really important parts to the healing process, based on what the elders have told me. There’s prayer, sharing, crying, and laughing. If you do those four things, you will heal over hardship, loss, and grief.”

I have invited 8 amazing Indigenous women from across Canada to the second season of the Women Warriors podcast to tell their stories. There will be prayer, sharing, crying, and laughter.

Release date set for October 4th, 2017. Please listen to Season 1 on iTunes or our website.

July 2015 – The end of program celebration for the first 8 Weeks to Healthy Living Program.

 

The second program October 2015.

 

Krav Maga self-defence class 2016.

 

Revkor Class April 2017

 

Women Warriors March 2017

 

University of Calgary researchers for the Women Warriors program, Dr. Lindsay Crowshoe & Dr. Rita Henderson. GRIP Research Forum May 2017.

 

Co-founder of Women Warriors, Dr. Sonja Wicklum. Accelerating Primary Care Conference November 2016.

 

Being White Coded Metis and Proving My Indigeneity to Duncan McCue

Sharing my insights about reconciliation.

The Writing Stick Conference June 9, 2017. Duncan McCue presenting Reporting on Indigenous Stories

It’s 8 am. I’m in the Lister Hall Cafeteria at the University of Alberta filling up on breakfast buffet for a full day of listening to speakers at the Writing Stick Conference. I spot Duncan McCue sitting alone at a table and I decide to sit with him. I admire his work as a journalist on CBC the National and CBC Radio, Cross Country Checkup. We make small talk and another lady joins us. She asks what I do, and I tell her about Women Warriors, my passion for helping Indigenous women get active and my new project, the Women Warriors podcast where I interview only Indigenous women. Duncan McCue cuts in, and with a pensive journalist stare he asks, “What are you?”

It’s human nature to classify. We want to know how to relate to each other. I look white –or as Chelsey Vowels named it on twitter – I’m white coded. I relate to what she writes on her twitter feed, “I am Métis, but I am also White looking…When ppl see me, they assume I’m White, and treat me that way. Being white coded just means, like it or not, that structure benefits you in some ways because you look white.”

What Duncan wants to know is: do I think from the perspective of the colonizer or the colonized? What qualifies me to be a champion of Indigenous women? How much do I know about racism since I hold white privilege based on my skin colour? How do I relate to Indigenous women’s experiences?

I have a unique perspective as an Indigenous adoptee. I was adopted by German and French settlers, and raised on a rural farm in Alberta. When I met my Métis birth father in 2006 I was given the gift of learning what it meant to be Métis. His position as a Metis political leader and champion of Metis rights has given me a thorough education.

Please let me clarify my Indigenous status because I feel there is a general misunderstanding of what constitutes Metis. I am not a settler throwing around the term “Metis,” identifying as mixed blood but uncertain of my ancestry or where I originated. I am a historically identified, pass the Powley test, hardcore, capital M Metis. If you would like further education please listen to this Media Indigena podcast “White Settler Revisionism & Making Metis Everywhere.”

I had to go on a personal journey of reconciliation, which you can listen to on the Women Warriors podcast. Then I had to act on Maya Angelou’s words of wisdom, “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.”

I should have told Duncan I’m acting out my “do better.” That I’m a champion of Indigenous women’s rights because my birth family is various shades of brown and my Grandmother is a residential school survivor. That I personally have not experienced daily racism, except for the time I was given up for adoption based on my race. Or, that I think from two sides in all my interactions – a kind of superpower translation and communication skill that I use all the time to navigate both spaces.

When an acquaintance messaged me last week stating she had read “An Inconvenient Indian” by Thomas King and wanted to know how she could be a better ally to Indigenous peoples, I said yes to a coffee play date.

Here’s the truth about White people. They are scarred to make mistakes and offend Indigenous people with their ignorance. They want to “know better, do better” but it seems like a daunting task that makes them uncomfortable. They don’t know where to start. They also don’t like too much conflict.

Here’s the truth about Indigenous people. They are tired of educating you. They have to know all about White people because of the power structures in this society stacked against them. Their survival is dependant on how well they know their oppressors. They are angry that you can’t invest some time and energy into learning, on your own, the history of Canada and colonization, their colonial struggle, the fact that societal structures keeps them in a loop of poverty, and that their daily struggles are for their lives.

Here are two articles written by Indigenous authors that express their frustration:
It’s Not My Job to Teach You about Indigenous People by Melanie Lefebvre
White Guilt, David Bowie & the Colonial Labyrinth by Helen Knott

Back to my coffee date, mid-afternoon on my deck watching our four year olds play. I recognize this scenario as the ultimate experience of privilege – being at home with our children, having time to express our ideas, and debate books we’ve read. Being able to recognize and acknowledge your privilege is an important part of being an ally.

Her question and the ultimate question of non-Indigenous peoples in reconciliation: How can I be an Indigenous ally?

Back to Duncan McCue and his talk at the Writing Stick conference about positioning yourself as an Indigenous ally. He states that non-Indigenous people need to build relationships with Indigenous communities and practice reciprocity. I would like to add that you need to create space for Indigenous peoples to let their voices be heard, support them in anyway you can, and stay behind the scenes.

What I told my guest is a combination of Duncan’s advice and my own experience in an action plan. I’m an action kind-of-girl. I cannot tolerate sitting in meetings or talking about something for hours on end and not having one action item come out of it. I need something to do because in order to learn, we must do.

  1. Go to your local non-profit organization that works with Indigenous people and ask the Executive Director what they need. Tell them your unique skill set and ask how you may serve.
  2. Listen. Let Indigenous peoples in your community tell you their needs. Recognize that there’s a diversity of Indigenous culture and needs across this country. There is not a one-size fits all plan.
  3. Build relationships. It takes time to build trust. Recognize that you must be patient and know that you will make mistakes. Prepare for discomfort.
  4. Create space that is safe, welcoming and non-judgemental. Is there a place in your community where Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples can meet and talk? If not, create it. I did with Women Warriors.
  5. Give Indigenous people opportunities to use their voices. Invite them to events, and ask them to speak. I created a conference, Rise Up Mighty Warrior so my participants had a platform to speak their truths.
  6. Support, encourage, and mentor Indigenous people in your community.
  7. Stay behind the scenes. You, as in White people in general, have been given all the opportunities and received all of the accolades. Step back, sit down, and shut up. Give Indigenous peoples the same bandwidth you’ve received your entire life.
  8. Don’t take shit personally. This is a principal from the Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz – one of my all time favourite books and my go to when I’m upset with other people’s actions. Always remember this point – You would be angry too if you were subject to 150 years of oppression and feelings of helplessness as your loved ones were destroyed by the colonial system in the form of poverty, incarceration, violence, suicide, and hate crimes.
  9. Above all – Respect. I want you to watch this video of “Indigenous women call reporter ‘white lady,’ demand she leave press conference.” Every Indigenous person that watched this video gave that Indigenous activist a silent salute. It’s your delivery, and tone of how you ask questions that count. Be respectful.

I’ve created a resource that you can download on the Women Warriors website – 10 Practical Steps to Implement Reconciliation. It’s the entry point to start your journey. As you can tell by my 9-step action plan that this work is not easy or a quick fix and requires real effort. If you’re here for a Readers Digest condensed version of reconciliation then I’m not your woman. I live and breath this work because it’s my calling – I was gifted this perspective, and I will not waste it.
Here’s my truth about my experience in reconciliation. I take heat from both sides for being a white coded Metis. I’m proving my Indigeneity to the likes of Duncan McCue, meanwhile educating my non-Indigenous family. I have been discriminated against by Indigenous academics and peers for not being “Indigenous” enough, and I’ve heard all types of racist comments with the last phrase being, “but you’re not like those Natives.” I straddle a world of knowing judgements and biases from both sides. It requires me to have a thick skin, to know who I am, and what I stand for, so I can communicate with love that we can all do better.

To Duncan McCue, if you’re reading this newsletter thanks for asking me the all time important question that we all must ask ourselves at some point – who am I? Also, please listen to my podcast. LOL!

Writing Stick Conference, June 2017. I met wonderful authors, and academics at this event.

 

The Writing Stick conference artist in residence, Dawn Marie Marchand created this piece of art to commemorate our experience.

Season 2 of the Women Warriors Podcast 

I’ve sent out letters of invite this past weekend to nine amazing Indigenous women that I admire. This season I’ve planned for 8, thirty minute interviews. I’m hoping they all accept, and I have to add one interview. Also, I will interview my co-founder and lead Principal Investigator on the Women Warriors team, Dr. Sonja Wicklum. We’ll be telling the story about how we started, our results and next steps for the 8 Weeks to Healthy Living Program.

Here are some interesting stats from last season. The most downloaded episode  – 519 individual downloads was EP01 Stephanie Harpe on Intergenerational Trauma, Healing & Advocating for MMIW. The total downloads for season 1 are 2,500. In the first 30 days of the podcast release you are in the top 10 percent if you reach 3400 individual downloads (dL). The top 1 percent of podcast have an average of 50,000 dL’s within one month. The interviews I received the most emails and feedback on were the ones with political content including EP07 Helen Knott on Accidental Activism, Politics & Healing Addiction  & EP10 Caroline Cochrane on Women in Politics, Transparency in Leadership & Affordable Housing.

My goal this coming season is to strengthen my interview skills, provide useful insights and tips surrounding healing, reach a larger audience both Indigenous and non-Indigenous as I feel this podcast is a form of reconciliation, and have some laughs!

Release date of Season 2 set for October 4th.

Healing on the Land: My Vacation in Yellowknife – Part 1

 Sharing my insights about the land, healing, Reconciliation & Canada 150.

 

Family Vacation June 15th-22nd

Every year we visit my family for a week in Yellowknife to celebrate National Aboriginal Day AKA NAD2017 (now re-named by Trudeau as National Indigenous Peoples Day), and catch up with my family, the Enge’s. My dad, Bill Enge is the President of the North Slave Metis Alliance and his organization hosts a fish fry on National Aboriginal Day that is epic. This year there were five thousand filets of fish, three thousand pieces of bannock, mountains of corn on the cob, and brown beans served for free to thousands of people. NAD 2017 was special due to the Canada 150 celebrations and APTN flying in a huge stage and their own entertainers and live streaming the event. Here’s a live interview with APTN of Bill explaining what National Aboriginal Day means to him.

I’m going to share some of our family fun on this vacation below. In addition, I’m sharing my insights of the week in my essay “Healing on the Land.” I had to break it into four parts because it’s longer than I expected. I wanted release the first of this four part essay before Canada Day because it provides insights as to why Canada’s 150th birthday is riddled with angst and protest for Indigenous peoples. The following two articles do an excellent job of explaining “What Canada 150 Means for Indigenous Communities“, and how some Indigenous activists are protesting through their campaign “Resistance 150: How Some Indigenous Activist are Marking Canada Day.

Please scroll below the pictures to read my essay.

A beautiful day with my three girls at Fred Henne Territorial Park Beach engineering mud walls. Yes, the water was cold, but kids are somehow immune to it.

 

Our tour of the Legislative Assembly of the Northwest Territories. The beadwork in the background can be used to distinguish regions. This picture was featured in Yellowknife’s newspaper, News North.

 

Happy National Aboriginal Day 2017. The girls had their Metis sashes on, but didn’t last long at the stage show due to the frigid temperatures. Their favourite performer was JB the First Lady singing “Sisters.”

 

My cousin, Julie Lys & I at NAD 2017. Her Metis sash represents South Slave Metis and mine is North Slave Metis.
Watching the stage show featuring Metis jiggers, Inuit throat singers, and Northern Indigenous artists. Left to right: Aunt Audrey, friend Launda, and Bill.

 

The Yellowknife Dene Drummers at the Feeding of the Fire Ceremony. Participants offered tobacco to the sacred fire to honour ancestors and ask for their protection and guidance.

 

My Uncle Arnold being silly with the girls. He volunteered at the North Slave Metis Alliances Fish Fry all day. He’s a retired geologist, and Maya civilization expert. If you have any Maya theories you want to share then message me and I’ll put you in touch.

 

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 Healing on the Land: My Vacation in Yellowknife

From the minute I boarded the plane and sat next to a woman that instructed canoeing to on-the-land youth camp counselors, to an in-depth conversation on restorative justice with my Aunt Karan (Honourable Justice K.M. Shaner, Supreme Court of the Northwest Territories), to meeting my cousin and nurse practitioner from Fort Smith, Julie Lys, to the updates of my dad, Bill Enge’s lawsuit concerning the North Slave Metis Alliance’s rights to be provided with a land claim, there was a common theme: LAND. Every single one of these conversations centered on Indigenous peoples wellness being linked to the land. The definition of Indigenous wellness provided by the Conference Board of Canada’s report, Building On Our Strength: Aboriginal Youth Wellness in Canada’s North is “a way of life oriented toward optimal health and well-being, in which body, mind, and spirit are integrated by the individual to live life more fully with the human and natural community.” (p. 6) Healing from the effects of colonization is dependent on Indigenous peoples being able to practice their culture on the land. Furthermore, Indigenous knowledge systems including spiritual healing through the land cannot be validated through Western research methodologies, thereby discounting their significance.

I never asked her name. She was seated beside the window and my four year old was crowding her trying to catch a glimpse of Great Slave Lake as we descended into Yellowknife. She smiled fondly at Harper, the kind of smile that I recognized as a fellow Mother. I asked her how many kids she had and where they were. She stated she had two kid’s ages seven and five in Ottawa, but she was a twelve-year resident of Yellowknife returning to instruct canoeing to a group of camp counselors. Her family moved to Ottawa while her husband pursued a PhD at the University of Ottawa focusing on land contamination. I nodded knowing that he’ll have job security for the rest of his life in Yellowknife.

It is common knowledge in the Northwest Territories that Yellowknife has a frozen time bomb of two hundred and thirty thousand tonnes of highly toxic arsenic stored underground at the Giant gold mine site. Reports from the University of Ottawa now show there are dangerously high levels of arsenic and mercury in the small lakes surrounding Yellowknife. In fact, the data from 25 lakes within a 25 km radius of Yellowknife revealed, “it found arsenic concentrations in the water as high as 136 micrograms per litre – more than 13 times the recommended limit for drinking water and 27 times the level deemed adequate for the protection of aquatic life. The highest concentrations were found in lakes within four kilometres of the Giant Mine site.” The devastating truth stated in this CBC article is that “arsenic does not biodegrade or decompose” and according to the University of Ottawa professor and researcher, Jules Blais in this CTV news article, “the water immediately around Yellowknife’s Giant Mine won’t return to its natural state for generations — if ever. This is going to be a contaminated site indefinitely.”

I ask her if she feels the NWT on-the-land camps are effective for preventing youth suicide. She doesn’t have specific data, but knows that there is research available about the positive impacts of connecting youth to their culture through the land. She suggests I check out the NWT On the Land Collaborative. She states that funding has been increased since she started contracting and that there must be positive impacts if the government and NGO’s are heavily investing in the camps. As we land in Yellowknife and I collect my bags, I mention a CBC article I read stating that “arsenic concentrations in Frame Lake, in the centre of the city, are more than 30 times the limit set for drinking water, yet there are no signs warning people of that.” I said I hope she doesn’t instruct canoeing there or anywhere near Ndilo.

Ndilo is the Yellowknife Dene First Nation community on Latham Island that is located a few kilometers across Yellowknife Bay from Giant Mine. It now has high arsenic concentrations in their soil and their swimming area of Yellowknife Bay. The history of air contamination from Giant Mine is summarized in this CBC North article, “in its early years, in the late 1940s and 1950s, about 20,000 tonnes of the deadly waste was released into the air from its roaster stacks, and it settled on the surrounding lands. Contaminated mine waste water and tailings also seeped into the bay.”

As we departed I wondered if she’d let her kids swim or canoe in Frame Lake or Yellowknife Bay. I recalled this CBC article in which “NWT’s Chief Public Health Officer, Dr. Corriveau said despite there being high arsenic concentrations in the lake sediment, residents in Ndilo should not be deterred from swimming in the lake. “The arsenic is poorly absorbed through the skin,” he said. “The skin is a very good barrier to these forms of arsenic. “Unless somebody was actually eating the mud … there is really no public health concern. Even with the fact we know there’s high arsenic levels inside some of the mud.” After reading this I thought to myself, lets take his grandkids into the lake first and find out.
For Indigenous peoples it’s always a struggle between resource extraction and money and protecting the lands they’ve inhabited for thousands of years. These sacred lands are where they practice their culture and pass their Indigenous knowledge systems to their children. The health of the land reflects the health of its inhabitants. This quote by Davi Kopenawa, a Yanomani shaman summarizes the struggle, “Development. It’s a nice word, but it’s not a nice thing. To me, that word means destruction of the forest (insert Yellowknife Bay) and the extermination of Indigenous people.”

Learn more about resource extraction and land activism with Helen Knott, an Indigenous activist fighting against the development of Site C on her people’s traditional territory located near Fort St. John, BC. Women Warriors Podcast: E07 Helen Knott

Healing on the Land: My Vacation in Yellowknife – Part 2

 Sharing my insights about the land, healing, Reconciliation & Canada 150.

#Canada150 you’re looking at a new generation of Reconciliation. My girls know more about Canada’s history of colonialism than most Canadians. #Metis. Taken at Somba K’e Park on National Aboriginal Day 2017.

The New Generation of Reconciliation 

On the last week of school my seven year old daughter came home & told me what she learned about residential school in class. You can view the video I recored on my twitter feed which she stated, “the Settlers thought they were smarter so they invented residential school to teach the First Nations a lesson.” I was impressed with the school for educating Grade 2’s on Canada’s history of colonialism and the impacts of residential school. It was never discussed when I was in school, and I didn’t start using the word “settler” until university. To me, Kayla’s ability to articulate that phrase meant we’re succeeding in educating our children on Reconciliation. (If you want to learn more about residential school and reconciliation please listen to the Women Warriors podcast EP09 Marcia Mirasty on Language Revitalization, Residential School & Reconciliation).

As their proud Metis mother, and Indigenous adoptee that has struggled to claim my heritage, I feel compelled to educate them on Canada’s colonial legacy and reconciliation. I told them my own story of adoption and my Journey to Reconciliation (click to listen to the podcast episode), about our Metis heritage and how their Great-Grandma, Anne attended residential school. They know that Indigenous children were forcibly taken from their parents and only allowed to see them during the summer. We discussed how these children weren’t allowed to speak their language or practice their culture, and that it resulted in trauma for First Nations, Inuit, and Metis peoples.

My explanation and demonstration of trauma was the homeless people downtown Yellowknife. I told them that some residential school survivors became sick in their bodies and minds and that their “trauma” prevented them from getting a job and having a home. Also, that we are privileged, and with that privilege comes a social responsibility to advocate on behalf of those that are sick, suffering, and unable to overcome their trauma. We can help those that are suffering by educating our family and friends about residential school – this process is called Reconciliation.

My girls represent the first generation of Canadians that will have a powerful understanding of Reconciliation. They will know the Canadian governments role in historical trauma and how social structures, power, and inequality continue to shape the lives of Indigenous peoples in Canada.

Some Indigenous peoples are discouraged by the lack of progress with reconciliation. In this CBC interview Metis artist Christi Belcourt calls reconciliation a farce, but I believe that we are planting the seeds of change in our children. I also understand that I cannot force these seeds to grow faster, and that it may take generations for these seeds to bloom.
I choose to be hopeful about Canada’s future of reconciliation because I have faith I am teaching my girls how to be inclusive and respectful of Indigenous peoples history. They will have the knowledge they need to form their own opinions on how to reconcile the past with the present, and create a brighter future for Canada.

Happy Canada Day! Expressing our love for Canada! Left to right: Harper “I’m a Canadian Cutie,” Aubrey “I heart Canada,” and Kayla “Canadian Princess.” Bud Miller Park, Lloydminster, AB.
“The best thing to come from colonialism was the Metis!” Bill Enge.

 

Beautiful artwork in the Caucus room of the #NWT Legislative Assembly. Great tour and knowledgeable guide. @AssemblyNWT #yk #north – at Legislative Assembly

 

Beautiful artwork in the Caucus room of the #NWT Legislative Assembly. Great tour and knowledgeable guide. @AssemblyNWT #yk #north – at Legislative Assembly

 

Tour of the @AssemblyNWT. The girls are standing in front of the whale bone sculpture that took 100 years to dry before carving. #NWT #YEG – at Legislative Assembly

 

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Part 2 of 4 Healing on the Land: My Vacation in Yellowknife

My next conversation about land and healing took place at my Aunt Karan and Uncle Arnold’s house. I wanted to have a conversation with Karan about restorative justice because she’s a Supreme Court Judge, she intimately understands the North and she’s my family so she can’t escape me. Plus, she listens to my podcast and I considered interviewing her, but I now understand that judges must remain neutral and cannot be activists, especially on a podcast titled “Women Warriors.”
The highlights from our conversation included reconciliation and justice, restorative justice and some suggested resources. We start the conversation by Karan telling me she organized a Superior Court Judges conference in May in Yellowknife centered on the theme reconciliation. We discuss the differences in understanding of reconciliation across this country and how the people in the Northwest Territories may have a deeper understanding and appreciation of the impact of colonialism due to the prominence of the Indigenous population, and the awareness of the “intergenerational transmission of historic trauma”.  She states that many offenders are dealing with the impacts of residential school including addictions, mental illness, and Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder(FASD). It can be difficult to get treatment before these afflicted individuals commit a crime.
Next, Karan states that the criminal justice system has traditionally been based on punishment. But, the idea that “everything will be fine after a person goes to prison” is not reality in many cases. The sentence is served, but the effects of trauma remain.
Many Indigenous peoples historically practiced restorative justice.  It is defined by justiceeducation.ca as focusing “on healing the harm done by the offence and rehabilitating the offender to avoid future harms.” A healing circle is more effective because “offenders are made to face and accept the harms they have caused.  Victims often find the process much more satisfying and empowering than conventional justice procedures as well.  They often report feeling less fear and trauma after taking part in a healing circle.” Because Indigenous peoples’ survival was dependent on cooperation and living in harmony with one another, their goal was healing relationships.
Karan says one way reconciliation can move forward within the justice system is by paying close attention the Gladue factors in a person’s background. For example, here’s a case in which Justice Shaner considered Gladue and Ipeelee factors in sentencing. Judges can take into consideration Indigenous peoples backgrounds and may insist on more detail about their past in their pre-sentence report. They can use the TRC report to guide them in understanding the impact of Gladue factors on a person and they must consider reasonable alternatives to jail like probation,  suspended sentences, and recommend correctional facilities within NWT to stay closer to family and participate in on the land and other culturally relevant programs.
Finally, Karan states that the justice system works in silos, which means judges are limited to imposing sentences. It’s up to Corrections to place the offenders, but not all correctional facilities offer on the land camps, or appropriate Indigenous cultural land activities for inmates.
The justice system is where many Indigenous peoples suffering from the impacts of residential school end up. Within the system they cannot access the healing they need due to the nature of the system and the lack of resources or understanding dedicated to traditional Indigenous justice principles, including “on the land” programs.  Karan suggested two resources to better understand how the land, Indigenous culture, and healing are linked: Elder Be’sha Blondin “Land is Our Education” and the Angry Inuk.

In relation to last week’s newsletter about my essay on the Giant Mine Site, here are links to articles on CBC North.

Yellowknife’s Toxic History thought the eyes of the Betsina Family
‘Off site’ arsenic contamination a growing public concern in Yellowknife 

Healing on the Land: My Vacation in Yellowknife – Part 3

 Sharing my insights about the land, healing, Reconciliation & Canada 150.

Onion Lake Powwow 2017

Onion Lake is hosting their annual powwow on July 14th -16th at the Onion Lake Heritage Park. I’m excited to bring our Women Warriors researchers from the University of Calgary, Masters student, Megan and summer student, Elsy to their first powwow. They are coming to familiarize themselves with Lloydminster, and learn more about the Women Warriors program. We will be attending the Grand Entry on Friday night and supporting local artists and friends at the Indigenous Beauty Market.

Here’s an excerpt from Megan’s Master’s proposal that links reconciliation to Indigenous health:

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) of Canada’s eighteenth and twentieth calls to action, respectively, state the following:

We call upon the federal, provincial, territorial, and Aboriginal governments to
acknowledge that the current state of Aboriginal health in Canada is a direct result of previous Canadian government policies, including residential schools, and to recognizeand implement the health-care rights of Aboriginal people as identified in international law, constitutional law, and under the Treaties (2015: 2).

In order to address the jurisdictional disputes concerning Aboriginal people who do not reside on reserves, we call upon the federal government to recognize, respect, and address the distinct health needs of the Métis, Inuit, and off-reserve Aboriginal peoples (2015: 3).

The proposed research will examine food security as a major contributor to Indigenous women’s health on the Treaty 6 territory of Lloydminster. It will be conducted in collaboration with Women Warriors, a program which promotes the wellbeing of its participants through free exercise classes and dietary education. While serving both Indigenous and non-Indigenous participants, Women Warriors prioritizes and celebrates Indigeneity in its programming, which aims to be culturally responsive in its approach. This research will contribute to the program’s holistic approach to health by taking a closer look at how their participants achieve or attempt to achieve access to nutritious foods in their daily lives. In light of apparent limitations on the part of formal markets and government initiatives to produce food security for Indigenous women and their families living off reserve, it will inquire as to how informal economic practices and support networks may facilitate increased access to food resources. It will highlight the ways that Indigenous women’s social capital and informal supports facilitate food access and help them to feed themselves and their kin. Furthermore, it will consider the role of self-provisioning and relations of distribution within social support networks, and the perceived benefits and values participants associate with various foods. In doing so, it will attempt to define a gap in formal health care provision, looking not only at how Women Warriors may improve their programming but at how healthcare providers may respond to the nutritional needs of Indigenous women in more culturally responsive ways. The proposed research is necessary due to its potential to reveal how informal economic practices, patterns, and networks of social support reflect the cultural values and desires of Indigenous families as they relate to food and health. It will seek to incorporate and prioritize Indigenous perspectives, emphasizing relationship between individuals, the land, their food, culture, and each other in an attempt to discover what food security means to participants.

My cousin, Julie Lys is opening an healing centre in Fort Smith, NWT this fall.

Healing on the Land: My Vacation in Yellowknife Part 3 of 4

Two days after I arrived in Yellowknife I received a message from my friend Julie Beaver, a community health representative (CHR) that I met in Inuvik in September when I consulted on the Government of NWT Tobacco Sharing Circles. (To learn more about the tobacco sharing circles please listen to this CBC interview with another attendee, Lyle Frank, Supervisor Community Wellness Programs, GNWT). She had a friend who wanted to meet me, Julie Lys from Fort Smith. It turned out that Julie and I are related, third cousins, and that she is opening a healing centre in Fort Smith.
Before I summarize our conversation here is a biography about Julie from the Canadian Nurses Association 2014 Biennial Convention where she presented. Julie Lys NP, MN-ANP, is Métis; she was born and raised in Fort Smith. Lys has been working as a nurse for the Government of the Northwest Territories for 26 years. She completed her master’s degree in nursing through Athabasca University in 2007 and is currently working as a nurse practitioner in her home community. Lys is the North of 60 director for the Aboriginal Nurses Association of Canada. Her interests are in aboriginal health and healing and in the integration of traditional knowledge in health and wellness. Recognizing that the current health-care system does not effectively address the needs of aboriginal clients, Lys has been searching for ways to improve health in aboriginal communities.
Julie believes culture is the foundation for health and wellness. Her healing center, still unnamed is funded through the NWT Métis Nation. It will be open to anyone. In an email to me she states, “The intend it to provide land and culture based healing and wellness programs that help us discover and utilize our strengths as indigenous people to help us heal and live well. This will include talking, sharing and healing circles, traditional counselling and support, understanding traditional ceremonies, genealogy, medicine walks, fireside chats, traditional harvesting, gathering and food prep and lots of gathering and laughing. It through rediscovering who we are, and where we have come from that will lead us in a good way. This is based on what my Dad used to tell me when I was younger ” we have to know where we have come from to know where we are going”. He also told us “the land heals”. I have come to a place in my life where this finally makes sense to me and I have found resources to make it happen so I will do my best.”
In this Northern News Service article Julie states that, “the health-care system that we have looks at physical and a little bit of mental health, but it does not look at the emotional and the spiritual health. In a lot of aboriginal cultures it’s just that you need a balance between mental, emotional, spiritual and physical health to really be healthy.” We also talk about how Indigenous spirituality is not valued by the Western medical model. I tell her about my issues with the western research on my program and ask her, how can we prove that spirituality and healing on the land is an important key to improving the health outcomes of Indigenous peoples?
I believe that due to the work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada we’re in the midst of decolonizing knowledge and investing in learning about Indigenous culture and knowledge systems through on-the-land camps. Furthermore, that the NWT is at the forefront of this movement in Canada. For example, “Fort McPherson First Nation teams up with U of A to create community camp” and “over three years, $100,000 in funding has been granted by the university through the Kule Institute for Advanced Study.” Or the “Learning on the land at Dechinta, the N.W.T.’s ‘bush university’ whose mission is to “support a new generation of leaders and researchers by providing accessible and practical learning and development experiences, respectful of traditional ways, in a taiga bush environment.” Dechinta University’s semester of study includes “the first 6-7 weeks onsite, working with Elders and instructors, preparing assignments and maintaining and outcamp. Students and faculty spend those 6-7 weeks engaging in lectures, workshops, daily experiences, fire sessions and out-trips. The majority of the on-site instruction takes place outdoors.”
From my perspective as the co-founder and facilitator of Women Warriors I believe that culture, land, and health intersect. I thought that by removing the main barrier to getting physically active, the cost associated with exercise classes, my Indigenous participants would increase their activity levels and improve their health outcomes. It proved to be more complicated. I have observed that my participants that are connected to their traditional culture have better attendance. I also know from my experience as a Northerner and being connected to my family in Yellowknife that having access to the land, developing and investing in on-the-land programs is the key to improving health outcomes for Indigenous peoples.

Healing on the Land: My Vacation in Yellowknife – Part 4

 Sharing my insights about the land, healing, Reconciliation & Canada 150.

Onion Lake Powwow 2017

Last Friday I welcomed two of our researchers from the University of Calgary, master’s student, Megan and summer student, Elsy to Lloydminster to attend their first powwow. Megan’s role in the Women Warriors research is investigating food security and informal supports that participants may access for food (if you’re interested in learning more I included the intro to her proposal in last newsletter), and Elsy is working on the literature review of worldwide physical activity programs for Indigenous women. They visited Lloydminster to better understand the program, be exposed to Indigenous culture, and meet some of our Warriors.

We arrived at the powwow grounds at 6:30 pm to an amazing grand entry. Onion Lake had a full house despite there being four powwows last weekend. The grand entry included Chief and Council, special guests like Federations of Sovereign Indigenous Nations (FSIN) Vice Chief Robert Merasty, and all the dancers. For the first time this year it included the President of Lakeland CollegeAlice Wainwright-Stewart along with Clint Chocan, their newly hired Indigenous Student Support Specialist and an Indigenous graduate of their power engineering program. President Wainwright-Stewart announced a Treaty Six flag raising this September at their Lloydminster and Vermillion campus, and invited everyone to attend. It is an act of reconciliation within Lloydminster and if you want to know why please read part 4 of my essay below.

As we watched the dancers enter in their impressive regalia to the beat of the drums and I explained the different types of dances I asked Megan, “Do you feel it?” I don’t know if she understood what I was asking her, but what I meant was joy and pride. Powwow is a healing experience for the community. It’s a cultural showcase of traditional drums, singing, outfits, dancing, and sense of community – young and old united in cultural pride, fun, laughter and spiritual wellness.

Karen Pheasant, powwow dancer and guest on the Women Warriors podcasttold me about the “powwow hangover.” It comes after spending all weekend on a spiritual high from dancing, being in community and feeling connected to each other and the culture.

The full powwow experience wouldn’t be complete without indulging in all the treats at the powwow grounds including bannock (Elsy’s first taste), curly fries, taco in a bag, and giant lemonades. We also visited with some Warriors and shopped at the many vendors displaying beautiful blankets, beaded jewelry and other handicrafts.

I encourage everyone to attend a powwow in your local area. Here’s some useful resources if you are a first time attendee. 1) A Guide to Taking Your Family to a Powwow for the First Time 2) Five Tips for the first time you attend a Powwow 

The following day we visited the longest attending participant (2 years) of the Women Warriors program, Ashley and her family on reserve. She planted her first garden, and built a smoke house this year and I thought it would be helpful for Megan’s research if she could see how Ashley is self-provisioning. I am proud of Ashley and her efforts to improve her health and enrol her family into a healthy lifestyle. When she started in July of 2015 she was diagnosed with type II diabetes three weeks beforehand, and took her diagnosis seriously. The first 8 weeks she lost 20 lbs, and I’m happy to say she’s maintained her weight loss and continues to be active.

Ashley had to overcome many barriers to plant her garden, including making arrangements to get a plot of her yard rototilled, figuring out what to plant and how to do it, and praying that it grew because she planted late. I’m happy to say that with the help of “Google” and some prayers to Creator, she has a large, lush garden. Her five kids are helping her weed and the youngest was watering his watermelon with a yellow toy plastic watering can during our visit.

President Wainwright-Stewart announcing the Treaty Six flag raising in September at Lakeland College. Onion Lake Powwow, July 14, 2017.

 

Grand Entry Onion Lake Powwow July 14, 2017.

 

Ashley standing proud in her first garden. Behind her are three varieties of onions, swiss chard, carrots, beans, and peas. On the right are three watermelons that her youngest son wanted to plant.

 

Showing us the smoke house her husband, Mark built. They butcher moose and deer and make dry meat. It doesn’t last long so we didn’t have a sample.

 

New puppies! Golden lab and husky mix that Ashley plans on giving away to friends.

 

Ashley, Mark, their twin girls and youngest two boys. Missing is Ashley’s oldest son.

 

Former Warrior and friend, Trysta. She is a talented hairstylist that is part of a business collective called the Indigenous Beauty Market that travels to powwows doing haircuts, and selling merchandise. She’s fundraising for a trip to Paris in September.

 

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Part 4 of 4 Healing on the Land: My Vacation in Yellowknife 
The main reason I visit Yellowknife for a week is to visit my family and attend National Aboriginal Day (this year renamed National Indigenous Peoples Dayby PM Trudeau). My dad, Bill Enge is the President of the North Slave Metis Alliance and his organization hosts a fish fry on National Aboriginal Day that is epic. This year there were five thousand filets of Great Slave White fish, three thousand pieces of bannock, mountains of corn-on-the-cob, and brown beans served to thousands of people free-of-charge. This year was special due to the Canada 150 celebrations (if you are still confused as to why it was protested by Indigenous peoples please read Canada 150 is a Celebration of Indigenous Genocide by Pam Palmater) and APTN organizing Aboriginal Day Live and flying in their own stage and entertainers to eight different cities across Canada, including Yellowknife.
The week before I arrived Bill was defending the North Slave Metis’ right for a land claim in the Federal Court of Canada. Since we reunited in 2006 – I was adopted at birth and I found him when I was 26 years old – there’s never been a time he’s not in litigation against the “Crown” (Government of the Northwest Territories and Government of Canada). In 2015, the North Slave Métis Alliance won their caribou harvest lawsuit against the government of the Northwest Territories, and now they are fighting for the right to be included in a land claim. For the sake of brevity I will not go into details about the lawsuit, but please click links if you want an in-depth understanding of the land claim negotiations.
What I want to focus on, and what Bill highlights in his National Aboriginal Day message in the local newspaper, News North (excerpt of the article pictured below) is “a land claim is the highest form of reconciliation between an Aboriginal people and the “Crown.” It is the highest form of reconciliation because it acknowledges that Indigenous peoples were the original inhabitants of Kanada prior to European colonization. Or, this video on my Women Warriors facebook page of an Indigenous woman in a pop-up tent making bannock with a shirt that reads “Canada – 150 years on stolen land.”
There are varying degrees of reconciliation when it comes to the land. A small act of reconciliation is the acknowledgement of the traditional land and territories at events like the recently announced Treaty Six flag raising at Lakeland College in September. Why is it important for institutions like Lakeland College to acknowledge their existence on treaty land? A Truth and Reconciliation researcher in this CBC article states, “the acknowledgement should lead to more questions about who the people listed in the acknowledgement are and how their land came to be possessed by settlers. “It also needs to be personal,” she said. “We have to ask, ‘How am I benefitting by living on this land that was a traditional territory of Indigenous people?’”
The late Indigenous leader and activist, Arthur Manuel answers exactly that question in a book he co-authored with Grand Chief Ron Derrickson titled Unsettling Canada: A National Wake-Up Call. He states in this CBC article:
“When you add up all the Indian reserves in Canada, the land we got is 0.2 per cent and we are expected to make a living off of that. The rest of the land 99.8 per cent is under federal, provincial jurisdiction and that’s one of the reasons why indigenous communities are mostly poor.” “Communities are impoverished and you have to go hat in hand and get money from the Department of Indian Affairs [whose] job is to mainly manage poverty on Indian reserves.” Manuel believes the answer is self-determination. “The big answer of self determination is to deal with this 0.2 per cent land base that we have, to increase it so indigenous people can be more self sufficient…in their own territory.” (For more on this topic please listen to this Media Indigenia podcast)
The highest form of reconciliation is giving the land back to its original inhabitants. Metis artist and #Resistance150 founder, Christi Belcourt states, “I don’t believe that reconciliation is even possible. The entire premise of Canada rests on the dispossession of Indigenous people of their lands. As a people, everything we have known for generation upon generation has been the land. Because our connection to the lands has been severed, it affects our whole being. Until the theft of lands is looked at, until we can reconcile our own relationships with the lands, then reconciliation with the Canadian state is not possible. Until then, reconciliation is only a move towards assimilation.”
In summary, over the past four weeks I have shared my conversations surrounding reconciliation that I had on my vacation in Yellowknife. The first conversation included the Giant Mine contamination and its impact on the local Dene community of N’dilo. I framed it in relation to Indigenous peoples and their complicated relationship with resource development and protection of traditional lands. The second, an informal chat with my Aunt and Supreme Court Judge, Justice Shaner about restorative justice and reconciliation within the justice system including on-the-land-camps for inmates. The third, a coffee date with my cousin, Julie about her healing centre based in Fort Smith that will use land and culture based healing, and finally my dad’s lawsuit for the ultimate act of reconciliation – a land claim.
I’ve shared my personal conversations about reconciliation in hopes of educating people on the process of reconciliation and highlighting the importance of the land to Indigenous peoples well-being including cultural practices, ceremony, language, food, self-sufficiency, and healing. Now I ask you to consider a hard question – are you willing to give up your land to right the wrongs of your ancestors? Should I expect Weaver Ranch or Acton’s Lower Shannon Farms, both on Treaty 6 territory, and on the way to Onion Lake, to concede their land to Onion Lake Cree Nation? Maybe this suggestion sounds preposterous, but now you understand how Canada was created and what was taken from Indigenous peoples. The land is everything. It is a non-renewable resource. If you are not willing to give your land back, at least do your best to understand the history of Canada including colonization, residential schools, and it’s devastating impact on Indigenous peoples and how you can participate in reconciliation in this community.
Please feel free to comment on my post or email me Shelley@womenwarriors.club. I’m looking forward to hearing if this four part series has helped with your understanding of reconciliation. Remember, we are all connected and we’re all in this together.

A Proposed Reconciliation Column in the Lloydminster Source 

One week ago I emailed the editor of the Source to propose a weekly column about Reconciliation.
My name is Shelley Wiart and I’m the founder of Women Warriors and I have facilitated my program, 8 Weeks to Healthy Living in this community for two years. I have a unique perspective on reconciliation within this community due to the nature of my program and creating a space where Indigenous and non-Indingeous participants come together to improve their health and share their lives. My program is free and open to anyone in Lloydminster and I have learned much about this community and Onion Lake that I would like to share in an inspiring and positive way.
I would like to propose a new column in the Lloydminster Source, “In This Together” a weekly reflection on reconciliation within Lloydminster and area. My purpose for this column is to explain what reconciliation is, how we can implement it in our daily lives, and create more spaces in this community for it to happen. Also, for the Indigenous peoples in this community to feel like they are being heard, and seen in a positive way.
If you are interested in pursuing this column, please contact me for more details.Please let me know your thoughts on this proposed column through email: Shelley@womenwarriors.club

We Are All Connected

Lessons learned from completing season one of the Women Warriors podcast & reflections on the Writing Stick Conference.

My Top Seven Takeaways From Season One

1) No one will make your dreams come true, but you. Invest your own money into a project that you feel deeply about. If I had waited to raise all the funds I needed to start this project I doubt it would have happened.

2) Let go of all expectations of success and do your project because it gives you deep personal satisfaction. I had an amazing time interviewing all my guests and I learned new, interesting things about every single one of them. My success is measured in the feedback from women that have thanked me for telling Indigenous stories. Yesterday a fan of the podcast wrote on my Facebook wall, “Really enjoying your podcasts, especially the two on politics. Keep up the great work!”

3) Duncan McCue, award winning journalist of CBC Radio’s Cross Country Checkup & CBC The National shared this advice at the Writing Stick conference, life is about relationships and reciprocity. This podcast would not exist if it wasn’t for all the amazing women that agreed to be interviewed. Sincere thanks to Stephanie HarpeHeather DawnTunchai Sarah RedversDevy K FiddlerTenille CampbellKaren J Pheasant,  Helen KnottDeanna BurgartMarcia Mirasty & Caroline Cochrane-Johnson. I have your best interest in my heart and I will advocate for you wherever I go. Reciprocity is central to what I do and I’ll do my best to be a good ambassador for all of you!

4) Follow your interest and don’t let a lack of credentials kill your dream. I’m not a journalist or a social media expert, but I’ve pursued podcasting because I love it, and I’ve learned along the way. I’ve also had some amazing help from my sound engineer, owner of Polarity Audio Works, Sarah Buchynski, and Jill Kelly of Red Bicycle Communications.

5) In the words of Marie Forleo, “Everything is figure-out-able.” Start by putting your dream out to the universe and it will respond with people and resources. Have an insane hunger to pursue your interests and success will meet you.

6) You are nothing without your family & support. Thank you to my family for allowing me time to dedicate to creating this podcast. Also, to all my supports at University of Calgary including Dr.Sonja Wicklum & Dr. Rita Henderson. You have inspired me with your knowledge and willingness to share. You’ve never made me feel “less than” because I don’t have a formal research background. Because of this program, and your encouragement I am enrolled at the University of Athabasca this fall to complete my last year of my Bachelor of Arts degree with hopes to continue to a Master’s.

7) Helping others is more rewarding than you can imagine. It’s been two years on June 15th that I started Women Warriors and I’ve been richly rewarded in new friends, collaborations with amazing academics, and organizations and the opportunity to improve women’s lives. I love the community that we’ve created and I hope in the near future this group and podcast is a long term and sustainable organization that inspires women across Canada.

In conclusion, dream big, ask for help, and be grateful for every step of the journey. This quote from Elizabeth Gilbert resonated with me as I finished the first season. “What’s your favorite flavor of shit sandwich?” What Manson means is that every single pursuit—no matter how wonderful and exciting and glamorous it may initially seem—comes with its own brand of shit sandwich, its own lousy side effects. As Manson writes with profound wisdom: “Everything sucks, some of the time.” You just have to decide what sort of suckage you’re willing to deal with. So the question is not so much “What are you passionate about?” The question is “What are you passionate enough about that you can endure the most disagreeable aspects of the work?”

The Writing Stick Conference

Writing Stick Conference, June 2017. I met wonderful authors, and academics at this event.

The University of Alberta hosted this conference on June 8-10th to foster conversations on editing and publishing Indigenous stories and connecting writers.

From left to right: myself, Eleanor Cowan (writer), Gina Guiboche (First Nations, Inuit & Metis Program Director for Burman University & her colleague, Patsy Glatt (Assistant Professor, English).

How are we connected? The first academic I contacted when I started Women Warriors was Gina. On April 14th, 2015 she emailed:

“As you know government does like quantitative statistics.  If you could supply your submission with current health statistics from local first nation and Metis community health offices and data from the 2006 Census that would be a great start.  Also let them know how you intend to measure the participant progress to demonstrate how the program you are offering will measure how the ladies are making an improvement in their health.  ie: heart rate, resting heart rate, blood pressure, increase in stamina and length of exercise, blood sugar measures, etc.”

Two years later and we finally met. I’m happy to announce I took her advice and I asked the diabetes nurse to help me collect blood pressure, weight, and measurements from all the participants. We have two years of health data from the program, some of it unusable because we didn’t have ethics approval for the early data, but still interesting because some of the participants are still with us and ask me for their measurements from the first day.

Writing Stick Speaker Richard Van Camp

He’s a masterful storyteller from Fort Smith, NWT and a member of the Dogrib (Tlicho) Nation. It was my first time witnessing his artistry. I was in awe. Every word, action and vocal tone was magic. He told a story about his Aunt attending a Sundance in which there was an alien encounter with the “Sky People.” Years later on her first date with her future husband, they realized they had both been at that Sundance. They were connected through an event and fate had brought them together.

I’d like to relate Richard’s story with how I  connected with my guests on the podcast.

  1. Stephanie Harpe – We met at the Indigenous Women’s Traditional Gathering in Cold Lake, May 2016.
  2. Heather Abbey – We met at the World Indigenous Business Forum in Saskatoon, August 2016
  3. Tunchai Redvers – We’ve never personally met, but I’ve known of her through my connections in Yellowknife.
  4. Devon Fiddler – We met at Lakeland College, Lloydminster at a business event, February 2016.
  5. Tenille Campbell – We met at the World Indigenous Business Forum in Saskatoon, August 2016.
  6. Karen Pheasant – We met when she hosted an event I organized called the National Day of Action  – Indigenous Women: The Mind, Body, Spirit Connection and Intergenerational Healing.
  7. Helen Knott – We met at the Girls Action Foundation Conference in Montreal, October 2015.
  8. Deanna Burgart – We met at the World Indigenous Business Forum in Saskatoon, August 2016.
  9. Marcia Mirasty – We met at the Indigenous Women’s Traditional Gathering in Cold Lake, May 2016.
  10. Caroline Cochrane – We’ve never personally met, but my dad who lives in Yellowknife has been her friend and supporter for a long time -about 15 years.

National Aboriginal Day 2017

Tomorrow we’re leaving on our annual family vacation to Yellowknife to visit my dad, Bill Enge the President of the North Slave Metis Alliance. His organization hosts an annual fish fry and organizes the entertainment for National Aboriginal Days. This year APTN is hosting the largest National Aboriginal Day Celebrations across Canada and will broadcast live from Halifax, Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto, Winnipeg, Edmonton, Vancouver and Yellowknife! Learn more on their website. Look for me – I’ll be waving to you!

Podcast Season 1 Finale with Hon. Caroline Cochrane

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The Season 1 Finale of the Women Warriors podcast features…

EP10 Caroline Cochrane on Women in Politics, Transparency in Leadership & Affordable Housing

Fostering Indigenous women leaders and building our participation in politics, and policymaking is an absolute must if we are to prosper in Canada. “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.” (https://www.equalvoice.ca/facts.cfm). Caroline Cochrane, MLA for the Range Lake Riding and passionate advocate for women in politics holds the following portfolios for the Government of the Northwest Territories: Minister of Municipal and Community Affairs, Minister Responsible for the Northwest Territories Housing Corporation, Minister Responsible for the Status of Women, & Minister Responsible for Addressing Homelessness.

Her previous work for 20 years in the non-profit sector, her role as a Metis woman, mother, daughter, and troubled youth has all contributed to her unique perspective as a politician and advocate for transparency in leadership.

On today’s episode Caroline shares her motivation for entering politics, barriers for women in politics, her views on transparency in government, her plan for addressing homelessness and affordable housing, and the most rewarding part of her job.

“The biggest barrier for women is ourselves. Self-esteem is huge. We’ve been socialized throughout our life as women to be humble, to not put forward our strengths – if we look too strong it’s seen as aggressive. We have a lot of barriers that society has put on us, and that’s our biggest enemy.” Caroline Cochrane on women entering politics

As the first Season of the Women Warriors podcast draws to a close I humbly ask for feedback by clicking on this Survey Monkey Link. All the feedback is anonymous and I appreciate your honesty!

I’ve enjoyed creating the Women Warriors podcast, and I have learned many lessons from all my inspiring guests.

I will be taking a summer break and enjoying time with my family. If you enjoyed the content of this podcast please do me a favour and leave a review on ouriTunes account!

If you have any comments or suggestion please contact Shelley Wiart on the following platforms:
Twitter / Facebook / YoutubeEmail

There is still time to support Season 2 by joining our Women Warrior community on Patreon, a crowdfunding website.  I’m lining up more amazing Indigenous women to share their stories for Season 2! Your support will help pay for the many costs associated with a podcast.

Important information about Patreon:
1) It is an American site meaning your pledge is in USD only!
2) Your credit card will be processed immediately on your first pledge, then the first of the month after that.

Thank you so much for supporting the empowerment podcast for Indigenous Women!