Finding Hope: Ceremony, Relationships & Reciprocity

A Story of How We Are All Connected


Dr. Lickers & I at the National Association of Friendship Centres Indigenous Innovation Summit in Edmonton, AB, November, 2016. I asked him about the types of ceremonies he practices he said, “smudging, being on the land…when you get too far away from ceremony it’s easy to get lost.”

Yesterday, after Raymond Cormier’s acquittal of second-degree murder in the death of Tina Fontaine I watched as Native Twitter erupted: Heartbreak. Grief. Sorrow. Outrage. Anger. Frustration. Disbelief.

I posted: My heart is broken for the family of Tina Fontaine. What does it take to get justice in this country for #Indigenous peoples? Where do we go from here? I’m at a loss. #JusticeforTinaFontaine

Iñupiat Alaska native artist, Tristan Morgan ‏@tristan_jpg stated:
I’m speechless. I can’t stop crying. We need justice. We need healing. We need to protect our indigenous youth, our indigenous women. The pain of #MMIW runs deep. Sending love and prayers to Tina’s family.

Only two weeks the Gerald Stanley verdict, another traumatic court ruling that devalues the lives of Indigenous youth in Canada. The Indigenous community is in a state of mourning and I’ve read many posts about the side effects of this injustice manifesting in people’s bodies and spirits.

Nahanni Fontaine, Indigenous NDP MLA for St. John’s states:
Why can’t I stop crying? Because #TinaFontaine was not only our daughter or relative stolen, defiled, murdered, bound, weighed down with rocks & tossed into a muddy river, she represents all MMIWG across Canada. And if she, as an exemplar victim, can’t get justice, who can?

Today, I have no comforting words or suggestions for fixing a broken system.

I’ve been feeling violated myself, after an incident with the Lloydminster media, and I’ve been on a social media break for my own mental health. It’s damaging to the mind, body, and spirit to sit and read about the continual heartbreak and injustice for Indigenous peoples in this country.

I’ve decided to share a story of how we are all connected and how we can lift each other up during times of despair, grief, and hardship. Finding hope is fundamental in hard times and through the following story by PhD candidate, Randi Ray and mentor profile of Dr. Michael Lickers, hope exists in ceremony, relationships, and reciprocity.

This story starts in Edmonton at the National Association of Friendship Centres Indigenous Innovation Summit, November of 2016. I met Dr. Lickers at our breakfast table and we have remained in contact ever since.

It continues with my help connecting the Arctic Indigenous Wellness Foundation (AIWF) with Indigenous researchers at the Institute for Aboriginal People’s Health (IAPH), Canadian Institute of Health Research. Dr. Lickers agreed to help me any way he could with the evaluation component of this project. On my first phone meeting between myself, the AIWF, and IAPH there was an Indigenous researcher, Randi Ray. I did not know at the time of the phone call, but she knew Dr. Lickers and asked to be on the phone call. When I relayed it to Dr. Lickers he told me a story of connection. I emailed Randi to ask about meeting Dr. Lickers and she sent me this heartwarming story.

The Gift of Mentorship by Randi Ray

Randi Ray, a member of Flying Post First Nation in Northwestern Ontario, is a PhD student at Nipissing University in education sustainability, focusing on First Nations leadership in education in Northern Ontario.

I will never forget my first encounter November 2015 with Dr. Lickers. I ended up walking into a packed presentation room during the INDSPIRE conference and decided to stand in. In a state of complete ‘awe’ afterward, I thanked the creator and spent the following hour in a corner tweaking my (then) Ph.D. proposal to reflect the curiosity that was instilled in me that day. At lunch break, I saw him getting a coffee – and decided to ask him his age. According to my calculations based on his professional and lived experience, he had to be about 102 and to be honest, I was a little confused. Dr. Lickers invited me to join his colleagues and other academics for lunch. As an aspiring Indigenous academic, I was very humbled.

At the time, I was wearing a turtle pin (the logo of the Institution that I represented). Micheal must have been intrigued by the pin I was wearing and asked for it. Without hesitation, I took it off and gave it to him. Immediately after, he asked for my address, as he was going to gift me something in exchange, reinforcing how much he truly values reciprocal relationships. Two days after, and I returned to Ontario I had a package at my door. Particularly that week, I was having a hard time personally. I opened the beautiful package of sweetgrass, semaa, smoked jarred salmon, a healing rock, and white buffalo sage. With tears of joy in my eyes, I thanked Micheal for the gift and felt the strength to overcome the barriers I was faced with at that time.

From that point on, Micheal, now Dr. Lickers has been a mentor to me throughout the past two years of my PhD journey. Although I have not seen Dr. Lickers since 2015, the relationship that we have built has motivated my academic learning and more importantly, he reminds me how important developing and maintaining reciprocal relationships is. The passion he has for his community and projects radiates through him and I am excited to see what he decides to do next – and will do whatever I can to support him on his journey.

A true role model in every sense of the term but I am grateful more than anything to have him as a friend.

This is a photo of the package Dr. Lickers (read his profile below) sent me years ago… I still have some sweetgrass. I use the pink cloth to cover my smudge bowl still, I used to smudge with my drum group and shared the smoked salmon during a bear-feast celebration in our community. Such an amazing gift.

Women Warriors Session March 2016.

Self-Care: A How-to Guide to Loving Yourself & Setting Boundaries.

It’s important to practice self-love in the midst of negativity. Here are some of the Women Warriors self-care practices.

I use my puzzles as self-care. I get lost in my own world while puzzling.Ashley

If I’m feeling overwhelmed or stressed … I take a hot bubble bath…with lots of bubbles, and play my reggaeton music, and pretend I’m somewhere hot and tropical. I also go for a drive around town with my music blasted… I need music in my life!Rita

Self-care practices that I have are taking a break from the outside world, disconnect turn off my cell unplug my home phone. Bathing with Epson salts, carrying around stones eg rose quartz and black obsidian ( cleaning them when I feel am feeling heavy) this help keep me grounded, deep breathing exercises ( breathing in white light breathing out heaviness) cleaning the house, quilting is my all time favourite quiet me time it is a time to be creative and I am able to get into a meditative state. I often hear from loved ones when sewing as I am calm and doing repetitive motions so my mind is relaxed.
Setting boundaries to keep negativity out: As a medium, I have to disconnect after readings and the first thing I do is smudge and pray. I am present in the moment of a reading and have to let it all go once the client has gone. Cutting cords with people who bring me down or are negative. I do however know that boundaries have to be worked on constantly as I am always learning and growing and boundaries can be moved with everyone in my life. I also have learned over the last few years that not all lessons are my life lessons, sometimes I am there to help others or am along for the ride while they are figuring out how to deal or not deal with the lesson. I have also tried to unseat and where the other person is coming from when they are pushing or disrespecting my boundaries and will forgive their actions not for them but for me. My mantra is Live it, Learn from it and Let it go. Lol, there are still things that still drive me nuts but I disconnect from them or the situation and focus on my family, friends and myself.Carly

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: April/May
Time: 7:00 pm -8:15 pm.
The contact person for this pilot is:
Bev Renaud
Aboriginal Community Social Worker BSW, RSW.
Calgary Neighbourhoods
The City of Calgary | email:
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 three facilitators in Calgary on March 16th/17th.
2) Onion Lake Cree Nation has obtained funding to run three sessions of Women Warriors 8 Weeks to Healthy Living on-reserve. Start date is TBA. We had a phone meeting today to discuss data security and hiring/training a facilitator.
3) I am a bi-weekly contributor to the Yellowknifer newspaper. You can view articles here.

The Power of Mentorship

Dr. Michael Lickers is a Mohawk Educator from the Six Nations of the Grand River. He has lived and worked internationally and across this country with the past 25 years being in Calgary. Dr. Lickers currently works at Suncor Energy as a Senior Advisor of Indigenous Relations and Community Development and works closely with Community Investment and the Suncor Energy Foundation. 

Dr. Lickers teaches Indigenous courses at St, Mary’s University in Calgary, ranging from Indigenous History, Indigenous Knowledge and Indigenous Knowledge Field Courses. Dr. Lickers has taught courses at the University of Calgary and internationally. With close to 30 years in the nonprofit sector, Dr. Lickers brings a unique world-view of the sector, its challenges, and possibilities. Author of several books and articles on Indigenous leadership,  youth leadership, and International Indigenous youth leadership, Dr. Lickers continues to work closely with Indigenous youth to encourage their full participation, that their voice is forthright in planning, engages in often difficult conversations and strives to inspire the next generation of leaders.

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

Great question! There have been several people that I would consider ‘mentors’ as was shared in the commentary by Helen Knott. The term mentor is equally complex; there are formal and informal mentors. When you think of the ones you thought gave the most, I would say they would have been informal. Non-formal mentors such as my Father and mother for their constant appreciation of culture and the land, my relatives (Uncle Daryl and Auntie Laurie and others) for their continued guidance with life’s questions. Elders that have been guides for me in ceremony and continue to do so, (Wata (Christine) Joseph, Gordon Twance, George Hunt Sr., Catherine Powderface, Rick Hill, Casey Eagle Speaker, Reg Crowshoe, Clifford Powderface and many others.
Formal mentors and leaders such as Rick George former CEO Suncor Energy, Cathy Glover, Director of Community Investment and the Suncor Energy Foundation, Roberta Jamieson CEO and President of Indspire, and many others that have shared their knowledge of leadership, and commitment to Indigenous communities, all shared the best of their knowledge and experiences.

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

Your family you do not choose, however they are in most cases your best mentors. They have lived a full life and can offer some of the best considerations when dealing with my personal challenges. The leaders were people that I could approach, and ask questions of and through that they became mentors with continued interactions. I mostly asked, outright if they could offer some guidance or direction if they felt comfortable mentoring me.

The Elders are people that you feel comfortable with, not all Elders will resonate with you, not all Elders have the knowledge you seek or answer to the questions, or they may not be suitable for you as a person, not yet. In my current role, I was asked to mentor a Sr. Leader, I believe because I can offer some knowledge that person seeks to understand. I also need to be aware that it involves time and commitment to do so. On the other hand, I too am being mentored, and the relationship has blossomed to a wonderful opportunity to learn, grow and understand other ways of thinking and knowing.

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

Be, do, seek to understand and encourage. I know, four but it is because I can do that…Be who you are and know that, understand yourself and what you are seeking, it is kind of like a vision quest or rite of passage. Do take the time and learn, listen (which is the most important) and share openly (which is why trust is so important). Seek to understand, that which is the question; if it is about your role, or direction, or future tasks, you need to seek to understand that before you can ask the question. Nothing is done the same way, or doing it the same way and expecting anything to change is the definition of insanity, so seek to understand so you can change. And encourage, it is not easy this life, or the tasks we have, so one of the most important lessons for me was that I felt that I was always encouraged, whether that was trying a different approach or a completely different attitude.

I would say that “active and deep listening” is a skill set that most amazing mentors have. They are not sitting there waiting for you to finish a comment or speaking so that they can tell you what great things they did…that is not mentoring. Being present, listening with your head and heart are very important, and allow the person to share what they want, most likely they will hear themselves speak and then understand what they need to do. They are honest with you about you. Moreover, there must be a certain level of trustestablished prior or in an agreement that you and your mentor agree upon verbally or in writing.

  1. What qualities make a good mentee?

As a mentee, you have done your homework, sought out a possible mentor, one you wish to be like or that has the experience you seek. Mentees want to succeed and are motivated to do so; a good mentee must commit enough time to make mentoring worthwhile. Have a positive attitude to the mentoring/mentee process, and respect the person who you have engaged. You have the willingness to learn new things, and be honest with yourself and your mentor. You can clearly communicate your thoughts and questions. I would add that as a mentee you show confidence in what you are doing and for what reason.

  1. What benefits and/or rewards have you received from mentoring?

For me personally, it has been an honour to be a mentor. It is personally satisfying and rewarding to see young people who have been part of my life, take on so many wonderful roles in their own lives. To know that you have had a small part in supporting their direction provides abundant satisfaction. To witness young people who are now in leadership roles, government, law, medicine, sciences and many other critical roles; there is no greater reward than helping others grow to reach their dreams.

  1. What personal development practices do you have?

First, ceremony is a big part of my life it is what grounds me personally. I would then say that always looking for a person who would mentor, guide, and challenge me is a personal goal. There are amazing Indigenous leaders out there that have provided opportunities for advancement in their own lives, and now reaching out to younger people to share and be mentors, seek them out as you would seek to understand.

  1. What book most impacted your life?

Ha!! Read for pleasure…has not happened in a while. I have recently completed the grueling task of a Ph.D.; the books I was reading were about leadership, Indigenous leadership, youth leadership, Indigenous youth leadership, developmental stages of youth, and methodologies. I did come across one book that took a specific interest in me…
Murphy, E. (1993). The genius of Sitting Bull: 13 heroic strategies for today’s business leaders. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.