Woman Warriors Newsletter

Being an Informed Indigenous Ally

Insights & Resources for Non-Indigenous Community Members.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Resources for being an informed Indigenous ally:

Updates on Women Warriors 

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

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

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

The Power of Mentorship

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4. What qualities make a good mentee?

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

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

6. What personal development practices do you have?

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

7. What book most impacted your life?

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