Sharing my insights about reconciliation, the land, and healing.
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 College, Alice 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 podcast told 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.
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 Day by 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.
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