Women Warriors Yellowknifer News Column. Printed May 30th, 2018.
I was adopted and grew up in a settler-farming town of 1000 people in Alberta named Castor. It was strange to know that I was Metis, and I had a younger adopted sister that was treaty, and never once did we attend an Indigenous cultural event or celebration in our childhood.
Back in the 80’s when I grew up, there wasn’t the effort or emphasis on keeping Indigenous children in their culture.
Last summer while I was at the Onion Lake Powwow I spied a young Mennonite couple with their adopted Indigenous son, around age 6, sitting in the bleachers. It touched my heart, as an Indigenous adoptee of caucasian settlers, that they made the effort to expose their child to his culture. I watched the boy, seated between his Mom and Dad, rapt with attention as the rhythmic beating of the drums filled the air and the kaleidoscope of color and joy exploded as the dancers entered the arena.
I believe every effort should be made to place Indigenous children with their blood family so that they can remain connected to their culture; however, if Indigenous children are placed in a loving environment with non-Indigenous parents, the best gift those parents can give their child is to attend Indigenous cultural events and celebrations.
I understand the yearning to know where you come from, and the void that comes from being without culture. When I had school projects that forced me to borrow my parent’s culture and ancestors, it never sat well with me. Borrowed ancestors are like borrowed clothes – ill fitting and never really meant for you.
As much as adopted parent’s love their child and try to give them their family history, our bodies always know it’s a false sense of identity. It’s an intuition that our blood is not their blood – that our genetic code has a spirit and sends out signals to our ancestors like a homing beacon.
What those Mennonite parents gave their Indigenous son was a sense of self that they will never understand and the ability to communicate with his ancestors through his culture. While nature vs. nurture is a great debate for many people, I know the truth in my heart how it has affected me. The part of me that was missing from childhood – knowing my family, its history, and our culture – filled a void in my spirit when I reunited with my birth family. My adopted parents could never nurture that sense of identity into me.
I was given the blessing of finding both of my birth parents later in life, my dad at 26 and my mom at 29. I was able to reconcile who I was nurtured to be with my inherent nature. I am definitely more like my dad than my mom, and I love that I have a family history with rich Metis culture and characters.
My message for non-Indigenous parents raising Indigenous children is to make every effort to allow them to connect to their culture. It will insulate them from that void of not knowing their true selves. I believe culture – especially music, dance, art, and celebrations – speaks to their deep inner knowing. They can find a part of themselves in culture without ever having met their birth family.
What brings me the greatest joy after discovering my family heritage is to share Metis culture with my girls. They love attending National Indigenous Peoples Day in Yellowknife, and they arrive at the celebration wearing their Metis sash with pride – ready to jig and eat a pile of bannock.
Furthermore, because I know who I am, they never have to doubt who they are.
I asked Megan to share her experience for the newsletter:
I presented for 15 minutes and chatted about how health initiatives for Indigenous women should be more than ‘culturally responsive’; they should be responsive to the negative impacts colonialism and sexist policies have had on their wellbeing. I presented some of the key themes which emerged from my conversations with Women Warriors over the fall. In particular, I chatted about how colonial violence, socioeconomic constraints, and personal preferences intersect to shape dietary practices. I also discussed findings which demonstrate the integral supportive roles participants play in their social networks (for example, on average participants were responsible for feeding 6 of their contacts on a weekly basis)– I think this speaks to how important it is to invest in Indigenous women’s health, as the positive impacts will likely be widely felt.
There were two plenary presentations at the conference which I liked the best. The David Suzuki Foundation invited Elder Judy Da Silva and Six Nations Elder Elva Jamieson to talk about the negative impacts of water pollution on Indigenous health. These discussions were very moving, as both Elders shared stories of their own personal experiences; Judy Da Silva is from Grassy Narrows First Nation, where the community suffers widespread mercury poisoning as a result of polluted waterways. The David Suzuki foundation has assessed that the Canadian government is NOT on track to fulfil it’s promise to get clean water to Indigenous nations. This is extremely disappointing, and I am happy that people like Judy and Elva are remaining vocal and not letting this issue be swept under the rug. I admire activists like Judy who tirelessly fight for the wellbeing of future generations, as it clearly takes this kind of dedication to make positive change. Dr. Hanna Tait-Neufeld and Elisa Levi also did a panel discussion on Indigenous Food Sovereignty which was awesome. I’ve since been reading some of Dr. Tait-Neufeld’s work on the food perceptions and concerns of Indigenous women with gestational diabetes in Winnipeg– very interesting stuff, and very relevant as I analyze the data from the fall.
Our team is very proud of Megan! She will be working hard on her thesis this summer.
Summer 2018: Indigenous Cultural Events & Museums
I’d like to share some of the Indigenous cultural events and activities I’ve done with my family over the past few summers and on our family vacations. Hopefully, these pictures and list of events serve as inspiration for your summer vacation planning.
These cultural events and museums are a reconciliation entry point. Non-Indigenous people have asked me repeatedly, “Where do I start?”
Learning the history and culture of Indigenous Peoples is the foundation of reconciliation. Start by going to a powwow, visiting a museum, attending an Indigenous art show, going to a music festival with an Indigenous artist(s), or visiting landmarks.
Pre-colonization Indigenous peoples across Canada had complex societies with rich cultures. It is through learning about their amazing feats of engineering, their diverse languages, and cultural practices and their ways of knowing that you can come to understand what has been lost. It is recognizing this loss that breed compassion. Compassion, defined by the Cambridge dictionary, “is a strong feeling of sympathy and sadness for the suffering or the bad luck of others and a wish to help them.”
Helping means taking responsibility for your own education of Canada’s colonial history and the forced assimilation of Indigenous peoples. If, by attending a cultural event you are inspired to learn more, please register for the free massive open online course, Indigenous Canada created by the University of Alberta. It takes approximately 21 hours to complete and it gives a strong foundation of Canadian history from an Indigenous perspective.
Let me reiterate that learning about the history and culture of Indigenous Canadians is not the full scope of reconciliation. It’s the beginning.
If you want to learn the true meaning of reconciliation please watch this talk,’Truth and Reconciliation in Canada: If It Feels Good, It’s Not Reconciliation’ with Pam Palmater. She is an Indigenous lawyer, author, and social justice activist. She is on my bucket list of people to meet and I admire all of her work. She is an inspiration and her talks are informative, funny and full of truths that people often fear vocalizing.
I’m currently finishing up my university course and taking the summer off to spend with my family. I will be in Yellowknife for the month of July and I’ll be writing about our fun in the Yellowknifer newspaper. I am taking a break from the newsletter this summer, and I’ll be resuming it in September. Please contact me regarding inquiries about the Women Warriors program through my email Shelley@womenwarriors.club. Thank you for your support!
Suggestions for Cultural Events and Activities
The following suggestions for Indigenous cultural events and activities were sent to me on facebook:
- Canadian Roots Exchange. CRE builds bridges between Indigenous and non-Indigenous youth in Canada by facilitating dialogue and strengthening relationships through leadership programs.
- Gabriel Dumont Institute Virtual Museum. Metis History and Culture.
- Back to Batoche 2018. An annual gathering of Métis people from all over Canada to enjoy fiddle music, jigging, and square dancing!
- Wanuskewin Heritage Park sits above Opimihaw Creek and the South Saskatchewan River near Saskatoon – a window into a part of Canada’s history that remains largely undiscovered, and a link to our past unlike any other National Historic Site in Canada.
- Blackfoot Crossing Historical Park is the Historic Site of the signing of Treaty No.7, is of National and International historical and archaeological significance. It is a designated National Heritage Site and is recommended to be a World Heritage Site.
- The Lac Ste. Anne Pilgrimage July 21st-26th. Thousands of pilgrims make their way to the shores of Lac Ste. Anne. Many come in search of healing and spiritual renewal.
- How Can Visitors Best Explore Canada’s Indigenous Culture – article from the Globe and Mail highlighting Canada wide Indigenous ecotourism and events.