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Sihtoskâtowin ᓯᐦᑐᐢᑲᑐᐃᐧᐣ Circle – All Indigenous People are Equal Participants in Calgary’s Future

On August 10th, two staff from Calgary Learns were blessed with the opportunity to visit and learn on the land at the Brown Bear Woman Cutural Centre at Tsuutʼina  First Nation. The Enough for All Indigenous Advisory Committee and VCC put together this Indigenous learning opportunity.

Below is a reflection of the event from Berniece Gowan, Literacy Specialist.

Submitted photo

It is a heat wave, the grass is dry, the sky hazy and the sound of the poplar leaves rustling in the wind has a late summer tone. It is the first large in-person gathering I have attended in over 2 years. I am beyond the west edge of sprawling Calgary, and from the moment I got lost on the ring roads and motorway extensions, I am carrying both anticipation and anxiety.

The Enough for All Indigenous Advisory Committee (IAC) hosted a day of on-the-land learning at the Brown Bear Woman Cultural Centre, on land known as the Tsuut’ina 145 reserve. The Brown Bear Woman Cultural centre was founded by Bruce and Deanna Starlight. We spent the morning with Deanna and her sons as they led us through narrative and activities that build a path to learning and understanding the Tsuut’ina culture better. 

 In the afternoon, the IAC led us through a ‘challenge mapping exercise’. The exercise invited us to dive into goal 3 of the Enough for All strategy, All Indigenous People are equal participants in Calgary’s future, and to examine the systemic (and other) barriers that prevent Indigenous People from being equal participants in Calgary’s future. To paraphrase, we were asked to reflect on and discuss three questions: 1) why that goal matters, 2) what prevents Indigenous People from being equal participants and 3) what gets in the way of me/us as individuals being more actively involved in taking action to further this reconciliation.

As someone who has worked in the non-profit world for all of my adult life, I strongly believe that this goal matters and I have an understanding of the systemic barriers. The third question, what gets in the way for me, was uncomfortable. And one I have asked myself many times over the years. I recognize that working to understand the settler history of Canada and its impact on Indigenous peoples causes me, a settler, to feel great shame. I also realize that being stuck in shame immobilizes me from stepping deeper into the conversation and taking action. I acknowledge my fear of making mistakes by stepping in, of being another settler who gets it wrong and who doesn’t belong in the circle… that entrenches my feeling of shame as well. And, I know that it is my settler privilege that permits me to feel as though I have a choice to act.

On one of the sticky notes I wrote: I need to think about ‘stepping in’ from the perspective of knowing that I am already IN, that this is a shared history – not ‘their history’ vs ‘my history’- and that it is necessary for me to consider and then act, respectfully and meaningfully participating in and supporting change. 

I was reminded that my work begins with my community, that it is up to me to share what I am learning, what I am questioning, what puzzles me, what binds me to old ways of thinking, being and doing. That the burden of increasing awareness of truth and history and moving towards reconciliation must not sit solely on the hearts and shoulders of Indigenous peoples. As settlers, our work is our work. 

As the day closed we were asked to consider 3 things – what rocked us, what will stick with us and propel us forward and what we will leave behind. What rocks me is the intentional generosity, the extended invitation to participate in knowledge and cultural sharing and the hope that I/we will respect what we learn by coming ‘unstuck’ and accepting the responsibility of working together toward equity and equality with and for Indigenous peoples. What sticks with me is the challenge I have with being afraid of not belonging and of making a mistake (compounding historical mistakes), that somehow I have to get it right before I even begin. It was very provocative and helpful to have that latter reframed for me as a deeply colonial way of thinking – that we all make mistakes and we can learn from them and we step differently the next time, and we learn from that too. That is how a path is made. Finally what do I leave behind? I arrived carrying anticipation and anxiety – I leave behind ‘giving myself permission not to be more engaged’. I know I will still struggle, but that struggle is mine and there are other people in my life and in my community that I can share this struggle with and we will walk together.

Thank you to Deanna Starlight and sons, to the IAC (Tim Fox, April Bellgarde, Theodora Warrior, JC Alook, Doreen Williams, Buddie Dixon, Jaclyn Silbernagel and Lee Stevens) and to Vibrant Communities Calgary for hosting and facilitating this powerful day.

As I arrive back at my desk this morning I find this timely article in my inbox:

5 ways settler-led nonprofits can support Indigenous communities

In preparation for the day in an effort to provide context and begin establishing a space of curiosity and openness, we were sent the following links

Article: Settlers with Opinions 

Short clip: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-7UzCGXn__A

Image provided by Theodora Warrior

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