Prairie River Reconciliation Committee met via Zoom for their monthly meeting on September 15 from 9:00 – 11:00 am. Gilbert Kewistep, the cultural advisor for the committee offered a prayer before the meeting opened asking for the safety of the children returning to school, that the meeting would be a good one from which the members could move forward in good ways.
Amanda Dodge acted as facilitator for the business part of the meeting and related that Jamie Yuzicappi, the Community Engagement Coordinator with the Dakota Dunes Community Development Corporation, sent a reminder that the deadline for CDC grant application is September 30. The meeting then moved to nominations for the two vacant positions for the Tri-Chair. PRRC is unique in that the duties of Committee Chair are shared between three members, each elected for a two-year term. To be considered for one of the chair positions, nominees need to be members of the committee for at least one year and have shown an active participation in the activities of the Committee. Nominations were accepted from the floor with Chief Tricia Sutherland and Tracey Grand Maison being nominated. No further nominations came forward and thus Chief Sutherland and Tracey Grand Maison were elected by acclimation. The position of treasurer is still vacant, but Amanda informed the Committee that she was in discussions with Affinity Credit Union and hoped that perhaps someone in their Community Development office might be able to bring the necessary skills to the Committee.
The next part of the meeting was devoted to the discussion about community education. The “main objectives of this committee are building strong relationships for a long-term commitment to reconciliation, and education”- education for the committee, for the organizations represented on the committee and the communities represented. The annual conference met the requirement for community education as a first step, but COVID-19 has made in-person conferences impossible at this time. So, how is the committee to meet the objective of community education? A good discussion ensued about different things that could be done and some of the recommendations from committee members were as follows: lunch ‘n’ learn educational events which could be rebroadcast or recorded so that those not able to watch live can watch at another time, connect with other reconciliation groups in the province and share the cost of cutting edge speakers to host an online event (perhaps residential school survivors and non-First Nations who have also lost language and culture), Sept 30 - Orange Shirt Day is another avenue for things that could be shared on the PRRC Facebook page or on community pages (one such event is Every Child Matters offered free from the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation, another is Wicihitowin Indigenous Engagement Conference). Annie Baptiste recommended connecting to the person in charge of social media within the Saskatoon Reconciliation group who could give guidance on how to share things meaningfully on social media. Ultimately, it must be up to each member to consider and address educational options within their home community. Kristen Johanneson of SREDA, volunteered to be the committee’s educational resource person.
The educational portion of the committee meeting was facilitated by Charmain Laroque and involved the discussion and contemplation of the first two episodes of “Elder in the Making”. Producer/Director Chris Hsiung is a Chinese-Canadian Calgarian, who questioned how it was possible to have such levels of poverty as he saw the first time he visited a reserve between Calgary and Banff, “in the middle of a land of wealth”. He admits that like many Canadians his grasp of history is superficial at best and determines to learn more. His guide and facilitator in this educational quest is Cowboy Smithx, a Blackfoot filmmaker from the Piikani and the Kainai Nations in southern Alberta.
Episode 1 opens with a panoramic view of the Calgary skyline. Chris admits that he knows little of history. In school it seemed to be merely a memorization of dates, but when you look at it history can show us that we really haven’t changed, that we are making the same mistakes and really travelling the same path while hoping to reach a new destination. Cowboy does not match up with any of Chris’ preconceived notions and on his Twitter profile, Cowboy identifies as an elder in the making which peaks Chris’ interest and curiosity. The term elder implies wisdom and knowledge, and Chris asks himself how elders fit in our society what is their current role. Cowboy agrees to accompany Chris on his journey to discover the real history of southern Alberta, especially the Indigenous one.
“Both of us are foreigners. Foreigners to our heritage and our home.” Chris and Cowboy both grew up here in Canada, but Chris’ parents came from Taiwan and a culture he knows little of, while Cowboy is a foreigner in his own home, living “a modern nomadic life on Turtle Island cut off from his heritage through assimilation.” Cowboy decided to become an “elder in the making” reconnecting with the land, his culture, his identity. “You really have to take yourself out of your livingroom and get out here to the land and talk to the land, hear the land, feel the land, let it affect you. Open yourself up to it, that’s what I’m realizing now in this journey, this decision to be this elder in the making.”
Chris states, “I’ve been asked many times how the journey of Elder in the Making got started. The simple answer is curiosity. Curiosity about an acknowledgement and a date: September 22, the day the Treaty 7 was signed.”
Elder in the Making is my personal way of exploring the forces of history large and small that has led us to where we are now. It is an invitation for you to connect with a rich and diverse aboriginal culture that has much to share about our home and about our relationship with the land.
The film is only a small start on a long road of reconciliation. Below you will find other ways to engage such as face-to-face workshops, educational material, and resources. Reconciliation is a multi-generational affair that requires an on-going repair and renewal of a relationship with the people that helped build our country.
Throughout the series, Cowboy serves as a teacher to Chris, educating him to the stereotypes which evolved from Hollywood, and the reality that First Nations people experienced. He shares with Chris that to him, an elder is someone of value in the community, not the romanticized version of a “shaman” who heals people. At the end of the first episode Chris voices a conclusion that unfortunately many people still don’t get, Canada’s past is not squeaky clean. The stories he is hearing he says he associated more with “slavery in the United States or segregation in South Africa than with peace loving Canada”, but as much as we would like to believe that we as a society have treated others, whether they be black, Asian, white but from a different culture, or Indigenous, with compassion and equality that is not true, we just weren’t as open about it. Still today racism exists to a far larger degree than many are aware, it is just usually more covert than overt.
Chris concludes in Episode 2 that “history is more about how we want to be seen today rather that how it really was. It is like our memory, we burnished the triumphant moments and hide the ugly ones.” The “history told here is incomplete and doesn’t explain what happened to the five nations of southern Alberta so we have to dive deeper in the history of the land and the people who lived here before we can begin to understand the present.”
To watch these first episodes and hopefully all the rest, all the episodes are available for viewing on youtube.com, just search Elder in the Making.
Carol Baldwin, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Wakaw Recorder