By Angela Bellegarde, Our Kids Network Indigenous Lead
Have you ever thought about the name you were given? Is there a story behind how you came to have your name? What about the children, youth, and families you work with? Do you think about the significance of their names? For many Indigenous people, our naming story is one of the most important stories that form our identity. Indeed, how we receive our name is important to everyone. For many Indigenous people, the story of how we received our name and what our name means is very important to our individual identity and shapes our place in the world. Indeed, how we all receive our name is important to every person, Indigenous and non-Indigenous.
Some of you may think I am referring to my traditional Indigenous name – the name I received as an adult in sacred ceremony. I choose to not share my traditional name widely, but some Indigenous people prefer to be known by their Indigenous name. This choice is significant to them, to their family, and to their community. Many Indigenous people also indicate the name of their people, such as Anishnaabeg or Cree, when introducing themselves. Pay attention when you hear them pronounce their Indigenous name, the name of their people, and their First Nation. They are sharing an important part of who they are with you. Learn how to pronounce these names properly. Ask them to repeat their name if you need to. Say it out loud. Be courageous and take the step to learn.
It’s important to note that not all Indigenous people have been honored with their Indigenous name. Colonialism has interfered with this traditional practice. Some of us were taken from our communities and families and we are still searching for who we are.
We often indicate the name of our First Nation in our introductions. You will hear me say that I am a band member of Peepeekisis Cree First Nation. There is a lot of Canadian Indigenous history wrapped up in those four words. I recently met with a community partner who used her historical knowledge of my reserve to set the tone of our meeting. It was wonderful. Have you thought this way about the name of your workplace, home, and community? Not the traditional Indigenous name but the current name being used? What does “Halton” mean to you?
Reclaiming our names
The government changed our names at the time of treaty signing, and religious and government-appointed administrators at residential schools Christianized our names. This is well documented. In fact, Call to Action number 17 addresses these facts by calling on the government to waive administrative costs for those who want to reclaim their names. Think about this for a moment. What would you do? This is the dilemma that my uncles and aunties are contemplating now. Their current names have come to mean just as much to them as the traditional names that were changed.
Nicknames and movie stars
The importance of nicknames for Indigenous people cannot be understated. For some Indigenous people, a nickname is the only name they are known by. When people ask who my father was, I must identify him by his nickname and his given name.
I love the moment of realization when I meet someone who knew my father by his nickname. It means they knew him when he was young, and as a player on the notorious Lebret Indians hockey team. In those days, nicknames meant you belonged to the team, even if it was “Team Residential School”. Having a nickname still means that you are accepted and acknowledged by your peers and, to us, are part of a family within an oppressive system.
Let me name drop a little and tell you about the time I met Hollywood actor, the late Gordon Tootoosis at a powwow my father and I attended. I was star struck as he greeted my dad with a thundering “Jojo!”, my father’s nickname. Gordon knew Brad Pitt, for heaven’s sake, but I was in awe of his many references to our people. “Skin is here. Did you see Skin? I heard Cannonball wasn’t well. Have you heard anything?” he queried. Skin? Cannonball? Who were these people and how did they get those names? Their nicknames were their stories and I cherished the times when my dad shared these moments of our history with me. These stories also provided insight into his time at residential school, something he didn’t speak much about.
More than just a name
The name on my birth certificate is the name I’m writing about today. There is a history to my name that tells you where I’m from, who my people are, and my place in this world. When meeting other Indigenous people for the first time, our names will be the starting point for conversation.
When I lived in Alberta, people knew that I was from Saskatchewan because of my last name. “Bellegarde. A cousin from next door over, eh?” In turn, I know an Indigenous person from Alberta by their usually, very descriptive last names given to them by government agents: Weaseltallow, Littlebear, Shotonbothsides…Alberta Indigenous people for sure.
My children know their name stories and we talk about them frequently. I have taught them that when they are asked their name, they are to say it loud and clear. This is meaningful and is a part of Canada’s history. All our names are.
I encourage you to spend some time thinking about your name. What is its origin story? What about the names of your clients? Have they anglicized their names because it’s easier to apply for employment or be accepted in the community? Were they given a different name at birth than the one they have now? What does that mean to them? Knowing a person’s name is an opportunity to learn about them and who they are. Use your clients’ names as often as possible when meeting together. This acknowledges their whole being.
Chelsea Vowel (BEd, LLB) is a Métis writer and educator from Lac Ste. Anne, Alta., currently doing her graduate studies in Edmonton. Mother to six girls, she co-hosts the Indigenous feminist sci-fi podcast Métis in Space and is the author of Indigenous Writes: A Guide to First Nations, Métis & Inuit Issues in Canada.
By Karen Majerly, Communications at Work and Beth Williams, Our Kids Network Communications Manager
As we carry on into October with managing the return to school – and work for some of us – in person or virtually, you can probably use a few more trusty tools to help families as they grapple with these uncertain circumstances. Now is the perfect time to get familiar with the resources on the Our Kids Network website – all there to support your vital work with Halton children, youth, and families.
Strengthening the capacity of the professional community
Let’s start with the centre of it all – the Our Kids Network community. As a collective impact network, OKN builds the capacity of community organizations that support children and their families. You are likely already familiar with OKN’s vision: All children and youth thrive! Be sure to review the full explanation of OKN’s renewed mission and role to fully understand how the network builds capacity in the professional community.
As a professional working with children and youth, you might know that OKN conducts and shares research, develops resources to help you achieve your goals, and brings people together to achieve collective impact. Collaboration and knowledge-sharing among organizations means everyone across the region – including you – is supported in their work toward the Halton 7, the ideal living conditions we want for kids and families.
Using data to plan and improve programs and services
Our Kids Network collects and shares research on what children and youth need to thrive. This trusted information can support your day-to-day work and planning. Visit the Research Resources section on the website to find a range of community reports, survey results, and planning tools that include neighbourhood-level data.
Make this your first stop to learn more about your neighbourhood and municipality, as well as how to interpret and use data to best plan and deliver services.
Upgraded Data Portal
OKN website users like you report that the new Data Portal 2.0 makes it even easier to find the data you need, then customize it to make your own maps, charts, and graphs.
The DP 2.0 contains Halton data from the 2003-18 Early Development Instrument survey, Kindergarten Parent Survey, and Tell Them From Me (TTFM) / OurSCHOOL survey, and includes the most recent health and Canada Census data.
Also in the Research Resources section, you can learn about the frameworks and strategies OKN uses to guide its work and support alignment.
One of these key elements is the Asset-Building Framework. And at the heart of asset-building sits meaningful relationships – the key to OKN’s and your work.
Visit the Building Relationships section to learn more about Developmental Assets and Family Assets, and definitely explore the popular Asset-Building Toolkit, full of information and inspiration to help you bring positive child and youth development into your own practice and work environment. In the Facilitator’s Library, you’ll find tools to help you present workshops such as “Everyone’s an Asset-Builder,” and conduct informative meetings to educate families.
Enhancing understanding of Indigenous Reconciliation
Explore the informative information available to help you increase your own and others’ understanding of Indigenous history and perspectives. Expand your own Indigenous literacy – an understanding of the culture, context, and rights of Indigenous people and the relationship between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples – and then share what you’ve learned with your colleagues and clients.
You may be particularly interested in viewing examples of Indigenous Land Acknowledgements and learning about how to determine territorial lands.
Take advantage of the OKN community and resources
You’re part of a community of organizations, agencies, and professionals across Halton that Our Kids Network strives to connect and support. Use the diverse OKN website resources to inform and inspire yourself and other professionals as you make your many positive contributions to the lives of young people and their families.
Thank you for your efforts and please reach out with your comments, questions, and ideas.
By Angela Bellegarde, Our Kids Network Indigenous Lead
What do Orange Shirt Day and shiny new shoes have in common?
For many of us, pandemic or not, the beginning of a new school year is marked with the ritual of purchasing new clothes. Phyllis Webstad is the founder of Orange Shirt Day. Her grandmother bought her a new orange shirt to wear on her first day of Indian residential school. For my aunt, the excitement of wearing shiny new shoes to school was only eclipsed by finally being in school with her big brothers and sister. The thrill of starting school in new clothes didn’t last long. The children had their new clothes taken away as soon as they arrived for their very first day of school.
I often identify myself as a fourth generation Residential School Survivor.
A stretch in some people’s eyes, given I didn’t actually attend residential school. In a recent conversation with one of my aunts, I was reminded that my Mooshum, my great grandfather, was identified as the twelfth person to be enrolled at Lebret Indian Residential School in Saskatchewan. My grandparents and my father attended that same school, and I have had the privilege to learn first-hand about residential school from two generations before me. Our family has a long history with the Residential School System and I am still coming to terms with the long-term effects of this as I parent my own children. I guess this is why the impact of the residential school experience is called “intergenerational trauma”. It doesn’t skip a generation.
If you think about it we all tend to parent in the way we were parented. I grew up in a fairly rigid household. My father wasn’t parented by his parents for most of his life. He was raised in a system that denied him his identity and culture. I was raised with similar rigidity and values. Rules had to be followed or punishment ensued. Being on time meant being at least ten minutes early. My sister and I had many rules about how we could dress and how long our hair could be. We had to play sports – team sports preferred – and there was no getting out of it. While other kids were enjoying Easter break, my sister and I were at softball camp getting ready for the season, but only after we had attended all the religious ceremonies associated with Easter. As a parent, I now look back on my childhood and can understand why following rules was so important to my father.
But I didn’t always get it. I think about the way my father always walked with his toes up in the air. It looked odd. He told me it was because the floors were cold at residential school and you had to walk with as little of your foot on the ground as possible. I didn’t believe him. I didn’t believe his stories.
Stop and think about the children in your life for a minute.
Can you imagine the government taking them away from you, often with the threat of incarceration if you did not let them go to a school that might be days away? My auntie was so excited to be with her siblings. When pressed to discuss though, she explained that she was able to see her big sister in the halls once in a while, and sometimes her brothers on Sundays after mass, if there was a sporting event. She shared a dormitory with many other little girls away from their parents for the first time. She told me with a sad smile, “Reality set in that first night, but that was the way it was. You didn’t question it.”
So maybe you too can see why I didn’t get it. I We simply cannot imagine our children not being able to share in the rituals of bedtime stories and cuddles, or not having their siblings at their side to comfort them. The Residential School System was an implement of the Canadian government which was determined to methodically “take the Indian out of the child”. This seems unbelievable to us today. We cannot imagine not having the right to question government policy and the elected officials who represent us in Ottawa.
And in some ways the system worked. My father’s and my family do not speak our mother-tongue language, Cree. The same is true with spiritual practices, but we are revitalizing this aspect of our lives as best we can.
I am sharing with you the TRUTH in Truth and Reconciliation. Perhaps you are thinking the same thing I did when I listened to my father’s residential school stories. Everyone has a ”I had to walk to school and back in 40 degree below weather uphill both ways” story. I began to understand the scope of the atrocities of Canada’s Residential School System right around the time I took my first Indigenous Studies course in university. I was in my twenties before I really began to comprehend my own family’s long history with Canada’s education system. I apologized to my father. I knew then that his stories were true and I regret that I only came to this realization after learning about the traumatic impact of residential schools in a Euro-centric institution of higher learning.
I have come to realize that my family primarily shares fond memories of their time at Lebret Indian Residential School.
They are reluctant to speak about the difficult times. My aunts and uncles talk about how they learned to play musical instruments, the championships won in hockey and basketball, and that they were able to wear their own clothes on Sundays. It is astounding to me that all of my dad’s siblings went on to post-secondary education. Indeed, many of the graduates of Lebret Indian Residential School went on to varied and interesting careers such as NHL scouts and actors in some of Hollywood’s biggest films.
Upon reflection of my family’s experiences, I realize that in order to survive at residential school, and to cope with the awful memories, it helps to look on the bright side of things. The positive stories I hear mask their unfathomable painful experiences. Going too much beyond fond memories takes gentle and careful prodding. Laughter is used to nudge those difficult memories to the surface.
Playing team sports was required, but it also meant it might be the only time you could interact with a sibling. Being on a team meant you belonged and had support of team mates in the classroom and dormitories. If you learned that your little brother was being bullied, you took care of it on the ice or the field. Being part of the choir meant you might be able to leave the school premises to sing at a neighbouring church. If you were deemed intelligent enough, the priest could arrange for you to further your education. It is clear from these stories that Indigenous people did not have control over their own lives. Some would argue, we still don’t.
Without the truth, reconciliation will not be realized in a meaningful way.
All Canadians bear the burden of the truth of the harm and trauma caused by Canada’s Residential School System. If you don’t think it affects you because you are not Indigenous, I encourage you to continue learning about Truth and Reconciliation. There are excellent, free courses available such as the University of Alberta’s Indigenous Canada program.
We are all interconnected in some way. Reconciliation is important for all Canadians and without the truth, reconciliation will not be realized in a meaningful way.
On Sept 30, wear an orange shirt. This is a day to be a good ally, remember those who were taken by the Residential School System and commit to learning more about the truth. Help carry the burden and build a better future for Canada.
This blog has been edited for accuracy (paragraphs 7 & 8) and republished.
Introduction by Angela Bellegarde, Our Kids Network Indigenous Lead
Raven Sutherland is Plains Cree and Saulteaux from Lake St. Martin First Nation in Manitoba, currently living in Ontario. Upon learning that Raven is a competitive jingle dress dancer, I invited her to write a blog on this entrancing cultural art form to help OKN celebrate National Indigenous History Month. She has been dancing for more than 10 of her 20 years at seasonal and competitive powwows.
As a recent graduate from the Conestoga College Advertising and Marketing Communications Program, Raven plans to integrate inclusivity, emotion, and empowerment into her work.
The Jingle Dress Dance: Self-expression and Healing
By Raven Sutherland, Jingle Dress Dancer
The jingle dress dance comes from the Ojibwe people in Ontario and is known to be a healing dance. As Indigenous people, we believe in the healing of this medicine.
I was called to the jingle dress dance at a very young age and have now been a jingle dancer for over 10 years. For me, dancing means healing, love, and the honour of carrying on such an important gift given to us by the Creator. In learning the dance, I was taught that you dance for the ones who can’t; for the ones whose culture was stolen; and for the ones who are sick. Jingle dancing is a very meaningful art form that dancers put all of themselves into. It is a part of my identity and a huge part of reclaiming my culture, because I am an intergenerational survivor of the Sixties Scoop.
What I love about the regalia we wear for powwow dancing, is how different they all are. That’s because our regalia is a form of self-expression and represents who you are as a person. Some designs, colours and feathers are passed down from generation to generation. Others are created by dancers to express themselves.
My regalia focuses on the colour purple because I have always been drawn to that colour. I want my regalia to be bright, colourful and something I feel beautiful and proud wearing. My mom and I design all of my outfits together and I often have a vision of what I want it to look like before I come to her with an idea. Creating regalia can be healing for many people and brings families together.
Modern day jingle cones and lids are sewn onto dresses by Indigenous dancers. The jingles sound like rain and they carry the prayers up to the creator. Traditionally, there are supposed to be 365 jingles on a dress; one for every day of the year. While you sew your dress, you should be thinking good thoughts and prayers.
Petitioners can give the jingle dancers tobacco to pray for them, or for something specific. A particular song and dance will be dedicated to the person who gives the tobacco.
One common question I hear is “Can I attend a powwow if I’m not native?” The answer is yes, of course! We welcome everyone from all walks of life to come and experience our culture. There are plenty of “powpow 101” resources online. Do some research before you attend or if you’re unfamiliar with the dances. A word about powwow etiquette: please never touch or pull on a dancer’s regalia or take a picture without their permission. Each dancer has a personal and spiritual connection to their regalia that must be respected.
So come and join us at powwow, have an open mind, and enjoy our traditional food, song, drumming and dances. It is an amazing experience and an educational opportunity for you and your children.
By Angela Bellegarde, Our Kids Network Indigenous Lead
On Sunday, many of us will be celebrating Father’s Day. Some of you will be enjoying a beautiful day reading a great book, by an Indigenous author, of course (#Indigenousreads). For Indigenous people in Canada, June 21 is a very special day: National Indigenous Peoples Day.
National Indigenous Peoples Day has been a long time coming and is now a day devoted to celebrating the unique and distinct culture and heritage of Indigenous people all across Canada. June 21 is also the Summer Solstice and, as such, is a traditional day of spiritual ceremony and celebration for Indigenous peoples.
This year coming together to celebrate will look very different for us. Rather than feeling the beat of the pow wow drum deep in my heart, I will have to celebrate with virtual and televised events. For me, it will also be a day of reflection on how far National Indigenous Peoples Day has come as a significant day of observance and celebration in Canadian culture.
I look back fondly to the late 1990s, when my sister and her husband were living in a very non-Indigenous suburb of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan! This particular neighbourhood was newly developed and had expensive homes backing onto a large lake with walking trails. It was the central gathering spot for the community.
My brother-in-law decided that June 21 would be a great day to introduce his family to the neighbours. He arranged to have a tipi erected by the lake and ensured there was bannock and jam for us to share. He welcomed their non-Indigenous neighbours, and we relaxed and talked together all evening. It was wonderful! Everyone was so inquisitive and grateful for the opportunity to enter an actual tipi, and the questions were respectful and genuine.
I never let this special day go by without a celebration (even a quiet one) of some kind. This year, in addition to all the events happening on the internet, I intend to take a walk (physically distancing of course), on the Moccasin Trail in the Town of Oakville and give thanks for being Indigenous.
By Angela Bellegarde, Our Kids Network Indigenous Lead
Have you had a conversation with a child or youth about racism?
It would be difficult not to if you have a school-aged child or youth in your life. It’s a daily conversation in my home these days. While trying to encourage my 10-year-old to continue with her Grade 5 studies in order not to be a middle school drop-out adding to the number of Indigenous people who do not complete high school, I learned she has been watching Black Lives Matter demonstrations and protests on social media. She has a hard time explaining how to add fractions, but she can show me how to signal if she needs a helmet in a demonstration or how to escape riot police.
My 14-year-old son has some pretty strong views too. I asked him how to make an Instagram post all black to show my support for the Black Lives Matter protests and he argued against it. Not because he doesn’t support the movement, but because he feels people are jumping on a band wagon. He questions whether people are doing what seems easy or are they actively advocating in their lives every day. “Wow,” I thought, “I think I might be doing something right as a parent.”
I have a sense of what my kids are thinking about when it comes to racism, because I have these conversations with my kids regularly. To be sure, they are tough talks. As an Indigenous mother, it can be heartbreaking, but I do not have the luxury of choice. My kids are Indigenous in Canada. I have to ensure that they have the tools to deal with inevitable racism.
How do I start discussing systemic racism?
My children were so excited to receive their Registered Indian cards in the mail. The fact that they are Registered Indians, as defined by the Government of Canada’s Indian Act – systemic legislation designed to assimilate and civilize the Indian – seemed like great place to start. It’s not like Mom hasn’t rained on their parade before.
So, I started with the Pass System. Notice how “system” is right there in the name. Systemic racism should be easy to spot, really. Canada’s Pass System required any Indian wanting to leave the reserve – for any reason – to ask permission of the “Indian Agent”. In fact, almost all activities required permission from the Indian Agent. My children’s Kokhum (grandmother) had her own experience with this person. “The Indian Agent sure was mad when your Mooshum and I got married”, she told my kids. “Your Mooshum didn’t ask for permission to marry me. Good thing we didn’t get married on the reserve. It may not have happened!”
I have also only touched on the Residential School System with my kids. These topics must be presented in small doses, and as necessary. Children can easily be overwhelmed with such heart-breaking information and need time to digest it.
Unfortunately, I have to speak to my children about the racism they will encounter at school, in sports, and with friends, and also with well-meaning non-Indigenous people in their lives. If I had a Loonie for every time I heard “But you don’t look like an Indian. I think you mean to say you are Metis.” when I was growing up… Well I’d rather not think about that number right now. It didn’t take me long to learn that explaining the fact that I was a Registered Status Indian and band member of Peepeekisis First Nation, wouldn’t get me far with non-Indigenous parents and teachers who felt the need to set me straight on who I am. As a child, I always wondered why I was the one teaching them. They were the adults.
My son, who is very proud to be Indigenous, wears his identity on his sleeve. Literally. He recently did a peer to peer exchange with youth from Attiwapiskat First Nation in northern Ontario through Hockey Cares. You might recall hearing about Attiwapiskat in the news a few years back. The community realized a cluster of suicides and called on the Federal government to provide adequate mental health services.
The youth in Attiwapiskat gave out ball caps and hoodies with their community crest and the words “Proud to be Native” as gifts. I beam with joy to see my son wearing these items. As a kid growing up on the prairies, I knew that identifying yourself as a First Nations person could be dangerous. It still is actually, when we remember Coulton Boushie, the young Indigenous man who was killed by a white farmer in rural Saskatchewan.
Back to my son. He endured a racial incident with his friends this winter. I found him sobbing in his room one day. A visceral sob that I recognized. He was in pain. A pain that a mother’s kiss wouldn’t fix. Apparently a virtual game he was playing with friends got heated. Words were exchanged. None of them good, including my son’s. It got to the point where my son was told, “Go back to Residential School and get (insert word for sexual assault).” I never learned about Indigenous people in school, yet I went to a high school surrounded by First Nations reserves. Not one teacher, nor topic in the curriculum, was Indigenous. I also never thought that this current generation, now learning the truth about how Indigenous people have suffered, would use this knowledge against us. It was a week of tough conversations in my home.
I recognize that this is my son’s story to tell and, traditionally, stories should really be told in winter. But I will say a prayer and ask for forgiveness because I think it is an important story that illustrates the importance of talking about racism with our children. You may be thinking, “My children are not racist. I know my kids.” Some of you are saying, “We are first or second generation Canadians. We know racism. We are in Canada because we left that behind.” Maybe you are saying, “This is Canada, Halton or anywhere else. Racism doesn’t happen here.” Yes, it does.
I am closing by recommending resources that I hope will help you talk about racism with children and youth. Start the conversation. It is never too early or too late. Make an effort to understand what they are thinking. Help shape their worldviews to be inclusive of all, respectful, and kind.
Take some time to explore the resources linked below and to do your own web research. The resources are there for you as to use as tools for making change.
How to change systemic racism in Canada. What does racism look like in Canada? Web series called “First Things First“, and produced by TVO, features Cindy Blackstock, executive director of the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada. She tells us the story of Jordan River Anderson and why she continues to fight the Canadian government to gain rights for Indigenous children.
What needs to change to end systemic racism in Canada towards Indigenous peoples. Anne-Marie Mediwake of CTV’s Your Morning show interviews former MKO Chief Sheila North who reacts to some Canadian politicians denying systemic racism.
How can I help? Eddy Robinson is an educator on Indigenous issues. In this TVO web series called “First Things First”, Robinson explains why asking “How Can I Help?” is not the right question.
Racism: Indigenous Perspective with Senator Murray Sinclair. How and why do the impacts of history persist? How racism is directly or indirectly manifested in our society? What are our obligations to address racism? How do we reconcile divisions created by racism? How do we directly or indirectly reinforce racism? How is racism holding us back? In this video Canadian Centre for Ethics in Public Affairs explores these questions with Senator Sinclair.
21 Things You May Not Have Known About the Indian Act. Activist and author, Bob Joseph, looks at some of the restrictions and impacts imposed on First Nations (some have since been removed in revisions of the Act).