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Through Laughter and Leadership, Indigenous Women Guide Us All Forward

By Bonnie Leask, Relationship Lead, Watershed Partners, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan

Reposted with permission from eaglefeathernews.com. “The March 2021 edition of Eagle Feather News was dedicated to Indigenous women. We asked several Indigenous women to write about Indigenous women. This is one of those stories.” John Lagimodiere, Editor/Publisher, Eagle Feather News

What a year it’s been. After 12 months of surviving a pandemic, just like many others I am trying to stay afloat and find a way to the other side of this hardship.

Personally, I manage difficulty through laughter. I love to have big belly laughs with my people. Laughter isn’t only a release, it creates a space for vulnerability, friendship, and kinship. Sharing laughter means that we share our experiences and provides a real opportunity to open up, learn, collaborate, and act. I am grateful to have had many incredible laughs with inspirational women from all around the world, but there’s nothing like a good laugh with First Nation, Métis, and Inuit women. Our laughter is threaded with shared and individual histories, culture, tradition, and colonial experiences. Sometimes we laugh at serious things that we shouldn’t laugh at. But what else are we going to do?

Our laughter is a seed for our kinship and brings us together during moments of joy and sadness. It gives us strength to work together to make better lives and set examples for our families, our communities, and our people.

Throughout the pandemic, I have thought about the things my grandmother, Alpha Lafond, and her generation faced. She was a residential school survivor, entered adulthood post-World War II, lived through a global call for civil rights and justice, and saw the rise of Indigenous pride in the face of colonial violence.

She faced history while bringing joy into our home and into our lives. In these times of change, women just like my grandmother played an undeniable role in collectively guiding our communities forward. And they often did so outside of formal institutions or leadership roles.

Bonnie Leask Alpha Lafond

Alphonsine Lafond, elected Chief of Muskeg Lake Cree Nation in 1960, is a role model for her granddaughter Bonnie Leask. Here she is with four of her children on election day from left, Al, George, Robert and Carol. Missing are Judy and Albert Dean.

Indigenous women have always led change. Despite their exclusion from formal institutions and leadership roles after colonization, Indigenous women led in their own ways, charging ahead with humility, respect, kindness, courage, wisdom, honesty—and yes, humour. And it’s because of these values that Indigenous women were, and continue to be, the best collaborators and leaders I have ever met.

I want to share some stories of true collaborative leaders who make change for our people without being elected into political positions. Women such as Priscilla Settee, who educates countless young people through her work in food security and governance at the university level, influenced by kinship and our cultures and traditions. She collaborates every day with people in service of building a better earth, a better Nation, and a better community. And she has a really good kokum laugh, too.

I think of Tasha Hubbard, an award-winning filmmaker, who educates people on the long-term impacts of continued colonialism. She’s relentless in her push for justice, inclusion, and honesty. She grounds her films in a holistic truth and mobilizes action by kickstarting uncomfortable conversations that engage both non-Indigenous and Indigenous peoples. Of course, she showcases some solid First Nations humour along the way.

There are so many other Indigenous women I admire, such as the late Carole Sanderson, Sylvia McAdam, Bev Lafond, Jade Tootoosis, Debbie Baptiste, Eekwol, to name a few. I admire them because of their ability to shake up the status quo and hold up a mirror of responsibility to ourselves, our Nations, and our Earth. These women lead through their values rooted in our cultures, languages, and traditions, and deeply understand that when we work together, we are stronger.

Yet so often people in our communities subscribe to a false idea that one needs to be an elected leader to be a legitimate leader. Or a serious, solemn leader. Each of these women, and many others, have meaningfully pursued change not only for themselves, but for those to come, across sectors and spaces without a formal title. Indigenous women talk. We listen. We observe. We learn. And we communicate what works and what definitely doesn’t work. We rely on each other. We share laughter while we share wisdom.

The large-scale challenges the entire world is experiencing right now are testing colonial systems that have long governed our people, community, and institutions. And guess what? Under these pressures, many of these systems are failing. This isn’t surprising, because they’ve always been at odds with our traditions, our culture, and our language.

They aren’t designed to support joy, laughter, or kinship. Instead, they enforce rigid processes and present barriers to shared progress. Being thrust into uncertainty is difficult and sometimes scary, but it also provides an opportunity for us to make real change.

And now more than ever, we need better systems. We need Indigenous women’s vocal, vulnerable, and values-driven style of leadership to get us there. And along the way, we’ll have some seriously good laughs, too—the kind of laughter that feeds the soul and makes your belly ache.

HYI Calls to Action Team’s Guide to Land Acknowledgements

Introduction

Angela G is a grade 10 student who volunteers with the Halton Youth initiative (HYI) Calls to Action team. In her blog below, she shares her thoughts on what she has learned about Land Acknowledgements to make them personal, authentic, and meaningful.  – Angela Bellegarde, Our Kids Network Indigenous lead

 

HYI Calls to Action Team’s Guide to Land Acknowledgements

 

By Angela G., Halton Youth initiative Community Builders Calls to Action team member

As youth working to advocate for Indigenous rights and immersing ourselves in Indigenous culture, it was brought to our attention that many people are unaware of how to properly put together a Land Acknowledgement.  Land Acknowledgements, one of the most important components of Indigenous Truth and Reconciliation, are often spoken at meetings or assemblies by adults and youth in various areas.

We wanted to bring attention to the fact that Land Acknowledgements should not just be spoken to check off a requirement. They should be original, and spoken from the heart, based on our true relationship with the land, and with true recognition of our Indigenous ancestors, those who live on the land today, and the Indigenous families who will come in future generations.

Based on this new-found inspiration, our HYI Community Builders Calls to Action team decided to create a website section to educate others on the importance of Land Acknowledgements and guide them along their journey in a less overwhelming way. We worked collaboratively to create a visually appealing web page containing a How-To PDF and video, helpful resources to determine whose land you’re on, and how to pronounce the treaty names; as well as Draw-My-Life videos that provide a history on a few of the Indigenous groups in the Halton Region.

Created by the Calls to Action Team of the Halton Youth Initiative, this video provides an overview of what Land Acknowledgements are, why they are important, and some tips for creating your own Land Acknowledgement.
Working together with my fellow youth and adult allies to create this platform was a really great experience. We were able to take an issue that we are passionate about, and channel all that fascination into a resource to help others become more knowledgeable on this valuable matter. Seeing all our hard work and progress come together, with the encouragement of our adult allies, was even more inspiring because it made me realize, and become conscious of, how large an impact youth can truly have on our community.

More information about the Halton Youth Initiative.

What’s in a name?

What’s in a name?

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.

Naming traditions

Mother Holding NewbornSome 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.

Read more…

Giving my children Cree names is a powerful act of reclamation | CBC News

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.

OKN resources to increase Indigenous literacy.

OKN Website supports Your Work – Discover Online Knowledge, Resources and Tools

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.

OKN homepage screenshot

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.

Relationships matter

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.

beth@ourkidsnetwork.ca

Orange Shirt Day and Shiny New Shoes… Truth and Reconciliation

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.

Four Indigenous children stand in front of a house. They are all dressed in new formal suits and dresses.
My aunt, far right, wearing her shiny new shoes, poses for a picture with her brothers and sister.

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.

The Lebret (Qu’Appelle, St. Paul’s, Whitecalf) Industrial School, (1884 – 1998) operated by the Roman Catholic Church (Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate and the Grey Nuns) from 1884 until 1973, was one of the first three industrial schools that opened following the recommendations of the Davin Report, and was fully funded by the government.
This school was located on the White Calf (Wa-Pii Moos-Toosis) Reserve, west of the village of Lebret on Treaty 4 land. Lebret school has a long history as one of the first industrial schools to open and the last to close.

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.

All my relations,
Angela

Learn more about Orange Shirt Day: https://www.orangeshirtday.org/phyllis-story.html

Mohawk College presents a virtual presentation with Phylis Webstad, Executive Director of Orange Shirt Day campaign. Sept. 29th, 12 to 1 p.m. https://events.eply.com/2020OrangeShirtDay

The Jingle Dress Dance: Self-expression and Healing

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. 

Regalia

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.

Powwow

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.

Happy National Indigenous History Month!

For more information, read Pamela Sexsmith’s story about 76-year-old jingle dress dancer Evelyn Thom, a powerful role model and inspiration for young dancers. Windspeaker Publication.