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All Children and Youth Thrive!

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.

2020: OKN’s Year of Resilience

By Beth Williams, Our Kids Network Communications Manager

While physical distancing, masking, and staying home became typical, it was encouraging and inspiring to see Halton professionals using innovative ways to continue their work supporting children, youth and families. Our strong and resilient partnerships and communities are getting us through this! We have adapted to our new routines and not only stayed connected, but have become more interconnected over the last 10 months (and counting).

Adapting

resilience tree growing out of old trunk

In survival mode, we’ve all become experts at using Microsoft Teams, Webex, Zoom and other platforms, and used these venues well to continue to build relationships and partnerships, get work done, and even start brand new initiatives. We quickly learned that the chat feature gives everyone at the meeting a voice!

In the absence of face-to-face committee meetings, where so much information is shared, we launched the OKN Community Message in March. The intent was to keep everyone updated and linked to OKN’s key activities and news. At the time, we believed this would be a short-term solution. Here it is December and the OKN Community Message continues to serve us well, with one due out this week.

With gatherings allowed in only very limited numbers, virtual (live and recorded) is now the media of choice for OKN staff offering workshops and information sessions. Recently, Angela Bellegarde, OKN Indigenous lead, partnered with staff at the Town of Oakville and Oakville Public Library to produce videos on Indigenous literacy and territorial acknowledgements. Liz Wells, OKN Researcher & Knowledge Broker, and Eileen Palermo, OKN Program Administrator, produced a live webinar on the Early Development Instrument (EDI), and the popular Relationships First workshop went virtual with facilitator Steve Levac, Manager of Youth Services, Halton Children’s Aid Society.

The Halton Youth Initiative used social media to embark on a year-long Truth and Reconciliation journey that resulted in increased participation from the members and expanded engagement of youth across Halton.

In November, OKN called together professionals from Halton community organizations and agencies to help determine the key priorities that OKN will focus on to positively impact children, youth and families in the future. This was an interactive and thought-provoking virtual conference. The primary focus was ensuring that professionals who work with children and youth have a role in decision-making. We then have a common agenda across Halton.

Interconnecting

“I believe that it will be about the chance to strengthen our resiliency and relationships, and build deep, nurturing interdependence. Now more than ever, we understand how interconnected and reliant we are on each other – in our families, in our communities, and on a global level.”

Nikki Taylor
Senior Manager, Early Years and Family Supports, Oakville Parent-Child Centre

In her September blog, Nikki Taylor looked at the impact of the pandemic on Halton children as they returned to school. The longer-term impact of COVID-19 on children was also a key, common concern across professionals during the OKN Planning Conference in November.

We recognize now, while we all share this life-changing experience of the pandemic, how important we are to each other – in our families and friendships and, just as significantly, among our colleagues. At the OKN Planning Conference, participants pointed out that professionals working with families, youth and children are also members of their own families, and are in need of care themselves.

Our Kids Network leads the Asset-Building movement in Halton, a community investment in positive child and youth development. Building on this work will be paramount in the years to come.

“When this pandemic has ended, what will stand out most in our memories is how we treated each other.”

Nikki Taylor

Resilience: Change happens – what’s next?

Among many other accomplishments, OKN Executive Director, Elena DiBattista has led the OKN plan to grow and strengthen the network by introducing and implementing fundamental frameworks and strategies. In this way, she has built the platform that will launch the next generation of OKN’s work in Halton. And through 2020, she has always been at the helm helping us navigate these challenging new times.

Having announced her retirement, she is preparing (and helping us prepare) for what is next. For Elena, we know that well-deserved time to focus on family and friends is in her future and when it is safe, she will travel to the few exotic locations in the world that she has not yet visited.

We can’t thank you enough, Elena, for your dedication, passion, compassion, and visionary leadership over the past 10 years.

Especially now, it’s critically important that, as a Halton-wide collaborative, we have a view of the overall well-being of children and youth. As committee members work on identifying priorities, they are in the final phase of the restructuring of the network. This final phase represents a new direction for OKN, in aligning the work we do with our refined role and renewed mission and vision.

We are thankful to you, the countless, compassionate professionals who continue to provide essential services to your clients. To support the important work you do, OKN is continuing to focus on building capacity in the professional community, sharing knowledge, and developing resources to assist you.

OKN Resources for Information and Connection

Information on the OKN Community.
Information about OKN Champions.
Structure of Our Kids Network.
Explore the OKN Research.
Information on Asset-Building.