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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.

A Reflection on My Journey for Truth

By Sandy Palinski, Director, Children’s Services, Social & Community Services, Halton Region

I was 40 years-old when I first learned about Residential Schools. I remember the moment clearly. I was reading a draft learning document intended to support staff with an understanding of Indigenous people in Canada. I remember feeling disbelief and not understanding. The next day I approached the author of the document and asked if these events had really happened. Yes, I did that…it just didn’t seem possible to me.  The author assured me that the events had occurred and offered me the contact name of an Indigenous staff member who could verify the accuracy and give me another perspective on the document. I called. The events were verified and the accuracy of the document was confirmed. I just sat there at my desk – shocked, appalled, and confused.

I later attended an all-day learning program led by a local Indigenous woman who shared our horrific history in Canada. I learned more about the Sixties Scoop, the assimilation and abuse of Indigenous children in Residential Schools across Canada, and the inhuman treatment of people in Indian hospitals. I’m not even sure then if the gravity of our tragic history had sunk in for me.

It was later when I read a report outlining an Indigenous youth’s path to crime, drugs, and violence; and the story of grandparents and parents who couldn’t love, and who lived their own lives of drugs and abuse to get away from their memories of Residential Schools, that I really started to reflect on the impact of our history. That report, a personal account of a youth’s life, showed me how the various forms of abuse and neglect at Residential Schools have impacted Indigenous people, their children and grandchildren. It left me with a feeling of intense sadness, grief, and responsibility.

Throughout my career as I have worked with different Indigenous communities, I’ve learned much, and I keep learning. I had the privilege of supporting the designation of three Indigenous communities to set up children’s aid societies, and it was a powerful and moving experience to see them take back authority to care for their children.  As I write this, I know it is contentious work, but it is important to restore child welfare authority to Indigenous peoples. As part of that work, I remember working with one community who asked a colleague and me to meet with their Band Council. We were discussing their model of service and looking for them to make changes.  A member of the Band Council clearly reminded me that if we forced this community to change their model, we were repeating the ways of colonization. That comment took the wind out of me. I had to catch my breath. I remember sitting by the lake reflecting on my actions and our interactions. I came back to the table and re-engaged with them in a new relationship, respecting them as a nation with the ability to make their own decisions aligned with their culture and beliefs. Their model of service remained unchanged. Instead, I changed the way we did business.

Picture of rocky lake shoreline
Photo credit: Angela Bellegarde

I have had the privilege of working with various Indigenous people who have shared with me teachings of their cultures, have shown me generosity, kindness, and love. I have learned from Elders who have taught me about the Seven Grandfather Teachings and the four Traditional Medicines. I marvel at their generosity in sharing their teachings with me, given our history. I have so much appreciation for the calm wisdom Elders bring and place these learning opportunities as my highest learning experiences. I have tried to bring these teachings into my own life.

As I reflect on the recent discovery of the remains of 215 children in unmarked graves at the former Kamloops Residential School, I am saddened by the loss and send my deepest sympathy to the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc Nation. I am further saddened by the thought of more children across our nation who need to be found and mourned.  I am reminded of the importance of continuing my learning and supporting others to learn; of my responsibility to do things differently; and of being an ally. National Indigenous History Month provides us with an opportunity to honour the history, heritage, and diversity of Indigenous people in Canada, but our responsibilities to learn the Truth and engage in meaningful Reconciliation are ongoing.  We all have a role.

Statement from Our Kids Network on Kamloops Residential School

Our Kids Network is situated on the Treaty Lands of the Mississaugas of the Credit First Nation and the Traditional Territory of the Haudenosaunee and the Huron-Wendat peoples.

Our Kids Network empathizes with the incredible grief and heartbreak of the families and communities mourning 215 children whose remains were discovered in an unmarked grave at the site of the former Kamloops Residential School.  We send our deep sympathy to the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc Nation. We hold you in our hearts and we honour the lives of these 215 children, and those children who survived.

As a network of caring professionals who work with children and families every day, we believe passionately that every single child matters, and has the right to thrive. Canada’s Residential School system was purposely designed to remove and isolate children from their loving families, traditions, and cultures to assimilate them into the dominant culture. This horrific discovery exposes Canada’s long history of the inhuman and violent treatment of Indigenous families and children, and this continues today.

We all must take responsibility for the care and wellbeing of all of Canada’s children. June is National Indigenous History Month, and Our Kids Network calls upon you to face the Truth about the Indian Residential School system so that you can take meaningful action towards Reconciliation.

“Reconciliation begins with oneself and then extends into our families, relationships, workplaces and eventually into our communities.”  Reconciliation Canada

Christine Hartley
Executive Director
Our Kids Network

Angela Bellegarde
Indigenous Lead
Our Kids Network

Indigenous Reconciliation logo


If you are a Survivor and need emotional support, a national crisis line is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week: Residential School Survivor Support Line: 1-866-925-4419.

Links:
APTN news story
CBC news story
OKN Residential School blog
Mohawk Residential School Tour
National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation

Wellbeing: What does it mean to YOU?

Introduction
As a member of the Halton Youth Impact Survey Ambassador team, 13 year-old Diya Deepu chairs the Communications Committee and helps plan promotions for the survey. In the blog below, she shares her thoughts on what wellbeing means to her and is encouraging other young people to do the survey to improve life for youth in Halton. Please share her blog widely in your networks of children, youth and families. – Beth Williams, Communications Manager, Our Kids Network

 

Diya Deepu

Wellbeing: What does it mean to YOU?

By Diya Deepu, Halton Youth Impact Survey Ambassador, Our Kids Network

Wellbeing is the quality of life that we have. It depends on if it’s positive or negative, and it all only matters on how WE see it. We all have different views on positive wellbeing, but it all joins into one root — happiness!

To me, it means to be happy and have that sense of satisfaction in my life. It’s the ability to be with the people I love and care about. But, wellbeing isn’t only about our mental health, it also includes our physicality too. These are two components of wellbeing that we should not separate, since both work together for each other’s good. Without good physical wellbeing, our mental health may go down, and without positive mental wellbeing, our physical health may go down.

We should be proud of the people we are today and should not let any obstacles stop us. This pandemic has changed our lives drastically this past two years, and I want you to know that you’re NOT ALONE in this battle. This is something new for all of us, and we’re all in this together!

So, here’s something for you to reflect on, what does wellbeing mean to you?

The Halton Youth Impact Survey is now closed. Thank you for your participation. Results will be available later this year.