By the Bridge with Les Vonkeman

The United Nations has declared 2019 to be the International Year of Indigenous Language. From the UN website they state that “languages are not only important for communication, education, social integration and development but also aids in a person’s unique identity, cultural history, traditions and memories”. As an indigenous person I find this exciting, as it’s a step in the right direction in reconciliation efforts. Many indigenous people are acutely aware that although there have been some good steps towards inclusion there is still a long way to being recognized as equals.

In August of 2018 I ran a personal development tipi camp and invited people from our community to the Blackfoot reserve to learn about Blackfoot indigenous life. I am passionate about bridging non-indigenous communities with indigenous culture. Although I am indigenous, I did not grow up on a reserve or with any indigenous culture.  This passion I have grew as a result of spending the last eight years learning about my heritage from various Indigenous Elders and people willing to teach me. I’ve seen the beauty of the culture and want people from our community to see it too. I have collaborated with the experts of the Blackfoot culture on this initiative.

The camp was situated on the Blood Reserve by the Oldman River and it was easy to daydream about what life might have been like prior to the Europeans coming to Blackfoot land. I closed my eyes while enjoying the heat of the sun and listened to the water spilling over the rocks, the rustling of the tree leaves and the tall prairie grass. One could hear the Elders speaking the Blackfoot language and laughter often filled the air after a funny story or a joke was shared with the others who understood the language.

I always feel a tinge of envy when I hear someone speaking Blackfoot as I know that they were fortunate to have been raised, for awhile anyway, in the indigenous way, most likely with their grandparents. The envy usually dissipates quickly though as I think of the trauma most indigenous people grew up with and experienced and had to overcome.

Part of the beauty I’ve witnessed is the resiliency of the indigenous people. Indigenous people have experienced and continue to experience hardships and trauma because of past and present legislation. Through all of what the indigenous people faced, their humour and generous spirit remain intact. It’s not hard to find both women and men joking and laughing at any gathering. If you go to explore the culture and find yourself at a gathering be warned; you will most likely be served food and coffee or mint tea (if you are lucky) and in the indigenous culture you cannot refuse it. All indigenous people, including myself, applaud the UN declaration of 2019 as a small win and dream of better things to come. 
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