In Honour of Reconciliation Week 2019

In 2018, the City of Lethbridge partnered with the Lethbridge Indigenous Sharing Network to create the Reconciliation Lethbridge Advisory Committee (RLAC). The role of the committee is to provide guidance and support to City Council as it explores its own reconciliation journey on behalf of the community. The committee is also often seen as a hub for ideas and conversation in the community – a place where reconciliation and knowledge sharing between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples takes place. The RLAC is a diverse group and includes representatives from education, business, health, and social services sectors. This group strives to make reconciliation real and relevant for Lethbridge residents.

Each year, the committee hosts Reconciliation Week (this year from September 15-20) as a time to bring our community together and to celebrate the work of everyday Reconciliation Champions.

With 2019 being the United Nations International Year of Indigenous Languages, RLAC has chosen to celebrate seven Reconciliation Champions whose work touches on language and culture in our community.

As our Reconciliation Champions show, language plays a significant role in reconciliation as a tool to bring people together and to create shared understanding. Language and culture are also integral to wellness and healing. As our community comes together and heals, both will play an important role.

We invite you to learn more about the work of our Reconciliation Champions in the community and region and to reflect on your own acts of reconciliation – either those you take every day or those you will begin tomorrow.

Naatsikapoina (Two Gun), Dan Fox

Through the wisdom and guidance of his Elders and his late mother, Naatsikapoina has become an advocate for the buffalo and for Blackfoot cultural revitalization. Dan was born and raised in Kainai as a member of the Many Children Clan. Dan and his family operate a ranch just north of Cardston, where the buffalo he raises become the bridge to span the relationship and cultural gaps that exist between Blackfoot Elders and youth, and between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples. Dan also works for Kainai Children Services where he helps to connect Blackfoot children in foster care with their family, language and culture in the Kainai community.

For Dan, the buffalo is his walk of life. The buffalo are a tool for him to translate and share knowledge between worlds. He believes strongly in Ai’aoskiikowaata–or the importance of creating a path or legacy for the generations that come after you. The Reconciliation Lethbridge Advisory Committee honours Naatsikapoina, Dan Fox, for his dedication to connecting all peoples to Niitsitapi and Inii (buffalo) culture.

Nycea Hazelwood

Nycea is a Grade 6 student at Gilbert Patterson Junior High School. She is a multi-talented young artist, who also enjoys learning about First Nation culture and history, soccer, and playing with her dog Chloe. Nycea recently won the Sik-Ooh-Kotoki Friendship Society Award at the Southern Alberta Regional Heritage Fair held in May of this year. Her entry entitled “Truth and Reconciliation” was recognized for sharing Indigenous heritage and culture.

Nycea believes that the most important first step in reconciliation is understanding history. “People need to first recognize past mistakes and treat people with respect.” She says everyone has a role to play in reconciliation, whether that’s sharing in Indigenous culture or learning to speak in Blackfoot. The Reconciliation Lethbridge Advisory Committee honours Nycea Hazelwood for being a model youth in our community, and for showing that even the youngest among us can have a voice in conversations that impact our shared future.

Piitai’siksak’ksinaam (Spotted Eagle), Julius Delaney

Julius has dedicated most of his adult life to teaching the Blackfoot language to new generations of speakers. Born in Kainai, Julius overcame tragedy at a young age with the loss of his mother and brother and went on to live with his maternal grandparents. Julius found strength in his grandfather Dan Weasel Moccasin, a cultural man who maintained his Blackfoot language, traditions and values.

In the late 1990s Julius started teaching his language to kindergarteners in Kainai. Over the years he taught all ages of elementary school children, and in retirement he has expanded his work to include professionals, fellow educators and non-Indigenous peoples.

“The culture is in the language,” he says, and through the language “you start to see the differences in worldview between Blackfoot and mainstream society.” Julius reflects on the immense pride as well as the tremendous challenge that comes with the fact that “no one else in the world speaks our Blackfoot language, just us here in Southern Alberta.” Julius emphasizes the strong connection between language and reconciliation, including its ability to bring people together and share perspectives.

The Reconciliation Lethbridge Advisory Committee honours Piitai’siksak’ksinaam, Julius Delaney, for protecting and sharing the Blackfoot language in Lethbridge and across the Blackfoot-speaking world.

Naato’saihpiyi’aakii (Sacred Woman Dances Out), Treena Tallow

Treena was born on the Blood Reserve as a member of the All Tall People Clan and is a proud daughter, mother and grandmother. Treena is a passionate community member whose volunteer and professional work touch on cultural safety and the use of Indigenous knowledge for wellness.

Treena works as an Advisor in the area of Aboriginal Addiction and Mental Health for Alberta Health Services. Her current areas of focus are the social determinants of health – the many factors that influence the health of people and communities, such as employment and economic opportunities, education, access to health services, gender and race— and advocacy for greater access to Traditional Healing. For Treena, reconciliation is an act of social justice, a process of creating balance and opportunities for Indigenous peoples that requires “many actions, from micro to macro scale.”

Treena sees hope for reconciliation in Lethbridge and encourages everyone to find actions to take, whether sharing your time, getting to know Blackfoot culture or learning about past harms.

The Reconciliation Lethbridge Advisory Committee honours Naato Saihpiyi Aakii, Treena Tallow, for being a selfless advocate for the connection between culture, opportunity, wellness and reconciliation.

Sik-Ooh-Kotoki Friendship Society

The Sik-Ooh-Kotoki Friendship Society has been providing programs, services and access to Blackfoot culture for Indigenous peoples living off-reserve since 1969, making it the longest-serving Friendship Society in Canada.

The Society recognizes the importance of Blackfoot culture and ceremony and is a strong advocate for child and youth wellness in Lethbridge. The Elders and staff who work at the Society recognize the unique place that children and youth hold in the community as the keepers of the dreams of the future. However, Indigenous children and youth living in cities are increasingly marginalized and at greater risk of health challenges, incarceration and suicide than their non-Indigenous neighbours.  The Society looks to change this reality by engaging with Indigenous children and youth early and connecting them with culture as a source of healing and empowerment. The Friendship Society also plays a strong leadership role in the community providing referrals and guidance to agencies, service providers and governments, and by creating a welcoming, inclusive space for community gathering.

As the Society celebrates its 50th anniversary, the Reconciliation Lethbridge Advisory Committee honours the Sik-Ooh-Kotoki Friendship Society for its commitment to connecting urban Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples with Blackfoot culture and for championing reconciliation at its most fundamental level by fostering respect and friendship.

Lethbridge Public Library (From left: Linda Weasel Head, Terra Plato, Madeline Gormley, and Allan Quinton)

The Lethbridge Public Library’s mission is to be a welcoming, inclusive space that connects and strengthens community through equitable access to learning and leisure. Delivering on this mission naturally led the Library to prioritize a response to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to Action.

One of the main actions the Library has taken is to create a space dedicated to Indigenous culture through books, movies, music and programming. The space, which carries the Blackfoot name Piitoyiss (Eagle’s Nest), was designed through meaningful dialogue with Indigenous elders and community members. The Library has also recently invested in delivering additional culturally relevant programming, focusing on Blackfoot language, concepts and values, through its Indigenous Liaison, Linda Weasel Head. These and other programs allow Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples the opportunity to come together, engage with, share, and learn about Blackfoot and other Indigenous ways of knowing.  

As the Library celebrates its 100th anniversary, the Reconciliation Lethbridge Advisory Committee honours the Lethbridge Public Library’s dedication to collaboration, inclusion, and celebrating Blackfoot and other Indigenous languages, culture and storytelling.

Faye HeavyShield

Faye is a grandmother, artist and youth advocate from Kainai, whose art has been celebrated across Alberta and Canada. Faye is active in both Kainai, where she works with Kainaiwa Children Services supporting children and youth in care, and in Lethbridge where she works with various organizations and agencies to advance the use of Blackfoot culture in healing and wellness.

Faye shares the role her grandmother Kate Three Persons played in teaching her Blackfoot values through storytelling, values such as respect, discipline, and family unity. That early connection to the Blackfoot language and storytelling tradition has carried through into Faye’s current work where she helps build bridges to culture for children and youth in care who in many cases are separated from their community and the land. Faye believes that wellness and reconciliation are both fundamentally linked to respect and “acceptance of people for who they are, not who we wish them to be.”

The Reconciliation Lethbridge Advisory Committee honours Faye HeavyShield for her devotion to supporting our community’s most vulnerable young members through language, art and nurturing a stronger sense of belonging.
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