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‘Parallel’ work guides University of Calgary’s Indigenous Strategy

Angela Day wanted to get out of the office and do a little bit more to engage with and understand Indigenous people in Alberta.

Day, who works with the Children’s Cottage Society here in Calgary, is part Mi’qmaq (Nova Scotia), and she said she handles cases with Indigenous families, so she saw it as a bit of a field exercise. She took part in the tipi painting at Enmax Park Thursday, part of the University of Calgary’s Campfire Chats project to coincide with National Indigenous Peoples Day in Canada.

Before she could paint, Day had to be smudged, a ceremony to cleanse or purify a person. She said the whole process helped her find serenity and get educated about First Nations – something she said Albertans need to do to move forward.

“It’s absolutely important,” Day said.

“I try not to look at the past, I try to accept what’s happened, rectify it, educate people – and this is all a part of the education.”

This process of immersion, with the tipi painting, would be what Dr. Reg Crowshoe would describe as the oral understanding of Canada’s Indigenous people.

Crowshoe, a spiritual leader with the Piikani Nation and member of the University of Calgary Senate, described these events as necessary for “Western society’s” predisposition of trying to teach the written way – with policies, procedures and bureaucracy.

He’s been part of guiding the University of Calgary through its Indigenous Strategy, or ii’tah’poh’to’p’, a project that began in November of 2017, post Truth and Reconciliation. Crowshoe said the U of C invited elders to participate, but the two sides had to find a way to work together in the two worlds of “written” understanding, and the “oral” languages of Indigenous people.

The two sides worked “in parallel” to find a way forward, the University used to developing a plan through policies and procedures and Indigenous peoples’ method of knowing, doing, connecting and being.

“We had to culturally translate and interpret all those concepts into our oral languages,” said Crowshoe.

He said that’s when the symbols came out that were being used on the tipis.

And the tipis are symbolic themselves. Crowshoe said Western culture tends to make plans in boardrooms, instead of creating a venue that fosters that planning. When these tipis are erected on the grounds at the U of C, it will be a cultural reminder, but will also guide the implementation of the school’s Indigenous Strategy.

Michael Hart, the University of Calgary’s Vice Provost, Indigenous Engagement, said the school knew early on that tackling this strategy was not a journey they could take alone.

“In that process, members of the University of Calgary quickly learned that they can’t do this alone, they can’t figure this out by themselves and they needed to connect strongly with the Indigenous community in and around Calgary,” Hart said.

The University’s third annual Campfire Chats started with the community participating in the tipi painting and then culminated Thursday with the erecting of the tipis, ceremonial dancing and a discussion with Indigenous knowledge keepers.