What an Indigenous Gathering Place means to me
By Lee Stevens
Before I begin this piece of writing I must situate myself: I am a member of the Tlingit First Nation, Deisheetaan, (split tail beaver) Clan. Inspiration for this piece comes from my experiences over the last few months. With the release of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Report (TRC) in 2015, more organizations and citizens, including Indigenous Peoples, are gathering to discuss how to define and address reconciliation and move towards healing in Canada. However, grassroots, community-driven organized efforts in Calgary far precede the release of the TRC.
The Indigenous Gathering Place Committee (IGP) is one of these groups of passionate individuals I have recently had the pleasure to work alongside in an effort to address the standing concern that no central physical space exists in the city where peoples of Calgary and area can learn and practice cultural, historical and spiritual traditions associated with traditional ancestry. This collective continues the journey toward that ethical and physical space.
Many personal accounts, historical data and credited reports have seen a central gathering place in an urban center foster healthy communities and cultural exchanges. In fact, Calgary is known for many of its central gathering places for citizens to meet. Thus, I was surprised to learn, and then ashamed that I had not thought about it until recently, that there is no such place for Indigenous Peoples. The Indigenous Gathering Place–an informal name awaiting traditional validation–boasts a vision of a sacred and spiritual place, where all people can safely practice and learn about Indigenous culture, language, history and traditions that is entirely inclusive and transparent. For example, since conception, the IGP has included all who are interested by engaging Elders and youth from Treaty 7 territory, validating and respecting each stage of progress with traditionally appropriate Blackfoot ceremony.
So how could an ambitious project help with a poverty reduction strategy? In addition to the potential to heal and strengthen the spirit and overall sense of cultural pride of Indigenous Peoples, it can also be a refuge for those like me who live far from their home Nations. It would be a place where people can take part in traditional ceremonies and seek counsel from Elders. These uses, among many, are at the heart of the committee’s discussions.
The Indigenous Gathering Place, even in its infancy is worthy of the spotlight in the wave of reconciliation efforts. Taking part in the dedication, enthusiasm and active representation on a journey toward a reconciled Canada, has left me with a sense of wholeness and empowerment as I reconnect with my own Tlingit culture.
If you are interested in participating and supporting the Indigenous Gathering Place, please contact Lee Stevens at Vibrant Communities Calgary firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photo: Cultural Learning Centre in Carcross, Yukon on my home Nation photo by Lee Stevens
Lee Stevens is a Community Facilitation and Engagement Specialist at Vibrant Communities Calgary. Please feel free to email Lee or comment below.