While I go by Doreen Healy, my Blackfoot name is seebyhanhgyahkii, which means “night singing woman”. I’m from the Blood (Kainai) Tribe in Southern Alberta and I have made my home in Calgary since I moved here at 17. I am a residential school survivor. I was taken from my family at five years of age and attended residential school until I was 14. I am writing today, on the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, asking for support for a project that is urgent for our people and communities.
I am on the board and offer guidance as an elder for the Indigenous Gathering Place Society of Calgary.
We are working to build a place where our elders can transfer our knowledge and stories to the next generations. We imagine a place where young people will learn about their history and take pride in who they are. A place for ceremony and celebration. We imagine a place, ideally at the confluence of the Elbow and Bow rivers, that is accessible and welcoming for everyone, where everyone who lives on this land will be received by us with hospitality. A place where relations will be made as all are invited to learn about our rich traditions and deep history with this land. It will be a place where we foster understanding of and compassion for our people.
This work is urgent.
An Indigenous-led and -operated gathering place is urgent because we need to heal from the hurt of the last 150 years. Residential schools did us great harm. We were taught that we were savages who needed to become like Europeans. In my own experience, my identity was stolen from me. My name was taken and I was given a number. My Blackfoot language was forbidden and I could only speak English. My freedom was taken as I was not allowed to go home. And my voice was taken. I could only speak when spoken to and my ideas were considered worthless. Indeed, I was taught that I was worth less than other human beings. I was not shown love or taught how to love. The cruelty we experienced lingers in the lives of our families today.
Reconciliation is a journey through which Canadians are learning of these uncomfortable truths but learning itself isn’t enough. This journey must lead to the reconciliation of relationships between Canadians and our people. We need restoration of Indigenous languages and teachings, and time is not on our side. We are losing our elders and knowledge-keepers as they are passing on. We need restoration of dignity for those Indigenous people who have been looked down on and excluded, so they can see that they do matter and have so many reasons to be proud. And we need restoration of hope that Indigenous and non-Indigenous people can walk together as equals and thrive as a whole community.
We need a place where we can feel connected with our homelands, and where Canadians can come to understand our Indigenous ways of knowing.
This work is urgent because 2027 will mark the 150th anniversary of the signing of Treaty Seven and the treaty needs to be honoured. And it is urgent because 2027 is when Calgary will host the North American Indigenous Games and the eyes of the world will be upon us.
I invite the citizens of Calgary to support the Indigenous Gathering Place. Today, on the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, do more than wear an orange shirt. Take an active role by participating in one of the many events happening in and around Calgary, and by declaring your support for building a place where we heal, connect, renew, and celebrate Indigenous cultures. It is within reach. Visit our website to learn more.
Doreen Healy is an elder and board member of the Indigenous Gathering Place Society of Calgary.
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