Friday, September 14, 2007


Yesterday, I drove an hour and a half east of the city to the retreat centre at Blackfoot Crossing Historical Park to give a presentation on homelessness at an offsite retreat for a group from Calgary. As I drove into the sunrise, the rolling prairies sprawled before me, golden grasses waving in the sun. My sunroof was open, I sipped a latte and listened to tunes on my stereo. A perfect morning!

I was early when I arrived at the Crossing -- which is stunning btw. As I stood waiting, taking in the awesome view beyond the glass enclosure of the main lobby, a tall native man walked towards me.

"Is this your first time at the Crossing?", he asked.

"Yes," I replied. "It's stunning."

His pride in the Park and his Siksika heritage were palpable. His slow, measured voice unwound stories from the past with a lazy drawl that took me along the river valley beyond the windows into a time when buffalo roamed these lands and his people were one with their spirits. He told me stories of his childhood, his grandmother's laughter and his mother's bead designs. He spoke of past generations with pride, and talked about his concern for the future. "They are all our generations," he said when referring to the importance of culture and tradition within the Siksika nation and the loss of language amongst the young.

I told him about my background. About my mother's French roots and my sadness about losing my languages through time and disuse.

"We are all connected," he smiled, nodding his head slowly.

We are all connected.

As I drove east, away from the city, I was thinking about roots. My roots as a Canadian. My heritage. I am a first generation Canadian. I spent my formative years on foreign soils, returning to this land that I had left as a child when I was in my twenties. I've journeyed from east to west, and sometimes, I wonder where I fit in.

For Floyd, the native man with whom I chatted, his roots are grounded in the prairie grasses and centuries of his forefather's travels following the buffalo. He is rooted in the history that created this land and yet, he too feels the angst of trying to understand where he belongs, where his children's children will find their place in time to make a difference to his people.

There was a time when the buffalo roamed and life was paced out with the turning of the seasons, the rumblings of thunder in the sky and the casting of the stars upon the celestial ceiling every night. There was a time when we, the ruling society, believed it was wisest to destroy the culture and traditions of another society in our quest to make one size fit all.

For the Siksika, the destruction of their past left an entire nation rootless, without direction, without a sense of belonging. And yet, they persevere. They continue to dig into their roots, to create a place where they belong, not because someone else says they do, but rather, because this is their land. Their heritage. Their past, present and future.

We are all connected.

I wondered as I drove back to the city later that afternoon, if we have learned anything from history. Where once it was illegal for Indians to leave the reserve without permission. Where once their language and customs were forbidden, the laws have changed.

And yet, we continue to limit the movement and activities of those who do not fit our worldview. Here in Calgary, it is illegal to sit on a park bench and put your feet up. This law is only enacted against those who are visibly homeless. We have new by-laws that inhibit activities those who are homeless employ to survive on the streets, and we call it fair, just, right. When do we learn from the past?

Floyd said it for all of us. "We are a proud people. For a long time we lost our way, now we are finding our way home. My wish is that our children will connect to our stories so they too do not become lost looking for themselves in places where they do not belong."

The question is: Do you see the beauty of the world around you and know that this is exactly where you belong? Do you connect with the past to lead you home, or do you use the past to keep you looking in places you don't belong?

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