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Edmonton's Road to an Indigenous Culture and Wellness Centre

Posted: Jun 17, 2022

In June, we commemorate National Indigenous History month.

It's a month dedicated to recognizing the rich history and heritage of the First Nations, Inuit and Métis Peoples on Turtle Island. . However, there is one large impeding factor that keeps Indigenous people from celebrating and learning their own culture here in Edmonton, and that is the lack of a space to do so.

For decades, Indigenous people have been calling for an Indigenous community centre. A place of their own to gather, celebrate, have ceremonies and a space to offer Indigenous led programming and services.

EndPovertyEdmonton through the Indigenous Circle and the Indigenous Culture and Wellness Steering Committee, has been working in partnership with the City of Edmonton to build the Indigenous Culture and Wellness Centre (ICWC)

It was in the fall of 2017, that the ICWC Steering Committee was created and includes local members of the Indigenous community, the EndPovertyEdmonton Indigneous Circle and City of Edmonton staff. The ICWC Steering Committee is guided by natural law and the seven sacred teachings .

The goal for the ICWC, will be a community centre benefitting all Indigenous peoples - as well as non-Indigenous people who wish to learn more about First Nations, Métis, and Inuit and their practices. It will be a space where Elders and Knowledge Keepers can offer Indigenous cultural teachings and a place where people can gather, celebrate, hold ceremonies and receive services, regardless of socio-economic background. It will offer cultural addiction and mental health supports, social and recreational services for youth, and where Indigenous peoples can find appropriate support services they need. It will be a place where the Indigenous community can come together to connect mind, body and spirit.

Lewis Cardinal is a member of the ICWC Steering Committee. “It's incredibly important for the Indigenous community to have an ICWC. We need a healing center that is based on our Indigenous ways of knowing, our Indigenous ways of healing, our connections to Mother Earth, our relationship to our ancestors, our elders, and our relationship to our local healers and practitioners. As people, our identity and the connection to your culture is the foundation of health and healthiness. So through health and healthiness, then you raise yourself up in order to move forward with your own purpose in life - pursuing the work that you wish to do, pursuing your dreams. And that, I think, is the healthiest thing that we can really hope for and pray for, for our communities,” says Cardinal.

Having an Indigenous Cultural Wellness Centre in an urban centre would have been such an incredible support for Nadine Chalifoux, who has experienced intergenerational trauma and a disconnection from her culture. Nadine is a member of the Indigenous Circle and brings her knowledge, advocacy, expertise and lived experience to the group. Having grown up in an urban environment, she didn't have an opportunity to connect with her culture until later into adulthood.

“It's also for people like me, who are urban Indigenous who were not allowed or didn't know their culture. This is a place where they can learn it. People who are hurting because of residential schools, because of Sixties Scoop, because of intergenerational trauma, they can heal here. People who were raised to not speak the truth, this is where they can learn that it's OK to speak it,” says Nadine Chalifoux.

Currently 3 million dollars has been approved to build the Indigenous Culture and Wellness Centre and EndPovertyEdmonton through the Indigenous Circle continues to meet and do community check-ins to ensure we remain on the right track to meet the needs of the community with the ICWC space. EndPovertyEdmonton relies heavily on the Indigenous Circle to guide, teach and advise, and to bring an Indigenous lens to all of its systems change work.

“It has to be Indigenous led,” says Jake Hendy, a member of the ICWC steering committee, and the CEO for the Alberta Indigenous Games and the executive director for the Indigenous Sports Council of Alberta.

“It has to be led by Indigenous people and the Indigenous community. The Indigenous Circle is an incredible group of people getting together from all different backgrounds, wanting to make a difference for the future and for the youth. Anyone who is non-Indigenous can't understand our culture or our history, someone who hasn't gone through intergenerational trauma, Sixties Scoop, residential schools. All of that. They tried to get rid of culture. And so there's just no other way to do it. I'm thrilled to be part of the Indigenous Circle. On your medicine wheel, you have your physical, mental, emotional and spiritual parts - for me I like to really represent that physical part in the circle. To have a space to do programming and youth sports would be so huge,” says Hendy.

Having a physical space for the Indigenous community also means autonomy and for Nadine Chalifoux and Jake Hendy the freedom that comes with their own space, would be invaluable.

“The best part about having the Indigenous Culture and Wellness Centre in all honesty, is that it will be ours. No one can tell us what we get to do with it. They don't get to say that we're wrong for doing it the way we're doing it because they're not us. And that freedom is something we've never had before. So I'm very excited. The freedom will be the best part,” says Nadine Chalifoux.

Jake Hendy agrees.

“You know, culture is everything for Indigenous people. And it was taken away. So to get to teach it. It's huge to get that back. And so to have a place to gather as a culture and to have a physical building of our own is huge. We always have to ask for space. So instead of having to say, ‘oh hey, can we borrow this space?' Having our own permanent space where we don't have to ask for permission, is pretty significant and pretty important. It's a big step.”

The Indigenous Culture and Wellness Steering Committee is in the process of finding and securing a site to build the Indigenous Culture and Wellness Centre and is expected to be meeting with the City of Edmonton to secure a location some time at the end of 2022.

But all those working on the project agree the day that the centre officially opens will be a day filled with many emotions.

“The day that the Indigenous Culture & Wellness Center opens, I am going to be like a five year old school kid, all giddy, all excited, jumping around, not being able to sit still,” says Chalifoux. “I will be talking a mile a minute because I am going to be so excited.”

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