NIKOHT KAYII—I’M HOME

First of all, I am a proud alumni of Mount Royal with a Diploma in Social Work back in 1994 and eventually, went on to obtain my Bachelor and Master of Social degrees from the University of Calgary, back in 1999 and 2004, respectively.  As I have often stated that Mount Royal provided the tools for me to go out and do Social Work and as well the University of Calgary provided more tools for me too. I just started with the Child Studies and Social Work (CSSW) department as of September 2018 and entering my third month as an ‘Espoom taah’ or ‘helper’. I wanted to use a Blackfoot title to describe my work as well as getting away from titles such as, Indigenous Liaison worker or something that sounds more westernized as opposed to an Indigenous title. Basically, that is who I am at the CSSW department in providing the help that is needed within the context of indigenization. I brought in my education, my work experience and my life experience. I also brought in my Blackfoot language and my culture to share with my colleagues as well as students. I am fortunate to have retained my language even though after going through the residential school system where speaking your language was forbidden. However, I am still trying to re-claim my culture and re-connecting with it by being an astute listener and learner when older Blackfoot Elders talk about the culture and some of the old stories. I listen intently and write things down. I bring to MRU what I know about my culture and limited to only what I know. I always cite people that I heard certain things from and give them the credit. So also becoming an astute learner and listener in class leads to success as well as applying those to life. Blackfoot Elders often allude to the three L’s of looking, listening and learning. This is what we do on a daily basis during our lifetime. Remember that!

The reason I say, Nikoht kayii or I’m home is that I felt that Mount Royal College – when it was still a College – was like a second home to me because as students we spend a lot of time away from the comforts of our home in the various institutions that we are enrolled in. Back then, Mount Royal brought that feeling of providing that home comfort where it made my learning experience part and parcel of being able to finish my schooling. I had the support when I needed it and for this I am grateful to the institution. As students, we can’t expect to go through a 3-4 year term in a vacuum. We have to rely on support and MRU has a lot to offer as it has a genuine interest in seeing every student graduate. Oft times, we burn the midnight oil to get assignments done because at times, we do procrastinate or we tend to get wrapped up in extracurricular activities when we should be working on paper assignments. It is at times a huge learning curve even for some mature students like myself who entered Mount Royal in their 40’s. For me, if my mind can conceive it and my heart believes it, then I am able to achieve it. As a mature student back then, I had a lot of doubts manifesting out of my mind that I can’t do it but my heart overruled my thinking and my sincere believe that I can do it. I achieved it by walking on the stage to accept my Diploma in Social Work in 1994.  Reflecting back on it, I was 46 years old when I got my Diploma and at 51 years of age, I got my Bachelor of Social Work and then at 56 years old I got my Master of Social Work degree. When I speak to students I often tell them not to let age be a barrier to what they can accomplish. Age is only a number. Remember that!

I owe a lot to this institution that gave me the privilege of studying to be a Social Worker. I came back to help in any way that I can based on my experience related to Social Work and other life experiences. To date, I feel that within the short few months that I have been with CSSW department I have accomplished what I can to help faculty and students. But there is more work to be done and I am up to the challenge. We need to connect “Anitopisi” or “spider web” across the campus and go and help whenever there is a vibration.  We need to make this institution an institution of first choice to allow students to make their educational journey a pleasant and supportive one. I also owe a lot to three people that made my journey back to MRU possible. I owe it to Yasmin Dean and Stephen Price and Katharine McGowan to make it a reality for me to be able to “come home”. Yasmin for believing in my ability to help in the CSSW department and also for allowing me to color outside the lines; Stephen for supporting Yasmin’s idea to bring me on board as well as our bi-weekly coffee meetings.  And Katharine for meeting with Stephen to support my role with CSSW department and always looking out for my best interests at heart. The departmental staff of CSSW gave me a warm welcome which solidified my role as an Espoom taah. I always had a dream of teaching in an institution when I got my Master of Social Work degree but doing other things related to my Siksika people who are important to me did not allow me to fulfill that dream. However, with my role as an ‘Espoom taah’ or ‘helper’, I am able to go into classes to share my life experience as well as Blackfoot teachings. I do guest lectures at the request of CSSW faculty and enjoy doing it because it is both rewarding and fulfilling.

Now I can honestly say, “Nikoht kayii” or, “I’m home”.

Thank you.

Roy Bear Chief, MSW

“Espoom taah” (Helper)

CSSW Department


NI MA TO KO TSI TA PIM MAWA—NIKO MATA PO TSI TA PIM MAWA—NIKO TSI TA PIM MAWA

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NI MA TO KO TSI TA PIM MAWA—NIKO MATA PO TSI TA PIM MAWA—NIKO TSI TA PIM MAWA

Sometimes it is hard to break down barriers when certain groups of people are  “misunderstood” by the wider community. When a certain group of people are misunderstood, it gives other people free rein to make assumptions and judgements.  Indigenous people are one of those group of people that are misunderstood which often leads to assumptions that are based on what you see and hear in the news, what you see on the streets, as well as what you hear from others.

On Tuesday, August 14th, I was driving south on 14th Street approaching 17th Avenue SW going to MRU to meet with Andrea Kennedy at the Hub. While driving, three words seemed to appear out of nowhere in my frame of thought: misunderstood, understood and understand.  I shared it briefly with Andrea at our meeting at the Hub but did not go into too much details around the three words. When I finally got home, I was sitting around thinking about them and it seemed like ‘Api stoo tooki’ (the Creator) put these words into my mind so that I can use them as another means of trying to deal with reconciliation and how best to try and quantify it. I did some research into the three words and came up with the following to best describe how I can use them to make an effort in sharing of knowledge vis-à-vis people or things:  

MISUNDERSTOOD:

  • If you describe someone or something as misunderstood, you mean that people do not understand them and have a wrong impression or idea of them.

UNDERSTOOD:

  • "I finally understood why thinking of others as different was wrong." It is my preconceived notions of them through literature, media and other means helped in shaping my view of them.

UNDERSTAND:

  • "Now I understand that my uncontested view of people can hurt."

We can use them to illustrate a process of been stuck in the misunderstood stage and matters pertaining to our worldview are shaped by biases, behaviors, attitudes, stereotyping, racial profiling and other negative views of certain groups of people. Much of the work has to take place in the misunderstood stage before we can move onto the understood stage and eventually into the understand stage.

When I look at the three words through my language and put it into Blackfoot so that I can look at it from my Indigenous or Blackfoot worldview, I can say that the process would go from ‘Ni ma to ko tsi ta pim mawa’ to ‘Niko mata po tsi ta pim mawa’ to finally, ‘Niko tsi ta pim wawa’. This is going from misunderstood to understood to understand. For example, we can use technology to illustrate the process:

An Elder is afraid to use a cell phone because she is afraid to use it since she has seen reports on cell phones exploding and other stories related to her by others. In reality, she is scared of using a cell phone and wants no part of owning one. But her granddaughter wants her to start using a cell phone to better communicate with family and she wants to teach her on how to use the phone. Amidst grandma’s fears, she begins to teach her on how to dial a number and how to text family. And over the course of practicing what she was taught, she is slowly moving away from the ‘Ni ma to ko tsi ta pim mawa’ or misunderstood stage into the ‘Niko mata po tsi ta pim mawa’ or understood stage. As grandma practices more and gaining more confidence with the cell phone, she is moving into the ‘Niko tsi ta pim wawa’ or now I understand stage. Now grandma has mastered the cell phone and able to communicate with her family. However, as with some things comes a price since she can use the phone without help, grandma talks to family constantly and her incessant texting is driving everyone crazy. Now her family is saying that they should have left grandma alone.

In the case of people, we can get stuck in the ‘misunderstood’ stage through our own volition and sometimes find it difficult to exit or finding a way out of it. When we find ourselves stuck in this stage, then we have to do an introspection of ourselves in order to uncover why we are stuck. This would mean that we need to be honest with ourselves with our thoughts around attitudes and behaviors. This means that we have to ‘Ah tsit ta na ka ni tsah kiupa’ or ‘drill deep down’ into our soul in order to uncover who we really are as a person. In some instances, it may cause discomfort. It may arouse negative feelings that we have suppressed or have been in denial about our feelings. The description of misunderstood starts to become apparent as it is described as someone or something as misunderstood, means that people do not understand them and have a wrong impression or idea of them. In the Blackfoot language we say, ‘Ni ma to ko tsi ta pim mawa’ or ‘I don’t understand them at all’. At this point, it is a decision to either continue to be stuck at this stage or move forward to learn more about understanding people that we view as different according to our worldview.

When people decide to do something constructive in the misunderstood stage and work on it diligently, with new knowledge and self-awareness they begin to move into the ‘understood’ stage. So with new found knowledge, they are beginning to understand why thinking of others as different was wrong and their preconceived notions through literature, media, and other means helped shaped their view of them. In Blackfoot, they are moving into ‘Niko mata po tsi ta pim mawa’ or ‘I am starting to understand them’. By choosing to be un-stuck and making that effort to move forward to challenging their own fears and prejudices. They are creating a new landscape in how they view people.

When people go through a process of doing an introspection of themselves and learning more about themselves and what makes them tick. People begin to understand that their uncontested view of people can and does hurt people. In Blackfoot, they are moving into ‘Ni ko tsi ta pim mawa” or ‘now I understand them’. The new landscape that they have created is suddenly becoming greener with new knowledge that they have gained about people that they did not understand to begin with.

The process of going from ‘Ni ma to ko tsi ta pim mawa’ (‘misunderstood’) to ‘Niko mata po tsi ta pim mawa’ (‘understood’) and finally into ‘Ni ko tsi ta pim mawa’ (‘understand’) will not be an easy and smooth transitional journey but one must be willing to take that difficult journey. The journey to reconciliation is not an easy one too but one must make a choice to do it.

The questions I will leave with you are, “Where do you fit into the misunderstood, understood, and understand stage?”  “What do you need to do in order to navigate through the stages?” A recent documentary called, First Contact, caused some stir with both Indigenous and Non-Indigenous people. The three stages fit nicely into the documentary and maybe a reason why those three words popped into my frame of mind back in August. Thank you.


 


KYA YIINA (BEAR CHIEF: 1869-February 4th , 1944)

KYA YIINA (BEAR CHIEF: 1869-February 4th , 1944)

I humbly dedicate this blog to my grandfather, Bill, who I never met but wish I did. Sunday,
February 4 th , 2018 was the anniversary of his death. Some people think that Indigenous names have no significance or irrelevance. However, such is not the case, as they do have significance and they are relevant to Indigenous people’s identity as they carry the name proudly. The story behind the Blackfoot name, “kya yiina” or “Bear
Chief” was told to me by my older brother. 

FROM IINII (BUFFALO) TO EDUCATION

FROM IINII (BUFFALO) TO EDUCATION

The 140th anniversary of the signing of Treaty 7 – Innaihtsookakihtsimaan (making a treaty), has come and gone. The dust has settled; the singing and sounds of drums have quieted to a steady beat as we move into the agreement’s 141st year. Much like the above story when The elders say, “Education is the buffalo of today.” Tribal elders consider education as the new economic hub on which our quality of life centers. This is the time for Indigenous people to start entering the institutional halls of learning and begin their educational journey so that the Elders’ words of wisdom – education is the buffalo of today – will manifest.  

From Project Go Ahead to Elder in Residence

From Project Go Ahead to Elder in Residence

In this blog, Roy Bear Chief will chronicle his time as Elder in Residence at the Bissett School of Business and the School of Communication.  This is Roy's first year as Elder in Residence, and the first year for the position generally, which is funded through the Apaat tsi kani takiiks project.  In this blog, Roy will share his insights and experiences working in this new role, in and out of the classroom.