Sept. 18, 2023

UCalgary engages with Indigenous Elders and explores parallel paths through living libraries

Elder’s Teaching Series an example of learning from and deepening connection to communities
Elder Rod Scout sitting in a chair, talking to someone off screen. The background wall has cultural symbols from the UCalgary Indigenous Strategy.
Elder Rod Scout Riley Brandt, University of Calgary

The journey of becoming an Indigenous Elder or a Traditional Knowledge Keeper is both a lifetime's pursuit and a sacred calling. It is a path laden with wisdom, resilience and deep knowledge of cultural traditions, languages and healing practices. Knowledge Keepers become living libraries who pass on oral histories and valuable knowledge from generation to generation. 

Not many people outside Indigenous communities have the opportunity to learn directly from an Elder, and to hear about the lived experiences that help us to consider parallel paths to a colonial world view. The Elder’s Teaching Series strives to change this. Elder Rod Scout of Siksika Nation is one of the speakers who will be part of the series this October. 

“I always tell people that as an Elder, I'm just a signpost. I don't make your choice for you; you need to think critically and think outside the box,” says Scout. “I think that's where, in healing communities and healing the people that are going to take this back to the communities, they need to heal first; they need to find that balance.” 

As part of its commitment to its Indigenous Strategy, ii' taa'poh'to'p, and its path toward truth and reconciliation, the University of Calgary has established several new community-engagement goals in its 2023-30 strategic plan, Ahead of Tomorrow. One of the main goals of Strategy 3 involves enhancing our community relevance, which includes continuing to work with Indigenous Peoples in a good way to deepen our community connections, such as through the Elder’s Teaching Series. 

Working together 

Scout is a member of the sacred group within Siksika Nation called the Horn Society. He is also a singer who grew up in Siksika Nation and was raised by his grandparents, who exclusively spoke Blackfoot. It wasn’t until the age of five when he was forced to attend residential school that he started to learn English. With a thirst for learning, he developed an avid appreciation for reading.  

“I read everything. It taught me how to understand my world and others around me,” says Scout. “That kind of fuelled my thirst for knowledge. I wasn't just satisfied learning about, you know, my people, but also other people.” 

For Scout, the journey to becoming an Elder was one that took more than 30 years. The process involves a lifetime of learning from other Knowledge Keepers and the transferring of rites and sacred bundles. Scout mentions that people above a certain age are not just automatically considered Elders; it takes a lot of time and a lot of learning.  

“As I'm teaching students, or my children as I call them, I'm teaching them how to think, or how to put something together,” says Scout. “When they start working with other communities, then they start developing that community and then maybe they go to another community that needs it. That's what we call in Blackfoot, Aowatsotsi'isspomotsii'opa, meaning they're all helping each other. And that is one of the most sacred laws among all Native people. How we all help each other. We all work together.” 

Transformative journey 

Hosted by the Office of Indigenous Engagement, the Elder's Teaching Series is more than a set of webinars; it is an invitation to embark on a transformative journey. It is a space where our university community and the broader public can listen, learn and engage with Indigenous Elders who are the embodiment of lifelong learning and resilience. These Knowledge Keepers generously share their traditional knowledge, world views, languages and approaches to healing, opening a dialogue on diverse topics from cultural well-being to Indigenous ways of knowing, doing, connecting and being. 

This dialogue doesn't stop within the university campus. The wisdom imparted by the Elders resonates beyond our boundaries, fostering an increase in intercultural capacity across our broader communities. Our goal is not just to venture into Indigenous communities, but to also bring that profound knowledge back to our shared communities, creating a symbiotic relationship of growth and understanding. 

“This series is a good introduction to an Indigenous world view with Elders from different communities within Treaty 7,” says Allyson Dennehy, BSW’15, cultural protocols co-ordinator (Indigenous engagement). “We're bringing in different Elders to share their personal lived experiences, and to share ancestral knowledge that goes back thousands of years.” 

The purpose of the series not merely about ticking a box; it's about genuinely understanding, acknowledging, and incorporating Indigenous knowledge and perspectives into our university culture. It also echoes our commitment to perform on the global stage. By embracing the wisdom of Indigenous Elders, we are equipping our community and our students with unique insights and knowledge, thereby enhancing their ability to make a meaningful impact on a global scale. 

Enhancing community relevance 

Building on our commitment to enhancing community relevance, UCalgary is also fostering stronger ties with its alumni and expanding the reach of its community partnerships.  

“Our alumni are a vital part of our community. Their achievements are a testament to the university's entrepreneurial spirit,” says James Allan, vice-president (advancement). “They are partners in our mission, advocates for our values, and vital contributors to our local economy and society.” 

Allan underscores the importance of centering community in all that we do. "Our connections to community are invaluable to us. They help us to share knowledge, start initiatives and create meaningful impact. We are committed to strengthening these relationships so we can continue to learn from each other, collaborate on initiatives, and together contribute to the economic and social fabric of our city, province and country." 

ii’ taa’poh’to’p, the University of Calgary’s Indigenous Strategy, is a commitment to deep evolutionary transformation by reimagining ways of knowing, doing, connecting and being. Walking parallel paths together, “in a good way,” UCalgary is moving toward genuine reconciliation and Indigenization. 

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