Early last year, CWB offered employees the opportunity to join a newly formed Employee Represented Group (ERG) in support of Indigenous Peoples and Allies. I’ve had a thirst for knowledge, an admiration and appreciation of all things Indigenous for as long as I can remember. Joining The Sharing Circle seemed like a great place to learn and connect with colleagues. Little did I know that joining this ERG would lead me down a life changing path.
At The Sharing Circle’s first meeting, working groups were formed to take on different tasks and aspects of the ERG. I volunteered to work towards presenting information about Indigenous culture to my colleagues…a fantastic opportunity to learn and share! As part of this, I reached out to one of my friends who has contacts at the local Kainai Nation. I told her that I was seeking a person whom I could connect with to learn more about Blackfoot culture and who may be willing to share some information with CWB. Within a couple of days, I was given a phone number for Elder Charlie Fox.
I met Elder Fox (Piiton ista) on a beautiful April day in the river valley that runs through Lethbridge, Alberta. I told him about the ERG and the Bank’s intentions of creating safe, inclusive spaces where colleagues from across the country can gather to share and learn from each other and our communities. The Sharing Circle is reconciliation in action! I asked Charlie if he would be able to share some information with the Bank about Blackfoot culture. We chatted about some ideas that we could put into action and started talking about Blackfoot culture in a setting where his ancestors have traditionally lived for time immemorial. That first meeting lasted about three hours and I could see how each of the events leading up to that day had fallen into place exactly how and when they were supposed to.
Throughout the summer of 2021, Charlie and I collaborated on a few projects. With each one, I would ask him to pray that our message would be met with acceptance and understanding. In August at a meeting where I was asking Charlie for prayers, he told me that his prayers are always said in a traditional way and in the Blackfoot language. When he and other Elders were praying, as I had asked, they didn’t have a Blackfoot name for me, and I should have one.
“How do I get a Blackfoot name, Charlie?”, to which he very calmly replied, “You ask me for one.” Time stood still…did I just hear that correctly? What an honor! Is he being serious? Is this really happening?
“Charlie, will you give me a name?” …did I do that correctly? What if he says no? Is this REALLY happening?
“Yes, you should come to the bison harvest at my brother Dan’s place the first weekend in October. Get in touch with our sister, Ann, and she’ll tell you what to do.”
Fast forward to Oct. 2, 2021. I arrive at Dan’s home with some friends from Lethbridge who had also been invited to the harvest. Walking into that house was like walking into a family member’s home. The atmosphere was filled with love, laughter, stories, hugs, excitement, and anticipation for the day’s events.
My first traditional bison harvest was an event I won’t soon forget but memories of the end of that day will be with me forever.
Charlie, Dan, and I stood in front of a group of people who had gathered around to witness my naming ceremony. In the ceremony, Charlie would gift me four stories of events that had happened in his life, each of which contained a valuable message and lesson. Charlie started speaking in Blackfoot and while I couldn’t understand a word of what was being said, I was completely mesmerized. When he had finished speaking, Dan re-told each story in English.
All four stories centered around events in Charlie’s life that involved horses, the animal connecting to each of us so deeply. Horses.
With each gifted story, I stood there completely enveloped in the words I couldn’t understand, knowing that their meaning had such a deep connection to the person I’ve always been. Horses.
As Dan translated each story to the fellow guests and I, I became more and more emotional. Tears were flowing freely down my face. I felt each and every one of those gifted stories deep in my heart. Each and every one of those shared experiences were in my soul. Yes, horses have given me gifts throughout my entire life and now in this moment, I was receiving yet another gift, through the stories of how this animal has been a pivotal presence in someone else’s life.
When Charlie and Dan had finished, Charlie turned me towards the crowd of people and presented me as Poonokamita kim akii. Gifted Horse Woman.
Yes, horses have given me gifts throughout my entire life, and I could not have chosen a name that would be more meaningful to me if I had the rest of my days to think of it.
Not a day has gone by since that beautiful fall evening that I haven’t thought of how my life has changed. I have learned so much about the Blackfoot culture, things that I could never find in a book or documentary. I have made friendships with people who have become extended family members. I have experienced love and acceptance in places that I didn’t think our shared history would allow. I have been given opportunities to connect with people and really make a difference in their lives.
Joining The Sharing Circle has provided me with information about issues facing today’s Indigenous population. It’s opened my eyes to situations beyond my scope as an ally and allowed me a space to support colleagues, clients and my community. Gaining knowledge about these beautiful cultures has given me the background and confidence to challenge injustices that I witness, share truthful insights, and encourage others to reach out. We are all human.
And I have been gifted a beautiful name that speaks straight to my heart.
Poonokamita kim akii
Gifted Horse Woman