September 24, 2019
By Jordan Cryderman
When I think of training programs, I usually don’t think of emotion and reflection. But that’s exactly what CSFS’s Cultural Training was for me, and, safe to say, for all the other participants.
The session ran from September 19th-20th, and was facilitated by Carrier Sekani Family Services. The primary audience for the training is non-indigenous people, but not exclusively. The goal is to inform and educate professionals in Northern BC to effectively assist First Nations people in a culturally-appropriate and respectful manner.
“A cultural foundation is required for all services and programs aimed to empower First Nations toward self-determination and self-governance” (Mann & Adam, 2016).
My experience with the training was profound. I expected a classroom setting with lessons from the facilitators, and it was that, but so much more. The emotions were intense. There were a few tears (more than a few, actually), and there was plenty of discussion about everybody’s reflections and thoughts.
Marlaena Mann and Barby Skaling served as facilitators for the program, along with Sarah Hein, and Wilf Adam, who each provided their personal experiences with colonization.
The lessons included historical topics such as pre-contact, traditional food and medicine, family structure, oral history, spirituality, and colonization including the Indian Act, Indian hospitals, and residential schools.
An experimental learning portion of the training proved to be the most impactful experience. Each participant read a letter detailing historical accounts from the perspective of either a First Nations or European/Colonial person.
Not knowing what lay before me, I read the first letter: the words of a Carrier chief describing first encounters with Europeans. There I was, struggling, as I tried my best to pronounce the chief’s name.
Then it progressively became more jarring and real.
As the rest of the group read their letters, the level of atrocities hurtled to heights I had never heard of before. The rest of the class, much like myself, said that they were only taught the bare bones in high school regarding the history between First Nations and settlers in Northern BC.
Some of the events described were so cruel and inhumane that some of those reading their letter couldn’t finish. The tragedy of children dying as a direct result of residential school. The destruction of First Nations villages. The decimation from smallpox and other European illnesses. And the missing women on the Highway of Tears, just to name a few.
Thankfully, Sarah and Barby were there to offer a shoulder to lean on as we wept. They consoled us as we read our letters, and offered water to cleanse our spirits.
Not all of the letters were about cruelty; some were full of hope and retribution. There was an account of Mennonite farmers acting as allies for the First Nations people in the Burns Lake area in 1940. And Bridget Moran, who advocated for Indigenous social rights during the 60s Scoop.
Afterwards, we debriefed as a group. Each person had an introspective response; some were distraught, some were stunned, and some were angry.
The roundtable discussion was a way to process our emotions. The facilitators made clear that we were not to take this home with us. The exercise was inherently emotional, but was not meant to rally us into anger. Rather, it was meant to inform on a personal level.
Believe me, it worked.
Amy Whelan, a new CSFS employee, participated in the same Cultural Training session. She said that the experience was “very emotional,” and that there was lots she didn’t know. “There were atrocities that I heard of before, but this brought it to the forefront.”
Amy says that her family was involved in past relations with First Nations people generations before herself. However, with her newfound knowledge, Amy says she can seek redemption for her family and continue to be an advocate for First Nations self-governance and empowerment.
Much to everyone’s appreciation, the mood was lifted on the second day of training.
We were treated to a teaching All-Clans feast. As most of the class was non-Indigenous, we were seated with a clan if we hadn’t already belonged to one; Bear, Beaver, Frog, or Caribou. Each clan did their entry dance, complete with authentic Monopoly money, and drummers playing clan songs (from YouTube). Smiles and laughs were abundant.
We then touched on topics such as preserving Carrier language, the traditional worldview differences between European and Carrier, and developing trust. We ended with a discussion on acts of racism, and how to effectively respond to such acts.
I am eternally thankful for the new perspective the cultural training has provided me. As a writer, I feel better equipped to share the many stories that CSFS member nation citizens have to offer. This doesn’t say that I fully understand the Carrier worldview, as that is something I can never hope to fully obtain. But going forward, I can now better help those looking to share that view, and to share those voices that have been silenced for so long.
I now have the skills, knowledge, and attitude needed to walk with one foot in both worlds.
Carrier Sekani Family Services administrates the Cultural Training every few months. If you would like to learn more about the program, fees, and dates it will run, please visit the Nowh Guna' article on our website.The Registration Form can be found here
Last modified: Wednesday 27-Sep-17 04:14:39 PDT