June 24th, 2024

Blackfoot identity key to getting off streets, says Brave Rock

By Tim Kalinowski on June 23, 2021.

Herald photo by Tim Kalinowksi Mark Brave Rock, founder of Sage Clan, says the only way to truly help Indigenous people living on the streets in Lethbridge is to help them remember their traditional ways.

LETHBRIDGE HERALDtkalinowski@lethbridgeherald.com

It’s mid-afternoon in Galt Gardens. The sky is overcast, but the temperature is mild. Restless individuals, most of them Indigenous people, move around here and there. Some meet with friends and exchange news, some shuffle around like their legs are dragging a great weight, and others speak in furious whispers to one another as two security guards make their way through.
What you see, says Mark Brave Rock, founder of the Sage Clan, reveals who you are. Some might look around and see junkies and vagrants, a problem to be solved, but what he sees as he looks around are ghosts, lost spirits, who cannot hear the call of their own people through the haze of addiction, grief and colonial oppression. He knows, because he was once like them- for 30 years he was like them. For 30 years he was lost in drug and alcohol addiction.
“I have never given up,” he says, thinking back on those lost decades. “I have never given up on my faith. I have never given up on the search for truth and to just be who I am. It all culminated in the perseverance of knowing I am not living right. This is not where I should be. This is not how I should be living. And realizing through my own faith and my own determination everything that had happened to me (in my life) had led me to where I got.
“It is even amazing that I have not left the streets (now),” he says. “I say I have removed myself from the scene of addictions, but as soon as leaving Southern Alcare Manor here in Lethbridge I got hired with a support service teaching Blackfoot, which brought me back my identity.”
Brave Rock says, even in his worst moments, inside he always felt a persistent yearning which grew stronger every time he spoke Blackfoot.
“I realized the importance of our identity as niitsitapi,” he remembers. “That is so important, and it is something that is not emphasized enough. We need to regain our identity in order to move on as a person, as a human being. I am not a white man, and I do not think like one. I am of that last generation that is still speaking Blackfoot. My heart is still in a lot of the old ways.”
As that yearning was always in him like a flame which had burned down to embers, so too, he believes, it still lives deep within each and every Indigenous person living a life of addictions on the streets today.
“That is my connection with the people on the streets,” he says. “They still have it in them; as I do. It’s there, and it is a living thing among us. It is a feeling that would help us if we were allowed to take our own baby steps, and not be forced into a way of life.”
That’s what Sage Clan does, says Brave Rock; it reminds people of who they are, and gives them hope, through example, that they can find ways to fan the niitsitapi flame inside again so their spirits may return from where they have lost themselves.
Brave Rock calls this feeling inside “Ihtsipaitapiiyo’pa,” which is most often translated as the “Source of Life.” But Brave Rock translates it more literally as “Why we live.” It manifests, in his mind, as a powerful call from the ancestors and the land to return to the traditional ways.
“I was on the streets here, and I wasn’t speaking Blackfoot anymore,” he remembers. “It would hit home when I would see some members from the reserve that were starting to come to the streets who would speak Blackfoot with me. Those are the ones where I would buy a bottle, and me and him would drink a bottle together just to speak Blackfoot. That was me. It was still there, and it was coming out.”
Brave Rock says what Indigenous people living on the streets in Lethbridge need is not something the white man, with all his money, Watch programs, social workers and DOT teams, can provide.
“We still need the white man’s help, you can be there, but let us do it (help our own people),” he says. “You relearn what is more important in life than what is forced on you by society. Sage Clan walks in that. It’s real people caring and sharing, loving, and taking care of one another. It’s not individualism. It is not part of the individualistic society that is maintained, and fought tooth and nail in politics, in municipal, provincial, federal, to keep and maintain that.”
Brave Rock says it is also not a problem you can solve by throwing millions of dollars at it.
“I am in a stage of disgust at how much money has been thrown at this problem, and nothing has come of it,” he states. “Nothing even profound has been done. Until we are allowed to do it ourselves, then you will see results. Sage Clan is a little example of doing it ourselves. We do more than society has done with millions of dollars. We have done more with a few thousand dollars. We do more.”
Brave Rock says Sage Clan needs allies, not more “experts” coming in to solve things.
“There is a lot of good people in Lethbridge to help us,” he says. “Our magic is the volunteer walk. I wouldn’t be able to do anything without those who come out and walk with us, both native and white. We have such unheralded people.”

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