June 20th, 2024

Downtown sessions designed to enhance understanding of Indigenous culture

By Troy Bannerman - Lethbridge Herald Local Journalism Initiative Reporter on January 26, 2023.

Melissa Shouting, coordinator of the Aboriginal Health Program in the Faculty of Health Sciences at the University of Lethbridge, is hosting information and education sessions at Casa that are aimed to address the Indigenous experience, enhance self-awareness and are great for any professionals working with or interacting with Indigenous people.

These sessions are being held on the third Tuesday of every month from 11:30 a.m. – 1 p.m. at Casa in the Community Room.

“When I first started doing the training sessions with the Watch, it took a little bit of thinking and kind of talking to elders in the community because at that time there wasn’t a great relationship between the Watch and Indigenous people,” said Shouting. “And then somebody, one of the women elders said, ‘Well, how are they going to know about us if we don’t teach them?’ And I think I’m going on three years now. So, I’ve done training sessions with LPS and with their administrative team. I think their human resources have also sat in on some sessions. I do some sessions with the community peace officers. And a lot of times, the feedback that I get is that they never knew the history between policy and Indigenous people of how laws, foundational laws, within the country have impacted every organization before and after, and how that impacts the relationship with Indigenous people.”

Shouting asserts many of Canada’s early laws involved assimilationist ideology, and much of that has been passed down to the present day.

“So, if we think about the assimilation process within Canada, the very first laws created within Canada were done to assimilate Indigenous people. When you think about police services, every policy and every law that was written, not just with the Federal Government, but within the provincial government, and municipalities…all of those laws or those policies are built on those foundational laws that were used to assimilate Indigenous people, and that is where the institutional racism comes in.”

In addressing her approach to these sensitive topics, Shouting noted that a careful approach must be fostered to avoid having attendees tune out.

“Well, it has to be done strategically. You can’t just talk about behaviour associated with racism because then people shut down because they feel like they don’t engage in that kind of behaviour or display that kind of behaviour. So, the way the presentation is designed so it’s done in a way that people understand that everybody holds biases and nobody is immune to them. So, recognizing that you have biases before you start to learn about all of the history, and the relationships between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people, it helps them be more open to really recognizing their own biases.”

Tapping into cultural sensitivity and avoiding bias is key, according to Shouting.

“The presentation itself has gone through a lot of trial and error. I think the very first presentation I did wasn’t done that way. I recognized that without talking about biases people were kind of shut down to the topic to begin with when it comes to cultural sensitivity. So, I had to do some research and I started looking at ideological biases and how those manifest within society. And then I started looking at Southern Alberta and the biases that exist within southern Alberta. And then I structured the presentation to, essentially it’s a training session to LPS. And then I just adapt it to fit whoever it’s being geared towards. So, with the downtown sessions it would be more from an economic standpoint. Just understand that building those relationships can actually assist in building that economic community as well.”

Racism is still alive and well in downtown Lethbridge, says Shouting.

“Primarus did a study on how many Indigenous people actually go to the mall and they found out that a lot of the surrounding communities are helping to sustain those businesses situated within the mall. So, economically the Indigenous community is helping our economy stay alive. So, if non-Indigenous business owners downtown were to make their businesses a little more welcoming to that middle class Indigenous person their businesses will flourish because of word of mouth. Before I did this presentation I wanted to see who I was presenting to. So, I went to some of the businesses downtown and I was a little bit shocked at how some of them treated me. And I think there was just one business that was very open to me going into their store. Most of them when I walked into the store were like, ‘What did you need? It’s almost closing time.’ Kind of wanting to usher me out really quickly.”

Shouting describes the situation in Lethbridge as something of a microcosm, and things are often different outside the region.

“Indigenous people are very welcoming, especially Blackfoot people. And they make space so that people can learn about who we are as Blackfoot people. But with the City of Lethbridge you have to go and get that post-secondary education for people to really listen to you and to understand where you are coming from. So, it’s hard to really get away from those old ways of thinking because it’s so deeply embedded within everything that makes Lethbridge the way it is. But when you go to Calgary or Vancouver, you know, you start to go further away from this area; it’s very different.”

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I face the most, if not all of the racism from the indigenous on our streets, which includes some Sage Clan leadership.
You speak of laws? Today’s laws that all of us non-indigenous have to abide by or face fines or conviction have been skewed or bent in favour of the indigenous. The Gladue Principle just one of many examples. How police do not charge many of the indigenous for things the non-indigenous would be charged with, or courts have been told to be lenient to indigenous, to the corrections systems which have been bent to give indigenous special treatment.
Why must we have their culture forced on us? Do we have the Syrians, or Ukraine cultures forced on us and laws, changed for their cultures? No!
The Charter of Rights and Freedoms states that “all are to be treated EQUAL under the law”! The Charter is now a joke because of the changes in our system to treat them different!
I am tired of having their culture and their Reconciliation forced on us! That plus $60 billion paid out in the last few years for residential schools and other actions and the annual $20 billion paid to support the indigenous every year to the Indian Act, which increases this year to about $25 billion. But is still isn’t enough!
They want brand new housing built for them for free, housing that all of us non-indigenous had to pay a mortgage for over 25-30 years of hard work.
Clean up the mess on our streets and quit shoving your culture down our throats please!