'Making wolf': How Calgary and Tsuut'ina can move forward, together
Chief Lee Crowchild on his vision for a more neighbourly future between communities that share a boundary
The chief and council of the Tsuut'ina Nation have invited Calgary's mayor and council to dinner.
The shared meal is part of a series of dinners the nation has been hosting for various community leaders from Calgary. It's a get-to-know-your-neighbours type of thing. A simple gesture but, at the same time, a profound one.
It's all about opening doors and allowing the two communites to build more personal, working relationships across their shared boundary. And it ties in to the broader changes that are happening in the relationship between Canada's Indigenous and non-Indigenous people.
We often refer to this process as reconciliation. But Tsuut'ina Chief Lee Crowchild doesn't love that word.
He prefers another term: "making wolf."
It refers to a process that dates back to his ancestors, who would meet with leaders of tribes with whom they had battled — not to apologize for what had happened, but to validate the experiences on both sides. And then, hopefully, to move forward.
CBC reporter Scott Dippel recently met with Crowchild at his office to talk about Tsuut'ina's relationship with Calgary — past, present and future.
Here's how the conversation went.
Let's start with the invitation to dinner. As I understand it ... there really isn't an agenda other than getting to know each other. It that really the intent?
Part of my mandate originally was to break down that fence — that invisible fence that exists. It's one thing to say it, the other part is to actually do something about it...
It's kind of like there's a hand reaching out. It's not actually reaching for a handout. We've gone through that phase; that's gone. Nor is it we're asking for a hand-up, because we kind of know where we are. What we're doing is we're reaching out to the City of Calgary and to corporate Calgary — business — to say we have things that we want to show you and teach you.
So come in here — come walk with us, basically — which philosophically sounds kind of romantic but in reality it's about business too. How does Calgary benefit and prosper from our endeavours?
When you talk about the fence that needs to be knocked down, from your vantage point, why does that fence need to be knocked down?
Because we need to be forward-thinking. We've got to think about the generations that are after us.
We've gone through a phase when things were really terrible for us. We went through a phase where tuberculosis and smallpox pretty well wiped us out.
We went through the terrible decades of residential schools and the scoop — the Sixties Scoop — and busing and integrated schools, and even university.
We've survived all that and it's important that future generations know that at this time, this critical path, Tsuut'ina — the community, themselves — they took it upon themselves to say we have to do better for our future generations.
If we don't do this, that burden just gets passed to the next generation and makes it even harder.
What would you hope that the vision is on that side of the boundary, in terms of having a better relationship with Tsuut'ina?
When we come up with this Taza development, once we really launch it, it's going to benefit Calgary's economy in more ways that we can't actually measure right now.
Lakeview is going to benefit. Their property values are going to go up.
It just makes sense — and that's how the city benefits — because we're all dependent on the resources of oil and gas development.
But we have to have alternatives in place as well, to keep our economies strong. That's not just Tsuut'ina's economy, but that's Calgary's and that's Alberta's, in general.
So that's sort of the intention, as we build neighbourhoods, because it translates down to the social level, and you break down the barriers that put us against them on both sides.
It's been us against them. We've gone through generations — decades — of that.
Well, now we've got to change that.
What's behind the shift in thinking, in being better neighbours?
We never really did isolate ourselves. That was something that was brought on by the other side. They kind of viewed us as being isolated. We never did.
Tsuut'ina, we've been game changers all along. We've introduced new concepts, new ideas. We've always thought that Calgary should be included as part of our discussions. It was the reluctance from the city to actually engage with us.
Regardless of who was the leader at that time, there's always a relationship building. It started all the way back to how Crowchild Trail got its name.
That was a long, long time ago, from my great-grandfather, and how he had a relationship with the Calgary Fire Department and how they helped him. He just became this person that they always looked after when he was in town.
My great-grandfather, in his older years, he developed a Christian faith, and there was nothing out here to do for that, so he'd make his way all the way to Calgary just so he could practise Sunday morning, going to church. He would stay with the No. 1 fire department. They would have a cot there for him.
Then, after church, they would just give him a ride out to 24th [Street]. And that became known as Crowchild's Trail...
I think really what I'm doing is just carrying on the legacy that was started from my great-grandfather.
Has there been a moment since you became chief that stands out, in your mind, as a good moment in terms of the relationship with the city of Calgary?
When the Calgary Stampede asked us to be parade marshals, all Treaty 7, that was kind of a highlight. I never thought I would be a parade marshal.
I've been involved in the Calgary Stampede Parade just as a course marshal for quite a lot of years and the next thing you know, I'm right at the front.
So I'd have to say, in recent time, that's been a highlight with the city, or more specifically the Stampede.
The gay pride parade in September last year, that was another highlight that was really good.
Mayor Nenshi came to see me almost a year ago and he started talking about: How do we build relationships here? ... One-hundred years ago, we were a non-issue, according to Canadian discourse. Now, we're still here and we're reclaiming what that balance should have been like all along.
Is there something that stands out in Tsuut'ina's past — if that hadn't happened, things would be different now, in terms of the relationship?
I could go into a whole three-day discussion just on that question.
But if I break it down to one thing: I wish that they didn't make [Indigenous people] go to — for some, to residential school, for a lot, to day school — and just let them die of tuberculosis.
I wish they hadn't done that because it left scars that have gone through generations. We're just healing from those scars right now. So, I wish that wouldn't have happened.
I didn't go to residential school because my grandparents prevented me from going. I was targeted to go, but they hid me, so I didn't go. So, in that way, that makes me a free man. I still live under the oppression, but I am a free man.
Is there a something that you would hope against hope for in this reconciliation?
Let me give you a historical experience of things — and this is a bit of a lesson I've learned.
Prior to non-native Canadians coming to our land, when there used to be wars between the tribes, that historical thing that happened, that battle that happened, that had to be validated. It had to be validated from both sides. So, they created a lodge. Some would call it a war lodge, some would call it arrow teepee.
So both sides would come together in this lodge and they would do this action called making wolf.
Well, what is that?
Well, because ceremony was such an important part of things, both sides would smoke their pipes between themselves. They wouldn't exchange it. Then, when all the formality was done, one side would get up and say: In this battle that we had, my war deed was to have killed two of you. And that allows the other side to stand up and reciprocate and say: Yes, that's true; this is who you killed. And whoever it was might have been an uncle, might have been a brother. But my war deed was I killed one.
So everybody has the chance to validate the actual battle, itself. Nowhere in there did they ever apologize because they're making wolf.
When you make wolf, you get to this point: We validate what happened.
Maybe we're still angry about the wrongs we feel, so we're going to step outside and maybe we're going to continue to battle. Or we validate this battle. Both sides know it as the truth now. We'll go our separate ways from here. That battle is done and over with.
So that's a little bit of historical context. I think for Canadians, in general, and along with First Nations, we have to have that discussion. We have to validate what happened.
Because truthfully, reconciliation, I don't believe in the word reconciliation the way it's being interpreted. Because I think about it and I think: What did I do wrong that I have to reconcile? All I've done was be born Tsuut'ina. Is that my punishment? So why do I have to reconcile something when, really, the reconciliation is on what oppression did?
We talk about what colonization is, so what's the opposite of that? And people assume that it's decolonization. Well no, it's not. Decolonization is an act of violence, in its real, true form. That's an act of violence. Do we want to go down there? Most people would say no. There's quite a few who would say yes but most would say no.
So what we should do is work on deprogramming our minds and our thoughts from what the colonization process was. So the deprogramming from colonization is much more achievable because now you can bring this into education systems. You can bring this into business practices. We're deprogramming from what colonization did and that's back to this war lodge — making wolf.
Both sides can accept it and OK, we've established this. Now let's move forward. Or, we can continue the battle.
But the challenge is there's still this great deal of ignorance or denial on that side. Some of the people certainly get it and some of them are at a learning curve which is basically square one. I didn't say we would fix it over dinner. But there's awareness that this is what the discussion has to be and it probably won't happen in this generation. But we can start making the moves towards creating that to happen.
So that's my hope in the face of hopelessness. That would be my hope.
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
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