Edmonton·First Person

A community rich in spirit turned my starter home into my forever one

That sense of community and connectivity with her neighbourhood gives Cheryl Whiskeyjack a sense of being and belonging.

My connection to my neighbourhood gives me a sense of being and belonging

Cheryl Whiskeyjack and her husband Elmer made their first home in what was then the new neighbourhood of Lymburn. (Submitted by Cheryl Whiskeyjack)

This First Person article is the experience of Cheryl Whiskeyjack, executive director of Bent Arrow, a leader of EndPovertyEdmonton and a proud Edmonton west-ender. Her story is part of The Henday Project, a CBC Edmonton initiative focused on the suburbs. For more information about CBC's First Person stories, please see the FAQ.

The organization I work for serves urban Indigenous folks by helping them to have their feet firmly planted in two worlds. One is a world of culture and community. The other is this big and busy city called Edmonton. 

I was raised on the city's north side but when the time came to fly from the nest, I chose the west side of Edmonton. My husband and I both come from large families and large, interconnected communities. But I wanted some independence from my family without leaving the city.

The west end fit the bill. 

My husband and I were young and just starting out; the Lymburn community, where we settled in 1998, was still fairly new as well. 

It was also almost as far west as you could go. The big West Edmonton Mall was shiny, new and still growing. The there was no Anthony Henday ring road and just few blocks past our place was nothing but prairie.

There also weren't any cellphones or other easy ways to connect. We didn't have a phone. If my family needed me, they had to come all the way to the west end to get in touch. 

Community keeps you from feeling lost

It's easy to get lost in a big city like Edmonton — if you want to, or even if you're not intending to. Community is what keeps you found.

Community is what keeps us in this neighbourhood.

Our neighbourhood was an early adopter of the 15-minute district. In that amount of time, I can be at our farmer's market. In less, the library. And even faster again, I can be working out at the YMCA.

I can swim, skate, take my dog to the off-leash park. On TGIF Fridays, we often go out for dinner to our local Chinese eatery where the owner knows our names and our order. We sit and talk about the news of the day while our dinner is prepared with pride. 

Our neighbourhood is a place of culture and caring. We have Kites over Callingwood in the summer and Cornfest every fall. My neighbours know my name; we watch out for each other. They share meat from their successful hunting trip with us and I share the berries that I picked with them. 

This past year, I did a bucket-list thing and paid a contractor to string Christmas lights on our 54-foot-spruce tree to celebrate my favourite time of year. On our community's social media page, I was surprised by the number of neighbours expressing gratitude for our investment.

In December 2021, Whiskeyjack decorated the giant spruce tree in front of their home, an act that brought as much delight to the neighbours as it did to her (Cheryl Whiskeyjack/Twitter)

You see, they benefited from its merry twinkling lights as well. One neighbour dropped off baked goods with a thank-you note. Our tree brought us together. 

I work for the Bent Arrow Traditional Healing Society and I'm a member of a large collective impact initiative called EndPovertyEdmonton. When we talk about poverty, we don't just mean a lack of financial resources. True poverty is a life without spirit. A life without community.

There's richness in having that sense of community and connectivity. It ripples into your sense of being and belonging. It affects your mental health in good ways. I sleep better knowing we watch out for each other. And I bring that energy into the work I do. 

The house we bought is what some would call a "starter home" but I've always just called it home and we've committed to growing old in this house and in this neighbourhood. Putting in roots means an investment not just to your home but to your community as well. 

I guess in a sense it was a starter home. Because that's where we started our life together, and we made a home out of the community it's nestled in. 

We didn't need a bigger house. We needed a bigger circle.

If you have a compelling personal story on this topic or others, the CBC First Person team wants to hear from you. Here's more info on how to pitch.


Cheryl Whiskeyjack is the executive director of the Bent Arrow Traditional Healing Society. She identifies as an Indigenous settler who has been living, working and playing in Treaty 6 since 1979 when her family moved from their traditional Anishinaabeg territory in Ontario as a young girl.