In two years time, Calgary will be home to the new Indigenous Gathering Place. It will be a place for urban Indigenous peoples and non-Indigenous peoples dedicated to supporting Indigenous cultural practices.
Calgary has the fifth largest urban Indigenous population in Canada, according to the committee organizing the creation of the Gathering Place, which concluded that a dedicated space for Indigenous people is needed..
“Other than the names on the freeways, there is no kind of recognition about current [Indigenous] people who live in the city. That is an issue, it marginalizes people further because it says that we don’t live here,” said John Fischer, co-chair of the Indigenous Gathering Place, and director at the Iniskim Centre at Mount Royal University.
“There is nothing here that says we are alive and prospering,” Fischer added.
A reconciliation workshop led by Chief Robert Joseph back in 2014, in response to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Calls to Actions, asked those attending: “What do we want to see as an outcome of this?”
The group called for a safe place for Indigenous peoples, which is how the Indigenous Gathering Place, and the Indigenous Gathering Place Society of Calgary, came to be.
“[It will be an] indoor/outdoor space that focuses in on our spirituality, our practices, our resilience,” Fischer said.
“It also has a revitalization aspect in terms of culture and in terms of language… A place where people can go to, to be Indigenous in the city. That’s the purpose of the Indigenous gathering place,” Fischer added.
“This will be a centre point within the City of Calgary” - Fischer
“We currently do not have a gathering place for Indigenous peoples,” said Steve Kootenay-Jobin, Indigenous housing and events coordinator at the Iniskim Centre.
The new space will allow the urban Indigenous people of Calgary to practice their spirituality in a safe way for smudging ceremonies, protests, wakes, art exhibits, and be educated on the issues facing Indigenous peoples.
It will also be a space where non-Indigenous people can come to learn and be a part of the Indigenous community knowledge and traditions, Fischer told the Calgary Journal.
“I always believe more and more knowledge needs to be shared. I’ve spoken to many non-Indigenous people who knew nothing about our history and were shocked about the residential school system,” said Sherry Woods, who is currently working to empower Indigenous women through sustainable energy with Sevengen.
The Gathering Place committee will potentially partner with the City of Calgary and Province of Alberta to launch. The specific location has not yet been chosen, but the Gathering Place committee would like to see it located on 10 acres of land, including a building of 30,000 square feet, at the junction of the Bow and the Elbow rivers.
Once the Gathering Place site is determined, a naming ceremony will be held.
“It will say to Calgary and visitors that this is a place where 55,000 Indigenous people live, we’re here,” Fischer said.
“It will be like a lighthouse. This is where we live and reside, we practice our spirituality, and this will be a centre point within the city of Calgary.”
- By Huyana Cyprien