Elder Kewistep recognized for reconciliation work
- NC Raine | October 25, 2021
Gilbert Kewistep prefers to stay under the radar but in September, he was honoured by the Office of the Treaty Commissioner for his drive and support of Reconciliation in Saskatchewan.
An Elder, professor, social worker, Residential School and Sixties Scoop survivor, Kewistep has spent his lifetime helping people heal from trauma, many of which he experienced himself.
Upon receiving the Ravi Maithel Find-A-Way Award, Kewistep gave credit to his role models.
“I was completely honoured by it. You don't expect these things, you're always under the radar. That's how I like to be. Just there to help people better themselves. And I don't walk this road alone,” he said.
“My grandmother is my main motivator. I always looked to her. She was the matriarch in our family. I still remember her well. Residential school never took that away from me. The love she had for me. And the other motivator is my dad. Those were the role models that made me want to make life better for other people.”
Kewistep says he is here to help, not to receive recognition. Such a disposition is in his blood.
“I don't even have my degrees on my wall. I look at life the way my dad lived. He lived a simple life. He dedicated himself to helping people. If I'm half the man he was before he left into the spirit world, then I've accomplished something,” he said.
A member of Yellow Quill First Nation, Kewistep grew up mainly in Hudson Bay.
Life didn't take long to throw challenges at him. His mother passed when he was five, but while she was alive, she fought hard to keep him in her care, he said. He lived with his grandmother, Marie Kewistep, for a short time before being taken to residential school, where he stayed until he was 11. A year after he returned home, he was apprehended and lived in foster care for four years, as part of the Sixties Scoop.
Kewistep describes his childhood as unstable. When he finally returned home, things started to come together after his father, George Blackbird, who was a caller at Sundance ceremonies, came into his life again.
“I think culture is what saved me. I did the street life as well. If it wasn't for my dad and my culture and finding my way back through that, I wouldn't be here today. Watching him and his demeanour, how he handled himself with people, he never refused anyone who came to see him,” Kewistep said.
“He was the one that moulded us. To this day, in the work I do at the University, those teachings he taught me, I incorporate them into my classes.”
It is that strong desire, instilled in Kewistep from a young age, that prompted him to get into a career in social work. Kewistep earned a Bachelor of Indian Social Work and a Masters in Aboriginal Social Work from First Nations University of Canada, where he now teaches.
As a survivor, Kewistep has helped people through the devastating impacts of residential school and their intergenerational effects. He's also worked to help stop children being apprehended from their home communities.
“I decided I will be there for people in their darkest hour. To let them know there's a light ahead. And it is my hope to make a difference. I've met so many people that have made a difference in my life, who helped me while I was down. That's what drew me to social work.”
Kewistep's impact on people of all ages throughout his community and the province is immeasurable, but the influence he's had on his own children and grandchildren may be some indication of that larger impact. To date, he has taught five of his children and one grandchild at the University.
He is also a cultural advisor at the Indigenous Peoples' Health and Research Centre at the Johnson Shoyama Graduate School of Public Policy - University of Regina, speaks regularly at the Wȋcihitowin Indigenous Engagement Conference and has collaborated on reconciliation projects, including the naming of the Chief Mistawasis Bridge in Saskatoon.