Powerful line up shows draw of Wîcihitowin
- NC Raine | October 07, 2021
The banquet halls and event space of TCU Place – the gathering place of the Wîcihitowin Indigenous Engagement Conference – may not be as bustling as in previous years, but the importance of the conference, now in its seventh year, has only become more pronounced.
“Based on the growth and appetite for our gathering, the work (of the Calls to Action) and the load will get lighter for those who have been doing the majority of it right now. Because we have a lot of hands on deck, and if we all carry a little bit more, it's not going to take as long as it's been anticipated to take,” said Neal Kewistep, co-founder of the conference.
Every year, the Wîcihitowin Conference explores pathways to inclusivity and greater representation of Indigenous people as employees, volunteers, and decision makers, all within the context of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's (TRC) 94 Calls to Action.
This year, the sold-out conference – at 2,500 attending virtually – centred on the theme of the 'Seven Sacred Teachings' of love, respect, courage, honesty, wisdom, humility, and truth. These 'instructions for life', said Kewistep, have perhaps never been so essential.
“There's more demand for that type of way-of-being in the world. We need to come together more now than any point of time in our shared history. The thing about the teachings, they aren't a menu. You can't choose when you be respectful, when to be honest. You have to try to apply them all,” he said.
“As we happen to get to year seven, it was a natural connection for us to adopt the Seven Sacred Teachings. We can already see what happens when you integrate them into your life: mother tongue starts to come back, values, practices and principles start to be seen in our communities. Pride comes back.”
After seven years of creating important conversation, efforts like Wîcihitowin conference, and so many other initiatives, have slowly begun to make its mark on society, said Kewistep.
“If you're looking at how far our country has gone on the TRC Calls to Action, Senator Murray Sinclair recently said that 14 of the 94 have been met. If that's the measurement, we have a long way to go, but we are starting to see a lot of work that's been initiated on those other 80 Calls,” he said.
“The Calls to Action have been there for a long time. No one has to do them, no one has to do anything they don't want to do. But we've seen people take those steps.”
The conference featured keynotes from Dr. Dave Courchene, Stephanie Harpe, Richard Van Camp, Cindy Blackstock, Eugene Arcand, Maria Linklater, Gilbert Kewistep, and Chief Cadmus Delorme.
“Have the Calls to Action in your business lives, in your political lives, in your social life. They will make this land a better place,” said Delorme, Chief of Cowessess First Nation.
In his keynote, Delorme shared how Cowessess is creating change within its own community by asserting jurisdiction over its children in care. He also spoke on how Cowessess is now focusing on Call to Action number 92, which calls on Canada to ensure Indigenous people have equitable access to jobs, training, and education opportunities in the corporate sector.
“The more we focus on number 92, the more it will strengthen the home fire. When someone wakes up with purpose and excitement, and their children are around seeing this, that will provide so much change within one generation. We have to build one another up to get to that spot.”