West indian culture

Deepen the connection with Indigenous culture


A few weeks ago, I had the privilege of having lunch with Wally Chartrand.

He is a keeper of indigenous knowledge, a traditional pipe-carrier, a sweat lodge holder, a sun dancer and shkabeh, which means helper. He is also part of the leadership team at Ma Mawi Wi Chi Itata in Winnipeg as a spirit guardian.


For columnist Shelley Cook, meeting Wally Chartrand meant more than just an interview with the Indigenous knowledge keeper. (Shelley Cook/Winnipeg Free Press)

I have met Chartrand once before, briefly last year in a sharing circle at the end of a conference we both attended. We barely talked then, he accepted my facebook friend request after the conference was over.

More recently, he graciously agreed to meet me for an interview when I texted him out of the blue last month. At first when I texted him, I wasn’t sure he remembered or knew who I was.

“I write for the Winnipeg Free Press. I’m doing a series on Manitoba seniors and wondering if you’d be interested in being interviewed…” read part of my post.

“Yes, I remember you and yes, I would like to contribute to your story,” he replied.

Before we met, I was both excited and nervous. For me, it was more than an interview and a story.

To be able to write this story has been an honor and it has given me reason and access to reach out, but in a deeper and more personal way, I was so grateful to have the opportunity to sit down and listen to it, and learn from the knowledge it retains.

The first time we met was at the Cork and Flame restaurant on Portage Avenue. I gave Chartrand a tobacco tie and thanked him for meeting me. We sat for almost three hours. He was generous with his words and knowledge, speaking softly but steadily as I listened. He welcomed my questions and assured me that there were no wrong or stupid questions.

“That’s how you learn,” he said.

I’m just starting to learn more about my native culture and, to be honest, I often have an overwhelming sense of impostor syndrome.

I didn’t grow up in ceremonies or learning or practicing a traditional way of life. I always knew who I was on the surface – a map-carrying Native from Brokenhead. But I always felt disconnected from my roots, and when I was young I pretended to be someone and something else, because I felt a lot of shame and internalized racism for who I was. .

I know that I am not alone in this case. I have heard other aboriginals tell me how heavy the impostor syndrome is for them. The journey many of us take to reclaim our culture can be difficult because there is no map, and it is difficult to know where and how to begin.

Of course, it’s hard. The Canadian government has done everything to try to kill our culture. He went so far as to outlaw Indigenous ceremonies and cultural practices through the Indian Act in the late 1800s in an effort to assimilate Indigenous peoples into colonized Canadian society.

Many of us are still feeling these effects and trying to find the path our ancestors were pushed back on.

Fortunately, there are shkabeh like Chartrand to help us find our way.

During a second interview at Ma Mawi’s offices in Headingley, he said something that caught my attention. A lesson he received from someone else many years ago.

“Now that you’ve heard this story, now it’s your story. It’s yours too,” he said. “Nothing belongs to us, just as Mother Earth does not belong to us. The same goes for our stories, they do not belong to us, but they are there to be shared.”

You can read the story I wrote about Wally Chartrand in the March 12 edition of Free hurry or online at winnipegfreepress.com.

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Twitter: @ShelleyA Cook

Shelly Cook

Shelly Cook
Columnist, Reader Bridge Project Manager

Shelley Cook is a columnist for the Winnipeg Free Press and manages the newspaper’s Reader Bridge project, which aims to expand coverage to underserved communities.

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