Jan. 25, 2022

Journey of imagining renewal at UCalgary continues as Indigenous Strategy turns 4

Anniversary of ii’ taa’poh’to’p marked with transfer ceremony and celebration
Provost Teri Balser shakes the hand of Elder Reg Crowshoe in the transfer ceremony to celebrate the fourth anniversary of ii’ taa’poh’to’p. Riley Brandt, University of Calgary

The fourth anniversary of the University of Calgary’s Indigenous Strategy, ii’ taa’poh’to’p, was marked with a ceremony that officially passed its mandate to UCalgary’s new provost, who was also gifted with an honorary Blackfoot name.

The name, Manu Matu, which means “a renewal of journey,” was given to Provost Teri Balser by Elder Reg Crowshoe, Hon. LLD’01, at the celebration and transfer ceremony, titled Imagining Renewal.

As the university reflects on its ii’ taa’poh’to’p journey and marks the transition of a new provost, “this time of preparing for renewal is a time we take to heart,” said Vice-Provost (Indigenous) Michael Hart during the virtual event on Nov. 30.

We know our commitment is a long-term one, and it’s going to take time and ongoing commitments by many people to keep us moving forward.

The ceremony included a smudge and dance to symbolize the passing of the strategy mandate from former provost Dru Marshall to Balser, who succeeded Marshall in April 2021. “This cultural practice is an oral process in our ways to transfer stewardship and responsibility from one person to another,” said Crowshoe at the event. “This is how we navigate our oral-management system for rights and privileges.”

Former Provost Dr. Dru Marshall and Elder Rose Crowshoe drape Provost Teri Balser with a shawl to commemorate the transition of the strategy during the transfer ceremony to celebrate the fourth anniversary of  ii’ taa’poh’to’p.

Former provost Dru Marshall and Elder Rose Crowshoe drape Teri Balser with a shawl to commemorate the transition of the strategy during the transfer ceremony to celebrate the fourth anniversary of ii’ taa’poh’to’p.

Riley Brandt, University of Calgary

A communal responsibility

UCalgary President Ed McCauley, joined by Balser, Hart, and Elders Reg and Rose Crowshoe, witnessed the transfer of the pipe bag that holds the ii’ taa’poh’to’p vision, mission, strategy and updates from Marshall to Balser. This transfer also acknowledges Marshall’s role as the outgoing steward of the Indigenous Strategy while remaining available to Balser and the university in an advisory capacity for strategy when needed.

Crowshoe says the bag is viewed as a living being or child — a being that is reliant on the care of its relatives. In this context, the president, provost, former provost and Elders serve as the parents, grandparents and Elders of the strategy, respectively.

As former caretaker of ii’ taa’poh’to’p, Marshall shared her wisdom with Balser. “With that privilege (of becoming steward) comes great responsibility,” she said. “There are many people within our own community and the Indigenous community that will be here to help.”

Elder Rod Hunter and Anders Hunter opened the ceremony with the UCalgary Honour Song as Crowshoe, Marshall and Hart danced alongside in a circle. As the incoming steward of the strategy, Balser stepped into the ceremonial space to join her peers in dancing, and was handed the pipe bag by Marshall to mark the official transfer of ii’ taa’poh’to’p.

Ceremony validation

In Blackfoot culture, the transfer ceremony requires several pieces of validation: venue, action, language and song. The Office of Indigenous Engagement served as the venue. The language and song, Crowshoe explained during the event, is the language of ii’ taa’poh’to’p, and the UCalgary Honour Song serves as physical documentation of achieving the privilege to be responsible for the mandate and its implementation.

Balser received several cultural gifts during the ceremony: a small Pendleton medicine bag, a baby buffalo blanket that covered the ii’ taa’poh’to’p pipe bag, and a shawl that was draped on Balser’s shoulders. As Balser accepted her role as steward of the strategy, she gifted the former provost with another ceremonial shawl that symbolizes Marshall’s role as a past steward.

Acknowledging the path to reconciliation, Balser called upon the UCalgary community to continue to learn about Indigenous Peoples, culture and history. “The activities taken place have been deeply motivating and strengthening to our commitment outlined in the strategy, and will allow us to reach more people across our university and greater Calgary community,” she said.

Reconciliation key to renewal

The ceremony concluded with keynote speaker Chief Dr. Robert Joseph, hereditary chief of B.C.’s Gwawaenuk First Nation, who talked about the significance of reconciliation.

“The renewal piece is critically important … every step we take in reconciliation should inspire, and we can’t dismiss its importance,” he said.

As a residential school survivor, Joseph spoke to how the stories of survivors are critical in bringing true transformation to the country: “We have this potential to bring about the levels of what reconciliation is, and healing is the basis of renewal and hope.” Offering his guidance to large institutions like UCalgary, Joseph said reconciliation should be integrated as a core value across every level of the organization:

To honour the flow of ancestral knowledge is to practise Indigenous knowledge … reconciliation starts with you.

McCauley echoed the importance of UCalgary’s commitment to ii’ taa’poh’to’p as a critical piece to this year’s event theme. “Through the commitment of all members of the University of Calgary family, we're envisioning a process of true renewal,” he said. “We're imagining a positive path forward in the face of a devastating share of history.”

ii’ taa’poh’to’p, the University of Calgary’s Indigenous Strategy, is a commitment to deep evolutionary transformation by reimagining ways of knowing, doing, connecting and being. Walking parallel paths together, “in a good way,’” UCalgary will move toward genuine reconciliation and Indigenization.