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Empowering Indigenous Youth: Doreen Turning Robe Tiny Tots Memorial Powwow 2023 seeks support for seed planters of the future

Funding shortfall threatens Indigenous children's cultural celebration

Young Indigenous girls dancing in traditional regalia from 2018. // Submitted

Prepare to be immersed in a captivating journey through Indigenous culture at the highly anticipated Doreen Turning Robe Tiny Tots Memorial Powwow 2023.

But before the drums start to echo on Friday, Nov. 3, Shannon Genest, a dedicated member of the Awo Taan Healing Lodge Society’s team, is sharing with Calgary Citizen’s former intern Ashley Pfeifer about the significance of the upcoming Tiny Tots Powwow.

The Awo Taan Healing Lodge Society traces its roots back to a 1986 vision for a shelter supporting Indigenous women and children experiencing family violence.

“The women's shelter provides accommodation for women and families of all diversities who are fleeing domestic violence,” Genest says.

"Our approach is firmly rooted in an Indigenous framework, emphasizing holistic and trauma-informed care."

A dedicated group led by Ruth Scalp Lock, this vision emphasizes traditional healing practices like the Aboriginal Medicine Wheel, smudging, and Elder guidance.

The Family Wellness Centre also provides culturally based programs for Indigenous families living in Calgary and the impact is evident through the remarkable success stories of individuals and families.

“There's one family that stands out to me. There was some domestic and sexual violence that occurred to one of the children and the mother decided to not go back. It was quite a horrific experience,” Genest says.

“She had to find community and mental health support for her child and the rest of the family. And herself. So to come from that lived experience or family situation to where she is today, for me, that is a true representation of resilience and courage.”

Why they do what they do

Services offered by Awo Taan Healing Lodge Society are culturally grounded and tailored to meet the specific needs of Indigenous individuals and families, contributing to both healing and cultural preservation.

Twenty years ago, Genest’s late mother, Doreen (Macy) May Jacobs-Turning Robe, saw an additional need within the organization and worked tirelessly to bring it to fruition.

“My mother didn’t have this big education, but she saw a need for Indigenous children living in the city who couldn’t go to powwows,” Genest says.

Due to limited income and lack of support, many Indigenous families are faced with financial insecurities that leave children without traditional items, such as powwow regalia.

“My mother wondered, ‘How can we make this happen? What if we ask people from the reserve to lend us their gear? And then what if we start fundraising and write letters to agency partners and see if they could help us?’”

That prompted Jacobs-Turning Robe to write her proposal on three pieces of paper.

“They still have it at the shelter as a reminder of what we do, who we help, and why we help,” Genest adds.

Sharing and celebrating a special culture

The Doreen Turning Robe Memorial Tiny Tot Powwow serves as a significant fundraiser that helps Indigenous children access powwows and the chance to celebrate their culture.

“Last year was probably the first time that I really had a different perspective at the powwow. I saw the kids dancing and really understood what my mom was talking about all of these years.”

The powwow is a cultural celebration where children can hear the drums, feel the rhythms, and connect with their heritage, Genest explains, adding it also offers a profound sense of identity and pride.

“What I see is a great sense of belonging for the kids. Every generation is better, gets stronger, gets healthier, starts to heal.”

Like many Indigenous families impacted by the Indian Residential Schools, Genest and her family are still healing.

“My folks went through residential schools and I saw the effect. My daughter will somehow in some way also feel that effect,” Genest explains.

“She sees my dad, who can’t hear because the priests would always hit him with a ruler, and I have to explain to my daughter, ‘Well, this is what happened to grandpa.’”

Genest also faced her own oppression, enduring teachers who discouraged her and suggested that she should return to her reserve.

“Maybe by the time my little girl is a grandmother things will be different,” Genest says.

“When I see powwows, I’m hopeful. I know that something good is going to come out of that for the children and that’s what I hang on to. We’re seed planters. We’re all planting seeds and trying to change the future.”

The children who attended the powwows with their families when Genest's mother initially introduced them have returned to actively support the event, ensuring the legacy of Jacobs-Turning Robe's mission endures.

“It’s a living exponential effect because every time they come back, it’s better,” Genest says. “There’s that resilience piece, and they’re passing it onto their children. It’s beautiful.”

But there are financial roadblocks

The 2023 Tiny Tots Powwow is facing funding challenges, with one of its key partners, the Calgary Indian Friendship Centre, unable to provide its usual support.

This created a financial shortfall of $2,000, which led to difficulties in providing essential items for the children attending the powwow, such as backpacks containing socks, toques, scarves, school supplies, and more.

Due to the last-minute shortfall, the organization only has resources for 15 backpacks when they expect about 300 to walk through the doors.

To address this shortfall, Genest reached out to community members, Tsuut'ina Nation, and Siksika Nation for support, but unfortunately, many of those organizations are facing their own funding shortfalls and are unable to provide support.

As one of the most underfunded shelters in Alberta, Genest emphasized the need for volunteers, donations, and in-kind contributions such as clothing and books to support Awo Taan Healing Lodge Society's mission.

“For me, the biggest thing, aside from monetary donations, is remembering us. Putting us on your radar for when you are looking at Indigenous communities and agencies,” Genest says, adding the event holds a special place in the hearts of the Indigenous community.

People interested in accessing Awo Taan Healing Lodge Society's services can find the organization on Facebook, through the 211 app, or by calling Awo Taan Healing Lodge Society directly. Donors must specify that their donation be directed to the 2023 Late Doreen Jacobs Turning Robe.

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