Whispers in the North: Introducing Northern Fellow Melissa Herman

By Melissa Herman

As the Northern Fellow for ABSI Connect, I hope to provide raw insights into the dynamics of Indigenous communities, both rural and urban. The desire for change in these communities is producing significant ideas at a grassroots level, rooted with Traditional Knowledge.

In the right environment, and with the right supports, these ideas can flourish and lead to meaningful long-term social and environmental shifts within Indigenous communities and beyond. There is a strong sense that some ideas are already flourishing, but there are a lot of seedlings needing better conditions. That’s where ABSI and I come in. I want to be the connection between problems and solutions; a translator from traditional knowledge to modern thinking and vise versa.

Being raised on Edmonton Alberta’s north side, before being exposed to and embracing the reserve lifestyle, has given me a deep intuitive understanding of issues generated by past and current systems and, more importantly, creative ways to address them. As an ABSI Fellow, I will be listening deeply with indigenous innovators in the north to understand these systems even more and the solutions developed by communities to address them.

From what I can see, indigenous people in the north are delicately balancing, or trying to balance, traditional lifestyles and modern lifestyles, while having a reciprocal relationship with the earth. This generation, and some of the last, are making very conscious decisions to pursue higher learnings and return to their communities - the first steps in reconciliation. Educational institutions, and even health care facilities, operate with an image sculpted by residential school experiences and a history of poor health care. It's my mission to adapt social innovation as best I can.

Indigenous innovation is a tenacious container to radically change systems. With the Liberal government’s inquiry to Missing & Murdered Indigenous Women, the TRC’s calls to action and precedents like the Daniels Case, the boat is being rocked. Looking at systems through the lens of Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s report will help fill service gaps and foster a relationship of understanding between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people in Canada.

The TRC Bentwood Box: Carved by Coast Salish Artist Luke Marston.  Photo from University of Manitoba Today .

The TRC Bentwood Box: Carved by Coast Salish Artist Luke Marston. Photo from University of Manitoba Today.

Perhaps the hardest part is both ending and about to begin - now, it's about building enough momentum to tip the boat over and make water the norm. To help us get there, I want to amplify voices to counter the isolation of the north. This is a practice that we need. Stories not only build a sense of inclusion, generate interest and engage the youth, they are embedded in Indigenous tradition, oral and written.

There needs to be a clear understanding of what it means to be a successful Indigenous person. Does it mean living traditionally and speaking an Indigenous language fluently? There seems to be a sense of pride instilled in youth and adults alike, when beginning to learn to speak/speak our language. Does that mean pursuing high learnings? - which is an internal struggle for some given residential school experiences and the intergenerational effect of them. Is is a combination of both? ‘Bi-cultural’ if you will. If so, where is the line?

The shift in how Indigenous people identify themselves needs to be strengthened in Northern Alberta. We need to come to a point where Indigenous people in the north feel safe, valued, and included in society.

To get there I want to amplify the whispers in the north to counter the isolation.

This is a practice that we need.