By Lindy Kinoshameg, YPT Community Engagement Facilitator

About INDIGENizeUS:  During YPT’s 2017/18 Season, the entire staff participated in INDIGENizeUS workshops created by Lindy Kinoshameg and Leslie McCue that focused on Indigenous relations, raising cultural awareness, and exploring individual reconciliation. Learning began around the seven sacred teachings of Respect, Bravery, Humility, Love, Honesty, Wisdom, and Truth. The intention behind the workshop series is to hear stories from Indigenous artists/elders and participate in traditions first-hand. It is our hope that programs such as this will begin building a bridge between nations and help take the first steps toward reconciliation. To read INDIGENizeUS – Part 1, click here.

When Leslie and I were designing the INDIGENizeUS workshops, we wondered what would be the best delivery method for each of the seven grandfather teachings and activities. Selecting “Respect” as the first sacred teaching to be explored in the workshops was a conscious and important choice.

There is so much to say about Indigenous culture and practices that we wanted to make sure the right person was saying the right things for what could have been some people’s first impression of Indigenous people and culture.  As there are many nations, many teachings and many differences between them, only an elder with a lifetime of experience would be able to freely and openly speak about them. We went through our list of local elders, all of whom are very well respected within the Indigenous community and have the necessary knowledge and experience, but one stood out for us: Elder Pauline Shirt.

Pauline Shirt was born and raised in Saddle Lake Reserve, Alberta. Pauline is greatly recognized for her commitment to the Toronto Native community and for her dedication as a teacher and lecturer since the late sixties. She is a member of the Three Fires Society and the Buffalo Dance Society. Pauline Shirt, a Founder of the First Nations School and the Red Willow, are just two examples of her hard work ethic and perseverance to enhancing the betterment of the Toronto Aboriginal community. Today, Pauline serves as a mentor to many Aboriginal youth and young families as an experienced and trusted Grandmother. She also works in all levels of government conducting Opening Prayers and attending meetings, making sure the Aboriginal community is positively recognized as she offers a voice for her people.

YPT staff and board members listen intently to Pauline Shirt.

Almost all of the teachings had two workshop times. This was an attempt to accommodate all of the scheduling conflicts of having over 50 staff attend as many sessions as possible during a busy theatre season. Both workshop sessions had an identical theme and facilitator, but the content would shift slightly each time as this particular program had never been done before. Understanding the nature of the style that elders speak in, it is very different than the colonial framework most professional Canadians are accustomed to. There will be no power-point slides with the elder; they will not spell it out for you. If you are there to truly learn and listen then the stories will connect you with the lesson. Self-discovery is powerful, and elders like Pauline Shirt are very good at allowing us to continue learning even after she has finished speaking.

“I was deeply moved by Elder Pauline Shirt’s workshop. It was not only an honour to be there to hear her stories and experiences, but I found the in-the-moment way that she explained the ceremonial aspects of this workshop, as well as immersive way that she shared her culture – the way she told stories, related her life, and how she did all of this – I feel I have understood it in a visceral way that is significant. I was fascinated to experience Respect through her approach to sharing her traditions, experiences and wisdom. I feel I have shared in a very special moment that will stay with me.” – Workshop Participant

Smudge bowl with one of the sacred medicines, Sage.

You know, there was a lot to squeeze into the first teaching. Respect can stand alone as its own workshop series and you can spend days explaining some of the content covered: the story of how the seven grandfather teachings were given to the people, the sacred medicines and practices of Indigenous people, the significance of the eagle and his feather. By design, this workshop was the introduction, one that other sessions could stem from, building on our knowledge. My hope was that we would all move forward respectfully, and we did, so I want to say a big Chi-Miigwech to Pauline Shirt!

Respect workshop group photo.

Next week: Lindy reflects on the Humility session of the INDIGENizeUS workshops at YPT.

INDIGENizeUS : Part 1

About Lindy Kinoshameg:

Lindy Kinoshameg, as a child.

A proud Odawa from the Pike clan, Lindy was raised in Wiikwemkoong Unceeded First Nation on Manitoulin Island. Lindy has spent the last 10 years in Toronto, focusing his energy on Indigenous cultural awareness and breaking stereotypes through the arts. Always striving to practice new art-forms, this has led to a multitude of experiences: Visual arts projects, Healthy Living Program Coordinator, and Indigenous Radio Program Host, working his way up to Production Tour Manager and Event Coordinator, Indigenous Dance and cultural workshop facilitation. Lindy is now involved with Young People’s Theatre as Community Engagement Facilitator, in part to his strong belief and push towards incorporating Indigenous values and teachings into his practice, and sharing his knowledge with others.