Member of Piikani Nation harvesting teepee poles for residential school survivors

For Garret Smith of Piikani Nation, harvesting teepee poles is therapeutic.

He gets to spend time on the land gathering supplies to build a shelter and in this case building relationships with other communities.

Smith has a goal of harvesting 120 poles to set teepees up in the city of Calgary. They’ll provide a space in the city to honor residential school victims, survivors, and their families.

“There’s multiples churches and mosques and temples, hundreds, in the city of Calgary but there’s nothing in the city’s infrastructure that solely supports our basic human rights to ceremony to spirituality to our own culture, for our right to pray,” Smith told APTN while taking a break from cutting down trees.

When he put a call out for a helping hand, nearly a dozen Indigenous and non-Indigenous travelled to Piikani from all over southern Alberta to help.

Smith led the group in preparing the poles by cutting off the branches. After enough poles were harvested, group met at his home on reserve to begin peeling off the bark.

“The only way you’re going to experience our culture is by coming out to experience it and our culture is on the land,” Smith said

“I think the best way for us to move forward is to build this relationship between Canadians, non-natives and First Nations here. We need to open up our culture to the people here too.”

Scarlet Tustin, originally from Ontario, drove from Calgary to volunteer. She said the experience taught her more about her own Indigenous culture, which she didn’t grow up with.

“It’s unfortunate that so many people that are of Indigenous descent are displaced from community and they don’t get to learn about their own culture,” Tustin said adding it was also a bonding experience for her nieces.

“Just the fact that I had that opportunity alone. I learned that by taking down some of the smaller trees it allows for more growth.”

Smith said he is still working with the city to find a location for the teepees, but the first one is set to be donated to Calgary’s Bear Clan Patrol on Canada Day.

“Our culture is not in a building our culture is in the teepee, in the sweat lodge and if we can find some way to bring those into the city for those who don’t have the means to make it out here, that’s something I think that can be very profound for the city of Calgary.”

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