I have had the privilege of accompanying the Sturgeon Lake community on its journey toward empowerment since 1997, when as the Children’s Advocate for Alberta I sought to provide new opportunities for community members to support their children and be directly involved in child welfare policy development and implementation. I was especially interested in finding new ways to collaborate with First Nation communities who were reluctant to engage with a provincial office that was associated with a system that had such devastating consequences for their families. This journey has taken some unanticipated directions as the community pursued a path without a road map, one that required keeping an eye on where we had been, while ensuring that we be alert to sudden turns or unexpected precipices as we felt our way toward a new vision for the community.
This article describes some of the key events that have occurred to date, their outcomes, and some of our planned activities for the future. My role with the community has mostly been of a supportive and consultative nature, and community leaders have been very clear about our relationship. “Jean, you are a part of our community and you are welcome to drive the bus once in a while, but let’s be clear that we will be the ones to tell you when you can drive the bus, where you must turn, and where you can get off.” I cannot think of a more apt metaphor to describe a balanced relationship between an academic and a truly empowered community.
The story of this journey is divided into three phases. Phase I deals with the preliminary reason for getting together, which was to address child welfare issues that were important to the community. Phase II describes how the interests of the community shifted toward the identification of residential school issues and their impact on children and families, along with a description of our preliminary attempts at addressing these issues. Phase III describes planned community activities to heal from the negative impacts of the residential school system and to achieve a sense of reconciliation with those who played a part in this sad segment of our history.
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