How Can We Make It Better?

Talk to Rotary Club of Calgary

I gave this talk  to the Rotary Club in Calgary at the ROTARY HOUSE  on September 5th, 2019.  

Listen or read the full speech below.



Good afternoon. The formal way I introduce myself is: “Sizi Xakiji Cha Di Nidi K’azi”

So what does that mean? Xakiji, means “Chief”. That is the proper and formal way you’re supposed to address me. “Xakiji”, not “Chief”, …”Xakiji”. My real name is: Wakinyan Duuta.

That simply means “Red Thunder”.

Red Thunder was a war chief back in the days when the US soldiers used to raid villages and kill people. He was the war chief that stopped them. When I was six months old I was given the name, Wakinyan Duuta.

Now Wakinyan Duuta, like I said, was a war chief, and he lived a very hard life.

Because when you’re a war chief, you’re actually nobody. You’re the person who, in this day and age, somebody’s who’s running maintenance out there, somebody who’s just common. And when danger’s about and everything has to come up, the war chief is called forward.

The war chief is like resetting the button all over again. Like a dictator. Not the way we understand that as now. They’re the ones that kind of ruled with martial law until order was restored. And then, they stepped out of that role. So that role isn’t very long.

All the other chiefs that you might have known from our nation, or from others, they’re kind of known as “Camp Chiefs”. Camp chiefs can last for a very long time, because they’re there to look after the people. They’re there to make sure everybody’s taken care of.

That’s not necessarily my role. And I understand, it’s very clear. But the journey to get here had been very long and arduous, like my grandfather told me, “Your life is going to be like that.” Sometimes I’d say, to Grandpa, “Oh, gee, I wish it wasn’t like that Grandpa. It would have been much easier.” But I understand it all.

Anyways … Funny thing is – how many have been here more than 50 years?( Calgary Stampede grounds)… And you know that the village was just over the other side of the wall there. Well, that’s where I grew up. During the Calgary Stampede, And right behind the stage there is where our tipi was set up. As I got old enough to ride horses, I’d ride a horse from the reserve all the way in here. And I’d always get a police escort. (laughter). It was really good because they made sure that I was okay. They’d say, “Oh it’s good that you’re coming to the Stampede, really great.” And they’d escort me all the way. So I was lucky that way. (laughter) Those are the fond memories. And in the early morning hours when the sun’s just coming up the camp guard would come all through the village and saying, “It’s time to get up, get your horses ready. The parade’s coming soon….”

“We’ve got to help the people understand.” Those are the words, so all of us young boys, we’d have to get up and go across the river to where the village is now, and that’s where all the barns were. We’d catch all our horses and walk them through the river there, and they’d all drink their water and that, and we’d bring them back up here. It was kind of reliving what it might have been like a long time ago. Those are my fond memories.

Well, you know the Stampede has changed a lot since then, because that’s just what happens. But maybe we didn’t. And I thought about this long and hard.

To measure success here.

There are all sorts of measuring sticks. How much education you get. How much you participate in what happens in the community. All those markers that would say: this is success. And for the longest time on the reserve you had to go to church – you might not have liked it but you had to go to church, whether that would be the Catholic, or the Anglican, or Mormon. If you weren’t, you were kind of criticized, “You’re not a real Indian, are you?” And I use the word Indian, because that’s how we were referred to at that time. Nobody referred to us as Tsuut’ina, they’d say, “You’re not a real Indian.”

So we had to live with that. What’s the outcome of that? Go across the street over here, right out across the bridge there is Alpha House, where there is detox. Every night you can bet about 80% of those members are natives, First Nations, from somewhere else. That’s the legacy that was left for us. And you all know that I’m not going to pull punches here. You see them on the roads. You see them on the streets. You see them at the stop sign, and begging. That was what fell through the cracks of our hands, you want to help people, they just fell through the cracks. We’ll still try to help them, but that’s not who we are. We’re not what is visible. Because what’s invisible is more important.

Our covenant with life is not to a church, or to a Creator, per se. Our covenant is to the land, the water, and the air. That’s where we establish our symbiotic relationship to everything. And out of that comes creation. We don’t say God, we say Nata,because we’re not talking about a physical presence. But our next word is Nisk’a?agulaga , “Creation!”. There’s a God, or a Great Spirit, but it’s part of “Creation”.

So now you know that the understanding is why the covenant is so different. It’s about the land…., the water…. and the air…. This is a basic understanding, but not too many people know that.

What we deal with is the fence that we put between ourselves. “Hey, you’re my best buddy, let’s shake hands, and you can tell me some sort of crappy joke, and I’ll tell you the same.” And we’re not really friends, are we? No. We’re just  being polite to each other. And we can get away with it.  We can get away with those little racial digs and laugh about it, “Aw, we’re just kidding.” But we’re not. Because we don’t understand the other.

So here’s this fence. When I became “Xakiji”, my intention was to start breaking down those fences, those walls that divide us, because, now, we have to talk to each other as one on one. Not because I’m successful and you’re not, or vice versa, or that I’m a man and you’re a woman, or that I have an education and you have nothing. Or look at how much money I’ve got in my pocket right now – I can contribute to this bucket. You can’t. You reach in there, you probably want to take money.

If anything I’ve learned in these last few years, it’s how much I can’t do. And there’s a lot more things I can’t do than what I can do. I’ve learned compassion. Not just for my own family, my own people, but for all across this land. And for all these that are here in Calgary. All of you here.

Some of you are old farts that have been successful, and you’ve earned your success off our backs. Off our land. You’ve earned that, and you call that “mine”.

And I’m here to tell you, I want to help you still. Here’s my hand to reach out to you, help you move forward. Why? Because your grandchildren your great-grandchildren are going to remember you not for what you did, but more importantly, what you didn’t do. This world is changing.

Climate change is a reality. Whether it’s just a cycle that we’ll overcome in 200 years, or not,  but it’s changing. Whatever happened 1000 years ago, we went through that, it’s changed now. If we go through the same cycle now, it’s different because, hey, look at how much we’ve evolved.

We’ve got cars, we’ve got nice houses, we’ve got all these things. We can travel around the globe. And quite honestly, the earth doesn’t really need any of us here.

I’m going to break this down into seasons.

Every winter, when winter comes.

Out in the natural world, all those that are old, the sick and the wounded, they’ll freeze to death and they’ll die. That’s just the natural order of things. In our world, we have people that get sick, maybe the cold is affecting them, they can’t survive. So what do we do? We go to the hospital. “Hey, save us. We need to live some more.” “Go pray, go pray some more, and get divine intervention to help you.” Or, “There’s a really good doctor in Arizona. It’s nice and warm there. Why we go, pay for it, go down there and get something fixed.” But in the end, winter does come. It says, “You can do all you want, you can pray all you want. If you want to go to all the doctors and do all this, it doesn’t matter because you’re coming with me.”

So what does that teach us? When the spring comes, and the thunderbirds, lightning, when it comes it says, “We’re here to help wash the tears of pain that you have.” Because what does thunder do? Thunder is negatively charged ions. Throughout the winter, the land becomes positively charged with ions, which sounds like a good idea, but it’s unbalanced. So the old people would say that when thunder comes and it hits the ground like this, it’s “killing the snakes”. Not in the literal sense, but it’s bringing balance, because the positive and negative have now attached to each other,  so there’s balance again. And that’s what happens. That’s why the thunder comes and says, “Use my tears to wash away your tears. I’m here for the summer to take care of you.” This is what we go through, in our natural world.

Come summertime, we have to go to ceremonies. We go to Sundances. Just briefly what a Sundance is … it’s a dance we do for four days. You don’t eat or drink water, you just dance all day. Facing the tree, or facing the sun, to offer something. What can you offer, because Creation made everything? Even made you. “What have you got to offer?” “I don’t know. I could offer some of my flesh.” So we get tied to the tree, right here, and we have to break ourselves off, that’s our offering. But it’s so the people can survive. And most of you wouldn’t know that, because it’s held in such confidence. Not secret, but just in confidence. These people are sacrificing for the land, for the people, so the next generations can carry on.

Then come fall, it’s time to get things ready for the winter, because there’s a change here. And then the Thunderbird says, “I’m leaving now. I’ll see you guys in the spring. But whoever winter comes to take, you have to accept that.”

So that’s the difference here. This is why, again, I reach out to all of you. I’m giving you a hand here. Let us Tsuut’ina help you. Because we need to be brothers and sisters here. Calgary’s changing. You know what the economy’s been like, I don’t have to tell you that. You know how much you’ve been hurt, you know how much you depend on the oil. Well, together, we need to put something in place.

In 2013, when the flood came, devastated all down here. And then they wanted to fix it. The more affluent Calgarians living along here said, “You have to fix this, or else your government’s going to suffer.” And so they came up with this plan. Springbank. And those of you who’ve followed, you know where I stand. I made a statement in early July saying we won’t accept this, no matter what. If you want to fight, we’re going to fight you.

Again, toshgoshi spoke to me, “The Frogs”. Years and years ago I was told, “You have to protect the water.” I had no idea what they were talking about. Then the flood came. And I was in emergency management at that time. The Nation…., we didn’t get impacted as much because we kind of got smart after the first few floods and moved to higher ground. (laughter)

So when it happened here in Calgary, .. you guys, maybe if you moved higher up on the hill there you wouldn’t get hurt. Anyways, this Springbank Dam is being pushed through by all governments. First it was the Conservatives, then the NDPs, now the UCP don’t know what to do with it. In my travels and that, I said, How am I going to set this up? So we started looking. We did a global search and we found a person that could help us. An archeologist. He’s the one who discovered what the Nasca Lines in South America are about. And then it led to his studies all across North America. He’s works with National Geographic, The Smithsonian Institute and the University of Massachusetts, They fund him for doing all this work. So I brought him here. And for the past three years we’ve been researching and looking on the ground, and noticed that we found a lot of evidence that will say the Springbank Dam is not the place to be. We have the empirical evidence to prove it. We presented this to the province last week. And the province is just on their heels, saying, “We can’t argue any of this. So what are we going to do?” Since last Thursday we’ve been having phone calls almost every day. I’ve just had one while we’re sitting here.

What can we do now? We’re going to work together. Because we don’t want Calgary to go through this flood any more than anybody else, but we have to be collectively agreed on what we’re going to do. If you think you’re going to be better than us, and say you’re going to push this through, we’ll fight. Whatever that fight looks like. We’ll fight. And that’s not a threat, by any means. (clapping)

It’s about us as Tsuut’ina reaching out to everybody, every level: the provincial government, the federal government, the City of Calgary, the County of Rockyview, all the ranch people that have land up there, and say, “We’re going to figure this out, but we’re going to figure it out together.” And that’s how we start to break down walls and fences and build bridges.

Most of us here, we have more years behind us than we have in front of us. That’s our reality. So what is it we’re leaving for the next generations. We can’t take anything we’ve earned with us. Most of you will have a plot of 6’ by 3’, that’s you’ll have with you. The smarter ones will cremate themselves (laughter) so your carbon footprint isn’t as large. (laughter) Maybe your family could get carbon credits out of that, I don’t know. (laughter).

Anyways, we’re talking about the Ring Road. The SW Ring Road. It’s going to be called Tsuut’ina Road, by the way, that part. I’m still lobbying to call all Stoney Trail Tsuut’ina Trail, but that’s another fight. But years ago, in ceremony, the chief who signed the treaty came to us in ceremony and told us everything we needed to do, and we’ve been doing that. And the one thing he says is, “Be careful because what they really want is underneath the ground. The surface is one thing, but what’s underneath is what they really want.

So for years we thought, well, what does that mean? We’ve got lots of gas wells, we’ve got a lot of sweet and sour gas, we’ve got lots of oil. Maybe that’s what they want. So we were thinking of fighting on that. But no, that’s not what it is. Remember I said that one of our covenants is water? What’s underneath is water. We know the Bow Glacier is going to be gone in less than 50 years. We have the Paskapoo Aquafer that’s along the mountains there. But underneath us we have water. And governments already know this. Privy Council already knows this. But they’re not saying anything. Because they’re going to wait for all of us to be gone and say, “Okay, now we can get water here. Let’s charge for that. How much is that going to cost everybody?”

But anyways, the Ring Road was our first discovery, and that led all these other things. The Ring Road is the first time we said no to the Springbank Dam. Because there was too much mistrust. The comments were “Those goddamned white people, they just want more from us than anything else, they want to take that much more from us, didn’t we give enough, didn’t we give enough of our lives and now they want more?” So it was a strong NO. We had another land settlement happen and everybody got a little bit of money out of it, and said, “Wow, this is kinda nice, I’ve got some money in my pocket now.” So when the next vote came around, they said, “How much are we going to get for that? That much? Well, I’m going to say yes to that.”

So we were bought out. And those that were really opposed to that Ring Road are still really mad about that, saying, “Why did you guys sell yourselves for money, because look at the price we paid for that, how many died from that.” You’re a person that’s living from day-to-day and all of a sudden you’ve got thousands of dollars. What do you do with it? You do what my addiction tells me to do. So a lot of people died. That’s the price we paid for allowing this to happen. I’m not saying we’re all dysfunctional like that but those that suffered the most paid the price for that. We’ve learned from that. So now we say, this Ring Road is going to be a good thing, because it’s going to help the City of Calgary, and its economy, grow. Because access will be much faster.

We have our developments on both sides of that Ring Road. 1200 acres that’s going to be developable. It’s going to be worth about 4.5 billion in this build-out. Costco has already got their foundation poured out on the south side, off 130th.  We’re looking at a major hospital. We have another Nordic Spa kind of thing that’s going to be just off Highway 8 and Glenmore. And they’re really big in Eastern Canada – I can’t remember their name – kind of like Kananaskis does everything in that spa, it’s kind of like that. Apparently it’s going to be really nice. I hope I get to see it once. (laughter) We have an auto mall that’s coming in. We have the shops at Buffalo Run, we have the condos that are going to be built, boutique malls in and around the Casino. We’re going to expand the hotel there. We’re going to put in a convention centre, and some high-end restaurants. That’s in our plans within the next three years. The build-out will be about 25 years. But these are the anchor tenants. It’s going to require lots of people to look after that, especially if we go through with the hospital. We don’t have the capacity for that. So we reach out to Calgary, let’s work together here. You need a job? We have a job here, can you fill that? Then you come under the laws of the sovereign Nation of Tsuut’ina. And we’re going to treat you right, the way you should be treated. Because that holds to our principles and our ideas of what it is to be Tsuut’ina.

Two weekends ago I hosted the Amahdiyyah Muslims at our new Sportsplex. 4000 Muslims came there. And you can imagine what Tsuut’ina people think: “Whaat? Where did these people come from?” Again the phrase, ‘these people’. “Where did these people come from? This is not the way it’s supposed to be.” And that’s even from my own Nation, that racism still exists.

But I’ll tell you, on Facebook it was one young Nation Woman who spoke up and she stopped all competition. Everyone was making all these racist remarks about them being towelheads and there were other remarks. She said, “What about the future? You don’t know who your children are going to marry. What we’re doing is building this trust.” But it was a really good event. For decades and years the only Muslims and people from the east who’d come up were the taxi drivers. You handle one or two at a time. All of a sudden you’ve got 4000 there. So it forces you to examine yourself and what you believe.

It just does.

And if it doesn’t, then you’re a really closed individual. Like I said, we’re building bridges here. We’re tearing down all those old isolations. In the comments, one person said, “What about us? What about the impression white people have of us? That we’re drunks, we marry our cousins …”

That’s not us.

That’s the perception.

So why are we doing this to the Muslims? Mind you, this is one branch of the Muslim faith. They come under persecution for their Muslim beliefs much the same as we do, but they practice their faith. And in reality, it would give us a chance to see how well our Sportsplex is. (laughter)

We have 2 indoor ice arenas, one outdoor ice arena. We have a great big field house, the size of a soccer field. We have a fitness center, with a running track on top. We have board rooms,  and this week we’re hosting a Western Hockey League exhibition game – it’s a first for them to hold a game on First Nations land. I had to do an introductory video this morning, so… we’ll see how that turns out. (laughter)

I guess my message to all of you is we have an important role ahead of us. We might be a little bit long in the tooth, we might be stuck in our old ways of thinking, but now the challenge before you, and me as Xakiji, is to say “how can we make it better?”

Because the future depends on us. It depends on all of you here, and me, how can we make it better? So that’s my final word to you. Thank you very much for putting up with me for 25 minutes and 16 seconds. (laughter, applause)

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