Raising Spirit project receives Canada 150 grant

The Raising Spirit project by the Opokaa’sin Early Intervention Society, and supported by the University of Lethbridge’s Institute for Child and Youth Studies (I-CYS), has received a Canada 150 grant worth $10,000 that will allow it to undertake a series of workshops that will culminate in a public exhibit at Casa in September.

“The purpose of the exhibit is to showcase the creative work of southern Alberta Blackfoot children and youth,” says Dr. Erin Spring, a post-doctoral fellow with the I-CYS and Raising Spirit project manager. “They’re not only going to be creating the exhibit in terms of doing the art, they’re also going to be curating the exhibit. It’s going to feature their voices, their stories, their creative capacities.”

From left to right are Kaitlynn Weaver, Tesla Heavy Runner, Dr. Jan Newberry, Amy Mack, Taylor Little Mustache, Dr. Erin Spring and Hudson Eagle Bear.

The Canada 150 Grant, awarded by the Community Foundation of Lethbridge and Southwestern Alberta, is designed to encourage participation in Canada 150 activities and to inspire a deeper understanding of the people and places that shape the country. Raising Spirit is a project to help ensure Blackfoot history, language and values endure and help build future generations. The Canada 150 funding will be directed toward a series of art workshops for Blackfoot children and youth.

“It’s kind of a sub-project within Raising Spirit called Elders of the Future,” says Kaitlynn Weaver, a master’s student working with Dr. Kristine Alexander, a history professor and one of the principal investigators on the Raising Spirit project.

For older youth, Weaver organized a zine workshop that focused on art as a form of activism and resistance. Three- to six-year olds participated in a storytelling and art workshop. A collage-making workshop for older youth is scheduled for March and others will be held at Opokaa’sin, the U of L and Casa. As part of the curating exercise, youth will learn how to mat and frame a photo and how to create an exhibit.

“Our exhibit will mark the anniversary of Confederation by celebrating the resilience of Indigenous families and communities. It speaks to colonialism but also is a way of looking forward and talking about reconciliation, resurgence and resilience to show that their community is strong, that their culture is strong and that their people are strong,” says Spring.

During the exhibit, the digital library created from the Raising Spirit project will be launched to the public, along with a mobile application for the library. In addition to the materials generated from the Elders of the Future workshops, the library will contain photos from principal investigator Dr. Jan Newberry’s photo elicitation project and people’s responses to them, and storytelling sessions with elders and youth at Opokaa’sin.

Raising Spirit has been supported by funds from the Urban Aboriginal Knowledge Network, PolicyWise for Children and Families and the U of L Office of Research Services. Funding from the Summer Temporary Employment Program enabled the hiring of two Blackfoot high school students, Tesla Heavy Runner and Hudson Eagle Bear, as ethnographers and curators.

Along with Newberry and Alexander, Tanya Pace-Crosschild (BSc ’98), executive director at Opokaa’sin and member of the U of L Board of Governors, has served as a community principal investigator. She is joined by Francis First Charger, project elder, and Dr. Michelle Hogue, research consultant and U of L professor in the First Nations Transition Program. Others who have been involved in the project include Ashley Henrickson, a master’s student; Taylor Little Mustache, an undergraduate student; and Amy Mack, lead researcher.