June 4, 2020

Indigenous storytelling brings important perspectives to the pandemic dialogue

ii’ taa’poh’to’p launches Elders video series, sharing wisdom in a difficult time
Elders video series
Dr. Reg Crowshoe shares stories in the first video of the series

As Reg and Rose Crowshoe’s great-grandkids and dog are ushered out of their living room, Reg repositions his iPad and settles into Zoom while UCalgary’s video team begins recording the call. He joins us to share stories from his home on the Piikani nation south of Calgary which is currently on COVID-19 lockdown.

As of May 21, the Government of Canada reported that there were 38 cases of COVID-19 on First Nations reserves in Alberta, and 205 across the country. While the numbers remain relatively low, there is concern as communities look to an uncertain future.

“Indigenous knowledge isn’t really being used to work through this crisis,” Crowshoe says. “Western science and medicine are all our people are hearing about, and that’s a problem.” And a problem, we can argue, for all of us during this difficult time. In addition to western science, coping and healing through trauma needs holistic solutions, which include storytelling, lessons from our ancestors and guidance from Elders. This is why ii’ taa’poh’to’p, UCalgary’s Indigenous Strategy, is launching a series of videos in June, National Indigenous History month, which will offer ongoing wisdom from Elders.

An old story in a new world

Crowshoe reminds us that the pandemic is not a new situation, especially for Indigenous Peoples. “We’ve survived pandemics in the past — smallpox, diphtheria, hanta — 3,100 Piikani people out of a population of 4,000 caught smallpox from infested blankets in the 1880s. That, combined with poor medical service, Indian Affairs policies, residential schools and food shortages, by 1902 there were only 700 Piikani people left.”

Today, the Piikani nation is back up to its original population of 4,000. With the help of traditional storytelling, Indigenous wisdom now walks a parallel path with western ways to bring health and resilience to Crowshoe’s people.

With the first video now launched, the ongoing series will expand on Indigenous wisdom, covering the Indigenous context for pandemics, preventive health and the power of plant medicine and ceremony.

Diverse perspectives in a big conversation

Crowshoe wants to be clear that his perspective offers just one small step to understanding Indigenous ways of knowing. “It’s a window into a culture, but it’s not the whole culture. There are different stories, interpretations and approaches for different nations, and even in my nation, but I want to share my knowledge on behalf of the university’s Indigenous Strategy.”

More voices are expected to join the conversation as we look to the future. Michael Hart, vice-provost (Indigenous engagement), is proud to see an Indigenous dialogue emerging in a time that requires genuine connection and hope. “The Office of Indigenous Engagement works closely with an Advisory Circle of 16 Elders from the Treaty 7 region and beyond, and we want to share their wisdom with the wider community, now, during this difficult time, and also in the months to come.”

Watch the first video below and follow UCalgary on Twitter or Facebook to see the next videos in the series, launching in the coming weeks.

On June 19, join UCalgary for Campfire Chats, featuring virtual conversations about Indigenous resilience, to honour National Indigenous Peoples Day. Learn more.


UCalgary resources on COVID-19

For the most up-to-date information about the University of Calgary's response to the spread of COVID-19, visit the UCalgary COVID-19 Response website.