A ‘teaching’ that is shaping the next chapter of my personal journey of supporting reconciliation.
“We should never forget… It’s part of who we are as a nation. And this nation must never forget what it once did to its most vulnerable people.”
— Senator Murray Sinclair
When we began working on this very special edition of Your McMurray Magazine, I was in the middle of my first year studying law at the University of Saskatchewan’s College of Law. One of my favourite elements of this new education experience is the teachings I’m receiving from the Native Law Centre led by our resident Elder Maria Campbell. We are learning from her and other Elders and Indigenous lawyers the importance of traditional teachings in Aboriginal law and how it can be applied to the current justice system in Canada and the role of law in truth and reconciliation. I am incredibly grateful for the time I’m spending with Elder Campbell and the lessons I’m learning including the importance of working on your own personal land acknowledgment and why it is important to take responsibility for the past.
Following that teaching, and in consultation with other Indigenous community members in Wood Buffalo, I gave my first land acknowledgement at the Girls Inc. of Northern Alberta Women of Inspiration Gala in March of 2022. Taking this step and sharing my personal thoughts on reconciliation and my role in the past damage done to our Indigenous people in Canada took some deep reflection and time to understand my own history. Land acknowledgements, from what I recall and in my opinion, have been only given regularly in the past few years, and even then only at large events and gatherings (although I do believe they are an important part that allies, organizations and institutions should be taking part in taking their responsibility seriously on the path to reconciliation). It felt new for us to be giving such a statement and I questioned the decision many times. Myself and my co-host, Helen Bernetta, stood on that stage and we cried and felt vulnerable about sharing what felt so deeply personal with everyone in the room. It was a powerful experience, and I believe it helped me understand more about my past and how it, even if indirectly, helped shape some of the worst parts of this nation’s history. I felt incredibly supported by my Indigenous friends and peers that night.
I knew when the theme of “teachings” was chosen for this edition in working with the talented, brilliant, passionate Allison Flett and Jes Croucher, that I would like to share the personal land acknowledgement that I had been working on and sharing with members of the Nation’s whose land I live, work and play on. Following the event, and in preparation for this edition, I am tremendously grateful to Elder Robert Cree from Fort McMurray #468 First Nation for taking the time to sit with me and review and provide guidance on what I want to share with you here, in print, as part of the very first edition of this special Indigenous Wood Buffalo edition of Your McMurray Magazine. It is such a blessing to spend time with Elder Cree who is kind, patient and so freely giving of his knowledge of the land and teachings to our whole region.
I also want to give a special thank-you to the woman who inspired this special project. This edition is not only presented by Bouchier, but by the personal hard work to bring it to life of my friend and mentor Nicole Bourque-Bouchier. Nicole is more than a community leader and a well-known business powerhouse. She is a kind, compassionate leader and true champion for Indigenous business in not only economic reconciliation, but through the traditional teachings and communities she lives in. Prior to the Girls Inc. event, Nicole was one of the first to encourage me to share my personal land acknowledgment with the audience and wisely said that even if I was nervous, or it didn’t go well, it would open up a space for someone else to do it too. I thank Nicole for pushing me down this path a little further and giving me a safe space to do so.
The team at Your McMurray Magazine and Balsom would like to encourage you all to read this edition with an open heart and to take your next steps on the path to reconciliation – whatever that might look like. Thank you to every single contributor, partner, artist and writer who helped make this edition possible under the leadership of Jes and Allison.
I now share with you my personal land acknowledgement. I think it is important we all acknowledge our individual role and go deeper into why we give a land acknowledgement and share our personal connections to the land and it is a privilege to share with you. I encourage you to spend some time reflecting on your own.
I am honoured to write this while residing on Treaty 8 land and I want to speak to you about what that means to me.
I was born and raised on Random Island, Newfoundland with my family who are descendents of settlors who came from England, Ireland and Scotland to fish and work the land. I respectfully acknowledge that I was raised on the ancestral homelands of the Beothuk, whose culture has been erased forever. I also acknowledge the island of Ktaqmkuk [uk-dah-hum-gook] Newfoundland as the unceded, traditional territory of the Beothuk and the Mi’kmaq.
I now attend University on Treaty 6 land in Saskatoon, traditional lands of the Cree, Saulteaux, Dene, Dakota, Lakota, Nakota and Metis nations where I am learning about how common law and Aboriginal and indigenous laws can intersect and work together to create a better future for all peoples in Canada.
I went to highschool and now own and operate a business within Fort McMurray on Treaty 8 Territory. Without the Treaty’s this would not be possible and I am grateful. I believe that we owe our economic prosperity to Treaty 8 nations. I feel strongly rooted to this region and its people and lands and am very proud to call Fort McMurray my home.
I recognize the harmful colonial practices within the areas I have lived and studied and I am working to understand and learn from those experiences and taking them inside my heart to understand my personal responsibilities. I am willing to continue to learn and speak with Elders and knowledge-keepers about how I can be a better partner in reconciliation.
As quoted above, one of the quotes I read during my first-year studies that stuck with me was by Senator Murray Sinclair, who led the National Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and I agree wholeheartedly, who said that our nation must not forget, we must learn the truth, and use it to help us build upon reconciliation. For me, learning the teaching of taking personal responsibility and accepting and understanding my past has been incredibly important for me to help me understand.
The work I’ve been able to do and continue to do with my company, and the relationships I formed during my time on Municipal Council as a politician have changed me. I learned many teachings from those experiences and from the strong people who came before us on these lands we call home. I can only hope that I will accept the teachings that are still forthcoming with an open heart and use their knowledge to make me a better ally to fight for the injustices and racism that our Indigenous neighbours and friends still have to experience every day. I’ve been inspired by the incredible Indigenous women leading in our community like my friends Karla and Elena at Athabasca Tribal Council, who I have the privilege of working alongside on meaningful projects, and I can only hope to work harder, fight with them and always show gratitude when they give me a safe space to get it wrong sometimes.
Senator Sinclair, also resonated with me when he said “[that] reconciliation is not an Aboriginal problem – it is a Canadian problem. It involves all of us.” I encourage you to take the path and do your part to ensure we do not forget the past and that we do better than the generations before us.
About the author
Born and raised on Random Island, Newfoundland, Krista Balsom grew up dreaming big. Moving to Fort McMurray in 2001 and attending Westwood Community High School and Keyano College before heading to the University of Ottawa to study political science and then public relations at Algonquin College, Krista returned in 2009 after working on Parliament Hill as a legislative assistant, to work and put down further roots in Fort McMurray.