Celebrating National Indigenous History Month 2024

Honouring the heart work led by Indigenous colleagues and allies, past and present.


Note: This writing has been updated. I am grateful for the email that I received from Kelly McCann who shared with me the story of the ways that Indigenous Peoples in this place now called Canada also contributed to the Irish Famine Relief. 

My heart is heavy with the recent events on campus and around the world. I have heard from so many of you who are struggling with the significance of the protests, but even more, with the injustice we see and experience in the world and our responsibility to address that.

 As Indigenous Peoples we are asked to contribute to the meaningful work underway at the University of Alberta. We come to the institution as our whole selves: there is little separation between who we are and what we do in the institutional context.

We choose to speak, work and build on behalf of our people. So many have shared that you do this in honour of loved ones with us in the here and now, those who have passed on and those who represent our future, especially your own children, grandchildren, the next generations and your hopes for them.

We also do this because erasure has ensured that many Canadians know little of the historic and current experiences of Indigenous Peoples. Those historic experiences shape the current realities and the lives of Indigenous Peoples. We know that sharing the experiences is required as a foundation for a better future.

To many Indigenous people, the reason for solidarity with other troubled parts of the world is obvious. Our own genocide, dispossession, the experience of state-sponsored violence, marginalization, displacement and inequity demand an empathy with other humans.

Recent events reminded me of an act of great empathy. In 1847, at the height of the Gorta Mór (the Great Potato Famine) in Ireland, the Choctaw Nation sent what little they had as aid to starving Irish people. Poor themselves, the Choctaw had only 17 years before been forcibly relocated by the state on the infamous Trail of Tears. Thousands of Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Muscogee and Seminole men, women and children died of starvation, exhaustion and disease. 

In what is now known as Canada, Haudenosaunee, Anishinaabe and Huron-Wendat peoples also responded to the plea for help, their actions rooted in compassion for the Irish people and also in the kinship they felt as detailed in the treaties they had signed. The Law of Sharing demanded that others be helped in times of need. Chiefs Nawahjegezhegwabe (Sloping Sky, Joseph Sawyer) and Kahkewaquonaby (Sacred Feathers, Peter Jones), wrote: 

“We are exceedingly sorry to hear that our fellow subjects in those parts of the world that are visited with such awful calamity. Feeling the necessity of rendering aid to such as are in real distress, we gladly subscribe the sum of £12 pounds 10s currency out of our land payments and beg you will have the goodness to pay that amount into the hands of our great father, the governor general, that he may forward the same over the great waters. It would have afforded us great pleasure to have given a larger amount but we regret to inform you that our people here are in a very destitute state … We beg also to state that if our people are kept much longer at our villages their suffering for want of food will be very great and we shall be obliged to devote larger sums of our annuity to keep them from starvation.” 

In 2020, at the height of the COVID-19 outbreak, Irish donors remembering the kindness of Indigenous donors and moved by their suffering contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars to a fundraising campaign to help stop the spread of the disease and to save Indigenous humans on the other side of the globe. Native American tribes were particularly hard hit, with communities disproportionately vulnerable from artificial poverty, crowded housing and underlying health conditions.

As Indigenous Peoples, we see the relationship of these experiences across the world and across peoples and how those influence systems of oppression that are interlinked as they occur on Indigenous territories and elsewhere.

Our teachings, centred in wâhkôhtowin, offer the understanding that we are all interconnected and interdependent and remind us that we are all responsible for each other, All Our Relations.

The gentleness of this teaching and of our ways has been on my mind.

In talking about recent events with Elders who guide my work, I was reminded that the challenges we face as a people are longstanding but that we are asked to persevere, akameyimok, to keep going. We are also asked to consider the wellbeing of all facing adversity.

The role that I currently serve in, vice-provost, Indigenous Programming and Research, would not exist if it weren’t for the educational, employment and other challenges that Indigenous Peoples faced and face. These exist in contrast to the spirit of the promises contained in the treaties and our presence and perseverance with these lands.

In planning for this year’s message for National Indigenous History Month, I was excited to be able to share the incredible, impactful, heartfelt work taking place across the institution that Indigenous colleagues and allies lead. This is work that makes improvements in the educational, employment and overall wellbeing of Indigenous Peoples and communities. In planning for the start of June, which is also a sacred month in which summer ceremonies begin across Treaty 6, I was heartened by the hope these changes represent. 

The work is in Indigenous language revitalization, Indigenous health outcomes and access, student graduations, community-engaged research and, critically, in structural changes and new Indigenous hires across the institution that carry out the accountabilities outlined in Braiding Past, Present and Future: University of Alberta Indigenous Strategic Plan.

This work is our hope.

All heart work is our hope.

We must continue to have empathy for each other, to learn from each other and to find ways that together we can imagine a different future. 

I want to thank the people who have reached out and will continue to bring community(ies) together to discuss these events and the work yet to come. I also look forward to working alongside Carrie Smith, vice-provost (Equity, Diversity and Inclusion) on continuing dialogues with community(ies).

With respect,

Dr. Florence Glanfield
Vice-Provost (Indigenous Programming and Research)

About Florence

Florence Glanfield is a member of the Métis Nation of Alberta. In her role as vice-provost (Indigenous Programming and Research), Florence led the development, consultation and approval of the Indigenous Strategic Plan in support of the objectives articulated in For the Public Good, to build and nurture positive relationships with Indigenous communities, support the work of faculties and departments to Indigenize curricula across programs and foster a supportive environment for Indigenous faculty, staff and students.

Florence comes to the vice-provost position from her previous role as professor and chair of the Department of Secondary Education in the Faculty of Education, where her primary areas of scholarship include mathematics teacher education, Aboriginal curriculum perspectives and relational research methodologies. She is an affiliated faculty member with the Centre for Research for Teacher Education and Development.

Learn more about Florence.