(Continued from Part 1)

International Women’s Forum and Reconciliation

Changes were afoot at the Stampede. It remains one of the few organizations in the country that has maintained a solid partnership with Indigenous people for over 100 years. Representatives from the surrounding Treaty 7 Nations have played an important role in the annual celebrations, through their participation in the Parade (over 500 in some years), the rodeo (as competitors and bullfighters) and the chuck wagon races. Every year, the Indian Princess is crowned as a member of the Stampede Royalty and over twenty families raise their teepees and welcome visitors at the Indian Village. In 2019, these components were renamed to the First Nations Princess and the Elbow River Camp.

Time to Talk: “Canada’s Indigenous Women Leaders: Resilience and Promise for the Future”

Why not celebrate that relationship and build a dialogue around the challenges and opportunities of reconciliation? Further discussions ensued and the culmination of months of conscientious deliberations led to an immersive an experiential breakfast and conversation.

This innovation featured a departure from the traditional “continental” breakfast to a feast of bison, bannock, Saskatoon berries and Tsuut’ina Apiary honey; a dance performance by First Nations Princess Falon Manywounds; an audiovisual presentation depicting the 100 year collaboration between the Calgary Stampede and the Treaty 7 Nations of southern Alberta; drumming and an honour song performed by the Spirit Winds female drum group; and a keynote address by the Honourable Roberta L. Jamieson, President and CEO of Indspire Canada.  Each guest also received a lapel pin with a “moosehide” to acknowledge murdered and missing Indigenous women and was invited to take home a logoed jar of the Tsuut’ina honey.

It was billed Time to Talk:  “Canada’s Indigenous Women Leaders: Resilience and Promise for the Future”. Our table hosts were Canada’s leading Indigenous female influencers and the sponsoring companies who made the event possible.

At the Westin Harbour Castle

Doors were scheduled to open at 7:30 am, and at 7:15, guests from around the globe started streaming down the escalator to the Frontenac Ballroom at the Westin Harbour Castle. Their eyes and smiles widened as they were welcomed by the beat of the drums and the sweet aroma of bannock, elegantly laid out on long, marble buffet tables, adorned with Saskatoon berries and fall foliage. We were ready, greeting our colleagues and ushering them to tables to meet their hosts. By start time, it was standing room only. The energy and enthusiasm in the room was palpable. Large screens scrolled photos of the First Nations Princesses in front of world icons – the Sydney Opera House, the Pyramids, the Eiffel Tower. Bright colours and pageantry created a sense of celebration. The air was electric as guests engaged in conversations about colonization and reconciliation, bringing their own unique perspectives to the dialogue.

The formal program was short but impactful. The land acknowledgement took the form of a dynamic video, with a commentary by Mary on the Rozsa Foundation’s role in making this creative option accessible to all. Kara represented the sponsors and spoke eloquently about the role of the industry. The IWF international and national presidents took the stage to deliver, emotionally, their pride in hosting this first and hopefully not last acknowledgement of the role of the country’s first and founding Nations. And Dr. Jamieson held the audience spellbound with a riveting address on the urgency and realities of reconciliation, here in Canada and around the globe. To close, Falon took the stage to perform a dance, her feet like feathers gliding effortlessly to the beat of the drums and Indigenous vocables. 

Powerful Response

We were overwhelmed with the positive response and proud that our national sisterhood, comprised mostly of members from the dominant culture, and our Indigenous sisters, had embraced and supported this ground breaking initiative. Equally important to Mary and me, we demonstrated how art, visuals, food, music, and dance were powerful communication vehicles and transformative tools that provide a common language to bridge complex divides and pave a path to reconciliation.

(For Part 1 of this article, go HERE)

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October 28, 1929 was an historic day for the 50-something-year-old country of Canada.

Thanks to 5 women from the Province of Alberta – Emily Murphy, Nellie McLung, Irene Parlby, Henrietta Muir-Edwards and Louise McKinney – Women became persons. Twenty years ago, Albertan and feminist activist Frances Wright noted the glaring absence of these 5 heroes in our collective history and decided to do something about it. 

The result was a set of two larger than life bronze statues of these five celebrating The Persons Case , on Olympic Plaza in Calgary Alberta and one on Parliament Hill in Ottawa.

The bronzes are a magnificent and effective piece of public art – interactive, experiential, open, accessible, moving. It acts as an educational tool, a place for individuals to find solace, a reminder of what 5 people can do to change the world, and now a tourist attraction.

The genius of the piece is that you can walk into it, touch the tea cup that represented the tactic that they used to mobilize their troops, read from the declaration, and sit in Emily’s Chair, as so many have done for a photo op.

In 2019, Calgary Poet Laureate Sheri-D Wilson launched a project inviting Calgarians to subit a poem that would recognize people or groups that represent and reflect the spirit and values of our city. But the catch was that you could not name the person or the group. She called it YYC-PoP ( Portraits of People). 

Here is the piece I submitted about Frances Wright which made it into the anthology.


She made them Famous. 5 female Alberta figures,
statuesque even before the bronzes
rose out of the Calgary Olympic Plaza and
Parliament Hill in Ottawa
where only men dominated the landscape
with the exception of two British Queens, one on a horse.

A work of art, for the Public. Public Art.
Enter the circle and join in an historic conversation.
Sit in Emily’s Chair. Relax.
Women are persons. Happy 70th Anniversary.

And before October 18, 1929 we were??
Something with pains and penalties,
But no rights or privileges.
Her Mother Irma was born a something.
She left us 93 years later as a person. And voted in every election.
And so should you.

Irene. Emily. Nellie. Henrietta. Louise.
5 powerhouses of democracy who took it to the Privy Council. And won.
The Persons Case.
No coup. No violence. No war.
An overdue and irreversible transfer of power.
Strategized over decades and cups of tea.

Now they are printed and minted on our $50 Bill
and in a Girl Scout’s Badge, if you earn it.
Learn it in school, or online.
They’re everywhere. Finally. They’re Famous.

“Disturbers are never popular – nobody ever really loved an alarm clock in action….” Said Nellie.
I set my clock at 6 am as one would do.
She sets hers at 5:55
[and so should you]

Try and thank her.
To the hundreds, the thousands
she catalyzed, mobilized, inspired,
She smiles “I didn’t do this. You did.
And like Emily, may you feel equal to high and splendid braveries!”

Friend. Sister. Daughter of the quiet revolutionaries.
Builder. Illuminator. Convenor. Educator. Person

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   International Women’s Forum

Canadian members of the International Women’s Forum celebrated when headquarters announced Toronto would host the 2019 Global conference. An opportunity to welcome over 1500 female leaders and influencers from around the world and offer them a taste of Canadian culture and hospitality. It was like winning an Olympic bid….which comes with a price tag…the obligation to raise US$650,000. Reality set in when each Canadian chapter was asked to raise $60,000, inconceivable in the province of Alberta, where the economy had been shattered by oil prices and an economic downturn.  With a bit of imagination and our finger on the pulse of our community, we raised triple the target while introducing an Indigenous component to the programming, leveraging the conference’s theme “Open Minds”. 


Eighteen months before the global conference, at an Executive Committee meeting of the Calgary chapter, the touchy topic came up. We need to raise $60,000 for this conference. Being the only one at the table who had any experience in fundraising, I was voluntold to be part of a committee of three to come up with a strategy. Phone calls ensued as we grappled with our options. The conversations went something like this:

“Our economy has tanked. The energy sector is on fumes. Maybe we try the diversity angle? Women in leadership is a priority – but who is going to sponsor a conference of elite women taking place in Toronto? It’s going to be hard to make the link.”

“What if we go for twelve sponsorships at $5,000 each? And maybe see if headquarters will create a $2500 level? Do we have enough members who can pull that lever in their companies?”

“That’s so much work…”

Enter Kara Flynn

Later that month, I happened to be the Calgary member, by default, on one of the national sponsorship committee calls. Every chapter was struggling. And Alberta had historically and consistently out-raised almost every other province. The pressure was on. My colleague Kara Flynn from Edmonton, Alberta, whom I had never met, but knew of as the VP of Government Relations at Syncrude, mentioned en passant that she would be in Calgary later that week. I said little in that meeting other than to ask her if she might be interested in having a visit while in my town. No idea what propelled me to do that at that moment but I followed my instincts. It was there that we hatched our “big idea”.

Kara’s background is a collage of accolades in the corporate and non-profit sector. She is a pro at raising money and giving it away. But where we connected was around her childhood. I was sharing with her my work with Indigenous people and her eyes lit up as she reminisced about growing up with First Nations children as a result of her father’s work. I don’ recall how we got there but one of us leapt onto the idea that each Conference sponsorship included two delegate registrations, or three, depending on the sponsorship level. We both knew that every energy company in Alberta was focused on “indigenization”. They were in part responding to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s report and Calls to Action. They were also intent on building relationships with Indigenous tribes and Band Councils that had were impacted by their projects. From the perspective of IWF, we had a long way to go to diversify our membership, particularly with the “I” in BIPOC.

What if

What if….we asked our colleagues in the energy and mining sector to consider a sponsorship  and consider dedicating one of the delegate spots to an Indigenous female leader or influencer? It could be an employee, a woman from a band they were working with, or someone they would like to recognize. She would in turn meet women from around the world, take part in all the conference activities, and be profiled at a breakfast the Calgary Chapter was planning to host.

Over our second glass, Kara confirmed Syncrude’s support, made two calls to industry colleagues and we reached our target. Over the next eight weeks, we raised another $120,000,  guaranteeing a strong presence of Indigenous female leaders and influencers from across Canada. How could we make their experience memorable and leverage their presence to advance the greater project of reconciliation and open the minds and hearts of our colleagues here in Canada and around the world?

The original idea had been to host a full-on Calgary Stampede style western breakfast, complete with hay bales, country music, cowboy hats and flapjacks – celebrate the spirit of the City and profile the Greatest Outdoor Western Show on Earth. Giddy-up! Informal conversations had taken place and by then my colleague and friend Mary Rozsa was on board to help strategize the Calgary Stampede’s contribution to the international conference. Over the years, she and I had worked on numerous campaigns to bring awareness to the arts as a necessary part of our culture and a public good. Again, over a drink, we asked ourselves: Is this really the image of Calgary we want to portray? 

(For Part 2 of this article, go HERE)


Photos from the Event

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