In 2016, Thunderbird House (known by members as “The Bird”) received a grant of $2,500 for elders’ teachings. Since receiving the grant, they’ve held a teaching every month and hope to eventually make the teachings a free, weekly community resource.
“We’ve been having elders’ teachings nights since August. We’ve had seven so far (and) the goal would be to increase it,” Chuck Copenace, Thunderbird House facilities manager, says. “I’d like to have them once a week.”
Thunderbird House, a centre which shares Indigenous teachings and spirituality under a council of elders, has hosted women’s teachings, star teachings, Thunderbird teachings and youth night with traditional games. The teachings are chosen collaboratively by Copenace and elders who possess traditional knowledge.
“Of course we need to have Thunderbird teaching as much as possible. Those teachings go along with what the Thunderbird House was meant to be doing,” Copenace says. “A lot of elders have different knowledge about the Thunderbird. It’s its own set of really big stories.”
Copenace also emphasizes the importance of the new youth programming held during youth nights, explaining that the pipe ceremony, feast and traditional games at the event are something Indigenous people would have been doing historically.
“That’s part of what the whole point of (these teachings) and Thunderbird House: to start bringing all that pre-colonization knowledge (forward),” Copenace says. “Connect people who haven’t heard (it) and then have them start openly seeking that out themselves. Thunderbird House was basically meant for that purpose.”
Copenace explains how Thunderbird House is bringing healing to a community through the elders’ teachings.
“Our main focus is healing, helping with colonization, the residential school, the Child and Family Services system,” Copenace says. “There are a lot of Indigenous people who are seeking help, and the system that exists isn’t equipped to help them … we want to fit ourselves into those systems.”
This connection and the opportunity to give back to the community is what brought 18-year-old volunteer Ronald Gamblin to Thunderbird House.
“I came here because ... I wanted to get involved with Indigenous issues as much as I could,” Gamblin says. “Before, I wasn’t really a cultural person. I didn’t really think about the big picture, about helping others very much ... I wasn’t really in it for the community.”
But Gamblin says when he started volunteering, learning more about his culture, spirituality and community, his focus shifted and those things became
“To get involved, you have to find intrinsic motives for yourself. You have to find the need for you to want to grow and the need for you to want to see the community grow.”
Gamblin says getting involved applies to Indigenous and non-Indigenous community members alike. He emphasizes that if you want to help the community, in doing so, you become a part of the community.
“In Winnipeg, we don’t have too many places where we can feel culturally connected,” Gamblin says. “I’ve seen it become this spark in the community that could become this leading fire in a sense.”
Published in Volume 71, Number 15 of The Uniter (January 12, 2017)