The Personal Enterprise

–Martin Ferguson-Pell, Vice-Principal, Peter Lougheed Leadership College, University of Alberta, Edmonton

Martin Bio

I’m so pleased to have the opportunity to welcome you to our Peter Lougheed Leadership College (PLLC) Stretch Experience Blog.  I am Martin Ferguson-Pell, Vice Principal of PLLC. Over the last 6 months I have had intense conversations with our scholars as they have planned their stretch experiences.  Over the next few months as you follow this blog we will see all this planning come to fruition.  In my comments below I have tried to set the context so that you can see how well our scholars’ stretch experiences fit in with our objectives.  I’m sure you will enjoy following their adventures!

The Peter Lougheed Leadership College Stretch Experience Program is a remarkable opportunity to hone those entrepreneurship skills … but with a twist!  By the end of this summer PLLC scholars will have contributed over 24,000 hours of service to communities across the globe, in just two years.  But just as important they will have developed critical skills to manage a special enterprise – their future selves.

A stretch experience is a form of entrepreneurship. The twist is the intention to create game-changing benefits to both the community and the individual scholar.  The word entrepreneur has its roots in the French verb entreprendre ‘to undertake’ from which we derive the word enterprise. Our goal is for each PLLC scholar to create an enterprise that combines personal growth and a contribution to a community, somewhere on our planet.

Our modern usage of the term entrepreneur also implies risk and venturing into the unknown, often with a business focus. The university learning experience is intended to stretch our capacity to manage specialist, discipline-specific, complex concepts, to acquire certain skills and to establish a platform for our creativity. It is certainly not a place to just fill up on facts.  But what we believe is missing is the exploration of intrinsic strengths and weaknesses in preparation for life’s challenges and opportunities.  Large classes, relentless assignments and a focus on GPA performance metrics don’t leave a lot of room to reflect, explore and even fail.

Carol Dweck in Mindset: The New Psychology of Success and David Pink in Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us point out that people can have two different mindsets:  The fixed mindset based on a belief that a person’s talents and abilities are “carved in stone” and that “every encounter is a test of their worthiness”.  I believe our GPA-focused, multiple-choice-based evaluative practices can certainly feed these doubts. Dweck suggests that we should promote a growth mindset where “the same encounters are opportunities to grow”.  Dweck suggests that we should use “language for growth” such as “I’m not sure I can do it now, but I think I can learn with time and effort” and to interpret challenges “not as roadblocks but as opportunities to stretch yourself”.  Failure can therefore not only be an indicator of lack of talent or engagement but also point to a willingness to stretch yourself and learn.

Enter the PLLC stretch experience!

Over the next 3 months PLLC scholars will be reporting back in this blog on their stretch experiences.  We hope that this blog will provide inspiring reports of stretch adventures. But also we hope you will use it as a place to share and reflect on our scholars’ successes, failures and personal growth; a place to discuss humility, compassion, disappointment, frustration and ultimately the excitement of discovering “how you will change the world?”


Stretching Before The Stretch

By Moe Khan

There are many parts to my stretch experience that i would like to highlight. But i think one important aspect that i did not get to highlight in any other piece of work submitted towards my stretch is the preparation of my stretch experience and how I knew it was the right one for me and what I had to go through to ensure that it would become a reality. My stretch experience started as wishful thinking and trying to fulfill my dream of visiting the holy land, Palestine. When I heard about what was required of the stretch, I immediately started to look for programs that would fit the PLLC criteria in Palestine and found the perfect opportunity in the University of An-Najah in Nablus, West Bank. Being a political science major, my interest in Palestine only grew with years. When the opportunity first arose, I was hesitant to approach it knowing that it might be dangerous and it could just not get complete. However, PLLC encouraged me to stretch beyond my comfort zone and go to Palestine. Plus, by being a lead instructor for master students, I would be implementing every aspect of leadership skills I studied in year one of the college. But this trip could not be possible without crossing some thresholds first.

Being of Middle Eastern descent, I had to accept that I may not be allowed into Israel as their border guards have a tough history of racial profiling and denying entry based on ethnicity/religion. So before i could even properly plan for my stretch in the West Bank, i had to prepare for a backup, which i also completed in the month before my departure to Palestine. My trip to Palestine was planned for July and I had May and June in my hometown of Fort McMurray to ensure I get 200 hours completed before going.

Even though I was working full-time, I was able to find a stretch experience that would take me out of my comfort zone and ensure I was meeting the requirements. I had never done urban gardening before but I was given the opportunity when a colleague of mine asked me to help her reinitiate a non-profit that had dwindled down after the forest fire last year. It was called Socially Active Youth and I was given the chance to lead their community garden program for youth. This was particularly interesting as I had to include indigenous perspectives on urban gardening in each session we had, therefore I was able to network in the Fort McKay First Nations and bring that perspective to the youth. I also had to set up the activity in a way that once I leave, the youth continue to do urban gardening.


kids cleaning up community gardens from last year

I personally was given a variety of topics to focus on but I chose gardening as I believed that by teaching kids to take care of the plants and harvest from earth, they can truly understand how much we rely on our planet and how to nurture the underpinnings of society. Not only that but by including the indigenous voices on Urban Gardening, the kids were taught to develop a relationship with the land. In a world that is rapidly becoming more and more specialized and where food is going to be a sacristy soon, this was a very important skill to teach the new generation and foster their growth and experience. I really enjoyed this part of my stretch and was very happy that I got to explore this new perspective.

Before that, I had to spend a lot of time preparing for the trip to Palestine. After finding out that I had been accepted by my stretch organizers, I had to prepare for a lesson plan to teach in Palestine. I would be teaching to Masters students who had little experience in English so I could not come up with a topic that was too simple yet could also be explained with simple English. As a political science student, I naturally was inclined towards teaching a political course. I asked one of my professors to help me start an introductory course to Canadian politics that would use simple language. It worked out very well and within 5 weeks of constant meetings, I created a course that I was proud of and that I could present to the students in Palestine.


In addition, I had to do everything in my power to ensure my entry to Palestine. VP Furgerson-Pell set me up with an international lawyer, Sol Rohlinger, who had been to Israel many times to help me determine how to pass through the border without any problems. Sol was extremely helpful in getting me the right information so I could be prepared to the best of my ability. He recommended I get letters from Principle Campbell and VP Furgerson-Pell that would be justifying my visit to the West Bank and reassure the border guards that I would be visiting for solely academic purposes. In addition, he also recommended I print my resume and get another reference letter from a teacher that would also reassure my personality.

In the moment of truth, the letters turned out to help me so much at the border as they made my entry possible. The guards were definitely hesitant to believe my story until I presented the letters from PLLC and my resume, indicating this was an academic trip.

Reading through this, I know you might be wondering why I chose to share these stories and not my actual stretch. I wanted to present the realities of finding a meaningful stretch and the challenges that came up while doing it. I started doing my stretch in February with the course preparation and continued it until August. The stretch experience is not meant to be easy and you must accept many different outcomes that may result in the stretch not being able to go as you planned. However, that makes it all the more exciting. Once you’re done, you will be able to look back at it and be proud of how you handled the situation.

International Indigenous Collaboration

Welcome to My Stretch Experience!



Before I get into the specific details and outcomes of my project, I want start off by introducing myself. I would also like to take this opportunity to give the appropriate background information for those who do not know what a “stretch experience” is.

My name is Kaitlyn Walcheske, and I am a bachelor of education student at the University of Alberta (U of A ). I have chosen my specialty in the secondary (high school) route, majoring in biology and minoring in social studies. I proudly recognize as part of the Métis nation of Alberta and one of the main goals in my degree it to find supports for Indigenous Education and share the beauty of Indigenous culture with others.

On top of my degree program, I am also a part of the Peter Lougheed Leadership College (PLLC) at the U of A. PLLC is a two-year interdisciplinary certificate program that is devoted to breaking down and building up the questions surrounding “leadership”. Throughout this program scholars are able to explore a variety of different perspectives and strategies to help us to engage with PLLC’s golden question, “how will you change the world?”

In order to fully engage the diverse perspectives that leadership calls for, PLLC scholars are selected from faculties across the University and are divided strategically into forums of about ten people. In my opinions this format is one of the most critical aspect that sets PLLC a part from any other leadership program that I have known. From my experience, having the opportunity to have continuous small class discussions in my own forum as well as the ability to reach out to other forums for new perspectives, ensures that I am always, critically thinking and reflecting.

PLLP, Banff Centre, 2016

PLLC Students and Staff 2016

The stretch experience (SE) is a 200 hour self-directed leadership project that scholars complete after their first year in the PLLC program. The goal of the SE is for scholars to answer that golden question above by integrating their academic coursework alongside their passion(s). PLLC encourages scholars to step out of their comfort zones in order to make the most out of the SE opportunity. For scholars this is once in a lifetime opportunity to fully engage in their futures. I believe that the most beneficial aspect of the SE is the fact that the scholars have full control over their experiences. The outcome and the impact the SE will have on the scholar and society is completely in the scholar’s hands. For this reason, not only is the SE about stepping into a leadership role for personal development but it is also about the potential to be a part of something that is bigger than just ourselves. 

My Stretch Experience Part 1: International Partners- FinAl

During part one of my SE I went to Finland under the Alberta Teachers’ Association (ATA) International Partnerships program. Curriculum development, pedagogical strategy and student voice were just a few of the main focus points that I was lucky enough to be a part of the conversation for. The International Partnerships is a research initiative driven by Alberta teachers, stakeholders and international experts who are working to fulfill the publication called, Renewing Alberta’s Promise: A Great School for All (2015).

You can read more about the Renewing Alberta’s Promise: “A Great School for All” and the international partnerships here or on the ATA’s website. Visit the website see what the program is achieving and its goals for the future. For the purposes of my stretch experience, I will only be drawing from the Finland- Alberta partnership, FinAl.


The partnership that I was directly involved with was, FinAl which is the collaboration between the Finnish Board of Education and the ATA. Students are selected to take part in the exchange program via school specific criteria; some of the students even stay in home stays for the duration of the exchange. For this round specifically, there was four different schools from Edmonton, Jasper Place, Queen Elizabeth, M.E LaZerte and East Glen. The groups ranged in the number of student representatives and all had accompanying teachers and even one assistant principal.

In preparation for the Finland exchange, the Alberta students meet up on various occasions to discuss and review their goals prior to entering into the FinAl experience. These meeting were called “summits” and each school/student was required to develop different goals coming into FinAl. The summits are a place where students can collaborate with the other students to share ideas and receive constructive feedback. Depending on the school and their interests, the location and placement in Finland is matched accordingly. For example, student interested in trades or technical programs, would be matched with the Vocational schools in Finland. 

In Finland the students performed the action based research projects by using the information they had developed in during the course of the pre-trip summits and the new information they learned during their time in the Finnish schools. I helped document all of the students work, record all student presentations and was an extra facilitator during the synthesizing conversations. I was inspired at the level of thought and creative ideas that each student showed for reaching their goals. The students were committed to helping each other lead the way to make each of their schools even better centers for learning.

FinAl Participants at the Helsinki Learning Summit

What I think is the most important takeaway away for both, FinAl and the international Partnerships as a whole is the constant reminder that this research is not to judge or conflate school systems but rather to share ideas that can be then translated to fit in the existing context and culture of the participating schools. The goal for the research is to share successful practices across school districts in order to build “A Great School for All”.

My Action Based Research Part 2: The Making of My Experience

As an aspiring teacher, understanding my role as a leader and how I can become a role model to inspire leadership among my future students is really important to me. Therefore, in order to create a stretch experience that would be life changing for not only myself but for the students whom I will dedicate my career to, I had to come up with my own action based research to complete in Finland. For this reason I developed part two of my experience in Finland to focus on how different schools in Finland were approaching and supporting their Indigenous programs at both the personal and curricular levels.

Like the First Nation, Métis and Inuit of Canada, the Sámi are the Indigenous people of the Sápmi land, which is now known as being a part of Finland, Sweden, Norway and Russia. Although all identifying under the title of Sámi, the culture, languages and experiences all differ from Sámi nation to nation. Similar to many other Indigenous nations worldwide, each of the Sámi nations have experienced and continue to live out a colonial story.

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Screen Shot 2017-08-29 at 2.43.37 PM Exhibit in the Turku Museum showcases the assimilation and colonization of Arctic peoples.
I recognize that one culture or experience cannot be conflated with another. This project is solely about realizing how important Indigenous lead education is to cultural determination, community building and school development.

An Insider looking from the Outside: 

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Sámi Flag

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Métis Flag


Recall that title of the International Partnerships research initiative is, A. Great. School. For. All. To me this meant from North to South and East to the West….A-L-L. Every student, every school- everyone, deserving of a great school. Well, I was disappointed to find out that after weeks of being in southern and central Finland that there was little acknowledgment of Sámi people and little for me to put towards my research outside of what I seen in museums or tourist shops (a whole other issue of its own). I was even turned away from schools because the teachers felt that they themselves or their schools had nothing to offer me in regards to my interest in Sámi people or Indigenous education of any kind. An email I received read,

“There are only about 6000 Sami people in Finland and most of them live in Northern Lapland. There are some Sami people in Southern Finland too but they attend the same school programs as everyone else. In other words, the indigenous populations in Canada and Finland don’t have much in common, at least regarding the living conditions and social issues.” –Email received from Anonymous 

I found this really interesting because not only is there actually over 10,000 Sámi people in Finland, around 60% of them live outside of Sápmi. On top of that, I also noticed while I was in Finland that just like the Canada 150 celebration, Finland was also undergoing celebrations for their 100th anniversary of their confederation. Like Canada, many Sámi also felt that this was just another reminder of the 100+ years of colonialism and ignorance to the Indigenous people who have lived on the lands for 1000’s of years.

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Similar Criticism of Confederation celebrations for Finland 100 (left), also depicts the controversial ILO 169 agreement and Canada 150 (right)

One Finnish school that I visited in Turku, Turun Suomalaisen Yhteiskolun lukio (TSYK) did have one section in their English textbook that talked about Indigenous nations. Included in this was even the Canadian First Nations, Métis and Inuit. I later learnt that this textbook is the result of the International Partnership at work. What I have learnt from my stretch experience and what you will hopefully come to understand is that there is actually lot of commonalities when it comes to colonialism and the affects that it has on Indigenous people.

Although I knew the information I really sought after would be in Northern Finland, I had higher hopes for other Finnish schools- especially since they are held at the one of the highest standards for education around the world. I question if this statistic includes the relationships with Indigenous people and how that affects student success? Prior to my departure, I also had reason to believe that things were “different” there but none the less, I was eager to find out the truth.

After completing my time with FinAl, I went to Sápmi in Northern Finland. Sápmi is name that recognizes the Sámi territory and the more appropriate way to refer what is commonly known as, “Lapland”. I visited The Sámi Education Institute: Saamelaisalueen koulutuskeskus (Sogsakk) in Inari, where I was toured around the different school facilities and orientated on the different degrees that students could receive in everything from Sámi Handicraft to Reindeer herding.

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I stayed in the Sogsakk school dorms and interacted with many students who quickly became my friends. They toured me around the Inari area and took me to The Sámi cultural Center: Saamelaiskulttuurikeskus (SAJOS), which on top of being a cultural gathering place for the community. SAJOS also housed an important gathering place for the Sámi Parliament.


Inside SAJOS, students have access to areas that they use for their school work. The students showed me projects that they themselves or their peers had created as resources for Sámi education. The works included everything from Sámi stories, to exposing colonialism. I was inspired at the amazing work and talent that the students had for using different types of media to express themselves. From Sámi art to films and of course music, the quality of these projects was no less then professional. My favorite part was getting the chance to share music with each other. I was introduced to many traditional and modern Sámi artists and it was exciting that popular groups such as “Northern Cree” and “A Tribe Called Red” from Canada were also popular in Sámpi.



More Stretching: The Inspiration and the Questions


The Questions:


I strongly believe that an education system and the curriculum are direct reflections of the culture in a particular society. This is because I think that what we chose to teach our students defines the future we are trying to build and makes important of what we want to remember about the past. The same goes for research, what people are researching in education gives a good insight into the things people are curious to learn about. An entry in the Renewing Alberta Promise (2015), “A Great School for All—Transforming Education in Alberta, outlined a comprehensive approach based on the core value of achieving excellence through equity.” From this, I asked two questions;

  1. Why does education remain to be the biggest barrier for Indigenous students?
  2. Why there are still many schools, specifically in the Indigenous communities of Alberta that do not have the opportunity to get a proper education because the lack of equality in education?
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Photo from the anti-colonial Sámi group called Suohpanterror.


The Inspiration:


The Executive Summary in the Final Report (2015) of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, gives voice to a former Residential School teacher who said, “There was, for example, a heavy emphasis on English, and no recognition of the role of Cree in the communities from which the children came. “They were doomed to fail under the system that existed. The majority of them would certainly and did” (as cited in Honoring the Truth, Reconciling for the Future, 2015, pp.128). When I look at this quote, it is hard for me not to wonder if they are talking about a residential school or the present day Canadian schools. It is important to realize that many Indigenous students are still forced to leave their Indigenous communities to attend a non-Indigenous schools in order to get a “better” education… sound familiar?

Along with Residential school survivor accounts, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) also released 94 Calls to Action for Canada to actively engage in Reconciliation. My response to this has been to start an inquiry based documentary project to find out what the barriers are for Indigenous students in schools across Alberta. To do so I have been talking to different Indigenous teachers, students and members of the communities to find out what they think about this issue and their ideas for remediation. The goal for this project has been to give a voice to Indigenous people and allow ideas for what successful Indigenous education looks like be determined by Indigenous people themselves. I took this idea and applied it to Finland to see if I could get an international perspective on Indigenous relations with their colonial states.

The Final Stretch:


As I said from the beginning my interest has been in researching educational supports for Indigenous students and how Indigenous communities can empower eachother. In Inari, I had an amazing opportunity to learn from the Sámi people and to see how the schools, students and communities are coming together to ensure the culture of the Sámi is everlasting despite continued colonial pressures. At the same time I was also able to share my knowledge about the Indigenous people in Canada, myself as a Métis-Cree woman and the work that Indigenous communities and schools are doing in Alberta. It was through my interactions of emotional and inspiring conversations that I came up with the idea of how beneficial it could be for other Indigenous students to have this opportunity.

Looking forward, my next steps will involve developing an International Indigenous Collaboration Program that will document how different schools, teachers and students in Indigenous communities are approaching Indigenous empowerment at both personal and curriculum levels despite existing colonial pressures. By focusing solely on Indigenous schools and communities in this partnership, it is my hope that the world Indigenous communities can empower each other with their ideas and success stories.

An International Indigenous Collaboration program is my initiative to enhance and develop the educational standards and strategies here in Alberta by sharing with other Indigenous communities devoted to doing the same. Collaboration between Indigenous students will empower each other through a cultural exchange just like I have experienced. The information collected would not only be beneficial to Indigenous students but the research that it would obtain would also be very beneficial to non-Indigenous people and the schools that looking to learn more about Indigenous culture.

Members of FinAl are interested to learn about my experience and I have proposed my idea for an International Indigenous Collaboration based off of my experiences. Whether or not they agrees to incorporate this type of partnership, I will have transmitted my call to action for education stakeholders to ask themselves what they are doing to support and involve Indigenous communities directly in their research. As far as my research goes, this is a topic that I have dedicated my career as an educator to.



“Education is what got us here and education is what will get us out.”
-Justice Murray Sinclair 

A Glimpse of the Future: A documentation so far..


From the Ermineskin Elementary School, Paula Mackinaw and Travis Lee shared with me how language has and continues to impact each of their cultural connections. Ermineskin is one of the four Cree nation communities that make up the Maskwacis reservation in Alberta. Just recently the four communities have amalgamated their education systems which is also working to synchronize and develop the Cree curriculum. Getting Cree into all of the subject areas is just one step in teaching students to developing what Mackinaw calls the “Cree thought.”

Pictured above is Paula Mackinaw is the Cree Instructor at the Ermineskin Elementary School, she has been a teacher for fifteen years and over the past two has been developing the Cree Language curriculum. Paula grew up speaking Cree but received formal training through Dr. Steven Grey Morning at the University of Montana. Paula shows us how international collaboration has allowed her students to succeed through Accelerated Second Language Acquisition (ASLA).

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Travis Lee

Travis Lee is an Educational assistant (EA) at Ermineskin Elementary. Travis has a background in the trades but over the past two years of working in the school. Lee has found his passion for teaching and found what he calls his “Cree Person.” Travis Shares his experiences growing up off the reserve which he now recognizes impacted his cultural experiences growing up. Working at Ermineskin Elementary has allowed him to rebuild these connections for himself while at the same time assisting the students to do the same. Lee is now a major support for staff and role model for students school wide.


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Sunna Nousuniemi wearing her traditional Gákti.

Adding to my documentation, the lovely and talented, Sunna Nousuniemi. Sunna is a Sámi woman from Inari. She works for the International Film Institute as a project coordinator and in this position she travels the world representing the Sámi people. Nousuniemi has large role in producing Sámi films and is a vital part of making the Skábmagovat Film festival happen in her home town.


During my interview with Sunna we talked a lot about Indigenous identity and understanding. This was by far the most impactful experiences that I had in Sápmi as understanding Indigenous identity is a process I am currently undergoing. In our conversation Sunna shares personal insights about why she thinks that there is a disconnect between the Sámi and Finnish in Finland and what she believes there is to do about it.


Interviewing Sunna Nousuniemi.

From my conversations with Sunna I realized that in order to have these kinds of conversations requires being open and vulnerable about personal feelings and experiences. Being slightly introverted, it shocked me at how easy and comfortable these tough conversations could be with someone who already shares a mutual understanding of Indigenous Culture and oppression. Sunna and I shared experiences and stories that existed across the globe yet they had very similar themes that we were both very familiar with.

Note: Pictures are all my own unless linked to their source.



Thank you:

As Peter Lougheed Scholar, I have been given a multitude of different opportunities and guidance to take my professional development to the next level. There is an incredible support system of colleges, teaching fellows, mentors and program leaders, that all work together to contribute to the overall experience of PLLC. Thank you to the donor of the David Tavender award for encouraging scholars to look and think beyond the stretch experience.

It was through the mentorship program and with the help of the PLLC vice president, Ferguson-Pell that I met my first mentor, Mr. Dave Hancock. It was Mr. Hancock who made the connections in order for my SE to become a reality. Another mentor that I would like to thank is, Michael Aherne. Mr. Aherne has and continues to be a big part of supporting my journey with advice and resources as I have progressed throughout my stretch experience.

Thank you to the ATA for all their continued hard work and advocacy for all Alberta teachers, students and educational stakeholders. Thank you to JC Couture, Jean Styles for their leadership in the International partnership program and for allowing me to be a part of FinAL. I cannot express my excitement enough for this program at what I believe it has the ability to do. Thank you to Julia Dalsman, the teachers and the students whom I worked directly with in Finland; along with the great company, I was inspired at your ideas and ground work within the project.

Thank you to Tuula Ahtola and the teachers of Turun Suomalaisen Yhteiskolun lukio (TSYK) for having me as a guest in your school and in the classrooms. The experience of getting a glimpse into the Finnish education system was an incredible opportunity. Thank you to Mika Aromäki and the students of the college for touring me around the Sámi Education Institute: Saamelaisalueen koulutuskeskus (SOGSAKK) and the Sámi cultural Center: Saamelaiskulttuurikeskus (SAJOS). I was inspired at how devoted the students and community are to cultural preservation of Sámi culture and land.

I also want to thank all of those who were directly involved in my SE, documentary or the people I met along the way. This includes everyone I interviewed, or simply just shared a conversation with about my project.


Where will leadership take you? Develop your leadership skills with PLLC’s interdisciplinary embedded certificate! PLLC is accepting applications for the 2018-2020 cohort. Students in an undergraduate degree with more than 45 credits and in satisfactory academic standing are invited to apply.





Gender Parity in Grande Prairie: 22% Isn’t Good Enough

Xaverie’s Previous Blog

Peter Lougheed Leadership Scholar Xaverie MacLennan ponders the importance of equal representation of women on City Council in Grande Prairie.

68% of Grande Prairie’s residents are under the age of 45. I belong to this age group, and am also a part of the 43% of residents that identify as female, as reported in the 2015 population survey.

Despite belonging to the predominant age group, and identifying as a gender that makes up almost half of the local population, I am not convinced that I am being properly represented at the municipal level by our City Councillors.


In addition to Mayor Bill Given, Grande Prairie has 8 City Councillors. Councillor Helen Rice and Councillor Jackie Clayton presently comprise the mere 22% of women who serve at this level of government.

City Councillors have many responsibilities, but one of their main duties is to consider the interests and welfare of the municipality as a whole and bring to Council’s attention anything that would promote the welfare or interests of the municipality. With only two women holding council seats, it is much more difficult for the interests and welfare of the 43% of the population that are women to be heard, evaluated, and advocated for.

There is nothing to say that the men on council cannot advocate for women. In fact men should be advocating for women. However, the best way to properly identify the interests of the women of Grande Prairie is to be a woman of Grande Prairie and the best way to represent these interests is to have diverse women elected to Council positions. By electing more women onto City Council, more unique life experiences and ideas will be brought to bear. This diversity vastly improves Council’s ability to notice anything that would promote the welfare of the municipality.

Additionally, according to the United Nations, women in government must reach a critical mass of at least 30% for women to be impactful as a whole. Although individual women in politics may be doing incredible work (as Councillor Rice and Councillor Clayton are certainly doing), without significant numbers it is very difficult to properly hear their voices.

For women to make up only 22% of Grande Prairie’s City Council is not good enough for me. We make up more than 22% of the general population and we deserve for our voices to be heeded and understood.

Equality between men and women in every level of our democracy is a matter of human rights, and it is something that I believe is worth working towards here in Grande Prairie.

I hold a high opinion of this city, and am very grateful to have been born and raised here. I love the vibrancy, diversity, and youthfulness that are characteristic of Grande Prairie. I’m proud of the fact that we are a growing city, and that there are many opportunities for people from all over the world to come here to settle down, cultivate careers, develop businesses, start families, and forge community networks.

For all of these reasons, I love Grande Prairie, and firmly believe that the fundamental quality of diversity should be reflected on our City Council.

It is crucial that our Councillors reflect the population they govern. We as eligible voters are hiring 9 people as our representatives, entrusting them to make decisions that will benefit our city and uphold the values we hold dear for ourselves and for our children. For Council to make informed decisions, a variety of viewpoints need to be considered and the interests of many stakeholders must be weighed.

So why are the voices of women not being heard?

I’m curious to know how many Councillors in YOUR municipality are women or gender minorities? Do you feel properly represented by your current council? If you don’t see people that resemble yourself on council, what do you think is causing that deficit? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

A Welcoming Home

I have been in Tanzania for the past 10 weeks as part of my internship with the Student Invested in Health Association (SIHA). SIHA is a student run nonprofit organization in Edmonton that focuses on working with the community to improve community health and well-being. For the past seven years SIHA has been working in Mlandizi with the community on projects such as malaria education through local experts and organizations as well as providing clean water access to two primary schools.

This summer, we prepared to move SIHA’s operation from Mlandizi, a small rural community to Morogoro, a larger city. In order to make sure we were ready for our move in the upcoming year, I worked with our partners Endeleza Vijana Organization(EVO) and Mwanabwito Education Committee (MEC). Specifically several meetings where we discussed the consequences of our move and what steps we should take to make sure these organizations are in left in a sustainable state.

Another major task that I decided to take on during this summer was to manage the finances for the organization. This was an excellent learning opportunity for me as previous I had little to no experience with finances. However I decided to push myself and research independently to find a system that I was comfortable that was also easy enough for others to use with a little explanation. This was also an interesting challenge as this was second year where SIHA decided to create yearlong financial commitments to our partners and our employees. However since this was not communicated to the team before we left, we were left with a shock as we discovered we had significantly less money to work with for the summer. In order to make sure that we were in a financially stable position we decided to implement some structural changes to SIHA that would create much more financial transparency and responsibility.

After all these experiences working with SIHA I still found the most valuable things I learned came from the Tanzanian community. Our partners who were patient with us as we struggled to learn the ropes, our local coworkers who shared their knowledge and life with us, and finally the countless strangers who made us feel welcome. Everywhere I went I was greeted by a chorus of greetings that is often followed by Karibu (Welcome). The amount of times we have been invited to the homes of strangers for some tea and conservation is astounding, especially considering we knew limited Swahili and they knew limited English. These are the people that made us feel welcome, safe and at home through their actions, their smiles and their attitudes. These are the people who made Tanzania a place I call home.

-Steven Lin

SON.PNGPicture taken when SIHA helped out at SON International’s Open House in Morogoro

Stretch Reflection: Learning to Adapt + Embrace the Unexpected

July 3rd, 2017

I was so excited to begin my Stretch Experience that I purchased a plane ticket that landed me in China on May 1st, practically the very first day of my summer break, thinking that everything would work out. It didn’t go as planned. For a variety of reasons, my initial plan of acting as a Mandarin-English clinical translator kept getting delayed. Instead of waiting around for the opportunity to reach me, I decided to take the initiative and step into local hospitals, without a particular goal in mind, but simply go in and learn about how their systems work. I received a referral from one of my contacts (my initial Stretch Experience advisor) to shadow a physician in a Traditional Chinese Medicine hospital in Fujian, China (only a three-hour drive from where I was staying), and I went to check it out. Y’see, I consider myself an avid planner. I have a physical planner that I religiously use to document what I have to do, sometimes down to the specific hour. At the initial stages of my Stretch Experience, I was honestly faced with a ton of doubt about where I could go and what I could do. The first couple of weeks, in and of itself, already put me outside of my comfort zone.

The hospital I stayed at was understaffed, and the Department of Oncology even filled up the hallway with beds to place extra patient. There was never enough space. As a result, Physician and nurses are often physically and mentally drained by the end of the day. I also realized that doctors in China are often not treated with respect by the patients. It was frustrating for me to see certain patients treating nurses condescendingly, and unappreciative of others’ favours. Of course, this was not the case for all patients, but a couple of examples really stood out. I also didn’t feel particularly useful, (understandably, due to my lack of training), but it felt good to be a part of a motivated group of people, encountering new cases every day.

I realized that building a physician-led Rehabilitation Group could be a potential solution to save individual physicians follow-up time. I had volunteered at a similar Rehabilitation Group in the past, and I was familiar with the general structure and recruitment process. I brought up this idea to the physician I was shadowing, and she seemed to like the idea of having a centralized group. Upon further brainstorming, we realized that the support group could be a resource that not only allows patients to gain medical advice after chemo, but provide psychological support through sharing experiences and stories. I did a lot of research, and even reached out and received guidance from my volunteer supervisors back home. They provided me with many tips and materials with building a rehab group, and described some of the methods that worked for them (huge shout-out to you both!).

The first Rehab Group session I organized became a success! Most patients in the Department attended, along with many other excited physicians and other clinicians who was there to provide feedbacks and suggestions. We had a good mixture of formal information delivery, aimed to shatter medical myths prevalent in smaller towns, as well as non-formal mingling amongst patients. For those who find it difficult to attend the sessions in person, a social media group (on WeChat, the Chinese equivalence of Facebook) has been set up, where patients and physicians alike can contribute to their discussion online. It was especially heartwarming to see a patient, who typically kept to himself in his hospital bed, laugh and share hospital tips with another patient.

I will be here for one more month, and during this time, I hope to make this group a norm within the hospital, and hopefully follow a similar format on other Departments and local hospitals as well. I look forward to sharing the rest of my experience during my presentation at the end of August! Thank you for reading.


Crystal Liu

An inquiry into Cultural Competency. Learning from the Indigenous Wellness Program, spending a week in an Indigenous Diabetes Intake

By: Jack Tang

*** This blog is written from my perspective, with the knowledge that I have gained from the Indigenous Wellness Program, from speaking with elders, and from literature that involves Indigenous health. This blog is not intended to speak on behalf of Indigenous peoples, nor do I mean to say that all Indigenous communities will follow the same practices or beliefs. I do, however hope you consider this as a starting point to learning more about the many Indigenous cultures in North America. The information presented in this blog come mainly from Cree traditional teachings. ***

How do we know whether we are helping people to the best of our ability, in the way that they most want to be helped?

For the past few months, I have been I hoped to find the answer at the Indigenous Wellness Program located near the Royal Alexandra Hospital in Edmonton. This clinic is an Indigenous-focused health center that uses a multidisciplinary and multicultural approach to delivering health-care for a wide array of Indigenous peoples.

The Indigenous Wellness Program’s (IWP) clinic will offer the same primary care health services as any other clinic: check-ups/follow-ups, prescriptions, examinations, etc. But the IWP also works in Women’s Support, Chronic Disease Management, educational programs for at-risk youth, palliative care in the inner city, a Diabetes Intake program, physical therapy, nutritional consultation, establishing temporary health centers in rural communities, and trips to help pick traditional medicines. The clinic is not a true traditional Indigenous medical center because it does not employ traditional healers (medicine men and medicine women). In their stead, a group of cultural advisors provide culturally-sensitive support and knowledge to the clinic. In this way, cultural leaders and the health-care staff have worked together to develop a clinic that follows the guiding principles of traditional medicine.

To understand these guiding principles, we must first think about the Western medicine we are so used to seeing. In Western medicine, the focus for medical professionals is mainly on treating physical problems. Doctors mainly prescribe physical treatments such as pharmaceutical drugs, surgery, or lifestyle changes like exercise and diet. And while mental health is increasingly recognized as a major contributor to patient health, the emphasis for doctors is still on the problems that we can physically see and feel.

In principle, traditional Indigenous medicine values physical wellbeing just as much as Western medicine. But the difference here is that traditional medicine moves beyond a single label of “mental health” for the illnesses we can’t see. Unlike Western medicine, Indigenous medicine divides non-physical health into three distinct categories: Emotional health, Mental health, and Spiritual health. Even more, the emotional, mental, and spiritual wellbeing of a person are valued equally to physical wellbeing – to be whole and healthy, a person needs to be in balance with all four. This philosophy is commonly represented within a Medicine Wheel (Figure 1).


Figure 1. The Medicine Wheel, as taught in an IWP diabetes information booklet. Note: The staff informed me that the medicine wheel within this diabetes booklet was visually incorrect, and has since been corrected: The Northern section of the wheel is White, representing the Spiritual. The Eastern section is Yellow and represents the Mental. The Southern section should be Red to represent the Physical. Lastly, the West would be Blue and represent Emotional health.

There are many Indigenous groups in Canada, and so there are many different interpretations of the Medicine Wheel. Even within one Indigenous group the Medicine Wheel may have multiple meanings depending on what it is being used for: the four directions, the four fundamental elements, traditional medicines, the seasons, the life cycle, and the balance of health within an individual.

But from my understanding, the IWP uses the Medicine Wheel to portray an individual’s health. The Physical portion represents our hands, legs, eyes, heart, kidneys, lungs and everything else that we can physically feel. The Emotional portion represents our emotions, moods, and the relationships we form with others. The Mental portion represents our intelligence: our knowledge, judgement, and critical thinking. The Spiritual Body is the strength of our connection to the Creator, our self-esteem, our motivation, and ultimately our self-identity.

The IWP offers a program called the “Diabetes Intake” which calls upon these four aspects of health. I was fortunate enough to have been given the opportunity to observe this program and learn how this healing process worked.


 “Aboriginal people represent 4.3% of the Canadian population. First Nations people, who make up over 60% of Aboriginal people in Canada, have prevalence rates 3-5 times that of non-First Nations populations. The diabetes prevalence in the Métis population was 7.3% compared to 5% in the non-Aboriginal population in 2008/09.”

The Diabetes Intake program was developed by the IWP to address the high number of Indigenous peoples afflicted with diabetes in Canada. Every month, a group of participants spend 4 full days in the clinic together to learn about how the disease works, as well as diabetes management topics such as nutrition, medication, and life-style changes. The program also includes topics in mental health from a traditional perspective – guided by a cultural helper who specializes in addictions and mental health. But the most eye-opening part of this program for me was the use of a daily sharing circle where participants could speak on their experiences, their fears, and their goals with diabetes.

Each morning, a cultural helper would open up the sharing circle by smudging (Figure 2).


Figure 2. A smudge is a traditional ceremony that involves the burning of traditional medicines such as sage, sweetgrass, cedar, or fungus gathered from the earth. In the center of the pan is a ball of sage and a braid of sweet grass. The smoke from the burning medicines are used to cleanse the spirit.

The cultural helper who performs the smudge explained to me the purpose of this traditional ritual (this is as close as I can get to his direct statement):

When we wake up in the morning, we shower because we want to cleanse our physical bodies to prepare for the day ahead. So you can think of a smudge as similar to showering, because a smudge is our way of cleansing our spirits. We wash ourselves with the smoke:

We smudge our eyes so that we can see the goodness in others.

We smudge our ears so that we can hear more clearly what others are saying to us.

We smudge our mouths so that we speak no evil. The mouth is powerful. It is said that a lifelong friendship can be ended by the speaking of only a few words.

We smudge our minds to open our minds, and to wash away our negative thoughts.

We smudge our hearts so that we can open up and feel what others are going through. It is said that the longest distance a person travels in life is the journey from their mind to their heart, and from their heart to their mind. A person can live with a closed mind and an open heart, and this makes you irrational because you are not able to think clearly about the things you feel. A person can also live with an open mind but a closed heart, which prevents you from feeling the feelings in world around you. We smudge both our heart and mind so that they can both be open.

We smudge our feet so that we walk the right path, and that we are not weighted down by negativity.

Note: This teaching has been borrowed, with permission from the cultural helper after giving protocol (an offering of tobacco). The cultural helper emphasized that in Cree tradition, teachings are passed down through experiential learning and that people grow to understand every part of a ceremony. When we try to write these teachings down, we only show a small part of the whole picture. For example there are important protocols that must be followed to turn sweet grass into medicine, which is not described in my explanation of the smudge.

After the smudging and prayer (which are completely voluntary for each individual), participants have a space to share any thoughts they have relating to diabetes. From their discussions, I saw that a lot of healing occurred when people listened to others and saw the same fears and challenges within other participants with diabetes. In both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal communities, having diabetes can carry a lot of stigma. Some people may jump to the conclusion that it’s a person’s own fault for their diabetes, while others may try to avoid the conversation because they do not understand the disease. In either case, patients can become isolated from the outside world and lose the will-power to fight the condition. Especially in diabetes, which requires multiple lifestyle changes and constant monitoring, a loss  of community support can be devastating to their self-management and self-treatment. Many members within this sharing circle expressed similar views on diabetes, such as a fear of over-medication, a desire to have their medication adjusted, wanting to control the disease so they have more time with their families, and feeling relieved that others know how they feel. One participant in particular said “I thought I was by myself with this disease. But there are so many of you have the same questions that I want to ask. I will keep listening to your experiences, because the things that work for you might also work for me.”

The traditions I have written about are just the beginning of traditional medicine. With the written word, there are many parts of a traditional teaching that are not acknowedged. As a cultural helper put it:

“When we do our teachings in the traditional way, speaking our language, working together in person, it’s like going through every letter of the alphabet from A to Z. We see the whole process and not just part of it. When we try to write the teachings out, we do not get A to Z. We only see a small part of it. But writing it out can be helpful to give people an idea of what we do – and if people are interested in learning more, they can seek to learn these things in person, in the traditional way.”

In many ways the ideas within traditional medicine, such as the high value placed on non-physical health, treating people holistically, and establishing a strong support structure from the very beginning of treatment, are concepts that mainstream society could stand to learn from. And as we move into discussions of decolonization in the Canadian society, it is not enough to remove the oppressive structures that hold people back. For Indigenous and Non-Indigenous communities to truly become partners, we should also acknowledge and critically think about the ideas within Indigenous traditions that can add to our health-care system.



Reflections: Langugage Barriers and Impact

Bonjour tout le monde!
My summer in France is wrapping up, and I have had an excellent experience. I am writing this post from my office in Grenoble, France. Here, I have started the last week of my internship at APARDAP, an association that works to match refugees, sans-papier (people without official immigration papers), and other immigrants with sponsors and help integrate them successfully into life in France.
My stretch here has been exciting and stretching, to say the least. Before coming to France, my French level was mediocre at best. I had participated in “Explore” through the Canadian government a couple of years ago, and I had taken a few classes at the university, but that was the extent of my French experience. Moving to France for the summer has been interesting. Especially trying to live and work with a language barrier. Before I started my stretch experience here, I took a class through the CUEF at Le Universities de Grenoble Alpes which significantly helped to improve my French; however, nothing prepared me for working in a French Association. Until this point, all my French language experience had been among other Anglophones except for my professors. Here, I submerged myself into an environment with primarily native speakers. I remember my first day where I sat in on a meeting and was overwhelmed with native French speakers talking amongst each other and over top of one another. I wasn’t sure if I was prepared for the next six weeks that laid ahead or if I could succeed in such a foreign environment. The last five weeks have proven to be stretching, but I have learned to thrive in this environment. I have learned so much about the struggles of immigration, refugees, and sans-papiers here in France and how associations like APARDAP have led the cause to help these people succeed in both their administrative procedures and integration into everyday life in Grenoble.
So, while my “stage” (internship en Français 😉) has been fascinating, but I’ve been asking myself, “How does this relate to leadership?” While choosing my stretch experience, I didn’t know what I would be doing during my internship here at APARAP. I also didn’t know how it would relate to leadership (although I hoped it would), It has proven difficult to lead in a foreign environment in a language that I do not speak perfectly. At the same time, APARDAP is an association that leads in their work with refugees, sans-papier, and immigrants. By taking part in this organization, I have been a leader. I have lead in Grenoble by helping to create an environment that is welcoming to foreigners, especially during a time where many people would prefer to close borders. I have lead by aiding in integration and keeping these people, who legally are not allowed to work, keeping themselves occupied constructively. I have also picked up soft skills from this internship that will be transferable into other leadership positions in the future. For example, my experience in a foreign country and working in a foreign language has given me more empathy for other people in my situation. Breaking cultural barriers is increasingly important in a globalizing world, and especially in this global political climate. This internship has given me excessive experience with this. Not only have I had to break French cultural barriers, but also barriers between myself and the refugees from an array of countries. This internship has given me a unique experience and perspective to bring with me back to Canada and apply in my leadership roles.