Elder reconciles the past by teaching others

His face may be familiar to you — Sheldon is featured in a public service announcement highlighting Mayor Nenshi’s Three Things for Canada initiative. Through the video, Sheldon shares his desire to teach Blackfoot language, history and culture as his way to give back to Canada.

Sheldon comes from the Blood Nation, part of the Blackfoot Confederacy. He is a residential school survivor, an elder and an educator. Sheldon attended St. Paul’s residential school in southern Alberta from the time he was five until he was put into the foster care system at 12. His experience in the residential school scarred him in many ways, and he claims he was “not a very good person” for a period in his life.

However, Sheldon found comfort and strength in his Blackfoot roots and, after beating alcoholism more than 40 years ago, has distanced himself from the person he used to be.

For the past six years, Sheldon has shared his experience with elementary and high school students visiting the Glenbow Museum. Sheldon teaches Blackfoot culture and history, including his personal stories about the abuse he and other students experienced, which continues to advance his healing process.

He is particularly excited about a new Blackfoot language program he is creating using a syllabic alphabet designed by a member of the Blackfoot Confederacy in 1977. The program, steeped in the oral language and now supported by the syllabic alphabet, is intended to keep the Blackfoot language alive for the next generation.

Encouraged by the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, the program allows people to understand the history of place. Sheldon explains, “It helps dispel many misconceptions around the signing of the treaties. After 150 years of suppression, we want to be able to move forward with the newcomers to the Blackfoot Territory.”

Sheldon now lives in a Trinity Place Foundation of Alberta (TPFA) building. Through the RESOLVE Campaign, TPFA is raising money to construct another building for people like Sheldon.