Celebrating Indigeneity: Honouring Tradition and Community in Medicine Hat

June 21 is recognized in Canada as National Indigenous Peoples Day. For centuries, Indigenous Peoples have celebrated the summer solstice on June 21, the reawakening of everything beautiful in nature. No better day, then, to celebrate the beauty of Indigenous culture than the day with the longest light.

As a celebration of Indigenous cultural heritages, the City of Medicine Hat is celebrating Indigeneity (in-dij-uh-NEE-uh-tee) this month with several events. One such event, the Celebrating Indigeneity Block Party in Towne Square on June 22, is an effort to move from reconciliation to reconcili-action.

Three Indigenous leaders from our community will be at the event, graciously sharing their traditions and customs.

Elder Charlie Fox

Elder Charlie Fox is a member of the Blood Tribe, living on the Kainai Nation – one of four nations comprising the Blackfoot Confederacy (along with Siksika, Piikani, and the Blackfeet in Montana). The Kainai were traditionally called Akáínaa, meaning Many Chiefs. Over time, the Kainai came to be referred to as Aapai-tsi-tapi, or Weasel People, in reference to the weasel skins often adorning their war shirts. Hunting grounds of the traditional territory extended from the South Saskatchewan River to Yellowstone in Montana. Elder Charlie says that on a clear day from his acreage homestead he can see “150 miles of mountains from Pincher Creek clear down to Montana.” Today, Elder Charlie estimates the population of the Blood Tribe at 13,000.

Elder Charlie, along with approximately 150,000 other Indigenous children, were forced to attend Residential Schools from the ages of 7 through 15. Elder Charlie recalls that prior to this, he had a “beautiful childhood” with his seven brothers and sisters growing up in a log cabin, riding horses, gathering berries, gardening, cutting hay, feeding cattle, receiving spiritual teachings from his father, and going to the Sun Dance in the summers.

In his current role as Elder, Elder Charlie performs traditional ceremonies and shares ancestral knowledge with the younger generations. He came into this role after almost 20 years of knowledge exchange from the Elders who preceded him. On the significance of this role, Elder Charlie said, “being an Elder, I think the nucleus of all our ceremonies are special relationships. Those relationships are really powerful because the people that transfer those items to us automatically become our parents – we gain a set of parents. And my whole group, they became my brothers and sisters. So, there’s just this great camaraderie and we enjoy feasts and ceremonies and it’s just a really beautiful time when we go to the Sun Dance … there isn’t any other experience in my life that comes close to that.”

At the heart of all his teachings are the values of self-respect, respect for others, kindness, and love. Elder Charlie looks forward to the Celebrating Indigeneity event on June 22 to share his rich culture and history to both Indigenous and non-Indigenous people alike. He says, “the more I can share with other people, it will help to create an understanding and acceptance of us as a race of people. What people see of us that’s negative, it stays in their mind. But we didn’t create all those negative things you see about our people, other influences – contact, residential schools – all those things created that way of life ... if it wasn’t for our resilience as a race of people, we would not have been here this long.”

During the event there will be an ‘Ask an Elder’ opportunity, giving attendees the chance to engage directly with Elder Charlie. He will also share cultural wisdom like the importance of protocols when meeting Elders, the significance of his Golden Eagle headdress, and why its customary to give tobacco as gifts.

Elder Charlie sees this as a time of celebration, to create an understanding of each other and to learn from each other.  He says, “I want to be able to walk side by side with the rest of the world.”

To our Indigenous youth in Medicine Hat, Elder Charlie’s message for you is this: “We’re First Nations people, and I don’t think that day is going to come when we’re not going to be First Nations people anymore – we’re always going to be First Nations people – to know our way of life and to know about our language, culture, values, and beliefs, as much as you can … a person needs to retain those things because we have such a beautiful way of life … if young people were able to grasp that, especially at an early age, it’s going to help them for the rest of their lives – it’s going to create a lot of self-esteem.”  

Elder Charlie sits in attendance at the 2022 Art in Motion event.

Elder Charlie sits in attendance at the 2022 Art in Motion event.


Elder Charlie bringing blessings to the 2022 Art in Motion event.

Elder Charlie bringing blessings to the 2022 Art in Motion event.


Elder Charlie at the 2022 Art in Motion event.

Elder Charlie at the 2022 Art in Motion event.

Brenda Mercer / Many Blessings Woman (Blackfoot) / Good Sweetgrass Woman (Dakota)

Brenda Mercer photographed in a ribbon skirt.

Brenda Mercer photographed in a ribbon skirt.

Brenda Mercer is Dakota Sioux, originally from Standing Buffalo First Nation, currently residing in Redcliff, Alberta. Brenda is a local artist, entrepreneur, and Indigenous storyteller. She regularly holds beading workshops, story circles at the Saamis Tepee, and other traditional crafting workshops.

Like so many others in the Indigenous community, Brenda has had to overcome generational trauma caused by the 60’s scoop and the lasting effects of the Residential School System. Healing, for Brenda, includes reconnecting to her Indigenous roots through crafting. Brenda says, “every time I pull a thread through my beads, I think of my ancestors. I think about the tools they wouldn’t have had access to that make it so easy for me today. They would have had to go out and harvest an animal to get sinew – dry it, butcher it, and harvest pieces that would become threading material.”

At the Celebrating Indigeneity Block Party, Brenda will have between 150 and 200 pairs of earrings, drums, bracelets, rattles, and more. She will also be making a drum on-site to show attendees the process of creating these important cultural symbols.

In 2022, Brenda received the Medicine Hat Police Service “Be the Change Award” for her ability to lead, inspire and motivate women through holistic approaches; to strengthen women’s bonds to family and community. Of her work in the community, Brenda says, “I want to be a good role model for my children, grandchildren, and great grandchild. I want them to be proud of where they came from. I want them to know their ancestry.”

When asked what she hopes people will take away from the event on June 22nd, Brenda said, “It’s an opportunity to learn more about protocol and the importance of that in our culture. Elder Charlie has also taught me that it’s so important to remember protocol because they’ve been doing this – the Blackfoot have – for hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of years and if we miss a step, and water it down, it takes away from what we’ve passed down.”

For National Indigenous Peoples Day, Brenda hopes that Hatters will celebrate the day by coming out to Indigenous events to learn more. “I want people to come and be curious. And hopefully that curiosity sparks something and you’ll look up tobacco ties on your own, or beadwork, or you’ll look up what ‘Medicine Hat’ means … I would also challenge people to look at a land acknowledgement and think about what that means to you … look at the TRC (Truth and Reconciliation) Calls to Action.”

Davie James

Davie James has lived in Medicine Hat for the past seven years. He grew up in Lethbridge but spent most of his summers visiting the Hat for skateboarding programs. Davie is from the Jena band of Choctaw Indians on his father’s side and Métis on his mother’s side.

Davie chose to move to Medicine Hat because he “fell in love with the skateboarding scene, the music scene, and the Indigenous community here.” He said, “Medicine Hat is where I reconnected with my heritage.” Davie spent his young life “getting into trouble, my parents didn’t know what to do with me.” Then he found skateboarding. “That’s why I’m so passionate about sharing my love of skateboarding with youth because it turned my life around. I think it can do the same for others.”

Davie has long been a volunteer for the Medicine Hat Skateboard Association and has recently started working with Cousins Skateboard Community. He also works with Brenda Mercer and her business, White Horse Rider to host crafting workshops and tours of the Saamis Tepee. He nurtures his love for music through his business, Fictional Bookings, bringing touring musicians to novel and underutilized spaces in our community. 

During the Celebrating Indigeneity event, Davie will be leading a drum circle – an art that Davie learned from people like Ken Turner at the Miywasin Friendship Centre. When asked what he enjoys about playing the hand drum, Davie said “with a normal drum kit, you’re hyper focused on the rhythm and someone leading with the guitar. In Indigenous culture, you’re singing to your drum – we see them as living beings, we see them as grandmother/grandfather, we wrap them in blankets after we’re done, we treat them like a person. There’s a level of care there that I adore – you’re singing to your drum, it’s very much by feel.”

Davie’s parting words to Hatters, “don’t be afraid to do something offensive – don’t let that fear make you do nothing at all. This event is a safe space with no dumb questions, just come and learn.”

This photo of Brenda Mercer and Davie James was sourced from Linda Hoang. Visit her website, linda-hoang.com and search 'Medicine Hat' to read the full article from July 29, 2023, detailing her story sharing experience at the Saamis Tepee.

This photo of Brenda Mercer and Davie James was sourced from Linda Hoang. Visit her website, linda-hoang.com and search 'Medicine Hat' to read the full article from July 29, 2023, detailing her story sharing experience at the Saamis Tepee.


With respect and recognition, the City of Medicine Hat acknowledges that we live and work on treaty territory. Medicine Hat is situated on Treaty 7 and Treaty 4 territory, traditional lands of the Siksika (Blackfoot), Kainai (Blood), Piikani (Peigan), Stoney Nakoda, and Tsuut’ina (Sarcee) as well as the Cree, Sioux, and the Saulteaux bands of the Ojibwa peoples; homelands of the Métis Nation. The City pays respect to all Indigenous Peoples and honours their past, present and future. We recognize and respect their cultural heritages and relationships to the land.

Learn more about National Indigenous Peoples Day events and educational opportunities by visiting medicinehat.ca/nipd.