Tsuut’ina: Culture boosts immunity

“Indigenous peoples have the right to maintain, control, protect and develop their cultural heritage, traditional knowledge and traditional cultural expressions, as well as the manifestations of their sciences, technologies and cultures, including human and genetic resources, seeds, medicines, knowledge of the properties of fauna and flora, oral traditions, literatures, designs, sports and traditional games and visual and performing arts. They also have the 23 right to maintain, control, protect and develop their intellectual property over such cultural heritage, traditional knowledge, and traditional cultural expressions.” – Article 31, UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples

In Indigenous nations both community and individual immunity have been developed through respect for indigenous legal and belief systems that teach values and ways of being.  Teachings and laws to give food and care to elders before others, to share food, and not to charge money for medicines (for example), are principles that ensure a community thrives in times of hardship. Lee Crowchild speaks about the importance of respecting treaty rights and responsibilities. Treaty people understand that they never gave up their land, resources in those lands, or the inherent rights that come from being original peoples. Treaty was an agreement to live together in a good way by sharing the territory. Lee Crowchild says, “We’re going to share this with you because it speaks to the core of who we are, how we look after people.”

Xakiji Lee Crowchild is the third generation Xakiji. He graduated from Washington State University B.Sc.P.E with a focus on biomechanics and Exercise Physiology, the University of British Columbia Dipl. EDST, Diploma in Film at The Vancouver Film School, he started at Mount Royal University, where he was asked to return as an instructor. His achievements extend over many different disciplines and endeavours including and not limited to “The Tom Longboat Award – Canada’s Athlete of the year 1982” “Entrepreneur of the Year 89” from the Calgary Chamber of Commerce and the Khot-La-Cha Award from the University of British Columbia ‘99. He also successfully led a dance company known as “Red Thunder Native Dance Theatre” for 13 years. He has worked in many capacities and positions within Tsuut’ina. This includes Manager of Infrastructure, Director of Public Works, and Emergency Management for the Nation. Outside the Nation he has also held a wide-range of positions for various boards including APTN Board of Directors and the Chairman of Making Treaty 7 Cultural Society Board of Directors. Chief Lee Crowchild is a man of the people and knows that “Serving the people – our people – requires diligence, sacrifice, and great earnestness”.

Elders teach that ultimately all Indigenous rights and responsibilities derive from the lands and waters of traditional territories. Now that we are in the middle of a pandemic, the critical relationship between well-being, culture and territory has become really clear. So many of the people telling their stories for Building Immunity spoke in their language for good reason. Indigenous languages connect people with their own identity and well-being as well as their relationships to creation. Language is vital for positive identity, relationships and health. Identity serves as an indicator and prerequisite of health and well-being. Spiritual and cultural language practises reinforce connections between people, the responsibilities they have to each other, and in turn, ensure that community care is prioritized.

Since early April, Tsuut’ina Emergency Response Management has enforced a curfew in the community to prevent Covid-19 from entering the community from outsiders. They have not decided to close the borders of the community as others have done.  The Emergency Management team has developed clear communications through social media and text messages to keep members informed, aware of Covid-19 symptoms and safe health practices; and the Healthy Living Program is supporting community members through helplines and counselling services.  Council has also adopted laws to enforce safety measures and the Human Resources department has been supporting community members with the application processes for the different economic support programs.

The Tsuut’ina are part of the more northerly Dane-zaa nation and migrated south to the Great Plains in the 1700s. They lived in the Beaver Hills of what is now Alberta, but due to the fur trade, the Cree were moving north into Denendeh which led to conflicts with the Dene.  The oral history of the Tsuut’ina has preserved the memory of their separation from the Dane-zaa. When the people decided to move south looking for lands near mountains they formed an alliance with the Blackfoot. While the Tsuut’ina adopted some cultural practices from the plains nations to adapt to the territory, the language spoken is still Dene.


Advocate for the federal government to respect Indigenous rights and ensure every community has the resources they need. 

Click here to take action>>