June 9, 2022
Carmen Belanger gives weekly presentations to her teammates on Indigenous history. Photo supplied.
Story by Kim Bradley
Sharing knowledge of Indigenous culture, history and reconciliation action is how Carmen Belanger is helping her team become better allies with the Indigenous peoples they serve.
Every Monday since November in her team meeting, this analyst for Alberta Health Services (AHS) HR Business Partnerships team in Central Zone has given a short presentation on the history of Indigenous peoples in Alberta, and the reasons that led to the Federal Government’s Truth and Reconciliation Report, Calls to Action.
“I was floored that I was being given the space to do this, that I had leadership who values this,” says Belanger. “To be honest, I was a little bit shocked but I thought ‘I’m game, sign me up, I’m happy to do this.’ For me, personally, I wanted to do this because it felt like something I could do to forward reconciliation, even if it’s in a small way.”
As a labour of love, she sifts through documents, pulls information from valid online sources and compiles it into an engaging, facts-based presentation, complete with links, so her colleagues can learn more if they choose. She presents her learnings in a straightforward, evenhanded way — and sometimes even throws in a Cree language lesson.
The inspiration came from her manager Jamie Cairney, who saw similar segments on the news about the Calls to Action following the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation last Sept. 30. Belanger volunteered after Cairney told her about the segments.
Belanger, an Indigenous woman from the Bigstone Cree Nation, Treaty 8, asked herself: How do you start to explain a topic with hundreds of years of tragic history? Because she didn’t know if everyone had completed the AHS Indigenous Awareness and Sensitivity Training, she decided to go right back to the beginning, before the formation of residential schools in Canada.
Her impact on the team has been profound, adds Cairney.
“All I did was give her the platform, remove the barriers for her and the team all agreed this would be their personal and professional development for the next 12 months,” she says.
“For our HR team, we support frontline operational leaders and we have many Indigenous communities and employees in Central Zone. We felt there was a unique opportunity for us to learn more about the Calls to Action so we can better support our clients and Central Alberta’s Indigenous population.”
Gerard Stang, Director of HR Business Partnerships in Central Zone, says he’s proud of the team for embracing such valuable learnings — and of Belanger for going out of her way to share the knowledge.
“The presentations are an effective way of keeping these commitments active for us and have given our team a new perspective on the experiences of Indigenous peoples in Canada,” he says. “Carmen is committed to raising awareness. The presentations have been embraced by our whole team — and could be used as a model for any AHS team that wants to learn more about Truth and Reconciliation.”
Belanger says the messages she’s received from her teammates make it all worthwhile.
“If one person takes this back to their kitchen table and talks about what they learned with their families and friends, then I’ve done what I set out to do.”
Here are a few comments shared by Belanger’s teammates on the value of her weekly presentations:
“I appreciate Carmen taking time away from her busy schedule to put together information sessions for our team to talk about a difficult and painful topic. Having spent a lot of time in the NWT, I’ve seen first-hand the ongoing impact these decisions had on Indigenous families. It’s an important part of Canadian history to acknowledge, learn from, and work to improve society in general, and Carmen is the catalyst who’s ensuring our team is learning a vital piece of history. While I had some awareness prior to these sessions, it’s certainly been eye-opening and unnerving just how shocking and horrific the treatment of Indigenous peoples was by our government, and even more disturbing how recent these events actually were.”
“Our Monday morning calls are always info-packed, but since the TRC learning that Carmen has provided I find myself looking forward to her short learning bites. Days I am not able to attend I set time aside to review the email she sends out with that week’s learning. This education has had a ripple effect as it usually generates conversation around my dinner table that evening/week as I like to share the learnings and we have had many discussion that have challenged deep-rooted opinions that were not necessarily based in fact. These learning bites have given me so much knowledge which I will forever be grateful for, having an employer who supports this learning. It truly is living the organizational values, but is an amazing example of our organization taking reconciliation to heart and making a step in the right direction. Kudos to HRBP leadership for supporting this and to Carmen for taking this project on.”
“Carmen, thank you for taking us on this journey. Not growing up in Canada I was oblivious to the many struggles faced by Indigenous Canadians and your sessions have opened my eyes to the terrible injustices they have endured. Every powerful session you share brings a new awareness, and stirs up intense emotions. The work you put into these sessions is a testament to your deep passion for reconciliation. Please keep up the great work Carmen, there is so much more for us to learn and understand. You are a kind and gentle soul, an amazing Canadian and an inspiration to us all.”