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Welcome to the Secret Life of Entrepreneurs and our ongoing series, Women in Leadership!
Our guest today is a recipient of the 2019 YWCA of Regina Women of Distinction. Margaret Kisikaw-Piyesis, CEO of All Nations Hope Network has been instrumental in reviving and restoring the traditional teachings of Indigenous culture to build a stronger and more resilient community.
Since 1988, Margaret has worked to address the HIV/AIDS epidemic affecting Indigenous peoples across Saskatchewan.
Barb McGrath 0:00
Welcome to a special episode of The Secret Life of entrepreneurs. A 91.3 FM CJ tr Regina community radio. You’re listening to your host, Barb McGrath, local business owner, marketing guru and founder of the get found on Google program. This week, I’m talking to a leader in the business community who’s making a positive impact in her workplace, for our stakeholders, and in our ongoing series, women in leadership. Stay tuned to learn her secrets about what makes her tick. What helps her get out of bed in the morning, the difference she is making in her community, and her role as a leader in our community. So welcome, Margaret Kisikaw-Piyesis. I’m working really hard on that name. Today’s been the day of names for me. All right. Welcome, Margaret. Thank you for joining me today, please start off by tell us a little bit about yourself and the work that you’re doing.
Margaret Kisikaw-Piyesis 0:59
Sure. Thank you very much for inviting me to come and speak, I’m delighted to come and share a little bit of what I know is a indigenous Cree woman from this land. I’ve been here forever with my ancestors. And it’s exciting to see as we move forward to see that culture is a part of our way forward for indigenous people. And for myself. I’m my parents were Cree, what my father from the George Gordon First Nation and my mother. His family comes from pkcs. And so as we begin to look at where we are today is, as in my own family, I’m raising a third generation, my grandchildren, who probably won’t live on those communities for many reasons. And I was raised off of the communities in in his I have always been an urban, indigenous person, and raised my families in that manner. So today I work I’m the CEO for all nations hope network guy, I’m involved in many different opportunities to bring culture back to indigenous people, in many forms, through our languages, our ceremonies, our medicines, are teachings, and our dances and our songs. And it’s a beautiful way of really helping the people to move forward in understanding their own identity as indigenous people. And to bring back some of our ways that we had, that will be solutions to what we face today in many health and social conditions are impacting the people. And as indigenous people, I feel we have a lot of solutions to bring forward to what we face today. And not only for our nation for but for the many nations that came here to this land. And so as we begin to look at the healing and the wellness within our own communities, we can be able to bring that forward to share with other nations that came here, you know, if an example of that would to look to be to look at the land, because the land is healing for us, and to have respect for that, and the sacred sacredness of Mother Earth and, and everything that dwells in it from the plants and the animals, to the water to the air, all of that, all of that, that we look at in terms of how we want to heal, right alongside those those environments, right, and going to the land. So today, I have a you know, I’m delighted to be able to lead an organization, you know, with the board of directors who support me to be able to bring some of those solutions to, to the surface and to be able to share that with the people. And so we’ve we’re involved in research projects, we’re also involved in networking, and and also involved with some training. And we have, we do outreach in the city of Regina here. And so we work we’re a network in Saskatchewan. So we’ve not only work in Saskatchewan, but we also have worked in Canada, with different areas and in some international work. And so as indigenous people, we’re all related, as human beings, we’re all related we are and so you know, this is the land of the where my ancestors came from. So we wanting to bring that to light and to really look at those ways and share those ways once more. And there’s a lot of you know, I’m a traditional medicine practitioner, I’ve been a dedicated for years to do some training and some understanding some ceremonies and some learning in that area. So I will now be a lifelong protector of the plants and the medicines of the land and help with those.
Barb McGrath 4:30
Tell me more about that, Margaret, because when we were talking before we started the show, you mentioned for holidays, you were going out to sorry, was it medicine fields or healing fee,
Margaret Kisikaw-Piyesis 4:42
I was going out to some medicine for some medicine and to gather some medicine. So harvesting
Barb McGrath 4:45
Tell me about that.
Margaret Kisikaw-Piyesis 4:49
It’s specifically we look for some of the medicines that we have identified that are useful in the way in where we work, right. And so we harvest medicine for Medicine people to use in their when people come and see them and they’re talking about what’s going on in their life and physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually, they’re asked, and then their ceremony that’s done and then they’re, they’re given some medicine. And so these are the medicines that we harvest throughout the season the harvesting season. So from the spring to the Fall is when we’ll harvest Okay, the majority of the medicines that we know and have those available for people one of the the easiest medicines that people might know is is sage. Mm hmm. And so we will harvest that throughout the the seasons and have that prepared so that we’re can use it throughout the year in our ceremonies and our teachings. So on Friday is the smartwatch here in Regina can so this is when the community and some of the political people in some of the local businesses and the in the agencies come together and we walk in the community we pray in North Central. Okay, the walk has been going for quite a while It started when the there was an article from Maclean’s on the that neighborhood hood being the worst neighborhood in Canada. And so they people got together and put that walk together. And so it’s been going now for quite a few years, I’m not sure how many. And so part of what we do at all nations hope is we smudge every day. So we joined the walk, we’re part of organizing the walk and helping with the walk, providing the medicines for the walk, providing our bit of expertise in our relationships that we have with pipe carriers and helpers. And you know, people who are resource people who are cultural that can put teepees up and Okay, some of that those activities in a city here in an urban setting, right? It’s different putting a teepee up here in a city than it is putting it up in in on the land.
Barb McGrath 6:44
Absolutely. And, you know, having had the opportunity to help a couple of times, there are some serious skill involved in knowing what you’re doing to do it correctly. Because I’ve seen a few that could have been lien twos not teepees anymore.
Margaret Kisikaw-Piyesis 6:58
And you know, in our traditions and our teachings, it was a woman’s position to to put the teepee up because that was our house. That’s what we carried around. Right. So that makes sense. And it’s still like that, and you know, it’s our house. Even in the city. Yes, our house is women, our home. So, you know, those are the things that we’re working on. But we smudge everyday donations, open our outreach. And so we, you know, scientists have proven that smudge it, you know, removes bacteria from the air and what our ancestors knew that for years and years that it was a way of cleansing, right. And so we’ve been doing this since the beginning of time. And even in the research that we’re involved in at all nations hope, we come at it from a one lens view, we were viewing it from our lens as indigenous people, our ancestors have been researching since the beginning of time. So this is nothing new to all nations hope and to our research work that we do. Okay, and we normally do this work in Saskatchewan, but in Canada, too. And we’re involved in, in many research projects helping to bring solutions to life for indigenous people, right, so around the multitude of issues that we face. And it’s always exciting because we do everything in ceremony. So when we begin to do a division on a project that we’re going to want to work on, there’s there’s ceremony involved. And so as that ceremony goes before us, the medicines go before us and the pipe makes a way for us when we have a pipe ceremony to make sure that that work will be done in a good way. And if it’s to be done at all, it’ll make a way for us and it’s easy. It’s it’s, you know, my days of working the other way where it was all my mind that, you know, I’m writing up proposals on the one doing the work. I’m doing all this No, it wasn’t me exhausting. It’s a gift the creator gives us to be able to do this work. And when we include ceremony and how we’re doing it, that’s the biggest piece of the work that I can say, has really helped me as a young woman to where I am today. And I think I’m a middle aged woman. I don’t know. I’m 56. So I don’t quite I don’t know the beginning the middle in the end anymore. It’s kind of interesting, because I was recently I danced in a in a Sundance, and it was my second year and I had my my decided this year not to dye my hair anymore. Okay, and so I’m going gray, and I’ve been going gray since I was 26 years old. So I’m totally gray. And so at the Sundance, I had my girl, my daughter braid my hair, so that it was all in place for the four days that we we danced and right and fasted, and so we were getting the the tree of life, and I was tobacco to pray for the tree. And I’m like looking around, and I’m thinking there’s older women here, and why are they asking me right? And it was my hair because I was letting it go gray and it looks told gray and I think that’s it. That’s for me. That’s a time in life that I know. I’m stepping into a different area of responsibility as an indigenous woman, right. I’m a grandmother. I’ve got three beautiful grandkids. Children from you know, 13 to six. And they’re they’re just beautiful. And that’s why I do the work I do in terms of making sure I know who I am. As an indigenous woman, I know what my roles and responsibilities are. I’m learning the medicines, I’m learning the ceremonies, I’m learning the songs, I’m learning so much more on how to be an indigenous woman, and what my responsibilities are, as a nurture, I have to know that for myself before I can help others in whether it’s a research project or decisions I’m making in research, our, you know, decisions, I’m I’m deciding on partnerships and some of the networking that we do when we work with other institution systems or agencies around some of the research or the programming and services that are being offered. So I really have to pray, I want to use the word plead hard with the creator and our ancestors to get that information. So I can move forward and help the people things that are going to make a real difference in our community and not the band aids, you know, the band aids are good, they’ve been keeping people alive. But it’s time now that we dig deep as an indigenous organization and look for the solutions and offer those solutions to the people so that they can move forward in their lives, that we can help them identify some solutions, we can introduce reintroduce them to their culture, you know, we just finished a moose hunting project, and it was called Miss Eva’s Missy Puttu. And that means those who hunt in Cree. And so the there was about seven men who were part of that, and a whole team that surrounded them, of course, and supported them for a year where they went to the land, and they, you know, had a relationship with the land. These were were men that lived in the city, most of their lives and young men never been to their reserve, they are maybe never went back and forth, or even learning that right. And that’s one of our rites of passage for our men, you know, one of them is to hunt when they’re boys, and how their first kill. So you know, these, this this opportunity we had with the man to bring them together and do this was so enlightening to him, not only them, but to us, what they gave us was a wealth of information to be able to build more research projects that will identify this is the way we need to do work in our community to bring back those roles and responsibilities for for indigenous men, that we are looking at building them. And then building themselves really into the the providers and the protectors of families and of the nations right, that role has been taken away from them from for many years, from colonization to residential schools to the 60 scoop to the current social services, where they’re apprehending our children at the greatest numbers more they have apprehended more children than in through that system, then residential schools.
Barb McGrath 12:45
So let’s go back to your organization if we can for just a minute, Margaret. So talk to me about some of this research you’re doing because it excites me to hear that it’s solutions based not Band Aid based. So tell me a little bit about that.
Margaret Kisikaw-Piyesis 13:00
Sure. You know, quite a few years ago, we decided, you know, let’s let’s do some research. Let’s look at it. And we had one of our one of our founding members, he’s he’s passed away now he was the the late art, cash hwadam. And he was part of all nations hope, AIDS network in the beginning, we had, we were or we change our names over the years, we dropped the AIDS out of it and became All Nations Hope Network. Because we were it was a, we’ve changed over the years from just not only being an HIV AIDS organization, but we have to deal with hepatitis C, with addictions with mental health with other sexually transmitted infections, is homelessness with poverty, there was so much we’re dealing with and you know, statistically, in this province, Aboriginal, sorry, indigenous people are the highest at the highest rate for for HIV, right in a country and their highest rate of everything you don’t need look at stuff. But I don’t want to talk about that. What I like to talk about is the resiliency of the people. And that’s what were these research projects really grew out of. And at the very beginning of our work in research, the late art cash hwadam he named a project and he and it was permesso in life. And what what that instilled in in myself, as you know, the leading researcher and leading person at all nations hope is that we always have to look for life, in everything we do in so everything that we have our projects, our programs, our even our bylaws, they’re all living documents, everything’s alive to us as indigenous people. That’s the beauty we see and feel and know, as indigenous people. And so, very early on that that life that penicillin, which means life in Korea was was instilled in me. And so I began to think that way and through the ceremonies when we go in and ask for good things for the people every year we make an offering and all nations hoping we ask for good things. For the staff and the board and our families, right, we need to be in a good place so that we can help the people in a good way. As a forward Yeah,
Barb McGrath 15:09
Yes, exactly. You need to be in a position of strength to be able to help other people become stronger. Yes, right. That’s true that that’s very true. So you tell me what inspired some of this work? I mean, the work you’re doing on a daily basis, that is, it is mentally and physically exhausting, that’s just not go to work and push some papers around. So what keeps you going? Where do you Where do you find it from?
Margaret Kisikaw-Piyesis 15:34
I would, I would say, I would say that standing behind me right now are my ancestors. So my dad left in 96, he was a hard worker. And he showed that to his children. And so that he left us with that, too, we all work hard in our lives, and my mother is still living, and she’s a hard worker, she’s, you know, in her late 70s, and she’s still up and at it every day and doing this and that for people. And so, you know, I woke up in 2007, to an understanding that in a purpose in life, I was that person that was running around crazy working overtime, always working, neglecting my family. You know, I was thought Oh, my children when I were when I was raising them, they had you know, food, shelter, clothing, you know, the basic necessities, but they didn’t have me because I was always working. Right. So that’s what I was taught by my parents. And my parents were taught that by their parents, they were hard workers. Right? Right. And they came from the residential school era, too. So they, they they didn’t have any skills to raise us raises children and, and, and our grandparents, we lost very early on, they left, you know, these illnesses, diabetes, addictions, they left very early in. So we didn’t have that opportunity to sit with them and learn the ceremonies and the language and all of that, because they did left. And so as I began to, to wake up in 2007, when this guy wake up, it’s time for me to wake up and know what my purpose was in life. And it wasn’t pushing paper and writing hundreds of proposals and looking for money to rate to you know, run the nonprofit organization. All Nations Hope Network it right. My purpose was to really to plead with our ancestors and the Creator with visions that we had to do some work with the people and how it would unfold. And you know, over the years, I’ve seen the beauty of pleading in that manner. Because, you know, some of the partnerships that we’ve had in the community, our most recent one was with the YWCA. And we were building together a sacred site in their new facility.
Barb McGrath 17:39
Yes, their new facility. That’s right. Okay.
Margaret Kisikaw-Piyesis 17:42
And so the sacred site will have a sweat lodge that can be indoors and outdoors. Because of our weather here in the province. Yes, we want to have access to a sweat lodge throughout the year. And it’s such a beautiful ceremony. And we want to have access to a place for some of our moon ceremonies, which is a woman ceremony for women and their their partners and their families to come. And so we’ve got some beautiful ceremonies that we want to bring back to life here in this in Saskatchewan in an urban in Regina and urban area. And so this site, sacred site that will have will, we’ll be able to store our medicines there, we’ll have our medicine room, they’re available for some of the medicine people that we bring in to see the people. When we currently right now we have three different places where we do the work. And so it to have it all in one place will be beautiful. I see what you mean. So there’s three separate locations right now, but you’ll be able to bring it all together. Yes, a new facility, okay. And so that that partnership that we have with the YWCA CA is just one partnership, we’ve gotten many partnerships like that, that we’re working together. And so what we’re saying as indigenous people is that we have the solutions for what we need to do to bring life to the people. What we need, though, is to work in partnership with existing institution systems and agencies, and for them to stand alongside and support us and to hold us up as we’d be in to do this work. And that’s what the YWCA has done. That’s what some of the other agencies that we have partnerships with have done. So it’s a beautiful way of understanding one another as human beings. And we do this work for the human human being so the center of everything that all nations hope does. what surrounds a human being is the the research, the programming, the outreach, and, and networking. Everything we do is around the floor for the human humanity right around there. Yeah, and it’s a nice way to think about everything and we touch all the staff that I work at all nations have, they’ve been there for quite a while. So we’ve had long term staff there. And we’ve been we keep building our staff and, and keep building some of the programs, the services and the research that’s being offered in the community. We keep building our partnerships. So it’s a beautiful way of existing and knowing that we’re not alone in looking for solutions, but an identity finding some of those solutions and being able to work together with what exists, you know, myself being going to a ceremony and asking, in pleading for wellness for myself being told by the ancestors that I need to take my medication that I’m taking, but I also need to take my son medicine. So you know, the best of both worlds. And so you know, someday I won’t take the medication anymore, and, and the medicine will be all that I’m going to access I’m going to be using, right, so that day will come. It’s about understanding some of the teachings around that. And, and that’s what I want to see in our community with people who are suffering from any of these diseases, I call them, like HIV, hepatitis C, addictions, mental health, those those type of diseases that we see. And even the trauma that people face from being in a residential school are the trauma that we carry from our ancestors, which is blood memory. So you were dealing with a lot of looking for solutions, and along the way, being introduced to people who can help us. And so that’s a beautiful way and it’s not, I believe our ancestors, like when you do these ceremonies, they put things in place so that people will come and say all of a sudden, they’re like, I want to meet with all nations hope I want to help you. And that’s the beauty of it. Right? That people are big, all listening, we’re all connected, right? Our ancestors are always present. And they always they’re wanting us to to reconcile and to talk about solutions for where we are today. Because we’re not in a good place.
Barb McGrath 21:34
No, we’re not we’re absolutely not. Talk to me about some of those partnerships, you have the partnership with the white W and we need to talk about, of course, the award that you won, but talk to me about some of the other partnerships that you’re working on or have.
Margaret Kisikaw-Piyesis 21:46
Sure, so one of the long standing relationships we’ve had with is with the matey addictions, services in Regina here. And so we’ve been going, if I can say at least since 1995, we go there every month to talk to the people who are in there in going through treatment, and we talked to them about HIV, Hep C, other sexually transmitted infections, we talked to them about where they are in life where they can get support or help. So we’ve had that one for ever. And so we’re working together, they’re having a, I think it’s a I don’t want to be wrong, but I think it’s 25 years celebration in the fall. So there are not in the fall, it’ll be coming up pretty quick here. They’re having a celebration for that, right. And so we’re part of that. We’re also looking at why they bring in one of their counselors from the Maxi to our office downtown are down in North Central on a weekly basis, a recovery group. And so one of their counselor comes and one of our counselors works with alongside each other, and they work towards recovery for people. And there’s no rules or regulations or sticky stuff. Have you need to sign up. No, it’s dropping. Yes. And we’re just there for the people every Monday. And so there’s a lot of partnerships that we have in that in that area with really working together. We have some volunteers in the community, we run one of the ladies Angelina Anna quad, runs Billy’s place, which is a men’s group and she does that in the evenings at all nations hope she has a full time job. But she comes and does the evening work with the men. And we’ve seen that group grow and prosper and begin to like New Beginnings for some of the men that she’s been helping in her hardest set because it was her brother who she wanted to name the group after Billy who’s no longer here. So it’s a beautiful story. And you run into people like that. It’s always heartfelt stories, like even myself working in this field. You know, when I first we weren’t raised we when we were young, my parents moved this to Washington State. So we lived over there off and on for about 16 years. So most of my upbringing was in Washington State. And so when I moved back to Canada, I think it was in grade 11 and 11 when we moved back here, and I went to Tom collegiate, and I experienced racism for the first time. I’ve never I never experienced that in Washington, you know, they really love this in the town we lived in because we’re the only indigenous family. We’re the only indigenous. So they loved us. And they’re I remember being in second grade, I think and, and the teacher was talking about everybody’s ethnicity, and they’re like, oh, what kind of Indian are you? They asked me. And I’m like, I gotta go home and ask because we weren’t raised, you know, with our language. Okay, my parents are both residential school survivors. So they didn’t want to teach us any of the language. They were so busy working all the time. They never really parented us. They didn’t know how all of that right. But moving back to Canada and experiencing racism for the first time. I was always kind of a outspoken person. And so that really instilled in me that I wanted to work in the community and through My my early life in my early career life working, I worked for a program called healthiest babies possible. And I advocated and talked for the I was supposed to be a childbirth educator, but I was more of an advocator. And I would go in and talk for the young women who were experiencing racism, prejudice, or ignorance or stigma within the institutions and systems and other agencies. So I was a mad I was mad for probably the first 20 years of my work life. Oh, wow. Always fighting, fighting, fighting. Oh, yeah. And I made myself very sick. And in 2007, when I told you wiska, when I woke up, that’s when I decided I can’t be like that anymore. It made me sick. I had high blood pressure, high cholesterol, you know, like, it was crazy. And I was sick. And I took six weeks off of work. And that was I was at all nations hope. And I wasn’t sure if I was going to go back because I didn’t want to work in that kind of way anymore. But what what, what helped me was the board of directors, they supported me. And they made sure that I was well enough, and that I wanted to come back. And they gave me that support. And I’m so thankful for that. And people prayed for me. And so I came back and I’m came back even stronger and stronger, and even more and more knowledge, and more vision for the outlook of all nations hoping the work that we wanted to achieve as a indigenous network in Saskatchewan. So Margaret, we only have about two minutes left. Can you quickly tell us if somebody wanted to learn more about the organization or talk to you about becoming a partner? Learn more about the work you’re doing? Where do they find you? How do they get ahold of you? The easiest way to find this is on our website. So it’s www dot all nations home.ca. And so I’m on there, Margaret kisa, copy asis. And there’s other stuff on there, too. And so they’re interested in looking and finding out more about organization. They’re welcome to come down and see us to Hey, there welcome to have come have a look at what we do and volunteer with us.
Barb McGrath 26:59
That sounds wonderful. Well, thank you very much. I appreciate that. It’s been a fantastic time here with Margaret today. And we’re just going to do a quick show wrap up, and then we will be good to go. So I will be back, if you can believe it on the fourth of September with Dr. Vianne Timmons from the University of Regina. And she too will talk to us a little bit about the significance of this award. And I believe she was the winner of the Lifetime Achievement Award. So she will be our final guest in the women in leadership series. Each of the winners from the women of distinction did have an opportunity to join me on the show. And it’s been such a pleasure, Margaret, I thank you for being with me here today. It wasn’t until I noticed your business card partway through the show that you actually are based out in Fort capelle. Yes, I am. Yeah, so I didn’t realize that thank you for for coming into Regina. If you would like to be a guest on the show, you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or you can reach out on Facebook and Instagram at Above the Fold Canada. You can even send me a message in advance of our live show and you can just leave that on Facebook and Instagram. I’m your host Barb McGrath, local business owner and Google girl. Remember, you worked hard for your success. Don’t keep it a secret. Bye for now.