June is National Indigenous History Month – a time to honour the history, heritage and diversity of Indigenous peoples in Canada. This year, following the tragic news about the children found buried at former residential schools - and that there are likely more discoveries to come - we hold our First Nations colleagues in our hearts. We stand with survivors, Indigenous communities and Indigenous team members to honour the lives of the children who never came home.
We want to take the opportunity to recognize the significant contribution that Indigenous communities make to our Petro-Canada network. We have 58 Petro-Canada retail and wholesale marketing relationships (42 retail and 16 wholesale) with Indigenous communities across the country.
This year I was happy that operators from two of the sites operated by First Nations communities were able to take the time to talk with me about their sites and how they celebrate National Indigenous Peoples Day on June 21. Introducing Carol Pechawis, the manager of Misty Petroleum located on the Mistawasis First Nation in northern Saskatchewan and Loretta Jacko from the Petro-Canada located on the Cold Lake First Nations in northern Alberta.
Q: Thank you for taking the time to talk with me today, Carol and Loretta. Can you tell me a bit about your sites?
Carol: Misty Petroleum open five years ago last April, but joined the Petro-Canada Dealer Licensee network in August 2019. Our clientele is 50% local community and 50% pass-through travellers along the highway; the local community is from two First Nations communities: Muskeg Lake First Nation and Mistawasis First Nation (Mistawasis Nêhiyawak). We offer full service fuel, gasoline and diesel, a small café (including “Misty’s Chicken and Chips”), and craft store. Our craft store sells a variety of arts and crafts from local artisans from the community, traditionally made items such as moccasins, hand-beaded jewelry, artwork and handmade knives.
Loretta: The Cold Lake First Nations Petro-Canada, part of the Primco Dene Commercial Centre, opened in 2019. We have about 30 employees, the majority from the Cold Lake First Nations. We also have a number of students where this is their first job. We're right off the highway so we see both local traffic as well as a lot of folks travelling from Edmonton or Saskatchewan. Our CFC restaurant sees a lot of local traffic particularly on Wednesdays when we have homemade bannock and Indian tacos. In addition to the restaurant, we have an area to service transportation vehicles, places for RVs to park plus a nice grassy area to walk your dog.
Q: What role does your site play within your community?
Carol: We're the only business in the area that operates after 6pm - so between 6pm and 10pm, we're the only place people can go. That's important for both the local community as well as local businesses that many need something later in the evening. We also serve as a gathering place. Pre-COVID, a lot of folks would wait out winter storms in our cafe - sometimes spending hours here. Because we see so many regular local customers, we're also able to look after community members. Recently, an older guest purchased a 5-gallon bottle of water for his cooler; when one of my staff carried it out to his car, they noticed the previous bottle was still there. Knowing that he was older and his wife was ill, they arranged to deliver the water and install it for him.
Loretta: Our site is a centre of community information sharing. We have a bulletin board where people post announcements. And we also have a lot of people just coming in and talking to our team. There’s always a lot of chatter and everyone just learns what’s going on in the community.
Q: June is Indigenous History Month and Indigenous Peoples Day on June 21. How does your community celebrate?
Carol: We don’t necessarily celebrate Indigenous awareness month – we are indigenous every day and so we find ways to appreciate each other every day. The arts and crafts in our store are a way in which we appreciate the craftsmanship of people in our community - it's a great way for local artists to reach a larger number of people. The artists make many traditionally made things, like moccasins. Not everyone can make a moccasin, so lots of people purchase these, not just the people passing through.
Loretta: Indigenous History Month is a good time for us to raise awareness about our culture and history. At the site, we have theme days or our team will wear t-shirts that bring attention to days like the National Day of Awareness for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIW) on May 5th. We are very open to guests who come and want to learn about our culture – people who appreciate not appropriate.
Carol and Loretta, thank you so much for taking the time to share information about your site and your community with our readers!
On a personal note, I’m making it a point during June to learn more about Canada’s Indigenous cultures. I asked both Loretta and Carol for recommendations on sources they value and respect as well as checked in with Suncor’s internal Employee Resource Group for Indigenous employees. The following list has many excellent resources for appreciating Indigenous culture as well as learning about the history of Indigenous peoples in Canada and the important process of reconciliation.
- NotoriousCree, aka James Jones - a creator on social media who showcases First Nations language and culture
- #IndigenousReads – a reading program and book list that encourages reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples through sharing literature written by First Nations, Inuit, and Métis peoples.
- Indigenous Canada – an online course (free) from the University of Alberta that explores Indigenous histories and contemporary issues in Canada. From an Indigenous perspective, this course explores key issues facing Indigenous peoples today from a historical and critical perspective highlighting national and local Indigenous-settler relations.
- Native-Land.ca – an Indigenous-led team that is creating a map of Indigenous lands, along with other resources, in a way that changes, challenges, and improves the way people see the history of their countries and peoples. They hope to strengthen the spiritual bonds that people have with the land, its people, and its meaning.
- Reconciliation Canada – an organization actively providing programs and initiatives to inspire positive change in communities throughout Canada.
- GroundworkForChange.org - a website that shares information and resources to help non-Indigenous/settler peoples grow relationships with Indigenous peoples that are rooted in solidarity and justice.
- Research Guide to Indigenous New Media at the University of British Columbia – a curated collection of Indigenous-created new media, including video games, apps, podcasts, comics, video art, and web art.
How do you plan to honour and celebrate Indigenous Peoples Day? We’d love to hear about it in the comments!