Gateway Gazette

Bringing History to Life Through Song and Dance: Wandering Spirit Native Awareness Ltd.

“If you are going to learn something, go to the roots.”

Wandering Spirit Executive Director Jackie Soppit visiting Cuba in 2016.

Adopted at the age of two, detached completely from her Indigenous roots, and integrated into mainstream culture, a fifteen-year-old Jackie Soppit was left confused and asking herself, “Who am I?”

Throughout her childhood, Jackie had always felt a little bit different and unable to truly identify with her surroundings. Knowing the harmful stereotypes sometimes associated with the Indigenous culture, her adoptive family aimed to protect her from discrimination, but this separation from her roots left Jackie feeling isolated and misunderstood.  By the age of thirteen, Jackie was living on the streets and struggling to find her place – her identity.  Unable to cope, she began to self-medicate, leading only to further suffering and confusion.

Around the age of fifteen, Jackie experienced a moment of realization and acceptance: she was part Indigenous.  To this day, she vividly remembers this moment, a turning point in reconnecting with her roots and finding her identity.  Now living in an Indigenous group home and full of curiosity, Jackie received support from elders, embraced the Indigenous community, and began learning traditional dance.

She also reconnected with her adoptive parents, whom she praises to this day and has never blamed for her struggles with cultural dissociation. She values, loves, and respects her parents, noting that they did their very best raising her.

The more Jackie learned about her roots, the more she realized the need for a program celebrating and raising awareness of the Indigenous culture. “People don’t know how powerful our culture is,” she says. “It’s alive, and we hold it really dear.”

Wandering Spirit dancers focus on cross-cultural connections.

In 1999, she founded Wandering Spirit Native Awareness Ltd. Being a direct descendant of famous Cree Chief “Big Bear,” Jackie paid tribute to her past by naming the organization after his adopted son and lead War Chief, “Wandering Spirit.” Based in Calgary, the agency is a one-of-a-kind non-profit agency offering programs and services to educate anyone interested in learning more about the Indigenous culture. Traditional dance classes, drumming classes, and programs connecting Indigenous youth to their culture are just some of the agency’s offerings. In the words of Jackie’s grandfather, “If you are going to learn something, go to the root.” Heeding his advice, Jackie has helped youth explore the root of dance from other cultures as well, inviting youth participants to Cuba to learn more about the art and gain a new cultural perspective. Her ongoing commitment to working cross-culturally has opened many doors for future dancers.

“Here, everyone is welcome.”

Jackie encourages people of all backgrounds and abilities to take part and learn more about Indigenous culture. “Here, everyone is welcome,” Jackie says. “Everyone is treated the same.” Partnering with Children’s Services and local agencies, Wandering Spirit has helped countless families restore lost culture through their Cultural Connections program. In one instance, foster parents enrolled a young Indigenous boy, born deaf and living with severe Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. Thanks to Wandering Spirit, the boy was introduced to Indigenous tradition and learned to dance. Though he couldn’t hear the music, he could feel the vibrations of the drum. His foster family took comfort knowing that the program had built his self-confidence, lifted his spirits, and connected him to his roots. This is just one example of how culture, song, and dance can heal and inspire.

“These kinds of programs are helping to save lives. It saved mine.”

Jackie and her team are bringing people and culture together to inspire and offer cultural perspective. But they can’t do it alone. Wandering Spirit is seeking financial support and partnerships to build a solid foundation for future generations.

Wandering Spirit dancer in regalia.

How can businesses and organizations help Wandering Spirit succeed?

  1. Help Wandering Spirit find a permanent home.
    Wandering Spirit currently rents studio and program space as needed to be able to serve their clients. They are looking for a permanent home so they can meet increasing demand and offer more programs and services. Do you know of a great opportunity?
    Contact Jackie at wanderingspirit2008@gmail.com
  2. Send Wandering Spirit’s Indigenous youth performers on an international cultural exchange.
    The organization’s youth performers, a dedicated group aged 13 thru 17, have been invited to perform traditional singing, dancing, and drumming in Vancouver, Toronto, Montreal, Hawaii, and Cuba. The group is seeking funding to cover flights and uniforms. Can you help? Learn more and get involved.
  3. Offer funding.
    Wandering Spirit welcomes gifts of all sizes to ensure programs and services can continue. Donate online.

It’s important as a country, as a culture, and as a person to learn and share the beauty and history of the Indigenous culture.  In Jackie’s words, “These kinds of programs are helping to save lives. It saved mine.”

Source: Alberta’s Promise

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