After a month on the job, the only complaint Elder Wilson Bearhead has is that he’s not as busy as he’d like. As Edmonton Public Library’s (EPL’s) first elder in residence, Bearhead is available twice a week for anyone who wants to learn about indigenous culture or to receive spiritual support.

“Historically, an elder is someone who has lived a life and had a lot of experiences and also learned about our relationship with the land, our relationship with spirituality,” he explained as we sit near the front window of the Abbottsfield branch on a sunny spring morning.

Bearhead is a member of the Wabamun Lake Indian Band and has done work in schools and in the community educating people about traditional indigenous culture and traditions. As elder in residence, he’s available one day a week at Abbottsfield and one day a week at the temporary Enterprise Square location for one-on-one conversations.

“The teaching of the elders when I grew up was that the most important thing to look after is your spirit,” he said. “Because it came from the heavens and comes to this world and eventually it’s going to go back to the spirit world.” Bearhead explained we each have a great responsibility to ensure our spirit is well looked after while we are here.

We discuss addictions and despair as symptoms of broken spirits and our conversation turns to the lives of street-involved people, a couple of whom are outside in the library’s parking lot. Bearhead said his schedule limits the extent to which he can offer counsel and guidance.

“Because I am only here two days, I can’t make a commitment that some of these people need,” he lamented, adding that Edmonton is fortunate to have many agencies and societies available to those who want assistance.

Part of Bearhead’s role is to create and implement workshops and programs based on identified community needs and feedback. So far, he has started a Men’s Healing Circle which will meet at the Abbottsfield branch on Fridays in June (except June 23) from 4:00 to 5:00 pm. As he gets more settled in the role and works with EPL staff, he expects to offer similar programs in the future.

Bearhead and his wife have also been working with APTN (Aboriginal Peoples Television Network) planning National Aboriginal Day celebrations for Wednesday, June 21.

“There will be a host of activities at Victoria Park downtown beginning at 10:00 am,” he enthused. The day kicks off with “the world’s biggest round dance” which will see dances occurring at seven sites across Canada. A powwow will follow and the day will be capped off with a live broadcast of entertainment on APTN from 8:00 to 10:00 pm.

“It’s going to be a busy day!” he said.


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Feature image: Elder Wilson Bearhead is available two days a week at EPL’s Abbottsfield and Enterprise Square branches. | Shawna Lemay