The lobby of the Suncor Energy Centre in downtown Calgary, Alt., known as Mohkinstsis (MOH-kin-tiss) in the Blackfoot language, is a ghost town on Sunday mornings. With the lush indoor garden and bright sunlight cascading through the windows, the tall office tower is serene.
Jody Funk, her mom, Gisele, both wearing Métis sashes across their bodies, and Debbie Green in a beautiful ribbon skirt, walk across the lobby floor. Their footsteps echo in the silence. They’re waiting for the arrival of a tipi (teepee) from the Starlight family of Tsuut’ina First Nation.
Debbie, a senior advisor for Indigenous Workforce Development at Suncor and the co-chair of the company’s Indigenous employee inclusion network, Journeys, has been dreaming of raising a tipi at Suncor’s head office for years. On June 12, 2022, during National Indigenous History Month, her dream came true.
“Having a tipi in the lobby of a corporate building like Suncor, provides a place for all who visit this building to be reminded we are on the lands of the Treaty 7 Peoples,” explains Debbie. “There is a history here that goes back long before this building existed. It is also a place of Indigenous pride for Journeys and acknowledges our presence in this building and in the work we do for Suncor.”
Across Suncor, tipis have been raised at various locations including the Edmonton Refinery, Base Plant and Fort Hills. They are places for Indigenous employees to hold ceremonies and prayer, and artifacts non-Indigenous employees can use to learn more about Indigenous culture and heritage.
Debbie and Jody, an executive assistant with Digital and Information Technology at Suncor, have been working closely with the Starlight family for months leading up to this day. Elders Bruce and Deanna Starlight, along with their family, have created a tipi that was gifted to Journeys through a tipi transfer ceremony.
“Having a tipi gifted to Journeys is very meaningful,” says Jody. “It serves as a monument to help us remember and honour Indigenous history and culture, but also speaks to the significance of Indigenous Awareness Week and the commitment Suncor has to the Journey of Reconciliation.”
The tipi arrives and Debbie and Jody greet the men who carry the tall tipi poles and canvas into the building.
Painted on the canvas is the vital tipi’s story, which, in this case, is the Journeys’ logo, red triangles along the tipi’s skirt that represent the Rocky Mountains that can be seen from the Suncor building and red circles on the tipi’s top representing the stars.
When Elders Bruce and Deanna arrive to perform the transfer ceremony, they are ushered into the tipi where they are joined by others, including Journeys’ co-chair Randy Elm, Suncor’s Chief People Officer Paul Gardner, Debbie, Jody, Gisele and other Journeys members.
“I’m incredibly honoured and proud to be a part of this,” says Jody. “Working to have a tipi raised has been a cultural experience for me because, as a Métis, I have never been involved in a tipi transfer ceremony. Some of my buffalo hunting and trapping ancestors would have used tipis, but Métis people lived in a variety of homes, both static and migratory.”
Inside the tipi, Elder Bruce performs a smudge to cleanse the space before telling stories about the importance of sharing Indigenous culture and history with people. He explains that the tipi transfer ceremony grants the rights and responsibilities of caring for and protecting the tipi to the receivers, Paul, Randy and Debbie. He also explains that each tipi has a story and a song. As his sentence trails off, the slow, quiet beating of drums can be heard as those inside the tipi break into the tipi’s song.
The tipi stands proudly in Suncor’s lobby and to those who bore witness to the transfer ceremony, it’s a symbol of inclusion, education, respect and reconciliation.