Ten Years Together - Belonging
Ten Years Together - A Story of Belonging
Ten Years Together – Belonging
Community. I talk about it all the time. I think about it all the time. It’s the source of our power, and losing it means we love everything. Community is not something that happens to us; it’s something we each build.
My family moved to Calgary when I was a toddler. I had done the research, created the briefing books, and convinced my parents and sister that the future was in the West. So we drove across Canada in a 1974 Dodge Dart and started a new life here.. Calgary had a population around 450,000 then. Since that time, our city has tripled (!) its population. Many people have come here from many places to join those whose families have been here for generations or millenia.
Yet. somehow it works. In Calgary, nobody asks who your daddy was or where you went to school. If they ask where you came from, it’s generally because they are actually curious, or are looking for some commonality. Today, we are talking to Calgarians about how they have created community and belonging.
Let me introduce you to one of the most community-minded people ever, Linda-Lee McIver, whom I met when she randomly invited me to a house party. I was in the neighbourhood so I stopped by to say hi while she was hanging decorations and putting out snacks. I’ll let her take it from here.
“I wanted to get to know my neighbours. This was the first house that I had built, and I wanted to raise a family in this community,” she says. “So I built here in November 1991, and by February 1992, I started inviting my first neighbour over.
“Ever since, it started growing. The most I’ve had was 108!”
Social events are important to build those ties, but Linda-Lee notes the way that adversity brings neighbours together in an even stronger way.
“Over the last 10 years, we’ve had some pretty hard hits here in Calgary. Going through something like the flood, when we had Snowtember, we went through a really rough time,” she recalls.
But Calgarians, she says, always found detours to any roadblocks.
“I’ve never seen so many people offering to help. Chainsaw people’s trees, help them rebuild a fence.
“Disaster can either bring people together or tear them apart.”
But what about those that moved to Calgary, how did they find a sense of belonging coming to a strange land? Zai Mamdani tells her family’s story of belonging, moving here as immigrants 45 years ago.
“I remember my father coming here as an immigrant 45 years ago. Going to Toronto, going to Vancouver, going to Montreal, and coming to Calgary and saying, hands down, Calgary is the place that’s going to give us the most opportunity,” she says.
It wasn’t until she had moved away from the city that she realized just how much that feeling of belonging was something Calgary had given her.
“I really realized I belonged around the time I went away to university. Coming back here, I realized how much I really love this city and how much it has to offer,” she says, turning to the next generation’s experience in her family. “Then my daughter went away to university and left after a year, because she said she missed Calgary too much, it’s home. That was a big recognition point for me that Calgary will always be our home.”
Now, she says, it’s become obvious that it’s those community builders that allow for this broad feeling of belonging, and her personal and family success has given her the opportunity to join their ranks.
“Over the last 8-10 years, I’ve made a very conscious decision that Calgary has allowed me and my family to be who we are, to get where we are, starting out from absolutely nothing as a new immigrant family, here we are today, we’ve been afforded so much opportunity, that I made a conscious decision to give back to the community. We’re experiencing some challenging times. It almost feels like a duty that I have to support other Calgarians, to give back to the city, to keep this place thriving, to make it vibrant.”
This place that we call home is an ancient place. The confluence of the Bow and Elbow Rivers has been a meeting place for countless thousands of years.It’s had many names, including the Blackfoot name Moh-kíns-tsis, the Stoney Nakoda name Wichispa Oyade, and the Tsuut’ina name Guts’ists’i.
The first time I decided to start a Council meeting with a land acknowledgement, I didn’t tell anyone. I was very nervous about how people would react. But that tiny symbolic act of reconciliation has come to mean so much to so many. Kelli Morning Bull agrees that this reminding of our common history, that we are all Treaty People, matters and can bring us together.
“Not everybody understands what they mean. They provide opportunities for non-Indigenous people to understand exactly what it is and why we give them, those are some of the small things. Being able to foster that is extremely valuable work and we’re just sort of seeing these sorts of changes happening now.”
Her work with the Calgary Public Library as the Indigenous Services Design Lead has allowed her to share these stories and grow our collective knowledge of the land and history we share.
“This is my traditional territory, I am Blackfoot, so I never felt that it wasn’t my home. I’m guided every day by my ancestors,” she says of how she feels about belonging. “We, as Indigenous people, deserve a place and a space in this city. And so, I’ve sort of made it my goal to do this work. It’s not easy, it’s very challenging, and it’s draining, but it’s super rewarding.”
There is a reason that, to commemorate the floods of 2013, we host Neighbour Day every year. It reminds us of our collective strength and what can happen when we just get to know each other.
Building this extraordinary place didn’t happen by chance or by luck. It happened because there are community builders, people committed to the idea that they can make this place better for themselves and for those around them. Super-handsome politicians who wear a lot of purple aren’t the ones who create belonging (though I hope they can help, and they certainly can destroy with careless and divisive rhetoric and action), The real power likes in every one of us, everyday people with our everyday hands, our everyday minds, and our everyday voices.
Whether you throw parties to get to know your neighbours, or volunteer, or give, or teach, you’re building this place. This place where we are stronger … together.