Honorary Degree awarded to campus Elder Miiksika’am
As the photographer whirled around the man, we whispered. He stood not moving a muscle — silent and perfectly still. The man was a proud and fierce warrior: the man was peaceful and deeply connected to the spirits. Clarence Wolfleg – Elder Miiksika’am – is both.
At Fall Convocation 2016, an Honorary Bachelor of Arts ― Sociology was presented to Elder Miiksika’am for his longstanding affinity with Mount Royal University and his exemplary leadership in Calgary, Alberta and Canada.
As Mount Royal’s elder and spiritual advisor, Miiksika’am speaks to students about restorative justice, residential schools and treaties, and participates in the Treaty 7 field course. He blessed the Taylor Centre for the Performing Arts when it opened and takes part in many events. He’s given professors spiritual names. He’s supported many students and instructors. He’s provided guidance on history, cultural protocols and ceremonies and awareness.
“Clarence is a kind, loving, humble person who has many traditional rights and a deep knowledge of his people, the Niitsitapi,” says John Fischer, director of the Iniskim Centre. “I highly respect him and I know that Mount Royal University is privileged to have him as a teacher.”
Liam Haggarty, Indigenous Studies professor, advocated for Miiksika’am to receive an honorary degree due to his commitment to the University. According to Haggarty, the time is right. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission is calling for new relationships among Indigenous and non-Indigenous Peoples, and Mount Royal is beginning to implement its Indigenous Strategic Plan.
“He knows firsthand what is means to devote your life and risk your own safety for the security of your nation, to build cross-cultural relationships no matter how poorly you may have been treated in the past, to continually make time and sacrifices for the betterment of those around,” says Haggarty.
Mount Royal’s plan to indigenize the campus is currently underway. Miiksika’am observes, “MRU is your lodge. But you really need to find your own essence and indigenize yourself first. This isn’t something you do at a ceremony and it’s done.”
At convocation, Miiksika’am (which means Red Crane) described how touched and humbled he was to be named as an honorary degree recipient. He shared the stories that make up his “life journey” or “way of life,” which is called a Niipatapisinii in the Blackfoot (Siksika) language.
His story is told through life’s seasons – as he’s grown, matured and listened to the callings of a higher power.
Take the good things of yesterday and put them with the good things of today for a better tomorrow.
According to a traditional Niipatapisinii, the first 25 years of a life are the spring, when a child grows physically. Broken Knife, as he was called, was born in 1948 into the Blackfoot nation. He has deep roots – a rich history of many ancestors living on the land going back to the 1600s.
When Broken Knife was barely seven years old, he left to live at the Old Sun Indian Residential school for five years. It was there he was named Clarence Wolfleg.
“My mother and father also went to residential schools,” said Miiksika’am. “They didn’t tell me anything about their experience, but before I left, my mother said to me that I’d have to work twice as hard as everyone else. She said that I shouldn’t let anything prevent me from reaching my goals. I needed to keep walking ― keep learning.”
He quietly says, looking at the ground, “Those were tough years.”
Miiksika’am went on to attend public school, finishing classes at Crescent Heights High School in Calgary in 1966. Then, at 17 years of age and like his father before him, he joined the military, serving in the Canadian Regular Forces with the 1st Regiment, Royal Canadian Horse Artillery. Miiksika’am finished his service five years later after participating in the United Nations’ peacekeeping initiatives in Cypress and the NATO Forces Continental Europe missions during the Cold War.
He is extremely proud of his service, earning three medals, which is a remarkable achievement in the Canadian military.
“My trunk got lost when I shipped it back with all my medals, clothes and letters. I lost everything,” says Miiksika’am. “Years later I was asked to attend a Remembrance Day event and the retired Sergeant Major told me to wear my medals. When I said they all were lost, he helped to get all of my medals replaced.”
The medal he’s most proud of is the NATO Special Service Medal (Bar).
“I got it for being in a battle situation for 210 days in Germany,” says Miiksika’am. “Usually you only go for 120 days to qualify. I had to protect myself as a trained soldier.”
Miiksika’am’s life journey transitioned from the spring (a time to grow) to the summer (a time to meditate) when he was 22. The time had come to be a parent and to focus on this thinking.
Upon returning to Canada, he became a police officer for the Blackfoot Tribal Police, rising over time to become the chief of police. While he admits to not being an angel himself as a young man, what he saw in his community disturbed him.
“We were hurting.”
After 13 years of policing, the warrior continued to help his community. Miiksika’am became the director of outpatient services at Siksika Alcohol Services, a Correctional Services officer and a member of the Siksika Nation Council for 10 terms.
During these “summer” years, there were many signs leading him toward a special role as a warrior and spiritual leader.
Miiksika’am visited a man who was in prison. “I told him that after he’d served his time, he had to go back to our people and help them,” he says.
In thanks, this man, through a traditional ceremony with 15 Blackfoot pipe holders, mostly spiritual society members, gave Miiksika’am a headdress and the name "Miiksika’am."
While some nations give away many headdresses, the Blackfoot have given very few. They are rare and cherished. Elder Miiksika’am’s headdress belonged to the Sioux Nation, and was captured in battle by the Blackfoot. In traditional warrior days, eagle feather tells a story of the coups of battle. From the tips of the feathers come blonde horse hairs and weasel pelts adorn the edges.
It was the first sign that he was chosen to be an elder – a leader of his and many other peoples.
The second sign was being initiated by ceremony to be a member of the Crazy Dog Society – a traditional warrior society that maintains discipline in the tribe, oversees hunts and ceremonies, and provides leadership. The Crazy Dogs imitate the endurance and cunning powers of the coyote.
The fall is the time in the life journey to prepare, to be a grandparent and to focus on emotions. With receipt of a sacred bundle and a warrior pipe from the Horn Society, Elder Miiksika’am is now preparing to be an elder, sharing his wisdom.
His contributions span national, regional and local organizations. Nationally, Miiksika’am advises Health Canada and Veterans Affairs Canada. Regionally, he is a traditional spiritual advisor to the chief and the Treaty 7 Tribal Council. Miiksika’am played a major role in facilitating the creation of the Blackfoot Crossing Historical Park and assisted in curating the Blackfoot exhibit at the Glenbow Museum. Many Indigenous nations have adopted him. Not only is Miiksika’am a spiritual and elder advisor for Mount Royal, he does the same for Heritage Park, Bow Valley College and more recently the Sunrise Addiction Services.
Miiksika’am recognizes the responsibility of being an elder, and says there are currently not enough traditional spiritual Blackfoot elders.
Solemnly, he says, “I need to get ready to teach. It’s not the kind of teaching that says ‘don’t say this and do this.’ There are many stories I received that need to be passed along.”
This solemnness continues. “I constantly need to check my thinking and let the Creator guide me. We all need to go back to our essence, from our ancestors, teachings and morals, and really, really listen with every part of us. The holy beings give us gifts and we need look after our gifts.”
A time to teach the children, the winter is for the sacred and for the holy. Many in his family have lived to 100 years old, so Miiksika’am remains optimistic. At 68 years old, Miiksika’am is always busy because there is still much to do.
Miiksika’am’s parting words of advice are not to look at the negatives but the positives.
“Take the good things of yesterday and put them with the good things of today for a better tomorrow.”