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STC Chief Arcand: It’s not about me, but the people we help

“My uncle and great-grandparents taught me to put people first."

SASKATOON — Words of congratulations and admiration flowed for Saskatoon Tribal Council Chief Mark Arcand as various community leaders recognized the work and commitment he has done to the city's people, Indigenous or non-Indigenous. 

Arcand was honoured as the 2022 CTV Citizen of the Year for his commitment and work in promoting Truth and Reconciliation and setting up the STC Emergency Wellness Centre during a gala Thursday night, Jan. 19, at the Prairieland Park. 

The event also doubled as a fundraising dinner attended by six of the seven chiefs under the STC banner, city officials led by Saskatoon Mayor Charlie Clark and government and private partners that  assist the STC. 

Ward 4 Councillor Troy Davies nominated Arcand for the award, which is given annually by CTV to a person who has made a massive difference in the lives of many through community service. Arcand is the first Indigenous person to receive the award in Saskatoon, and the second in the family after his uncle Eugene Arcand was named the 1993 Citizen of the Year in Prince Albert. 

“It is a celebration tonight. I am happy and honoured to kick things off in this first fundraiser for snow removal in Saskatoon,” said Davies drawing laughs from the packed Hall B of the World Trade Centre Saskatoon. 

“[The award] is one of the reasons why [Chief] Mark Arcand is with me here on the stage tonight. I did nominate Chief Mark and thank you to CTV for continuously doing this to recognize amazing people in our city.” 

Davies then recognized six of the seven chiefs — Ava Bear (Muskoday First Nation), Tricia Sutherland (One Arrow), John Machiskinic (Yellow Quill), Felix Thomas (Kinistin Saulteaux), Daryl Watson (Mistawasis Nêhiyawak) and Kelly Wolfe (Muskeg Lake) — from the First Nations under STC and the team that helps Arcand organize their projects. 

“To see the role that Tribal Chief Arcand has stepped into, through the guidance of the seven First Nation chiefs that make up the [STC]. He [Arcand] would be the first to say that without the seven [STC member] tribal chiefs and his STC team behind him, there’s nothing to have this dinner about. Let us give everyone a round of applause to those key individuals,” said Davies. 

He added that Arcand became one of his closest friends while working together over the years, and they often called each other to discuss matters to further improve and access the essential services to the people. 

Arcand’s family joined hundreds from different sectors of the community who attended the event with Saskatoon Police Service Chief Troy Cooper, Saskatoon Fire Department Chief Morgan Hackl, Battlefords Agency Tribal Council Chief Neil Sasakamoose, First Nations Elders and Matriarchs. The gala raised more than $50,000, which will help the wellness centre’s operations. 

Familial ties 

Arcand, who held a beret of his great-grandfather, who served in both World War II and the Korean War, and a scarf of his great-grandmother, said he owed the award and the praises he received to the way his family brought him up. 

“When I look at the honour given to me, I think of one thing — my family. You always hear about all the hockey stories, but I am who I am today because of my upbringing,” said Arcand. 

“When you talk about how tough I am in meetings and the values that I carry as a person, it comes from [my] grandparents and my family that is here. They raised me into who I am today. I am thankful for that because I could have been in the foster care system because my mom passed away and I lived with my aunties.” 

Arcand added that when his great-grandfather served in the armed forces, he fought and worked alongside non-Indigenous people for freedom. 

“That’s why when I heard all the words of my friends spoken tonight, I called everybody my relatives. My great-grandfather led by example to build partnerships and relationships to save a country where we all share this land and to be one people from the Creator,” he said. 

“We all benefit from that and should all be able to sit in a room and do what’s best for the people. Those are the values that I have. That’s the determination that I have to change the systems that are not positive. We all know that and we don’t have to dwell on that to see it.” 

Arcand said that he is working hard to change the same system that nearly broke him and has been pushing hard to educate the Indigenous kids about their cultures and traditions. 

“I changed my life. I’m addiction-free for 22 years of my life. That almost destroyed my life, but I had to decide. This is why I push so hard for the system to be changed. People think that I know a lot about our culture. I didn’t know who I was until I was 43,” he said. 

“My uncle and great-grandparents taught me to put people first. We don’t ask for fame and glory. We ask people to understand how difficult it has been for First Nations People in these lands.” 

He thanked all the Chiefs of the seven First Nations under STC, particularly Watson, who helped him create a strategy to help homeless people. 

“Each council has come to us and said, ‘our people are not being taken care of in major centres. Can you help?’ I give credit to Chief Watson and we started the homeless strategy. We got to help our urban people. We can’t handle this because of the pandemic. When I think about our team, our chiefs and councils, they trust me to do what is right for all of our people. To do the best that we can,” said Arcand. 

“Our wellness centre serves over 100 First Nations people in the city of Saskatoon. The reason why I stand here is because of the people that we serve, the relatives from our wellness centre. What I’ve noticed in our city, people look down on them. Why? It’s not great. It’s not what the Creator taught us. We [must] teach love, respect, humility and honesty.” 

He added that the relatives staying and availing of the services at the wellness centre are not only Indigenous as they also assist non-Indigenous who are struggling with the difficult times. 

“I want to take people to the wellness centre and meet [the relatives]. They are relatives of somebody’s family and are not just Indigenous People. They are newcomers, non-Indigenous [and] they are Métis people. Our chiefs gave a direction, ‘Tribal Chief, you help all people.’ We help all people because that is the Treaty way. In my work, people come first. I say this all the time. It’s not about the title; it’s about the people we serve.” 

Outpouring of gifts 

The six chiefs who make up the STC then presented Arcand with a new headdress and a blanket. The six chiefs also received blankets. Whitecap Dakota First Nation Chief Darcy Bear failed to attend the gala. 

The headdress is made of eagle feathers with a Red Thunderbird in the middle, Arcand’s name in Cree, bear paws and an image of an eagle from both sides. The headdress is sacred among Indigenous Peoples and is usually given to leaders and essential people in First Nations communities as a sign of respect and honour. 

Mayor Charlie Clark presented Arcand with a hard hat from the City of Saskatoon that symbolizes him being a builder of various programs that help improve the lives of the vulnerable members of the communities in the city. The hard hat has Arcand’s name on the back with the words Sawêyihtotân and Wâhkôhtowin on each side. 

“It is something that represents in many ways what I have learned. We’ve gone through a lot together. We’ve had some great times and some tough conversations. We’ve had to face some crises in the community together. We’ve had to learn how to work together. How to understand the roles we play and how we operate. It’s an incredible thing to see,” said Clark. 

“I’ve heard many great stories about how people have watched you take on the role, grow into it and make things happen. He [Arcand] is into buildings and we know all the programs that have happened as a result of the Tribal Chief’s leadership and the work his team that has been around him.” 

Clark became emotional and said he had kept a piece of paper with the Cree words Sawêyihtotân and Wâhkôhtowin on his desk. Sawêyihtotân means to bless each other through our show of respect for each other, while Wâhkôhtowin is all about kinship stating that everyone is interconnected. 

“It is this act of affirming the humanity of each person created to be with us. The blessing goes in both directions. For too long, people on the streets and the homeless have not been seen as humans. We see them as troubled people who are in the way and are a problem. Not as human beings with stories, lives, dreams and that need support,” said Clark. 

“When the program [wellness centre] started, Tribal Chief Arcand and his staff said we’re not going to call the people participants or clients. We’re going to call them relatives. To me, that is what Sawêyihtotân represents. The shift you and your team bring so that we see humanity. The other word (Wâhkôhtowin) is kinship, the idea of learning to treat one another as relatives.” 

The other gifts Arcand received were moccasins from Muskeg Lake Chief Kelly Wolfe, a painting of a buffalo from the James Smith Cree Nation community, a pair of Indigenous-designed lampshades, a Chief Thunderstick Hockey Tournament jacket from BATC Chief Sasakamoose and an original work of Indigenous artist Brody Burns from the University of Saskatchewan Provost and Vice President Academic Dr. Airini, who represented U of S President Peter Stoircheff.