This week, I had the privilege of speaking with Cree Elder, storyteller, knowledge keeper, playwright, advocate, community leader and much more, Theresa Gladue. Theresa recently resigned as Indigenous Liaison for the Peace Liard Regional Arts Council and as Aboriginal Student Advisor at Dawson Creek’s Northern Lights College to make way for her new position as Elder in Residence at Grande Prairie Regional College.
Theresa is one of those highly active people in the community whom you can’t help but encounter through her many projects and initiatives. If you’ve spent any amount of time in the Peace Region, you’ve likely heard her voice and infectious laugh over the radio waves for her Peace FM shows Theresa’s Bannock Hour and Theresa’s Country Classics. Maybe she was your student advisor, your city councillor or teacher, or perhaps you’ve heard her drum and sing at a community event. Even if you have not had the opportunity to meet her personally, Theresa’s tireless work has demonstrably improved life here in the North; its made a considerable impact on Indigenous and settler relations, the arts, and Indigenous cultural awareness, not only regionally but across BC and, arguably, Canada.
Theresa’s impact and accolades are nearly immeasurable, but one of her most impressive achievements was her election in 2008 as the first Indigenous City Councillor for Dawson Creek. She was also the first Indigenous person to receive Dawson Creek’s Citizen of the Year Award in 2007. Theresa co-founded the Aboriginal Women’s Awareness Resource Society. She was also the first ever Indigenous Liaison for an arts organization, a position that she developed in the early 2000s with then curator of the Dawson Creek Art Gallery, Ellen Corea. Theresa later became the first Indigenous Liaison for the Peace Liard Regional Arts Council in 2006. The announcement of her appointment made big waves at the Arts BC Conference that year, and in the subsequent years, the practice of hiring an Indigenous Liaison to promote the principles of equity and diversity as well as cultural awareness in organizations became commonplace on boards in all sectors across Canada.
Theresa has worked with many like-minded individuals over her nearly 20-year tenure on the boards of local and regional arts councils and other organizations, including the equally passionate and indomitable late Sue Popesku and Donna Kane, a writer and former Executive Director of the Peace Liard Regional Arts Council. In an email, Donna Kane had much to say about her relationship with the Elder, “Theresa has been my friend and mentor for over twenty years. Her grace, energy, humour, and inclusivity have made enormous contributions to the region.”
On her time with PLRAC, Theresa reminisces about the inner workings behind the coming together of strong, passionate personalities in the interest of a common cause, “I never had a bad experience being on that board the whole time.” She continues, “I never had an issue or a problem with racism. We’d have a disagreement once in a while, but we respected the other’s opinions.”
In our conversation, Theresa and I remarked on this transitional moment for arts in the Peace. “It’s time to get something different going,” Theresa says, as with Sue’s passing in 2020, Donna’s retirement and Theresa’s new position, there is a massive vacuum left in terms of leadership, expertise, and vision. It marks a new chapter that presents new challenges, as well as space and opportunity for the next generation of arts and cultural workers to make their mark on the region.
To those who seek to build bridges between Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities,Theresa advises, “As Native people, we’re visitors. Make your connections personal. Do your visiting, and build your community up that way.” Building a community is something that comes naturally to Theresa, as she does so in nearly every action or project she undertakes. She says she deeply enjoyed building a community and sharing her culture among the students at Northern Lights College, and looks forward to doing the same at GPRC.
While this move marks the end of an era for the arts in the Peace, and a new adventure for Theresa, this is not goodbye. Her larger-than-life energy and spirit is too big for Grande Prairie alone and, of course, she will be back to visit.
Do you have an artistic endeavour you would like to promote? Is there a topic you would like me to discuss? I would love to hear from you! Please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.