News and Archives

Honouring Our Voices Gathering: Message From The Executive Director

March 28, 2019 | Blog, News

On February 28-March 2, 2019, Elizabeth Fry Society of Calgary in partnership with Pathways Community Services Association – Miskanawah, Boys and Girls Club of Calgary, Sunrise Healing Lodge, YW Calgary and the White Buffalo Parent Link Centre with Siksika Family Services welcomed over three hundred family members from communities across Southern Alberta to the Honouring our Voices – Healing Gathering for Families of Murdered and Missing Loved Ones.

We were honoured to have ceremonies commenced by the women of the Stand-up Head Dress Society of the Blackfoot Confederacy, and a pipe ceremony conducted by Elder Dila Provost Houle and her son Councillor Riel Houle. A sacred fire began at 4pm on Thursday, February 28, 2019 and was kept alit until the final closing ceremonies on Saturday, March 2, 2019.

Throughout the 3 days, families engaged in healing ceremonies including the Tea Dance Ceremony with Dr. Reg Crowshoe and 18 of our community Elders and Knowledge Keepers, as well as blessings and emotional support from many of our Elders to assist them along the path of healing. In addition, psychotherapist, Metis Elder Kerrie Moore provided therapeutic support for those families experiencing distress.

To celebrate healing, Rod Hunter with Eya-Hey Nakoda and Darcy Turning Robe with Sorrel Rider Singers provided an evening of fun and dancing in a round dance .

Powerful presentations were facilitated by Bernadette Smith, whose personal experience of her missing sister, Nahanni Fontaine who shared her personal story, and Savvy Simon whose voice of positivity provided the families with courage to face their grief. On the final day, a panel of family members told their stories of healing and hope for those struggling with their losses.

While parents were spending time focused in ceremony and support, the children and youth were also engaged in on their own healing journey respectively with Shirley Hill and Dwight Farahat. “I am…” is an original poem written and performed by the youth in attendance during the gathering.

The Elizabeth Fry Society of Calgary would like to thank Lowa Beebe for dedicating her time as Master of Ceremonies, our funders Calgary Foundation, Calgary Homeless Foundation, Justice Canada – Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women for their generous support of this gathering. In addition to our partners, volunteers, presenters and performers, staff and those Elders and Knowledge Keepers who exhibited their commitment and compassion to the families of murdered and missing loved ones.

Katelyn Lucas
Executive Director

Volunteer Profile: Gurmeet Sawaich

| Blog, Volunteer Profile, Volunteering

Gurmeet Sawaich is an undergraduate student who started volunteering with the Elizabeth Fry Society of Calgary in April 2018. She started in the Calgary Traffic & Bylaw Court and later moved on to the Traffic & Bylaw and Adult Criminal Courts in Cochrane and Airdrie. Interested in the legal system due to her academic background, and specifically women in need of resources and support because of her personal experiences as a woman of visible minority, Gurmeet felt that working with the Elizabeth Fry Society of Calgary was the best of both worlds. Volunteering, as well as making art, henna designs and travelling in her spare time, Gurmeet is currently working towards her degree in Law and Society, which she hopes to turn into a career.

What has working with the Elizabeth Fry Society of Calgary taught you, both in your personal and professional life?

Volunteering has honed Gurmeet’s skills that are not only vital in the kind of career that she hopes to pursue, but also in life, such as being a good listener, being respectful to everyone despite arbitrary categorizations and being non-judgemental in providing support. Gurmeet has also gained some very practical knowledge. She has become more interested in learning about legal resources, non-profit organizations that help individuals in need, the intake program and other resources available through the Elizabeth Fry Society. She has also gained an understanding of the underlying issues that lead individuals into the legal system and keep them there.

Why should the community support the Elizabeth Fry Society?

“It’s a great organization with a noble cause,” Gurmeet said. “It’s a great place to learn about legal resources available for vulnerable individuals. It can also be a stepping stone for individuals who would like to have a career working in the community.”

How has your role with the Elizabeth Fry Society changed you as a person? How do you think it has changed or impacted those who have come to its doors seeking support?

“Working with the Elizabeth Fry Society made me a better person,” Gurmeet said. “It’s a sense of accomplishment by working for the community and getting to hear their bliss.”

This is a change evident not only to Gurmeet, but also those around her, who have commented that she “looks more confident and fulfilled.” She has also learned that “helping others is always a gain” and that she certainly is “making a difference by helping the community”, and helping those in the legal system who have no idea of their next step by directing them towards their next steps in their journey within the legal system. Gurmeet relates a story of a woman who appeared for a court appearance, with a bag containing all her belongings, as a conflict with her husband had left her on the streets and barred her from seeing her children. Eager to help, a staff member of the organization, advised her to visit the office, where she would receive assistance in finding a place to stay, food, and any legal resources she might require. She was visibly relieved as she left, knowing that she “was not alone in her fight. She knew that the Elizabeth Fry Society was there to help her”, which at the core of it, is what the society is all about: helping everyone and anyone who needs it!

Breaking Barriers: Identification cards

March 26, 2019 | Blog

Written by: Selwynne Hawkins

Alberta ID, birth certificates, health care cards, and Status cards: these basic forms of identification are often taken for granted. These unassuming pieces of paper or plastic can open many doors—including health care, employment, and housing. So, for women offenders working toward successful reintegration, ID is a critical piece of the puzzle.

Barriers to service

The staff at the Elizabeth Fry Society of Calgary often refer clients to systems and agencies who provide various forms of support, including health care, housing, and basic needs items. But, without ID, women offenders face additional obstacles in accessing these essential resources. For many women, a lack of identification limits the options and their ability to reintegrate effectively within the community. Some of the restrictions are based on valid requirements to provide services and ensure that the individual appearing for services is the person they indicate they are. In some cases, our partners have been flexible and have accepted a photo accompanied by a letter from our organization to overcome this barrier. However, in many cases, the requirements are put in place to prevent identity theft.

Obtaining ID

Though some forms of Alberta identification are free, others are not. An Alberta Identification Card costs around $50, and a birth certificate costs $20 plus registry service fees. Sometimes, ID applications require a permanent address, and sometimes the application process is prohibitive in other ways. For these reasons, ID cards aren’t always accessible, and it can be difficult for women offenders to obtain identification.

Elizabeth Fry Society of Calgary’s Prison Community Outreach Program(PCOP) assists women in jail with pre-release planning, which includes obtaining Status and Alberta Health cards and beginning the process for a birth certificate. Because the birth certificate application is not free, clients must complete the process with the jail or with an ID clinic.

Once released, there are two government ID clinics in Calgary: one located at the Mustard Seed and one at the Sheldon M. Chumir Centre. Here, clients can get assistance with photo ID, birth certificates, and Alberta Health cards. Because of the costs associated with each type of identification, these clinics are limited in the number of clients they see. The Mustard Seed takes around 30 clients per month, and the Sheldon Chumir ID clinic accepts only the first five people of the day—meaning clients have to line up as early as 7am.< These processes exist, but they can be inaccessible, slow, or inconvenient, turning identification cards—a seemingly trivial consideration—into a significant barrier for women seeking successful reintegration.

Pathways to Healing: SAGE

March 24, 2019 | Blog, SAGE

Written by: Selwynne Hawkins

The Elizabeth Fry Society of Calgary’s SAGE Emotional Wellness and Employment Readiness program assists women on their journey to personal success. The program is built on Indigenous cultural values that provide support and healing; interactive and experiential learning provide participants with reconnection to their culture. The format of the program includes daily talking circles and ceremony that direct the processes of learning, and women are given ongoing opportunities to engage in various ceremonies and cultural activities. Elders, Knowledge Keepers, and Cultural Resource Persons support building cultural and traditional knowledge.

Each week, participants spend 23 hours with Kachina Raymond-McGillis, the SAGE Coordinator, learning both functional life skills and strategies to promote emotional wellness—including writing, art, and photography. Participants also engage in employment skills that better prepare them for their next steps after SAGE.

For SAGE participants, in-class learning runs in parallel with real-world experiences. The group visits Bow Valley College, where they learn about opportunities for further education. They also take a trip to the YW, where they are connected with the Employment Resource Centre. The final piece of the puzzle is a week-long job shadow where they volunteer as a group, gaining work experience and learning about accountability.

Over the course of the 12-week program, participants change and grow as they develop new skills—and new confidence.

“[The biggest change is] self-esteem,” Kachina said. “And having a clear plan for what they want to do with their futures.”

The average SAGE participant enters the program with a 9th grade education, which is a significant barrier for those seeking employment. After completing the SAGE program, most participants sign up for courses at Bow Valley College, where they can continue their educational journey and pursue the goals they have set for themselves.

The current SAGE cohort is made up of 15 women—the biggest group Kachina has ever supported—and they are currently in the fourth week of the program. They started with goal setting, then moved into communication, where they learned job interview skills, non-verbal communication cues, ways to give informative direction, and strategies for asking clear, direct questions. They have just finished their third week, where the focus is primarily on emotional expression.

Follow along on our blog and social media accounts for updates on the group as they move through the program.

Indigenous Learning: Smudging Ceremonies

March 22, 2019 | News

Written by: Natalie Jovanic

As a non-Indigenous person, I was wondering about smudging and what the Indigenous teachings were on this practice. Since Indigenous cultures are very diverse, the teachings vary between each culture. For this article, Barbara, the Indigenous Program Coordinator at the Elizabeth Fry Society of Calgary shared her story about smudging based on her teachings.

Respect the teachings

These days, we tend to hurry and be always busy. With smudging, it is important to take the opposite approach: assume an attitude of not-knowing, and do not rush. Take time intentionally and listen.

Barbara explained that it is best for non-Indigenous people to talk to an Elder or Sacred Teacher connected with the land they live in, while Indigenous peoples may talk to an Elder from the land they come from. When smudging, especially as a non-Indigenous person, it is important to understand what we are allowed to do and what we should not do. For example, there is a difference between smudging and using plants as medicines. For smudging, we may use sage. However, only Sacred Teachers or those with the rights to medicine are allowed the use of plants as medicines, unless this right is passed along to you to help you heal.

The smudge as a symbol for our connection with the earth

Smudging starts long before you light the sage. Barbara explained that the smudge symbolizes the connection with the earth and it is best to go out into nature and harvest your own sage with the appropriate protocol Barbara picks the sage she needs for herself and The Elizabeth Fry Society of Calgary during the growing season, the amount varies depending on the year.  Even the harvesting of plants for smudge requires prayer – one should only take what they need to last until the next growing season. We need to take care that we do not deplete nature but that we allow nature to be in balance.

The sage is picked once it is tall enough—but before it starts to seed. The time of year may vary from year to year depending on weather conditions. After the gathering, it is tied up into bundles and hung outside to give the bugs that live inside sage a chance to drop and leave. The dried sage is taken off the stems and the stems are returned to Mother Earth where it was picked or in some cases burned at ceremony.

Protocols and Practice

After the sage has been collected and dried, you may smudge twice a day for cleansing and protection or as needed for prayer, ceremony or healing. Smudging also serves as a protection against negative outside threats. Ideally, one should smudge in the morning when the sun rises and in the evening when the sun goes down. Take a little bit of sage and put it into a bowl. The amount of smudge you use depends on the lengths of the prayer you intend to use. You use a shell, a shaped stone, or a smudge bowl to place the sage within. To light the smudge, Barbara likes to ignite the sage in accordance with the four directions, as she has been taught to do. Once the sage is lit, she cleanses her hands with the smoke. Then, she brings the smoke over her body and arms to cleanse them. She proceeds to bring the smoke onto her eyes with the intention to see good things, to her ears to hear good things, to her mouth to say good things, and then to her heart to finalize her prayers

It is important to know that there is not one way to smudge and that when attending a ceremony that it is imperative to take the lead of the Elder and ask questions. Never assume that you have all the answers because you have been taught one way. There is a diversity within the culture that can sometimes be confusing for non-Indigenous peoples. Respect the teachings you are given and be humble as you learn new teachings.

Smudging is a prayer ceremony that is used to help connect our prayers to Creator, therefore smudging should not be used without the proper teachings and guidance and should be used specifically for the purpose it is meant for. Other medicines are used for smudging; however, it is not advised to use them without understanding the proper protocols and the purpose for using them.

Learn more about Indigenous culture in our next newsletter and upcoming blogs.

Blackfoot Language Class 2019

March 7, 2019 | Classes, News

The Elizabeth Fry Society of Calgary offers Indigenous Language Classes in partnership with Pathways Community Services. Efry Calgary will be holding 12 weeks of conversational Blackfoot Language Classes every Wednesday.
Women of all Nations and their partners are encouraged to join these free sessions. Learn the language, the Stories, and the History of the Blackfoot Territories.

Please note, These classes are not For Professionals.

Date: Starting Wed. Mar. 27, 2019
Location: 1731 – 10AVE SW (efry office)
Time: 6PM – 8PM

To Register: Call – 403.294.0737 Or Email –