In September this year, an authentic, handcrafted 18-foot teepee was set up on Wapisiw Lookout, the reclaimed tailings pond at Suncor’s Oil Sands Base Plant, located 25 kilometres north of the city of Fort McMurray, Alberta.
Suncor has been operating in the Wood Buffalo region of Alberta since 1967. We’ve been part of the community and building relationships for a long time. Our relationship with Indigenous communities over the past 40 years has been a journey. We know that earning the trust and support of Indigenous Peoples and communities is foundational to our business. We can do more to learn about the history and experiences of Indigenous Peoples, so we can better understand one another and change the way we think and act.
Following traditional protocols, the land was first blessed by McMurray Métis Elder Almer Wandiandy who also conducted a smudge ceremony and tobacco offering. “I was most honoured to be asked to do the blessing. Watching everyone working together was great,” said Almer.
The teepee at Wapisiw was then raised by Gary Boostrom of the McMurray Métis (Métis Local #1935) and Bill Creedon, a member of Fort McMurray #468 First Nation, with the help of youth from the McMurray Métis.
Once used as dwellings for Indigenous Peoples in North America, teepees (traditionally spelled as tipi) remain a culturally-significant symbol commonly used today for ceremonies and special functions. A teepee is distinguished from other conical tents by the smoke flaps at the top of the structure. They were historically made of animal skins upon wooden poles, while modern teepees usually have a canvas covering.
“Raising the teepee is a way to stay connected to the McMurray Métis. They’re our neighbours and we’re proud to partner with them,” said Joy Flett, advisor, Indigenous and community relations. “The energy at Wapisiw was so uplifting and positive. It was a blessing and privilege for me to share our culture and this teepee for all to enjoy.”
The teepee was built using 15 poles representing the full cycle of the year – 13 moons and two poles for night and day. Each pole symbolizes a teaching including obedience, respect, humility, happiness, love, faith, kinship, spiritual cleanliness, thankfulness, sharing, strength, good child rearing, hope and protection.
“Every time a pole is added, a rope goes around binding that pole into place,” said Joy. “That rope is a sacred bond, binding all the teachings together until they are all connected. This has been a great way for us to share opportunities for traditional knowledge holders to pass down traditions.” The teepee features both the Suncor and McMurray Métis logos to symbolize a positive working relationship between the two.
Suncor has gifted five teepees to schools across the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo since 2017 as a way of honouring Indigenous heritage and culture. All are made by the Fort McPherson Tent and Canvas Shop located in Fort McPherson, N.W.T., a Gwich’in community above the Arctic Circle. Five additional teepees will be donated to schools in the region over the next year.
Joy hopes the teepee at Wapisiw will be used for small meetings or events in addition to providing teachings to employees and visitors. There is much we can learn from Indigenous Peoples and communities. By listening and being willing to learn from one another, we can uncover mutual interests and build authentic relationships.
Suncor’s social goal is a declaration of our intent to do things differently – to choose a new path that focuses on strengthening relationships with Indigenous Peoples and communities starting within Suncor. For us, that path is about working together and creating more opportunities for greater involvement in the energy industry, so the social and economic benefits from Canada’s resources are shared more fully.
The goal outlines four areas to focus on through 2025 and beyond, where we can work together to advance greater participation of Indigenous Peoples and communities in energy development. We continue to assess how to advance the goal and will refresh components as we learn and grow in our understanding and awareness.