Thomas Snow, Stoney Nakoda First Nation, speaker of knowledge
“Everything I say, everything I do, everything that I am, it comes from my community and it comes from my family. Any inspiration I have, it’s the community.”
Watching the fast-moving Bow River, swelled by spring run-off, Thomas Snow pictures the days of flipping a fishing reel into these glacier-fed waters with his father.
Trout species were plentiful for anglers in those days, Snow recalls, and the cold river near Goodstoney Rodeo Centre is a place where he continues to return with his children.
Snow feels as though he has a stewardship to the land, nature and spirit and all of its intricacies and complexities. His life’s work reflects on that.
“The journey has never been about me, it’s always been about my family and has always been about my community and I wouldn’t be where I am today without them,” said Snow.
Snow is a switched on dude, working as a facilitator between Elders and the non-Indigenous to bridge cross-cultural understandings of the Stoney Nakoda and First Nations.
A lot of what he does is challenging and confronting racism and stereotypes that are ingrained and built into the westernized system of colonialism and capitalism.
“All I’m doing is remaining true to the people here and true to our own history that often times doesn’t get recorded or expressed, and is often overlooked and at one time was even actively suppressed and repressed,” he said.
As an exceptional public speaker in Nakoda-Sioux and English languages, Snow’s influential charisma can ignite feelings that delve into deep conversation after he translates generational wisdom to a wider audience. An advocate like Snow is well sought out by universities, museums and arts centres as a speaker of knowledge.
Although, reading on any number of subjects, the insightful academic gathers knowledge to give it back to people.
Snow's research and studies examine inter-generational trauma caused by colonialism, residential schools and capitalism, including Canada’s pass system in which Indigenous peoples had to present papers showing they could travel outside the reserve until the law was phased out in the 1930s and '40s.
A legacy of racism and segregation and its social construct doesn’t disappear because of a change in legislation, said Snow.
It could look like many things, such as Elders refusing to speak their language around non-Indigenous people or even an encounter at a restaurant. Snow remembers the days when dining had split sections between Indigenous and non-Indigenous.
“We’ve all been traumatised in some way by the system,” said Snow. “The humanity level is the most important because that’s what’s been taken out of us by those systems, that’s what’s glossed over, and that’s how you can create and commit acts of genocide against people – take away their humanity and that’s the relationship between lots of Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples and the settlers."
Snow added: “It’s important that things like the genocidal policies aren’t what we focus on. I think what’s more important as families is the healing journey, it’s the overcoming of that and the different tools and methods we’re using actively to combat everything that happened, that’s really more what needs to be the highlight.”
Every year, Snow and his extended family and community organize a hunting camp. Late last year, the camp was featured and documented as part of Stories of Resilience, a creativity project during COVID-19, by artsPlace and the Canmore Museum.
At the camps, young and old speak their language and children experience their family practising traditional values in a community setting.
“The community is consistently supporting me and loving me unconditionally when I make mistakes. I think that’s one of the greatest gifts I hope to pass on, is unconditional love. It’s something we all want, we all need it, but we often times we don’t get enough of it," Snow said.