Saskatchewan’s Chief Cadmus Delorme tells stories of the past to guide Cowessess First Nation’s future.
By Sarah Fox
Photography by Kiriako Iatridis
Chief Delorme is listening, and he has for some time.
The 35-year-old Chief of Saskatchewan’s Cowessess First Nation calls his ears his “best friends”—connecting him to the past, the present and the future. Talking less and listening more allows him to learn from the teachings of his ancestors; it gives him an eye into the needs of youth in the country. And, it earns him the respect of his community.
For years, he has used his best friends to understand how to better serve the people of Cowessess—an effort recognized in 2015 when he won CBC’s Future 40 award. Now, the young Chief is leveraging his learnings to drive the conversation about Cowessess from the outside. It’s his goal to “lift the nation,” meaning that when people think of Cowessess, they will think, “they mean business. They are our neighbour. They are a part of the economic growth.”
But growth, he notes, starts from the inside. Pinpointing individual self-esteem as a launch pad, Chief Delorme hopes to help others work through tough questions Indigenous communities like Cowessess struggle to answer. This includes questions like, “How come residential schools hurt us so much?”
For the Chief, insight can be found in the past. He uses his great skill for storytelling—see his TEDTalk on identity—to pass on history lessons.
Packed with ancestral knowledge, Chief Delorme shares inspiring tales of warriors, powerful women and a brilliant nomadic people, who cultivated a harmonious way of life with nature. “You can give me a mic, I will tell a story that will make us so proud of our ancestors,” he says. “That’s where we have start.”
Moving forward, Chief Delorme hopes to do less explaining and “more doing,” with a focus on developing a foundation for future generations to succeed.
“I spend about 60 per cent of my time explaining to people why we should be doing something,” he explains. “We could be talking about how we can do things together.”
To accomplish this, Chief Delorme prescribes a transition from apathy to empathy, and encourages individuals to address issues of ignorance. “We have to teach Canada that if you welcome more Indigenous teachings, this country will be the greatest in the world.”
Read on to learn why Chief Delorme sees open communication and peace as complementary values in the effort to build friendships across the country.
Why is “we” stronger than “me?”
When you’re in a dark place and you don’t see no one on the left or the right of you, me is not as important as “where’s everybody else?” Everybody gets lonely once in a while—we all need each other.
What is the kindest action you’ve been on the receiving end of, and what about that gesture touched you personally?
I always have to thank the Chiefs and my ancestors before me. They fought hard to make sure that we have something today. I would not be in my position and growing what I feel I can without the previous people before me setting up the house, setting up the government system and challenging that people need more. It’s all laid out for me—I just have to put it together like a puzzle now.
What are the core values of your ideal Canada?
We have to go back to the foundation of what Canada stands for: freedom, integrity, empowering. And then there’s values that Canada shares regardless of your identity [and] your culture and that’s peace and friendship.
Nominate someone you believe is working to positively change the future of Canada.
I have been taught by and share the same vision with our member of parliament, Ralph Goodale. I think Ralph is making a great change in this country. This country is a different place because of him. He is a very big voice in there. There’s another man in Ottawa, Mike Burton. No matter who Mikey stands up to, even if there isn’t one Indigenous person in the audience, the first thing he would recognize is the traditional territory he is on, just to honour and respect Canada has an Indigenous government structure right where they live. People like Ralph and Mike—who are in the bureaucracy and are making a difference—we need more people like that in the provincial system, the municipal system and the federal system.
What’s one action you would like people to take in order to build a better country?
We have to start addressing ignorance. When you see third party information on Indigenous people, there’s an ignorance that has grown. People don’t want to know the history, they don’t want to know why. They just want to lay comment to the “Oh my god, get over it,” attitude. We tend to look the other way or try to smile it off and bottle it up.