Honouring Indigenous Culture with Buffy Handel

Buffy Handel is a successful award-winning entrepreneur, artist, choreographer, designer, athlete, educator, and speaker whose vision is strong in purpose. She is currently completing several books, expanding of her clothing-line, dance studio and non-for-profit organization, for which she acts as Executive Director, as well as other business ventures which offers her unique approach to economic development for First Nation people and communities.

Buffy has always been connected to culture, allowing her to create connections with her everyday life and her international travel. She has extensive experience in modeling, acting, dancing, and singing. She has also been a reporter for popular Canadian radio, television, and newspapers as well as a featured performer for Native American dance tours in the US, Europe, South America, and North America. Buffy has participated in signature events such as the Juno Awards (Canada) Folkloriada (South Korea), the European Grammy Awards (France), the PAN AM games and the Vancouver Olympics (Canada) and has performed in Las Vegas (USA) as well as a coordinator to the longest, largest multicultural festival in the world.

We sat down with Buffy to learn more about National Indigenous History Month and what it means to be Indigenous in Manitoba.

How does National Indigenous Month help promote the preservation of Indigenous language and traditions?

On a multicultural level, Manitoba’s diverse ethno-cultural landscape brings together a multitude of different cultures, highlighting the importance of acknowledging the original stewards of this territory, who have been here long before colonization. This recognition not only sheds light on the history and contributions of the original inhabitants but also fosters a sense of celebration and pride. It serves to encourage the younger generation to embrace their heritage and identity, as they are recognized and celebrated in a multicultural context. This acknowledgment helps to develop skills and confidence among the youth, enabling them to proudly hold onto their role as the original stewards of the land.

Can you share some significant contributions of Indigenous People to Manitoba’s history and culture?

Historically, as the original stewards of this land, First Nations have always placed a strong emphasis on caring for the territory. Our cultural practices have centered around sustaining the livelihood of all living things and ensuring access to clean drinking water and uncontaminated land. Even before contact, living in harmony with all living things in our territory, learning about them, and understanding them was integral to our way of life.

Had these cultural practices not been in place, the rest of Manitoba might not have benefited as much as they do now. Dating back to the creation of the treaties, our original intent was to establish a framework for living in harmony, not only with nature but also among humans, whether within our own community or on a multicultural level. These treaties, which existed even before contact, are symbolized by the concept known as the cup. This concept signifies that everyone draws from the same resources gifted by the Creator, emphasizing that we all need the same things because we are all part of the human race.

This idea is not about assimilating into other cultures, but rather about acknowledging and respecting each other’s unique cultural practices. The First Nations Pavilion, for instance, aims to educate people about treaties and the intellectual capacity required to relate to one another harmoniously. By recognizing and celebrating these cultural practices, we can continue to live in harmony with both the land and each other.

How do indigenous People’s traditional knowledge and environmental stewardship play a role in today’s society?

We are different, yet we come together and live in harmony because of our commonalities and similarities rather than our differences. Historically, and through our cultural practices, the intent has always been to welcome other nations into the territory and to teach them. This also connects to the Métis culture. The Métis Nation exists because Indigenous women married European men, a practice that began as a means of survival. Manitoba’s harsh winters were difficult for newcomers, and Indigenous women played a crucial role in helping Europeans adapt and survive. This union brought many benefits and helped shape the multicultural fabric of our community.

How does your family commemorate National Indigenous Month?

As Indigenous people, we celebrate who we are every day. It’s not just about celebration but about honouring our identity and heritage through our speech, decisions, and relationships.

Regarding the significance of June, our family’s custom is not to acknowledge a date chosen on our behalf but to follow the Creator’s law. In June, we prepare to honour and acknowledge the relationship between the Sun and the Earth, particularly during the summer solstice, the longest day of the year. This time is significant because it celebrates the relationship and love shared between the Sun and the Earth.

There are many beautiful events during this time, and we recognize the energy generated when the sun is out compared to cloudy, rainy days. We’ve known since time immemorial about the sun’s significance as a source of medicine for all forms of life, not just humans. When we celebrate and prepare for this time, it is not about a specific date chosen for us but about acknowledging the profound relationship we’re part of, which is much larger than what we typically think of as an ecosystem.

What are respectful ways for non-Indigenous people to celebrate?

I believe it’s very important to acknowledge Indigenous people because it brings honour to remembering who the original stewards of this land are. Our role as Indigenous people has not changed, even though we are part of a multicultural society. We remain mindful of our duty to watch over and care for the land. This year’s First Nations Pavilion theme highlights our custom of making decisions with the next seven generations in mind, ensuring our actions positively affect the future.

When organizations, businesses, or communities seek ways to honour National Indigenous Peoples Day, they might consider inviting an Indigenous guest speaker, performer, elder, or knowledge keeper for an interactive presentation or conversation. This can be done within work environments, schools, or community settings. Winnipeg and Manitoba offer many opportunities to engage with Indigenous culture and practices. Participating in these activities is a wonderful way to connect.

Bringing Indigenous culture into your environment fosters a sense of inclusion and understanding. Manitoba’s rich history and current cultural landscape are deeply influenced by Indigenous contributions. If Indigenous people had not been welcoming and willing to share their knowledge, Manitoba would be a very different place today. Sharing our culture and creating mutual understanding contributes to a more caring and inclusive society, which benefits everyone.

From a business perspective, creating mutually beneficial relationships means fostering an inclusive environment where everyone has the opportunity to contribute. Thinking about the next seven generations means considering how our actions today will impact our descendants. The goal is to create a sustainable and positive legacy for future generations.

Using myself as an example, my last name doesn’t sound very Indigenous because I’m half German. My unique heritage includes being a descendant of the great composer Handel. He likely never imagined that his artistic inspiration would reach as far as it has, yet his legacy continues to impact the world generations later. This illustrates how our actions and contributions can have lasting effects, shaping the future in ways we might not expect.

Learn More about Buffy:

Buffy is proud of founding the first in Manitoba history, a professional dance studio that professionally trains young Indigenous Arts, the Aboriginal School of Dance and has been recognized within Canada and internationally for the innovative approach to her musical compositions, storytelling, and choreography. She is passionate about making a difference in the lives of individuals, who in return can become “in-motion-setters” in their own workplace, community, and environment.

Her personalized seminars, workshops and programs are educational and inspirational. Buffy has developed a unique approach of opening a beautiful way of life. With 27 years’ experience in the business world, she can conceptualize the balance on how a personal and professional life can have connection without compromising the integrity of a cultural way of life.

Buffy was awarded the Queen Elizabeth II Golden Jubilee Medal as well as Woman Of The Year, and Entrepreneur of the Year for several years to which she dedicates to the future generation.