Recently I attended the memorial for Nelson Kenneth Mayer, president of the National Association of Friendship Centres and executive director of Alberta Native Friendship Centres Association.
Nelson’s involvement with the Friendship Centre movement spanned more than 40 years. He served as NAFC’s President from 2013 to 2016 and from 1987 to 1988, and he served as the association’s vice-president for 10 years.
What struck me at his memorial service was the number of times I heard Nelson described as a “tireless force-for-change.”
His wife Ella stated that he embodied the definition of hero. I had the privilege of working with and learning from Nelson since 2011, and he became one of my heroes.
I admired his bravery, and his tireless dedication to improving the lives of indigenous people, especially indigenous youth.
He was bigger than life having success as a warrior, husband, father, role model, mentor, change maker, and yes, pro wrestler, having wrestled across Canada as “the Renegade.”
Sitting Bull is credited with saying that “a warrior is not someone who fights but one who sacrifices himself for the good of others. His task is to take care of the elderly, the defenseless, those who cannot provide for themselves, and above all, the children, the future of humanity.” Nelson showed us how to become brave warriors that accomplish good.
As I have thought about the legacy that Nelson leaves behind, I think about the cultural teaching of bravery which is represented by the bear. I grew up in the Selkirk Mountains and had a few close encounters with bears so the teaching that the spirit of the bear offers us courage and protection to face danger, fear or change with confidence and bravery is personal to me.
I believe that Nelson Mayer left us many practical examples of courage and bravery. The bear represents courage because they have great strength to overcome challenges. The bear shows us how to stand up for what we believe in. I’m inspired by the courage that a mother black bear displays when her cubs are in danger and I hope I can tap into that courage to advocate for indigenous youth and their families.
Within the Indigenous Plains Cultures there are different views about the seven sacred teachings, but the tribes agree that these teachings form the foundation of the Indigenous way of life that is in harmony with nature, our family, and our community. Our traditional teachings are not in the past, they provide life giving direction in the present and provide courage, wisdom and strength for the future. If you look around the community, you will find many examples of these seven sacred teachings. In the weeks ahead, I will be exploring the origin of these teachings and how they are being modelled in our community today.
The passing of Nelson Mayer is a tremendous loss but starting 2017 with a funeral that felt more like a motivational conference has strengthened my resolve to continue to encourage others and challenge others to do whatever they can to build a strong and vibrant community.
Tanya Ward-Schur is the director of the Asooahum Crossing in Red Deer.