By Cristina Paolozzi, June 4 2021—
Calgary’s next municipal election takes place on October 18, and eight candidates are running for Ward 7 councillor this year.
Marilyn North Peigan is a community leader running for the position and a member of the Piikani First Nations. She has been active serving on the Calgary Police Commission and is also a veteran of the Canadian Armed Forces.
North Peigan said one of the reasons she decided to serve was the ability to seek more opportunities outside of her community.
“At that time, I was coming from a very difficult community — residential school syndrome was in the community,” said North Peigan. “It was imperative that I left if I was going to do anything. And most of my peers are not here today, so I’m very lucky to have fallen in the hands of some good mentors unlike what has happened to a lot of Native women here in Canada — that’s happened to a lot of people in my life.”
Graduating from Mount Royal University in 2013, North Peigan understands the struggles that students now are facing, arriving into a world of uncertainty. As a result, she found herself working in the arts community in Calgary.
“In 2013 I actually graduated and came out to the recession,” North Peigan said. “Being pegged into this military training, I ended up in the arts community — that’s actually who pulled me in and adopted me. But with my training I did their event security, and I used my skills to be a part of the arts community. I really understand having lack of job opportunities with students coming out [of university] because it’s still the same situation right now.”
One of the reasons North Peigan is running is to continue her activism and commitment to this city. In 2016, the Calgary Aboriginal Urban Affairs Committee (CAUAC) — a committee North Peigan sat on — published the White Goose Flying Report. This report is the only local version of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s report in the country.
“The reason why I’m running is a lot different from other people,” she said. “This is an extension of the work I’m already involved in and I’ve already been doing since 2016 when we started working on the White Goose Flying report.”
North Peigan also mentioned that her experience as an Indigenous woman in leadership has helped to build the type of community she wants to see in Calgary. In 2017, after the creation of the White Goose Flying Report, North Peigan accepted an appointment to sit on the Calgary Police Commission.
“At that time, I was the first Aboriginal person in Canada to hold that commission title,” said North Peigan. “It was a very powerful experience for me because when I walked into Commission, no one was ready to hear truth and reconciliation or MMIWG [Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls]. So you have to start building community, and what I’ve learned is that we already have the tools here.”
Since graduating, North Peigan noticed that many of the issues that were facing students almost 10 years ago are still a reality recent grads are trying to navigate. Her understanding of the market and the need to create new opportunities in the city is something she thinks will benefit students looking to start their life in the city, preventing them from moving away to find employment.
“We have to redefine Calgary and we need to make this city more attractive for students and we need to create jobs for them,” said North Peigan. “And we need to have them want to build their families here. We need that affordability after graduation. We need to retrain and education is the economy of tomorrow, and that’s the fact.”
The three main pillars North Peigan is bringing to her campaign revolve around reconciliation, resilience and recovery. She said that working especially in reconciliation would have benefitted someone like her when she was a student. To be able to have relatable role models in the community is something North Peigan is actively working to improve.
“I talk about reconciliation, and during the time that I was at Mount Royal, it would have really been influential if I had someone come in and speak to me as a Native student,” she said. “Maybe I would have thought about being a politician early on or some type of leader.”
In terms of her vision for the student community, North Peigan recognizes the issues facing students today and clearly sees students working together within her three-pillar plan.
“The important challenges that I see students are still facing today are the lack of job prospects and the affordability after graduation — those are the two major ones,” said North Peigan. “So, when I talked about my pillars, the resilience, the reconciliation and recovery, what it does say is that an economic recovery is necessary and it is possible and I will fight for that.”
North Peigan sees projects like the downtown events district as a way to create a more engaging city, but also new job opportunities for students.
“They already have a downtown revitalization plan, but we need to make this city more attractive for students to want to stay here and this is just one of the examples,” she said. “I do really advocate for the event district, I do come from the industry, so I know that industry into the depths of what it can be […] The student population is a rich part of where the city needs to go during this recovery effort. In order to [problem solve] we need to sit down and do some smart planning and development that can help make this possible.”
North Peigan sees the challenges Calgary is facing and said that the direction leadership should be taking is one towards risk-taking and courage. She strongly advocates for new changes and perspectives in city hall, and believes that smart planning from all members of the community will produce the most successful results for a vibrant city.
“One of the things that I did hear coming out of city hall is that we need leaders in that position who are going to take those risks and make those decisions in order to have that change that we need to happen during this recovery,” said North Peigan. “What we have to do is we have to bring students and those student voices and those ideas to the table and we need to start listening to how they want to see their future.”
She said that there was a fear of change within the community, but that change is something Calgary needs to embrace to move forward.
“There’s a lot of fear of change, and I’ve seen this from the time I was on Commission,” North Peigan said. “When I came in and we started doing our reforms back in 2017, there’s always that fear of change. But that’s the only guarantee in life — is change. How are we going to be smart about our goals in accepting and learning to anticipate and appreciating those changes? So we have to learn how to change those attitudes. I learned that just through working in reconciliation — simple as that.”
North Peigan said she is tired of waiting and is ready to make those changes for members of the community.
“I’m tired of creating these avenues for an entire community and no leadership having enough courage to take those risks and implement these policies that we already have,” she said. “There’s no excuse at this point in the game, for me anyway, being around city hall for a long time. I’m running because I need to pick the ball up myself and run it into the end zone because I’m tired of waiting.”
The municipal general election will take place on October 18, 2021. For more information about Marilyn North Peigan, or the other Ward 7 candidates, you can find out how to contact them here.