Raised on the Piikani Nation in southern Alberta, newly elected Chief, Gayle Strikes With A Gun (BEd '88), spent her early childhood surrounded by a loving family whose values, teachings and examples had a significant impact on her life.
"I come from a large family of 12 siblings. In my early years we lived with my grandpa, Miikapi, where we were raised under the watchful guidance of aunts and uncles. I can remember my grandpa going out early in the morning to greet the day with a prayer and song," says Strikes With A Gun. "My mother taught us the values of honesty and trustworthiness. She worked hard to provide a warm and loving home for her family. My father, a carpenter and driver for medical transportation, always encouraged us to stay in school and do our best."
Strikes With A Gun's formal education began in residential school and finished in the public system. Several years after her graduation, she attended the Henderson Business College in Calgary. After five years working in the city she returned home to the reserve, later applying to the University of Lethbridge.
"In 1984 I met Phil Lane, an associate professor at the University. He informed me about a six-week University Preparation Program aimed at increasing the number of Aboriginal teacher graduates from the University, and encouraged me to apply," says Strikes With A Gun. "Components of the holistic program included physical, mental, spiritual and emotional development."
During the program, she participated in a goal-setting exercise that became very profound for her.
"I had been given some tobacco and instructed to find a place in the coulee where I could make an offering and ask Creator for guidance. I said – I am going to walk through the entrance doors as a student. Creator, give me strength to be able to finish this program so that I can walk out in four years and finish my degree – and I did," she says.
During her first year at the University, professor Calvin Dupree asked her to develop four books on the Piikani Nation covering their food, clothes and culture. Strikes With A Gun, aided by her sister Pam, researched, took photographs and wrote the books. They also included audio tapes, recorded in Blackfoot, so that students could hear the language as they read along in English and Blackfoot.
"It was a big project and it is something I am very proud of. We worked on it over the summer and then had a big celebration in the fall to introduce these books, which are still in the curriculum lab at the University," says Strikes With A Gun.
The following summer, she participated in the University Preparation Program, this time as a leader. It was an opportunity to give back to the program that had prepared her so well for her academic journey. The experience as a leader was one she calls, "a nice introduction into education leadership."
Strikes With A Gun graduated in 1988 with a bachelor of education, social studies major, Native American Studies minor. She continued her relationship with the University, working for a year as the project co-ordinator for the Four Worlds Development Project, an initiative aimed at helping Blood/Peigan women develop the skills and training necessary to prepare them for post-secondary education at the University.
Strikes With A Gun has continued to value education, honesty and hard work. In her newest undertaking as the first female Chief of the Piikani Nation, one of Strikes With A Gun's concerns is for her people's youth.
"We must provide every opportunity for them to learn the Blackfoot language and participate in our culture and traditions," she says. "We need to provide them with opportunities for success. I would encourage our youth to attend the U of L; it is a very good place for First Nations students. I had a positive experience at the U of L. It is important for the youth to have positive self esteem and pride in themselves as they come from a long lineage of Piikani leaders."
She is very excited with her own leadership role.
"I will endeavour to do my best to be a good leader like my grandfathers and grandmothers of the past. I am so fortunate to come from the proud Piikani Nation in southern Alberta."
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· Strikes With A Gun has a son, Darcy, who is a culinary arts graduate of Lethbridge College.
· She is the first in her family to receive an undergraduate degree, and later earned a master's degree in education administration from the University of British Columbia.
· Strikes With A Gun started the first taxi service on the reserve, and also negotiated a contract for providing medical transportation from the Medical Services Branch.
· She planned and implemented the Beaufort-Delta Strategic Plan, which includes the Mission, Vision and Beliefs, Strategic Goals and Action Plan.