Ranch Ehrlo Society is highlighting the local elders and kohkums who are working with participants to provide cultural connection to our programs.

Read the introductory series story to learn more about this initiatve. 

Kohkum Valerie Ironchild has touched the lives of more than a dozen youth, lending a listening ear and being a friend to confide in.  

Valerie said visiting the group homes and sharing with youth has proved to be a fulfilling experience for herself and the participants.

“Sharing is good for me, and it’s good to have time to talk with children because some of them haven’t had that before. We don’t know what it’s like for them in their homes, or what’s been going on in their lives,” she explained. “They want truthfulness and someone to listen to them.”

Valerie meets with up to 10 youth at a time, frequenting two Ranch programs in the city of Regina. She goes into each visit with an open mind and open heart, engaging and relating to the youth by listening to their stories and sharing her own.

As kohkum and knowledge keeper to the youth, Valerie draws on her own life experiences and leans on the sacred Seven Teachings and the 15 Tipi Pole Teachings to offer hope and guidance.

“All these good values that we need: discipline, respect, love, and all of those, have the courage to keep us going even if we’re having a hard time. We learn about how to smudge, how to talk with the Creator who will guide us, and how to wake up, be thankful, and have gratitude that we’re alive today. We talk about these values that we need in our lives so that we can take a step forward and not backward.”

While she didn’t have grandparents of her own, Valerie said her mother worked hard to instill traditions in her at a young age, teaching her prayer as young as two years old. She said it was through her mom, and friends’ grandparents, that she learned about herself and her culture.  

Now having children, grandchildren, and great-children, Valerie said more than ever she understands the importance of how positive role models can help provide stability and support to children as they start on life’s journey.

“Some youth really benefit from it,” she said of her visits. “I want them to think about ‘Who am I? What am I? What do I like to do? Am I a naïve person? Am I a hateful person? Am I a truthful person? Am I thankful? Do I have gratitude? Do I have forgiveness in my heart?’ These are values they need to consider.”

“In our teachings, we talk about love; but you must love yourself first before you can go out into the world and want to do things.”

Valerie hopes her guidance can give youth the strength to find comfort and confidence in smudging and prayer, and that they embrace the teachings in their lives ahead.