It Takes a Village to Build a Village

Community support vital to the work of Edmonton’s Cardinal siblings

It may seem counterintuitive, but one day Jacquelyn and Hunter Cardinal hope to work themselves out of their job. “The idea has always been, with our work in general, to build enough community around these ideas that people can start to pick up things and carry on themselves,” says Jacquelyn, the elder of the two siblings. “That’s always been our goal.”

The Edmonton pair are the team behind Naheyawin, an Indigenous consulting firm launched in 2016 whose communications work is based on the Cree concept of “tatawaw,” which means, “Welcome, there is room.” Naheyawin works mostly with mainstream Edmonton community organizations, using material and policy audits, staff training and open discussions to help them “become a space where Indigenous people would want to go,” says Hunter.

“It’s not just the individual recognition of these ideas that resonates with them,” says Hunter. “What we also find is a profound sense of community gets built. (Tatawaw) becomes a part of themselves, their identity and also our future together, where we can actually celebrate that as two individual peoples. And that’s the real heart of the message that we try to share with everyone that we work with.”

Naheyawin has brought the tatawaw concept to organizations including Fringe Theatre, Edmonton Community Foundation (ECF), Mile Zero Dance, the Edmonton Arts Council and others.

In January 2019, the Cardinals staged Lake of the Strangers, a one-man show starring Hunter and co-written with his sister. The play follows a summer in the lives of two young Indigenous brothers determined to catch a big fish together before fall comes. ECF supported the production and covered the majority of the crew costs with a $9,200 grant and $5,000 sponsorship. The play was a box-office success, “but most importantly,” says Hunter, “Indigenous people who came to the show got to see themselves onstage.”

The Cardinals credit the concept of tatawaw for Naheyawin’s great success. But at a deeper level, they say, what they do works because of the support the siblings receive from their elders and Indigenous advisors.

Jacquelyn and Hunter are the children of noted Indigenous politician and activist Lewis Cardinal, which they say brought plenty of opportunities.

“Our dad (has) done a lot of work internationally with Indigenous groups. And so we grew up going to things like the Global Indigenous Dialogue. We met with Indigenous peoples from all over the world, and often couldn’t speak the same language,” says Jacquelyn. “But we were able to connect, and storytelling was such a core part of how we all related to each other. I’m just so excited that we get to do work where we touch on that.”


Their mosum (Cree for grandfather) was also key to their development. “He was known as a medicine man and a really great cultural leader in his time, but since he has passed on, we no longer have that connection with him,” says Jacquelyn. “So we basically went and hunted down all of his contemporaries. And we now have (two of them as) advisors” — architect Douglas Cardinal and artist Alex Janvier — both internationally acclaimed in their respective fields. Jacquelyn adds that they’re currently working on building up their advisory board, seeking more support from their community.

In June 2019, Naheyawin — in partnership with ECF — is launching the podcast series, It Takes a Community, speaking with six Edmonton-area community leaders about the people who have helped shape them into who they are today. “Instead of using this opportunity to simply lift up these leaders,” Hunter says, “we took an Indigenous approach and are focusing back on the community as a learning and teaching opportunity for how we can all be better supporters to each other.”