Wayne's World ~ First Nation and former chief honoured PDF Print
Local Content - Opinions
Written by Wayne Litke   
Monday, 17 October 2011 20:58

From this point forward, the month of October will be remembered by the Nekaneet First Nation as a time of great honour. Two significant events occurred this month and both were linked to the small reserve southeast of Maple Creek.
The Nekaneet are members of Treaty 4, and history was made Oct 14, 2011 when their treaty flag–which was designed by former chief Gordon Oakes–was raised at Regina City Hall. Oakes dreamed of the time when the flag would fly in the company of its federal and provincial counterparts, but he never lived to see it.  After his death in 2002, Elmer Eashappie carried Oakes’ vision forward and never gave up in the face of adversity. The process of having the flag become a fixture in the city hall courtyard has taken 12 long years. The culmination of the project reportedly marks the first time a First Nation flag will be permanently flown at a government building.
Hundreds of people turned out for the flag-raising including members of Oakes’ family. Regina Mayor Pat Fiacco and Aboriginal politicians all spoke about the significance of the event. They addressed the flag’s symbolic value and the spirit of cooperation it carries.
The act of giving the flag a home in Regina shows great respect and honour to those bands, their members and the principles upon which Treaty 4 was forged. Oct. 14 was an historic day, but sadly I feel some non-natives will distort or twist the event in an attempt to diminish its significance. However, the fact is a new era is unfolding as the Treaty 4 flag is now blowing in the autumn breeze beside the Canadian, Saskatchewan and City of Regina flags. We should not only remember the past, but endorse positive changes that are occurring and collectively strive to build a better tomorrow for our children and great grandchildren. The strength we gain by working together far outweighs the sum of our individual efforts.
The Treaty 4 flag represents 50 First Nations, the majority of which are in southern Saskatchewan. The treaty, which was first signed at Fort Qu'Appelle on Sept. 15, 1874, encompasses 195,000 square kilometres of terrain in Saskatchewan and southeastern Manitoba (and a small area in southeast Alberta).
Oakes was not only honoured at Regina, but also at Saskatoon 10 days earlier. On Oct. 4, a very special announcement was made at the University of Saskatchewan. The U of S announced it will be erecting a new building to house Aboriginal student services and it will be named the Gordon Oakes-Red Bear Student Centre.
The project has been in the discussion and planning stage for more than a dozen years. While additional funding must be secured, construction could begin as early as next year. The impressive 1,300 square-metre building will serve as a hub for Aboriginal student services on campus and will also provide space for teaching, learning and ceremonies.
Members of Oakes family attended the announcement at Place Riel including his daughter, Irene, who spoke at the gathering. According to a story in the university newspaper, she noted that the student centre is in line with her father’s vision of two horses working together as a team. One horse represented Aboriginal people and one that symbolized non-Aboriginal people. She said such teamwork hinges on balance, and the centre will help students balance education and Native culture.
The student centre will be constructed between the Arts Tower and Murray Library in Wiggins Court. Plans include connecting it to the Arts Tunnel and Health Sciences building. It has been estimated that the project could cost of $10 million.
The idea for such a centre was conceived after the university received a significant corporate donation. In 1998, NOVA Chemicals donated $1 million for the creation of Aboriginal student space. A decision was made five years ago to hire consultants to design the facility. That job was turned over to Douglas Cardinal Architect Inc. Cardinal has Aboriginal roots and is an internationally-recognized architect.
The recent events honouring the memory of Gordon Oakes prove people with a humble heart can achieve great things.
To make a long story short, 30 years after other plains Indians had signed treaties, accepted reserves and were relocated, the government agreed in 1913 to create a small reserve near Maple Creek. The reserve was located in the Cypress Hills where Oakes, also known as Red Bear, was born in 1932. In 1976, the government finally agreed to give the band their treaty benefits. Nekaneet First Nation then became the first band to sign a Treaty Land Entitlement Agreement and purchased all the land to fulfill the  agreement.
In 2001, Oakes was allowed to give Prince Charles an Aboriginal name during a royal visit. He chose the name “Pisimwa Kamiwohkitahpamikohk” which means “the sun looks at him in a good way.”
Isn’t that the attitude of honour we should all take when we look at our neighbours, acquaintances and strangers? Let’s learn from the humble and work together to build a brighter tomorrow.

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