By Magdalena Randal
On today’s summer solstice, communities across Canada are getting ready to celebrate National Indigenous Peoples Day. Here in Maple Creek, Education and Celebration will be hand in hand on the longest day of the year. Festivities are slated to begin mid-morning at Maple Creek Composite High School. The instructions on the school’s Events Calendar read as follows: “Celebrate the heritage, diverse cultures and outstanding achievements of First Nations, Inuit and Métis people!” And what better way to do so than to host members of the Nekaneet Cree Nation. Generously, the Band have chosen to mark the day by visiting the High School to communicate their rich traditions.
In 1996, Governor General Romeo LeBlanc officially designated June 21 as National Aboriginal Day, a day to celebrate the contributions of Aboriginal people. In 2017, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, himself a former teacher, announced a change to the name of the day. It is now National Indigenous Peoples Day. And in the spirit of ongoing reconciliation, in a poignant contrast to the way education has been related to Indigenous experience in the past, the local Nekaneet Band are offering their experience strength and hope to Maple Creek’s local students. “Our focus this year is on the youth,” says Selena Taypotat, Nekaneet Communications coordinator.
When he was elected in 2017, current Chief Alvin Francis said “We want to present our ideas of what Nekaneet should be, and we wanted their input about what they see,” he was referring to his own Band members who he felt “still needed to be taken care of. “ I didn’t want to turn my back on them, and I wanted to make sure they knew I was there for them.” Now that care will be extended to the young people at Maple Creek High School who will be participating in activities that highlight Nekaneet Culture. The spirit of caring that Chief Francis spoke of will have a variety of expressions.
“We will be sharing our teachings with the students. There will be tipi raising, dreamcatcher creation and bracelet making!” explains Ms Taypotat. This celebratory gesture on the part of the Nekaneet community is part of the Band’s outreach initiatives to elevate awareness about Nekaneet culture. Council member Dale Mosquito, a dedicated educator and facilitator in the community will be on hand along with council member Doreen Oakes and many others.
“By looking at the medicine wheel, we move along the path as we do in life and it’s divided by stages. The circle represents developmental growth and we can chart a person’s progress on the circle…” – Dale Mosquito, Council member, Nekaneet Band
When National Indigenous Peoples day was renamed last year by the prime minister, he said: “Canadians come together on this day to recognize contributions of First Nations, Inuit and Metis people.” He added, “ the history, art, traditions and cultures of indigenous people shaped Canada’s past and continue to shape the country today.”
Today’s initiative at Maple Creek Composite School is indeed a recognition of the healing way of transmitting culture, expanding the circle of co-existence by bringing the language of the Nekaneet to fellow citizens. Rob Stewart, Vice Principal of the school providing further detail on the events planned, says enthusiastically, “It will be a full-featured day! We’ll be beginning around 9:30 am at the Splashpark.” There, ceremonial drummers will signal the opening of the activities. Maple Creek youth will be learning from Nekaneet band members who will explain the method and meaning of Tipi raising, demonstrate crafts such as bracelet making and offer dance demonstrations. After lunch, the edification will continue with lacrosse, storytelling and tug of war.
“There will be some spectacular scenes!” says Stewart. At the end of the day, everyone is invited to enjoy some traditional Bannock with berries prepared by Band members. There will be a closing prayer to round out the experience, one the school plans to continue each year. The celebration promises an ongoing contribution to heightening awareness of Indigenous Culture.
Perhaps the wisdom that the students will be graced by today as they enjoy the shared activities is the kind that is universal, the kind that Chief Francis so eloquently expressed when he was elected: “I don’t consider myself to be outspoken in any way, I’m a humble man. I’ve been taught to be humble, to treat everyone respectfully and to give people somebody to listen to them.”
Here’s to the powerful communication of tradition, history and culture. By listening to each other every day in Maple Creek and in the rest of Canada, the circle we share create strengthened; A colourful combination of tradition and innovation to realize common dreams. By interlacing arms, forming bracelets of peace and hope, Maple Creek’s youth may embody the infinite spirit of courage communities like the Nekaneet represent. In this celebration via education perhaps every day can be enjoyed as Indigenous Peoples Day, expanding the vision we are all part of, hour by hour, day by day, like a bracelet being created for every human hand …