Bringing cultures together through powwow

Jodi Schellenberg
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It was a day filled with learning, but also colourful displays of regalia and dancing.

The West Flat School Annual Powwow was held on Thursday at St. Michael Community School in Prince Albert.

“On behalf of the community school co-ordinators from the five west flat schools it gives me great pleasure to welcome you to St. Michael’s Community School to enjoy a day of First Nations culture and tradition,” said community school co-ordinator Therese Gerow.

“The west flat powwow rose from a vision that the school co-ordinators had for our kids,” she added. “The belief that we should not have to go outside of our school communities to teach our children about a part of their culture that far too often they do not have an opportunity to experience.”

The powwow is an important opportunity for students and staff to learn about cultural traditions, she said.

“As well, the powwow allows the dancers and drummers the opportunity to shine in front of their peers, their families and their community,” Gerow said. “With the support of our school and community partners … the powwow has blossomed into a beautiful example of unity that brings together our First Nations, Métis and non-aboriginal participants.”

It helps bring together the different spiritual histories, backgrounds and cultural experiences, she said.

The five schools invited many elders, dignitaries and special guests to the powwow, who all enjoy the festivities.

“These young people, particularly in this region of the city, it is phenomenal and great to see it,” said Milt Tootoosis from the office of the Treaty Commission. “It is part of the rejuvenation and renewal of the indigenous cultures throughout the world.”

He said in the words of the Treaty Commission, “we are all treaty people” and that without the agreement of Treaty Six, people would not be able to enjoy the freedoms they can today.

Mayor Greg Dionne also spoke about the importance of knowing your past.

“One thing my grandfather taught me is if you don’t know where you come from, you don’t know where you are going,” Dionne said. “That is why the past is so important and why we teach the past because those are lessons learned to make a better future for you young people … Enjoy the day, listen to the stories of your elders because your history is so important, especially as we move forward.”

Prince Albert is a city rich in history and First Nation culture, Prince Albert Police Service Chief Troy Cooper said.

“Culture is important and celebrating culture together is important because we learn from each other, we learn from our neighbours about our history, about our challenges, about our past and when we learn about our neighbours we can develop strong community bonds of trust and respect,” Cooper said. “When we trust and respect each other we have a safer and healthier community.”

They were all honoured to be part of the celebration.

“I’m deeply honoured that I could participate in the powwow today on behalf of Premier Brad Wall, my colleagues of the legislative assembly and myself for the Prince Albert Northcote constituency,” Prince Albert Northcote MLA Victoria Jurgens said. “Thank you for being part of our community and thank you for welcoming (us) with open arms and I acknowledge that we are on Treaty Six territory.”

Both the Catholic School Division and the Sask. Rivers School Division were proud to continue working together to keep the powwow going.

“Our two school divisions worked together and we see that today,” said Louise Phenuff, superintendent of the Catholic School Division. “We have all our schools in the west flats here.”

“It is wonderful to work together as community leaders because with that interconnectedness we are stronger and I believe we have a great future here together in Prince Albert,” added Sask. Rivers Supt. John Schultz.

Phenuff was happy to see all the different people, from Elders and children to dancers and drummers, participating in the event.

“Every (regalia), every dancer took time to prepare and be ready for today,” she said. “That is a really special thing that we celebrate.”

The school divisions are committed to teaching the children about their own culture in their own communities.

“Just on Tuesday night, we were out at Muskoday First Nation raising a teepee with the trustees and various other friends in the community,” Schultz said. “We learned a lot about teepee teachings and in fact Elder Howard Walker spent some time talking to the trustees and the group … a lot about leading with our head and our heart as well.

“We talk a lot in public education about using our heads when we are talking about achievement but I think it is important that we have our heart involved as well.”

Before the dignitaries left the stage area, two students from Grade 2 and 3 presented each of them with a dream catcher and friendship stick they made in class.

“We would like to take this opportunity to thank all of those involved in making this event possible,” Gerow said. “We are very happy to share this beautiful tradition with all of families, our friends and our community members.”

Organizations: Prince Albert, First Nations, Michael Community School Treaty Commission Rivers School Division Catholic School Division Muskoday First Nation

Geographic location: Sask.

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