Reconciling through education
Northern Cree drummers from Maskwacis perform during the National Indigenous Peoples Day at the University of Alberta-Augustana in Camrose on June 21. Josh Aldrich/Camrose Canadian
Education was one of the main points driven home in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's report, a call to action the Battle River School Division has not taken lightly.
There were 1,579 division students who attended the National Indigenous People's Day festivities at the University of Alberta-Augustana on June 21 with a total of almost 2,800 students and teachers overall taking in the four sessions of stories, drumming and dancing. Including the public there were more than 3,000 people who attended.
BRSD First Nation/Métis/Inuit coordinator Kerry Laberge has been with BRSD for more than 20 years and he says it has been a dramatic shift in approach and importance of incorporating Indigenous culture and history into the schools. He says it goes even further to where it has become mandated by Alberta Education that it is now part of the professional responsibility of all teachers to start understanding and building their foundational knowledge in first nation, metis, Inuit perspective, treaties, world views.
"I think it's awesome, not only from the First Nation/Métis/Inuit perspective, but I have seen growth over the years of in terms of understanding and appreciation and inclusion of all cultures," said Laberge.
The division and local schools have been active in bringing in other presentations and cultural experiences for the students. One of the tools Laberge uses are Kairo blanket exercises that demonstrate a history of treaty-making, colonization, and resistance and how the rights and land of First Nations people have been affected over the centuries.
"It gives students opportunities to experience 500 years of indigenous history and to walk through from an indigenous perspective and to get a hands-on understanding of the things that have happened," said Laberge.
Days like the National Indigenous Peoples Day represent another hands-on teaching moment for the 222 Indigenous students in BRSD and as well as the non-Indigenous students.
"For students to learn indigenous culture first hand is a real good opportunity for all," said Laberge.
The ceremonies grew in size and scope this year. Most years there have been three sessions to handle the different groups of students and members of the public who wanted to take in the festivities. This year there were four.
Organizers also brought in new schools from rural locations that have not experienced the ceremonies previously, like C.W. Sears out of Tofield, New Norway, and Hay Lakes.
"It's super important because these types of things normally don't go out to those smaller communities," said City of Camrose arts director Jane Cherry-Lemire, noting it is a partnership between the arts society, BRSD and Augustana that put on this year's event.
The other big change was this year they brought in live drummers and dancers from Maskwacis, as opposed to bringing in dancers from Calgary. Cherry-Lemire said it was the relationships they have formed with Augustana and BRSD that have made that possible.
The dancers were from a group called Mountain Cree while the drummers were formed from internationally recognized group called Northern Cree. They demonstrated several dances including a jingle dance and dress, a chicken dance, and a dance based on their traditional scouting practices.
"We want to educate kids, the ones that are just learning now about aboriginal people and our style of dance and what we do," said Mickso Deschamps, who emceed the event. "Powwow is actually growing across North America and there's a lot of people that are interested."
Deschamps has danced before and is one of the drummers in Northern Cree. They have performed all over North America, including recently at the New Orleans Jazz Festival and sharing his cultural makes him happy.
He also sees the importance of what they are doing from sharing their culture.
"It's a healing ceremony is what we call it," said Deschamps. "When you dance you're giving off so much energy … for them to actually enjoy themselves brings a smile on our faces."