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National Indigenous Peoples' Day celebrated with song, dance, and story

On June 21, National Indigenous Peoples' Day was celebrated at the Mae Wilson Theatre.

As you entered the Mae Wilson Theatre Wednesday, you found it filled with the sound of drums, the audience clapping along in rhythm, and traditional song. The atmosphere was welcoming, positive, and respectful. It was a perfect way to spend the first day of summer.

On National Indigenous Peoples' Day, which is held each year on June 21, students from the Holy Trinity Catholic School Division (HTCSD) attended the celebration. Students came from St. Mary, St. Margaret, Sacred Heart, and St. Agnes schools. The celebration allowed younger generations to learn about Indigenous history and culture.

The celebration took place in the morning and afternoon and included:

  • Opening remarks from the Wakamow Indigenous Community Association
  • Emcee Hayley Hart-Rushinko
  • Drumming by Cree Spirit Drum Group
  • A video message from Lyndon J. Linklater
  • Hoop dancing by Terrance Littletent
  • Dancing by Wayne Fisher
  • Dancing by Delsin Fisher
  • Singing by Brittnee Prettyshield
  • Story and teachings by Elder Isabelle Hanson
  • Storytelling by Master Storyteller Joseph Naytowhow

The event was organized for the Holy Trinity students by Vivian Gauvin, who is the co-ordinator of Student Services with the HTCSD. Her goal is to help students honour Indigenous people.

“We’re learning every day and I think the biggest part is that we’re very aware of the past, of Canada's shameful history — we're aware. Now we all have a part and that's to take some action…,” she said.

Ward Strueby, director of education and CEO for the HTCSD, also made an address thanking everyone for their contributions.

The event’s emcee was Hayley Hart-Rushinko, who is the communications and economic development officer with the City of Moose Jaw. Hart-Rushinko is Métis on her grandmother’s side and Nakota/Lakota on her grandfather’s side of her family.

“To be a part of something on such an important day to my culture is just something that I honestly can’t even put into words.”

One of the groups performing was the Cree Spirit Drum Group.

A couple of their selections included the chorus of ‘Beautiful Day (Thank You for Sunshine)’ which the kids loved and sang along to, and for the three birthdays in the audience this week, they sang a special happy birthday song to honour those students.

“We have been drumming and singing for generations, and one day our little ones will be drumming and singing.”

All members of the group are from the Kawacatoose First Nation, which is in the Moose Jaw area.

“Traditionally, we would use the big drum and only the men would dance. Today we use hand drums, and men and women can both dance.”

And that change provides an incredible way to address inter-generational teaching and learning.

During their performance they were accompanied by three young dancers, illustrating the connection to younger generations.

The three young performers were wearing traditional regalia, which is the proper way to refer to the clothing worn by traditional dancers. It is important not to refer to it as a costume, as the article carries deep significance and tells a personal story.

“The regalia would be hand-crafted by family and passed along,” explained Hart-Rushinko. Every bead, ribbon, and symbol woven into the fabric tells a personal story and passes on the family history.

“Indigenous people are natural story tellers.”

You can attend Indigenous celebrations or storytelling opportunities such as this, and every new day gives you an opportunity to learn and grow. Another way to find grounding and connection is to immerse yourself in nature. Through a connection with nature, you can come to recognize what we have and begin to treat the earth well.

Tatawaw Park is one place where you can connect to nature and draws on the area’s historical roots as First Nations people used to meet up at “the turn in the river.”

“Tatawaw means: ‘there is room for everyone — welcome’ in Cree,” explained Preston Littleton with the Cree Spirit Drum Group.

You can also connect with your roots or appreciate Indigenous culture through the arts.

The key to this is immersion — read a book by an Indigenous author, ask questions to a knowledge keeper, or view Indigenous visual art installations and reflect on the message.

Moose Jaw is known for its murals. You can drive by the Indigenous-themed mural titled 'Living with the Land' at 55 Ominica St. W. The mural honours the Lakota Sioux, Cree, Assiniboine, Métis, and other First Nations people who made camp at “The Turn” in the Moose Jaw Valley.

The Moose Jaw Museum and Art Gallery is also currently displaying an art installation by Canadian Indigenous artist Carl Beam.

Overall, event organizers are satisfied with this year’s turnout and anticipate a bigger event next year. The 2024 Indigenous Peoples' Day event will be held again on June 21.

Every choice you make leaves a trail, and the trail you leave defines who you were. So get out and appreciate nature, immerse yourself in Indigenous culture and dance, and reflect on a new way of seeing. Nobody can change the past, but every step taken makes a huge impact on the future.

As the quote translates from Sioux on the ‘Living with the Land’ mural: “We will be known forever by the trails that we leave.”


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