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Flag raising another step toward reconciliation

Aspen View Public Schools hosts sacred ceremony with elders from Treaty 6 and Métis nation

ATHABASCA — It was a time to listen and learn from the descendents of those who lived well on the lands we now inhabit for thousands of years before Europeans arrived, and to recognize the effects that event had and continues to have on successive generations of Indigenous people. 

As part of its ongoing path toward truth and reconciliation, Aspen View Public Schools welcomed elders, dancers, drummers, trustees and senior administration from each school in the division to witness the raising of the Treaty 6 flag and Métis Nation of Alberta flag alongside that of the Province of Alberta at a June 16 event at the division office on Athabasca's east hill.

Treaty 6 was represented by Elder Philip Campiou, who provided teachings on the flag and a land acknowledgement. Elder Elsie Paul also said a few words and introduced her great granddaughters — traditional pow wow dancer Aerini Makokis and Métis jigger Arya Marcel. 

“When (a woman) becomes a kokum, her grandchildren will carry on,” Campiou said. “That's how our culture is; it doesn't stop, it carries on from generation to generation.” 

Traditional drummer and singer Stan Arcand also carried greetings on behalf of George Arcand, Grand Chief of the Confederacy of Treaty 6 First Nations and the Kicking Horse Singers from Alexander First Nation took part in the ceremony. 

“I always like to start with my language first. With my language I welcome our ancestors come down to listen, to come and enjoy the things that we're doing today. So, you don't have to speak our language, just listen,” said Métis Nation of Alberta Region 1 president James Cardinal. “As you listen to us the ancestors will be there to talk to you, and you'll be able to understand what we're trying to bring, and I bring some good stuff from our nation in Alberta.” 

Cardinal recounted how he almost lost his language, and only speaking it to his mother and father when he visited but after he retired in 2016 after almost 50 years working for Suncor, he rediscovered it. 

“I started speaking my language and my heart is full,” he said. “So, I know who I am.” 

He said he wasn’t raised with drums and dancing but now that he is returning to his ancestors, he feels them in the music. 

“I wasn't born and raised with drums and the dancing stuff like round dances, but it’s in me. I hear it. I feel it,” said Cardinal. “I know my ancestors were there because I'm more Treaty than Métis, but unfortunately that's not how it works once you take scrip; that’s who you become; the government tells you who you are.” 

The Métis scrip system was intended to provide settlements to the Métis people, but many were swindled out of the land by settlers who would trick them into selling the scrip for far less than its value. 

“I’m proud to be here today on MNA, Métis Nation of Alberta Region 1,” he said. “Thank you all for honouring the Métis people here in Athabasca.” 

Aspen View board chair Candy Nikipelo also shared some words on behalf of the board of trustees.

“Essential to reconciliation is a commitment to deepening our knowledge of Indigenous beliefs, traditions, and practices, which will help us forge deeper relationships leading towards stronger partnerships,” she said, adding AVPS has proudly incorporated a land acknowledgment into board meetings and public events and the high schools have started to hold eagle feather and Métis sash ceremonies. 

“Students are learning the importance of the teepee teachings and each school will probably receive its own teepee later on this year,” said Nikipelo. “And finally, healing gardens are being established in many schools containing many elements of First Nations, Métis and Inuit practices, as well as the teachings of the medicine wheel.” 

She noted it is not up to AVPS to evaluate their own progress toward truth and reconciliation but to rely on the relationships with Indigenous partners to help guide them as they move forward together. 

“Thank you for coming here together with us today for this important milestone in our journey towards reconciliation and we look forward to many more opportunities to build partnerships with you,” she said. 

Supt. Neil O’Shea noted how powerful a flag can be and how it shows unity, citing how many people, businesses, and even municipalities are flying the Ukrainian flag right now. 

“We fly a flag because we want to belong, and that sense of belonging is echoed today when we raised the flags that are here in front of us,” he said. 

As the ceremony wound down, Campiou announced a round dance as everyone joined hands and danced a traditional round dance.

“We’re going to do what we call a round dance,” he said. “We dance in the circle of life with each of us here to honour and recognize all that happened today." 

Now each AVPS school is granted the ability to fly the Treaty 6 and Métis Nations flags and will each hold their own flag raising ceremonies in the next school year. 

Heather Stocking

About the Author: Heather Stocking

Heather Stocking a reporter at the Athabasca Advocate, a weekly paper in Northern Alberta. Heather covers all aspects of the news in and around Athabasca and Boyle as well as other small communities.
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