BARRHEAD - A Barrhead woman is doing her best to teach the community's youth Indigenous culture.
On Jan. 31, Robin Berard led the Barrhead Composite High School Indigenous culture group of about two dozen primarily junior high students on how to put up a teepee about Indigenous peoples' sacred teachings, concluding with the eating of bannock.
Berard, or kookum (grandmother) in Cree, is an Indigenous woman originally from Bigstone Cree Nation near Wabasca. She is one of the Barrhead and Community Indigenous Committee leaders formed about two years ago to help stage community First Nations-themed public events.
"I've been working on getting the high school involved in these cultural events, and I finally got them on board," Berard told the Barrhead Leader before the event.
The group, which varies in number from week to week, started in September and meets with Berard every Wednesday for about an hour.
"[The sessions] include land-based teachings, the Cree language, teepee teachings, along with the seven sacred teachings, of love, honesty, respect, courage, wisdom, humility and truth," Berard said.
She added that a teepee raising, which none of the students had ever seen, gave her the perfect opportunity to instruct them on the sacred teachings as the pair went hand in hand, noting many of the items of the teepee, such as the ribs and the poles represent the teachings.
"They really did a good job, for their first time putting up a teepee," Berard said, who just gave the students helpful hints from the sideline. "I've had other groups make a bit of a mess of it, and I had to do it again.
Berard said although the teepee wasn't meant to be a permanent structure, "when it was up, it could withstand any type of weather".
She also compared the strength of an erected teepee to the strength that women need and have in the family unit.
"You stand strong," Berard told the female students. "Don't let anyone take that power away from you. Men have to respect women, but nowadays, often that respect is lacking."
However, she said that young people could bring that respect back by empowering themselves by learning about the sacred teachings and applying them to their lives.
"So you can stand as strong as this teepee does," she said.
Berard said the teepee gets its strength from the three poles that form the structure's frame.
"[One pole represents] the grandfathers, the other for the grandmothers and one for the child," she explained, adding in ceremonies, the men gather on one side of the teepee and the women on the other.
Berard added that at the top of each teepee, there is a hole, and although it provides a practical purpose of allowing the smoke from the heating and cooking fire to escape, it enabled families to look at the sun.
"In our spirituality, we always follow the bright light in the sky, the sun," she said, adding the sun travels clockwise. "Anything we do in our cultural ceremonies, we always follow the sun. We never go backwards because you are calling upon the backward spirit by going backwards, so you always want to keep going forward in life."