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National Indigenous Peoples Day brings children to the circle

National Indigenous Peoples Day recognizes and celebrates the history, heritage, resilience and diversity of First Nations, Inuit and Métis across Canada.

There were several classrooms’ worth of schoolchildren present at the Jasper Fire Hall on Friday morning as two orange flags were raised, signifying National Indigenous Peoples’ Day.

The flags were raised to bring honour to the Every Child Matters campaign and help the community remember and acknowledge those impacted by residential schools.

It was an important teaching moment, said Wyanne Smallboy-Wesley of the Bighorn Stoney First Nation during her presentation to the crowd. The lesson: respect.

“What you're doing is securing that our friendship going forward is going to be the first steps in a good way,” she said.

As she asked everyone to join hands in a large circle, she said to look around at nature.

“We look at the mountains on the side, and then we look at the sky. It's a nice clear day. We look at the ground. All of this we can communicate with; we can talk to it,” she said.

“You yourself are a mountain person. You live here, you go to school here, you work and play here, so you must learn how to speak Ȋyethka, a mountain people language.”

That was followed by everyone receiving the smudge, the traditional way of cleansing your spirit and becoming one with nature.

“We call it communicating to the surrounding beings: the mountains, the land, the trees, the sky, the birds, the animals, and the insects. Every single thing in this world that we experience as a human being, we can talk to it with energy.”

It was just the first step on a day filled with acknowledgment of past harms to Canada’s Indigenous Peoples while looking toward a future of greater harmony and acceptance. Later that morning, Habitat for the Arts hosted a free presentation of the Mountain Metis film Long Road Home, coupled with a community discussion.

The short documentary is about the people who have been making their homes on the eastern slopes of the Canadian Rockies for the past two centuries, where they came from, how they survived, and what has become of their legacy. It focuses on a 200-kilometre, 12-day horseback expedition of Mountain Métis riders as they trekked through the Rockies from Grande Cache to Jasper on a 100-year commemorative journey.

The trek was held in remembrance of their ancestors’ evictions from Jasper National Park. It’s only one episode of a 13-part series that offers a collection of stories sharing the history, culture and traditions of the people of Alberta’s eastern slopes.

Later, an Indigenous Artisan Market was open to the public in Robson Park. While Indigenous crafts and learning were offered at several booths, things came to a standstill at 2 p.m. That standstill was for the members of the public only, as a powwow demonstration with dancers in full regalia was held.

At the flag raising ceremony, Smallboy-Wesley thanked the elders and everyone for starting the new tradition that she hopes would continue to grow. Doing so is reconciliation in action, she said.

“We will give gratitude to our leadership for making this happen for us so we can continue in a good way to be each other's mountain people supporters so we can keep rising up these peaks of human challenges and human behaviour.”