By Andy Labdon
The five-month long Artists in Schools project highlighting First Nations culture culminated in a powwow at Wadena Elementary School on June 20, the day before national Aboriginal Day was celebrated.
The day began at 7:30 a.m. with a pipe ceremony held on the front lawn of the school next to an original tipi, erected by Terence Sabit and Doug Martin. The ceremony was attended by all WES staff as well as Principal Darin Faubert from Wadena Composite School, and performed by distinguished elders from Fishing Lake First Nation, Robert Kayseas, William Severight, Doug Martin and George Kayseas.
At around 10.30 a.m., the Grand Entry marked the start of the powwow held in the school’s gymnasium and led by Terence Sabit dressed in traditional dress followed by three flag bearers: WES Principal Miles Johnson carried the Canadian flag, teacher Lanni Saretsky carried the Saskatchewan flag, and Darryl Slippery carried the Union Jack.
After prayers were said, Robert Whitehead from Yellow Quill First Nation introduced the powwow dancers from different categories, explaining different aspects of the dances from the Friendship Dance to Traditional Dance.
After lunch, the ceremony ended with a retirement of the flags bringing an end to the Artists in Schools project at Wadena Elementary School.
The Artists in School grant was aimed at students to help learn specific First Nations’ arts and culture of our neighbouring Fishing Lake Saulteaux Ojibway First Nation.
Since February a series of showcases following the traditional phases of the moon through to June 21, 2017, took place in which the students interacted with First Nations’ elders, artists and musicians.
February was story month with Elders Dorine Desjarlais, Elizabeth Severight, Ellen Peeace and Maggie Buffalo narrating Nanabush and important stories. In March, it was art month with Maryanne Smoke from Fishing Lake First Nation, who provided teachings and her perspective on the paintings and dream catchers. April was child-rearing month and Elder Desjarlais offered stories of raising a child and how important children are in the Saulteaux-Ojibway circle of life. May was dedicated to the world around us, the environment, creation, and all that Mother Earth provides, presented jointly by all four Elders, Desjarlais, Severight, Peeace and Buffalo.
Many people have contributed an enormous amount of time and work into this program, which was initiated by Celina Quewezance, community consultant for culture for the Prairie Central District for Saskatchewan Sport, Culture and Recreation.
Grant funding for the program covered the costs of inviting artists and elders to WES. During the application process, Quewezance said she spent a great deal of time liaising with elders, WES students and staff plus the Saskatchewan Arts Board (SAB). The teachers also compiled a letter of support as did the Champkun Health Centre at Fishing Lake first Nation. The Touchwood Child and Family Services funded the Fishing Lake First Nation drummers and dancers, as well as the pipe ceremony activities.
Quewezance emphasized the powwow was also made possible with assistance from Harvey Bitternose and Janelle Sunshine.