From left, Mini Freeman and Goota Desmarais at the HOT 6 Talks in Vermilion on May 22. Photos Angela Mouly
As a way to share Indigenous awareness, Lakeland College hosted HOT 6 Talks on May 22, as part of their ‘Meet the Inuit’ Spring Gathering which continued throughout the week.
In collaboration with the Heart of Treaty 6 Reconciliation, the Learning Network of Alberta, and Lakeland College, the session included Inuit, Metis, and First Nations presenters and performers. The Heart of Treaty 6 Reconciliation is a group of municipalities and organizations within the Lloydminster region that collaborate for cultural awareness events. This session highlighted presenters from Nunavut, Edmonton, Little Pine First Nation and Onion Lake Cree Nation, and Vermilion.
Lakeland College’s manager of Indigenous support services, Clint Chocan, welcomed everyone and emceed the event saying, “Today we are creating awareness. With awareness comes understanding, with understanding comes acceptance, and with acceptance comes unity.”
Presenter, Neil Sapp (or ‘Little Feather’ in Cree), is a Heart of Treaty 6 member as well as a member of the Little Pine First Nation. He described three shocks that he received in his life; being dropped off at residential school, being placed with a foster family (a German couple), and when he went back to his reserve.
“I remember my brother telling me he got taken just walking down the road. My grandfather walked the river banks all summer looking for his body. I didn’t even recognize my parents when I first saw them. Now, the more I’ve read about spirituality, the more similarities I see and I find that Indigenous and non-Indigenous cultures run parallel,” said Napp.
Heart of Treaty 6 member, and Onion Lake Cree Nation member, Bernadene Harper (‘Yellow Thunderbird Woman’ in Cree), shared issues and causes that she and other First Nations people have faced.
“Thank goodness our parents and grandparents were strong in our traditional ways and taught their children in secret. Some people lost who they were all together, there were certain places we weren’t allowed in, and certain things flash back memories for me. We are nehiyawak. Before contact in 1492, we had our own governing system and healing system. In Residential School, we were told we were not even human and needed to be civilized. At 10 years old, I became ill and was sent to the infirmary, and they didn’t even tell my parents. A friend told her parents, who later told my parents, and later a principal attempted to not allow my dad to see me. By the time my dad pushed past, I was unconscious, and when brought to hospital, after three surgeries, he was told if I had been brought in an hour later, I wouldn’t have made it.
Our people persevere; they are strong. Creator put us all here to share the land, not to be separated. We are all people,” said Harper.
Goota Desmarais, is an Inuit from Cape Dorcet, Nunavut who lives in Sherwood Park but returns every summer. Desmarais explained that igloos were only used for short term accommodations when moving or hunting. She went on to say that many in the arctic had winter homes made of stacked stone with seal skin roofs (because they were waterproof); and summer homes made of skins (now canvas) and 18 foot ropes around for protection from animals.
“Sadly when the Government of Canada destroyed all of winter homes and hunting tools it crippled the Inuit for a period of time. However, we’re very adaptable, friendly and giving. At first contact, my grandfather died of Tuberculosis and my grandmother was left with 17 children. Being given her first home with a furnace and lights, she said it was much easier. We used to use qulliq (lamps made of a stone bowl, arctic cotton, and seal oil) for heat, light, and they were the way we cooked our food. My grandmother also stayed with me and my 10 siblings. Each morning she would create new art and bring it to the Co-op to help support us.”
She went on to say that everything in the north is very expensive, her flight last summer costing her $5,200. She shipped relatives a turkey and ham for $400, but said that it would have cost $500 - $600 there, and as a result trades for traditional food. Stating that basic needs are outrageous, she estimated that laundry soap would cost $96, two litres of milk would cost $20, that a loaf of bread would cost $21 if you could find one.
“Hunting is a very important part of our lives. Things caught on the land are shared with the entire community. At Arctic Bay, a bowhead whale caught took 11 people 11 and a half hours to harvest, and it was hard, hard work. However, it fed the whole community (1,036 people) for the entire year and everything was used including the bones,” said Desmarais.
She concluded by saying that Inuit people have so much resiliency, and suggested that if others want to become more involved with Inuit communities to get involved with Indigenous celebrations; that Inuit thrive on those connections. Mimicking sounds of sleds and geese, Desmarais and elder, Mini Freeman, competed in a traditional, friendly Inuit women’s game of throat singing.
After a First Nations drumming and dance performance, Etienna Moostoos-Lafferty (from Grande Prairie and with relatives from Sturgeon Lake Cree Nation) shared that many people have a different idea about what reconciliation really is; and that now is a time of Indigenous resurgence, with Indigenous people rebuilding relationships, reclaiming ceremonies, and their connections to the land. Cheryl Devin, from Edmonton, encouraged audience participation as she performed the Red River Jig, and shared about Metis culture.
“We joined the Iron Confederacy as a Nation. Following the history of the Northwest Rebellion including the Battle of Batoche, and the Red River Battle, it is hard to maintain your cultural identity when you are described as the forgotten people. Through the script process we lost land with only two per cent given, but Alberta is the only place in the world where 12 Metis settlements were granted (4 plots were deemed unsuitable and rescinded so 8 remain). We are reclaiming the kitchen table and remembering what it is to be Metis,” said Devin.
Member of Onion Lake Cree Nation from Vermilion, Kevin John shared that in his experience, there are no wrong questions, and that both sides of the treaties need healing.
“Racism often comes from unanswered questions, and we can misappropriate our feelings regardless of ethnicity. Reacting instead of responding is a major problem in humanity. Every person on the planet needs security, significance, and strength and healthy relationships can foster all three of those things,” said John.
The Learning Network of Alberta’s Dan Nash noted that the ‘Meet the Inuit’ Spring Gathering had been a powerful event; that teachers don’t often get the opportunity for such a deep experience.
The celebration ended with a round dance, known as the dance of unity with both speaker and audience participation. Guests stayed to enjoy a meet and greet and refreshments following the presentation.
A round dance following the HOT 6 Talks in Vermilion.