Aboriginals gear up for party

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First official aboriginal day in St. Albert Sunday

Get ready for St. Albert’s biggest National Aboriginal Day ever this weekend as the city government officially joins the party.

Local residents are invited to Lions Park this Sunday for the City of St. Albert’s first official National Aboriginal Day celebration. The day, established in 1996, is meant to honour the contributions of First Nations, Métis and Inuit Canadians to the country.

The Michif Institute has celebrated the day every year since it moved into Juneau House in 2004, says Thelma Chalifoux, its patron. This is the first year the City of St. Albert has been an official participant.

The city’s celebration came about through a chance conversation, said Barry Bailey, one of the organizers. He says he was talking with Coun. Carol Watamaniuk about the day and suggested the city put on an event to go along with the one at the Michif.

“As we were chatting, Nolan [Crouse] happened to come into the room,” he says. The mayor jumped on the idea and asked them to put on a bigger, more inclusive event. They struck a committee (chaired by Crouse’s wife, Gwen), got a $10,000 grant from Heritage Canada, and planned a party.

The day kicks off at 11 a.m. at St. Albert Place with a grand entry, Métis jigging and a display by Métis artist April Mercredi, Bailey says. The festivities then move to Lions Park for fiddling, storytelling and cupcakes. Chuck Isaacs of the Aboriginal Veterans Society of Alberta will also be selling bannock dogs to raise cash for aboriginal veterans.

Chalifoux praised the city’s decision to get involved in this year’s celebrations, as it hearkened back to the early days of St. Albert where settlers and aboriginals worked together to survive. “It’s a celebration of the development of Canada.”

Teepee tales

The Michif Institute will also throw open its doors to the public Sunday with an open house, Chalifoux notes, complete with new and revamped exhibits.

One of the most noticeable installations will be a teepee, along with an explanation of its significance.

Cree teepees usually have 15 poles, says Ryan Arcand, an off-reserve Alexander resident and volunteer at the Michif, each of which holds spiritual significance. The first 14 represent the ribs of a buffalo, he explains, while the 15th represents the spine. “That’s the one you tie the teepee on,” he says. “It wraps around just like the skin.”

Each pole has a certain value associated with it, Arcand says, such as obedience, respect, guidance or love. Each is also raised in a specific order: you start with a support tripod, then add four poles at the three, six, nine and 12 o’clock positions to represent the four seasons and directions.

The finished tent has two flaps for ventilation and one for a front door. “If you look at a teepee done properly and use your imagination,” Arcand says, “it looks like a buffalo head with two horns.”

National Aboriginal Day in St. Albert runs from 11 to 4 p.m. this Sunday. Anyone attending the Lions Park event should bring a lawn chair.

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Kevin Ma

Kevin Ma joined the St. Albert Gazette in 2006. He writes about Sturgeon County, education, the environment, agriculture, science and aboriginal affairs. He also contributes features, photographs and video.