Well worth the wait

Students from across the north, including Corden Sayazie (front row, far right) from Father Porte Memorial Dene School in Black Lake, compete in a jigging competition during the opening day of the 2019 PAGC Fine Arts Festival. -- Jason Kerr/Daily Herald

The list of reasons Mariah Yooya gives for coming to the PAGC Fine Arts Festival isn’t long, but you can’t say the same for how she got here.

For Yooya and her classmates from Father Porte Memorial Dene School in Black Lake, it’s a roughly 14-hour trip down to Prince Albert for the annual artistic showcase, where students from 25 northern schools compete in competitions like drumming, jigging and drawing.

However, on this occasion, all those hours on the road are forgotten. It’s the festival’s opening day, and Yooya’s mind is on the dancing, not the drive.

“I just thought it would be fun,” she says when asked why she chose to make the trip. “The dancing, it has a lot of energy in it, and I like dancing.”

“Just dancing,” her classmate Davon Kasyon adds when asked the same question. “Dancing and having lots of fun.”

Students like Yooya and Kasyon are more than happy to make a trip that would be considered grueling by touring music bands or junior hockey teams. In order to get here, they rely on an army of volunteers, parents, teachers and community leaders to make the trip. That means the only thing longer than the hours on the road, are the hours spent fundraising, unless of course you’re flying into Prince Albert. That adds a whole new level of commitment.

“It’s kind of hard, because the plane fares are really high going up to Fond Du Lac,” says Bernice Whitedeer, a representative from Father Gamache Memorial School, one of three schools who came to the festival from fly-in communities. “I had a friend and co-worker that helped me get the funding to get the plane fares.”

Fortunately, fundraising efforts in Fond Du Lac went well. Thanks to countless hours operating canteens and holding raffles, five students from the community will make the trip to Prince Albert. They even raised enough to give them a bit of spending money while they’re down here.

“They’re always excited to attend the fine arts festival each year,” Whitedeer says. “The students that I took down right now, it’s their first time attending, so they were really excited to see the grand opening.”

Efforts to make sure students from remote communities still have a chance to attend haven’t gone unnoticed. Festival coordinator Shona Stapleton says it’s not only a sign that students are eager to take part in the event, it also shows commitment from their home communities. It something that’s she’s grown used to seeing at the festival, which has been running now for 28 years.

“I know for them, especially for the fly-in communities, it’s a huge expense,” Stapleton explains. “When we know that we’re getting a good group from the far north it’s always exciting. We know how expensive it is and that means the community supports it wholeheartedly.”

The 2019 Prince Albert Grand Council Fine Arts Festival continues at the Senator Allen Bird Memorial Centre until April 11.