Creating opportunity

Students from J.W. Head Memorial Education Centre in Red Earth Cree Nation perform during the final day of the 27th annual Prince Albert Grand Council Fine Arts Festival. -- Jason Kerr/Daily Herald.

For almost 10 years, Logan Cook has made the journey down to Prince Albert with his classmates for the 2018 Prince Albert Grand Council (PAGC) Fine Arts Festival.

It started as a fun trip with friends to hang out, meet new people, and sing in the Reindeer Lake School choir. Now in Grade 11, Cook said those past years have given him more than just joy. It’s helped him become comfortable in the spotlight and in front of a crowd.

“(With) choir, you just practice, you get to fool around with your friends when you sing. It’s just fun for me,” he said. “It helped me get over my anxiety and shyness on stage.”

For the more than 1,500 students competing at this year’s show, the 27th in PAGC history, winning their event is just icing on the cake. Instead, it’s the chance to see their friends and break out of their comfort zone that keeps them coming back year after year.

“You can make a lot of friends,” said Terena Waditaka, a Grade 8 student at Wahpeton Dakota Nation School who has attended the festival every year since Grade 1. “There are a lot of things to do here. We can dance and have fun.”

For the past week, Waditaka and her fellow students have filled Allen Bird Memorial Gym with songs, stories, dances and plays. Roughly 25 schools took part in this year’s festivities, many of them from the far north.

Organizers like Ruby Thornton credit the festival with giving young students an outlet to express themselves, and a chance to grow their artistic abilities.

“The creative talent, they use nature (and) they use the things that they have at hand,” she explained.

“They don’t have the tools that some (students) from the south have and take for granted. They use what they have as an avenue for their artistic outlet.”

Thornton has been on the festival organizing committee for more than 20 years. During that time, she said, it hasn’t been difficult to get kids to participate. Most schools require students to meet academic and attendance requirements, so getting an invitation isn’t easy. For those who do, it’s a once-a-year chance to learn and grown.

“It’s a really great opportunity for them to network and connect and show their talent, because we’re not all sports people,” she chuckled.