It’s been a busy week for Ricky McKenzie.
In the span of just two days, he’s helped set up camp, handed out tobacco to elders, drummed for dancers at the powwow demonstration, and performed an honour song. The Stanley Mission resident wouldn’t have it any other way.
“This is what we were supposed to learn as young people,” McKenzie says during a short break. “It’s lifting the young guys up and teaching them the way of the ceremonies, and not only just the ceremonies, but who we’re supposed to follow. We’re supposed to follow our elders. When we’re stuck, we’re supposed to go to the elders.”
McKenzie isn’t alone in his efforts. He’s one of hundreds of people who arrived in Prince Albert for the four-day Prince Albert Grand Council Gathering of Nations on Chief Joseph Custer Reserve.
Since the opening ceremony on Tuesday, attendees have enjoyed outdoor cooking demonstrations, played traditional games, and watched or taken part in drumming, singing, and powwow dancing.
McKenzie says it’s a great way to build community. In fact, that’s one of the primary reasons he’s here.
“This is an opportunity for all nations from all over the place to bring all their knowledge to this camp and share with one another,” he explains.
“I get to see my friends from down south, their grandparents and uncles and aunties. I get to see them again (and) it feels good to see them again, to help them…. It just brings people back together.”
While traditional knowledge and skills are the primary draw for attendees, it’s not the only one. The Gathering of Nations features gospel singing, a talent show, and Nation Building Task Force sessions. It also gives attendees a chance to hear and learn Cree and other Indigenous languages.
The latter is one of the most important for McKenzie, a Cree speaker himself. He’s tried to teach his children and grandchildren the language, but says it’s tough going.
Having the chance to meet other Cree speakers is another one of the reasons he was eager to visit. The other was a chance to learn from the elders who were present.
McKenzie remembers learning about animals and berry picking spots from his own grandparents. As a new grandfather himself, he recognizes the importance of passing on knowledge from generation to generation.
“When they (the elders) can’t do this anymore, it’s up to us, the next generation,” he says. “We have to try and pick as much knowledge up off them (as we can) so we can carry on.”
The PAGC Gathering of Nations continues on Friday with outdoor cooking demonstrations, arts and crafts demonstrations, and Nation Building Task Force sessions. The closing ceremonies are scheduled for 1 p.m.