Métis culture celebrated at new office and cultural space

Michael Oleksyn/Daily Herald Sherry McLennan (centre) is surrounded by people who attended the grand opening as she cuts the ribbon on the new Cultural Gathering Place on Friday.

The Western Region 2 of the Métis Nation—Saskatchewan has a new home to celebrate their culture following a ribbon cutting ceremony on Friday.

The new office, located on Central Avenue across from the Northern Lights Casino, is more than an office, Western Region 2 regional director Sherry McLennan said. It is also a Cultural Gathering Place.

“We didn’t have that at our other office just because it was so small, but now we have an opportunity to hold all of our events here, (and) to be able to assist more citizens in different things.

“We have the capacity now to be able to hold community events and partner up with the city and the YWCA and the police.”

The building will still have office space for administrative tasks, but McLennan said they wanted more than that.

“We basically want a place where people know that that’s the Métis building,” she explained. “That’s where you go when you want Métis services or Métis stuff. We are going to have a flag on top of the building for the roof and we are going to get a better sign.”

McLennan hopes the building will give people a sense of belonging and identity, where they can walk inside and “feel like it’s their second home.”

The region plans to host craft classes, jigging classes, and other cultural events. McLennan said it will also be a place where people can come heal from past trauma.

“Our people have been hurt in more ways than one and (the office) allows for that healing to begin,” she explained. “They have a place they can call their own and somewhere where they can trust.”

McLennan added that the building will serve more than just Métis people. She said the Prince Albert Teachers’ Association will hold their meetings here, as will the Aboriginal Headstart program. The Ministry of Social Services will also do some training on site.

McLennan said the old office was familiar to everyone, and had previously served as the office for the Gabriel Dumont Institute. However, she said they needed a new space if they wanted to expand.

“It just kind of made sense to go to that office,” she explained. “We have outgrown (the old space) so much. Now we have this big space and we can do things for the youth and do things for families and Elders and everyone.”
Elder Max Morin gave the opening prayer on Saturday, and Mayor Greg Dionne brought greetings from the City of Prince Albert. There were also impromptu speeches by Sergeant Lisa Simonson of the Prince Albert Police Service, Donna Brooks of the YWCA and Richard Ahenakew of the Northern Light Casino.

Michael Oleksyn/Daily Herald The Northern Prairie Dancers performed during the ceremony to celebrate the new Cultural Gathering Place on Friday.

Tim Dyck performed the Métis national anthem and more music in the afternoon. There was also a cake and tours of the building.

Métis Nation president Glen McCallum was scheduled to appear but was not present for the ceremony.

The dancers for the event were the Northern Prairie Dancers, who jigged and invited members of the crowd for a jigging lesson. McLennan said it would be great to host youth dance lessons at the building as a way to bring back traditional Métis culture.

“When I was young and we went to a wedding, everybody was up dancing and everything,” she said. “Now our kids don’t even know who each other are.”

Before the ribbon cutting there was greetings from Youth Representative Cody Demerais.

The process to open the building began in July. Since then it has been significantly remodeled.

“It was Home Hardware before and then it sat vacant for a long time, so we made a deal with the people and asked if we could turn it into this,” McLennan said.

The building also had to be rezoned from commercial to use for a non-profit.

“You can’t tell it was a lumber yard. There was a lumber yard outside too. We have a fenced in compound there with some storage spaces,” McLennan said.

McLennan herself is pleased to have the building up and running.

“It really hits my heart because it allows us Métis people to just get to know who we are as Métis people.”