Dancer Shamaya Standingready said it feels good to receive plaudits for a strong performance, but that’s not the reason she’s dressed in full regalia.
Standingready is one of dozens of dancers who visited Joseph Custer Reserve in Prince Albert on Tuesday for the first of three days of National Indigenous Peoples Day festivities. She’s grateful to the opportunity to dance, but says it’s not about her or her performance.
“You’re dancing for the people who can’t dance,” she says. “You’re dancing for our ancestors.”
For elders like Edward Stonestand, it’s incredible to see festivals like this one. As a child, Stonestand was actively discouraged from speaking Cree, to the point where school teachers would bang his head against the chalkboard to keep him quiet. At the time, his mother told him to learn English. On Tuesday, he attended festivities at Joseph Custer Reserve where cultural traditions like speaking Cree were encouraged and embraced.
“Being here today is just a positive thing for the outcomes of the community, especially Prince Albert,” he said. “It’s such a hard place for a lot of (people). Trying to bring back our culture is something I strive for.”
Tuesday’s ceremony includes more than just dancing, singing, and drumming. Attendees can learn land-based skills like drying to smoking meet or setting and checking a trap.
Stonestand said drugs and alcohol are significant problems for youth today. He sees cultural events like this one as a way to lead them to a better life.
“It’s really hard,” he said. “It’s a way to try and get a hold of them. It’s been really a good thing.
“It’s a cycle we’re trying to break,” he added. “It’s not being prejudice. It’s not being racist. It’s just something we’ve lost through the years, and want to bring back. It’s the way we used to live, the way we used to handle things.”
Stonestand said he’d like to see Tuesday’s ceremonies install pride and self-respect in youth today. Across town, the organizers of the National Indigenous Peoples Day event in Kinsmen Park have similar feelings.
“If anyone knows the history of Canada, they know that Indigenous people have not had the best end of the stick,” said Janet Carriere, the executive director of the Prince Albert Indian Métis Friendship Centre. “For many years, a lot of Indigenous people were ashamed to be Indigenous, and now I feel we’ve come far enough that it’s okay to be Indigenous. You can be proud and hold your head up high.
“I know there’s much more work to be done, but when I look back, we’ve come quite a way.”
The Friendship Centre co-hosted Tuesday’s Kinsmen Park ceremony with the Prince Albert Urban Indigenous Coalition. The event included a tipi raising, a pipe ceremony, a march from City Hall to Kinsmen Park, and an afternoon of singing, dancing and drumming.
After going without an in-person ceremony for two years due to COVID, Carriere said it was great to be back outdoors.
“It’s amazingly exciting,” she said. “It’s so wonderful to be back in the park, to hear the drum … and to see the dancers and the people here to celebrate the day, it’s just really, really amazing.”