Spruce River Folk Festival returning with awareness of Sask. landless Treaty bands

The Strong Sisters take to the stage during the 2018 Spruce River Folk Festival. They’re also set to perform at this year’s event on Aug. 10. -- Jason Kerr/Daily Herald

The Spruce River Folk Festival north of Prince Albert is back after a three-year pause.

The cultural event aimed at awareness of Saskatchewan Treaty land issues is taking place on Saturday, Aug. 12, about 20 km north of the city at Spruce River Farm.

Ray Funk started hosting the annual event on his property back in 2009. He put a hold on the festival for three years because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We do work at both acknowledging the old story, but to move forward on these things, we need to get to know each other. We need to get better informed and we thought we could best do that by sharing our cultures,” he said.

The festival honours a 2006 memorandum of understanding (MOU) between the Young Chippewayan First Nation and Mennonite and Lutheran settlers in the Laird area, where Funk grew up.

The MOU was intended to repair the wrongs that occurred in 1897 – that’s when the Canadian government took the reserve land for settlement without consent or compensation.

The Mennonite and Lutheran settlers slowly started to realize these wrongdoings, and worked with the First Nation to move forward.

The story of the First Nation and settler communities working together is at the centre of the documentary Reserve 107: Reconciliation on the Prairies.

“People really appreciate a source of knowledge that they might not be able to get elsewhere and the publicity that the event gets all contribute to a deeper awareness,” said Funk.

“The work that’s been done in schools, lots of organizations, cities, tribal councils at educating the public has made a remarkable difference.”

Funk said the event is meant to both educate on landless Treaty bands, but also entertain those who attend with aspects of both cultures.

This includes both Indigenous and settler music, which starts at 1 p.m. This year’s performers are O’Kraut, Wilma Groenen, Violet Naytowhow & Lilly Naytowhowcon, The Strong Sisters, Larry Krause and Chief Bart Tsannie & Gabriel.

The festival will also include food, informational presentations and a silent auction.

Starting at 11:30, Treaty presentations involve Gary LaPlante, a descendent of the Young Chippewayan First Nation, with ‘Update on Reserve 107’ and Ed Benoanie with ‘The North of 60 Story.’

Proceeds from the festival go to the Stoney Knoll Fund at the Mennonite Central Committee.

In the past, these proceeds have supported the Reserve 107 documentary, Young Chippewayan genealogy research and, most recently, a story board display on Stoney Hill in the RM of Laird.

The Spruce River Folk Festival is organized in partnership with the Young Chippewayan First Nation, Saskatchewan’s Mennonite Central Committee and the Stoney Knoll Historical Committee.

Admission is $10 per person or $20 per family.