‘The powwow is … a human thing’

Herald file photo. Victor Thunderchild leads the opening ceremonies for Carlton Comprehensive High School's Indigenous Day on Sept. 27, 2019. Thunderchild was recognized for his work at an Outstanding Indigenous Educator by the Canadian Teachers’ Federation

Carlton Indigenous Day encourages students to take pride in identities

Carlton Comprehensive High School in Prince Albert hosted its second annual Indigenous Day celebration on Friday.

According to Principal Jeff Court, approximately 60 per cent of the school’s students identify as Indigenous people.

Staff felt it was important to hold an event that encourages students to embrace their roots. They chose the date so it would be a transition into Orange Shirt Day on Monday, which is a reconciliation movement recognizing residential school victims.

Master of Ceremonies Howard Walker explained that smudging is meant to purify the body and that the sound of the drum is like a heartbeat.

“It’s always good to share our experiences instead of (comparing) our differences. The powwow is not an Indian thing. It’s a human thing,” he said to the crowd of students.

Bonnie Vandale is a teacher at Carlton and was one of the organizers of Indigenous Day. The event consisted of a powwow, several vendors and music by Donny Parenteau and Dean Bernier.

Fiddler Donny Parenteau plays at Carlton Comprehensive High School’s Indigenous Day on Sept. 27, 2019. (Jayda Noyes/Daily Herald)

“We want students to feel pride in themselves and in their culture and also I think identity is very important,” said Vandale.

“You need to know who you are and I’ve taught a lot about that in my classes, about identity and where I come from and who are my parents and what’s my nationality.”

The opening ceremonies and the pow wow took place outside. Vandale was pleased so many people braved the chilly weather, but said it likely reduced the students’ engagement in those particular activities.

Inside, however, plenty of students took the time to browse the vendors while fiddle music wafted in the air.

Students Destiny Lachance and Thayne Clarke were set up at a table displaying traditional healing remedies, such as sweetgrass and sage. They picked the plants themselves as part of their class on land-based learning.

Clarke said he enjoys the class because it gets students out of the classroom: “It’s during the school day. You get to leave the environment and explore what else is out there.”

Lachance agreed, adding that she enjoys learning about the topic with others rather than on her own.

“We get more of an understanding of what they are and what they’re used for rather than learning on your own because they explain it more to you,” she said.

Lachance explained that you can drink an infusion of sweetgrass for a cough or sore throat. You can also use it as an eyewash.

Court said the event’s message of taking pride in your identity applies to all cultures, not just Indigenous culture.

“It allows our kids to connect in a way that maybe they haven’t been able to before. My favourite part of this is just the community building aspect and pulling the community together to celebrate what culture is,” he said.

Carlton Comprehensive High School Principal Jeff Court speaks at opening ceremonies for Indigenous Day on Sept. 27, 2019. (Jayda Noyes/Daily Herald)

Carlton Comprehensive High School is part of the Following Their Voices initiative, which is a Saskatchewan education strategic plan to improve the graduation rate among Indigenous students.

According to the Following Their Voices website, about 39 schools, 570 teachers and over 14,000 students are involved in the initiative.