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Indigenous Peoples’ contributions to Canada celebrated

A dancer from the Mountain Cree Smallboy Camp mesmerizes onlookers with a traditional performance during National Indigenous Peoples Day at Robson Park on June 21. | J.Stockfish photo

Jason Stockfish |

Hundreds of residents and visitors gathered in Robson Park on June 21 to celebrate National Indigenous Peoples Day on Treaty 6 and Treaty 8 land.

The contributions of Indigenous peoples to Canada were recognized by representatives of Parks Canada and the Municipality of Jasper.

Emceeing the celebrations was Mark Young, Indigenous Relations Manager with Parks Canada.

Young’s dad jokes and friendly demeanor brought a welcome lightheartedness to the afternoon.

Speaking on behalf of Parks, the federal entity that forced the first peoples from this land when the government created Jasper Forest Reserve in 1907, was David Argument, acting superintendent of Jasper National Park.

“This is a day to recognize the many languages, cultures and immeasurable contributions, both past and present, that First Nations, Inuit and Metis people have made to Canada,” he said.

“On this day, and throughout National Indigenous History Month, we reflect on the vital contributions that Indigenous peoples have made to the identity, culture and landscapes of our Park, our province, and our country.”

More than 25 Indigenous communities representing six different language families from Alberta and British Columbia have worked alongside Jasper National Park “to build meaningful relationships that continue to inform and to guide how we interact with and steward these lands,” Argument stated.

“We acknowledge their stewardship of and the enduring connection to this place that we call Jasper National Park,” he said.

The confirmation of unmarked graves at the sites of former residential schools is a painful reminder of the “devastating legacy of colonialism and systemic racism in Canada,” he added.

“In response to our growing awareness of these impacts, I’d like to emphasize Parks Canada’s commitment to advancing truth and reconciliation to renew our relationship with Indigenous peoples and to try to ensure a lasting resolution so that history is not forgotten.”

Jasper Mayor Richard Ireland spoke on behalf of the municipality.

“Jasper acknowledges accountability to address the ongoing impacts of colonization that continue to affect Indigenous peoples.”

Ireland explained that the municipality has established an inclusion, diversity and equity committee with continued efforts to address the calls to action set out in the Truth and Reconciliation Report that applies to municipalities.

The day before, Ireland and Stoney Nakoda elder John Wesley raised the Every Child Matters flag at the Jasper Fire Hall in recognition of past atrocities committed by Canadian institutions and individuals toward Indigenous peoples.

“Yesterday was a day to be reminded, to reflect, to renew resolve for a more just future,” Ireland said.

“It was a day intended to have us acknowledge the painful past, to better prepare us for today, National Indigenous Peoples Day, a day devoted to the celebration of Indigenous pride and Indigenous culture.”

The mayor explained that National Indigenous Peoples Day is also a day “to focus on the abundant positive parts of our past relationship (and) to recognize and to applaud the varied and valuable contributions First Nations, Inuit and Metis (people) have made to our shared heritage, our shared history and our shared land.”

“We are all mountain people…happy to share the peace, the beauty and the spirituality of these valleys, rivers, ridges and peaks,” Ireland said.

“We recognize as well that the early European explorers in these territories relied upon the knowledge, the skill and the generosity of local and regional Indigenous peoples not only for guiding purposes but for their survival.”

One such explorer who relied on the wisdom and survival skills of the Stoney people was Mary Schäffer, who was guided to Maligne Lake by Samson and Leah Beaver in 1908.

Those European travellers ascribed Indigenous names such as Athabasca, Kerkeslin and Poboktan to waterways, mountains and mountain passes.

“Today, we celebrate our shared heritage, our shared history, our shared home, and most importantly, our shared future. A future made possible through reconciliation,” the mayor said.

After Mayor Ireland finished speaking, Wyane Smallboy-Wesley addressed those who had gathered.

“We are all mountain people. We live in the mountains. We play in the mountains. We sleep in the mountains. And we share stories and we dance.”

“Let’s celebrate this day with kindness and love in our hearts to be who we are as human beings,” Smallboy-Wesley added.

“We all speak a different language but we all love to sing and dance so let’s do what we do best; share and care for one another.”

After Smallboy-Wesley concluded, drummers and grass dancers brought the crowd together with soothing and healing performances. 

In conversation prior to the day’s celebrations, the Stoney Nakoda elder offered these words of wisdom.

“In the opening prayer today, I’ll ask our Creator for good health and a good future.”

He explained that focusing on the individual rather than what is best for the community creates animosity and the anger only festers and grows from such selfishness.

“If you don’t let go of your anger, you’ll never change. Trying to hurt people is not the answer.”

One must possess a peaceful understanding of themself before they can empathize and sympathize with others, Wesley offered.

“That way you have better communication and understanding and you can find a way of moving ahead in a good manner,” he said.

“If you go ahead full of anger, you won’t be successful. If you understand yourself first, then you can understand others.”

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