Alberta First Nations are reconnecting with traditional roles to better heal their communities

Three Chiefs of Frog Lake, Kehewin and Cold Lake - Greg Desjarlais, Trevor John and Kelsey Jacko (left to right) at the 'To Embrace and Reconnect our Traditional Roles' Conference held in Edmonton this month. Photo by Kinnukana.

By Kinnukana, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

(ANNews) – The To Embrace and Reconnect our Traditional Roles Conference took place from October 11-13, 2023, at the Delta Hotels Edmonton South Conference Centre in Edmonton, Alberta. Approximately two hundred participants from Alberta attended the event. The objective of the conference was to remind everyone that First Nations people have traditional roles to play that are important in the success of their lives, their families and communities.

Grey Eagle Cardinal and Gene Cardinal – Singing the Morning Song. Photo by Kinnukana.

The conference itself was steeped in traditional culture and provided a safe space for participants to openly share and learn from each other. It began with a Sunrise Ceremony and Pipe Ceremony to start in a good way. Each morning began with a beautiful Morning Song by Grey Eagle Cardinal and Gene Cardinal. There was a dedicated space available for participants to speak with an Elder and smudge if they were experiencing duress or triggers from any of the presentations.

The host Chief’s of Kehewin First Nation, Frog Lake and Cold Lake welcomed all the participants and opened the conference with inspiring words. Chief Trevor John of Kehwin First Nation said, “Use this time to network. Use this time to meet new folks and tell your story. We are here to heal. We are here to learn how to love and respect one another and our communities and our surroundings.”

Chief Greg Desjarlais of Frog Lake First Nation said, “I want to share, to each and every one of you, that you are beautiful and unique in your own way and that we all have our own journey. If it’s through ceremony, song, dance, the beadwork that we do. I just want to wish nothing but good things for each and every one of you.”

Chief Kelsey Jacko of Cold Lake said, “We have to reconnect to who we are, the prayers, and the language. We need to start working together. Everyday is a healing journey and talk is good. Talk does wonders.”

The Elders Panel included: Glen Youngchief, Doreen Moosepayo, Marie Moyah McLeod, Susan Quinney and Bernice Martial (left to right). Photo by Kinnukana.

One of the highlights of the conference was the Elders Panel on Traditional Parenting. The panel was facilitated by Dr. Lillian Gadwa-Crier. Participants heard wise advice by Glen Youngchief and Doreen Moosepayo of Kehewin Cree Nation, Marie Moyah McLeod and Susan Quinney of Frog Lake First Nation, and Bernice Martial of Cold Lake First Nation. The Elders provided advice on how parenting changed over the years and what can be done now to better raise children.

Elder Glen Youngchief reminded the participants of the seven sacred teachings: love, respect, wisdom, humility, truth, courage, and integrity (honesty) and how these should be used by parents in raising their children. He also talked about the importance of the pipe, sweetgrass and mother earth. He said that ‘our great grandparents, grandparents, and parents were put in residential school, but as we all know there was always something there to help us, save us in other words.’

Elder Doreen Moosepayo said, “Embrace humility, sharing knowledge, we need to get to know ourselves, honour ourselves first of all – before we can love, know or honour others. We need to revitalize the culture, teachings, way of life that the trauma of residential schools have tried to eliminate.”

Elder Susan Quinney, a Pipe Carrier and Sweat lodge Holder, reminded participants of the importance of language. She said that her mom and dad spoke Cree at home. It is important to hang on to what has been passed down to you.

Conference Coordinator and Former Kehewin First Nation Chief Brenda Van Guard. Photo by Kinnukana.

Dr. Lillian Gadwa-Crier reminded everyone that they should take that sacred responsibility to learn their language. She said that “it is in you. You are born with the language. If you believe in the teaching of our grandmothers, they say when you are born, you came to this world with the language, you were born with the values, you were born with the song and dance, you were born with the principles of nêhiyawêwin and it’s up to you to learn the language. You are an adult now; we can no longer blame our parents for not speaking to us in our language. We have to take that responsibility ourselves to learn our language.”

Elder and former Chief, Cold Lake and Treaty 6 Grand Chief, Bernice Martial said, “Give two minutes to a person who is suffering, who is thinking of suicide. Give them that two minutes. Listen, and do what you have to do to help.”

Participants were provided presentations on key topics of concern in communities, such as understanding childhood trauma, discrimination and lateral violence, bullying, and were provided information on how to overcome it, healing through movement, igniting power and healing strategies. Participants were reminded about the importance of kinship and ensuring young people know who they are related to early on and understand strong family ties.

Brenda Van Guard, Coordinator of the event, and former Chief of Kehewin First Nation, said, “The goal of this conference is for participants to take their learnings back to their communities, to their children and their Elders. It is about fostering healing and addressing issues that are happening on the reserves like abuse, alcohol and drugs addictions. We remind participants to embrace and reconnect to our traditional roles in order to heal our communities.”

In Cree, participants were reminded of Ahkameyimok – Don’t give up, keep trying, persevere all of you.

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