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Indigenous Peoples Day bridging gaps to healing

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Hatters of all ages and cultural backgrounds joined together Monday night to celebrate Indigenous Peoples Day under the Saamis Tepee.

The event included musical entertainment from singers to drummers to fiddlers, Indigenous dancers, artists and makers who brought their wares to be sold, as well as food trucks and treats, some of which donated proceeds to the Miywasin Friendship Centre, which was integral in planning and executing the celebration.

Chasity Cairns, counsellor at Miywasin, says the planning of the event was last minute due to the changing COVID restrictions, but they felt it was important to proceed.

“After hearing about the 215, and the truth and reconciliation, the past year has been pretty hard on people,” said Cairns. “It’s our music and culture that heal us, so we want to provide more opportunities for our community.”

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Brenda Mercer, who also introduced herself with her spirit name, Wacungu Waste Win, which means Good Sweetgrass Woman, expressed her gratitude to the many individuals and vendors who helped with the event.

“Most of all, I want to thank each and every one of you for coming out tonight because you’re important. We want to connect with you and we’re so happy that you could make time to come this evening,” Mercer said to the crowd.

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“I think it’s part of Canadian history,” said Mercer. “It’s not an Indigenous issue, when those children were found, you know, we’re all humans, and I think that touched everybody’s heart.”

Verna Buffalocalf was one of the vendors there. She was selling earrings, lanyards and ribbon skirts, homemade by herself and her sister Patsy Buffalocalf.

“It’s a learning experience for non-Aboriginal people, for them to see what we can do, to promote our culture and traditions.”

Cairns spoke to the crowd and explained the word “Indigenous” is a very broad term for a large number of groups and tribes.

She said, “We’re learning as well. We could learn our whole life about just our own tribe and still not know everything.”

Medicine Hat police chief Mike Worden was also in attendance.

“We brought orange ribbons that our officers will wear for the next 30 days, it’s in celebration of Indigenous Peoples Day and in memory of the 215 children that were found in BC,” said Worden.”We’re honoured to be here. The Elders from Miywasin Centre have agreed to bless and smudge (the ribbons) for us.”

Many words were spoken Monday to foster a feeling of unity, including those of Drew Barnes, MLA for Cypress-Medicine Hat.

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“Today, as we recognize the contributions of First Nations, Inuit and our Métis people who helped build this incredible country, let us remember, all these cultures have offered tremendous values for our families and our communities,” Barnes said as he addressed the crowd. “The ability and willingness to adopt the best of other cultures is one of the attributes that make humanity unique. I truly believe that celebrating these values is the first step towards making the world, and Cypress-Medicine Hat, better for all of our children.”

Carol Syrette, youth development program manager at Miywasin, shared some of her thoughts around healing.

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“From my experience, learning about residential schools really helped me to view how that experience impacted our people and continues to impact our people. And really for me, that’s when my personal healing started, so I think that we need to hear more of those stories from our shared history. For me, what has been really impactful is hearing the elders talk about forgiveness and moving forward with kindness.”

Cairns later remarked on our shared history. “Canada was built on Indigenous people…” said Cairns. “Everything is intertwined and it’s so important moving forward that we work together. We can’t change the past but we can change the future. Open hearts, open minds is exactly what our elders say that we need to have.”

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