Sunday, May 24, 2009

Aboriginal Gathering & Pow Wow: Honoring Our Elders

Once again the Peace Region Aboriginal Interagency Committee is hosting the Aboriginal Gathering and Pow Wow. It's being held on June 13 and 14 in Peace River at a new location--the Twelve Foot Davis Ball Park.

With the move to this new location, we expect a few growing pains but are hopeful that this beautiful natural amphitheatre will be a great location for this year's event and those in the future.

I encourage everyone to come and see the wonderful dancing, singing, drumming, Metis fiddling and jigging, displays, food and more. It's a full two days of celebration of Aboriginal culture.

This is an alcohol and drug free event that is very family-oriented and includes children's activities coordinated by the Town's Community Services Department.

One of the aspects that I especially enjoy is the presentation of blankets and feathers to people of Aboriginal heritage who have graduated from high school in the past year. And this year, graduates from college and universities are also being honoured. As well, Northlands School Division is celebrating its 25th anniversary and this milestone is being celebrated.

The AIC is seeking volunteers to help with a variety of tasks to make the event go smoothly. If you can contribute a few hours, contact Dianne Lavoie at 780-618-9268 ( or Tracy Zweifel at 780-624-2443 ( to find out where your help is most needed.

For more information about the Gathering and Pow Wow, contact Christina Hogaboam at 780-624-6316 ( or Dennis Whitford at 780-624-6367 (

Sisters in Spirit Walk

The very successful Sisters in Spirit Walk, an activity of the Aboriginal Interagency Committee, was held again this year in Peace River on May 19. This walk, with others across the country, honours Aboriginal women who are missing or murdered.

A large number of people--Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal, men, women and children--gathered at the mall and then walked, with RCMP in red serge in the lead, down Main Street and towards Riverfront Park. Since the weather was cold and unsettled, organizers decided to move the event from the park to the basement of Athabasca Hall.

People were smudged as they entered and handed a tobacco pouch and then formed a circle. Elder Helen Piper offered an opening prayer and then the names of missing and murdered women were read aloud. The good news was that there were no names added to the list for this year's event, but there were still 40 names to read. An honour dance was performed by two male and three female dancers in traditional regalia.

Greetings by Mayor Callioux on behalf of the Town, Brandy Mitchell of Region 6 Metis Nation of Alberta, and Kitty Brown from the Sagitawa Friendship Centre were followed by keynote speaker Linda Roy from Awo Taan Healing Lodge in Calgary. Linda spoke of her personal and professional experience with violence against women.

After a beautiful flute interlude by Danya Auger, we heard testimonials and remembrances from family members of four missing or murdered women: Arlene Thunder, Jessica Noskey, Rene Lynn Gunning, and Rhonda Whitehead. Others were invited to speak and a number of people from the audience chose to do so.

Elder Helen Piper offered a closing prayer and then the group did an innovative round dance in a very small space (so much easier to do outside!). I really enjoy these dances and appreciate how they join people together with the singing and drumming. After the dance we had a social time with coffee and bannock in the Anglican Church basement.

The evening was emotional and a reminder of the terrible legacy that has resulted from colonization. The Sisters in Spirit Walk offers all of us an opportunity to bring attention to the continuing problem of violence against women--Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal--and to remember and honour the memory of the murdered and missing women as well as to stand in solidarity with their families and the Aboriginal community. It's a privilege to take part.