Culture Days honours the Indigenous identity

"People get misled about the Indigenous world. It is about teaching, not just cooking some bannock."

Phillip Campiou (in hat) instructs Stony Plain residents and visitors on how to make bannock while sharing indigenous stories during Alberta Culture Days celebrations Saturday, Sept. 28, 2019 at the Stony Plain Public Library. Evan J. Pretzer

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Indigenous Canadians can struggle to showcase their cultures to the country.

Alberta Culture Days in Spruce Grove and Stony Plain are working to change this.

The annual event came back into the Tri-Region this past weekend and honoured local, Albertan and Canadian culture. It offered free activities for residents including painting, Christine Hanson’s The Cremation of Sam McGee at Horizon Stage and stories and bannock with Phillip Campiou at the Stony Plain Public Library.

Campiou has been a fixture of the celebration for a number of years. He sees it as a chance to move beyond the lack of knowledge or stereotypes some may have about the native Canadian community.

“From my perspective it is about bringing awareness,” the Woodland Cree and Driftpile Cree Nation member said. “People get misled about the Indigenous world. It is about teaching, not just cooking some bannock.”

A 2018 poll found nearly 40 per cent of non-native citizens had never been to a reserve. A further combined 68 per cent of those surveyed had no interactions with Indigenous people or only saw them impersonally in public places. An additional 48 per cent only knew the basics about Indigenous issues.

Sidney Tancarre puts the finishing touches on his painting during Alberta Culture Days celebrations at the Spruce Grove Public Library Saturday, Sept. 28, 2019.Evan J. Pretzer Evan J. Pretzer / jpg, SB

Work done by Campiou falls in line with recommendations from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada that formed in the wake of the residential schools settlement in 2005. It urged government officials to “develop a framework for Canadian heritage and commemoration” and to back native rights generally.

Data suggests some aspects carried out after the commission issued their recommendations are having a positive impact. A 2016 poll from the Environics Institute for Survey Research out of Toronto showed 22 per cent of non-native Canadians pay a great deal of attention to news about Indigenous issues. This has increased from a total of 12 per cent recorded in 2009.

Other aspects have not been as welcomed. An Angus Reid poll released last month found more than half of Albertans sampled thought land acknowledgments did little to help with reconciliation and relations with Canada’s Indigenous groups.

Stony Plain resident Giselle Huot visited Campiou during the weekend events. She said the celebration and what he does are important because they help people avoid past failures and look forward to the future.

Christine Hanson performs during the Cremation of Sam McGee event Saturday, Sept. 28, 2019 at Horizon Stage in Spruce Grove. It was part of Alberta Culture Days celebrations for the year.Evan J. Pretzer Evan J. Pretzer / jpg, SB

“We need to learn about the history to not make the same mistakes,” Huot said. “We need to remember what it was like for earlier generations. Where we are going is so different than where we came from.”

The bannock making took place in a tipi. Campiou worked to correct the historical record while there.

“Woodland Cree are not indigenous to the tipi,” he said. “It was not part of our life. We borrowed design from the southern tribes. Just because we have braids and brown skin does not mean we are all the same.”

Culture Days will come and go and Campiou may not always return. For those who want to honour Indigenous culture and identity, the opportunity to do so will always be there in the community each year.

“We do like to take into account our indigenous cultures to make sure the people who were here prior to us get celebrated,” Spruce Grove Public library assistant Courtney Entner said. “Along with settlers as well.”

epretzer@postmedia.com

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