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Cree gathering renews traditions

Trina Gobert, Sweetgrass Writer, FROG LAKE FIRST NATION

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The Frog Lake First Nation hosted the fifth annual gathering of the Cree Nation, Nehiyaw Pimatisiwin or Cree Way of Living, from Aug. 15 to 27, and welcomed close to a thousand Cree people from across Canada.

The Cree Nation that spans from Northern Quebec into the Rocky Mountains of British Columbia stood in solidarity, asserting their distinct identity.

"This is a movement by the Cree people to unite. We are the largest tribe and we represent probably 51 per cent of the Canadian Aboriginal population," said chairman of the gathering Alex Ahenakew.

"The focus of the gathering was the Cree way of living. The gathering was to go back to the tradition, the customs and spirituality we had as a people. And we are trying to revive that because of the positive values that we have within our culture," he said.

The three-day gathering included a variety of Cree traditions, cultural values, ceremonies and teachings. Residential school issues, inherent rights and Cree prophecies were also addressed and discussed throughout the event.

"Basically we're looking at the history of our people in the past, the connection we have to the land, the spirituality and how we've lost it through the years because of the impacts and the laws that were imposed upon us," said Ahenakew. "It makes people look at their past, their own past, and where we stand today and where we are going to go into the future."

One of the main focuses of the event was teaching youth traditional values and encouraging them to identify with their Native heritage. Through a traditional horse dance ceremony youth had the opportunity to approach Elders to make a request for an Indian name.

"The Elders were told ahead of time about name giving of Cree names for the youth," said Larry Whiskey Jack, from Onion Lake First Nation, who requested a name. "They present five prints of different colors and tobacco and the sweetgrass to the Elders and than we had a sweat lodge ceremony."

Through spiritual guidance within the sweat lodge ceremony, the Elders contemplated appropriate names for the youth. Afterward the youth on horses circled a willow shelter which covered food that was being offered to request blessing from the spiritual ancestors or grandfathers of the past in regard to their Cree names.

"It's a really old ceremony that you don't see very much," said Whiskey Jack. "I'm waiting to find out what my name will be. I have to live up to that name. It's really important to me."

Ahenakew feels strongly about guiding the youth to their Native identity and feels that they are the key to a positive future for Aboriginal people.

"If you look at the social statistics we have as a people it is very sad. If you look at the percentage of Native peoples in institutions, the high rates of suicides our people have," said Ahenakew. "The drugs, the alcohol, the poverty, and on and on it goes. We have to come back to our traditions to have a healthy future."

The Unity Ride & Run 2000 participants stopped to join in the Cree gathering as they travelled from Penticton, B.C. to Joseph Bighead First Nation, Sask. to promote unity. Another group of Unity runners who ran from Winnipeg to Frog Lake ended their trek at the Cree Gathering and took part in the celebration.

"We run to unite the Cree to be a strong nation. To break the cycle of suicide, violence, and residential school," said the youth representative of the Winnipeg Unity runners, Darcy Linklater.

The Minister of Indian and Northern Affairs, Robert Nault, was a keynote speaker. During his visit the minister received a Cree name and bonnet. Comedian Dale Auger also attended and delighted the crowd with his humor.

"Things went good, really good," said Chief Thomas Abraham of the Frog Lake First Nation. "It went well. We had a good turn out."

As the gathering came to a close the Cree Nation prepared for next year's gathering to be held in Chisasibi, Que.

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