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Pipe ceremony brings together Aboriginal and Catholic faiths
Aboriginal education has moved into a new stage for the Edmonton Catholic school district.
A pipe ceremony held in a ceremonial room at the Sacred Heart Centre on March 10 brought together members of the Council of Elders, a special committee of the district’s board of trustees, and Archbishop Richard Smith and Bishop David Motiuk from the Catholic Archdiocese of Edmonton.
“The ceremony is groundbreaking. An Archbishop in Edmonton has never participated in a pipe ceremony before,” said Betty Lafferty, manager of the council. “We are educating not only our children and our families, but also our community, that Native spirituality and Catholic faith have many things in common.”
“Today, for me, was an opportunity to encounter the spirituality of Native people and celebrate and praise God,” said Motiuk, who was new to the pipe ceremony.
Prior to the ceremony, the council met with the archbishop and bishop to discuss the council’s role within the district and learn about practices like the pipe ceremony.
“Bishop Motiuk and I have been seeking to understand Native ways more,” said Smith. “It’s important to understand how Native practices are consistent with our teachings.”
Established in 2008, the council’s objective is to provide guidance and share cultural knowledge with school trustees, district leadership, staff and students. The council is comprised of Elders from First Nations, Métis and Inuit communities throughout western Canada as well as other respected community members. As part of their role, the Elders provide outreach to schools regarding protocols, ceremonies, and cultural and spiritual teachings.
In February, the council hosted a professional development day for teachers to learn about Aboriginal history and traditions. This summer, the council will run a cultural camp for Cree language students to learn about the rites of passage and support their transition from junior high into high school. The council will also provide support for a cultural exchange in May when junior high students from Edmonton visit students from Quebec.
In addition to events, the council also oversees the Nehiyaw Pimatisiwin Cree Language and Culture Program for grades K-10 students. Currently, the program is offered at Ben Calf Robe elementary/junior high, Our Lady of Peace elementary, St. Francis of Assisi elementary and St. Joseph high school.
“The council has been well-received within our schools. They recognize there is a group of Elders that have the knowledge and wisdom and are able to bring forward the teachings of Nehiyaw Pimatisiwin,” said Lafferty.
For the council members, the greatest reward is seeing Aboriginal students experience success at school.
“We do it for the kids, so they aren’t afraid to go to school,” said Francis Alexis, a member of the council and Elder who led the pipe ceremony. “When I was younger, I was afraid to go to school because it was a time when Native people weren’t proud to be Native. Times are changing and now we are past that. The change is good.”
Photo Caption: Participaing in the pipe ceremony (from left): Elder’s council member Francis Alexis, Bishop David Motiuk, trustee Cindy Olsen, member Jack White, member Betty Lafferty, member Jerry Wood, member Jeanette Lean, member Father Jim Holland and Archbishop Richard Smith.
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