KAMSACK — Kamsack and the surrounding community witnessed an historic event as they came together to raise a teepee at the Kamsack Branch of the RCMP building.
The Sept. 28 event was to commemorate the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, on a day that also coincided with the 150th anniversary of the RCMP's presence in Canada. The event sought to honour residential school survivors and victims while promoting reconciliation.
Among those in attendance was Mayor Nancy Brunt, who participated in discussions about the collaborative effort behind the teepee raising, with the Yorkton Tribal Council and RCMP playing a crucial role.
Elder: encourage my children to look at the heart, not the colour of the skin
Elder Martha Quewezance addressed the audience, emphasizing unity, compassion, and love as essential values in community interactions. Drawing from her experiences in residential schools, she underscored the importance of understanding and empathy towards those carrying the weight of the past. Her heartfelt message resonated with attendees, serving as a reminder of the collective responsibility to create a better future for the younger generations.
“So these are the children, these little ones that are going to make the difference in their future that we need to pass on to carry our torch. They're going to carry our torch of loving compassion," Quewezance said. "They're going to carry that we live together as brothers and sisters in a community no matter what your colour is, no matter what your race is, no matter what your ethnic group is. And that's what we need to teach. We came from a community that was very divided because of our colours. And I for one, encourage my children to look at the heart, not the colour of the skin.”
Quewezance concluded her speech with a heartfelt prayer, expressing gratitude for the gathering, the RCMP's involvement, and the historic teepee-raising event. Her words underscored the significance of unity, compassion, and respect among community members.
Sergeant: RCMP commited to advancing reconciliation
Sgt. Jeff Stringfellow acknowledged that the event took place on treaty land, emphasizing the RCMP's commitment to recognizing past wrongs, forging partnerships with Indigenous nations, and advancing reconciliation.
“We respect and honour the treaties that were made on all territories. We acknowledge the harms and mistakes of the past and we are committed to move forward in partnership with indigenous nations in the spirit of reconciliation and collaboration. I'd ask you all to join me in a couple of moments of silence. The first one is going to be for constable Rick O'Brien. He was an RCMP officer who was killed in the line of duty Sept. 22 in British Columbia.
“Thank you, and we're also going to have a moment of silence and recognition of the victims and survivors of the past residential school systems.”
Keeseekoose Chief: What I see here today is togetherness
Chief Lee Kitchemonia of the Keeseekoose First Nation delivered an impassioned address, emphasizing unity, respect, and friendship among all community members.
“What I see here today is togetherness. People coming together to support our community. You know, a couple of weeks ago, we had an incident here in town [Kamsack]. The town people came together. There was a radical person that came in and the community showed the strength that it has to get that kind of ideology out of our community. That's just one example. I grew up here. I'm 51 years old, spent all my life in this community. I know a lot of people that I came up with; First Nations, non-First Nations I have good friends all over and I don't look at skin colour. I look at what's in people's heart.”
Mayor: building friendships with our neighbours
Mayor Nancy Brunt addressed the school children that attended the event with a smile, saying “How many of you have a box of crayons in your desk? Do those crayons get along. Do they fight? They don't fight, they get along. And that's the important message to remember from today, that we can all get along because we're all just another crayon in the box. So when you look to your right and you look to your left, do you see a friend? Look to the front and you look to the back and you see a friend. And that's the message that we should be taking from here today is that we can all be friends.”
She went on to address the adults in the audience saying, “We've learned through the years as adults, that we're not very good at being friends and so we have to work harder at it. The Town of Kamsack is working very hard reaching out to our First Nations neighbours and saying, can we be friends?
"That's what we want to do and as Chief Lee said a couple weeks ago we all reached out together as friends and told a radical person that you are not a friend and you are not welcome in our town. That type of person is not welcome in the Town of Kamsack, but gosh darn we really do welcome everyone else! We welcome all our neighbours from Cote, Key and Keeseekoose First Nation. We welcome you, we ask you to come in and shop in our stores, be part of our community. Because we sit on your land and you are always welcome.
"It's important to extend that hand of welcome to everyone that we meet. That's what the Town of Kamsack wants to do. We want you to feel welcome in our community. That's what our message is, is that each and every one of you are welcome. This is your town. Not just my town, it's our town. It belongs to all of us and we stand together to take care of it.”
Chief superintendent acknowledges role of residential schools
Chief Superintendent Tyler Bates highlighted the significance of the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation in honouring residential school survivors and victims. He stressed the importance of acknowledging historical truths and working collaboratively with Indigenous communities for a brighter future.
“Just a few remarks as you know, the federal statutory holiday, the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, is on Sept. 30. It's held each year to honour residential school survivors, their families and communities, and to ensure that there's public commemoration of the history and legacy of residential schools. It's estimated that more than 150,000 the First Nations, Métis and Inuit children attended a residential school in Canada. The system was operated by the federal government in partnership with Anglican, Catholic, Methodist, and Presbyterian churches, amongst others, aiming to assimilate Indigenous children into the dominant culture, separating them and isolating them from their communities and their traditions. The first church-run residential school opened in 1831 and the last residential school closed 27 years ago.
"1996 doesn't seem so long ago to me. It's very recent in our history here and that's when the last residential school closed here in our country.
“The Truth & Reconciliation Commission of Canada concluded that residential schools were a systemic government sponsored attempt to destroy indigenous culture and language and to assimilate Indigenous people. So they no longer existed as distinct people. National Day for Truth and Reconciliation falls on the same day as orange shirt day, and it's great to see a lot of orange shirts that people are wearing in the crowd here today.”
Poles of teepee convey values
Cory Cadotte, a member of the Cote First Nation, expressed gratitude for the diverse audience in attendance. As the Indigenous Cultural Liaison with the Yorkton Tribal Council, he emphasized the significance of sharing First Nations' culture and teachings with the broader community. He also highlighted the importance of Orange Shirt Day, a symbol of Indigenous visibility and acknowledgement.
The focal point of the presentation was the construction of a traditional teepee at the RCMP detachment. The speaker explained that the Cote First Nation traditionally lived in wigwams and roundhouses, with the teepee symbolically representing their homes. Each of the teepee's 15 poles carried a unique meaning, representing various values amongst different First Nations cultures. Cadotte mentioned that his father taught him four values.
“Each of those poles means something to somebody different because everybody has a different home than the person sitting next to them traditionally and culturally. Where I'm from, it was taught to me by my father Ross Cadotte. We're governed by four laws, who here has heard of the seven grandfather teachings? Well, in Cote we have four as taught to me by my father, which is love, humility, respect, and kindness.”
Attendees, including various children from the local schools participated in an interactive exercise, contributing their own values to the teepee, these included love, respect, kindness, courage, love again, honesty, and love once more.
“So right away we know what's important to our children. We heard it right from them. Honesty, love, kindness, respect, and courage. This is coming right from our kids. And that means something here today because that's going to go into our teepee.”
Cadotte used a creative story to explain the significance of treaties to children, emphasizing cooperation, respect, and living in harmony.
“Once upon a time, there were only squirrels in Canada. There were all kinds, brown flying ground, bushy tail, just to name a few. All of these squirrels looked after the land and were very happy with the lives they had. Across the ocean where the skunks were, they were not very happy and wanted more land as they were only making their own land smelly. These skunks came to the land of the squirrels and started to make everywhere stinky, the trees, the grass, the water. There were so many skunks that the squirrels couldn't get them to stop. So the squirrels started to throw nuts at the skunks. Of course the skunks didn't like that at all. They asked the squirrels to stop. The squirrels said ‘only if the skunks will quit making our land smell.’
“After many years of disagreements and thrown nuts, they planned a meeting with each other to put on paper, how they will promise to live together without bugging each other. Some of the things they put on there were to stop throwing nuts, stop making the land smell, help each other care for the land and to learn about each other. For as long as the sun shines, the grass grows and the water flows was how long they plan to honour this agreement. This is how the skunks and squirrels made a treaty, the end. So how many of you guys think making a treaty between the skunks and squirrels was a good thing? Is there anything else that you guys would put in the treaty?”
One of the children said “love, kindness, and respect,” to which Cadotte responded by saying,
“So do you guys hear that? Coming from our children? Our children know what it takes to get along and be humble. We can admit that we can learn off our own children and I'm talking to the adults here right now. We can pick a good example. Like the mayor said, a box of crayons doesn't fight, our children are pretty much a box of crayons. They can sit together, they can get along.”
The event concluded with an honour song performed by Ricky Kitchemonia before the teepee was finished. Attendees were then treated to various options of hotdogs, burgers, and fruit during the barbecue. The gathering was a historic moment for Kamsack and the surrounding areas, despite the grey weather the sun shone through as the event was reaching its end.