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Wanuskewin: celebrating First Nations culture

Wanuskewin is more than a park for all Native Americans

SASKATOON - Wanuskewin Heritage Park chief archeologist Ernie Walker says the 600-acre facility holds a significant place among First Nations, not only in the province but for all Native Americans in the country. That importance was highlighted as the country observed the first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation on Thursday.

The National National Day for Truth and Reconciliation is a federal statutory holiday that was declared by the government this year. It honours all Indigenous children who lost their lives in residential schools, the survivors, their families and communities.

“The history between the First Nations community, Native Americans in general, and your European communities, the colonial system has not always been a good one, as everyone knows, and residential schools were a part of that, but it's, much bigger,” Walker told

“So, Wanuskewin is about celebrating First Nations culture, in all aspects: art, environmental, the spiritual part of all of that. But it takes a much longer view. It's not about the last 100 years. It's about the last 12,000 years. And so, again, that longer view how this all came to be, is, I think critically important.”

Walker, who was among Wanuskewin’s founders, added the park also plays a bigger part toward achieving reconciliation and healing, and moving forward. “Wanuskewin is not just about the local community. It's not even just about the province. It's not even just about the country as a whole. Where we're headed is an international focus.”

“We're trying to bring our message: the importance of the environment, the importance of culture; all of these things, to a much larger audience. It's an education process. Wanuskewin always struggled, is it an education centre or is it a museum. What is it? It's all of those things together.”

He added that Wanuskewin uniqueness is how it all came together. “It's not a government facility at any level, the community built this. And that is unique right across the country, maybe even in North America. Wanuskewin is a beacon for other communities to recognize the importance of our First Nations community. The importance of the history that has not always been good, but if you look at that last 12,000 years: the perseverance and the imagination; all of it, is a wonderful story.”

Spirit of reconciliation

Saskatchewan New Democratic Party leader Ryan Meili, who joined the hundreds who visited the park on National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, told that seeing people spending Thursday’s federal statutory holiday in Wanuskewin is a site to see.

“It is a beautiful thing to see everyone wearing their orange shirts and hearing that spirit of reconciliation.”

“And we've been seeing that focus on Saskatchewan and across the country as people grapple with the history, the reality of what has going on in our country, and the horrors of the past. But the commitment to look at that unflinchingly and commit to a better future is truly inspiring.”

He added that the federal government, especially under Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, needs to do more.

“There’s some positive things. I do believe that there's a better attitude there than we had seen in some previous governments, but there are still serious problems. You can't talk about reconciliation and still be taking Indigenous kids to court, and that's what's going on.”

“So, this government needs to move beyond the nice words. Words are important, too, but they must move to action that really works to close the gap that continues to exist between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people in the country.”

He said that Thursday’s National Day for Truth and Reconciliation is a significant step in moving forward.

“Today is a start, having people come together and commit. But the action needs to be concrete. We need to look at the realities of where there are gaps in health and education and employment between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people.”

“We need a provincial government that commits to closing that gap. That invites the federal government, and First Nations and Métis leadership to the table, and together we work to handle the ongoing inequality that really is the result of the systemic racism that's at the root of residential schools.”

Meili also challenged Premier Scott Moe to also focus on issues about Indigenous Peoples in the province.

“Scott Moe and the Sask Party are not serious about reconciliation. They never speak in any meaningful way about the realities of the gaps that continue to exist between First Nations and Métis people.”

“Scott Moe's major record in interacting with Indigenous People is trying to kick them off the lawn of the legislature. His attitude, in recent days, trying to blame Northern and indigenous people for what's going on with COVID-19, has shown he's willing to play wedge divisive politics when he should be trying to bring people together.”

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