BATTLEFORD — There was a point in time when Indigenous Peoples were not permitted to speak their native language or express their feelings through songs and dances, and their ceremonies and traditions were banned by law.
That’s why for Keyhew Preston-Gopher and Alvin Baptiste the first National Indigenous Peoples Day celebration on Thursday in Battleford is meaningful to all First Nation communities as they come together and celebrate their culture.
“For me, the most important thing is coming together in unity as Indigenous communities surrounding the Battlefords, especially given the history that has taken place in this town. I see attempts towards reconciliation, to mend relationships with Indigenous communities,” said Preston-Gopher, a youth and mental awareness advocate.
The Nehiyaw Cree from Saulteaux First Nation told SASKTODAY.ca he believes that in every First Nation community, National Indigenous Peoples Day is celebrated every time they gather.
“At the same time, for me, it is very important for us to get together and be proud of who we are. This is just one day, but every day is National Indigenous Peoples Day for us. Every day we celebrate together, we have ceremonies, powwows and we come together in celebration like this often. So, for us, it’s not just one day. For us, we celebrate every day and every day is National Indigenous Peoples Day.”
Preston-Gopher also encourages non-Indigenous people to join them in gatherings like this so they can learn more about the cultures and traditions passed on to them by their elders and other knowledge keepers of various First Nations communities and tribal bands.
“Finally, we can come together as Indigenous Peoples. That’s important to us. Not only Indigenous Peoples but also non-Indigenous so they can learn and recognize the different cultures, heritage, languages and beliefs of all Indigenous communities,” said Preston-Gopher.
“A lot of non-Indigenous people, believe that we all share the same cultural beliefs and we share the same heritage. That is not the case. We have many different cultural practices, a lot of different languages as per tribe or First Nation. We’re all different but yet we were so alike when we come together.”
Baptiste, a member of the Red Pheasant Cree First Nation of the Battleford Agency Tribal Chiefs, said celebrations and gatherings that highlight Indigenous traditions and culture are important to their youth and building relationships with non-Indigenous communities.
“It’s for our children, to make them understand about First Nations culture and what it means to be an Indigenous People. To make them understand who we are that had inhabited these lands for thousands of years,” Baptiste said.
“It is also to develop friendships. Building a bridge for us to come together. That we are all equal in this world and there’s nobody higher than the next person. To bring balance to every community — Indigenous and non-Indigenous — by understanding each other.”
He added that educating the younger generation would break the barriers between Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities to foster understanding and unity.
“We should start with our children, Indigenous and non-Indigenous. Letting them come and see our culture. This is the first event [National Indigenous Peoples Day] in Battleford. Hopefully, would continue even if we are no longer here.”
Baptiste said events that highlight Indigenous cultures and traditions are important in bringing different communities together to better understand each other and build friendships.
“We must form alliances and work together for our nation and our country. The purpose of it all is to enjoy life and to be happy. That’s the whole thing about it, to share knowledge and understand each other. We all experience ups and downs, but at the end of the day we all have to get along.”
The Battlefords MLA Jeremy Cockrill, Saskatchewan Treaty Commissioner Battleford Mayor Ames Leslie and North Battleford Mayor David Gillan were some of the officials who attended the celebration.