Friday, 28 June 2013

Alberta Adventures

By Lisa Dixon, 1st year MDP student

It’s been an exciting and busy first half of my summer field placement at Blue Quills First Nation College in St. Paul, Alberta.  It began with many new faces and names to remember as everyone at Blue Quills has welcomed me fully.  The first few weeks were filled with meetings, research, grant writing, and meeting a lot of new people.  Everyone has been great and gone out of their way to include me in campus and community events. 

But without a doubt the highlight so far has been the Annual Blue Quills Cultural Camp that took place May 27-31.  The week was full of people, ceremony, art, music, dance, food, and teachings.  Most of the work we were doing was put on hold, so Margaret and I could fully participate in the events of the week.  The usually quiet campus swelled, with well over a 100 extra people either staying in the dorms or camping on the Cultural grounds.  The highlights of the week for me were the ceremonies and the people.  I was able to meet a lot of different people over the course of the week, people who came from very different backgrounds.  But I learned something from every person I met; I was even reunited with someone I worked with in Winnipeg 3 years ago! There were several big ceremonies over the course of the week along with smaller teachings and other activities.  The first ceremony that I got to participate in was a Horse Dance.  On Wednesday there was a Bear Lodge ceremony.  The Bear Lodge is a type of a Sweat with four lodges, and one of the lodges was solely for women.  It was a beautiful experience hearing the teachings from a respected Elder in the community and a Past President of Blue Quills surrounded by strong women.
On Thursday, there was a gathering, The 4th Annual New Sun Gathering: A Call to Arts.  There was a Pipe Ceremony to start and then addresses from the two honored guests, Blackstone Actress Michelle Thrush and Alberta artist/writer Aaron Paquette.  Both Michelle and Aaron were fantastic and gave emotional and inspirational speeches about art in their own lives and how that has inspired activism and action.  Both have been involved in Idle No More, with Michelle involved in protests and organization and Aaron providing quite a bit of art work for the movement.  In the afternoon, Michelle gave a performance of her one-woman show, which was moving, funny and beautiful.  In the evening I participated in a Chicken Dance ceremony. The Chicken Dance went well into the night and resumed Friday morning and went into the afternoon.  We had a bit of break to rest up for the final ceremony of the Cultural Camp, a Yuwipi Ceremony that took place starting at dusk.  The ceremony began with a Sweat Lodge and following this we entered an area that was covered completely in order for the room to be completely dark.  The ceremony lasted about three hours and was extremely powerful.  This ceremony was the highlight of the Cultural Camp for me.  

Some may wonder what this Cultural Camp has to do with development, but there are different principles of development that are displayed on one of the walls here at Blue Quills and one says, 

 “Authentic Development is Culturally Based: Healing and development must be rooted in the wisdom, knowledge, and living processes of the culture of the people.”

Participating in ceremony is the basis for development and I was lucky enough to have participated in multiple ceremonies and learned from dozens of people about the foundation of Indigenous development.

Lisa Dixon (L), Michelle Thrush (C), and Margaret Lewis-John (R)

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