Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Métis Days 2013

My people will sleep for one hundred years, but when they awake,
it will be the artists who give them their spirit back.
                                                                              ~ Louis Riel

June 6, 2013 was a day to remember in Regina Public Schools. For only the second time since 2009 the weather cooperated, and Métis Days was celebrated outdoors in beautiful Wascana Park. This year, 12 schools were invited to attend Métis Days – representing over 350 students from Grades 2 to 8! In order to participate, teachers formed dance clubs within their schools so students could learn the principles of Métis dancing. The organizing committee, chaired by Calvin Racette, Aboriginal Education Coordinator for Regina Public Schools, met after school hours on several occasions to plan the event and to prepare the materials. They did an outstanding job!

The morning of Métis Days consisted of literacy-based workshops which celebrated the Métis culture. Students participated in three grade appropriate workshops each. Options included Red River cart building; 

creating Métis pin flags; learning the sash and broom dances; fiddle and spoon playing;

storytelling with Elder Betty McKenna, and with artist and author, Leah Dorion; 

sash finger weaving; and creating Métis floral patterns. Many of the workshops were conducted by individuals of Métis ancestry, either current or former students of the Saskatchewan Urban Teacher Education (SUNTEP) program of the Gabriel Dumont Institute of Native Studies and Applied Research (GDI).

After enjoying a picnic lunch, the Regina Public School fiddlers lead the students and teachers in O Canada, followed by guest soloist, Arian Ross performing the Métis National Anthem. The fiddlers then entertained the crowd with some of their favourite tunes. The students attend Albert, Imperial, Kitchener and Wascana Community Schools and receive weekly fiddling lessons by Jonathan Ward. 

Following their toe-tapping melodies, the fancy footwork began with the George Lee Métis Jiggers performing a dance demonstration to warm up the crowd. 

All students had prepared for Métis Days by learning the Red River Jig with a minimum of 3 fancy steps, the Rabbit Dance and at least one First Change, the Métis Star.  As guest Métis fiddler, Tahnis Cunningham, and guitarist, Ray Bell, tuned their instruments, all 300+ students jumped to their feet to form the lines for the Rabbit Dance. It was great fun dancing en masse! 

Next was the competition for the Métis Star. Students from each class competed on our recently constructed jigging platform. The platform will be available to be used by other community groups for events for many years to come, thanks to our sponsors, SK Culture and GDI, and to Calvin for his hard work building the platform.  

The day ended the day with the most famous Métis dance of all – the Red River Jig.  There were three categories to the competition: Grades 6-8, Grades 4-5 and Grades 2-3. Students gathered on the jigging platform to compete under the watchful eyes of our judges – all experienced jiggers and SUNTEP graduates. Prizes of Métis sashes, pins and books were awarded to our champions, which they were so excited and proud to receive. Thank you, GDI, for your support with the prizes!

Métis Days 2013 was a wonderful event for Regina Public Schools. Many family and community members attended to support their children. It provided many benefits to our children, including having a lot of fun!  As Métis culture, literature and history were featured, the entire day promoted the Métis people. 

Upon conclusion, Calvin was approached by several people that attended. Elder Albert Robillard said that the event was fabulous and it went far beyond his expectations. He said that it made him feel proud of Regina Public Schools and the children.

Leah Dorion, an artist and published author of three acclaimed children’s books, said that she was absolutely amazed at how much effort and organization went into the event, and she really wished that her home town of Prince Albert could do something of this nature in their schools.

Sandy Pelletier, one of the workshop presenters, said that this was an absolutely fabulous day, and she was very honoured to be part of it.

Tahnis Cunningham, our guest fiddle player, said that this was an amazing day and she would be proud to work with us again in the future.

Calvin noted that these comments were completely unsolicited.  I will add that this was a day full of pride, joy, celebration and community. I am proud to be associated with Métis Days, and look forward to next year!

- Submitted by Heather Mazurak, Instructional Consultant, Regina Public Schools 

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