SASKATOON — École St. Gerard School students, staff and community held a Treaty 6 flag-raising ceremony to recognize progress along their journey of learning about treaties and the need for reconciliation.
Community leaders from the Roman Catholic Diocese of Saskatoon, the Saskatoon Tribal Council, the Central Urban Métis Federation Inc., the Office of the Treaty Commissioner, and the City of Saskatoon joined Greater Saskatoon Catholic Schools leaders and the Catholic school community for the celebration on March 20.
The process of planning the special event gave school staff and the school community an opportunity to grow in knowledge of treaty relationships, according to organizers.
“There was a realization within our community that we needed to know more about this to move forward, and we are able to bring in the expertise of our elders and knowledge keepers to come in and guide us, to share, and to walk along with us in the journey,” said Cristin Dorgan Lee, a teacher who has been instrumental in the process. Other members of the team were Lisa Evans, Annette Finstad and Principal Gisele Jean-Bundgaard.
“From a Catholic perspective, we incorporated the act of reconciliation — with ourselves, others, and with God — in making sure this is the best world,” said Dorgan Lee. “We undertook studying and learning more about treaties. We brought in speakers to share their knowledge of treaties and how we can grow in understanding of our own treaty relationships.”
The celebration opened with a prayer in Cree by Elder Reg Bugler of Red Pheasant Cree Nation, and in English by Myron Rogal, an alumnus of St. Gerard School who now serves as co-ordinator of the Office of Justice and Peace in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Saskatoon.
St. Gerard students sang the national anthem in French. Students in the fiddle program at St. Michael Community School (which Dorgan Lee also teaches), played the Métis National Anthem. Also participating in the celebration were flute players from St. Frances Cree Bilingual School and the St. Frances Wolves Drum Group, who accompanied St. Gerard students in singing a Treaty 6 song.
Delvin Kanewiyakiho, of Little Pine First Nation, who serves as GSCS First Nations and Métis cultural consultant, described the preparation that went into the day. “This is really a big deal for us, because we are all treaty people,” he told the school assembly.
Kanewiyakiho burned sage in a ceremony to bless the Treaty Six flag, before slowly raising the flag in four stages on a pole in the gymnasium, accompanied by the St. Frances Wolves Drum Group, and singers from St. Gerard School.
“You young people made my heart fly like an eagle,” Kanewiyakiho said. “Now that song is in your blood, part of your being. Maybe some day you will teach it to your great grandchildren.”
Those assembled for the celebration heard how the Treaty 6 flag will now join other flags in front of the school — along with the Canadian, Saskatchewan, and the Métis flags — in a place of honour.
Milton Tootoosis brought greetings from the Office of the Treaty Commissioner, telling the story of Chief Poundmaker. Shirley Isbister of the Central Urban Métis Federation spoke about her own time as a student at St. Gerard School, before treaty education was introduced.
“I look at the school now and I think how fortunate you children are,” Isbister said. “I am so proud to be here to see this in a spirit of reconciliation.”
GSCS Board of Education chair Diane Boyko spoke to the students about the importance of promises — such as the promises of the treaties — and of the importance of building relationships with each other and with God. She urged students to look at the flag when they walk up to the school and remember the special day of the flag-raising.
Bishop Mark Hagemoen of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Saskatoon described recently attending the ordination of a new bishop for the northern diocese of Mackenzie-Fort Smith, who chose as his motto “Truth and Reconciliation” — which are important words that reflect what has been happening in Canada through the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
“We are on a renewed path and journey together,” Hagemoen said. “It is about looking at our history and how we are brothers and sisters, and how we grow in friendship and relationship.”
He thanked students, teachers and the school community “for reminding us, as we celebrate this Treaty 6 flag, what it means to be treaty people, moving forward together in truth and reconciliation.”
Saskatoon City Councillor Troy Davies brought greetings and described his experience as a paramedic, working with a partner from Mosquito First Nation, and all that he learned from his partner. “You students know more today than I knew at the age of 25,” he said.
Davies also gave students some “homework,” urging them to speak to someone at home “about what you experienced here today.”
To conclude the celebration, École St. Gerard students from different grades shared what they had learned: the spirit and intent of treaties, treaty relationships, treaty promises and provisions, and the historical context of treaties.
Dorgan Lee concluded: “I think we’ve created a place where we are even more proud of everyone’s heritage.”