Neighbours in southwest create positive opportunities for youth

By: Damon Badger Heit April, 2011

A partnership between Neekaneet First Nations and the Maple Creek’s Southwest Saskatchewan Oldtimers Museum and Archive builds on the strengths of neighbours to create cultural opportunities for youth and increase cultural awareness and learning opportunities for both communities.

A Pow Wow Regalia Project beginning in Neekaneet is bringing elders, adults and youth together to create new regalia in preparation for the launch of a new pow wow dance troupe. “In total 25 women are making 25 outfits with youth who are being mentored in regalia making, drumming, singing and dancing” explains Kristi Yarshenko, one of the project organizers. “Entire families are coming together to participate each Tuesday and Wednesday night on Neekaneet to learn in a bilingual Cree and English experience.”

The project began with a conversation in the Fall of 2010 between Yarshenko, Elouise Mosquito and Patsy Buffalo Calf who were seeking positive activities for youth. Mosquito and Buffalo Calf, expert regalia makers, saw pow wow as a great opportunity to connect with youth. Yarshenko, an instructor with the Great Plains College and volunteer with the Southwest Saskatchewan Oldtimers Museum and Archive, saw this as an opportunity to connect with the broader community through the Museum.

“There are a lot of talented dancers, singers and regalia makers” to involve in the project from the Neekaneet First Nation, says Yarshenko. “It is a positive activity to engage with youth, to show them pride in their heritage, to learn from elders… to teach families. It also builds relationships with the ranchers and town’s people.”

Neekaneet First Nation is isolated in the south west corner of Saskatchewan in the Cypress Hills where there are no other First Nation bands nearby. Yarshenko explains that thanks to the funding from the Aboriginal Arts and Culture Leadership Grant, this project builds on the relationships between the band, Maple Creek and surrounding area by featuring the emergence of a pow wow troupe. The troupe will perform at the Heritage Festival during the Cowtown Pro Rodeo in Maple Creek being held July 20-22, 2011. They will also present their newly created outfits at the gala opening of a ‘Regalia Exhibit’ at the Oldtimers Museum during the Heritage Festival on July 22nd.

“This Gala event will be the grand opening of the new museum building (in its temporary location) and will feature this new Regalia display. The new outfits will not be put on display in the museum because the youth want to start dancing at powwows as quickly as possible,” explains Yarshenko. Instead the museum will feature historical pow wow regalia made and worn by people from Neekaneet. A presentation detailing how the outfits were constructed will accompany the exhibit with performances of dancing by the youth and instructors involved in the project. The Oldtimers Museum will publicize and organize this event, and will provide refreshments.

The museum’s collaboration with Neekaneet goes back to a parade in 1935 featuring Chief Bear Skins of Neekaneet and Sergeant Isaak Forbes of the RCMP. After the parade, the Chief and RCMP Sergeant agreed to donate their outfits to the museum to commemorate the developing relationship between the First Nations of the region and the community in and around Maple Creek. Both outfits are still part of the Oldtimers Museum’s personal collection.

“During the conversations around this project we realized there are a lot of pow wow regalia currently being stored in closets in the community and we'd like to showcase these items,” says Yarshenko. “We're thinking to add interpretive information beside each item, describing who made it and when, when it was worn, by whom and for what style of dance, and other information we feel is significant.

One of the themes we've been considering is a display showing the transition of traditional styles to more modern day designs” says Kristi. “This is another opportunity try to reach out to each other to learn a bit more about each other and to provide community members an opportunity to showcase something they are very proud of.”