Yanessa Days celebrating past and modern culture

By: Miriam Korner March, 2013

In the 1980’s, Sam Herman, then mayor of La Loche, encouraged community members to dress up in old-time clothing for a culture day celebration at the local elementary school. Thus, the Yanessa Days were born.

Thirty years later, Yanessa Days has grown far beyond the idyllic gathering in the schoolyard. In 2012, the cultural gathering attracted more than 1,000 visitors daily. “The Olden Days” are once more present. The smell of bannock and dry fish hangs over the festival grounds. The beat of traditional drums mixes with children’s laughter as they play around proudly erected tipi frames. Plywood skiffs and birch bark canoes are crafted by skillful hands. People still dress up in old-time costumes; children with dresses carry dolls in beautifully decorated moss bags.

Yanessa Days is not only about celebrating past traditions. “Our culture changes with time,” says Leonard Montgrand, executive director of the La Loche Friendship Center and co-ordinator of the event. Next to voyageur canoe races, king and queen trapper events and horse shoe tournaments, modern competitions, such as quad poker rallies, monster truck mud bogs and high-impact wrestling, have found their way into the festival. While the Elders enjoy the old time dance, the youth are gathered under the big video screens of a video dance party.  

The gathering offers sports, arts, cultural events and workshops, traditional and modern entertainment as well as community feasts. “There’s so much going on. We’ve been building on [expanding the festival] every year,” says Montgrand.

Thanks to funding from SaskCulture, Saskatchewan Lotteries, Heritage Canada, the National Association of Friendship Centers, as well as local support, Yanessa Days continues to grow. “SaskCulture is our biggest funder. They really understand how important our culture is to us.” Montgrand worked with eight staff, 13 summer students and nearly 40 volunteers to prepare the gathering. “We start meeting about two months before the event. There’s so much to do.”

Is it worth the effort? “It’s amazing. It’s like seeing a young baby grow into adulthood. I take pride in that. There would be a lot of disappointed people if there wasn’t another Yanessa Days.”

Preparations for Yanessa Days 2013 are already under way. “Last year we had the Black Lake Dene drummers join us. This year, we hope that Navaho from Arizona will come up. Many people don’t realize how many Dene speaking cultures there are and how we got separated through history. We like to re-connect with them. Our culture is an important part of our life here.”