Saskatoon Powwow a Day of Healing, Honoring Survivors


Rezayus Seeseequasis stood proud Friday in his traditional attire next to the statue of his great-grandfather Fred Sasakamoose, the first Indigenous player treated in the National Hockey League.

In May, the Sasakamoose statue was unveiled in front of the SaskTel Center in Saskatoon.

On Friday, her great-grandson was among those who danced at a powwow inside the arena to honor the victims and survivors of Canada’s residential school system, and their families.

« I feel good, happy [about dancing today]said Seeseequasis, 10, of the Mosquito Grizzly Bear First Nation’s Head Lean Man, a member of the Battlefords Agency Tribal Chiefs.

His mother, Raelene Sanderson, is proud of her son.

She told him to pray for his people by dancing, to think of all the children who never had the chance to practice their culture and to be grateful for this day, she said with tears in her eyes.

« Our people weren’t allowed to practice their culture, their language, anything that had to do with our tradition, » Sanderson said.

« We are here, my son is here, to be proud of who he is and where he comes from. »

Sanderson and his son next to the statue of Fred Sasakamoose at the SaskTel Centre. Sasakamoose, the first Aboriginal player treated in the National Hockey League, was the great-grandfather of Rezayus Seeseequasis. (Therese Kliem/CBC)

Friday’s powwow was part of a day-long event hosted by the Saskatoon Tribal Council to mark the second National Day for Truth and Reconciliation.

Residential school survivors were the special guests of the powwow, but like Sanderson and Seeseequasis, many children and grandchildren of survivors also came to dance, remember, and honor their ancestors.

« Our grandfathers are residential school survivors. My mother was also kidnapped from residential school, » Sanderson said.

« We’re still here and we’re still, you know, resilient and proud to practice the culture where we come from. »

Fred Sasakamoose, who died in 2020 at the age of 86, was also a residential school survivor.

dance to heal

Autumn Severight of George Gordon First Nation came to Friday’s powwow to dance in the women’s traditional category.

« A lot of times when people are dancing, we’re dancing to heal, » Severight said as he prepared to dance.

« I usually dance the jingle dress, and that’s the healing dance style. But that’s basically why we’re all here. We’re all here to dance and heal our people. »

Autumn Severight of George Gordon First Nation also attended Friday’s powwow. (Therese Kliem/CBC)

The mother of two has been dancing since she was little.

She dances for those who can’t dance, for those who are sick, she says.

« We need to show our babies the right way of life, » Severight said. « That’s really…the beauty of our culture here. A lot of people don’t see it. »

The Saskatoon Tribal Council estimated that 4,000 people attended the powwow throughout the day – not counting music fans who came Friday night for a free concert by George Canyon and Kyle McKearney. (Therese Kliem/CBC)

Severight is happy that now is a day for truth and reconciliation.

People still suffer from the intergenerational trauma of residential schools, and much needs to be done to overcome issues like poverty and addictions, she said.

« I’m a granddaughter, a daughter of residential school survivors, » Severight said.

« When they see us dancing, they are very proud of it. »

One of the dancers takes a break after the grand entrance at the Saskatoon Tribal Council powwow on Friday afternoon. (Therese Kliem/CBC)

Reconciliation is not just a word

Micaela Champagne’s grandmother is also a residential school survivor.

As an archaeologist, Champagne said she was involved in searches for ground-penetrating radar at boarding schools.

The young woman wants more people to watch the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s 94 Calls to Action to see which ones they can apply to their own lives.

« It’s so important that people can hear the stories that our grandparents have told us for generations, » said Champagne, whose family is from Canoe Lake Cree First Nation and Buffalo Narrows.

« And now Canada is finally waking up and listening. »

Elvin Nicotine was among those who opened Friday’s powwow with the grand entrance. (Therese Kliem/CBC)

But she has mixed feelings about the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation.

She is still frustrated that it has taken so long for people to make changes and talk about what happened in residential schools.

« Reconciliation is not just a word, » she said. « It is rather action that must be done. »



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