On the day when Canada was celebrating First Nations culture, a special Blackfoot ceremony was held in Fort Macleod to honour graduating students.
F.P. Walshe school held its annual eagle feather ceremony on National Aboriginal Day on June 21 at Crossroads Campus at the 1884 North West Mounted Police Barracks provincial historic site.
“Today is a milestone for our children,” Blackfoot elder Peter Strikes With A Gun said. “Today is the beginning. Today is the future.”
Students were called into a tipi set up on the grounds of the historic barracks site, with the boys on the right side and the girls on the left.
Strikes With A Gun called each student forward one at a time, to perform the eagle feather blessing ceremony.
Strikes With A Gun spoke of the significance and importance of the eagle feather in First Nations culture.
The eagle is revered by First Nations people and is considered sacred.
“These feathers once soared,” Strikes With A Gun said. “You will be able to soar above the storm as you make your journey.”
Students who received eagle feathers were Jaden Good Striker, Lane One Owl, Brady Rabbit, Jordan North Peigan, Kalli Bastien, LaToya Healy, Silas Curly Rider, Hayley Grier-Stewart, Ellie Creighton, Micheala Weasel Moccasin, Kyle Boone Sanderson and Shaelyn Head.
Officials attending the ceremony included Ron Taylor of Alberta Education, Livingstone Range School Division superintendent Dave Driscoll and associate superintendent Ken Samson, school board chairman Brad Toone and trustees Martha Ratcliffe, Lori Hodges and Shannon Scherger, and Peigan Board of Education superintendent Lisa Crow Shoe.
“This is one of my favourite days of the year,” F.P. Walshe school principal Bill Forster said. “I am so proud of these students and the work and the effort they have put in to get to this point in their lives.”
Forster has overseen the growing inclusion of First Nations culture in education and events in his six years as principal, including the eagle feather ceremony.
“To have such a beautiful ceremony, in such a beautiful location in the heart of Blackfoot country, to celebrate our student successes is something that is very special,” Forster said.
Forster spoke of the growth educators witness in the young people over the course of junior and senior high school.
“It’s also amazing to watch how their attitudes, and their respect and caring develops over those years,” Forster added. “We are very, very proud of these students and we are going to miss them.”
Brad Toone brought greetings on behalf of Livingstone Range School Board.
“I know the students have worked very hard to be here and we are so proud of you,” Toone said. “This is part of a great journey that you are on. I know that you will continue to grow and learn and be good examples for your friends and our other students.”
Ron Taylor travels the province in his role with Alberta Education, talking to educators, parents and students.
“Students take many paths in their lives,” Taylor said. “This is one of the paths. It’s a path that will lead to many exciting things.”
Strikes With A Gun urged the students to adopt the practice of putting first things first in their lives, to take care of the important things.
“What we do today will have its rewards,” Strikes With A Gun said.
Strikes With A Gun told the students they will face tests in their lives — at school and work, in tragedy and everyday life.
The students were urged to find the strength and courage to continue on in the face of those challenges.
“I honour the students for their success,” Strikes With A Gun said. “I honour the parents for their sacrifices.”