Drums beat, horns honked, drivers waved, and a proud company of friendship marched down St. Paul’s main street on the morning of February 6th. Pimohtê, the togetherness walk, was organized by a committee of members from St. Paul and Saddle Lake Cree Nation to bring attention to issues of racism and to show unity in St. Paul. A temperature of -19 C and a brisk north-west wind kept the outdoor speeches short and the walk quick.
Participants were welcomed by Mayor Maureen Miller, “We need to create a better place for generations to come. On this beautiful crisp morning, with the gift of the beating drums, we are called forward to walk with our neighbours.”
Roy Missal, unfurling his Metis flag, said he was participating in the walk “to bring different races together. There’s too much history where people are pointing fingers at one another.” Real Girard, active in the French Canadian Association and a researcher at University nuhelot’įne thaiyots’į nistameyimâkanak Blue Quills joined the conversation. “You know, that’s exactly what I said. We’re not walking for the past. We’re walking for the future.” Girard opened his Franco-Albertan flag. “But you can’t walk for the future without knowing what happened in the past,” continued Missal. Arms across each other’s shoulders, “To show we are together!” the men waved their flags.
Dave Hanson, MLA for Lac la Biche-St.Paul-Two Hills, and the government’s Indigenous Relations representative, reminded the crowd of the European settlers’ connection to the area. “Can you imagine standing on this spot in 1876 as a new Canadian coming from Europe, living in a soddy and not knowing how to prepare for winter? It was because of the Cree people in this area helping our ancestors survive those first years that we’re all standing here today. If they could do it in those days and work together, then we can do it now.”
At the statue of the Elder Medicine Man in front of the post office, Pierre Lamoureux recognized the importance of having the peace pipe repaired after years of neglect. “This action represents how we are coming together to repair our own relationship as Indigenous and non-Indigenous people forming one community.”
The walk ended at the Rec Centre, where children from local schools had participated in their own walk and enjoyed a lunch provided by the Town and the County of St. Paul. There, speeches and presentations continued.
Pamela Quinn, whose encounter with racist comments last summer sparked the movement to improve relations between Saddle Lake Cree Nation and St. Paul, held a feather and a braid of sweetgrass as she spoke to students about how she hopes this gathering will support them: “To be able to go to school and to know that you belong there. To be able to walk the streets and to feel that it’s going to be safe for you and that nobody will discriminate against you. For the youth, you are the ones that are going to make this change. You have the open minds and the open hearts and you are more accepting of people.”
Elder Eva Cardinal, who had offered prayers in Cree, presented the Treaty Six flag to Mayor Miller, saying, “It is my hope that understanding will grow among us by this action that we take together. It is my hope that the flag will fly and will remind us of the main things that we are striving for. The young children, they are looking, they are wondering, they are asking, what is happening? They will now have a history with the people in the surrounding Treaty Six.”
Praying Sitting Woman, also known as Pauline Hunter, one of the head women of Saddle Lake Cree Nation was passionate. “Today we are igniting a new generation. We are creating a new history for our people. Today we come together and walk as one.” She pointed out that the Indigenous peoples’ histories are rarely taught in schools, “the histories of sadness and hurt and mistrust and blame.” She looks to creating a new history, “of love, of caring, of sharing and kindness, and most of all, of respect.”
Carl Quinn, Pamela’s father and a former chief at Saddle Lake, concluded the speeches by saying, “We can treat each other with respect. We can accept that people are different, not worse or better than us. We can ensure our children are not raised to be fearful because of who they are.”
To end the event, everyone was welcomed to join in a round dance in celebration of togetherness.