Wolf Creek Public Schools (WCPS) took another step towards reconciliation by raising the Treaty 6 flag in what was a historic moment for both the district and area First Nations.
On Thursday, school and district officials, First Nations Chiefs and elders, Indigenous, Metis and non-Indigenous students gathered together during a ceremony which saw the flag raised for the very first time at WCPS head office in Ponoka.
Superintendent Jayson Lovell said plans to raise the Treaty 6 flag first began last spring, and the ceremony overall was a response to a call for action.
“Our board of trustees felt it very important to take the time to acknowledge the Treaty 6 land that we live on,” he said.
“When we as a school division think about ways we can bring attention to the importance of treaty and truth and reconciliation, this ceremony really was a formal way for us to acknowledge that.”
Treaty 6 was signed Aug. 23, 28 and Sept. 9, 1897 between the Canadian Crown and First Nations. The agreement included 18 Alberta First Nations, including the four nations located around nearby Maskwacis – Ermineskin, Louis Bull, Samson and Montana First Nation – and was signed to safeguard their people and culture.
With the residential school system, however, some of that was lost, with First Nations becoming fearful of speaking their own language. For that very reason, Montana First Nation Chief Leonard Standingontheroad said it was important to teach students of all backgrounds about their culture.
“The education system is really learning about our ways of life and trying to be inclusive in the system. It’s a long process, but it’s already starting in our community,” Standingontheroad said. “Right now they’re in the process of changing the curriculum, learning the history of the natives, and how they were treated. It has been a secret all these years, and now everything’s being revealed.
“We have to do it in a friendly manner. We don’t want to be confrontational – that never works. It’s why the treaties were made – for us to cope together.”
He said it’s a long process, and that it will take time for “dominant” society to adapt to First Nations, and vice versa, but he’s pleased with the steps taken so far.
The flag raising, however, is just part of WCPS plans to acknowledge Treaty 6 and First Nations, Metis and Inuit. Already, they’ve created a First Nations Coordinator position, and have three elders – two female and one male – who visit the schools and help provide First Nations teachings, and history. As well, they’re increasing professional development in that particular area for staff, and will be working on making sure awareness and acknowledgement are spread throughout every school.
“One of the follow up items will be to talk to principals at our schools about those opportunities and ways we can not just raise or display the flag within our schools,but more importantly, the symbolic nature of the flag and what it represents,” said Lovell.