Swan River First Nation Cultural Retention Project
Swan River First Nation Chief and Council have recognized the importance of practising cultural traditions and the benefits that these activities bring to the community and its members. In the early summer of 2018, and as a result of the community’s overwhelming response to the Nation’s recent cultural activities and expressed desire to continue with these events and add more cultural and traditional activities, Swan River Chief and Council have created a “Cultural Retention Project” to provide opportunities for community members to learn and be involved in traditional practices for all member ages. The programs intent is to work with and involve the community schools, both on and off reserve, in an effort to include all community children in these activities. The program will also assist with the Cree Language program as well as support the Traditional Knowledge Holders that also work with both schools.
Richard Woodman, a Swan River member, was hired as the Cultural program coordinator and since then has offered many different traditional activities including;
- Moose hide tanning
- Making “fleshers” for Moose hide tanning out of Moose leg bone
- Salmon canning
- Beading/craft night once per week
- Weekend hunting camp
- Land Based learning
- Medicine picking
Future activities will include culture nights that will offer such things as;
- Potlatch style suppers
- Drumming and dance practice
- Beading/ tipi making/arts and crafts
- Language practice
- Birch Bark crafts
Revenue made from sales of these products will be used to offset the cost of the program materials and for fund raising for other cultural events and activities. Many of these activities are designed for all age groups to achieve a higher level of interaction with the Elders.
Culture camps are high on the agenda of activities for the members. Swan River Culture camp has been an annual week long event held at the Nations camp grounds and this past summer focused on more cultural events and the near full camp sites every year attests to the community’s involvement, enjoyment and unity. Several different areas have been targeted for a Traditional Land Use Preserve for community members and will be the areas used for such things as hunting, ceremonies, gathering materials for traditional uses, land based learning involving the schools and other cultural community events.
In addition to this, there are 2 key elements within the scope of this project that will be the main focus of all activities;
- Land Base – ensuring that Swan River retains and protects its land base that has been the identified area for most traditional activities. Swan River recognizes that our Culture is land based and therefore to be an authentic cultural project, the continued hard work towards maintaining that land base is an important goal of this project. This protected area is known as “The Preserve” and will be a strong component within this entire project.
- Education – The primary focus of this piece is targeted towards the children and their learning strategies along with the other mentioned programs that all work together towards this common goal. It is hoped that through this project, the program will attract more community members within all age groups to participate in the different activities that are being offered. Through more interactive programming and multiple levels of age group engagement, it is also hoped that individual knowledge, skills and expertise will be shared with all members mainly through the culture nights and culture camps in the Preserve.
The desired outcome of all these activities is to be able to share these traditions with each other in a place that embraces, facilitates and embraces the people, the place and activities. The intention to build a “main camp” to address this need is already in place and plans to accomodate this community need have begun on the Preserve.
Words from Leadership
“We foresee this project affecting all Band members. Our Chief always says that we are trying to reverse the effects of the residential schools, in his words “we want to put the Indian back in the child”. We’ve seen the pride and participation of the kids in our school and a big part of that seems to be the cultural programming that they take part in. We want to do that for all of our people.
This project will be an exercise in community rebuilding. It will take everybody out of their homes and bring them together as we once were. Kids will be exposed to Elders and parents will have help with their kids, and all of them will learn more about their culture and identify together. We will put value back into being an outfit maker, a hunter, a pipe holder, etc and encourage those activities for all future generations.
Through INAC funding we get very small yearly budgets for huge social issues that we face such as HIV/AIDS ($8,000.00), Solvent Abuse ($7,900.00), Suicide Prevention ($5,000), Diabetes ($30,000.00) and Mental Health ($30,000.00). These usually amount to one workshop or awareness event a year per crisis. This is not the most effective way to combat these issues. We feel like these issues are the result of colonization, a result of the loss of culture, language and land. Through this program, we hope to be able to combine these funds (as much as funding arrangements allow) and address the root of all these problems for the betterment of all our people.” – Swan River Chief and Council
Photos of Cultural activities to date:
Bone Flesher making
Weekend hunting trip for youth
Beading/ Craft night