The Spring Feast celebration of Indigenous culture was held under a blue, sunny sky at Fort Normandeau on Saturday with attendance exceeding expectations.
About 250 people came to an event that in earlier years had drawn only about 60 people. Participant Lyle Keewatin Richards described a “fantastic turnout” for the 15th annual feast. “It just gets better and better every year,” he added of the event, organized by Safe Harbour.
“Oh my goodness, I’m so pleased we had so many people and that everybody got fed a lot and went home with gifts,” said Theresa “Corky” Larsen-Jonasson, of the group Red Feather Women.
Rounds of diverse foods, including stewed cranberries and other fruit, bannock, and beef jerky, were served up at no cost to feast participants of all ages and backgrounds. Members of Red Feather Women had made 400 sandwiches for the event. Among many other sponsors and donors were the Red Deer Public and Catholic Schools, which made up candy bags, and Parkland CLASS volunteers who baked bannock.
Before lunch, Indigenous ceremonies of remembrance were held and appreciation expressed for the “quiet warriors” who are making a positive difference in the community. Feast participants also heard traditional singing, drumming and storytelling.
Special guests included dignitaries from the Blackfoot Nation, who presented Red Deer elder Lynn Jonasson (who is of Cree and Icelandic descent) with a feathered headdress in recognition of his years of community mentoring and dedication to “well-briety” work with several organizations in the Red Deer area. Before the ceremony, Jonasson said he feels humbled by this gift which is a real honour to receive.
Guests from Haida Gwaii, from the Northern Coast of British Columbia, also attended the Spring Feast, as did Red Deer Mayor Ken Johnston and several city councillors, many other citizens and representatives of Safe Harbour and other local groups.
Indigenous and non-Indigenous people were welcomed as organizers said no one should be turned away who wants to attend the ceremonies. But the unexpected number of cars in the park caused a parking crunch.
As a temporary measure, vehicles were allowed to park along the county access road leading to Fort Normandeau after all of the park’s parking spots filled up. But this was a one-time solution since ‘No Parking’ signs are erected along this road, which has no shoulder and is unsafe for walking along, said Todd Nivens, executive-director of the Waskasoo Environmental Education Society.
Nivens said discussions will be held before next year’s feast about how overflow parking can be handled. A possible solution is arranging for some bus shuttles to the park.
The Spring Feast is held annually at Fort Normandeau because of the site’s historic associations as a trading spot for First Nations people and where they traditionally crossed the Red Deer River. Sweat lodges are now at the site. It is directly across the river from the demolished Red Deer Industrial School that operated, with a high student mortality rate, between 1893 and 1919.