It was Mistissini’s turn to host the regional Annie Whiskeychan Day June 7. The annual celebration saw dozens of Cree from most of the communities participate in the festivities.
The day is named in honour of Annie Whiskeychan’s contribution to Cree language education. It was Whiskeychan who first wrote many of the textbooks and worksheets, and developed programs for the Cree School Board in Cree when the organization was just starting.
According to Agnes Petawabano-Pelletier, Student Life Animator at Voyageur Memorial Elementary School, students who performed well in their own community’s Annie Whiskeychan events were invited to participate at the regional level. Students came from Waswanipi, Nemaska, Ouje-Bougoumou, Waskaganish, Eastmain and Whapmagoostui, and were accompanied by family members and Elders.
She said that the students were housed at the school while the adults were guests in private homes.
The day began bright and early with an opening prayer and a walking-out ceremony for the son of Julia and Danny Palmer and the daughter of Allan and Hattie Matoush. This was followed by opening remarks by Thomas Neposh.
Since Annie Whiskeychan Day is focused on young people learning about Cree culture and putting this cultural knowledge into practice, the whole day featured cultural activity competitions geared at students of different age groups.
The girls in Grade 1 tried baby doll wrapping to see if they could properly do a traditional Cree baby wrap, while the boys tried their skills in a sling-shot competition.
For the students in Grades 2-4, there was a “name that animal” contest.
“Many of our youth are losing their Cree,” Petawabano-Pelletier explained. “Some of them don’t know the name of an animal, like dog, or atum in Cree. We usually keep it to the animals we hunt or often see in the bush, like caribou, bear or mouse. Mouse is abushiksh, but most of them always use the English word.”
Students in Grades 3-4 participated in a spelling bee using Cree syllabics, while those in Grades 5-6 were tasked with naming the different trees that Crees would traditionally use to make things like snowshoes or dwellings. She said that being able to identify and name the different types of trees on the territory is something that “we should all know as Cree people.”
As the CSB was working in conjunction with Mistissini for this special celebration, once the elementary school activities were wrapped up, the students were taken to the sports complex for lunch and to listen to a talk by former NHLer Jordin Tootoo.
The focus of the afternoon was on activities for the high school students that included canoe portaging, bannock making, fire starting and tea boiling. At 5 pm, a square dance was held with participants competing in single and couple dancing. Then at 6 pm, the busy day was capped off with an awards ceremony held to celebrate the day’s brightest stars and highlight those who made strides when it came to cultural knowledge of the Cree of Eeyou Istchee.