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Community ᐄᐦᑖᐧᐃᓐ

Cree communities getting in the holiday spirit

BY Patrick Quinn Dec 7, 2021

“It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas.” That’s the theme of Chisasibi’s 25th annual Christmas parade, happening on Dec. 4 at 5pm – it’s also how people throughout the region are probably feeling as holiday events start to unfold.

While some community coordinators couldn’t confirm their event schedule at press time, generally there are family-oriented skating activities, carol singing, a Christmas tree and lights contest, and a festive parade featuring a certain jolly visitor from the North Pole.

The Chisasibi Youth Council has organized an annual “Gift from the Heart Foundation” since former Youth Chief Shadrock Trapper started the tradition in 2009. Before and during the holidays, volunteers develop many types of fundraisers for the foundation, sometimes hiring themselves out to local entities.

Confidential application forms are available from the Youth Council for community members aged 13-35 who need financial support for the holidays. The Youth Council then makes ornaments for specific children, providing information to help community members choose appropriate gifts. There’s no limit to how many ornaments that people can take.

“Written on the ornament is the information about the child,” explained Corrina Napash, Chisasibi Youth Chief. “Example: 3-year-old boy, wears size 3T & loves dinosaurs, PAW Patrol and cars. Then the community member who took the ornament buys the child a gift based on their age and interests, and then they bring the present to the Youth Centre wrapped. Without our community’s contribution, this would not be as successful as it is each year.”

The Youth Council divides the funds raised between the families for gift certificates at the local grocery store and also buys turkeys for the families. Volunteers distribute the gifts on a certain day close to Christmas and sometimes families show their appreciation on social media.

Eastmain’s annual Santa Claus parade will be held Dec. 23 at 1pm, with the judging for outdoor decoration and Christmas tree contests later that day. Among the other planned holiday activities are carol singing and snowman making on Dec. 24, a family portraits contest on Christmas Day and an 18+ gala with various contests on Dec. 27.

In Ouje-Bougoumou, parents are asked to sign up for the children’s Christmas gala, held on Dec. 13 for children up to 7 and the following day for 8-to-12-year-olds. The wellness department purchases gifts that Santa distributes during the event, following games and a meal.  

To counter seasonal isolation and spread intergenerational cheer, there is an Elders Christmas banquet as well as the “Adopt an Elder” program. After a list of eligible recipients is compiled, participating community members bring their gifts to the department and are encouraged to come in for a visit when the gifts are distributed.

“We do this initiative to give back to our Elders and to give people the opportunity to take part,” Jamie-Fawn Mianscum told the Nation. “Before we close for the holidays, we have tea and bannock and wait for them to come by to mingle. Sometimes Elders are still in the bush, so we try to deliver the gifts before the office is closed. It’s very rewarding and we hope everybody enjoys the stuff we do for them.”

Mistissini also has an “Adopt an Elder” event, which will be included at the Elders banquet on Dec. 10. After a social afternoon, the meal will be served around 6pm along with some entertainment.

“Last year we couldn’t gather because of Covid,” said programs administrator Simon Metabie. “This year we’re hoping to reach out to many people. The Elders are happy to see their friends and have a get together. You can see in their faces their spirits are lifted.”

Inspired by International Children’s Day on Nov. 20, Mistissini is holding an “Honour our Children” week Dec. 5-11 with a variety of activities planned. The week will start with a special Christmas-themed Sunday school that the minister’s wife leads each year. On Dec. 6, there is a large banquet for community members with special needs, featuring a meal, gift giving and entertainment.

During the afternoon of Dec. 7, there will be an arts and crafts session and “meet and greet” with Santa. A children’s gala for 6-to-8-year-olds will follow in the evening with dancing, contests and all kinds of activities. The local Head Start program will organize a similar gala the following day for children five and under, called “The Baby Ball”. 

Across town, Mistissini’s Meechum grocery store is continuing its decades-long Wreath of Hope initiative, which lights candles as money and gifts are collected for families in need. The Youth Department is also collecting gifts for its “Adopt a Youth” project and names of low-income youth aged 13-17 for its annual Uschiniichisuu tree.

The week will culminate with the ever-popular Christmas parade on Dec. 11, including the return of the float contest.

“The children are very happy when they see Santa Claus,” Metabie confirmed. 

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Patrick Quinn lives in Montreal with his wife and two small children. With a passion for words and social justice, he enjoys sharing Eeyou Istchee's stories and playing music.