For National Aboriginal Day, the Bonnyville Health Centre held its first ever teepee raising and piping ceremony, both to celebrate the holiday and in honour of the hospital's new Aboriginal Liaison Officer, Marlene Collins.
The teepee raising began just after 9:30 a.m. Just after 11 a.m., aboriginals and dignitaries entered the teepee for a private pipe and prayer ceremony. Though the event is a traditional one, the elder leading the ceremony and all those involved took the time to teach their traditions and beliefs to those who do not know or understand their way of life.
Alex Smyl, executive director at the Bonnyville Health Centre, also participated in the pipe ceremony. He offered cloth, tobacco and sweet grass on behalf of the hospital to ask for prayers and guidance for the hospital staff, patients and those who are no longer with us.
“Today's event was a blessing, to give us a chance to learn and understand the people that we work with everyday and learn their culture,” he said. “The elder did an excellent job. They took the time to educate us. It's nice to learn their culture.”
One man participating in the ceremony expressed how Christianity and Aboriginal beliefs are quite similar. Smyl agreed with him.
“All our beliefs are the same; we express them differently,” he said, stating it is important to learn about different cultures and beliefs.
“For me it was an honour” to be a part of the pipe ceremony, said Smyl. “Today was an education session and this will continue for years to come.”
Another ceremony will be held in September to bring down the teepee, he said. Until then, the teepee will remain at the hospital and people are encouraged to check it out, sit inside, pray or seek guidance or just ask questions.
The Bonnyville and District Museum hosted celebrations for Aboriginal Day for the first time this year. The Bonnyville Native Friendship Centre organized the celebrations, and the event kicked off with a pipe ceremony early Thursday morning.
Native dancers performed in the afternoon to a large crowd as local residents and school children gathered on the museum grounds to learn about aboriginal culture.
After demonstrating various dances, the dancers invited children to join in, teaching them the steps.