ELK POINT – A Grade 6 student of Elk Point Elementary School is among 12 students across Alberta to receive an Honouring Spirit: Indigenous Student Awards from Alberta School Boards Association, who were chosen from a total of 224 First Nation, Métis and Inuit nominees whose names were submitted by their educators, based on their leadership, honour, courage and their commitment to their education.
As the central region recipient in the Grade 4 to 6 category, Easton Patenaud of Kehewin received that award at Government House, Edmonton on April 15, where he accepted an award certificate, a congratulatory letter, a handcrafted star blanket and a scholarship sponsored by Keyera Energy to support his future educational journey.
Further recognition of this outstanding achievement came at EPE’s May assembly, where Elaine Ziomek, who nominated Easton for the award, told students, staff and special guests that included three generations of his family that she did so because of his commitment to his education and his pride in his Cree culture.
The son of Natasha and Tyler Youngchief and Tim Patenaud, Easton is a member of the Beaver Lake Cree Nation and the Kehewin Cree Nation where he lives, Ziomek said. “Easton is extremely proud of his family. Families are the heart of Indigenous communities and his parents and extended family are encouraging him to identify with his Indigenous heritage and are ensuring he learns the traditional teachings, which include the importance of cultural and family values.” She added that Easton and his family participate in cultural events and ceremonies including sweats, smudging, powwows, feasts, sun dances and the horse dance.
He has been included in parts of the horse dance, from the pipe ceremony and offering tobacco to cutting down trees and erecting the lodge that is its centerpiece. “At one horse dance,” Ziomek said, “Easton offered protocol to an Elder and asked for a Cree name, and was given the name ‘wapi-maskwa’ or White Bear, which he is very proud of.”
“I believe that Elk Point Elementary is a better place with Easton here,” she said, submitting his name to the awards committee for consideration “based on his immersion in his culture and heritage, his kind attitude, and his love of nature and animals. I believe Easton already possesses the characteristics to lead a good and centered life and to do his part to change the world for better.”
Ziomek had another acknowledgement for Easton, a certificate from Lakeland Member of Parliament Shannon Stubbs, stating, “Your exemplary leadership, courage and commitment to your culture and education paths are a significant and noteworthy accomplishment to be congratulated. Your community thanks you for your dedication.”
Natasha Youngchief is very proud of her son, who has been part of the EPE student body since Kindergarten, and said that as a younger child, “he used to dance in the men’s fancy dance at powwows, his dad is a powwow dancer, but then he decided
he wanted to be a cowboy.” His love of horses and horseback riding led to his involvement in the horse dance, which Natasha says is a lodge ceremony, with four horses ridden around the lodge, symbolic of health, protection and prayers.
“He helps to build the lodge, he’s learning his role, helping the elders, tending the fire and helping with the horses, brushing and watering them.”
Easton is “also very smart about living on the land. He’s bush savvy, has survival skills and helps his dad hunt, and loves fishing.” The oldest of the family, he is also a great role model for his five sisters, his mother says with pride.