Article appeared in the May 19, 2011 issue of the Interlake Spectator…Grades 8 and 9 exchange students from Quebec, along with their grade 8 counterparts from the Evergreen middle schools, were welcomed with style at the Riverton Friendship Centre, on May 9, 2011.
The students were given a day filled with enriched cultural experience, during which they learned a few things about Aboriginal culture, crafts, and a bit of early history of the region.
Aboriginal Elder, George Spence, who travelled from Winnipeg as he does every weekend to teach drumming and singing to youth at the Riverton Friendship Centre, got the morning activities off to a good start. As a long-time member of the Summer Bear Dance Troop, he has performed at schools, conferences and sports events in Manitoba and around the globe. Spence explained the meaning of smudging with sacred Sweet Grass, before beginning the drumming and singing of the Honour Song.
“It’s one of the oldest honour songs,” he said, as he explained the meaning of the song: “When we get together like this we’re strong people. When there is lots of people, there’s lots of strength.”
Students went on to learn how to make authentic dream catchers made with freshly cut willow branches, then enjoyed a lunch of fruit, yoghurt and freshly baked Bannock.
Ruth Christie, an Aboriginal Elder and Storyteller from Selkirk, later told tales about the famous John Ramsay and his wife, Betsey. John Ramsay was a prominent member of a Saulteaux Aboriginal band that lived along Lake Winnipeg. He gave much help to the Icelandic Settlers who arrived in Manitoba in 1875. The Ramseys taught the settlers many survival skills, and ensured they many were fed in those difficult early years.
Plans to take the students to the gravesite of Betsey Ramsay for the storytelling were foiled by rainy weather. The gravesite was designated a Heritage Site on Sept. 13, 1998, thanks in large part to the efforts of Christie. The students, instead, listened to the historical accounts at the Friendship Centre, where they remained for the day.
This is the second year that exchange students from Quebec have been here. This year’s visit took place from May 7 to May 14. May 9th was the first day of scheduled events. The group did a different activity each day for the duration of their stay.