Sacred Bundle Opening Ceremony Develops Feeling of Belonging

Feb. 21, 2020

A first-ever event in the Calgary Board of Education, a Sacred Thunder Pipe bundle opening took place Saturday, Feb. 8 at Piitoayis Family School. The ceremony was lead by Lenard and Audrey Weasel Traveller who officiated the work of the Thunder Pipe Carriers Stewart, Kathy and Iihkitopi (Laine Breaker). Piitoayis staff and families were honoured to attend the ceremony that spanned the day.

Preparations for the day included students, who had the opportunity to engage in one of the four core values Kimmapiiypitsinni (kindness), engaging in reciprocity, by creating gifts to be distributed at the ceremony. Under the guidance of knowledge keepers Barb Horsefall and Piitoayis Principal Iikiinayookaa (Marlene Yellow Horn), students in all divisions beaded medallions, strung beaded necklaces, sewed tobacco pouches, and created crow angel dolls. This Indigenous curriculum of cultural enskillment took place working alongside traditional knowledge keepers and with the support of classroom teachers who were thrilled to experience pedagogies that further support classroom learning.

In addition, teachers prepared for the day by participating in teachings related to ribbon skirts with Elder Louisa Fraser and Kim Fraser-Saddleback, which they used to sew ribbon skirts and shirts. Skirts and shirts were then used through preparations for and participation in ceremony.

Following protocols, feast preparations began early the morning of Feb. 8. Teachers arrived at school, through freshly fallen snow, at 7:30 a.m. The opportunity to work together supported teachers in developing a sense of community and collegiality, engaging in the pedagogy of working alongside and developing cultural enskillment through feast preparations. These essential pedagogies and curriculums, learned through feast and ceremony preparations, are carried forward into classrooms by teachers where it is seamlessly braided together with Alberta Education’s Programs of Study.

The CBE’s Indigenous Education strategy highlights that “each student will feel known, connected, and supported in their learning environment” and the opportunity to participate in the Sacred Bundle Opening supports teachers in supporting Indigenous students in developing a sense of belonging. Iihkitopi commented on the participation of the school community, stating he felt that “this is what reconciliation looks like.” That Aatsimmoiyihkanni (spirituality and ceremony), one of the four core values of Piitoayis Family School, infuses the building supports students’ understanding that Indigenous ways of knowing, being, and doing are valued within the Calgary Board of Education.

The generous guidance of Karen Crowshoe, an Alberta provincial court judge, was appreciated as she lead teachers through serving the feast to the many attendees. Many in attendance participated in ceremony by having their faces painted and supported Principal Iikiinayookaa as she made a vow for student academic success, safety, and family support, as well as staff wellness, to the bundle. Among the attendees were Chief Superintendent of Schools Christopher Usih, Education Director Dianne Roulson, and many members of the Calgary Board of Education’s Indigenous Education team.

Much appreciation to Ceremonialists, board office staff, administrators Principal Iikiinayookaa and Assistant Principal Benjamin Williams, and staff and families who were able to attend. Hand to heart in gratitude.