Reclaiming ceremony, knowledge, and identity

Working towards understanding and mutual well-being


Long before Edmonton was incorporated in 1904, the locals knew it as Amiskwaciy Waskahikan or Beaver Hills House (a Nêhiyawêwin or Cree expression meant to describe the area). Long before Fort Edmonton was established, this area was already a major trading post and gathering place for the many Indigenous people whose footsteps marked this territory for hundreds and hundreds of years.

So many things happened along the way, but one thing has remained the same: Edmonton continues to be a major trading route and gathering place for folks who choose to settle here. Sadly, one of the things that was lost was Indigenous ceremony. With bans on ceremony in effect from 1885 until as late as 1951, ceremony went underground in order to keep these teachings alive.

These days mark a resurgence in the quest for traditional knowledge, identity, and the importance of both for the well-being of Indigenous people and of our nation.

For the past three years, Bent Arrow Traditional Healing Society has hosted a Cultural Camp on the grounds of Parkdale School where teepees are set up and elders, ceremonial people, and knowledge holders are placed in each one, ready to share their teachings with our visitors. This year’s camp was hosted from May 2 to 5, and our visitors (approximately 300 each day) were hosted in eight teepees and a sweat lodge to receive teachings, traditional names, and healing through ceremony.

Although the four days of the Cultural Camp were snowy and cold, visitors were treated to Bent Arrow’s warm hospitality. | Kara Jensen Photography

Edmonton is host to the second largest urban Indigenous population in Canada, and many of these folks are either from somewhere else or not connected to a First Nations band. This camp offers an opportunity for these folks as well as settlers to experience ceremony on their land. No need to hop in a car and head out to the country, because not only is this their land, but ceremony is no longer outlawed. In fact, some of our visitors were members of the Edmonton Police Service as well as Government of Alberta Children’s Services employees, both institutions with longstanding negative connections to Indigenous people. This camp hopes to change that.

Despite the snowy and cold weather, our visitors were treated to the hospitality of Bent Arrow with fires blazing in each teepee, extra blankets for the shivery, and hot beverages served with homemade soup and bannock meals each day.

While Bent Arrow was the host, like all ceremony it takes many to make it so. This year’s camp was made possible by our Government of Alberta Indigenous Relations funder, the City of Edmonton for the use of the land, and Edmonton Public Schools for the use of Parkdale School. In an area sometimes marked with many social issues, our camp experienced no issues with any kind of desecration or disorder during these four days, only blessings.

We believe that through understanding will come a different way of relating with one another. Some people still only know the dark parts of our history. Even that knowledge is spotty and feeds a narrative of Indigenous people that is negative and not reflective of the vibrant and sophisticated knowledge that Indigenous people possessed to survive and thrive on these lands since time immemorial.

Ceremony was banned from 1885 until as late as 1951. | Kara Jensen Photography

Knowledge of governance, medicines, ceremony, child well-being, infrastructure, astrology, environment, and other knowledge needed to understand the world around us and co-exist with all the various elements. It is this knowledge that feeds a much more realistic and positive narrative of Indigenous people and it’s provided in a way that gently teaches, reminds, and awakens our participants. We acknowledge the land by being on it together, in ceremony together.

The camp lights the fire and other opportunities keep the flame going. Opportunities such as Ben Calf Robe’s annual pow wow was held just one week later up the road and we had amazing weather and attendance.

On June 21, Bent Arrow will host National Indigenous Peoples Day and our teepees will be set up once again. We will celebrate Indigenous culture through food, dance, songs, and games and we will share these activities with our visitors from 8:30 am until noon. All are welcome.  

Throughout the summer, we will be hosting Tipi Days: four days scattered throughout the summer where we will set up a teepee on Parkdale School grounds and host teachings with an elder. These days will be free to attend. Call our office for more information on dates: 780.481.3451.


Featured Image: Throughout the summer, Bent Arrow will be hosting Tipi Days where visitors can enjoy teachings with an elder. | Kara Jensen Photography

Cheryl Whiskeyjack

Cheryl has been employed at the Bent Arrow Traditional Healing Society for 24 years and in the executive director role since 2008. She also serves on the Align Association Board as well as Canadian Accreditation Board and co-chairs the EndPovertyEdmonton Stewardship Round Table.

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