Dancing, bingo, neckbones and culture at Métis Days
- NC Raine | September 14, 2021
Ringing through Boomtown Street at the Western Development Museum for three consecutive days were the sounds of fiddle music, stories from Elders, lessons in Michif, the stomps and claps from jigging and Creeland dancers, and the smell of neckbones. Many, many neckbones.
“This entire event is something we look forward to all year,” said Shirley Isbister, President of the Central Urban Métis Federation Inc. (CUMFI).
“We want people to realize the Métis are a strong nation, are a caring nation. We have First Nations blood, we have settler blood. We're a strong people and a huge part of moving the nation forward.”
'The Year of the Elder' was the theme of CUMFI's fourth annual Métis Cultural Days – a free event from September 10 to 12 that invites individuals of all ages and backgrounds to learn and celebrate Métis culture, art, and history.
First up on the schedule were the youth – some 1,000 students in Saskatoon passed through the Western Development Museum on Friday for CUMFI's Education Day, where kids were immersed in Métis culture, including hearing stories from Elders, learning to jig, and making bannock on a stick.
“We really want the children to learn about Métis culture and people. I believe when people learn about each other's cultures, it prevents racism, because when you sit down at a table and talk, eat, and laugh with others, it doesn't matter what culture you're from. We're all the same people. So I think it really helps when kids learn about other cultures,” said Isbister.
From Friday night to Sunday afternoon, the cornucopia of events and entertainment included a family dance, jigging competition with the Qu'Appelle Valley Dancers, fiddle performances, Michif bingo, a free pancake breakfast on Sunday morning, an interfaith service, and an intercultural performance from the Saskatoon Open Door Society.
CUMFI also offered COVID-19 rapid testing site and a walk-in vaccine clinic on Saturday, which was open for 8 hours on Saturday. Midway through Saturday, the clinic had administered 42 vaccines. The headline event, though, and perhaps the most popular event of the weekend, was the Celebrity Neckbone Eating Competition. Saskatoon Police Chief Troy Cooper attempted to defend his title against Métis Nation-Saskatchewan President Glen McCallum, First Lady Verna McCallum, Saskatoon Mayor Charlie Clark, Saskatoon Fire Department Chief Morgan Hackl, Chair of governing circle of the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation Eugene Arcand, CEO of Saskatoon Tourism Stephanie Clovechok, and Eagle Feather News' own John Lagimodiere.
“The secret is that I actually like neckbones and eat them throughout the year, so this isn't a once-in-a-year event for me,” Cooper told Eagle Feather News prior to the competition.
“(This weekend) highlights some of the positive components of culture and gives people a reason to be proud of their history and roots, as well as learn the 'truth' part of Truth and Reconciliation,” he said.
The lively competition found Chief Cooper and Mayor Clark tied at its conclusion, forcing both into a head-to-head overtime. In the end, Clark upset the reigning champ to earn his first neckbone eating competition title.
“It was so fun. It's been such a hard couple years for everyone. Just to get together and have a laugh, it was great,” Clark told Eagle Feather News.
“CUMFI and the Métis Nation have done so much to create this Cultural Days, and to make sure the traditions of the Métis community stay strong. So many people here have smiles on their faces, are having fun, are making great connections. It's powerful.”