STONEY NAKODA – Bringing together Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities to celebrate the holidays, the Stoney Nakoda First Nation held its second annual Christmas dinner this weekend.
Handing out delicious turkey meals and visiting with guests, organizer Gloria Snow was full of holiday cheer on Saturday (Dec. 21) at the old Morley Gymnasium. She said it was a welcome sight to see diverse communities come together.
“In light of recent events with Reconciliation we wanted to make sure we had a representation of Stoney Nativity,” Snow said. “A longtime ago when they had the treaty signing and we had the involvement with McDougall (Memorial United) Church and the missionaries.”
The gym was bustling with the spirit of community, as volunteers wearing their festive holiday best served up a turkey dinner while handing out gifts and food baskets to guests.
Santa Claus was able to make an appearance at the event and was entertained by the tunes of Christmas carols and hymns translated and sang in Stoney by elders, children and anyone who wanted to join in.
Snow said the day was built on the traditions of protocol to help build relationships and bring neighbours and communities together.
“Among the Stoneys far back we adopted the Christian traditions,” she said. “We also adopted the Christian tradition of celebrating Christmas – we have our own creation stories, so we interwove a lot of our Indigenous ideology, our spirituality with the Christ story. It’s really an interesting mix.”
She said it was a great experience being able to bring this to the community and celebrate Indigenous culture, because Indigenous people have overcome challenges in residential school and the potential loss of their culture and religion after the arrival of settlers restricted their freedoms.
“We had to overcome a lot of things and barriers,” Snow said. “Now that we’ve come back to our culture, it’s nothing but blessings, it’s nothing but sharing of our spirituality with the different religious organizations.”
Several churches gathered together to make the day possible and helped ensure the grassroots initiative was a success.
“It was very humble beginnings. We pooled together and did what we could,” Snow said. “This year it’s humongous the amount of donations – the elders were all getting gifts, getting hampers and the children are all getting Christmas gifts.”
A Stoney Christmas was an established tradition in the First Nation for many years, Snow said, describing how her Auntie Glenda told her stories of how the community used to gather at a band hall to eat and celebrate the season, each other and share gifts.
“We met in fellowship – this is recreating that,” Snow said. “My favourite part is feeding the community, not just a meal, but feeding them spiritually and with our own traditions.
"When we do the Stoney hymns we do the Stoney blessing and prayers.”
Snow added that it was important to collaborate with McDougall Memorial United Church because they are helping to rebuild the more than 140-year-old church that was destroyed in a fire in May of 2017.
“We are looking forward to the rebuilding of their church ... as they help us we help them," she said. "We are going to move forward with helping them move forward with rebuilding their church.
“We have the inaugural teepee that we donated to them. They can worship in it, they can do a pipe ceremony, they can do our spiritual ways – but they can also pray and do a Christian service.”
McDougall Stoney Mission Society president Brenda McQueen said it was exciting to celebrating the second annual Christmas party in Stoney Nakoda.
“It’s incredible,” McQueen said, tears coming to her eyes as she described the wonderful friendships she's built in the Stoney community in her three years as president. “It means a lot to me.”
McQueen said her goal as president was for the church to be restored if possible because she often visited as a child for church services and her daughter married in the building in July 2016 before it burnt down.
But, as she continued to visit the community, building relationships and friendships have become her priority – the Christmas party is the culmination of a year of hard work being celebrated and reconciliation.
McQueen's great, great, great grandfather built the church, she said, adding that she is looking forward to seeing it fully restored next summer. It has been a deep and meaningful experience being able to follow in the footsteps of her ancestors and foster friendship with her Stoney neighbours.