The 100 Year Thunderchild First Nation Commemorative was designed to honor the memory of a dark and tragic piece of history, the forced relocation of a people
and way of life, from the original 116A reservation at Delmas, Saskatchewan, to
the present reserve lands near Turtleford, Saskatchewan.
"The original reserve lands in Delmas were rich in resources and the Thunderchild Band flourished with excellent crops and an abundance of healthy livestock including horses, cattle, pigs and chickens," said Eldon Okanee, who is the band's Communications Director.
In 1909, however, they faced direct competition from European settlers who wanted to take this rich black farm land away from the Native people and keep it for themselves.
"Facing relentless pressure that included Catholic Father Delmas himself, Indian Affairs put a cash deal on the table and the Thunderchild people were torn from their traditional reserve lands in a forced relocation to a new home. They used Indian Affairs and pressure from
the clergy, farmers and townspeople to create a united front that would force
the people out. It was an illegal, forced surrender done in a fraudulent way,"
The relocation to new reserve lands, 116 B and 116C, included a
difficult crossing of the North Saskatchewan River that saw many cattle lost in the fast flowing currents.
Thunderchild Chief Dale Awasis and the
Thunderchild Band Council decided that the 100 year ceremonies, memorials and
feasts would be called a 'commemorative', not a celebration, to be held from April through September highlighting the stories of their people's survival over the next century.
"We are remembering the move made 100 years ago from Delmas, an area in Saskatchewan that we used to call home," said Thunderchild's Chief Dale Awasis.
"Our 100 year Commemoration is remembering a piece of our history that is significant and important. One day, 100 years ago, we were told, you are leaving your home. We faced a lot of unknowns," said Chief Awasis.
"One of the things I have stressed is that we really want our younger generation to know where we came from and that we do have a history that should be told and remembered," he added.
In the forced dispersement, not all of the
band members choose to make the long arduous trek to the new reserve, some
deciding to settle in the surrounding area near Delmas.
"As part of the commemoration ceremonies, our Elders gathered with their Elders, trying to reprieve and remember a piece of our history, sharing a feast and honoring the ancestors that are still lying there. Some of us are still there in grave sites that tie us to that area," explained Chief Awasis.
The 100 year Commemorative opened with a two day Round Dance, followed by a sunrise pipe ceremony. On June 20, Thunderchild Band members gathered for the Eagle Feather Walk from Delmas to Thunderchild, with an overnight campout at the Moosomin Powwow, hosted by Chief Danny Black Star and Council.
Sharing poignant stories and personal histories with Moosomin band members, whose ancestors had also been traumatized by a forced displacement, the trek continued, arriving at Thunderchild on National Aboriginal Day, June 21, at the height of the Summer Solstice, and finishing at the Thunderchild Memorial site on June 22.
"During the Eagle Feather Walk, we created a reenactment of our relocation to increase awareness and draw a bigger crowd, part of our plan, over the course of this year, to draw our community together," said Chief Awasis.
Special activities on Treaty Day included a play dramatizing the relocation, horse driven wagon drive and authentic reenactment, starting on the north side of the Saskatchen River and ending at the Thunderchild powwow grounds.
A spectacular display of commemorative fireworks exploded in the night sky during the July 25th festivities at the Thunderchild Powwow.
Another cultural highlight was the Grass Dance Endurance Special sponsored by John and Bernadine Graham, to honor
the outstanding academic, cultural and sports achievements of their son Jackson.
A large field of young Grass Dancers stomped down the grass, danced up a storm, sweat flying off their faces, as drum after drum challenged their stamina, energy and courage. The final 200 year Commemorative event is slated to take place in mid September with a traditional feast to honor past leadership and band members and pay tribute to Thunderchild's cultural, artistic and political achievements over the last 100 years.
Saskatchewan musician Shane Yellowbird, whose grandmother Sheila Thunderchild was one of the original band members at Delmas, will be on hand to rock the hall.
In 2003, after years of negotiations with the Federal government over the illegal surrender of the lands at Delmas, Thunderchild won a settlement of 55 million dollars in their specific lands claim, plus the right to purchase an additional five thousand acres of land adjacent to the present reserve.
"We survived and will continue to survive, a proud independent nation," said Chief Dale Awasis.