By Theodora MacLeod - Lethbridge Herald Local Journalism Initiative Reporter on December 8, 2023.
For the second, of what they hope will be many years, Iikaisskini Indigenous Services at the University of Lethbridge welcomed students to celebrate the holidays. The theme this year was ugly Christmas sweaters and attendees delivered, donning the gaudiest of garb, some truly joyful jumpers.
The celebration was open to all and manager of Iikaisskini Indigenous Services, Lindi Shade says, “It’s really about fostering relationships, connecting with each other.” Explaining that culture plays an important role in everything the gathering centre does, but they maintain a cross cultural approach to encourage students of all backgrounds and ethnicities to connect.
“For Indigenous people it’s building, maintaining relationshipsâ€¦. That’s what Iikaisskini stands for, that’s why we include everybody, (we want) everyone to feel welcome, and this something we want to do in the years ahead,” Shade says. Adding that feeding people is an important part of all gatherings, “Food is huge,” a sentiment that Elder In-Residence Shirlee Crow Shoe echoed.
“When we’re going to have a ceremony, we all gather together and our first important (aspect) is the food. Food is an important part of our gatherings,” says Crow Shoe. “Christianity was the one that taught us about Christmas. But we basically, over the years, have watched and observed how Christianity has changed our lifestyle. In our traditional ways, we always have a gathering.”
Food was certainly the star of the show at Thursday’s gathering. A spread of turkey, potatoes, and all the fixings attracted a sizeable crowd and both the centre, and the atrium bustled with conversation while three-person band played in the background. Of course, it didn’t take long for the dessert table to attract attention.
Shade says that Indigenous Christmas practices aren’t much different from those seen throughout North America, with food, community, gathering, and gift giving. Crow Shoe explains though that there are ways she and other members of the local Indigenous community have infused Blackfoot culture into mainstream Christmas traditions. While working with the Peigan Board of Education, Crow Shoe helped to develop a curriculum that translated well known Christmas carols into Blackfoot.
“We wanted ways to keep the Blackfoot language alive,” she explains. “Ways to show the children. So, what we did, is we went and translated Christmas carols that the children know, that they hear all the time, so they knowâ€¦we enhanced (them) with the Blackfoot language. And then we put sign language.” Songs like Silent Night, and Santa Claus is Coming to Town were given new life. Though she says the second verse of Silent Night gave the team some trouble, with the word ‘shepherd’ not having an obvious translation.
Truly embracing the title of gathering centre, Iikaisskini kicked off the holiday season with a bang, ensuring all in attendance left with full bellies and a sense of belonging, no matter their culture or creed.