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Floyd Patrick Favel, Miyawata Culture Inc.

Adjunct Professor, Theatre


Floyd Patrick Favel, Miyawata Culture Inc.
F.P. Favel- writer, director, journalist, Cree traditionalist
Office: S-GM 500.42  
Guy-De Maisonneuve Building,
1550 De Maisonneuve W.
Phone: (514) 848-2424 ext. 4727

Research activities

Indigenous Theatre in Moscow; an upublished article.

Discussions in Moscow on IndigenousTheatre




Floyd Favel


   In thefall of 2003 I went to Moscowto attend a theatre symposium at Anatoli Vasiliev’s Moscow School of DramaticArt. I found the relationship between Vasiliev and the Indigenous artists verycolonial and patronizing, not very different from how things are in Canada. Indigenoustheatre was relegated to a ‘sub’ form of theatre, an ethnic theatre. Attendingthis symposium where several Indigenous theatre artists from the Russian FarEast of which I was fortunate to engage in some formal interviews. At that timeI was conducting research into Indigenous traditions and theatre. One of the intendedreasons for this research was to create a precise discourse around this topicof which there is very little published material by Indigenous people, usuallythis topic is covered by non Indigenous theatre scholars or anthropologists. Throughthe translator Sanita Duka, I spoke with Galina Dorzhu from Tuva, accompanyingher was Marina Idam, also from Tuva. Prior to the edited interview below, wehad a general unrecorded discussion on theatre and Tuvan tradition whiledrinking Russian tea.


Floyd: Did youcome from a traditional Tuvinian background? And if so, can you explain brieflythis background.


Galina: Well…As we returned to the nationalorigins, I began to work with ancient rituals, shaman songs. I learned a lot ofshaman melodies. Now I have been practicing Tuvinian ancient female vocalmethods.


Marina: In generalI would like to say that Tuvinian people are those of the numerous and the fewpeople who managed to preserved their culture, language, who follow theirtraditions, rituals. We have our own language, our own culture, our owntraditions, and everything has remained. When the infant is born it absorbsthis knowledge with the mother’s milk; he is able to understand and followthese traditions unconsciously, genetically.


Floyd: What is your relationship toEuropean or Russian theatre?


Marina: Ourtheatre as such is young. We have only the 67th theatre season. Ifwe take the archaic theatre, we have spoken about that today, the shamanaction; it has been existing for many centuries. It was like the separate formof the theatre. Our actors who work at our official theatre have all graduatedfrom Russian institutions of higher education. There are four generations atour theatre who have studied at Theatre Academy of St.-Petersburg, then at RATI,Russian Academyof Dramatic Arts in Moscow.All of our specialists have the basic education like it is in all theatres of Russia.


They say that in Tuva every second personcoming to our theatre is a singer, a dancer, or a person who is a master ofthroat singing. Every man is practicing the national wrestling Kuresh. The people are steppe and musical.Tuva is situated at the territory of tundra, deserts. In order to understandwhat Tuva is one should start with the geographical position. This smallterritory has many contradictions. People live in all these contradictions,that is why the nation is very talented. The studies showed that Tuva has manyshamans because of the peculiar space zone, a kind of a very powerful energeticbowl.


Floyd: Do they apply the principals ofRussian Drama to Tuvinian ritual and tradition for performance?


Marina: No, andthe theatre also does not use them. Because Tuvinian shaman actions have theirown dramatic art. In every action there is development. This exists in allnations: there is the beginning of composition, culmination and denouement.This triangle is everywhere; this is the basis of the whole world. There is theEarth, there is the heaven. There is such tendency. Theatre by no meansinfluences shamanism. It is a kind of structure itself and it also has allthis. 


Floyd: Do they then apply the laws ofTuvinian ritual tradition to Russian Drama?


Galina: In general we have tried to give upthe system of Stanislavsky and to create the new theatrical form. Sometimes weeven tried to invite not a dramatic actor but the original musician for a mainrole, who did not graduate from any European conservatoire, the specialist inthroat singing. This person managed to enter the role of the great shaman evenbetter than the dramatic actor and played the role very well.


Floyd: What is shaman and what is shamanism?


Marina: Shaman isthe person who enters the three worlds: the lower subterranean world of theworld of the dead, the middle world of the living and the upper world of thegods. The shaman is the conductor between these worlds. The concept ofshamanism is the same. Shamanism is the phenomenon of the group of people. It’snot a religion.


Galina.: As we have left the traditionaltheatre and began our own work, we studied shamanism a lot and communicatedwith shamans. Many scientists from America who researched NativeAmerican shamans visited us. They said that real practicing shamans haveremained in Tuva. Shaman is a person who can see what ordinary people can’tsee. Shamans are able to communicate with the dead, for example.


Floyd: It seems then that the theatre is agood place for keeping Tuvinian tradition alive?


Marina and Galina: Certainly, certainly.


Marina.: The tendency of the theatre is tokeep and extol traditions as much as possible, so that not to let people to beseparate from the roots. Nowadays we can see our generation having thistendency of separation from the roots. The theatre is attracting everythingback to the roots; and not only the theatre; the whole culture does that. Allour activities further the preservation of our culture and traditions.


Galina.: One of the explanations why manyshamans still live in Tuva is that Tuva is a very energetically powerful place. There is a lot of ‘orzhans’, hothealing springs. There are mutant trees in Tuva, shaman trees. Shamans takeenergy from such special places. The scientists explain that these places havevery strong radiance.


   I was surprised at how willing theseTuvinian theatre artists were willing to place ritual traditions on stage.Ritual and traditional actions on stage, is in itself its own theatrical styleI began to think. Its all about the measure of theatre one applies to theritual action, either it’s a lot or it’s very little. Prior to this I did notthink ritual actions belong on stage. At the same conference I spoke with JemmaBatorova, a Buryat theatre artist. Buryat are Indigenous people located in andaround Lake Baikal, one of the largest bodies offresh water in the world. Lake Baikal is located in east central Siberiaand is referred to as the Pearl of Russia.


Jemma: My name is Jemma Batorova, I amfrom Ulan Ude, the capital of Buryatia Republic. I am the directorof the National Theatre of Buryatiya.


Floyd: Whoare Buryat people?


Jemma: If wespeak about the Buryat origins, they say it’s unknown. When Genghis Khan was moving along Asia up to Europeeverything became mixed. If wespeak about the religion there is Buddhism and Shamanism. There are westernBuryats and eastern Buryats. Eastern Buryats are closer to Mongolia, they’reBuddhists; western Buryats are followers of shamanism. Before the Baikal Lakethere are western Buryats; behind the Baikal there are eastern Buryats.


Floyd: Is the Buryat traditional culture verystrong?


Jemma: I must say that in different arts thereare different proportions of the traditional and of the contemporary. Forexample, if we take visual art, the tradition is stronger. If we take theatre,it’s more social. Nowadays the tradition has been rising. Now investigationwork has been carried out. Like Anatoli Vasiliev said during the last lecture, that we must return to the roots,back to our folk tradition.


Floyd: Doesthere exist precise way of working for a theatre that is based on Buryattraditions?


Jemma: No,there was no traditional Buryat theatre like Noh theatre or Chinese Opera. In1923 the Republic was created, the theatre as the social institution wasopened. This was a good theatre, they played “Othello”, “Grief from Mind” byGriboyedov, in the so called Russian psychological theatre. As for thetraditional Buryat theatre it was developing just on the level of folk creationlike in all minor nationalities: folk and religious mysteries, shaman rituals.Buryats did not have their own theatre as such. In Soviet times it wasforbidden to appeal to these rituals and mysteries.


Floyd: Do youthink it’s possible that traditional culture can inform contemporary theatre?


Jemma: I thinkit should influence and I think there should be people who understand this.Unfortunately these people are very few. It is necessary to return to theorigins and to find the moment for the renewal of the theatre. The theatre hasalready gone, it has already died and the new way means to return to thetradition, to return and to create the new school.


   I thinkthat theatre people have very strong inertia of thinking. We need the newtheatre tribe which will understand. We have a hope that our theatre workerswill somehow change, that they will not be attached to the old theatre forms.We need the new forms, however the new forms will only arise through the newcontents, through the new comprehension of what is possible.

rehearsal of Uncle Vanya in Indigenous structure at Poundmaker
Photo credit: F.Favel


Black Hills Sojourn, published by Lakota Country Times, and the News Optimist

Journey was good for the soul

/ News Optimist

July 25, 2013 02:00 

Old Indians say that a journey across Mother Earth is always good for the soul and the travel heals you from your pain and worries, and that is what I thought of as I left on the highway heading south from Saskatchewan, down to the land of the Lakotas and the sacred Black Hills.

The Black Hills are the centre of the universe to Lakota People and these hills were never surrendered by treaty, they were stolen by the U.S. Government when gold was discovered there in 1874. These hills are part of the Great Sioux Reservation of the 1868 Fort Laramie Treaty signed after Lakota war chief Red Cloud militarily defeated the United States.

Indigenous People believe this world is sacred and created by long ago sacred and mysterious acts. Long ago, a race was run by the animal beings around these hills. This race was won by the humble magpie who rode on the back of the buffalo and just before the finish line the magpie had flown ahead of the buffalo to win the race. It was here that the Lakota originated, they say. As a Plains Cree, I am of Assiniboine ancestry. The Assiniboine's are part of the seven council fires of the Lakota and so these hills are part of my history as well. It was a return to the beginnings.

Bear Butte, Mato Paha, is a butte that stands by itself just west of Sturgis, S.D. just before you enter the Black Hills. This butte is sacred to over 30 indigenous nations. For the Lakota, this butte is where many of their spiritual leaders, like Crazy Horse, sought visions and strength. Our Lakota guide at the Bear Butte Visitor Centre said this butte is part of a larger story that is connected to Mato Tipila, or Devil's Tower in Wyoming 100 kilometres to the west, and the Bad Lands 150 kilometres east of this butte.

The climb to the top of this sacred site is arduous and the rocky path is lined with tobacco ties and coloured cloth offerings, evidence that this site is still important for indigenous people as a sacred shrine. The whites have sacred churches like Lourdes in France and the Vatican in Italy, this butte and others like it are our indigenous cathedrals.

The Pine Ridge Reservation, as vast as it is in comparison to Canadian reserves, is only a fraction of its original size. It is a magical and tragic place of heroes and warriors. On the reservation is the town of Wounded Knee.

Wounded Knee, site of a conflict between the Lakota and the U.S. Army, where unarmed Lakota men, women and children were gunned down. Jerilyn Elk sells her wares every day and lives along Wounded Knee Creek, not far from the actual site of Big Foot's camp.

"It's a sad place, but it's home", she said, after quietly sharing her stories and a tattered photo album of the history of the battle that her uncle had collected. A hot wind blew along the hill as we looked about and she pointed where the different army units were stationed and where Big Foot's camp was, a highway runs along the edge of the original camp.

Just south on the Nebraska and Pine Ridge Reservation border is the town of White Clay, Neb. This one street town lined with low decrepit and weather beaten buildings and beer stores is a sad place where the irresponsible sale of alcohol is ravaging those who are addicted. I went there to visit a camp that has been set up as you enter this town. A teepee stood alongside the highway, a little further in the grass and shaded by trees were four smaller tents. When I arrived there, the camp was staffed by three Lakota women and two small children.

I spoke briefly with Misty Sioux Little Davis.

"We are doing this for the children, so our children can grow up without having alcohol destroying their lives. We've been dealing with this town for a hundred years and it has to stop. This town does one million dollars a year from our people, and look at our people out there on the street."

Theirs is a noble fight. I wonder if they will succeed in their fight against alcohol, but I don't think that is the point, the main thing is they are fighting a battle for their people. I left Pine Ridge, deeply moved and inspired by my encounters with the common people. Their kind, eloquent and informative words echoed in my memories as I drove back home to my people.

One undertakes a journey, a sojourn to learn and open your mind and heart and I am grateful I undertook this journey to the land of the Lakotas. Pilamaya.

© Copyright 2017 Battlefords News Optimist

Spirit Being Dialogue, published by Isuma Publications

Spirit Being Dialogue - by Floyd Favel

There are some films that stay with us forever, the characters alive within us, like spirit beings. Years ago, I watched a film by Kurosawa, called Dersu Uzala, the main characters being a Russian surveyor on an expedition to the Russian Far East, and an indigenous Goldi hunter, Dersu, that he meets by happenstance and then employs as a guide. The dialogue between these two characters - one an educated European man and the other a complex man of the forest - became mine as I made my way from the reserve and urban ghettoes of Saskatchewan, and through the theatres and books of a European civilization. The relationship between the Russian and the Goldi lived within me as a tension between intellect and spirit, progress and tradition, city and the forest.

I watched this film as a young artist - so many years ago it seems. I did not encounter these characters again in any other films, until recently when I viewed the new Kunuk/Cohn film, The Journals of Knud Rasmussen. Here once again, we meet the man of science in dialogue with an indigenous person, in this case, an Inuit shaman. This moment in life seems to be framed at one end by a film, the other ends by another film, separated by twenty years.

In The Journals of Knud Rasmussen, the ethnographer Knud Rasmussen encounters the Inuit shaman Aua. The purpose of Rasmussen's expedition is to record as much as possible the traditions of the Inuit before they disappeared. One cold day they encounter Aua and his wild fierce party filled with life and vitality. The presence of Aua emanates from the pages of Rasmussen. Like an oracle, or a stone which speaks of the mysterious and creative relationship between humanity and nature, the words of Aua remind us of the passion and fragility of human life, that we are not rational masters of the universe. His words open us up to allow our soul to become itself once again, as if we have been lost and found again.

We remember.

Rasmussen encounters Aua and his party just at the moment when their traditional beliefs are being replaced by Christianity, and this is a dramatic moment in the lives of the Inuit. Each person seems to hold the fate of their soul and the world in their hands. Today, faith does not seem to play a major role in our lives as we seem to no longer depend on nature for survival - to depend on nature demands, skill, luck and faith.

I remember an old shaman telling me of the day he decided to convert to Christianity. He threw his rattle into the bush and the next day his rattle sat on the doorstep of his log cabin. He got the message and did not abandon his beliefs. It is this man's son who now holds all of his secrets, a man who lives alone in the forests of northern Saskatchewan. We went together once to a Pow Wow, and he said, 'Nephew, I would never have believed this, the elders used to say that soon all you will hear all around you is the English language, there will only be little islands of Cree. When this happens know that the world will change and it is not good. Nephew, I have seen this today.' And he wept.

I think it is people like him, like Dursu, and Aua, who have kept the world from slipping into peril. The less there are of them, the greater the peril. They are like the 40 just men of the Hassidim, men who live hidden in the world, but on whom the salvation of the world depends.

The world will not end once, but will end many times. As the forests die, the ice caps melts and rivers dry up, the languages and cultures of this area die, and with them a whole world view. No one knows when the world will end, not even the animals know this, the old Cree people say.

Faith, like belief, is not a satisfactory word to capture the complexity of shamanism - shamanism has more to do with direct contact with the spirit powers of the universe and the human soul and its tragedy. It is a desperate search for meaning, beyond being morally good or bad, but is a search which drives you deep into the tundra or the forest, to fast and pray for understanding. To ask why? Why must people be ill and suffer pain?

Why must we die?

Questions Aua asked himself in the lonely solitude of the tundra.

We cannot possess knowledge. To attempt to capture knowledge thru journals or films is nearly impossible.

In Dersu Uzala, the Russian brings Dersu home to live with him and his wife and child in the city. It is a cultured life of books, science and houses. Dersu spends his days despondently sitting cross-legged on the floor in front of the stove, watching the flames of the fire through the grating. You can imagine what would have happened if Rasmussen brought Aua home to live with him in Denmark.

This is what happens I think when we place shamanism on the screen or written page. We are filled with grief and longing. Either we are the man in the front of the stove looking at the fire, remembering, or the man in front of the stove is the film or the written word. Looking longingly at the fire trapped behind the iron grating. There is hope though, hope is the fire, and that is the possibility. Perhaps it is this hope that allows our soul to turn backwards to the past, and to bring the past forward through our art.

It is important that these stories, from Kunuk/Cohn and Kurosawa and others, come to the screen, filling us with hope and despair. Never before in the modern history of humanity have we faced the destruction of our world. It is less abrupt than a nuclear war, it is a slow insidious destruction of global warming of which we are a part of due to our enslavement to modern technology, and to the world view which thinks only of the immediate present.

Suddenly modern humanity realizes how dependent they are on nature. No, no, these films by Kurosawa, by Kunuk/Cohn are not simply tales of the march of civilization encountering the autochthonous cultures of the taiga and tundra, these films are about life itself and the limits of rationality.

Eventually Dersu leaves and goes back to the taiga and the Russian is left with a meaningful encounter, more meaningful than a romantic tryst in a foreign land, for he has been possessed by the words and songs of the land. Words that slowly work their magic upon his soul. Now he can only remember, and then the lens of the filmmaker captures this remembering, and through them we remember.

The spirit beings of the surveyor/ethnographer and the hunter/shaman keep up their perpetual eternal dialogue, a dialogue which has no resolution. It is this tension that keeps us searching and moving forward. We, a people who have been washed over by civilization, then out of the depths, a sound, then a word, a song or a film emerges.

And we survive...

Peyote lands under threat from development

By Floyd Favel
Plains Cree

PAYNTON, Saskatchewan, Dec. 1, 2011

Text size: A A A

Kelly Daniels is the president of the Native American Church of Canada whose music has been nominated and won numerous awards, most recently for best album in the peyote music category at the Aboriginal Peoples Choice Music Awards in Winnipeg, Manitoba, in November.

Daniel's CDs are released to help bring healing and awareness to our people about important issues and causes.

"We had a ceremony with our elders before we made CDs to ask for permission to record and the elders told us it's good but we have to work for our people," Daniels said.

Just days prior to winning the award for best album, Daniels attended the "Intercontinental Prayer for the Preservation and Sustainability of the Sacred Peyote Medicine" conference recently held in Chalmita, Mexico, from Oct. 28 to Nov. 1.

Daniels, along with other Native American Church leaders from the United States, attended at the invitation of the Huichol Nation of Mexico.

Huichol call themselves Wixarrika and reside in the northern region of Mexico, the heart of the sacred peyote lands.

Daniels' trip was sponsored by the Sturgeon Lake First Nation. The purpose of the conference was to bring awareness to the threat that peyote lands are under from mining and agricultural development.

Peyote is a sacrament that is central to the beliefs and tenets of many indigenous nations in Mexico as well as members of the NAC in the United States and Canada.

The Wixarrika are one of the poorest and most traditional of the indigenous people of Mexico. The Wixarrika's inherent title to land is not recognized nor have treaties been made with the Mexican government.

This lack of respect for their inherent title to the land, lack of treaties, and their poverty, makes the land and its resources easily exploitable.

The Wixarrika are launching a public relations and media campaign to bring international awareness to the threat to their peyote lands.

Daniels feels this is important, but also that other indigenous environmental and political leaders and artists need to be involved as, "This is not only an issue of concern to peyote people but to all indigenous people who are trying to preserve and save their lands and their people."

One suggestion is to designate the land as a world heritage site or be turned into a national park.

The Wxarrika seek unity among indigenous people but, as in Canada and the United States, the government is buying off or attempting to buy out influential indigenous political and economic leaders to open the doors into wholesale resource development on these sacred lands.

In Canada, resource extraction and economic development is the mantra of the Harper government, in other words, the rape of Mother Earth.

The Canadian government has succeeded in bringing many indigenous leaders into this credo and many leaders and organizations are working with various interests in the destruction of their traditional lands.

The tar sands in Alberta is one example. Uranium mining and tar sands development in northern Saskatchewan is another, and the construction of hydro-electric dams in northern Quebec is another example.

One of the major mining companies that has a lot to gain in development of the peyote lands is Majestic Mining Corp., a Canadian-owned company.

Mining companies in the past have contaminated the land and its surrounding and the Wixarrika fear for their peyote. Majestic is one of about 30 companies who are seeking mining concessions and permits in this region.

Mining development is threatening a way of life and worship and an indigenous religion.

Daniels is from the Sturgeon Lake First Nation but resides on the Red Pheasant First Nations, his mother's home community. His family has followed the Peyote Way for many generations and he is passionate in bringing awareness of the fate of the peyote lands to the people of Canada and to the world.

Long ago, the mythical being Wasakaychak created this world, this island - Ministik as its called in the Cree language.

When he had finished creating this island, he asked the wolf to run around the world to see how big the land was. The wolf was old when he finally returned and he reported back to Wasakaychak how big this island was.

Wasakaychak was satisfied that the island was big enough for the people who would reside therein. This island, Turtle Island as some call it, an island which rests on the turtle's back, is the land the indigenous people were placed upon.

The threat to the survival of the peyote in the sacred lands in Mexico affects all of us as indigenous people of this island.

Favel is a writer, playwright and film producer.

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Sacred Visit-Lakota Country Times

Sacred Visit

By: Floyd Favel Plains Cree

Kelly Daniels, the President of the Native American Church of Canada (NACC) attended the International Congress on Sacred Medicines held in Mexico City, Mexico October 23 to October 30, 2010. The purpose of the Congress was to bring church members from Canada, the USA and Mexico, as well as doctors, researchers and academics, and Mexican officials to discuss sacred medicines and the preservation of the sacred Peyote lands from oil and mining development.

The Mexican government is trying to develop lands that contain sites sacred to the Huichol People. It was hoped that the Congress would educate the government about the sacredness of Peyote and other medicines. It took 10 years of planning to organize this international congress.

The Huichol are an Indigenous Nation of west central Mexico who live in the Sierra Madre range in the Mexican States of Nayarit, Jalisco, Zacatecas and Durango. They call themselves Wixiwitari, meaning The People. Their language is from the Uto-Aztecan language group. Other tribes that are part of this language family are Comanche, Kiowa and Shoshone.

Numerous presenters stated that the Sacred Medicine, Peyote brings no harm and promotes mental health. The Medicine Peyote is a doctor for many things and helps you to understand life around you and opens your heart of feelings. Presenters stressed the importance of living a positive lifestyle and that every plant has its purpose or the Creator would not have placed that plant here to benefit humanity.

Kelly Daniels resides on the Red Pheasant Cree Nation. He spends a lot of time educating society at large about Peyote so this conference allowed him to be able to access more information and recent developments in the discourse surrounding Peyote. He was able to talk with many Huichol People and some of the information they shared with him was that, “they call Peyote, the Divine Food. Peyote has to be used only in a ceremonial way and not anywhere else. A lot of people have misunderstanding about Peyote and it’s important to provide proper information. Deer and Corn are very important foods related to Peyote. The hunters hunt for Peyote as they would hunt a deer. For the Huichol, their Indigenous flag contains the bow and arrow. Local Mexican tribes are not allowed to use Peyote, who can and who can’t is decided by the government. At present only the Huichol are allowed to harvest and have in their possession this medicine. It appears that the government doesn’t want local tribes to use the medicine as then they would come together and do great things as the medicine lifts up People and Nations.”

The NACC is an incorporated church founded in 1954 by members from Red Pheasant, Mosquito and Sunchild reserves. Peyote was brought to the Battleford area of Saskatchewan in the late 1930’s by George Lightfoot and Paul Spyglass of the Mosquito First Nation. The NACC is the national body for church members across Canada and is affiliated with the Native American Church of North American (NACNA).

Armando Loizaga gave a presentation which traced the spread of Peyote from Mexico to Canada. He spoke about Quanah Parker, an early proselytizer of Peyote and James Mooney, an anthropologist influential in the creation of the Native American Church in 1918. Loizaga also stated that as long as you are member of a tribe from Mexico you should be able to use the Medicine.

Kelly was proud also that the NACC was recognized internationally when photos of a historic1956 meeting at Fort Battleford were used in a presentation. At the meeting led by Frank Takes Gun in 1956, local members from Red Pheasant and Mosquito opened the ceremony to government officials and world renowned researchers into mental health and addictions such as biochemist J. Hoffer, psychiatrist Weckowics, psychologist D. Blewed as observers, and one of the foremost authorities of the subject, Dr. Humphrey Osmond. The purpose of this ceremony was to show that the NAC was a good ceremony. Dr. Osmond later stated that NAC of Canada is a real church and must be protected. (Peyote Religion, a History of Peyote by Omer C. Stewart). “All the evidence that we have suggests that Peyote is wholly beneficial and no way a drug of addiction. It cannot even be defined in that way since it does not have the essential compelling qualities nor the withdrawal symptoms.”

While a delegate at the Congress, Kelly not only attended lectures, he also took part in two ceremonies. One Peyote ceremony took place in a tipi at the University of Mexico. The ceremony was led by Powhattan Mills, a Yakima from Oregon. In the morning, the Dean of the University of Mexico was fanned off with cedar and he was thanked for allowing the Congress to be held at the university.

The other ceremony involved a 9 hour bus ride north of Mexico City to the sacred Peyote Gardens, Wirikuta in the Huichol language. Delegates such as doctors and lawyers made this trip. “We were told by the organizers of the conference that it took 20 years to build the relationship with the Huichol who live in Wirikuta. We were told to act respectfully so as not to break the relationship with the Huichol as they are very strict regarding the Sacred Medicine.”

Kelly was chosen to be one of the few who were to be allowed into the Peyote Gardens, which was a great honor and privilege for him. “We had to be purified by medicine men then the Huichols went ahead and we followed in a line shaped like an eagle. So it was like were flying into the Gardens, we had to become one with the land.”

“We visited other sacred sites that day and finally towards evening there were three ceremonies. One took place in a tipi led by Crow Bear, a Huichol road man who resides in California. I carried drum for him. In the morning, the ceremonial food was brought in by the women. It had to be the women as it is women who gave life and they put some of that life into that food so we can get stronger and feel better. In those 3 ceremonies there were about 200 people taking part. There was ours in a tipi, then the Huichols had theirs, and the Aztecs had theirs nearby. This place at the Peyote Gardens is called The Belly Button, where all life starts. They believe that the root of the medicine is the umbilical cord of the Creator to our Mother Earth. They are very poor people but they showed a lot of commitment and respect for the medicine, towards morning, the Huichols sacrificed a bull. It was a very sacred visit that I had there.”

After the ceremony Kelly flew home back to Saskatchewan, from 90 degrees Fahrenheit in Mexico to a snow storm in Saskatchewan. A few days later Kelly gave thanks in a ceremony at Red Pheasant. “I wanted to give thanks to have been with the Huichol People, to witness what I had witnessed. Local people were present as well as members from Alberta to hear about what I saw and about my visit where all life begins at the Sacred Peyote Garden, Wirikuta.”

Sandor Iron Rope is a member of the Oglala Lakota Nation. He is a past President of the Native American Church of South Dakota and is now serving as Vice President of the Native American Church of North America. He is pictured here in Mexico where he respectfully represented the Lakota Oyate at the MAPS International Congress on Traditional Medicine and Public Health held in Mexico during October 2010.

Land of a Hundred Poisoned Lakes, published 2005 in Native People Magazine ( guest editorial)

Land of a 100 Poisoned Lakes

By Floyd Favel ( Cree)

(Originally published in Native Peoples Magazine ,2005, Volume VIII, issue VI)

I once was invited to Fort MacMurray in Northern Alberta to direct a theatre production at Keyano College. The Canadian North conjures up pictures of pristine forests and lakes but this is not what I found. Fort MacMurray, or Fort Mac in local parlance, is situated at the confluence of the Athabasca and Clearwater Rivers and is a sprawling oil town, a contemporary frontier town where there are fortunes to be made and lost. A mall and casino are recent developments. New hotels, franchise restaurants and bars line the streets traversed by four wheel drive pickup trucks. Ravens feast from overflowing garbage bins.

Like all northern Canadian cities, Indigenous people are very visible; from construction and oil workers and office types working as Aboriginal consultants to resource companies, to a dishevelled couple in faded denim and ball caps I saw harvesting cigarette buts from the sidewalks. The bars are the playground of the white workers who come from Newfoundland, Ontario and other places east. Many have left their families, and some are single, but here, money can buy anything, and the money flows like oil and very often it is our people who are the victims, be it here in northern Canada, the frontier towns of the Amazon, or the Siberian Taiga, our people always pay the price.

One of the actors in the theatre production I am directing, Charmaine, a Cree from Paddle Prairie, worked a 12 hour shift at the oil company Suncor, each day prior to coming to rehearsals. Although she is aware of the environmental damage the industry inflicts, it is one of the few employment opportunities in the area.

Fort MacMurray sits near one of the largest tar sand deposits in the world, supposedly rivalling the oil deposits of Saudi Arabia. The explorer Peter Pond, on his first visit in 1778 wrote in his diary, “ tar oozed out along the banks of the Athabasca.” Traditionally this tar was mixed with spruce sap and used by the Cree and Dene people as a sealant to repair birchbark canoes. Initially Fort MacMurray’s raison d’etre was the fur trade. Now it is the oil trade. In the last 20 years, rising oil prices and advanced technology have propelled the province of Alberta into one of the most dynamic economies in Canada.

Charmaine invited me to tour of Suncor’s tar sands projects. On a day off we left and drove north. Not far beyond Fort MacMurray we saw the 300 foot tall smokestack of the refining plant expelling its toxic discharge. Soon we came to the SUNCOR site. I was required to sign it and register my camera. Our guide, Les Marchand, was a local Metis man who has been employed with SUNCOR for almost 25 years. He has, he noted, “ pretty much done everything here, including driving the cats and the trucks.” He added that the workers shift during our visit employed the most Indigenous women, who drive heavy machinery and 50 ton trucks. We met a few on the roads and pulled over in our pickup truck to wait. “ Those things could crush us and they wouldn’t feel a thing, “ Les warned.

As we would through gigantic gravel pits, I asked, “ are these the tar sands?” Les replied, “ Oh no, you haven’t seen anything yet. They’re just scraping away the earth right now to get to the tar.” The walls of the pit are black sand and on hot days, the oil runs down these walls. To extract the oil, the poplar and spruce trees are cut down and about 200 feet of earth, called ‘garbage’ is removed. This ‘garbage’ is trucked away in
360 ton trucks. The valuable tar sands are then dug out and trucked to the plant where the oil is then separated from the sand. Unbelievable amounts of water, taken from the Athabasca River are needed for for the refining process.

 to the Alberta, Saskatchewan and Northwest Territories borders, and then into the McKenzie River, draining one of the last large wilderness areas on earth. The severely contaminated refinery waste water is then pumped through pipes into tailings ponds.

Soon we came upon the tailings ponds which simmered into the distant horizon. Les casually noted, “ These will reach 500 feet in depth.” I asked if the water was any good. He replied, “ Someday, maybe, the contamination will sink to the bottom, but that will take a while, hundreds of years.”
These ponds, are not really ponds, they are lakes and these lakes are not on any maps. If they were, this area would look like a land of a hundred lakes. A fisherman’s and a hunters paradise.

Critics fear the waste water will eventually seep into the groundwater
and contaminate the natural river and lake systems throughout a 1000 square mile area. Sadly, this is just one project out of an existing 6 projects near Fort MacMurray with a potential of 20 more to be developed. One might rank it on an ecological disaster scale alongside the disappearance of the Aral Sea in Russia and the ongoing destruction of the
Amazon rain forest.

Upon my return from the tour, I await to start rehearsals once again. I think about what
it was that I witnessed that day and no words can completely describe the feelings and
thoughts that I had. No readings, no photos had prepared me for this experience, it was
the end of the world for our people and for this earth. On our way back to the city we had
stopped at the Dene community of Fort McKay. It was literally an island of forest, about
10 km square surrounded by the wasteland of the tar sands development. Yes, the houses
were modern and the roads were good, the trucks brand new and the band office was state
of the art and rustic looking. But at what price ? so that the people could not eat the fish
from the nearby river? Or that they could no longer hunt moose and must travel far in
order to access traditional food and medicines.
- An earlier version of this article was published in Native Peoples Magazine, Nov/Dec

Participation activities

'Correct one of history's wrongs': Poundmaker artifacts coming home

Poundmaker First Nation in Sask. hosts July 18 museum exhibit including famous chief's war club

By Jason Warick, CBC NewsPosted: Jul 08, 2017 5:00 AM CTLast Updated: Jul 08, 2017 10:49 AM CT

Chief Poundmaker's belongings were taken following the 1885 resistance. His war club and other items are being loaned back to the Poundmaker Cree Nation as part of a museum exhibit July 18-23 on the reserve near the Battlefords.

Chief Poundmaker's belongings were taken following the 1885 resistance. His war club and other items are being loaned back to the Poundmaker Cree Nation as part of a museum exhibit July 18-23 on the reserve near the Battlefords. (submitted)

For the first time since 1885, some of Chief Poundmaker's belongings are coming home to Saskatchewan.

Poundmaker was a 19th-century Plains Cree leader who was convicted of treason and imprisoned following the 1885 North-West Resistance and died shortly after.

Many of his possessions were seized and ended up in museums across Saskatchewan and around the world.

On July 18, the museum at Poundmaker Cree Nation, approximately 175 kilometres northwest of Saskatoon, will display the legendary chief's ceremonial war club and other items.

war club

Chief Poundmaker's war club is being loaned to the Poundmaker Cree Nation for the first time since it was taken in 1885. It will be part of an exhibit at the band museum July 18-23. (submitted)

It's on loan from the federal government, which had been holding the artifacts at the nearby Fort Battleford national historic site.

Poundmaker museum curator Floyd Favel says it's one way to educate the public, but also Poundmaker Cree Nation youth, about the true history of the 1885 resistance.

Favel says it could also help efforts to have Chief Poundmaker exonerated.


Poundmaker Cree Nation museum curator Floyd Favel is looking forward to the return of Chief Poundmaker's war club and other artifacts for their July 18 exhibit. (submitted)

"That is what we are asking for, is just to correct one of history's wrongs, especially to our people. And in many ways, when you correct and straighten out the mistakes of the past, it clears the way for the future."

Poundmaker councillor, or "headman," Milton Tootoosis said the band council has written to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to demand that Chief Poundmaker's treason conviction be quashed.

The effort was initiated several years ago by band member and historian Tyrone Tootoosis, who played Poundmaker in a feature film. Tyrone Tootoosis died earlier this year and others have decided to take up the cause.

Convicted of treason

In 1885, tensions between the federal government and First Nations and Métis people were increasing. In Batoche, Métis people led by Louis Riel and Gabriel Dumont were attacked and defeated by federal troops in a bloody battle that lasted several days.

Over in west-central Saskatchewan, Poundmaker was trying to get help for his starving people. The buffalo herds had been decimated, and the treaty promises of food rations and agricultural implements made less than a decade earlier had already been broken.

Poundmaker and his band members traveled to Battleford to ask federal agents for food. When word spread of their impending arrival, terrified settlers and the Indian agent fled inside Fort Battleford.

The town of Battleford was looted, although accounts differ on whether it was First Nations or settlers who did it. The Indian agent refused to leave the fort to talk, so Poundmaker and his people went back to their reserve.

To punish Poundmaker for the "siege" of the fort, federal troops led by Col. William Otter attacked Poundmaker's camp at Cut Knife Hill in May 1885. The troops were badly beaten and began to retreat.

Poundmaker ordered his warriors not to pursue the 300 fleeing troops. Poundmaker turned himself in to authorities to prevent further bloodshed and was convicted of treason. He was imprisoned at Stony Mountain Penitentiary in Manitoba and died of a lung infection shortly after.


Poundmaker Cree Nation headman Milton Tootoosis is excited about the return of Chief Poundmaker's war club for a museum display on the First Nation near the Battlefords. (Jason Warick/CBC)

'History books should be updated'

Milton Tootoosis said Canadians need to know Poundmaker was an agent of reconciliation, more than a century before the term became common.

"Poundmaker did nothing wrong. As we talk about truth and reconciliation and justice, the history books should be updated," he said.

Scott Bardsley, press secretary for Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale, said a request to overturn a conviction is usually made for those still alive. But he said they'll take a look at Poundmaker council's request.

"Currently, clemency is not granted posthumously, [but] if there is a formal request, we would give it due consideration," Bardsley said.

The artifacts will be on display at the Poundmaker band museum until July 23. Favel and Tootoosis said the museum is open to the public and they encourage everyone to attend.

They hope to repatriate these and other items permanently in the coming years.

Related Activities in Culture-Tradition and Performance

Poundmaker FN makes strides to revitalize an 'endangered' language

“Unconsciously we do use remnants of the Plains Indian Sign Language system when we use our language and we tell stories."


Floyd Favel has travelled the world studying how theatre is performed in different cultures. But when the filmmaker from Poundmaker First Nation set his mind to developing an Indigenous performance method, he decided to look in his own backyard.

“I remember as a teenager meeting an old man who showed me a few sign language gestures and I remember being interested,” Favel recalled.

Favel began researching Plains Indian Sign Language — which he describes as a “little-known art” — and was fascinated.

Roughly 150 years ago, the rudimentary language had been the main form of communication for Indigenous groups across the North American prairies who spoke different dialects. Over time, the language fell out of everyday use. However, some gestures remained ingrained in Indigenous storytelling traditions, whether storytellers realized it or not.

“Unconsciously we do use remnants of the Plains Indian Sign Language system when we use our language and we tell stories. Unconsciously. We don’t know that it’s part of the lexicon of the sign language, but we do use some of those gestures and images,” Favel said.

Favel says Plains Indian Sign Language can have a place in contemporary times, including in theatre and art, and wants members of Poundmaker First Nation to play a role in its revitalization.

He’s among the organizers of a storyteller’s festival happening this month on Poundmaker, about 200 kilometres northwest of Saskatoon, and has invited one of the few experts in Plains Indian Sign Language to come to tell traditional stories using sign and give a presentation on the language.

The expert, Lanny Real Bird, lives on the Crow Reservation in southeast Montana. He describes Plains Indian Sign Language as “endangered” and estimates there are fewer than 1,000 people with any knowledge of it.

Real Bird began learning sign as a young boy because he had family members who were deaf and hard of hearing. Later, when Real Bird became a teacher of Indigenous languages, he realized signing could be an important tool to help people learn because signing while speaking made lessons more interactive, immersive and fun.

And teaching Plains Indian Sign Language further helps connect people to their identity, he says.

“There are a lot of people among our native communities who are seeking an identity. And one of the foundations of identity and defining our self image as a native person is our culture as well as our language,” Real Bird says. 

“Once a person is introduced to their language after suffering cultural loss and historic trauma and some of the historic tribulations, relearning and reidentifying with something that is historically rare or historically important to their identity gives them a good feeling about who they are and it’s kind of a healing process for somebody to learn their language.”

Favel says he hopes Real Bird’s presentation helps people in the community realize that learning Plains Indian Sign Language is not only possible, but an exercise that has value.

“The majority of people, they’ve maybe heard about (Plains Indian Sign Language) in the past, but not really put a focus on it and thought maybe it was a long-lost art so far in the past that maybe it has irrelevancy to today,” Favel said.

“But this is an art that the world needs, to be able to communicate through the use of gestures and signs across all linguistic divisions.”

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