Kristin Catherwood, Director of Living Heritage
Something special happened at Government House on Wednesday, October 9, 2019. Every time I attend the Lieutenant Governor Heritage Awards, I immensely enjoy sharing in the celebration of the diverse heritage work being done in communities across the province. I am always inspired by the passion and dedication the recipients have demonstrated. I love that people travel from hours away to receive the award in person, and that winners often bring family members and special friends to share in the honour. Each year, as we prepare for the ceremony to begin, the Sir Richard Lake room at Government House fills up with excited chatter, which respectfully hushes when our CEO, Ingrid Cazakoff steps up to the podium. We all rise in respect as the Honourable Lieutenant Governor enters the room, a ritualized action grounded in ceremony. As a folklorist, I know how important such rituals and ceremonies are to our human experience. They elevate us from everyday concerns to something universal and timeless. They require us to pay real attention, to be present in the moment. And, like all culture, ceremonies and rituals are actually not static, but dynamic. They evolve and shift to adapt to changing times. I’ll be more specific about that a bit later in this post.
This year, we stood to honour a brand new Lieutenant Governor. I felt a swelling of emotion, both grief and joy as we welcomed Mr. Russell Mirasty. Grief, because only last year, in that same room, we welcomed Mr. W. Thomas Molloy who passed away earlier in 2019 after a brief battle with cancer. His absence this year a stark reminder of loss. And yet, the Lieutenant Governor continues on, even as the persons who take up its responsibility change. And our new Lieutenant Governor, sworn in just a few weeks before the Awards, represents in his person significant and positive change in our province. Mr. Mirasty grew up in northern Saskatchewan as a member of the Lac La Ronge Indian Band. During his own lifetime, the idea of an Indigenous person serving in the role of representative of the Crown in this province would not have been considered appropriate. And that is where the joy came in.
At this year’s Awards, Mr. Mirasty delivered greetings from Queen Elizaebth II in his mother tongue, Woodland Cree. To speak to my point above – ceremonies and rituals evolve and change. There was a time in this country when, supported both implicitly and explicitly by the Crown, it was forbidden to speak that language, or any other Indigenous language. I can only speak for myself, but I was extremely moved by that, and I believe I felt a shift in the room as well, one of utmost respect. Language is powerful, as we know, and to restore our province’s Indigenous languages, tongues that were spoken in these lands long before our current government institutions took root here, to a place of official ceremony is a powerful action.
As it happened, I had a bit of insider knowledge about this year’s awards, and one connection in particular. Mr. Mirasty’s wife, Her Honour Donna Mirasty, is originally from the northern community of Cumberland House (Kaministigominahigoskahk in Swampy Cree). I was in Cumberland House on Heritage Saskatchewan business on September (I will write about this trip in a future blog post, stay tuned!) when Mr. Mirasty was sworn in on September 12th. Several community members from Cumberland House made the seven or so hour journey to Regina to be present for that historic event.
So it was very special that one of the award recipients this year in the Intangible Cultural Heritage category was a group from Cumberland House, led by Mika Carriere, a teacher at Charlebois Community School. Ms. Carriere made the journey from Cumberland House with her daughter to accept the award from her uncle, the Honourable Russell Mirasty. Mr. Alphonse Carriere, also originally from Cumberland House, made the journey from northern Alberta to share in the award as well. I confess, I get chills just writing about it! Ms. Carriere’s project, in collaboration with several community members, connected high school students with elders to share stories of traditional land uses, language, and ways of life. Again, in the not-very-distant past, such cultural transmission in Indigenous communities was illegal. The damage done by such policies cannot be undone, but as we move forward together in reconciliation, the award won by Cumberland House is one small, but significant step in that process.
All recipients of the 2019 Lieutenant Governor Heritage Awards were extremely deserving. The adjudication process for the awards is a competitive one, and the juries always have difficult decisions to make. This year there were 27 applications, eight of them successful. The awards criteria reflect our understanding that heritage is ever-evolving. To be selected as a recipient, nominees must demonstrate that their projects are sustainable, that they are representative of contemporary concerns, that they show strong relationship building. They must, in essence, demonstrate that they are living heritage – that the project, building, whatever it may be, will live on adapt itself to our constantly shifting reality. The Lieutenant Governor Heritage Awards are a vibrant, dynamic celebration of how we carry our past with us always, and how we work to safeguard it for our future. To see the full list of winners, and to learn more about their projects, click here.