Saulteau First Nations is gearing up for three days of culture, ceremony, feasting, and good old-fashioned fun during Pemmican Days, running from July 8th to 10th.
The community is excited to gather and reconnect after the annual event was put on hiatus over the past three years due to the pandemic.
Saulteau First Nations leaders Jack Davis (who was chief at the time), Bud Napolean, and Art Napolean started Pemmican Days 36 years ago as a way to inform and hear from the community on issues impacting them.
The event is named after a traditional Indigenous cuisine, Pemmican, a mixture of dried meat, fat, and berries, as a tribute to the First Nations culture.
It was created around the same time that the Treaty 8 Tribal Association was formed.
“Back then, the Pemmican Grounds were just a rickety old dirt road,” said Art Napolean.
“We had traditional games like horse wrestling, slingshot, and high kick. Of course, I was the champion leg wrestler and quite enjoyed the pancake eating contest.”
The original organizers aligned Pemmican Days with the treaty annuity payments and brought guest speakers and athletes from across the nation to compete.
Initially, Pemmican Days was held in the fall and included legal workshops around treaty rights. A lot of what was shared by the guest speakers was translated into Cree.
Pemmican Days is now known as a fun, culture-filled, family-friendly weekend event. The event takes place before summer gathering and fall hunting, which are still common practices amongst the Saulteau First Nations people.
This year’s Pemmican Days events include pugeesee (hand games), horseshoes, meat cutting, dry meat making, tea boiling, jigging, teepee raising, and axe throwing.
Friday consists of event registrations, a community feast, the commencement of the horseshoe and pugeesee tournaments, and the treaty annuity payments.
Every year the Government of Canada makes payments to status Indians who are entitled to them through registration to First Nations that signed specific historic treaties with the Crown.
Most treaty payments are made in cash during treaty payment events in First Nation communities and urban centers, on or off-reserve.
The Pemmican Days events are divided into four categories: youth, elder, male and female, with payouts given out to those who place first, second and third.
The atmosphere of the event is friendly and supportive, with lots of opportunities for elders to mentor the youth and help them become better hunters and leaders.
The sounds of drums and laughter and the smell of moose meat and bannock will fill the air all weekend long.
Saturday begins with a pancake breakfast, a busy day of competition, and the annual Leeanne Howes Memorial Bike giveaway.
In the afternoon, Saulteau’s Got Talent Show rounds out the night at 6 p.m. Elders, youth and everyone in between take the stage to showcase their talents of singing, jigging, dancing, storytelling and magic.
In the past, such greats as Harley Davis, The Tribe, Fred “Northern Elvis” Steen and even Art Napolean, himself, have graced the stage for the family-friendly night of music and laughter.
The triathlon event for all categories takes place on Sunday. The endurance races have competitors running, rowing, and racing horses to the finish line.
Sunday will also feature the conclusion of the horseshoe and pugeesee tournaments.
Saulteau councillor Falon Gauthier says Pemmican Days is a huge highlight for the community in the summer.
She notes that the event is open to anyone.
“This is not only a time for our people to gather, but it is also a time for us to share our culture and traditions with anyone who is willing to learn.”
Gauthier says her favourite event is the Pugeesee Tournament.
“The beat of the drums, the excitement and the intensity of the game gets me going.”