The Slave River Coalition celebrated National Indigenous Peoples Day with a Celebrate the Water ceremony on the banks of the Slave River.

Led by François Paulette, a Dënesųłiné Elder and member of the Smith’s Landing Treaty 8 First Nation, the water ceremony included a few words from Becky Kostka, project director of the coalition, and Ryan Schaefer, a local teen whose research project on the Slave River recently won him a trip to Poland.

“The river has sustained us for a long, long time,” said Paulette. “It is important that we make offerings so that the water and land can continue to help us.”

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Paulette reminded people that reconciliation goes beyond reconciling with people, but must also include reconciling with Mother Earth.

Approximately 30 people turned out for the 10am ceremony, held at the boat launch in Fort Smith. After a prayer, attendees dropped spruce clippings into the water to give back to the Earth.

In recent years the coalition, which is a Tides Canada initiative, has become more active in the community.

“In 2014, François and a group of people came together and said that rather than being reactive we needed to be a proactive organization that works to engage the community on a regular basis,” explained Kostka. In the past, the coalition was active only when there was a threat to the river, such as proposed hydro development.

Kostka was brought on in 2016 to organize the 2017 Keepers XI – Tu Beta Ts’ena (Water is Life) Gathering, a watershed conference. She is now involved in a volunteer capacity, while Amy Lusk has been hired to run the coalition’s programming.

Between the two of them, they have plenty of ideas for the future of the organization: they want to build a database of information about the river to better assist researchers and community members, organize youth trips down the river, and host riverside clean-ups to list a few.

“We want to engage people with the river and engage consciousness,” Kostka said, echoing Paulette’s speech.