United Cree Run

FTLComm - Tisdale - Friday, July 27, 2001

Larry Whiskeyjack is from Saddle Lake Alberta and is the lead runner for the Saddle Lake Lance Runner Society. Thursday afternoon he and more than forty other runners with support drivers and organisers stopped at the 7-11 at Tisdale. The relay "lance run" had begun at the Frog Lake reserve in Alberta and from Tisdale they were heading to Hudson Bay and expected to spend the night in Swan River Manitoba.

The three runners seen here are all from the Nelson House group who had gone from their Manitoba reserve to Frog Lake to participate in this United Cree Project. The young man on the left said that though they had been training the twelve Km he went yesterday made his calves a little stiff.

Among the Nelson House group were five young women two are seen above. As you can see they are wearing with pride their Lance Runner jackets and were excited about the adventure in which they are taking part.

The group had three large vans one from Saddle Lake, another from Frog Lake and the white one from Nelson House. In addition there were other vehicles providing support with camping gear and food. This was only one of the contingents as there were other groups that I did not have a chance to talk to.

The Frog Lake group got together by their van for a group picture and were bubbling with enthusiasm. The young woman third from right in the picture was hobbling around a bit as she was pretty stiff from her run but had not suffered any injury, she was just stiff. The man on the extreme left was proud to have been involved in this project in the past years and looking forward to the rest of the trip. The van driver (on the right) explained that it had been up to the runners to train and get themselves ready for this trip and none of the group had been injured though some were a little stiff. The whole project seemed a bit overwhelming as this cool headed driver was handling one day at a time.

The project involves a relay run from Frog Lake to Winnipeg then on from their to the huge united Cree PowWow in Quebec August 6th. She told me she was not sure if they would make it all the way but would see how things go and would decide at Winnipeg if they were up to finishing the trip.
The Nelson House group are mounted up and ready to hit the road in the big white van, their spirits were high and they were open and friendly discussing with me the objects they had for being involved in the run. They wanted me to get a picture of their jacket as for them it tells the story.
The Cree are one of the ethnic groups in who have a good chance of preserving their language and because of their geographic location are one of Canada's largest aboriginal language groups. Originally the Cree were found around Hudson Bay but with the arrival of Europeans they provided assistance and guided the traders as far as Alberta and this explains their presence so far away from their original land base. Being in Alberta it is hard to retain the language simply because the Cree are a minority. When I asked the young men from Saddle Lake if they spoke their language they said "only a few." Here in Saskatchewan where we have several culturally rich communities Cree is the language of everyone in Red Earth and Shoal Lake and few people in Cumberland House are not fluent in the "N" dialect of Cree.

The great thing about this Lance run is that it emphasises present day pride in being Cree, no need to dwell on the past when you can make history right here and now. We are coming to understand that culture, identity and self esteem are the fundamental building blocks of a person's self awareness and without those things deculturalisation and its pitfalls are the consequences. Cultural pride and awareness is the best and more successful method for preventing addiction, suicide and crime.

These young people and their leaders have taken steps to not only foster the cultural awareness of being Cree but have gone a step further to demonstrate to themselves and their people a new history in the making, great deeds and achievements to build today upon and make a future in tomorrow.

I felt personally affected by meeting these young people, everyone cheerfully willing to talk to me and proud to have their picture taken and know that others will see them on the Internet and appreciate what they are doing. The drivers and support people were in great spirits feeding on the energy and positive experience of those in the care. Knowing what it is like to take a bunch of teens on an excursion I asked them if it was difficult maintaining order and they assured me that that was the least of their worries they had good kids with them and everyone was making the best of the journey and sharing the experience with each other.

Perhaps the most impressive individual in the group was Larry Whiskeyjack from Saddle Lake who shook my hand three times wanting to make sure that I understood his pride, his enthusiasm and sheer joy at being a part of this outstanding adventure. Larry spirits obviously had rubbed off on the rest as they too seemed as happy and elated knowing that they, the United Cree were carrying their lances to Quebec and the celebration that would occur their more than a thousand miles away.