Eganville – As the sounds of drummers from Pikwakanagan resounded, students at Eganville District Public School (EDPS) welcomed the unveiling of the new school mascot and enjoyed a mini pow wow on a crisp early summer day.

Last Tuesday was a day of celebration as band members from Pikwakanagan were on site to help mark National Indigenous Peoples Day (June 21), which would occur the next day, as well as unveil the new moose mascot for the students.

National Indigenous Peoples Day is a day to recognize and celebrate the heritage, culture and contributions of First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples in Canada.

At the schoolyard behind EDPS, it was a sight to behold with hundreds of children wearing orange shirts under clear blue skies. The orange shirts gained national prominence in 2019 following the discovery of mass graves in parts of Canada that contained the remains of hundreds of Native children who at one time attended one of several residential schools across Canada.

Aside from the orange shirts, many students arrived for the afternoon wearing colourful regalia as a way of showcasing their Indigenous culture and to participate in the mini pow wow at the school grounds. 

The pow wow began just after 12:30 p.m. when Brian Sarazin, a Pikwakanagan member and longtime drummer, explained the significance of drumming within Algonquin culture.

“We may be a day early according to the calendar, but summers are too short not to take advantage of a beautiful sunny day,” he told the Leader. “Today, we want to see the kids up dancing and hopefully they will recognize just how powerful a drumbeat can be and it holds a special meaning for each person. The drum is central to our history and culture, but today, we just want the kids to burn off a little steam, and maybe learn a little more about our community, but we want them to have fun and celebrate our culture.”

As his drumming group, along with his eight-year-old son Keon, performed a traditional Welcoming Song, the children danced their way into the circle and made several circular trips around the drummers. Along with students, some EDPS alumni who are now attending Opeongo High School (OHS) were also present to take part in the ceremonies.

Principal Sarah MacPhee was thrilled with the way the day turned out and said it is not only fun, but the children are also learning about the larger community outside of EDPS.

“One thing we wanted to ensure was that everyone is made to feel welcome,” she said. “Whether it is our student’s families, or members of Pikwakanagan or Pino Buffone (our RCDSB Director of Education). We also had some trustees and some folks from the village come to watch and celebrate.

“We are also wearing orange as we move towards reconciliation, but we are introducing our new school mascot today and orange will be one of our official school colours alongside the mascot,” she said.

She explained the new Moose mascot will replace the Voyageurs, and it is a reflection of the history of the area.

“The new moose, combined with the new logo and colours, will be also reflect our school and the history of our neighbors at Pikwakanagan,” she said.

“Everyone who has seen a moose will see it is a majestic creature and it is so important to those who live around here, especially for our students from Pikwakanagan because many of their ancestors survived because the moose was nearby for them,” Ms. MacPhee said.

Along with Director Buffone, Trustees Leo Boland and Susan Humphries mingled with staff and students and OHS Principal Dean Zadow spent time with some of the students who may be welcomed by him when they start high school this September.

Mr. Sarazin led the children through several dances including the The Long Grass Song, a ceremonial war dance known as a “grass dance song,” so named because men would begin to dance by shuffling their feet along the grass.

Vice-Principal Kaley McMillan, who was joined by students Xavier Shirzaker and Forrest Two-Axe-Kohoko, said the logo will become more familiar next year when the orange hats are worn by students.

“The new moose logo will have blue on the bottom and the sky will be orange and some will see that as an orange sky at night and the moose is in its natural surroundings,” she said.

It was close to 1:30 p.m. when Mr. Sarazin led the last song of the pow wow and it certainly was popular as the children and teachers formed an inner and outer ring around the drummers and as they played.  Mr. Sarazin then signaled for two rings formed by everyone joining hands and they rushed towards the drumming circle and all yelled out at once to mark the end of the celebration.