Hundreds of people are expected to be descending on the Hay River Reserve next week for the annual K’atlodeeche First Nations (KFN) Assembly, but they won’t all be coming to sit around a table and talk treaties and devolution.
“We’re making everything around the handgames tournament,” said Allan Browning, the co-ordinator for the assembly this year. “It’s a $50,000 tournament and we already have between 15 and 20 teams coming.”
The games, which will also bring together other events for children and adults including log-sawing and axe-throwing, will begin August 1 and run until August 4. The assembly itself will follow between August 5-8. The former will also include nightly drumdances, community feasts, as well as concessions throughout the day and a market for vendors to sell their wares to visitors from out-of-town and locals alike.
“We want to make sure everyone knows that everyone is welcome,” said Browning. “We want everyone to come out and have a good time.”
The organizing committee, along with 50 or 60 volunteers, will be enforcing a strict zero-tolerance policy for drugs and alcohol throughout the week’s events. Browning said that while it’s common knowledge that the reserve is a dry community, he wants to remind people coming in from elsewhere, as well as regular residents, the celebration of culture is not a time for excess.
“We want it to be a safe, fun, place for everyone and we’re going to make sure that happens,” he said.
Despite having the cultural and political events somewhat separated, KFN Chief Roy Fabian said that for him, they are truly one and the same.
“Handgames are a cultural, relationship-building exercise,” he explained, adding that part of the ongoing trauma of the residential school experience for many members of the First Nation is an internalized cultural oppression. “This is not an issue you can address easily, but you can do things to counteract it and give your people pride.”
Discussions during the four days of meetings later in the week will cover everything from continued implementation of treaty rights to new legislation being passed by the GNWT to make devolution possible and NWT Metis Nation claims to territory. Fabian said the assembly is a chance to hear what people think about a wide range of issues that will affect them and future generations of KFN members.
“They have to know where things are at and we have to get direction,” he said. “That’s the key issue here.”