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Kainai Chieftan display suffers setback.


The fire that devastated the Red Crow College will delay the opening of an exhibit that focused on the Kainai Chieftainship and recently found a permanent home at the college after spending time at the Galt Museum in Lethbridge.

Photographs will have to be reprinted and plaques made anew by the Galt for Robert First Charger's display, which is a series of photographs with labels, and two large text panels. Once that is completed, the exhibit will be permanently displayed at the new home for Red Crow College, the Saipoyi school in Standoff.

The exhibit tells about the Kainai Chieftainship, an elaborate ceremony that is sacred but often misunderstood.

"That's what people don't Know ... We don't get just anybody to do this stuff. The people that perform the ceremony are respected spiritual leaders. It's not a tourist thing, it's a place of high honour," said First Charger.

In fact, the process is taken very seriously by members of the Kainai and members of the Chieftainship. People who have been chosen to be part of the Chieftainship are non-tribal members who have contributed something significant to the Kainai Nation or to society in general. They then act as part of a board of directors, and some will take a role as president. But they will also consult with the Kainai Chief and council before inducting any new members in their group.

First Charger worked on the exhibit as part of an applied studies component to his fine arts degree at the University of Lethbridge. He spent six weeks formally preparing the material, but continued to add to it even after his placement was over.

The Kainai Chieftainship has a lengthy history and it was hard to narrow his focus to only 18 people in the 96-year history of the ceremony, he says.

"The first one was in 1919, and only 40 living individuals can be given the name of the Kainai Chieftainship. When somebody dies, they're replaced by other people and selected by other members," said First Charger.

"There's some really neat people they've chosen. There was Gerry Conaty, and Ralph Klein. They incorporated the repatriation of Blackfoot artifacts to the Blackfoot reserve and Blackfoot Confederacy. It was between 200 and 500 artifacts," said First Charger.

Notable people such as Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, Pope John Paul, and environmental activist and scientist celebrity David Suzuki have been inducted.

"When we were doing a fundraiser for the Red Crow College for a new campus museum and library. (Suzuki) didn't hesitate. He's a really hard person to get as a guest speaker, but I got a good deal from him. It usually costs quite a bit but I got him for next to nothing," said First Charger.

But it's not just the members themselves that make the ceremony so special, he says. It's also what happens during the ceremony.

"We have a war veteran that goes out and catches the people. When the ceremony is done, it's the war veteran that goes out and dances around and captures the person who is coming into the Kainai Chieftainship," said First Charger.

That person is then brought before the spiritual leader, and the induction is made. Melissa Whitegrass, who served in Afghanistan, was the most recent veteran to act in this role and also the first female. She was given the opportunity to catch inductees like Stephen Harper, before he became "unpopular," said First Charger.

Politics aside, First Charger is happy to see his exhibit find some longevity. He has experience curating at museums like the Glenbow in Calgary, and art galleries like the Blackfoot Art Gallery in Lethbridge. Most of the time, the exhibits are scrapped when it's over, he says.

"It'll probably be there like, forever. I thought it was important they have it, because usually when it's done, the materials we used we always end up trashing. I figured I'd give it to somebody that could use it," he said.

By Andrea Smith

Sweetgrass Writer
COPYRIGHT 2015 Aboriginal Multi-Media Society of Alberta (AMMSA)
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Title Annotation:EDUCATION
Author:Smith, Andrea
Publication:Alberta Sweetgrass
Date:Sep 1, 2015
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