'Appreciation and respect': Indigenous culture workshops launched in Edmonton


Natalie Pepin starts the evening by talking about the shame her family sometimes felt growing up Metis and the racism she's experienced in Alberta.

Then - she takes her students on a journey - teaching about the beautiful elements of her heritage that she’s connected with and grown to appreciate.

“We can’t paint everything with beautiful flowers all the time, and we can’t always be focusing on the tragedies only. We have to experience the beauty, and the very real stories of our people,” she explained.

Pepin is giving Edmontonians a fresh source for Indigenous knowledge this fall, during a series of workshops launched at Fort Edmonton Park Wednesday.

Indigenous Perspectives includes traditional stories and classes in birch bark basket making, traditional plant harvesting and jewellery making.

“These arts are beautiful, yes, but they encapsulate our culture. They have so many teachings within them and those teachings are beautiful too,” Pepin, now a Metis Cultural Educator, said before her first class Wednesday evening.

The event started with a tea and smudge ceremony. Pepin introduced herself and her own journey, before leading her class on a walk through native plants while explaining their traditional uses.

The class then made tea out of rose hips and baskets out of bitch bark.

A different version of the workshop focuses on wolf willow bead and quill dying, elements then used to make jewellery.

Pepin feels she’s not only teaching history, she’s helping to advance the important work of truth and reconciliation in Canada.

“I firmly believe one of those steps, and one of the early steps, is connecting with each other as different peoples and developing an appreciation and respect for each other’s cultures. That’s the foundation upon which truth and reconciliation can happen,” she said.

Anyone is welcome to attend the classes and the cost is $75. There were 120 tickets available over 8 weeks, but it was mostly sold out Wednesday.

Pepin said Indigenous people who have lost, or never had, a firm connection to traditional teachings have also expressed interest in the class.

Fort Edmonton officials say the workshops expand on the new Indigenous Peoples Experience they opened this summer.

“This is just another iteration of taking that Indigenous narrative, that connection to our Indigenous communities to the next level,” Renee Williams at Fort Edmonton Park said.

The quick ticket sales had Williams thinking more classes will likely be added.

The workshops are also supported by a grant from EPCOR.