Loretta Parenteau-English, Elder in Residence at Grande Prairie Regional College (GPRC), is preparing to gift Indigenous graduates with red stoles and deer hides inscribed with the Seven Sacred Teachings. Parenteau-English would also prefer to be honouring students with an eagle feather, as it represents life and accomplishment. Unfortunately, this is not possible due to ridiculous Alberta legislation that only allows eagle feathers to be presented to Indigenous students with Treaty status. Applications made to the government for feathers need to include the Indian status registration numbers of the graduates, ultimately excluding Métis and non-Status students.
Elder Patrick Deranger said, “It really disappointed me that I can’t give that feather to our kids. We’re really proud of our kids.” A student from GHPRC stated, “For our grandparents and great grandparents, they weren’t even allowed to attend this institution. Being able to graduate is kind of reclaiming the space that was denied to our grandparents.” For Indigenous Initiatives coordinator Kelly Benning, it does not sit right that the government, rather than an Elder, gets to decide who is honoured with an eagle feather. It is appalling that the Alberta government has the decision-making power with respect to sacred gifts and is ignoring the role of Elders and Indigenous protocols. This is EXACTLY the kind of situation that can so easily transform a negative situation to one of positivity, if reconciliation is truly intended to be more than lip service. Once again, government determines who is Indigenous, and determines what ceremonies are considered appropriate for Indigenous peoples? Come on Alberta…. You can do much better.