The Strathmore Motor Products Sports Centre was full of life last weekend, as the inaugural Lead by Example Powwow to honour Kristian Ayoungman was hosted.
Visitors from across North America came to witness the spectacle of the drumbeat creating an energy difficult to match anywhere else, while bright colours flew by with dancers all over celebrating traditional Indigenous dance.
Kristian's mother Melodie Ayoungman played a big part in organizing the powwow and said she was blown away by the support and how many people attended.
"With everything coming together, we're overwhelmed with gratitude because this is the way it should be. We need to continue and to move forward together and know about each other and not just keep each other separate," she said.
"I looked around at everybody and all his (Kristian's) hockey stuff is up; everyone is here, and his trophies are ready for the championship and the specials. The vendors are here. The head staff is here. The sponsors are here. The spectators are here. The dancers and singers are here, and they traveled from all over Canada, and the United States, one of the spectators flew in from Ontario."
Strathmore Mayor Pat Fule said the powwow surpassed his expectations, which was particularly impressive because he had high expectations to begin with.
"Your mind says it's gonna be a big powwow, but until you actually see it in front of you, the colours, the energy, the life, the sound, it's amazing. I'm so grateful to see so many of my fellow Strathmore residents who are non-Indigenous come and support this and be part of this," he said.
While Fule, Melodie, and the many others who attended were happy to be part of an event full of energy and life, they both added the event's success was about a lot more than just a fun community event.
"We need this because if more people knew about First Nations ... maybe this (Kristian's death) wouldn't have happened. Maybe there would be more kind people understanding what First Nations have endured throughout history, throughout the residential schooling, and assimilation tactics. We teach our children to be proud of who they are and where they come from," Melodie said.
Melodie explained that for her, events like this are about building a better future. She said she isn't concerned about her own immediate future, but building community and continuing to educate people about First Nations history and culture is all about the coming generations and how they can learn to live with each other peacefully.
"We need to continue that, to live together and to share our culture and learn about one another, to be there and support one another. There's only one Earth and we're all here. There's nothing wrong with a smile, a kind gesture, or a hello. Do simple things you can to get to know someone," she said.
Fule said the Town of Strathmore has worked with Siksika Nation on many ways they could strengthen their relationship. Outside of events like this powwow which plays a huge role in celebrating Indigenous culture, Fule explained the Town has taken steps to make Strathmore more welcoming to Siksika residents. For example, after hearing about the struggles some Indigenous elders faced when going to Strathmore's hospital and not speaking English very well, the Town of Strathmore worked with Siksika and the Alberta Government to secure funding to bring a 24/7 Indigenous liaison to the hospital.
"I've always felt the motto: 'it's deeds, not words,' is really important. It's one thing to just have words and be all flowery about what you'd like to see happen and what you're doing. But if you're not doing the work in the background in the trenches to make things better, they're just words," Fule said.
He added it goes well beyond just what the Town government is doing, as he says most Strathmore residents are kind-hearted and fully believe in equality and treating everybody well. He hopes that his actions in government, along with community members, can continue to bring Strathmore and Siksika closer together.
"I think the people in Strathmore know that we're really trying to improve things for Siksika. I'm hoping that the majority of Strathmore residents will see that we're doing all this work towards better things, and they will want to be a part of it."
The Lead by Example Powwow is expected to become an annual event, so this likely is the first of many to come.