More than meets the eye: U of S Aboriginal symbols
By Derrick Kunz
Bob Badger frequently uses phrases such as “A long time ago” or “So the story goes,” because he recognizes the important oral history contained within each story. He respects the rich meaning of each story too much to claim it as his own or simply state a series of facts.
So too are the various Aboriginal symbols the University of Saskatchewan has adopted— rich in meaning and history.
Badger is the cultural co-ordinator for the University of Saskatchewan, working in the Office of First Nations and Métis Engagement. He works with both students and university leaders to help the campus become a more culturally vibrant and responsive environment.
Raised in the Keeseekoose First Nation of southeastern Saskatchewan by his grandparents, now living in the Kawacatoose First Nation, Badger cannot remember a time in which he was not immersed in the stories of his ancestors. “My grandparents groomed me; they taught me all I need to know about performing ceremonies, working with feathers, making pipes and building sweat lodges.”
A lifetime of learning and training under Elders has enabled Badger to pass the rich meaning of Aboriginal ceremony, culture and tradition on to others—on to you, our readers.
“A long time ago,” Badger said, “the staff was an actual spear or lance used in war. Imagine an eagle staff pointing in one direction commanding a thousand warriors. As a chief points the staff, warriors knew what to do and where to go.
“But Elders got tired of the bloodshed and got together to talk about peace, to call a truce. They took off the lance and bent the top as a sign of peaceful co-existence.”
An eagle staff, like all Aboriginal symbols and ceremonies, will mean different things to different tribes. Generally speaking, it is a ceremonial piece that indicates a band of people, much like a flag or coat of arms.
The materials used, colours chosen and stories it represents are unique for each staff built. Badger explained that even the process to build the staff is unique, with the builder seeking a blessing from Elders, participating in ceremonies and making the work itself a form of prayer to give the work “spirit and purpose.”
Badger built the eagle staff entrusted to the U of S, and it was first used in the graduation powwow in 2011. Tribal Elders and U of S leaders both wanted an inclusive symbol to show that First Nations, Métis and Inuit students are here on campus and thriving.
During a ceremony, an Aboriginal war veteran will carry the staff. If a veteran is not present, the honour goes to an Elder.
Treaty 6 flag
Treaty 6 was signed in 1876 by several First Nations groups—Cree, Saulteaux, Nakota and Dene—and the Dominion of Canada on behalf of the Queen of Great Britain. It covers a large area of central Saskatchewan, including the City of Saskatoon and the University of Saskatchewan. All people residing in the area, Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal, are covered under the treaty.
The Treaty 6 flag was gifted to Ilene Busch- Vishniac, U of S president and vice-chancellor, in November 2012 by Onion Lake Chief Wallace Fox.
A British Union Jack serves as the background since it was the official flag of Canada at the time. A British settler representing the Crown and a First Nations representative are shaking hands. Between them, a hatchet is stuck in the ground, showing the two sides are literally burying the hatchet and agreeing to live together peacefully.
The flag will be used along with the university, Saskatchewan and Canada flags at all official U of S functions.
The 12 U of S Aboriginal symbols
The U of S has adopted a suite of 12 Aboriginal symbols to visually represent a culturally diverse and inclusive campus community.
Badger explained that extensive consultations were conducted with First Nations, Métis and Inuit leaders, covering the entire province. “Aboriginal culture has a high respect for symbols,” he said. “We had a great deal of dialogue with Elders in various communities to identify what symbols to use, and what not to use.”
Given the diversity among Aboriginal groups, it was no easy task to select representative symbols. “We believe we have chosen symbols that are visually inclusive; they are very versatile and used in all tribes.”