Who would have thought that an event in 2012 would sow deep roots and initiate creative energy and friendship resulting in a colourful and positive spectacle called Ancestors and Elders. That’s what happened when Myrna Kostash, of Ukrainian heritage, approached me, of Nehiyaw/Métis heritage, to talk about how the historic relationship between Ukrainian settlers and First Nations people could be better understood. Myrna, an author, was researching her own roots in Alberta when she discovered how Indigenous people helped early Ukrainian settlers survive. Without the generous spirit of First peoples, many settlers would have perished.
The two of us who were strangers became friends as we persevered in planning an event called Renewing Friendship: Zemlya/Nanaskomun: Give Thanks for the Land. I secured a small grant and as they say, “the rest is history.” Only not this time. In the audience at the event, and also witnessing the ceremonial exchange of gifts, were members of the world-renowned Shumka Dancers. The message of the event resounded in their hearts.
Fast forward six years and Edmontonians were blessed with two nights of memories of ancestors. How do I know this? A very small acknowledgement in the form of a note appears on the bottom inside cover of the Ancestors and Elders program. *We acknowledge the foresight of Myrna Kostash and Sharon Pasula whose project Zemlya/Nanaskomun: We Give Thanks for the Land: a Ukrainian-Canadian and Aboriginal Ceremonial Exchange of Gifts first brought these stories to our attention.”
It looks like Ukrainian-Canadians and Indigenous peoples are still friends. I appreciate a quote in the program referenced by Darka Tarnawsky, Executive Director, Ukrainian Shumka Dancers, “We must strive to become good ancestors.” And it looks like they have made a step in that direction.
Sharon Pasula is an Indigenous spiritual and cultural resource person who lives in Boyle Street.