As the 2023 Pow Wow season is coming to an end, it ushers in a profound sense of unity and cultural celebration within Indigenous communities across Canada. The highly anticipated 2023 Samson Cree Nation Powwow, spanning three days from August 11 to 13, took centre stage at Maskwacis Bear Park, radiating palpable excitement.
This remarkable event not only showcased the vibrant brilliance of Indigenous powwow dancers who journeyed from across Canada to participate but also resonated with the powerful voices of several of Canada’s most distinguished Chiefs. Among them were Chief Rob Louie of West Bank, Chief Tony Alexis of Alexis, and Chief Greg Desjarlais of Frog Lake First Nation.
I was on-site for interviews and had the opportunity to catch up with Chief Desjarlais after his impassioned speech to the powwow families in attendance. (Subscribe and check AB Native News out on X formally known as Twitter).
Amid this extravaganza, Chief Greg Desjarlais emerged as a visionary leader, unwaveringly committed to uplifting Frog Lake First Nation through a multifaceted approach that encompasses economic self-sufficiency, cultural preservation, and holistic well-being. His exceptional journey and dedication position him as a symbol of hope for his community.
“This is our moment,” Chief Desjarlais boldly proclaimed to thousands of attendees and in the company of his peers who also attended Samson Cree Nation Powwow.
With a rich history of service to Treaty 6 peoples and his community of Frog Lake, Chief Desjarlais transitioned from three terms, as a council member to the position of Chief. This experience provided profound insights into the community’s needs, bolstering his determination to lead effectively.
“My message to youth is that our people have been through a lot. It’s time for young individuals to aim high, reaching for the pinnacle in various fields, be it doctors, lawyers, or judges,” he said, urging the youth to break new ground.
At the core of his mission is the pursuit of own-source revenue for First Nations. This empowers communities to liberate themselves from external financial constraints, charting a path toward economic autonomy. Frog Lake First Nation sets an inspiring precedent for other Indigenous communities through this approach.
Equally impactful is Chief Desjarlais’ commitment to promoting a healthy lifestyle within the community, recognizing the significance of physical, mental, and emotional well-being. He champions initiatives that foster a wholesome way of life for all members.
“Go to an Elder if you have issues, or go to the power, pray to the Creator, pray, and use the smudges of Mother Earth,” Chief Desjarlais emphasizes, highlighting the importance of seeking guidance from Elders and connecting with spiritual traditions during challenges.
“We are each unique in our own way,” Chief Desjarlais proudly affirms.
His overarching goal is to secure long-term value for Frog Lake First Nation. Beyond this, he tirelessly advocates for his people’s voice across governmental levels, ensuring their concerns shape pivotal decisions.
Furthermore, Chief Desjarlais extends his empathy to those struggling with addiction, recognizing the impact of intergenerational trauma and aggressive assimilation tactics. He notes the importance of supporting those on the path to recovery and addresses lateral violence as a symptom of historical injustices.
“Lateral violence is not our way,” said Chief Desjarlais.
“We have to work together,” he asserts, emphasizing unity over divisiveness within the community.
Chief Greg Desjarlais’ wisdom and commitment echo profoundly among community members and beyond. Under his leadership, Frog Lake First Nation is poised to achieve new heights, underpinned by compassion, and understanding. His reminder that one should not judge those who have faced addiction resonates deeply.
Chief Desjarlais exemplifies Indigenous leadership at its finest, transcending a challenging past as an addict to become an influential and high-profile Chief. His journey embodies the principles of unity, resilience, and an unwavering commitment to the well-being of his people.
By Chevi Rabbit, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Original Published on Aug 23, 2023