For immediate release
June 28, 2021– Peace River School Division is thrilled to congratulate Nevaeh Lundgard, grade eight student at Fairview Jr Sr High School (FHS) for being selected for the 2021 Honoring Spirit; Indigenous Student Award.
The provincial award sponsored by the Alberta School Boards Association (ASBA) celebrates the unique qualities of students who inspire their peers, teachers, education leaders and community members while celebrating the ways of their people. A total of 204 nominations were submitted province-wide with a total of 12 students being selected to receive the important award.
Nevaeh is described as a “fierce advocate” for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls and has been highly involved in Sisters in Spirit vigils and activism since she was 2 years old. In addition to her work in helping to plan events, Nevaeh has spoken at many vigils and assists in making and distributing tobacco ties for the vigils. Nevaeh takes the process of blessing each tobacco tie very seriously.
“This is very personal for me” says Nevaeh. “My auntie Roberta Ferguson went missing in 1988 when she was camping with friends in British Columbia and my cousin Shae-lynn McAllister has been missing since July 3, 2019.”
When asked what she wants to achieve through her involvement, she said “answers.”
“There are families out there that just want to know where their family member is, they deserve answers” says Nevaeh.
Nevaeh is a member of the Dunvegan Beaver Band of Dane-Zaa and is very passionate to learn about her traditional culture. She and her grandmother work together to bring teachings to FHS and Nevaeh freely talks about her culture to students.
“She demonstrates leadership at school by her involvement with any and all activities that highlight indigenous culture, ways of knowledge and reconciliation” says Pamela MacKay, Youth Education Support Worker at FHS who nominated Nevaeh for the award.
“It is inspiring to see a student with the support of generations of strong women, learning about her culture while also teaching others. It is with great respect that I nominate Nevaeh for this award. She is a strong, brilliant, young woman who is an asset to our school community and a leader in promoting indigenous culture” says MacKay.
The nomination package also included a letter of support from Duncan Phillips, retired FHS teacher who describes Nevaeh as an excellent nominee for the award.
“Nevaeh kindly confronts racial slurs with explanations of more appropriate behaviour” says Phillips. “This demonstrates her belief in honesty and personal integrity.”
Phillips also shared Nevaeh’s interest in traditional medicines.
“Nevaeh enjoys learning about traditional medicines and gathers sage on the river hills with her grandmother for smudging ceremonies” says Phillips. “Her schoolmates see her as a leader in this way and her desire to set such an example demonstrates a strong ethic of willingness to work and to share with others.”
When asked why sharing Indigenous culture and traditions is important to her, Nevaeh said it helps to create more openness.
“People make fun of many of our traditions, such as smudging and also because the way we talk to the Creator is different than other people, so it is important to explain the reasons so that others are more open” says Nevaeh.
Nevaeh helped organize the Fairview Residential School Walk on June 26, 2021, and delivered a speech.
“It’s important that people know that children were taken from their families, not allowed to speak their language, were beaten, humiliated and punished, and some died” says Nevaeh. “This has been happening in our country for hundreds of years and people need to know the truth.”
An award ceremony is usually held in person at Government House for recipients of the award, but due to the pandemic, a special virtual video celebration has been created that includes remarks from dignitaries; an opening prayer by Elder Charlie Fox, Blackfoot, Kainai First Nation; as well as a closing prayer and Honour Song by Elder Theresa Strawberry, Cree/Saulteaux, O’Chiese First Nation. Nevaeh was given a Star Blanket, certificate and an honorarium of $300. Receiving a Star Blanket indicates that the giver holds you in very high esteem for your generosity and accomplishments.
The ASBA sponsored award is supported by the Lieutenant Governor of Alberta, the Ministry of Indigenous Relations, Alberta Education, the College of Alberta School Superintendents, the Alberta School Councils’ Association and the Alberta Teachers Association.
“Nevaeh’s humility and passion to share Indigenous traditions, culture and history with our school community is very evident and we are so pleased that she has been honored in this way” says PRSD Board Chair Darren Kuester. “Through the sharing of her knowledge and love for Indigenous heritage, it not only shows others to be proud of who they are, it also educates others on the important contributions of Canada’s First People.”