After a difficult year, Sioux Valley Dakota Nation Christmas dinner a time for unity, healing

After a difficult year, Sioux Valley Dakota Nation Christmas dinner a time for unity, healing

A First Nation in southwest Manitoba is celebrating the holiday season by absorbing the spirit of Christmas to heal a grieving community after a difficult year, including two murders in recent weeks.

On Thursday, the Sioux Valley Dakota Nation hosted its first annual community Christmas dinner since 2019.

Chief Jennifer Bone said it was a time for the small community, about 150 miles west of Winnipeg, to come together and show families they are not alone.

“It’s always been a good time for the community to come out and visit and eat together,” Bone said.

A woman in a Santa hat is holding a microphone.
Chief Jennifer Bone speaks to members of the Sioux Valley at Christmas dinner. (Chelsea Kemp/CBC)

Describing the dinner as a much-needed moment of healing and unity, she said she was happy to see parishioners laughing, children running around and the excitement of meeting Santa.

“That’s something we always focus on…healing, no matter the situation,” she said.

Community leaders recognize “the intergenerational trauma that we’re facing and the things that we’re going through as a community,” Bone said.

“And that’s always our main focus, that … we have to look out for each other and that healing is important for the future and for all little ones.”

The Sioux Valley chief and council are taking steps to take care of the community and help families, Bone said.

Several Christmas activities have been organized and gifts shared with parishioners to help them through difficult times which include inflationary pressures this holiday season.

“We can provide additional gifts and things… for every family here in the community,” Bone said. “I think it really helps relieve some of the stress that the holiday season can bring.”

People wearing Christmas decorations are serving a holiday feast.
Bone and Council members serve meals. (Chelsea Kemp/CBC)

Sioux Valley County. Tim Whitecloud said the community, chief and council remain united as they manage multiple deaths in the community, including the killing of a 30-year-old woman in November and the stabbing death of a 26-year-old woman just three weeks later.

“It’s a difficult time for our community and we recognize … our people are hurting and may not want to come out that bad,” Whitecloud said.

“[But] We are open to helping and supporting our community and getting through these difficult times. … Families are not alone.”

He said he was also pleased to see families coming out for Christmas dinner on Thursday, one of the coldest nights of the season so far.

“It’s a time for people to gather and just enjoy each other’s company, and that’s a form of healing.”

People gather in a large hall for a communal dinner surrounded by Christmas decorations.
After two years of being unable to keep the long-standing tradition because of COVID-19, Thursday’s dinner provided another opportunity to bring the community together, says Sioux Valley Coun. Tim Whitecloud. (Chelsea Kemp/CBC)

While the holidays can be a sad time for families who have recently witnessed the death of a loved one, being able to gather together helps ease some of that pain, Whitecloud said.

After two years of missing the long-standing tradition due to COVID-19 related health measures, this year’s Christmas dinner provided another opportunity to bring generations together to reflect and share about Dakota traditions and culture learn, he said.

A woman holds her young daughter as they both smile and wear Christmas decorations made from reindeer antlers.
Lydia Taylor holds four-year-old Wikoske Taylor. The annual events bring generations together to reflect on and learn about Dakota traditions and culture, Coun. says Whitecloud. (Chelsea Kemp/CBC)

The main message is to lean on each other in tough times and “to be able to come out and visit… [in the] community as much as possible,” Whitecloud said.

“This is a good way to start the holiday.”

Chantille Sinclair has been going to Sioux Valley Christmas dinner since she was a child. She still comes every year when she is at home.

She said she enjoys connecting with other community members at the multi-generational event.

“It’s nice to see everyone…that I don’t normally see every day,” Sinclair said.

“We’re all just cooped up. So it’s really nice to be outside, have something to eat and see familiar faces.”

A mother holds her sleeping child while the girl sitting next to her reaches across the table.
Five year old Waverley Elk sits next to Lauren Elk and holds two year old Forrest Elk after the holiday dinner. (Chelsea Kemp/CBC)

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