The sacred circle of the Round Dance

Shana Dion invites us to reflect on past memories and on our journey here on Mother Earth.

Shana Dion

Sit. Be still. Have some tea, coffee, water whatever your vice may be in your favorite cup. Once you're still, I ask that you close your eyes and think of a moment in your life that you didn’t realize was a time and place that you would come to cherish forever. As you begin to soak in what you have come to realize was such an unforgettable and beautiful place that could never be duplicated again (kind of like the 1980s). 

(Take a deep breath.)

I hope that you have one of those moments that comes to the forefront of your blood memory which is instinctive and like a calm wind — the kind that happens on a warm night in late fall here in Alberta. I have one. It was January 25, 2020. The day is always special as it’s the First Peoples’ House Annual Round Dance, a ceremony that is one of the most memorable and special moments of my time here at the University of Alberta. 

(Checking in: Are you still with me?)

Many things run through my mind (almost like a freight train), mainly that the University of Alberta and the many allyships and friendships across campus. Examples include Campus & Community Recreation, Emergency Management Office, U of A Social Media, Office of the Dean of Students and the numerous other campus stakeholders who, for the past 13 years,  lift up First Peoples’ House staff every year, to make this night come together in a meaningful way. This is a time where we all gather together in such an unforgettable way. Our lives intersect in ways that many may not see in the moment but I hope they feel. 

To me, the Round Dance ceremony is the spirit of equity, diversity and inclusion that speaks to the heartwork of reconciliation on campus.

The Cree side of me, of what I hold sacred, are the Elders, Traditional Knowledge Keepers, Drum carriers, ribbon skirt creators, volunteers and the beautiful humans at First Peoples’ House that have walked alongside me all these years, who are the heart piece of it all and make everything come to life for that night. I want my people, the First People, and for all that come in allyship, in friendship and heartship (like friendship but a bit deeper than that) to feel the love in the room. I want everyone to know all of these little things make up the bigger pieces. All of it matters because that is what makes this night special. 

Who would have ever thought that this ceremony would be taking place here on campus for 13 years? All these humans come together at one time from little ones to the old ones, from our local and distant Nations, campus community, friends, family and all of our relations

(Take another breath.

It’s the Cree in me to share a story before a small teaching of life. 

What floods my memory more, what breaks my heart and weakens my knees to the point where at times I fear I can’t stand is my visceral memory of January 25, 2020. It was a mild evening and even if it was blizzarding outside it didn’t matter because love filled the air within the Van Vliet Complex Main Gym on North Campus. So much thought and preparation went into that night. Personally, it was important for me to get a wheelchair for nohtawiy (my dad), George Dion, as at that point in his life he was struggling to walk. My dad was strong, and could do anything, almost like superman. (Even though I have never watched the movie, I knew superman could fly. So could my dad.)

(Take another breath. Breathe. Calm the spirit.)

Back to January 25, 2020. As I mentioned, this day will stay in my visceral memory forever as I know how much my parents (George ekwa Arlene) love the drum, the songs, the beauty of it all. They both were so excited about all of the beautiful singers who traveled from all over “Indian Country” to be with us there that night and showed their support to us. (That’s the love in the room.) 

The love I speak about, you know it, it's right there, you just have to be still. It’s not loud or overbearing. It's comforting and silent. It’s much like that warm night in late August in Alberta, the one where you are flinching a bit at the coming of winter because it means another year is gone and it's one more year without the ones you lost along your journey here on Mother Earth. It’s a reminder that time is sacred. 

In Ceremony, our Elders will say “don't worry about the time. Seize the moment [and] embrace the moment we have together in this ceremony” because we don't know if this is the last time the people in this sacred circle will ever be together again. Just as you and I are sitting here together, today.  

(Breathe. Calm the spirit.

My superhero, my dad, nohtawiy, passed on May 4, 2021. What I cherish the most is the thought and concerns of finding him a wheelchair so I could dance with my dad one more time, not knowing it would be our last. 

It’s the fragility of it all, this thing called life. Those sayings are true: “Make today count”, “tell the ones you love that you love them, and more importantly you miss them”, “hug like it’s your last hug”. I want to extend on that: Laugh out loud until it's contagious, have fun and enjoy the little time we all have here on Mother Earth. 

And so, at this year’s Round Dance ceremony — a sacred place of learning, knowing and coming together — remember that this moment with these exact people may never happen again. I invite you all to embrace this moment because we do not do that enough in life. This is a teaching. 

This is for you my sissy, dad, all my aunties and uncles, cousins and friends that have now moved onto the spirit world. I can't wait to dance with you all again.

If you're reading this, I hope you can come out on January 28 to dance with me. 


First Peoples’ House Annual Round Dance
Saturday, January 28, 2023
5-11 p.m. (doors open at 4 p.m.)
Main Gym, Van Vliet Complex, North Campus

Learn more by visiting the First Peoples' House website.

Shana Dion

About Shana

tānisi nitotemtik. shana dion, nitisiyihkâson. nêhiyaw iskwêwak. kehewin cree nation  niya ohci. Māka niwīkin amiskwaciwâskahikan. nohtawiy, George Dion, nikâwiy Arlene Dion ekwa nikosis Delton. It is important that I introduced myself in Cree because it grounds me in who I am, where I come from and who I am accountable to. As assistant dean, First Nations, Métis and Inuit students in the Office of the Dean of Students, I am dedicated to supporting, guiding and delivering holistic support for First Nations, Métis and Inuit learners. I hope to leave behind a legacy that lets FNMI students know that I loved them in advance. 

As each of us moves through our journey at the U of A, I hope you lead with courage,  humility, kindness, openness, respect, and truly with love.