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  • Andrea Juarez

Day of the Dead altar in Southern Alberta honours victims of residential schools

As part of the Day of the Dead celebrations in High River, cultural non-profit IRERI-Mexican, Latino and Cross-Cultural Society, in collaboration with Eco-Tourism Agency Nakota Îtipi n Ryder Style Craft, remembers the victims of residential schools and the 500 years of Aztec resistance through a Day of the Dead Altar as another step towards reconciliation. The altar, a key element of the Day of the Dead festivities, seeks to reunite the living with their loved ones who have left this world behind. In this celebration, death does not represent absence, but a living presence.

For this reason, individuals offer things that their loved ones cherished when they were alive by putting them on the altar, such as their favourite meals and drinks, or by playing their favourite music.


Liz Vigueras sits in front of the Day of the Dead Altar at the Highwood Museum in High River. (Photo by Andrea Juarez)


Displayed at the Highwood Museum in High River until Nov. 6, the Day of the Dead altar honours the lives of residential school victims and received a blessing from elder Travis Jimmy John from Eden Valley.

“I did this in order to share our culture and our knowledge,” Jimmy John says. “I believe it’s important because it bridges a gap between us First Nations, non-First Nations and other Nations that are part of North America.”

For Liz Vigueras, director of IRERI-Mexican, Latino, and Cross-Cultural Society, the altar also represents hope for the future.

“Residential schools are a sad chapter in Canadian history, but things can improve,” she says. “That’s why I want to appreciate the art and life of those who remain here and create bonds with those who are no longer with us.”


Moccasins were added to the altar to remember the lost lives of residential school victims. (Photo by Andrea Juarez)


Vigueras says that she wanted to work collaboratively with elder Travis Jimmy John and his wife Ronine Ryder, members of the Stoney Nakoda tribe and founders of Nakota Îtipi n Ryder Style Craft, as a way to respect their space, create bonds of brotherhood and introduce spaces of appreciation for their art and their culture.

“The main objective of this altar is for society to see that it doesn’t matter what your nationality is, you can empathize, create resilience between people, and bring awareness to the community,” she says.


Day of the Dead Altar for display at the Highwood Museum in High River. The altar, a key element of the Day of the Dead festivities, seeks to reunite the living with their loved ones who have left this world behind. (Photo by Andrea Juarez)


“The Day of the Dead altar allows us to travel in time, to know more about ourselves, where we come from and our families; it allows us to hug our heritage, the past generations that persist in us and that survive in us with love.”

IRERI-Mexican, Latino Cross-Cultural Society has also partnered with High River businesses such as El Papalote Restaurant for a Day of the Dead festival that runs until Nov. 6. It includes several altar displays, a sugar skull icing decoration and dreamcatcher workshops, and a closing gala dinner by El Papalote restaurant at the Heritage Inn High River, in which Indigenous, Canadian and Mexican artists will participate.

Additionally, with support from the High River Community Vitality Fund, a virtual celebration will be taking place on Nov. 2 at 2 p.m. at The Museum of the Highwood and IRERI-ML&CCS Facebook pages.

More information is available at https://www.thevenuehighriver.com/


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