Bertie Wapachee proudly surveyed the packed arena in Chisasibi at the start of the 2nd Annual Cree Arts Festival. Held from August 21-23, the festival is a showcase for singers and musicians from the Cree world. This year’s theme was to honour the residential school survivors.

Wapachee said festival organizers knew they wanted to honour the survivors but weren’t quite sure how to, then the apology from Prime Minister Harper helped spark the direction the festival would take. “When Harper did the apology we knew how it was going to be,” he said.

The festival opened with Harper’s apology playing on the big screen. Once the opening was done then the music began in earnest. Festival guests included Vern Cheechoo, Ceramony and Melisa Pash and Shane Yellowbird from Hobbema, AB.

A favourite of mine was Robert Visitor Jr., son of late Bobby Visitor, a musical pioneer of Cree country. He was best known for bringing the songs of Hank Williams to life in Cree. Robert carries the twang his dad was famous for and that night he sang songs that were staples on Cree radio in the 1970s and 1980s. My only regret is he didn’t sing Love Your Mother.

As Wapachee was called back to his duties, he said with a big smile, “Wait until next year!”