by Richard Froese
Former longtime local MLA Pearl Calahasen was honoured as the Elder of the Year by the High Prairie Native Friendship Centre at the 35th annual Elders’ Banquet on Nov. 28.
She was presented a special “Spirit of Strength” Angel Award figurine and a life membership for her longtime support for friendship centres in her public service.
“It is quite an honour to receive this,” says Calahasen, who served as MLA for Lesser Slave Lake for 26 years with the Progressive Conservative government, from March 1989 until she was unseated in the provincial election in May 2015 by a candidate from the New Democratic Party.
That was the first “Spirit of Strength” Award as Calahasen was recognized in front of a crowd of about 150 people.
“Pearl is a very special elder, although she is not old enough,” says society Vicky Barsalou who presented the awards.
Elders of the Year are recognized for their wisdom, knowledge and commitment to friendship centres, she says.
“She supported friendship centres for 26 years and the local elders’ banquet every year as an MLA,” Barsalou says.
“That is why we are recognizing her with our first Angel Award.
“We don’t know if we’ll get another one.”
Surprised to receive the awards, the recipient promoted the value of these services.
“Friendship centres have always been there for people, not just aboriginal,” Calahasen says.
“Friendship centres play a pivotal role in people’s lives during times of transitions and for new people who come into the country, friendship centres welcome and support them.”
She knows first-hand the important role of friendship centres when she lived in Edmonton as a student at the University of Alberta.
“They gave me support when I was lonely, being able to talk to them and gather support when I needed to get fed,” Calahasen says.
During her time as MLA, she served in many posts to support the native culture including a period as minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development.
“The Spirit of Strength” hand-painted figurine:
With long raven hair and dressed in a fringed tunic, this beautiful angel gently cradles a wolf pup in her arms – a First Nations messenger of strength and courage to help you on life’s journey.
This First Nations-inspired figurine is skillfully hand-crafted and hand-painted with richly-hued paints and metallic finishes.
Her turquoise-coloured faux gems, genuine feather and glittery wings make her a shining example to hold dear all that Mother Nature provides for us.