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Chiefs give Trudeau headdress, ask him to make good on promises

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau poses after receiving a ceremonial headdress while visiting the Tsuut'ina First Nation near Calgary, Alta., Friday, March 4, 2016.

Jeff McIntosh/THE CANADIAN PRESS

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has a new name: Gumistiyi.

It means "The One Who Keeps Trying" in the Tsuut'ina language. Tsuut'ina is a First Nation near Calgary, and on Friday it made Mr. Trudeau an honorary member and gave him a headdress in a sacred ceremony.

Headdresses are reserved for leaders willing to go to battle for their people. Mr. Trudeau's promises to First Nations – ranging from reconciliation and negotiating nation to nation to conducting an inquiry into Canada's missing and murdered indigenous women – earned him enough respect that Tsuut'ina's leaders agreed to give him a headdress.

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"We put everything into his hands and he has to prove to us he is going to help us achieve the needs of the First Nations," elder Alex Crowchild said after the ceremony, comparing the honour to receiving the Order of Canada. "He still has to prove himself, but he's made a commitment. We just have to give him time."

"If he doesn't carry it out, it will always be on his mind."

Mr. Crowchild was one of the dozens of elders, chiefs and other dignitaries on stage during the ceremony. He looks after Tsuut'ina's medicine pipe bundle and was among the handful of leaders who placed their hands on Mr. Trudeau's back as he received the headdress. Sage burned on stage, and drummers and Tsuut'ina singers performed traditional songs throughout the ceremony.

The Prime Minister held hands with the First Nations leaders when the chiefs, elders and others with the right to wear headdresses danced on the floor after Mr. Trudeau received his headdress.

Chiefs from across the West attended the ceremony. Hundreds of Tsuut'ina members gathered in an events centre in the Grey Eagle Resort and Casino for the ceremony.

While Mr. Trudeau was being honoured, leaders also stressed how Canada has for over a century mistreated First Nations across the country.

"Canada has failed – failed on a scale so [unimaginably] huge, failed at so many levels, that solutions became fiscal and policy obstacles that no political will seemed able to overcome," Tsuut'ina Chief Roy Whitney-Onespot said. "As a result, for a century, progress on the 'Indian problem' was deemed impossible, so it was ignored and it was swept under the rug of national consciousness.

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"But there's always hope," he said.

"Here at Tsuut'ina and other First Nations in Canada, there was progress in spite of the challenges. There was survival and eventually there was success."

Mr. Whitney-Onespot challenged Mr. Trudeau to make good on his promises to First Nations. "Your election [as] Prime Minister has brought with it expectations – high ones – that historical obstacles to recognition and achievement of the national aspiration will finally" materialize.

Audience members cheered when Mr. Trudeau thanked them in their own language. They also applauded when he reiterated his pledge to hold an inquiry into missing and murdered indigenous women.

"I will remember the responsibility that comes with the great honour you bestow on me today," he told the crowd. "There is no relationship more important to me and to Canada than the one with First Nations, the Métis nation and the Inuit."

Tsuut'ina also honoured Assembly of First Nations National Chief Perry Bellegarde with a new name: Sitting Buffalo.

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