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The Lost Tribe: Wauneita

By Moira Proskin

Maids of the Green and Gold gather round while we whisper to you the legends of the tribe Wauneita. Know ye that upon trespassing these camping grounds you at once become a member of the great tribe which embraces all Alberta co-eds.

Many moons ago, a few maidens gathered and chose a name for themselves — a name that would be "of such a character, that it would be handed down to posterity. The name chosen was "Wauneita" (a word proported to mean "kindhearted" in Cree); the year was 1909; the women were the undergraduate women of the newly formed University of Alberta.

For many years the tribe grew, larger and larger, embracing each new co-ed through a "mystical and awful" rite of passage. Every new Wauneita could expect to be summoned to appear before the Chief and braves of the Wauneita Tribe in the Council Chamber of the Wise in the early days of the month of Falling Leaves.

The trembling freshettes would approach the encampment where the bonfires burned warmly and be greeted by the Chief in glorious tribal robes and a bearclaw necklace: "Greetings tribal sisters! Once again we are gathered within our encampment. I trust that you came in loyalty to your tribe; and in your hearts belief in your Alma Mater."

Each "brave" was then presented with a feather, the symbol of lightheartedness, and a faggot, the symbol of toil. She was led before the fire and enrobed in a blanket, symbolizing her welcome into the tribe. She was told to remember that the act signified the helping hand that would always be extended to her by her Senior Sisters. The ceremony ended with each brave filing past the fire and dropping her faggot in. As she passed the Chief, she would swear allegiance to the honor of her home and to the Noble Halls of Learning by the Silver Water.

"Payuk uche kukeyow kukeyozu uche payuk" (each for all and all for each) became the motto for each member of the tribe as she endeavored to foster good will and friendship, first among her tribal sisters and then extend it to others in the university community and beyond. The kindhearted ones – helping hands extended outward to the brave soldiers fighting in both world wars, to sick children in Edmonton hospitals, to Native students attending high school who needed tutoring and to the wives of returning students.

Throughout the years the tribe Wauneita held many gala parties including "NemetooMetay" (Dancing Heart) and "Tuckwagan MikamaStowao" (Autumn Serenade). The braves gathered to discuss important issues such as "Why I Believe in Equal Suffrage" (1912) and to sing or debate ("Resolved that baking powder is superior to gunpowder!") Wauneita lounge welcomed undergraduate women who needed a place to go to get away from their studies (or to study away from other distractions!). A fire often burned in the huge fireplace in the cozy wood panelled lounge welcoming women to sit around and kindle new friendships or to greet other tribeswomen with "Haw Kola?" (How are you, my friend?)

But times, they were a-changing, and in the upheaval of the late 1960s, growth of the university precipitated the loss of the Wauneita Lounge to administrative offices and the Tribe was without a home and meeting place. Instead of a few new tribeswomen each year, thousands of initiates were paraded by the fire, many not understanding the significance of the symbolism of the ceremony. In time new students did not even realize that they were Wauneitas, and since 1972 no new undergraduate woman attending the University of Alberta has felt the welcome warmth of the Wauneita Blanket of friendship around her shoulders.

Where is the tribe Wauneita now? Who wears the ceremonial robe and bear claw necklace of the Chief? There are still thousands of women out there who know they belong. They can assure themselves that they have hundreds, perhaps thousands of sisters who still remember the motto "Payuk uche kukeyow kukeyow uche payuk" and would still greet them with "Haw Kola?"

Any Wauneitas out there? I would love to hear from you! A history of the Society is being written and your recollections of how things were would be welcome. Please contact Moira Proskin, 4316 -105 Avenue, Edmonton, T6A OZ9 or call 466-7162.

Published Autumn 1990.

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