Two Indigenous events highlighted the end of September in Montreal – McGill University’s Powwow (September 23) and Montreal’s march for National Day of Truth and Reconciliation (September 30).
The powwow was organized by McGill’s First Peoples’ House and this year’s celebration marked a return to in-person dancing after a two-year Covid hiatus. The First Peoples’ House is a McGill student service dedicated to providing a sense of community and voice to Indigenous students who leave their home communities to pursue higher education in Montreal.
For newly appointed Associate Provost Celeste Pedri-Spade, the celebration marked her first powwow on Quebec soil. An Ojibwe scholar and artist, Pedri-Spade hails from Lac des Mille Lacs First Nation in northwestern Ontario.
“I am delighted to attend my first McGill powwow,” she said, her son Keeshig by her side. “My family and I, we are a family of dancers. But we have only been in the province for 23 days, so it is our first powwow in Quebec.”
Pedri-Spade will oversee McGill’s Indigenous Initiatives program, including the 52 Calls to Action established by the Provost’s Task Force on Indigenous Studies and Indigenous Education.
“Since my arrival here, I have witnessed everybody’s determination and commitment to fulfillment,” she stated. “Powwow has always been about bringing people together, ending conflict, and expressing gratitude. Powwow is where important discussions take place, discussions that deal with everything from the wellbeing of our families to our collective visions for our broader communities and nations.”
Pedri-Spade and her son Keeshig finished the speech together, singing a traditional song of gratitude for the powwow dancers and attendees.
With the Six Nations Flag flying high and replacing the usual McGill emblem atop the McCall MacBain Arts Building, the university’ lower campus was filled with Indigenous dance, art, organizations and food stands. The day’s events included the Grand Entry, Inuit throat singing, traditional dance exhibitions, Maori Haka dancers, and a hoop dance demonstration.
Eric Côté, an Abenaki and Métis drummer for the drum group Travelling Spirit, has been to many McGill powwows in the past, but noted that this year’s brought him a new sense of excitement.
“I was really happy to see the Six Nations flag on top of the building behind us,” he told the Montreal Gazette. “I was jumping up and down for a couple of minutes, I was so happy. Having that flag on the building like that means recognition and I am hoping to see on-the-ground action. Doing this sort of thing is a part of it.”
Montreal’s second annual march for National Truth and Reconciliation created an orange flow of urban Indigenous activism and solidarity September 30. The march is organized by Nakuset, the executive director of the Native Women’s Shelter of Montreal and co-director of Resilience Montreal.
“Come and support us, come walk through our moccasins,” Nakuset said in a powerful pre-march speech. “Because if every child matters… show up. If you are feeling outraged, then show up in numbers. It sends a message to the government.
“Someone decided to dig that grave, someone decided to put a child in there, someone decided that they were not going to tell the families. [Premier François Legault] is someone who says systemic racism does not exist, yet we live it every single day, we fight it every day.”
Along with Nakuset, Ellen Gabriel, Kahnawake Grand Chief Kahsennenhawe Sky-Deer, Chief Jessica Lazare, and Elisapie Isaac also spoke.
Isaac, an Inuk singer-songwriter, filmmaker and activist, quoted Innu doctor Stanley Vollant to remind the crowd that through acknowledgement of Indigenous voices, past and current wounds can begin to heal.
“We might be sick now, we might have great pain, but with time, maybe in a few generations, we will be healed,” she said. “But for now, to move towards healing, we need to be heard, and to be given space. The politics may try to divide us, but I still want to try to believe in Quebec. I think we are all here today because we have hope.”
Grand Chief Sky-Deer said that moving forward means acknowledging Indigenous history, while creating a country where Indigenous individuals have equal opportunity to succeed.
“Canada is a rich country, and we still have so much poverty in Indigenous communities,” she said. “All these cycles of addictions and the current situation we find ourselves in is a testament to how the government and the churches tried to break our people. But you look around, we’re still here. We’re still proud.”