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Eeyou Istchee and Quebec celebrate Indigenous Peoples Day

Jul 5, 2019

The longest day of the year is a time to celebrate the long history and rich culture of Canada’s Indigenous peoples. Across Eeyou Istchee and Quebec, National Indigenous Peoples Day was marked by a variety of performances, games, workshops and feasts.

“Finding and claiming our rightful place in today’s society has inspired a beginning for change towards more respect and inclusion of Indigenous peoples,” stated a June 21 message from Grand Chief Abel Bosum and Deputy Grand Chief Mandy Gull.

“Eeyouch, together with other Indigenous peoples across the country, have fought to make the voices of our people heard and our rights respected, ensuring the protection of our lands and cultures. We must acknowledge past leadership who have taken a stand for the benefit of future generations so they may continue the practice of passing on our traditions, walking the same lands our ancestors did and speaking the same vibrant language.”

The longest day of the year is a time to celebrate the long history and rich culture of Canada’s Indigenous peoples

Many communities in Eeyou Istchee began their celebrations with walking-out ceremonies, followed by traditional games and feasts, entertainment and other family-friendly activities.

Chibougamau held their event June 15, attracting about 250 people despite rainy weather for music, vendors and cultural games such as slingshot, fox draw and grab-stick. A grand feast included bear, goose, moose, duck, walleye and bannock. The planned walking-out ceremony was moved to Mistissini the following weekend.

The Val-d’Or Native Friendship Centre again hosted their event at the Kinawit cultural site with a full day of festivities in the spirit of celebration and reconciliation.

“It was a great success,” said Edith Cloutier, the Friendship Centre’s executive director. “Around 740 people showed up – Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal of all ages. It was a moment of celebration and sharing of the richness and diversity of First Peoples in Val-d’Or.”

In Montreal, Land InSights organized a morning march towards the new PY1 pyramid-shaped venue in the Old Port where several dignitaries made speeches. Montreal mayor Valérie Plante announced that Amherst Street, named after a British general who had quelled Indigenous rebellions by distributing blankets infected with smallpox, would be renamed Atateken, which signifies equality among people in the Mohawk language.

“Now that Amherst Street has a new name, the spirit of our ancestors can now rest in peace,” said Ghislain Picard, Chief of the Assembly of First Nations of Quebec and Labrador. “We are proud people today. This is a reminder of what we have managed to save from a very disturbed past as Indigenous peoples.”

Picard also made reference to the recently passed Bills C-91 and C-92, which respectively support Indigenous languages and the jurisdiction of Indigenous communities for child welfare. However, many are disappointed that Romeo Saganash’s Private Member’s Bill C-262, which would ensure Canada’s laws are aligned with United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, failed to get through the Senate. That means the legislation is dead as this fall’s election will end the current session of Parliament.

Photo by Heather Waldron

Following the speeches, Atikamekw artist Catherine Boivin performed a spectacular multimedia show that demonstrated the full potential of the PY1 Pyramid for immersive experiences. She later unveiled a temporary sculpture beside the St. Lawrence River, the historical place of first contact between European and Indigenous populations.

Festivities continued outside with a tobacco-burning ceremony accompanied by Buffalo Hat Singers and a traditional performance by the Deer Family Dancers and Singers. Mohawk Elders took the opportunity to commemorate Indigenous contributions to Canada’s wars.

Several other events were held throughout the city, including an afternoon of activities and music at Verdun’s Parc Arthur-Therrien and a show by Snotty Nose Rez Kids, Q-052 and Anachnid at La Sala Rossa. The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, Musée d’art contemporain and McCord Museum all offered free admission all day to their exhibits featuring Indigenous culture.

The annual concert in Cabot Square featured an eclectic lineup of Indigenous talent, along with Inuit soapstone carving workshops and information tables from several organizations. The loss of essential services caused by the Open Door’s forced relocation has made it an especially challenging year for the area’s significant Indigenous homeless population.

Photo by Heather Waldron

“I just found that coming here this morning there was so much hardship, I literally bought like 60 hamburgers at McDonald’s and just fed the people,” said Nakuset, the event’s organizer and executive director of the Native Women’s Shelter of Montreal. “We’re trying to get some political pressure to open a service. I’m meeting with [Mayor] Valérie Plante next week – it’s really about a co-habitation.”

Mohawk Elder Kevin Deer conducted the afternoon’s opening ceremony with a beautiful prayer and enlightening cultural teachings. Nina Segalowitz gave a moving throat-singing performance with her daughter and later returned to the stage with Moe Clark and her band. World champion hoop dancer Moontee Sinquah and the Sinquah Family Dance Troupe from Arizona were another highlight, culminating in the day’s biggest round dance.

“A lot of people came out to dance with us, which we really enjoyed,” Sinquah said. “We’re here to help all people throughout the world to hopefully heal our Mother Earth.

The entertainment and warm weather attracted people of all ages to the city square. During Moe Clark’s show, a group of small children from a daycare came and sat in the front row.

“It’s nice to see so many community members being present,” Clark said. “It helps to normalize the appearance of Indigenous people in our downtown core and it’s kind of a reminder that we’re here.

Photo by Heather Waldron

The headliner this year was Corey Diabo, a Kahnawake musician best known for playing guitar in the Montreal band Jonas & The Massive Attraction. As the sun set on another successful National Indigenous Peoples Day, his rock band provided a fitting counterpoint to some of the more traditional preceding acts.

“It’s nice to have a real mix,” Nakuset affirmed. “Indigenous people are not necessarily just spiritual and dancers. We also do rock’n’roll. We need a day to celebrate, to look at other Indigenous friends and be proud and inspired.”

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