Montreal and Val d’Or celebrate National Indigenous Peoples Day

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As the solstice sun sparkled on the mighty river, the warm air was full of jubilant song and dance, carrying a spirit of hope and healing for Canada’s First Nations. It is fitting that National Indigenous Peoples Day is held on the longest day of the year, a traditional time for celebration among the first peoples of this land.

Terres en Vues (a.k.a. Land InSights) has organized an annual solstice ceremony with Kanien’kehá:ka Elders in Montreal since 1995 but this year’s event is the first to take place along the St. Lawrence River, a historic meeting place for First Nations and European explorers. Several dignitaries made speeches and participated in assembling a symbolic teepee, following a tobacco ceremony and the lighting of the sacred fire.

Many were encouraged by the morning’s news that the city of Montreal was supporting a plan to build a cultural embassy for Canada’s Indigenous Peoples at this very location, near the Quai de l’Horloge in the Old Port. The city will cover 10% of the project – federal, provincial and private funding will cover the rest.

“It will be a beautiful space of gathering here on this land,” said Odile Joannette, Executive Director of Wapikoni Mobile and founding member of DestiNATIONS, who has been lobbying for this project over the past 10 years.

“It is now up to our friends on the Quebec and Canadian level to commit to what this will represent for our healing and reconciliation, for our co-creation of tomorrow together, all nations, all people. I strongly believe in allies, I strongly believe in the unity of our peoples, and it is together that we will make it happen.”

Like many at the event, Joannette wore a symbolic construction helmet to support the theme of building lasting relationships. Ghislain Picard, Assembly of First Nations Regional Chief for Quebec-Labrador, mentioned recent progress towards this goal, including Montreal’s recent appointment of a Commissioner for Indigenous Affairs and the addition of a white pine on its city flag, an Indigenous symbol of peace.

Innu filmmaker and Terres en Vues co-founder André Dudemaine was pleased to see “more and more awakening and curiosity” from non-Aboriginals towards First Nations and Inuit. Performers at both this event at the Old Port and the afternoon’s concerts at Cabot Square noted that people are increasingly open and aware of Indigenous arts and culture.

“There are a lot of Inuit artists who are getting into the mainstream – it’s great, it’s about time,” said Beatrice Deer, who brought her powerful throat-singing to both events. “It’s always fun to sing, in particular to celebrate who we are, where we come from, our history and our culture, and to share it with our fellow Indigenous people and non-Indigenous people. It’s an opportunity to educate them about who we are.”

The Cabot Square celebration also featured Moe Clark and Nina Segalowitz, Buffalo Hat Singers, Charlie Taqqik, Geronimo Inutiq, Montee Sinquah and Family, and Mack Mackenzie of Three O’Clock Train. There were also soapstone carving and beading workshops, a book tent for children and traditional food from the Roundhouse Café.

“We chose a lot of Inuit performers this year because the population is probably 80% Inuit that hangs out at Cabot Square, so we want to honour their culture and they love it,” said event organizer Nakuset, who directs the Native Women’s Shelter of Montreal sand numerous other advocacy projects.

“We created the Cabot Square Project six years ago to help the Indigenous population that’s there. The city was concerned about all the different condos going up. They didn’t like these ‘deterrents’ in the park, the Indigenous homeless population.”

She describes her struggles against gentrification and municipal bureaucracy, which eventually brought outreach services, Aboriginal Fridays and other co-habitation initiatives to the park. With new condos taking over much of Cabot Square’s surrounding area, Nakuset anticipates another battle coming.

“The fact that every year we’re doing better and better is helpful,” she said, however. “The whole idea is to demystify Indigenous people, so non-Indigenous people are more like, ‘Wow, they sing and dance nicely, I’m not so afraid.’ It changes perception, because a lot of the soapstone carvers are homeless but you’re not looking at them as homeless people. That’s how you make stronger community relationships between Indigenous and non-Indigenous.”

Working behind the scenes to make the show happen is a lengthy process, involving numerous applications, securing the necessary insurance coverage, and presenting a submission before a panel of judges. Nakuset wasn’t even sure she would receive funding this year – she eventually received half the amount requested.

She’s thankful that Moe Clark, who headlined the event, confirmed her participation six months earlier, which helped with the funding jury.

“It was totally magical,” Clark told the Nation. “It feels like a family reunion in a lot of ways. It was really beautiful that everyone was willing to try something new. People really wanted to get in and round dance, people wanted to sing and I think people want to celebrate. It felt really good to be a part of that.”

Clark’s performance culminated in a huge round dance with people of all ages and backgrounds that spiralled through the park.

“Round dances are so powerful and this one was no exception,” Clark observed. “I had a hard time keeping it dry. One woman came up to me and said, ‘On a personal level, I suffer from depression and this really made me feel so energized.’ It’s a beautiful way to celebrate so many aspects of the culture, not just the music or the dance, but the spirit and how it lives in many pieces of who we are.”


The Val-d’Or Native Friendship Centre held its annual National Indigenous Peoples Day celebration on the Kinawit cultural site June 21. Having the festivities outside the city was a new wrinkle in a long-held tradition, according to Executive Director Edith Cloutier.

“We found with the new format we attracted a different audience,” said Cloutier. “There were a lot of students and families attending and there was a great meeting of contemporary and traditional performances and activities.”

More than 400 people attended the celebration this year and their initial goal of bridging the gap between the Indigenous and non-Indigneous population of Val-d’Or was achieved. “It was a great gathering,” exclaimed Cloutier. “We look forward to hosting it again next year!”

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