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Boreal Community Media

National day of recognition celebrates Canada's Indigenous culture

Jun 22, 2019 07:14AM ● By Editor
Cameron Tyance dances during the powwow that was part of Thunder Bay's celebration of National Indigenous Peoples' Day at Prince Arthur's Landing on Friday, June 21, 2019. Photo: Matt Vis,

By Matt Vis of - June 21, 2019

After generations of Canada’s First Nations people were disconnected from their languages and traditions through colonization and attempted assimilation, many Indigenous people are feeling a renewed pride in embracing their culture.

Hundreds of people – Indigenous and non-Indigenous – gathered at Prince Arthur’s Landing, just steps from the shores of Lake Superior, to celebrate National Indigenous Peoples’ Day under pristine weather on Friday.

Held annually on the summer solstice since 1996, National Indigenous Peoples’ Day is a nationwide recognition of the country’s first peoples.

For Beatrice Twance-Hyans, a spiritual advisor for the organizing committee and a member of Biigtigong Nishnaabeg, growing up she didn’t see a lot of large Indigenous cultural events in communities.

“When we see celebrations like this, the heartbeat of the drum which is the heartbeat of our mother earth, it gets people together and gets people proud of who we are as Anishinaabe people to recognize that identity of who we are as a people,” Twance-Hyans said.

“We lost that with colonization but that’s coming back, which is good. Now I know my spirit name. Now I know my clan. Now my grandchildren know their spirit name. That’s a big part of who we are and belonging.”

The day began bright and early, with a 5:45 a.m. sunrise ceremony. A ceremonial grand entry kicked off the afternoon powwow, leading into a feast and wrapping up with an evening closing ceremony.

Cameron Tyance, a 17-year-old from Kiashke Zaaging Anishinaabek, said dancing in his regalia during the powwow makes him proud to be Indigenous.

Tyance, who last week organized a powwow at St. Ignatius High School, is optimistic that having events celebrating Indigenous culture will help break barriers and remove some of the prejudice that Indigenous people face.

“I think it’s really important because it brings people together but it’s also a teaching experience. You understand a little more about what goes on and what happens here,” Tyance said.

“We’re hoping today that (non-Indigenous people) will leave with fun, because powwows are always fun.”

Ashley Nurmela, chair of the local organizing committee for Thunder Bay’s National Indigenous People’s Day event, said the day means a lot.

“It allows my children to be proud of who they are and where they come from and others children as well,” Nurmela said. “For me, it instills great pride.”

Increasing awareness of Indigenous history, particularly through the Truth and Reconciliation Commission report and the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, has started to change the tide for Indigenous people.

“Indigenous people Canada-wide can see the shift taking place. We can see the intergenerational trauma being undone for some people. The hard work of organizations, the hard work of corporations, the hard work of school boards all making that happen,” Nurmela said.

“Today we all come together. We have an enormous amount of support from the community organizations right here in Thunder Bay and we work to provide more knowledge to move forward in a good way.”

Twance-Hyans said while the recognition of National Indigenous Peoples’ Day helps put Canada on a path to reconciliation, she cautioned that it won’t happen overnight.

“We didn’t get where we are in only a few years. It’s going to take a while for people to heal,” she said. “A lot of our people are educated now. I see lots of lawyers out there, doctors. There’s a lot of our Aboriginal people who are still struggling on that path of recovery from the impact of residential schools.”

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