by John Copley
(ANNews) – First Nations, Métis and Inuit people were joined by more than 1200 well-wishers, celebrants, marchers and supporters during the 2018 National Indigenous People’s Day (NIPD) celebration in St. Albert’s Lion’s Park on Sunday, June 24. The national day of recognition, formerly known as National Aboriginal Day (NAD) got underway when Paul Kane High School students Hannah Nash and Anwyn Neraasen led a march from the park to the St. Albert Healing Garden to honour the more than 1200 Indigenous women and girls who have been murdered or have gone missing during the past three and a half decades.
Nash said that she and Neraasen organized the walk “because we want to bring more attention to the plight of Indigenous women, more attention to the systemic issues that lead to these tragedies, and to honour the missing and murdered women and girls who have already become victims of violence.”
A Grade 12 student at Paul Kane High School, Nash is also a member of St. Albert’s National Aboriginal Day committee, the youth advocate for the Métis Nation of Alberta and a member of the city’s First Nations, Métis and Inuit Wisdom and Guidance Committee.
Three days before the St. Albert celebration, the two organizers spoke to over 800 junior high school students at Sir George Simpson School, explaining why it is important to become aware – if not involved – in sharing the stories and learning more about Indigenous culture and history. Students from the school sang, drummed and performed a play about missing and murdered Indigenous women in Canada.
On June 24, emcee Tom Ghostkeeper, also the President of the St. Albert/Sturgeon Country Metis Local, got the event underway when he introduced Nash to the podium.
Addressing the growing numbers of spectators and the more than 120 red-shirted men and women participating in the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women Walk, Nash talked about the walk and why it was taking place. She spoke about the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, its task, the 94 recommendations and the importance of setting examples so that government will pay attention and take action to ensure reconciliation becomes a reality. Exiting the stage, Nash met up with and led the procession of walkers on the 20-minute trek to the Healing Garden.
“The turnout for the walk is strong today and from the numbers of people already gathering in the park, I think we’re going to have a full house,” smiled event organizer and St. Albert NAD Committee Chair Gwen Crouse. “The subject of missing and murdered Indigenous women is a serious one that we must not ignore. We do highlight the positives on National Indigenous Peoples Day, but we must also address issues that need more attention from both government and society as a whole. I am very pleased to see that so many people have joined our ninth annual National Indigenous Day celebration.”
Before the end of the day, the participants enjoyed a line-up of featured entertainers, that included First Nations Drummers and Dancers, Inuit Cultural Teachings, a Métis Jamboree, the Métis Child and Family Society Jiggers, CC & High Rider, Alfie (fiddle) and Byron (guitar) Myhre, Jared Sowan, Chelsie Young, Michael Ferguson and others.
The Grand Entry began at noon when a lineup of about 100 celebrants, led by First Nation and Métis veterans, Elders, RCMP members and Eagle and Staff Carriers Mark and Floyd Cardinal, made its way around the large field before stopping in front of the main stage. After Carolyn MacDonald sang O Canada, emcee Ghostkeeper welcomed the first guest speaker, MP for St. Albert, Michael Cooper, to the podium.
“National Indigenous Peoples Day is an important day for all Canadians,” said Cooper. “It is a day to demonstrate respect for First Nations, Métis and Inuit Canadians; it is a day to reflect on the enormous contributions that Indigenous Canadians have made to all aspects of Canadian society. It is a day to celebrate the summer solstice, which has special meaning to many Indigenous people and it is a day of education for non-Indigenous Canadians to meet and converse with Indigenous Canadians to learn more about the traditions, customs, values and diverse cultures of Indigenous peoples. My friends, these things are so very important, especially if we are to see true and meaningful reconciliation in this country. The energy, the vitality, the creativity and the diversity of Indigenous people is real, it is strong and it is alive and well here in St. Albert today.”
St. Albert MLA and NDP caucus member Marie Renaud was the next to address the gathering. She spoke about the importance of unity and understanding, noting that National Indigenous Peoples Day “is an ideal venue to bring everyone closer together. I always look forward to this day, an opportunity for us all to come together to enjoy the drumming, singing, fiddling and beautiful dancing.”
“Well now that’s the ideal politician,” joked emcee Tom Ghostkeeper, “short and sweet!”
After the chuckles subsided he introduced St. Albert Mayor Kathy Heron, who thanked everyone who attended the celebration and acknowledged fellow councillors who came out to enjoy the day.
“This is my first National Indigenous Peoples Day celebration as the mayor of St. Albert,” she began. “On this day we celebrate the First Nations, Métis and Inuit but the summer solstice is also the beginning of something called Celebrate Canada Day. It is great to see so many volunteers participating here today – many of you have traveled far to join us in celebration; some little girls I spoke with earlier came all the way from Frog Lake so this is actually a regional celebration. A special thanks to Gwen Crouse for organizing this outstanding event and for all the work she does to make our community stronger.”
Beginning her talk by addressing the crowd in her Cree language, Gwen Crouse thanked the large gathering for their attendance and participation, noting that “National Indigenous Day is about sharing our culture and we hope that you will enjoy the ways in which we will be doing it. I’d like to give a special thanks to our sponsors – Heritage Canada, Alberta Culture, the City of St. Albert, our public library, ATCO, the TD Bank, and our Elder Tony Arcand who guided us through the creation of the Healing Garden. Without this support, we wouldn’t be able to host this important annual event. Have a great day and enjoy this unique experience.”
One of the sponsors of the St. Albert NIPD event is Edmonton-based Metis Child and Family Services. Executive Director Don Langford was next to address the crowd.
“We are very honoured and happy to be here in St. Albert today – the home of the Alberta’s Métis,” said Langford. “I want to take this moment to ask the Creator to look after our children and our families and to help us all enjoy this celebration of culture, heritage and diversity.”
One of the first orders of the day was to pay a special tribute to former St. Albert city councillor Len Bracko, a long-time community member and school teacher and one of the prime-movers and organizers of city’s National Aboriginal Day committee. Len passed away after suffering a heart attack last August.
Gwen Crouse took to the podium and asked Len’s wife, Barb Bracko to come to the stage.
“Len Bracko was a proud Canadian who ran for Senate, was an Alberta MLA and he served several terms on city council. Len was a member of many community groups, including everything from the Knights of Columbus to the National Aboriginal Day Society. He and his wife Barb gave countless hours to organizations locally, nationally and internationally with their gifts of financial resources and their gifts of time. We are saddened by his passing in 2017 but his legacy lives on. Today we honour Len for the work he did in support of Indigenous people. Nine years ago, Len had a dream to add a celebration to honour all Indigenous history in St. Albert and today we call it National Indigenous Peoples Day. He is credited with founding Aboriginal Day in this city and though it has grown to be a huge event, we intend to grow it even further. Len’s vision, foresight, encouragement and excitement helped to create this special day and for that he will never be forgotten.”
An honour song was performed in Len’s memory as the Elders presented Barb Bracko with an honour blanket.
Face painting, colouring, temporary tattoos, traditional games and other children’s activities kept the youngsters busy throughout the afternoon as TD Bank and ATCO employees participated in making sure they were having fun and drinking lots of water as they played under a hot late-June sun. First Nation and Métis dancers, singers and musicians attracted the attention of the crowd as they played, sang and danced throughout the afternoon.
National Indigenous Peoples Week sees many local, regional and provincial organizations, agencies and communities take the time and make the effort to join Canadians from coast to coast to celebrate Aboriginal culture and tradition and to reflect and remember the important role that Indigenous Canadians have played in Canada’s history. Initiated in 1996 by then-Governor General Romeo LeBlanc, Indigenous Peoples Day falls on the summer solstice, the longest day of the year and a time when Aboriginal peoples traditionally gathered to share, trade, celebrate and reunite with loved ones. When the day was introduced, the message was clear that “all Canadians are encouraged to participate” in the many festivities, and to “celebrate the values, traditions and cultures” of Canada’s First Nation, Métis and Inuit peoples.
Click here to visit our photo gallery – photos were taken by John Copley.