Forty years ago, the Assembly of First Nation declared June 21, 1982, as the first National Aboriginal Solidarity Day in Canada, and by 1996, the Canadian government had recognized June 21 as National Indigenous Peoples Day.
Today, it is the unofficial national holiday for Indigenous peoples across Canada, with many organizations, First Nations and Inuit and Métis governments closing their doors for the day and giving staff time off.
Celebrations include potlucks, fireworks, pow wows, baseball tournaments and more. The largest celebration, hosted by the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network, is Indigenous Day Live, a national broadcast of Indigenous music, dance and storytelling from The Forks, where the Assiniboine River meets the Red River in Winnipeg, Manitoba, a meeting place for Indigenous peoples since time immemorial.
This year, the Indigenous Day Live event was held on June 18, following the tradition of holding the event on the Saturday closest to the Summer Solstice.
Lacey Hill, a singer/songwriter from the Six Nations of the Grand River, said she enjoyed gathering with old friends and meeting new ones.
“That's the part that I really, really enjoyed the most, is just being together after being away from each other,” Hill told ICT News. “That was the best feeling that I had there. And it was every day my heart felt so full and so blessed to be able to just even be there. And to be a part of it. I was so honored and … blessed to be a part of such an amazing lineup.”
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David McLeod, chief executive of NCI-FM, Manitoba’s Indigenous radio station and a board member of APTN, said the broadcast provided an assortment of entertainment.
“It was such a special mix, because this year APTN had a different approach to it,” said McLeod, Ojibway/Métis. “Rather than typically having music acts back-to-back-to-back, there was a celebration of culture … with that being defined through comedy, through theater, spoken word, music, of course, dance.”
The four-hour broadcast will be rebroadcast throughout the year, and highlights will be edited into other programming.
The event featured collaborations between diverse artists such as DJ Geronimo and Inuit throat singer Nikki Komatsiutiksak, and the techno sounds of DJ Kookum and the Ivan Flett Memorial Dancers, mashing hip-hop beats to square dancing.
“What's happening within the community is there's been so much suppression of culture,” McLeod said. “A lot of young people feel a lot of those boundaries that used to exist, aren't there anymore … With the Ivan Flett Memorial dancers, we're seeing traditional jigging with Red River settlement roots becoming something stylized and contemporary, yet elements of that traditional dance are still very prominent within that act. So it's showing where the culture grows and expands. But it hasn't lost sight of where it came from.”
For many artists, an appearance on the Indigenous Day Live stage is an important moment.
“It's extremely important,” McLeod said. “It's a national stage. And also local media outlets are covering it more than they have in the past … It also gives rise to young people seeing this taking place and they can aspire to be on that stage.”
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