2023 Back to Batoche sees record-breaking attendance

Dancers perform during the final day of Back to Batoche, the annual celebration of Metis culture at the Batoche Historic Site. This 2023 event broke records for attendance. -- Bailey Sutherland/Daily Herald

The 2023 Back to Batoche Days festival was one for the books, as close to 45,000 people from all over North America paid a visit to the annual event hosted by Metis Nation – Saskatchewan from Thursday through Sunday.

“We had an amazing turnout with youth, adults, and our elders. They came out here [and] they had a great time,” said Kristi Ross. “They were jigging, they were playing, and they were fiddling; we had a packed house.”

Ross, Manager of Culture, Heritage, and Language for Metis Nation – Saskatchewan (MN-S), oversees Back to Batoche Days. She contributes the record-breaking attendance at this year’s festival to all the new activities aimed at people of all ages.

“I think it all comes back to making sure that we have items or areas for everybody to participate in. We want to make sure that children have an area to go, adults have a spot to go, elders have a place to go,” said Ross. “Those are our key spots and I think this year we hit all of those items and we were able to target more people to come out.”

One of the more popular areas brand-new to the festival this year was the Little Jigger’s Village, which featured tents with facepainting and balloon animals surrounding a playground structure and zipline that was assembled just in time to help make the festival a success.

“We actually just finished it the Wednesday before [Back to] Batoche,” said Ross. “We wanted to make sure that the children had a spot that they could play and have activities at.”

Even though the 2023 Back to Batoche Days saw the most attendees of any previous year, Ross and the rest of her team are always thinking of ways to make the next year even more spectacular.

“Our goal at the end of this is, I take my team back, we do a debrief, and we figure out ‘how do we make this better?’”, noted Ross. “We want to make it better for our citizens, for our people, and we want to make sure that it keeps growing each year.”

A Metis dance group displays their traditional dress outside the dance pavilion at the 2023 Back to Batoche celebration. — Bailey Sutherland/Daily Herald

Ross thanked everyone that took the time to come out and celebrate the thriving culture, language and heritage in the heartland of the Metis Nation.

“I can’t wait to see you guys back next year.”

Provincial and federal leaders attended the event’s opening ceremonies. Scott Moe is the first sitting premier to attend Back to Batoche Days, according to a news release.

Other dignitaries included the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nation’s Aly Bear, parliamentary secretary Terry Duguid, RCMP commissioner Mike Duheme and opposition party members both federally and provincially.

“In a post-pandemic period where coming together means all that much more, I am invigorated by the entire weekend,” said Metis Nation – Saskatchewan (MN—S) President Glen McCallum.

“Our Metis Nation continues to grow and share our vision and hope for future generations. Everyday at Batoche, I was impressed by the sheer numbers in attendance – the total combined was more than the population of Prince Albert.”

This year’s festival recognized John Arcand’s contributions to Metis music. In turn, Arcand created a piece that recognized McCallum.

The MN—S said it will use this composition at future events as a symbol for how far the nation has come.

“Our focus was on lifting him and his work up and this is indicative of the work he does and I am honoured to be part of it,” said McCallum.

He thanked those who attended and organized the festival.

“We had guests from our homeland all the way to Norway and the feedback has been incredibly positive.”

—with files from Jayda Taylor/Daily Herald