‘Reconciliation’s happening:’ National Indigenous Peoples Day shows steps forward

Dancer Eli Tootoosis leads the National Indigenous Peoples Day grand entry in Kinsmen Park on June 21, 2019. (Jayda Noyes/Daily Herald)

“the drum is part of that medicine, you hear our youth singing. We hear drum groups coming alive.”

– Emcee Conrad Burns

The summer solstice has been National Indigenous Peoples Day since 1996 because of its sacredness to First Nations, Inuit and Métis people.

But Executive Director of the Indian and Métis Friendship Centre, Janet Carriere, said these cultures weren’t always celebrated or embraced like they are now—in fact, they were on the verge of being lost by many.

The Friendship Centre hosted its annual event in Kinsmen Park on Friday. The day began with a teepee raising and a pipe ceremony, then a walk from City Hall to Kinsmen Park for opening ceremonies.

Participants begin the reconciliation walk at City Hall on June 21, 2019. The walk ended at Kinsmen Park, where the bulk of Prince Albert’s National Indigenous Peoples Day festivities were held. (Jayda Noyes/Daily Herald)

The park was filled with people enjoying Indigenous art like beading and live entertainment, a free barbecue and several speeches.

“What I like to focus on is creating a community where there is equality. And so when we can bring the Indigenous and the non-Indigenous together so that we can get a better understanding of each other and a better tolerance of each other, we will create that community that I envision,” said Carriere.

She explained that she grew up at a time when Indigenous people were extremely marginalized.

Although there’s still work to do, Carriere said events like this show a lot of improvement.

“The fact that we can come here together and celebrate and be proud of being Indigenous is very important because pride and hope are what help heal communities, and the Indigenous community needs a lot of healing.”

She said reconciliation is only achievable when non-Indigenous people stand up for them when people discriminate.

This wasn’t the only time the healing from traumatic history was brought up.

Emcee Conrad Burns explained the significance of drumming in Indigenous culture to the crowd. He said the drum is medicine and it helps them sing, but they were once denied of this ability.

“(It’s) the process to regather our traditions, our stories, our ceremonies and discover who we are again because some of these were lost during residential schools and (by) social services,” he said. “But the reconciliation’s happening.”

“You guys standing here right now, you’re a part of that healing to grow; to cross that bridge of indifference that stands in front of us today. And the drum is part of that medicine, you hear our youth singing. We hear drum groups coming alive.”

Emcee Conrad Burns (centre) helps put up flags at the National Indigenous Peoples Day event in Kinsmen Park on June 21, 2019. (Jayda Noyes/Daily Herald)

Burns then spoke about the Heart of the Youth Community Pow Wow that took place last month. The pow wow is organized by youth in Prince Albert and showcases their talents.

“(That) was unheard of 10 years ago. Our elders would tell us ‘Our youths are lost because they don’t know who they are or where they come from.’ When they participate in teepee teachings, pipe ceremony, drum groups, pow wow dancing, you’re giving back identity. You’re giving back who they are so they understand where they come from, so they can have self confidence in who they are instead of having that void that’s craving culture, craving identity,” he said.

Dancer Eli Tootoosis led the grand entry during the opening ceremonies.

Dignitaries followed behind him, including Mayor Greg Dionne, MP Randy Hoback, police officers, RCMP officers and representatives of the Prince Albert Grand Council. Several made speeches after.

The Friendship Centre’s Georgette Arcand, who was the main organizer of the event, said they’ve been hosting it for at least 15 years. Arcand said planning it is a year-long process.