See you for T-Day in Coaticook this Saturday !
Native drums and dance coming to T-Day
Long before the town of Coaticook was founded one hundred and fifty years ago, the area was populated by Native Americans belonging to several First Nations. According to local Amerindian lore, some of those nations included Blackfoot,
Algonquin, Nipissing and, most prominently, the Abenakis. According to the Societe d’histoire et patrimoine de Coaticook, the word Coaticook is of Abenaki origin and means “River near the land of the pines”.
Today, there are few obvious traces left of the indigenous people who first came to the Coaticook area from the South to live, nothing like the recently created ‘Pioneer Trail’ erected in their honor, and little is known about them by the general population. But there is a dedicated group of people, all of Amerindian ancestry themselves and proud of it, who would like to change that: the Association Amerindienne-Autochtone-Metis-Weetchumpee.
In recognition of the important place of Amerindians in the history of the region, members of the Weetchumpee Association led the special parade organized for Coaticook’s 150th celebrations, held in August, but their involvement in the year-long ‘Fete’ doesn’t end there. During Townshippers’ Day, this Saturday, members of the Weetchumpee Association will create an Amerindian village down at the Coaticook Gorge, beside the round barn, with plenty of traditional activities for young and old alike. I met with a few members of the Association Amerindienne-Autochtone-Metis Weetchumpee for an interview at their headquarters in Waterville, getting the opportunity to do an interview in a teepee for the first time. Sitting on chairs grouped in a tight circle ended up being quite conducive to good conversation!
“At Townshippers’ Day we’ll have singing, story-telling, power drum circles, artisan kiosks, ceremonies, activities for children and food tastings,” said Josanne Charest, the president of the Association Amerindienne-Autochtone-Metis-Weetchumpee. “We’ll be serving food like bannock, cedar and honey tisane and, of course, corn. It was one of the plants that kept the people alive. For us, at this time of year, it’s a celebration of the harvest!” she added.
Raymond and Claude Robert, of Waterville, will demonstrate how to make traditional Amerindian baskets from strips of ash. “Mr. Robert learnt how to make baskets a long time ago from Ti-Kiss Desindes who was an important member of our community. I heard that Louis St. Laurent signed a special paper so he could get a government pension. Today, Ti-Kiss is buried in an unmarked grave, but I’d like to fix that,” said the president.
“We’ll be lighting a Sacred Fire at 10:00 am to open the day,” added Jacques Belanger, Josanne’s husband who took part in the interview along with René Gagné. “The Amerindian Village will be a great place to relax on Townshippers’ Day,” said René. Visitors can buy three coupons for one dollar for the food tastings; admission and all other activities at the Amerindian Village are free. White, specially marked shuttle buses will take visitors from the downtown area of Coaticook or from the Townshippers’ Day parking area at La Frontaliere high school straight to the Amerindian Village at the Coaticook Gorge, and back again, throughout the day.
“Our role as an Association is to show that there are still Amerindians among us,” said Josanne. “And that we have been evolving. Statistics show that about 60% of Quebecers have Amerindian blood,” said Jacques. “We’re still here and we have always been part of society,” added René.
“We also want to keep the spirituality and the culture of those who walked before us, recognize that we are here because they were once here,” said Jacques. “When we dress ancestrally, with a feather or a traditional neckband, it’s our way of sending a message of love to our ancestors: We won’t forget you,” explained René. About two hundred and fifty families belong to the Association
Amerindienne-Autochtone-Metis-Weetchumpee. “Many people still don’t want to admit that they have Native blood in them,” continued René. “But what’s nice about doing special activities out in the community is that, after they take part in them, people often want to explore their roots,” said Jacques.
And, in case you’re wondering what the word ‘Weetchumpee’ signifies, it is an Abenaki term that means: “As many as there are stars in the sky”. If you’d like more information about this organization or about their activities on Townshipper’s Day, call Josanne Charest at 819 837-0088.
Looking forward to sharing their Amerindian culture with visitors at T-Day this Saturday are (l. to r.) Jacques Belanger, René Gagné, Josanne Charest and young Julien Belanger, in front.
The Weetchumpee Association will set up an Amerindian Village at the Coaticook
Gorge for T-Day on Saturday.