The spirit returns for Celebration of Nations
Michele-Elise Burnett has a dream of some day seeing a Celebration of Nations in every community across Canada. And she’ll be able to say “This all started in Niagara.”
As the Indigenous gathering gears up for its second year in downtown St. Catharines Sept. 7 to 9, the artistic director recalls standing on stage last year at FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre when she was told there would be Celebrations of Nations programming throughout the year — not just one weekend.
“I remember on stage I started to cry,” she says. “I thought, this is incredible. Those are leaps and bounds for us.”
Now Burnett, the daughter of founding Metis Nation of Ontario citizen Suzanne Rochon-Burnett, hopes to use Niagara as a “template” for similar celebrations across the country.
“Right now we’re trailblazing this,” she says. “I’ve gone to Ottawa, spoken with several MPs as well as the ministers and the Prime Minister’s Office. What we’re doing in Niagara, we want to emulate right across Canada.
“The way we’re going to change into developing a stronger, unified country is by starting with grass roots and by community. It’s so important to bring communities together … to be proud to be Indigenous and to share that with non-Indigenous people.”
Co-presented by FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre and Kakekalanicks Indigenous Arts & Consultancy, this year’s event again gathers Indigenous arts, culture and tradition. Concerts, lectures and seminars will take place in four venues inside FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre, along
with the Marilyn I. Walker School of Fine & Performing Arts and the outdoor Mann Raceway Plaza.
Select events include Martha Redbone on Saturday; the Fireside Roundtable with Oren Lyons, Rick Hill and Larry McDermott Sunday; and comedian Howie Miller Friday.
With several serious topics bring addressed all weekend, Burnett wanted the festivities to begin on a lighter note with Miller.
“With everything going on, from Trump to Ford to some of the traumas we’re still going through, comedy to kick it off would be a good thing,” she says.
“We strategically said, we want to kick off this weekend with a little bit of laughter. Because there’s so much in life right now that’s just so heavy.”
Events throughout the weekend include sunrise ceremonies all three days at 6 a.m., a Saturday night dance party with Classic Roots and the Sunday panel discussion Our Teachings and Traumas Are Real with Dr. Deborah Sloboda, Dr. Anna Banerji and Renee Thomas-Hill.
This year’s theme is ‘Healing Through the Arts,’ with a focus on positive actions to address the trauma spread across generations by Canada’s residential schools and The Sixties Scoop (in which Indigenous children would be taken from families and placed in foster homes or adoption).
Most all events are free. Tickets for select performances and screenings are available at FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre box office.
Last year’s Celebration of Nations made an immediate impact when Buffy Sainte Marie agreed to perform. While it provided a jolt, Burnett says the event was defined by its communal spirit.
“When I put this vision together a few years ago, the vision was all about bringing community together,” she says. “Having a big headliner does help, but having a whole weekend based on bringing different Nations together — to share each other’s diverse culture and traditions — that doesn’t happen normally.
“It gave us a sense of belonging. It gave us a sense of … celebrating us.”
The Indigenous festival Celebration of Nations returns to downtown St. Catharines Sept. 7 to 9.