Di­verse crowd takes in tra­di­tional First Na­tions cul­ture

Winnipeg Free Press - SundayXtra - - NEWS LOCAL - By Jes­sica Botelho-Ur­ban­ski

ABO­RIG­I­NAL Day cel­e­bra­tions at The Forks on Satur­day boasted big names and a more di­verse au­di­ence than in years past. Per­former Leonard Sum­ner thought the di­ver­sity was thanks in part to the show’s head­liner, Billy Ray Cyrus.

Cyrus is part Chero­kee, but is most rec­og­nized for his early ’90s mega-hit Achy Breaky Heart, and his daugh­ter, twerk­ing sen­sa­tion Mi­ley Cyrus.

Sum­ner, an Anishin­abe MC with an knack for mash­ing coun­try, hip-hop and R&B gen­res, was ex­cited to share such a large stage with Cyrus.

“He’s a big name. He’s the main at­trac­tion,” said Sum­ner. “Hope­fully some ex­tra people, a more di­verse au­di­ence, will come out this time around to see him and they’ll dis­cover more First Na­tions per­form­ers, Métis per­form­ers, Inuit per­form­ers that they’ve never seen be­fore.”

Sum­ner said he en­joyed Cyrus’ older mu­sic when he was grow­ing up and was happy to hear it played live.

“I haven’t heard any of his new stuff, but I heard people aren’t al­lowed to ask him about Mi­ley,” he said with a laugh.

The Na­tional Abo­rig­i­nal Day fes­tiv­i­ties fin­ished with Cyrus and Sum­ner’s per­for­mances and fire­works over the Assini­boine River.

Ear­lier in the day, thou­sands flowed through the fields at The Forks to take in hoop dancing, square dancing and pow­wow per­for­mances.

Tracy Kawakami brought her sons, Phoenix and Xza­vier, aged nine and six, and her two-year- old daugh­ter, Chloe, to the fes­ti­val and let them un­leash some of their en­ergy in the sun.

“It’s a good thing for them be­cause then they get to ex­pe­ri­ence the tra­di­tions, they get to see the pow­wows and the square dancing, they get to hear the sto­ries and ev­ery­thing else... This just gets them some cul­ture and gets them to re­al­ize where they came from and what their abo­rig­i­nal an­ces­try re­ally means,” she said.

Hoop dancer Jack­son Beardy III, 19, showed off the skills he’s learned from his an­ces­tors, spin­ning in Satur­day’s scorch­ing heat with 17 hoops, while wear­ing fur leg-warm­ers no less.

He was ac­com­pa­nied by his fa­ther, By­ron, on drums and vo­cals. By­ron joked he would stay firmly planted in the shade of a nearby tent while Jack­son sweated it out dancing in the sun.

Still, the Beardys agreed Satur­day’s heat didn’t com­pare with tem­per­a­tures they’d felt dur­ing past per­for­mances.

“One time we did a show at Os­borne Vil­lage on Canada Day and it was like 32 C out and he was still dancing,” By­ron said. “Next thing you know, boom.” By­ron ex­plained Jack­son had vom­ited mid-per­for­mance. “Lit­er­ally, we had to pull him off the stage,” By­ron re­mem­bered, laugh­ing. “I wanted to keep go­ing,” Jack­son chimed in. “When I’m per­form­ing, I can look out and tell who it’s their first time see­ing the hoop dancing. People will come up to me af­ter­wards and say, ‘That was the first hoop dancing I’ve ever seen,’ and it’s just a great feel­ing,” Jack­son said.

“When elders come up with tears in their eyes and say ‘Thank you for the work you’re do­ing,’ that’s what I re­ally en­joy.”

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