Diverse crowd takes in traditional First Nations culture
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.”