In­dige­nous fes­ti­vals go vir­tual

Anti-racism move­ment adds im­pe­tus

Calgary Herald - - FRONT PAGE - AMY SMART

Or­ga­niz­ers of a ma­jor In­dige­nous fes­ti­val in Ot­tawa con­sid­ered post­pon­ing or can­celling it en­tirely af­ter COVID-19 re­stric­tions meant they couldn’t gather in per­son.

But as an anti-racism move­ment swept the coun­try, bol­stered by news of In­dige­nous deaths dur­ing po­lice in­ter­ac­tions, Trina Si­mard said it only af­firmed their de­ci­sion to take the Sum­mer Sol­stice In­dige­nous Fes­ti­val on­line.

“I can’t speak for ev­ery­body but for me it’s part of what drives me about this ed­u­ca­tion,” the fes­ti­val producer and ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of In­dige­nous Ex­pe­ri­ences said.

“It’s more than a fes­ti­val, it’s our cul­tural and com­mu­nity con­nec­tion and it’s re­ally that one time of year where we get to share and cel­e­brate with our neigh­bours who we are. I think that’s the first step in rec­on­cil­i­a­tion.”

The Sum­mer Sol­stice In­dige­nous Fes­ti­val wrapped up three weeks of events and ac­tiv­i­ties Sun­day on Na­tional In­dige­nous Peo­ples Day. It’s among many In­dige­nous or­ga­ni­za­tions across the coun­try find­ing ways to cel­e­brate amid re­stric­tions at a time when they say it’s es­pe­cially im­por­tant to do so.

Adap­ta­tion has meant mail­ing food kits to par­tic­i­pants in a vir­tual tra­di­tional cook­ing work­shop, Si­mard said. And the fes­ti­val has part­nered with the So­cial Dis­tanc­ing Pow­wow Face­book group to host its per­form­ers and oth­ers, with fi­nal­ists com­pet­ing Sun­day.

The Face­book group has al­most 200,000 mem­bers since its cre­ation in midmarch as a plat­form for dancers to dance, ven­dors to re­coup their losses and recre­ate a sense of com­mu­nity on­line.

Vir­tual pow­wow par­tic­i­pants this week have posted videos in full re­galia in front of back­drops of oceans, moun­tains and fields across North Amer­ica.

Belle Bai­ley, 19, posted her dance from Meath, Ont. She is an Alon­quin from the First Na­tion of Pik­wakana­gan.

In her video, she wears her favourite re­galia hon­our­ing Miss­ing and Mur­dered In­dige­nous Women and Girls and has a hand­print across her mouth, painted in red, the colour be­lieved to be vis­i­ble from the spirit world.

“My hope is that their spir­its find peace danc­ing with me,” she says in her post. “Since I can’t dance in the Sa­cred Cir­cle of my home tra­di­tional Pow­wow this year, I’m still danc­ing with my moc­casins on the grass where I can smell the cedars and pines.”

Bai­ley’s mother Holly John said in an interview the cel­e­bra­tion of In­dige­nous cul­ture shouldn’t be lim­ited to Na­tional In­dige­nous Peo­ples Day.

“We do cel­e­brate the one day but it should be in­te­grated into Cana­dian his­tory, not just a one-day cel­e­bra­tion,” John said.

Bai­ley re­cently spoke in sol­i­dar­ity with the Black Lives Mat­ter move­ment at a rally this month.

“I felt like I knew where they were com­ing from be­cause as an In­dige­nous woman you have gone through what they’ve gone through and you know how they’re feel­ing,” she said.

In Mon­treal, Land In Sights is still or­ga­niz­ing a fire cer­e­mony for Na­tional In­dige­nous Peo­ples Day. Be­gin­ning at sun­rise, a Mo­hawk el­der will pre­side over the cer­e­mo­nial, which will be we­b­cast, a re­lease says.

“Mon­treal­ers are in­vited, at that time, to open their com­puter and their win­dow and to burn some to­bacco in or­der to par­tic­i­pate in this pro­pi­tia­tory rite which is in­tended to her­ald bet­ter times,” the re­lease says.

Artists and per­son­al­i­ties from Abo­rig­i­nal com­mu­ni­ties will share recorded mes­sages of hope and heal­ing ad­dressed to Mon­treal and the coun­try. Pro­grams shot dur­ing the 2019 Mon­treal First Peo­ples Fes­ti­val will also be broad­cast.

On the east coast of Van­cou­ver Is­land, more than a dozen dancers and mu­si­cians gath­ered on a sandy


stretch of beach un­der the sun. The Ku­mugwe Cul­tural So­ci­ety and Dance Group recorded a video cir­cu­lated this week­end in hon­our of the day.

Hered­i­tary chief Negedzi, whose English name is Rob Ever­son, said the song was passed on to his younger brother in the early ’80s by his late grand­fa­ther, Chief Andy Frank of the K’omoks First Na­tion.

“We’ll use that dance to cleanse or bless the place that we’re danc­ing,” he said.

This is the first time in 20 years since the group’s for­ma­tion that they haven’t spent the day per­form­ing in the lo­cal big house for hun­dreds of peo­ple and shar­ing tra­di­tional meals.

“This is to­tally dif­fer­ent,” Negedzi said.

Although the group won’t be able to share their cul­ture to­gether lo­cally Sun­day, he said the video may mean the group reaches new au­di­ences in its ef­forts to pro­mote a bet­ter un­der­stand­ing of In­dige­nous ways.

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