The coronavirus pandemic put June’s usual celebration of National Indigenous Peoples Day on hold, but Regina wanted to make sure that it happened.
Community leaders, working with the City of Regina, created a virtual event that livestreamed Tuesday to mark the year of the Métis.
While National Indigenous Peoples Day is June 21, Regina cultural diversity and Indigenous relations adviser Brad Bellegarde said organizers opted to plan for something later in the year on the birthday of Métis leader Louis Riel, who was tried and hanged for treason in Regina in 1885 following the collapse of the North-West Resistance.
“We want to celebrate his life,” Bellegarde said, noting Riel, in his fight to have the Canadian officials uphold their promises to his people, had a distinct relationship with this city.
“Having an event like this … we always have to take a look at where we came from and where we’re going,” he said.
Among the performers participating in the virtual event, most of which was filmed live by Bamboo Shoots at the mâmawêyatitân centre, was Métis singer-songwriter and fiddle player Donny Parenteau from Prince Albert.
While recognizing his culture and the cultures of other Indigenous peoples drove his participation, having the opportunity to be back with his band was also a motivating factor.
“We’re a little bit further apart from each other, but that’s OK,” Parenteau said.
“To get together and actually perform is a really good feeling.”
The festivities were more literally spread out than they would have been previously, in order to abide by protocols aimed at curbing the spread of COVID-19.
Mask wearing, physical distancing and social bubbles were very much a part of the event.
“With no audience,” Parenteau said, “you’re playing to cameras and there’s no feedback — nothing. You don’t have that energy, so you’ve got to create your own energy.”
Throughout the day, Global News observed there were consistently more than 100 viewers tuned into the four-hour livestream on Facebook, which was shared on Vimeo and by SaskTel.
Bellegarde said he’s hopeful that the format helped reach people who may not otherwise engage with Regina’s National Indigenous Peoples Day, including the descendants of Riel himself.
While Riel’s descendants and Indigenous Peoples are dispersed far and wide, Bellgarde said a goal is to build better relationships with them.
“The bottom line is what we want to do is create a better relationship for the children for their children,” he said.