June 21 is National Indigenous Peoples Day and in Montreal, communities came together to share and reflect.
For Mohawk Council of Kahnawake Grand Chief Kahsennenhawe Sky-Deer the day means many things. “Pride, honour, resilience,” she laughed saying it was hard to come up one word to describe how she was feeling.
The day began with a sunrise ceremony at the First Nations Garden at the Montreal Botanical Gardens. Later, people met for an official launch in Old Montreal to speak about the significance of the day.
“We are here to of course celebrate but to recognize the contribution, the inestimable contribution of the Indigenous community, and its diversity here in Montreal but all over the country,” Alia Hassan-Cournol told Global News. She’s the City of Montreal’s executive committee member responsible for reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples.
A concert at Cabot Square later in the afternoon highlighted Indigenous songs and performers.
For Nakuset, director of the Native Women’s Shelter and co-organizer of the Cabot Square events, having a day set aside to recognize Indigenous cultures is an important step in reconciliation, but only a start.
“Even the idea that you have Sept. 30 as a holiday, but it’s about residential schools and remembering the mass graves,” she noted. “So, I mean, that’s not really a holiday. This is a holiday.”
At the Old Montreal ceremony, Sky-Deer, who made a point of giving part of her her speech in Kanien’kéha, her Indigenous language, said the celebrations Tuesday were also an opportunity to show the diversity of Indigenous cultures, not only to help educate those outside the communities.
“It was important for me to speak my language first and foremost for people to know that our Indigenous languages still exist,” she stressed, “and that we’re doing everything within our power to keep them alive.”
She believes that there should be more events showcasing Indigenous cultures and languages for the greater community to continue its learning.
“The more that people see us and hear us, that our voices are here and that we’re loud and proud and that we’re willing to share our knowledge, that we’re willing to share this land together,” she said, the less likely it’ll be they’ll be ignored again.
Nakuset believes days like this will also inspire more people to become better educated.
“Because we’re 11 nations here in Quebec,” she noted. “Most people can’t even name them.”
A spectator at the Old Montreal event, Salma El Hankouri, who describes herself as Indigenous from Northern Africa, pointed out that, for her, showing up was an act of respect.
“I’m on their land, so for me it’s like, yeah, I have to go to these events to, first of all learn about their cultures, but also be there in solidarity with their causes,” she explained.
In the end, Indigenous officials say, the day for sharing, learning and laughing.