The annual National Aboriginal Day ceremony and passing of the torch between the Terres en Vues Festival organisers and the organisers of la Fête nationale du Québec went down without a hitch June 21 at the Kondiaronk Belevedere atop Mont Royal.
Dignitaries from different levels of government, First Nations leaders, various performers, filmmakers, artists, indigenous peoples from around the world and curious onlookers all took in the two-hour long civic ceremony accompanied by traditional performances. As the drums saluted the summer sun on the day of the solstice, various aboriginal community members, government officials and participants of Terres en Vues reflected on what National Aboriginal Day meant to them:
Steven Bonspille, Chief of Kanesatake: “I feel very good and it’s good to state the obvious, that this is Mohawk land and we never gave it up. It’s good to see people here, celebrating, knowing that this is National Aboriginal Day. Yes, there are still First Nations here; we have not gone away, such as history books might dictate. We are still here, we are still fighting the fight and doing what is right and trying to make life better for our communities.”
Celebrated Canadian director Alanis Obomsawin, who has been affectionately nicknamed the godmother of aboriginal cinema, was also on hand to discuss what National Aboriginal Day meant to her. “It’s very special to me like it is for all of our people. Last year I came out with a film about the Abenakis and I mentioned that this part was so important to our people and I am so glad that this tradition is coming back. And also for other people to understand us better and to know that our people really follow nature and they knew that this was the longest day of the year and they did celebrate it and it was very sacred. That is why I feel very good about this, I think it also builds bridges.”
Terres en Vues festival organizer Andre Dudemaine, was beaming about the success of this year’s festival. “This is a reminder of the very beginning of the contact where First Nations [gave] hospitality and food and heat to the people coming from Europe. And in the beginning there was an alliance, there was commerce, there was exchange. So, I think we have to go back to that very first time where everybody understood that the exchange was on equal levels and this is what the ceremony means. This reminder is also a way to re-establish our position as First Nations.”
Parti Québécois MNA Alexis Wawanoloath: “My mom is Abenaki and my dad is Québécois and to see the fire of First Nations going, lighting the fire of the Quebec national fire, in front of a big crowd, this is my trip!”
Waneek Horn-Miller, who works for Montreal’s Friendship Centre: “Obviously every day is Aboriginal day for me. It’s a day just to celebrate who we are and that we are here and that we are alive and that our numbers are on the rise and we are proud people.”