It was a beautiful sunny day as a diverse group of people congregated at the entrance of the Montreal Botanical Garden on June 21, National Aboriginal Day.

Most striking among the group were several Elders and youths dressed in traditional clothes and carrying drums.

Then shortly after 10 am, a conch was blown and a drumbeat was heard. A crowd of 200 assembled and slowly moved through the gates of the Botanical Garden towards the First Nations Garden.

Leading the procession were André Dudemaine, the director of the Montreal First People’s Festival and the summer solstice ceremony, and the Keepers of the Eastern Door: Mohawk Singers and Dancers from Kahnawake.

When the procession reached its destination, a beautiful clearing surrounded by trees and next to a pond, the group had grown thanks to several curious onlookers. A teepee stood in the clearing while a small campfire burned in the middle.

Mohawk Elder Sedalia Fazio opened the ceremony with an honour song and welcomed all the attendees to the traditional lands of the Mohawk people.

Tobacco was distributed to the people and Dudemaine spoke about the plant being sacred and that burning it together was a sign of fraternity.

The various guest speakers included Charles-Mathieu Brunelle (executive director of Montreal’s Nature Museum), Gilles Vincent (director of the Botanical Garden), Ginette Marotte (Montreal city councillor) and André Maltais (Quebec government representative).

Native speakers included Algonquin Elder Dominique Rankin, who conducted a traditional fire ceremony and thanked the Great Spirit for life, and Atikamekw artist Jacques Néwashish, who recounted a tale about the land with its trees and animals. As he sang, the wind gently blew through the clearing and joined in, making the trees sway and leaves rustle.

After the ceremony, everyone walked over to the First Nations pavilion to view the unveiling of a temporary mural artwork. It was the winning piece of an annual art competition that allows a First Nations artist to create a mural that is displayed in the First Nations Garden throughout the summer.

This year’s winner was Huron-Wendat artist France Gros-Louis Morin, whose work “Soliloquy” questions our relationship with nature. The piece encourages people to reflect on their connection with Mother Earth and the role they play in maintaining a balance with the environment.