While National Aboriginal Day may not have made the news beyond funding cuts in big cities around Canada, in Quebec, Val d’Or’s festivities drew a crowd of 700 people.

Perhaps it was the fact they were also celebrating the local Friendship Centre’s 35th anniversary or Val-d’Or’s 75th anniversary that so many showed up. It certainly had something to do with the fact that in the last several years the Native Friendship Centre has consistently worked to bring First Nations, Inuit and non-Aboriginal members of the Val d’Or community together.

The residents of Val-d’Or turned out to celebrate National Aboriginal Day and the Friendship Centre. It was a crowd made up of people, family and friends of all ages and cultures “gathered in harmony”, said Friendship Centre’s Director General Édith Cloutier.

“June 21 is a fantastic occasion to foster cross-cultural relationships in a spirit of openness, dialogue and sharing, through traditional and contemporary rhythms. It is also an opportunity for First Peoples to express their pride and cultural richness,” she added.

The outdoor show honoured Gabriel Commanda, an Algonquin recognized as “Val-d’Or’s first citizen”.

Included in the celebrations were traditional Inuit throat singing, traditional and hoop dances, poetry, drumming, and sure to be a tradition … hip hop and techno that captivated the crowd under a beautiful summer sun. Finally, to conclude the evening in a spirit of friendship and solidarity, the crowd danced to the warm reggae music of Innu writer-composer-performer Shauit.

As a central gathering place and public forum, the Val-d’Or Native Friendship Centre advocates for the individual and collective rights, interests and well-being of the Aboriginal people faced with the reality of an urban environment. Its services cover different development sectors addressing education, culture, community health, recreation, economy and social issues. It is recognized by the Val-d’Or community as a bridge-builder between peoples.

This perhaps is something the government has forgotten when they cut funding across Canada to most of the National Aboriginal Day festivities – that such events bring more than just the founding peoples out for a good time. It brings them together in a non-political fashion that benefits the whole community.

Funding cuts don’t seem to affect the Fête National or Canada Day. But those celebrations are often politicized and while important, they alienate parts of the community rather than bringing them together, such as the celebrations put on by such organizations as the Native Friendship Centres.

Bringing people of different races and cultures together would seem to me an important step in bridging communities and ensuring understanding between its different members. It is one that should be celebrated and supported in all ways possible.