Before 1959, the community of Wemindji did not exist. The Crees who now occupy the town moved to this area after their original settlement, Old Factory Island, was outgrown by the burgeoning population and so the community’s Elders and hunters selected a new area that could sustain the community’s growth.
Though Indian Affairs had wished to split the community into two, sending half to Eastmain and the other half to Fort George, the Chief at the time, John Georgekish, made a stand to keep everyone together. In the summer of 1959, the poeple migrated to what is now known as Wemindji and 50 years later the community’s story is still being written.
In commemoration of this, Wemindji will be celebrating its 50th birthday with 15 solid days of festivities from July 1-15, according to the event organizer for the 50th Anniversary, Bradley Georgekish.
The big birthday party begins on a traditional note with a series of walking-out ceremonies. This will be followed up by a reenactment of the arrival of the community on to the territory.
Those participating in the reenactment will be dressed in the traditional garb of the day and will come paddling in down at the shoreline where a cultural camp will also be set up. Once the “new arrivals” are greeted on the shore with handshakes, a tea and cake social will follow. According to Georgekish, it is rumoured that some “surprise” musical guests might show up at this special reenactment.
A traditional feast will follow in the evening in celebration of the walking-out ceremonies that happened earlier during the day. Following the feast, the “surprise” musical guests will take to the stage, followed by bands playing tributes to Elvis Presley, Roy Orbison and Bryan Adams as well as local performers. The night will culminate in traditional fiddle dancing and Canada Day fireworks.
Sports and recreation will also be hosting events throughout the day for the children of the community on July 1. There will be local games on July 2 & 3 for the community, such as skeet shooting and Elders’ soccer. There will also be feasts and barbecues throughout the weekend and bonfires along with a homerun derby, Cree baseball and Elder demonstrations at the ball field on Sunday July 5.
On July 6 & 7, there will be a Texas Hold’em regional tournament in the community, with a $250 buy-in and a maximum of 96 players. There is a $10,000 prize for first place. This will be the first-ever regional tournament in the Cree communities.
On July 9, the community will celebrate the opening of a new clinic in Wemindji as well as the opening of the new Band Office along with a feast that will be co-hosted by the Cree Nation of Wemindji and the Cree Health Board and the 50th Anniversary commission. To cap off the evening the community will host a Bobby Visitor tribute concert in celebration of the famous musician’s posthumous CD release.
On July 10-12, the much-heralded Wemindji music festival will be held and what a spectacular event that will be as it may be the biggest musical festival to happen in a Cree community to date.
Over the course of the three-day festival, country-music star Crystal Shawanda will play as will John Cafferty & The Beaver Brown Band and Shane Yellowbird. There will be several tribute bands playing the event: the Blushing Brides, a tribute to the Rolling Stones, Thunderstruck, a tribute to AC/DC and Misery, a Metallica tribute.
As there will be a focus on Native talent, there will be local and regional favourites on hand to play into the night: including Thunder Hill, CerAmony, Joseph George, Melissa Pash, Gabriel Herodier and John Boudrias.
Blue Rodeo will take the stage on Sunday, July 12.
Campsites will be set up for visitors who want to take part in the festival.
After the big music festival, the community is looking to turn its focus back to what the community is really all about — family and children. In light of this, a mini-carnival for the kids will run from July 13-15.
The community has decided to adopt July 15 as the community’s official birthday as the actual 1959 date is unknown. To wind down the celebration on the final day, the community will hand out awards and prizes throughout the festival. They will also hold a final community barbecue and a yet-to-be-announced act will take the stage.