National Indigenous Peoples Day: An invitation to listen with open minds

The famous Memorial Peace Park bandstand is set for the day, with city council members and Indigenous peoples on stage.

Colleen Pierre, an Elder from Tsawwassen First Nation and a resident of Maple Ridge, commenced the ceremony with a welcome song.

A crowd gathered in front of the bandstand to hear them sing. Their thunderous voices echoed across the park.

Read: NIPD to celebrate diverse Indigenous cultures in Maple Ridge

Then Michael Kelly Gabriel took the stage to share his Indigenous wisdom and the importance of National Indigenous Peoples Day.

“Our culture has been preserved orally from generation to generation. It’s very important to celebrate our day,” quoting from the 1988 independent film Smoke Signals, “it’s a good day to be Indigenous but, I believe every day is a good day to be Indigenous.”

A crackling round of applause followed. Then, he went on to share a song while drumming.

person plays on drum
Michael Kelly Gabriel invited all in attendance to open up their minds as they continue to witness Indigenous dances and songs/Ayesha Ghaffar

The Fraser River Indigenous Society organized an in-person National Indigenous Peoples Day after a two-year hiatus.

The afternoon was filled with inspiration and emotions were running high as history, cultures and traditions were shared through hoop dancing, powwow, and sharing of Indigenous stories in an attempt to make people understand why these teachings are sacred to these communities.

Three children stepped on the stage to share a dance but also to remember the 215 children who were buried unceremoniously in Kamloops. The orange feathers in their regalia represented those children who were lost to the residential school system, said Jonathan James Louis from Sts’ailes First Nation.

Aleck Louis, 7, is a young Katzie First Nation dancer who performed in memory of the children who were buried at the former Kamloops residential school site/Ayesha Ghaffar

For many, these might be mere stories or “costumes” but in reality, the history of First Nations, Inuit and Metis peoples as well as their regalia has always been representative of their state of mind, Louis explained.

“Teaching my children about their ancestry, the regalia and the purpose behind it as well as our songs because we don’t compose our songs, they come to us naturally,” Lewis shared.

Children, youth, adults and elders all gathered in the park to cheer on their ancestry and share their cultures with settlers makes you feel included.

Despite their heartbreaking history of genocide and abuse, Indigenous peoples have often welcomed people with open arms and encouraged many to learn about them with an open mind.

A testament to that was the many vendors present there to share their arts and crafts, giving away a piece of their history for others to learn and think about.

A warm end to the ceremony was the invitation from David Whitebean and Shyama Priya, powwow dancers, to everyone in attendance to join them for the dance. As they guided the steps, everyone in a circle moved around.

people share powwow dance
David Whitebean and Shyama Priya shared powwow steps with the people in attendance at the NIPD event/Camila Castaneda

Perhaps for some, it was an evening of interaction and fun but for many, it was an attempt toward understanding Indigenous knowledge.

And what better way to celebrate these rich cultures than by holding hands and dancing together in a powwow circle?

Sharing is at the forefront of Indigenous traditions, whether it’s their land or culture and that was on full display at the powerful celebration of Indigenous peoples.

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