Hundreds of people made their way to the bandshell area at Riverside Park to enjoy the first in-person celebration of First Nations, Inuit and Métis Peoples in Guelph in two years. Demonstrations of Indigenous dance and drumming were presented, craft-makers and artisans showed off their wares, and the settler community got a taste of a culture struggling to be embraced and preserved by the next generation.
The only real wrinkle in an otherwise perfect summer solstice day was a Google maps misdirect for the visiting team of Indigenous dancers. To stall for time there were speeches, storytelling, and drumming, but there was also lots to pull the attention at the booths nearby. There was a sample of Indigenous jewellery, information from local advocacy groups and some incredible art from a talented Inuit man who had to take breaks for drumming.
“I’m from a little community called Pangnirtung, that’s on Baffin Island, Nunavut. I was born and raised there,” said Ame Papatsie. “I learned how to do art, and moved down here to Toronto first and then I moved here. I paint, carve, and draw, and do my graphic designs and a little bit of animation.”
A number of people were very interested in seeing the work Papatsie brought with him, landscapes from his home up north featuring scenes of polar bears, fishermen, and dog sledding. “All of them are created right from my memory,” he said. “I don’t remember numbers or words, but I remember images. It’s how I grew up with my parents and how I grew up seeing the animals.”
Memory is kind of an issue for Jennifer Parkinson, the president of the Grand River Métis Council. She spent most of her life not knowing her Métis heritage.
“I didn’t even know I was Métis until I was 38. My children were in high school at the time, and though we knew we had some kind of Indigenous ancestry, we did not know what it was, and my grandmother wouldn’t admit it,” Parkinson said. “We weren’t sure we had enough to prove we were Métis, but at that point she finally admitted we were Métis.”
Parkinson doesn’t want to repeat history and has been teaching her kids, and now her grandkids, about their Indigenous roots, including the preservation of a dying Métis language.
“My husband was gifted with the teachings of a Fire Keeper, and as soon as our grandchildren were born, he would take them to the fire,” Parkinson said. “We’ve had them at events and talked to them about our flag. My grandson, when he went to junior kindergarten, walked into school and said, ‘Where’s our flag?'”
Some people have spent their lives sharing their traditions and educating settlers, people like John Somosi who both makes drums and plays them. “I was doing lots of fasting with the Ojibwe up at Cape Croker,” Somosi remembered. “We fasted twice a year and we had to do a giveaway, but as a young man I didn’t have a job though I was travelling around North America and different people would teach me how to make different things.”
Samosi explained the process in making a drum, but he also explained the even more important process of choosing a drum.
“For a really thick hide, you need the bigger drum frames because they resonate at a much deeper pitch, and the thinner ones are good for the little drums, like the 10 or the 12 inch drums,” Samosi explained. “Each drum is like a snowflake: It sounds different. People pick them by trying all of them, and then choosing one that resonates with their own vibration. The drum and the singer will develop over time together.”
Although not a political event, Mayor Cam Guthrie read the City’s territorial acknowledgement and discussed its significance, but he also had another message. “I really hope that this turns into a growing day of celebration, and also a day of reflection for yourselves and others so that we can be made more aware of what’s been happening in our city and around Canada.”
Guelph MPP Mike Schreiner was also in attendance and he spoke about being honoured to take part in the festivities while being touched by the large turnout. In terms of taking political action on behalf of Indigenous people at Queen’s Park, he had at least one idea in advance of the announcement of the new provincial cabinet on Friday.
“I want to see a minister completely dedicated to Indigenous issues. That’s something that the chiefs of Ontario have been asking for,” Schreiner said. “It’s a bit of a conflict of interest, quite frankly, to have the Minister of Northern Development and Mines also be the Minister of Indigenous Affairs, so separating those out and having a standalone minister, I think, will send an important signal.”
You will be able to hear full interviews with some of the people mentioned above on Open Sources Guelph Thursday at 5 pm on CFRU 93.3 fm or cfru.ca. You can also watch content featuring authors Rene Meshake, Brittany Luby and Thomas King, artist Jessie Buchanan. along with culinary demonstrations. on the City’s website.