It is the summer solstice — the day the sun reaches the highest position in the sky, in the northern hemisphere — and it’s also the 26th edition of National Indigenous Peoples Day.
Several events in and around Montreal are celebrating Indigenous identities and cultures, as well as the seasonal transition.
In Old Montreal, Grand Chief Kahsennenhawe Sky-Deer of the Mohawk Council of Kahnawake spoke at a ceremony honoring the sun’s zenith, alongside Mayor Valérie Plante, the Buffalo Hat Singers and Innu artist Kanen.
Sky-Deer first addressed the crowd in her language, Kanien’kehá. Translating into English afterward, she gave a brief acknowledgment of the interconnectedness of everything in creation, noting Indigenous people have carried that knowledge since time immemorial.
“I’m so happy and proud that I could stand here today and speak my language, and that the Kanien’kehá:ka people, our nation, are still here after all that has happened to Indigenous people in this country called Canada,” Sky-Deer said.
The grand chief said society was undergoing a shift that has led to more awareness about the history of Indigenous peoples in the country and has encouraged non-Indigenous people to pressure governments to repair and foster relations with Indigenous communities.
She said she also wanted to share a message for Indigenous people.
“Across this land that we call Turtle Island, the uprising is here,” Sky-Deer said.
The shocking discovery of the unmarked graves of 215 children at a former residential school in British Columbia last spring, and the many similar findings across the country that have followed, forced many to acknowledge the reality of what happened to Indigenous people in Canada, Sky- Deer said.
“Our languages and our cultures and our nations are still here. Let’s make them strong again. Make your Indigenous language be the first that you teach your children, not French or English,” she said.
“Be proud of who you are. The future is bright because we’re finally taking our rightful place in society.”
In partnership with the Native Women’s Shelter of Montreal, POP Montreal is putting on a free outdoor concert at Cabot Square in downtown Montreal from 3 to 7 pm
Nakuset, the shelter’s executive director, said it’s a chance for people who are experiencing homelessness and rarely get a chance to attend concerts to relax and enjoy themselves for a day.
“The cultural pride just shines. People are in such a good place. They are so happy,” she said.
“It’s a day to celebrate because, man, we don’t get many days to celebrate as Indigenous communities,” she said. “A lot of the times, going to work and seeing the multiple systemic issues our people face and the difficulties they go through — it’s heavy.”
“But June 21 is not going to feel that way.”
The concert will feature performances from artists such as Juno award-winner Elisapie, the pow-wow drum group Buffalo Hat Singers, the two-spirit Cree cellist from Alberta, Cris Derksen, and Scott Sinquah, a world champion hoop dancer and fancy dancer from Arizona.
In the event of bad weather, the outdoor concert will be moved from Cabot Square to St Jax Church, on Ste-Catherine Street between Bishop and Mackay streets.
In Kahnawake, the Kanien’kehá:ka (Mohawk) community on Montreal’s South Shore, people will be celebrating with a block party at 1 pm at the local sports complex.
In addition to song and dance, there will be activities including soccer, yoga, archery and baseball, as well as local vendors selling their wares.
“It’s important to showcase what we offer to celebrate our people, and I find it’s our duty to showcase what we have,” said Jordan Diabo, the tours and events co-ordinator for Kahnawake Tourism.
‘An opportunity to have a conversation’
Native Montreal, a friendship and urban Indigenous centre, will be holding its celebrations at Arthur-Therrien Park in the city’s Verdun borough from 3 pm until 8 pm
There, you can also expect musical performances and games for children.
If the weather co-operates, Nakuset said, she believes people from all backgrounds will be drawn to the music and vibes from the various outdoor celebrations in and around the city.
Most people know little about Indigenous culture and have very narrow views of it, she said, so Tuesday’s celebrations are an opportunity to discover the talented people who help shape that culture.
“It’s an opportunity to have a conversation,” she said. “You need to show the strength, talent and sort of shift their point of view of what they think Indigenous people are.”