A dancer from the Niagara Regional Native Centre preforms during the Celebration of Nations at the Performing Arts Centre Saturday. Photo by Grant LaFleche.
The significance of the two small fires, mere feet from each other at the FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre, was easy for many to miss.
To the uninformed eye, they were just fires. But to others, they were a proud and unique display of First Nations culture.
“This doesn’t happen. I don’t remember this happening before,” said Derrick Pont, president of the Métis Nation Ontario Niagara Region Métis Council. “This is bringing us all together. It’s very special.”
Pont’s fire was a simple camp fire used for cooking and keeping warm — part of the Metis camp erected in the backyard area of the arts centre for the weekend-long Celebration of Nations event. A few feet from his fire, ringed in leaves, was a smaller, ceremonial First Nations fire.
Pont said historic tension between Métis and First Nations groups meant they typically did not share communal space in this fashion.
But at this event — a gathering of Indigenous arts, culture and traditions — the fires standing side-by-side was a powerful, if subtle, symbol of unity, Pont said.
“It says we’re cousins. That we’ve always been related, which we are,” said Pont. “For Metis and First Nations to be able to share space like this is amazing.”
For Celeste Smith, executive director of the Three Fires Community Justice program at the Niagara Regional Native Centre, the display of the variety of Indigenous identities was unique as it was important.
“If you look at what is happening here, we have a Metis camp beside a sacred fire, which is traditional, and a few feet away we have a pow wow going on. These are completely different things, completely different expressions of Indigenous culture,” Smith said.
The Celebration of Nations featured dozens of events, from workshops and film screenings to discussion groups and dances.
The event was first of its kind in Niagara, highlighting the traditions of a several First Nations including art and music.
While the dances, colourful clothing and music produce an air of celebration, serious questions about politics, Indigenous identity and the future of Canada’s First Nations were being asked.
During a Saturday discussion group called “Her Moccasins Talk: Activism, Resistance and Resilience,” singer-song writer Buffy Sainte-Marie said First Nations communities can’t flinch from confronting their own problems.
“We have to put an end to the abuse, the bullying and the alcohol and drugs,” said singer-song writer Buffy Sainte-Marie who was joined on stage by renowned dancer Santee Smith and Allison Fish, director of the Wabano Centre for Aboriginal Health in Ottawa.
However, while Sainte-Marie — who performed at the arts centre Friday evening – said Indigenous communities have to tackle their own crises, she said the rest of Canada has to challenge ideas that have shaped its relationship with First Nations for centuries.Sainte-Marie pointed to a 15th-century papal bull, known as the “Doctrine of Discovery”, which called for the total subjugation of “pagan” people, including placing them into “perpetual slavery” and taking their possessions, as something more Canadians should know. Although the papal bull might be ancient history, Sainte-Marie said it formed a critical philosophical pillar that informed how Europeans related to the peoples of the Americas. The ideas that underpinned residential schools in Canada, which did tremendous damage to Indigenous communities, are rooted in that papal doctrine, she said.Smith said these “hard conversations” are vital and necessary in 2017 and suggested art as a way to move them forward and bring people together.“If you recognize the beauty in Indigenous art, then you recognize the beauty of […]
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