Friday marks National Indigenous Peoples Day, which has been a statutory holiday in the Northwest Territories since 2001. The NWT was the first jurisdiction to make the day a statutory holiday, followed by Yukon in 2017.
National Indigenous Peoples Day has been celebrated since 1996.
It was originally named ‘National Aboriginal Day’ but it was renamed by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in 2017 as National Indigenous Peoples Day.
Name changes aside, it will be a joyous occasion in Yellowknife, said Bill Enge, president of the North Slave Metis Alliance.
Here’s what’s going on:
From noon to five, Yellowknifers and visitors alike are invited to Somba K’e Civic Plaza to celebrate the culture and contributions of Canada’s Indigenous peoples.
There will be a number of Indigenous performers including Inuit throat singer Tanya Roach, the Yellowknives Dene Drummers and Metis fiddlers and dancers.
There will also be children’s entertainment such as face-painting and a puppet show produced by News/North columnist Catherine Lafferty and a guest appearance by the RCMP
Longtime News/North columnist Antoine Mountain will be there signing copies of his newly published book, From Bear Rock Mountain.
Great Slave Lake whitefish will be served along with bannock, pork, beans, corn on the cob and refreshments.
“One of the things that we are doing different in terms of the bill of fare is we’re adding apples and oranges now, as we’ve been requested in the past to provide some fruit, especially for children, so we’re doing that,” said Enge.
This year’s National Indigenous Peoples Day celebration is dedicated to the missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls of Canada, he said. A national inquiry into the issue delivered its final report on June 3.
“It’s quite an indictment against colonial practices of the past, perhaps it could be said there are areas of neo-colonialism going on that Aboriginal people continue to be subjected to,” said Enge.
The report includes 231 calls for justice eight of which address all Canadians. The North Slave Metis Alliance included those eight calls for justice in its National Indigenous Peoples Day fish fry and stage show ad in Yellowknifer this week.
“It’s there for people to see and consider instituting new ways and means to help their fellow Aboriginal Canadian women and girls,” said Enge.
The colonial past was exceedingly difficult for Canada’s Indigenous people, and the legacy of past wrongs like the residential school system and Sixties Scoop continue to ripple through Indigenous communities. But Enge believes Canadians want to do the right thing and right those wrongs.
“That’s evidenced by the fact that they’re willing to air their dirty laundry out,” he said.
“As the only way to really heal from wounds of the past is to acknowledge them, address them and then move on from them so the people who have been harmed – in this case Aboriginal people, and Indigenous women and girls in particular – can heal.”
Acknowledging the past is an important part of this year’s event, but so is the present, which means celebrating the culture of the Indigenous peoples of the Northwest Territories. For Enge, that coming together is part of the reconciliation process.
“When we all get together and recognize each other for who we are and what’s happened to us, I think that helps us heal and move on together,” he said.
“Because ultimately, at the end of the day, we’re all rowing in the same boat and we’re all going to be in this boat right until the end. And we all have to learn to recognize and respect each other, and certainly, hiding things under the bed and not acknowledging wrongdoings and harms of the past is not going to help our country grow.”
After a week-long cultural gathering at the Wiiliideh site, the Yellowknives Dene First Nation (YKDFN) will also be holding an Indigenous Peoples Day celebration at the Yellowknife River. From 4 to 9 p.m. there will be a fish fry, hide tanning, dryfish making, traditional sewing, Dene games, handgames, canoe rides and races, a scavenger hunt and duck plucking competition. The celebration ends with a drumdance around 9 p.m.