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Indigenous Day returns to St. Albert

First celebration since 2019 'like a breath of fresh air'
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CELEBRATION BREAK — St. Albert's National Indigenous People's Day Festival returns this June 19, 2022, in Lions Park. Shown here is Chris Hunter of Goodfish Lake (left) and his family at the 2019 edition of the festival. DAN RIEDLHUBER/St. Albert Gazette

Drummers and dancers will once more shake the Sturgeon this weekend as St. Albert’s annual Indigenous Peoples Day festival returns for the first time since the pandemic.

St. Albert’s National Indigenous Peoples Day Festival returns to Lions Park June 19. It is the first time the free event has been held since 2019 due to COVID-19 health restrictions on public gatherings.

“It’s like a breath of fresh air,” St. Albert Aboriginal Day Celebration Society president Marc Parent said, and a great chance to enjoy some music and dancing with old friends.

“We’re all just really excited to get back at it.”

Parent said it was a challenge to get this year’s event off the ground, as he didn’t apply for any grants, being unsure of what pandemic health restrictions would be around come June. The society rallied its volunteers and savings, however, and got about a year’s worth of prep-work done in about a month.

Parent said this year’s celebration would be pretty basic as the society wants to get back into practice after its two-year break. Expect a grand entry of dignitaries and performers in full regalia, an opening prayer by elder Margaret Cardinal, and a variety of crafters, games, and food trucks on site. The Alexander First Nations Singers & Drummers will play traditional songs, while the Métis Child and Family Services Jiggers will once more perform their toe-tapping jigs.

New to the festival are the mother-daughter duo of Connie Kanayok McCrae and Jaynine McCrae, who will demonstrate traditional Inuinnait drum dancing. (The Inuinnait or “Copper Inuit” are a group of Inuit known for their extensive use of copper, The Canadian Encyclopedia reports.)

Jaynine said Inuinnait drumming and dancing is typically done indoors during the winter as a form of celebration, competition, or prayer. There are many groups that teach it up north, and many regional variations. Jaynine said Connie learned this art form as a child prior to attending residential school, and picked it up again two years ago to teach to her.

“It is an act of reclaiming our culture,” Jaynine said.

The Inuinnait drum, or qilaut, is traditionally composed of caribou hide stretched over a frame about 60 centimetres wide with a protruding handle, reports the Inuvialut Regional Corporation — imagine a really big ping-pong paddle. Drummers twist and sway with the drum as they strike it with a wand called a katut. Jaynine said dancers typically move their arms and legs to the beat of the drum as they rotate in one spot.

Parent said he hopes about 350 people will come out to this year’s festival for a “wicked awesome” display of Indigenous culture.

The festival runs from noon until 4 p.m. Email [email protected] for details.

Spirit Walk

Happening just before Indigenous Days is a Spirit Walk for Women. Organized by former St. Albert resident Hannah Nash, the walk seeks to honour Canada’s many missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls, men, boys, and two-spirited people.

Nash started the walk in 2018 to raise awareness of the thousands of Indigenous women who have gone missing or been murdered in Canada in recent years. This year, Nash said she hopes to re-frame the walk to promote healing among those affected by domestic violence (which is a major contributor to women going missing or being murdered).

“Since COVID happened, domestic violence and domestic abuse cases have risen exponentially,” Nash said, especially with the pandemic cutting off people from community supports.

Nash said this year’s walk will include Indigenous prayers, a First Nations drum group performing an honour song, and a jingle dance, which is traditionally associated with healing.

Nash encouraged everyone who needs support to come out to the walk, and urged people to call out and take a stand against sexism and racism in society before it escalates into violence.

“If you’re not actively working against this form of violence … you’re contributing to it.”

The walk starts at 10 a.m. in Lions Park and finishes at 11:30 at the Healing Garden on June 19. It is free and open to the public, with golf carts available for seniors. Email [email protected] for details.

Kevin Ma

About the Author: Kevin Ma

Kevin Ma joined the St. Albert Gazette in 2006. He writes about Sturgeon County, education, the environment, agriculture, science and aboriginal affairs. He also contributes features, photographs and video.
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