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Celebrating at the McCord

Olivier Cadotte The Eastern Door

The sounds of drumming and singing echoed through Museum Alley next to the McCord Stewart Museum last Friday morning for this year’s National Indigenous People’s Day ceremony organized by Land InSights, an organization dedicated to the promotion of Indigenous cultures.

Kahnawa’kehró:non elder Sedalia Fazio started the ceremony with an opening speech reminding the dozens in attendance that Tiohtià:ke is unceded Indigenous land, and that the word unceded had meaning outside of being used in land acknowledgements.

“We didn’t give (our land) to you, we didn’t sell it to you, we didn’t rent it to you. You took it,” said Fazio, before leading into prayer and the ceremonial first dance, performed by Kahnawa’kehró:non Ray Deer and the Deer Family Dancers.

“We’ve been fortunate enough to be invited to come dance for this ceremony for many years,” said Deer. “We demonstrate our culture, our dances, our sounds, and we let people know it’s still here, we’re still roaming around. It’s important for us to come here and re-establish our title to this land.”

The multigenerational dance group performed many dances throughout the morning, including the duck and dive and the traditional Haudenosaunee alligator dance.

Mayor Valérie Plante, McCord Stewart Museum director Anne Eschapasse, and associate advisor for reconciliation with Indigenous peoples Gracia Kasoki Katahwa, among others, joined in for the women’s dance, at the encouragement of Fazio and the Deer Family Dancers. 

Following the prayer and first dances were many speeches from both organizers and guests. After an introduction from Innu André Dudemaine, the Land InSights director and co-founder, Plante followed with a welcome to the event and mentioned the steps her government had taken to commit to reconciliation, including the work done hand in hand with Indigenous groups during the excavation of the portion of Peel Street currently being done.

Minister of Environment and Climate Change Steven Guilbeault followed with a mention of steps taken by the ministry to work with Indigenous people for matters of territorial and animal conservation. 

On June 19, after years of requests from Indigenous groups, the federal cabinet approved the request from minister Guilbeault and started the process for the implementation of an emergency order to protect the caribou. 

This year’s ceremony centered around the caribou, and the need for their protection. As Dudemaine pointed out, they did not know the government would announce these measures while preparations were ongoing.

“I thought we were going to annoy the federal government by putting the caribou at the centre of the ceremony,” said Dudemaine. “Not only did we not annoy them, we were actually on the same wavelength.”

The final speech of the day was given by regional chief of the Assembly of First Nations Quebec-Labrador (AFNQL) Ghislain Picard.

Picard, who also serves as the director of the McCord Stewart Museum’s board of directors, thanked the museum and Land InSights for their efforts in making Friday’s ceremony a reality. He also thanked Fazio, the drummers, and the members of the Deer family for sharing their beliefs and for hosting in Tiohtià:ke.

He then turned his attention to the need for solidarity between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples.

“I think that it is becoming more important than ever that we work towards achieving that solidarity between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples,” said Picard. “It is extremely appropriate when we talk about solidarity with Indigenous Peoples, that we express that solidarity with all the facets of our reality.”

To Picard, a large part of that reality is the natural world.

“I want to highlight the actions done by the federal government in establishing the fact that Indigenous communities are closely associated with their environmental strategies,” said Picard. “The context we are in is that it is the human species that is at risk, not just the caribou.”

The first National Indigenous People’s Day ceremony held by Land InSights was in 1995, in collaboration with the Pointe-à-Callière Museum in Old Montreal. Since then, the ceremony has been held in many places around the island, notably the Old Port, Mount Royal, and the First Nations Garden in the Montreal Botanical Garden.

“What’s important for us is to be in a place that is symbolic, a place that marks our connection to the territory,” said Dudemaine.

The original plan was to return to the Old Port in 2024, but the group ran into some issues during the preparatory process. In addition to needing a stage and sound equipment, the budget of the Canada Celebrates program happened “pretty late in the process,” according to Dudemaine, which ultimately made returning to the Old Port too difficult.

After speaking to a few partners, the McCord Stewart Museum was chosen to host this year’s edition.

“We had been collaborating with the museum for many years, and ultimately it’s with them that we were able to find the best path forward,” said Dudemaine. 

To Dudemaine, the fact that chief Picard is the director of their board of trustees, along with the many exhibitions dedicated to Indigenous cultures, makes the McCord Stewart Museum a very strong partner for them for the long haul.

While the exact look of the 2025 edition isn’t known just yet to Dudemaine, he said they will be back for year 30 next year.

news@easterndoor.com

This article was originally published in print on June 28 in issue 33.26 of The Eastern Door.

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