Home News Onkwehón:we pride at Cabot Square

Onkwehón:we pride at Cabot Square

Julian Schwartzel The Eastern Door

“This is not a competition for the weak,” announced Beatrice Deer from the stage at this year’s National Indigenous Peoples Day concert in Tiohtià:ke’s Cabot Square.

For the final song of her band’s set, Deer invited the audience to join the band in a dance competition to the song Qiarpali. After a few moments of hesitation, some eight volunteers formed a semi-circle before the stage. As the band played, the competitors were winnowed down to a victor, Jordann McCutcheon.

“It got in my heart,” said McCutcheon. “When she said, ‘who wants to go there and kick ass?’ – well she didn’t say that, but that’s what I felt – I just went, ‘of course.’”

McCutcheon’s win was met with applause from the audience that had come to mark National Indigenous Peoples Day last Friday.

The event showcased an array of Indigenous talent, on and off the stage. A high-profile lineup of performers made up the bill, including the Black Bear Singers, the Sinquah Family Hoop Dancers, and two-time Juno Award-winning singer-songwriter Aysanabee. 

The seven-act concert featured groups performing traditional music as well as indie, rock, and ambient sets that drew an animated audience undeterred by the drizzly conditions.

The organizers behind the concert, the Native Women’s Shelter of Montreal (NWSM) and Resilience Montreal, believe holding an event in Cabot Square for National Indigenous Peoples Day is important.

“I like doing it here because we have a lot of our homeless population that comes here, and they would never be able to afford a ticket to go to a concert with these people,” said Nakuset, executive director of the NWSM.

NWSM has been behind the annual event for years. Nakuset said that since partnering with Pop Montreal, a prominent not-for-profit concert organization in Montreal that also partners with NWSM for their Every Child Matters event on September 30, the National Indigenous Peoples Day concert has grown to include ever-larger acts. 

However, Nakuset’s focus remains on the community that NWSM and organizations like it support every day and whose history is being celebrated.

“This is their area, and to be able to celebrate with everyone who shows up is like a gift,” said Nakuset. 

She pointed out that the Inuit health centre Ullivik, based in Dorval, bussed in their whole clientele for the concert. “That’s exceptional,” she said, adding that she makes an effort to feature Inuit talent at the concert.

“It is always fun to perform here, watching people enjoy themselves,” said Deer, a Mohawk-Inuk singer whose father is from Kahnawake. Deer, the frontwoman of the Beatrice Deer Band, said she was pleased to see the audience’s interest and support for Indigenous artists on this day. 

“Lots of friends and lots of familiar faces. So, it’s a lot of fun,” she said.

Deer noted the diversity of the audience that had come for the performance and those who came to support her band directly at their merch table. “It’s great that non-Indigenous people are getting to know Indigenous artists and Indigenous artisans.”    

Pasa Mangiok, who was in the audience, echoed Deer’s statement. Mangiok said she was happy to see the representation embodied by the artists on stage. 

“I’m Inuk so I am really happy that there is an Inuk singer, singing in Cabot Square, singing to other non-Inuit,” she said. “I really like it.”

Simon Aspirot, another audience member, said the location of the event was significant. 

“I think it’s very important to have this kind of celebration take place in the centre of the city, where there are a lot of people who might not have been aware or might not have been able to participate in this kind of event or history or culture. I think it’s important that we all take part in this,” Aspirot said.

“It’s different than last year or four years ago,” said Rick Peter, a soapstone artist participating in the event’s soapstone carving workshop. “Something changed, more diversity. So that’s very good.”

Peter has been working with soapstone since childhood, and while finding artists working with soapstone is less common these days, Peter said workshops like the one in Cabot Square play a role in the health of the art form. 

“It’s still an art form as long as people are interested in watching us, how we do it, from rough rock to amazing art.” 

He said he was enjoying the celebrations. “As long as everybody’s enjoying this, that’s all that matters,” he said.

“It’s a day to celebrate,” said Nakuset. 

“The job I do is so hard. It’s always a crisis. It’s always helping people that are really suffering. And today you don’t see that, you see them celebrating and enjoying the pride.”


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

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