Since 1996, June 21st has been marked on Canadian calendars as National Aboriginal Day (or NAD). This day was chosen by Aboriginal organizations and the Government of Canada as it corresponds with the summer solstice (and the longest day of the year).
NAD was designated as a day for all Canadians to recognize and celebrate the unique heritage, diverse cultures, and outstanding contributions of First Nations, Inuit, and Métis peoples. Events are held across the country to honour the occasion, and I participated by attending a traditional pow-wow at Fort York in Toronto.
The event was hosted by the Native Men’s Residence — a diverse, multi-service organization that offers a culture-based residential healing and learning program for Aboriginal men and male youth. It also offers emergency shelter, outreach services for people living on the streets, case management, assistance to access healing programs and services, housing access and follow-up care. Native Men’s Residence (or Na-Me-Res) has been holistically addressing the needs of Toronto’s Aboriginal homeless population for 30 years, and their Traditional Pow-Wow, now in its 14th year, draws in performers from across the province.
Amongst the attendees were representatives from the Mississaugas of the New Credit First Nation — the last Aboriginal group to reside on the land upon which Toronto now sits. This was the same group with whom the British negotiated the Toronto Purchase of 1787, resulting in the building of Fort York.
The pow-wow featured traditional dancing and drumming, food stalls, and booths selling First Nations craft goods. The day opened with a grand entry, showcasing the different dancing groups, which was then proceeded by three consecutive dances to give thanks. Once the opening ceremonies were complete, the day opened up to various round dances, competitions, and drum circles. Having never witnessed a round dance, I was thrilled to see how inclusive it was — anyone was invited to join.
The costumes were creative, intricately decorated, and eye-catching. This photo has to be my favourite from the day. Captured within the frame is Eagle Staff Carrier, Bernard Nelson, dressed in traditional costume, juxtaposed against more modern outfits on the couple in the foreground.
It turned out to be a scorching hot and sunny day, but I enjoyed myself so much that the heat didn’t matter. Hearing the drums and watching the dancers rhythmically bounce to their beat can definitely put you in a trance-like state. It was beautifully hypnotizing.
The pow-wow is an important part of aboriginal tradition and events are held throughout the year. If you’d like to attend one yourself, check out this website that lists pow-wow events throughout North America. If you’re in Ontario, the Wikwemikong Unceded Indian Reserve of Manitoulin Island hosts the oldest and largest annual pow-wow in Eastern Canada on the Civic holiday weekend.
If you celebrated National Aboriginal Day in Canada, I hope you enjoyed the day and festivities. If you’d like to check out more photos from across the country, search the #NADCanada hashtag on your various social media channels.