FORT WILLIAM FIRST NATION – Hundreds gathered to celebrate National Indigenous Peoples Day on Mount McKay Tuesday, jumping at the chance to reunite and celebrate after years of COVID restrictions.
Fort William First Nation Chief Peter Collins called the day an opportunity to renew relationships between communities, as well as among some participants who hadn’t seen each other in years.
“It means so much,” he said. “It’s paramount that we get together to celebrate such an important day in our communities and the City of Thunder Bay.”
Wearing an orange “Every Child Matters” shirt, Collins said for him, the day is both a celebration and a chance to honour and preserve memories of the traumas Indigenous peoples have undergone.
Celebrations on Mount McKay Tuesday included a sunrise ceremony, pow wow, and feast.
Jingle dress dancer Bess LeGarde, from Fort William First Nation, said the chance to gather with the community and “celebrate who we are” had a special resonance after years of restrictions.
“It’s definitely amazing,” she said. “It’s refreshing we’re able to gather this way again. For us, this is something that feeds our spirit.”
“I know personally, when I wasn’t able to dance for a couple of years, it was really disconnecting. Being able to come together and actually practice our culture and be around our community and our families… it’s really nice.”
Like many Indigenous people, LeGarde has been celebrating the day since she was young. However, she said the occasion is getting increased recognition.
“People are becoming more educated and aware of what actually happened to Indigenous people in our country,” she said. “It seems like it’s starting to make [headway] – maybe not as fast as we’d like, but it’s starting to.”
John Gagnon from Aroland First Nation, who served as elder and spiritual advisor for the pow wow, agreed the relief of seeing people gather again gave this year’s event a special energy.
The day is a time for celebration and healing, he believes, and a chance to pass on tradition and culture to the next generation.
“The young people need to embrace this culture so we don’t lose it,” he said.