By LeRae Haynes —
Communities come together this summer to celebrate First Nations history and traditions at events that span National Aboriginal Day (NAD) weekend and continue with the 33rd annual Secwepemc Gathering in July. From babies to elders and teens to toddlers, there is inspiration and fun for everyone with the opportunity to celebrate some of the richest history in Canada.
National Aboriginal Day is celebrated in Canada on Sunday, June 21, the result of a royal proclamation in 1996 by Governor General Roméo LeBlanc. National Aboriginal Day celebrates the unique heritage, diverse cultures, and outstanding achievements of the nation’s Aboriginal communities: the First Nations, Inuit, and Métis peoples.
In Williams Lake, National Aboriginal Day is celebrated with a parade and events in Boitanio Park. Festivities are organized and hosted by the Northern Shuswap Tribal Council, which is made up of 17 bands representing the biggest land area in BC, according to Secwepemc gathering co-ordinator Mike Retasket, who is an entrepreneur and former Bonaparte Indian Band chief who helps with both events.
“Recognizing the importance of our heritage and traditions is very significant for Canada—we haven’t always been very high on the scale,” said Retasket, adding that as a full-blooded Indian he has duties and responsibilities to pass on these traditions to future generations.
“Our youth are learning why it’s important to pass on the heritage and traditions,” he explained. “That’s what I want to see in the numbers of young people partaking in things like National Aboriginal Day and the Secwepemc Gathering. I want to see them seize the moment and get involved.”
National Aboriginal Day events have become a real Williams Lake highlight. “The parade has grown every year, and now people really look forward to it, and go out early to set up chairs along the route”
Besides co-ordinating the Secwepemc gathering, Retasket has participated in the National Aboriginal Day parade and has been the Master of Ceremonies for the park events. He plans events for children at both NAD and the annual gathering, and said that it’s very positive for kids to take part in the drumming, dancing, and singing. “I have been dancing for 28 years,” he said. “A lot of dancing is about prayers for healing—we all have need of healing. There is a balance between forgiving and being forgiven: that’s why dancing is done in a circle. It’s perfectly balanced.
“I want everyone to know they’re welcome to these events, and I want them to take away a ‘wow’ when they go. The Creator made sure there is enough room for everyone to come together and this is a good time for that to happen.”
He said another opportunity for the community to come together to celebrate First Nations history is the Secwepemc Gathering on July 24-26, hosted by the Xatsull Indian Band, which is made up of Soda Creek and Deep Creek tribes. The event will take place at Whispering Willows camp site and at the Xatsull Heritage Village.
“All bands are welcome and it’s open to the public,” he explained. “There will be a powwow, a puppet show, a talent show, and stick games. The Unity Riders will arrive from Canoe Creek and the Iron Horse Unity Riders on motorcycles from Adams Lake. There will be many children’s events, including puppet making and carved wooden mask displays and a DJ dance event run by the kids.”
Northern Shuswap Tribal Council community services co-ordinator Marg Casey said National Aboriginal Day events have become a real Williams Lake highlight. “The parade has grown every year, and now people really look forward to it, and go out early to set up chairs along the route,” she said. “It includes things like the Little Chiefs from Sugarcane, horseback riders, sports teams, the First Nations fiddlers, and many more.
“There will be fun events for children, including face painting and giveaways. There is dancing, drumming, singing, and food vendors, and last year there was a Lahal tournament.”
She said the event in the park is a great opportunity for First Nations fundraising groups, who can set up a booth at no charge simply by phoning her to pre-register.
The parade leaves the Elks parking lot just before 11 a.m. with a welcome by the Williams Lake Indian Band, winds its way up to Oliver Street, and then continues to Boitanio Park where events go on until about 2:30 p.m.
National Aboriginal Day on June 21 also coincides with the annual Father’s Day Powwow weekend at Sugarcane by the Williams Lake Indian Band.
“What I want most for people at these events is a sense of pride and unity between the nations,” said Retasket. “People talk about unity, but often each nation is off doing its own thing and sometimes those things make people disagree with each other. Songs bring everyone together. Once we show we can come together for a song, we can come together for other things, too.”
For more information about the Secwepemc gathering July 24-26, phone Mike Retasket at (250) 989-2323 ext. 114 or visit www.xatsull.com. For more information about National Aboriginal Day events, including booking a free vendor table, contact Marg at the Northern Shuswap Tribal Council at (250) 392-7361 ext. 208 or visit www.northernshuswaptribalcouncil.com. For more information about the Williams Lake Indian Band Father’s Day powwow visit www.williamslakeband.ca.
LeRae Haynes is a freelance writer, song writer, community co-ordinator for Success by 6, member of Perfect Match dance band, and instigator of lots of music with kids.