Sam McCurdie was hoping to draw a good crowd of a few dozen local students and passersby to his event commemorating Moose Hide Campaign Day in downtown Kimberley, B.C., on Thursday.
So the Mi'kmaq man was overjoyed when around 100 elementary and high school students crowded the city's downtown Platzl to listen to several people give speeches and readings about gender equality on the day that raises awareness of violence against Indigenous women and children.
After listening to him speak and read an excerpt from Bell Hooks' The Will to Change, dozens of the attendees linked arms and danced in a circle around McCurdie and other members of the Numa Ka'kin drum group as they performed.
"We all come from a woman, a mother," said McCurdie, 32, who is originally from Ontario but now lives in Ta Ta Creek in southeast B.C.
"I hope they got the message that [violence against women], this is something that's on men's shoulders."
People across the country attended gatherings on May 12 to mark Moose Hide Campaign Day, donning moose hide pins to show support. Some participants also fasted to demonstrate their commitment to ending sexism and abuse.
McCurdie said first-hand experience with negative masculinity drove him to organize the event.
"I was a kid that just gravitated toward [spending time with] girls … yeah, I dealt with some bullying," he said.
As an adult, McCurdie said he continues to encounter chauvinism regularly. He tries to check other men when he hears inappropriate comments.
"The very slightest thing can be said is, 'hey man, that's not cool … You have a daughter, or you have a mother.' It doesn't take a lot," he said.
'You came and you danced'
Students also heard Smokii Sumac, a two-spirit Ktunaxa Nation poet and PhD candidate, speak and read their work.
Sumac said their grandmother was killed when she was 36.
"I'm here to push for an end to this kind of violence and to hope that all Indigenous children get to grow up with grandmothers and mothers and sisters and aunties," they said.
A version of Sumac's book, you are enough: love poems for the end of the world, won an Indigenous Voices Award in 2019.
Their work regularly addresses violence and discrimination toward Indigenous women and children, and they recurringly speak at events about the effects of gender-based violence and sexism.
"When I come to these things, I always feel a little bit sad thinking about violence against women," they said through a microphone to the students in the audience.
"But I want to say thank you to each and every one of you because you came and you danced, and you took care of each other … Hu sukiⱡ q̓ukni," they said, finishing their speech by thanking the students in Ktunaxa language for lifting their heart.
McCurdie said he hopes the students will remember the Indigenous drumming, which he described as "healing." He also hopes students keep the moose hide pins he gave out and think back to the speeches and readings they heard when they affix them to their shirts.
He plans to bring the Moose Hide Campaign Day back to Kimberley next year.
"I hope to do this again every year and just get it bigger and bigger and bigger," he said.
Moose Hide Campaign Day was founded by two Indigenous people from B.C. who came up with the idea for the initiative while hunting moose along the Highway of Tears, where dozens of Indigenous women have either been murdered or gone missing over several decades.