Bringing Indigenous representation to Hawkesbury Multicultural festival

·3 min read

Community members from Kanesatake and other Indigenous nations were invited to the opening of the first-ever Hawkesbury Multicultural festival.

Last Thursday, Al Harrington, along with his children (Sage and Nation), Karonhienhawe Nicole Nicholas, throat singer Nina Segalowitz, Gabriel Garcia and Ruth Séguin headed down to the town of Hawkesbury to partake in the opening ceremony by sharing their knowledge and culture.

“The opening was a success. We were really welcomed by the mayor (Paula Assaly) and the people that were there for the festival,” said Harrington.

“We did a little bit of sharing about some of our knowledge, but also we talked about how there is still a lot of work ahead to move forward together against discrimination and racism.”

The festival was part of a larger Canada Day celebration that was organized by the town. Organizer Bonnie Jean-Louis said that after the discovery of unmarked graves at a residential school in BC last year, it was necessary to revisit what Canada Day really represents.

“Instead of being a patriotic celebration, it should be a day where the different communities across Canada gather not only to celebrate but to reflect on our history,” explained Jean-Louis.

She also felt that after two years of living with a pandemic, it was the perfect time to organize the festival. In January, Jean-Louis got in touch with Harrington, who has been visiting the town of Hawkesbury for years, to discuss the possibility of having Indigenous representation.

“I wanted to highlight their knowledge, traditions, languages, values and cultures, to honour and raise awareness and understand why their stories are so important,” she said.

Mayor Assaly spoke at the opening and met with Nicholas and Sage before the celebration started and learned a bit about Kanesatake.

“She doesn’t really know about the community down the river. So there is a lot of work, but it is a step in the right direction,” he said.

The festivities kicked off with an Aztec dance by Garcia, who is Mexica (an Indigenous nation in Mexico), followed by Harrington, who performed a traditional powwow dance.

“Then Nicole sang her friendship song and then right into Nina’s throat song. It was really something because it was five nations coming together. I thought it was pretty cool,” said Harrington.

However, Harrington recounted that while he was getting ready to perform, a racist incident occurred that was very triggering to him and his fellow performers.

“When I was there, I was getting ready, and there was a group of people in the back beside the park there. I was getting dressed, and they were watching me and then out of nowhere, real loud, they mimicked an Indigenous whooping cry,” he said.

“That really got under my skin. Two of the other dancers heard it too. I was on my way over there, but the other two guys calmed me down. We are in 2022. There is no need for that. I was a little upset.”

So, while on stage, Segalowitz decided to address the situation and turned something hateful into a positive learning experience for those present.

“There were times in my life where I was deeply hurt and insulted and reacted in anger, but it didn’t heal me or help others see what they did was wrong and hurtful,” explained Segalowitz.

“Since then, I have promised myself to use moments like this to always teach. when people are called on their behaviour in an open way and not in a finger-pointing way, then they listen and are able to take away the teaching and not feel guilty or blamed.”

Overall, Harrington feels like they achieved their goal of bringing awareness to Indigenous causes but reiterated that the work is never done.

“The way I see it, our education system sucks. It’s very slow, and to get the proper information out for our future students, I think this is one way of doing that is being invited to these communities and organizations to get the right education and message out on Indigenous people,” he said.

Marisela Amador, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Eastern Door

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