Daily sunrise ceremony 'very powerful' for Mi'kmaq elder

It started with a teenaged boy's question to his grandfather, and now Mi'kmaq elder Junior Peter-Paul feels the weight of his ancestors pushing him to greet the sunrise every day.

Peter-Paul burns sage for a smudge ceremony, turns to the east, beats the drum and sings as the sun rises over Charlottetown Harbour. The location can change, but the ceremony remains the same.

When he was a teenager Peter-Paul asked his grandfather why he got up so early every day. His grandfather told him he was forced to rise at dawn when he was at the residential school. He began the ceremony in remembrance of his grandfather's experience, but its significance has grown.

"It's a very powerful ceremony for me," said Peter-Paul.

"For me to do the sunrise ceremonies, and sending out the prayers to our residential survivors — elders that are living today and the ones that crossed over — and I do this for them. I honour them and I pray for them."

Isabella Zavarise/CBC

On Sunday he chose Skmaqn–Port-la-Joye–Fort Amherst for his ceremony. The Mi'kmaq word Skmaqn was recently added to the name of the historic site. It means a waiting place. It was here the Mi'kmaq gathered to trade with visiting ships from Europe.

As he remembers the tragedy his ancestors went through, he thinks about all people on Earth, and he thanks the creator for the day.

"Sometimes I'll feel, I don't have to do this," said Peter-Paul.

"Yet I can feel my ancestors telling me, 'Junior, get out there. Do us a ceremony. Do us a prayer. Greet the sun.'"

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