Indigenous Peoples Day brings events across Port Alberni

Alexandra Mehl and Eric Plummer

Port Alberni, BC - Today National Indigenous Peoples Day is being recognized across Canada, and in Port Alberni a number of events are taking place that celebrate the region’s Nuu-chah-nulth heritage.

For many Nuu-chah-nulth-aht, Port Alberni is considered an urban hub for the surrounding west communities, and nearly one fifth of the small city’s population identifies as Indigenous.

June 21 began with recognition of Indigenous Peoples Day in local schools. At E.J. Dunn students and faculty gathered in a circle to recognize their place in Hupacasath and Tseshaht territory. With orange shirts glowing in the morning sun, a small lead circle was formed inside the larger one for a group of students and staff to sing našukʔaƛin, School District 70’s song that was gifted by Tseshaht member Aaron Watts. All appeared to know the words, joining in while clapping to the beat.

After this Gina Pearson displayed to groups of students how to fillet salmon that would be cooked in a barbeque to follow. After this Rene Little and Casey Sam taught students how to play Lahal, a traditional guessing game played by West Coast First Nations using bones and sticks.

By 11 a.m. festivities got underway at the Port Alberni Friendship Center, which holds a lunch every year open to all in the community. This year a variety of items filled the plates, including crab, salmon and bannok. Candy and popcorn were available outside while a band played, as young ones engaged in face painting and crafts.

Before lunch a prayer was given inside the Friendship Center by Ahousaht elder Ciisma.

“It’s a good day today, a quu’aas day,” said Ciisma, referencing the Nuu-chah-nulth word for people.

By midday the Tseshaht First Nation help a gathering on the reserve side of Paper Mill Dam Park. Vendors lined the park with beautiful treasures to be bought, while the House of Regalia held a loonie toonie draw to raise money for Port Alberni street workers.

Laughter and chatter filled the park, while salmon, cooked with cedar sticks on a fire. Hamburgers, and hotdogs were also served. The afternoon welcomed community singing and dancing, alongside Answer2Dance Group with Tseshaht’s Jessica Sault.

Gail Gus, who coordinated the event, shared with Ha-Shilth-Sa that she always looks forward to events like this one. For Gus, National Indigenous Peoples Day is a time to showcase to non-Aboriginal community members traditional food, singing, and dancing.

“It's a great way to celebrate and party,” said Gus, noting the event is open to all of Port Alberni. “It's a day… where everybody can get together no matter where they're at in life, and that's important.”

Alexandra Mehl, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Ha-Shilth-Sa