St. John's sunrise ceremony marks beginning of National Indigenous Peoples Day

·3 min read
Sharon Harvey is the arts and culture co-ordinator with First Light in St. John's. (Mike Moore/CBC - image credit)
Sharon Harvey is the arts and culture co-ordinator with First Light in St. John's. (Mike Moore/CBC - image credit)
Mike Moore/CBC
Mike Moore/CBC

The earth was damp but the rain held off long enough Tuesday for the annual sunrise ceremony in St. John's to mark the beginning of National Indigenous Peoples Day.

About 100 people gathered in Cavell Park — a quiet piece of greenery tucked behind Quidi Vidi Road near the offices of the Indigenous non-profit organization First Light — as the community's elders led them in traditional prayer, song and smudging.

"I think Marjorie Muise said it best, 'It's a great day to be Indigenous' and also, like she said, it's a great day to be Indigenous every day," Sharon Harvey, First Light's arts and culture co-ordinator, said after the ceremony, as hefty rain fell from the skies.

"It's really for us to celebrate our culture and share that with one another."

Curtis Hicks/CBC
Curtis Hicks/CBC

National Indigenous Peoples Day is celebrated every June 21. It marks the summer solstice, the longest day of the year, and recognizes and celebrates Indigenous cultures across Canada.

It's been celebrated nationally since 1996, and formerly was called National Aboriginal Day before a name change in 2017.

Despite the history of Indigenous peoples in this country, today's a day of celebration. - Stacey Howse

There's a full list of activities on the agenda for Tuesday.

Participants shared a breakfast after the sunrise ceremony. First Light is hosting free cultural diversity training in the afternoon followed by a family-friendly festival at the Technoplex near Quidi Vidi Lake. From there a mawi'omi —  Mi'kmaw for gathering — will bring the day's celebrations through to the night.

"It's just amazing to see so many people come out despite the weather and join us and share ceremony with us this morning," Stacey Howse, executive director of the First Light Friendship Centre, told CBC News.

"We like to start with sunrise and we like to give thanks for being alive and to honour the Creator and Mother Earth and just appreciate being Indigenous."

Celebrating cultures

Celebrations don't end on Tuesday, either.

On Wednesday, First Light is holding an introduction to the Mi'kmaw game waltes and Thursday there's a ribbon skirt workshop with Michelle Roy.

Curtis Hicks/CBC
Curtis Hicks/CBC

"No matter which Indigenous culture you come from, we want to share our culture and celebrate it with Indigenous and non-indigenous people," said Howse.

"Despite the history of Indigenous peoples in this country, today's a day of celebration. So we celebrate the rich and diverse cultures of Indigenous peoples."

Howse said there's always reflection on the injustices of the past, but Tuesday's celebrations were not for that.

An offering fresh berries during the morning celebration reflected nourishment for the body but doubled as a return offer to the Earth.

"Today is a day to celebrate the resiliency and the strength of our people," said Howse.

"We welcome everyone to join in the celebration and to be educated on Indigenous culture and to just share with us. We're very open and looking forward to it growing."

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