Happy Aboriginal Day!
National Aboriginal Day is the day that we recognize and celebrate the First Nations, Inuit and Metis peoples of Canada. Traditionally, June 21 was a day that many Aboriginal groups chose to celebrate their heritage as it also coincides with their culturally significant "Summer solstice".
This year, the Summer solstice was especially noteworthy as it coincided with the "Strawberry Moon"...named by the Native Algonquin peoples to mark the beginning of the strawberry season.
June 21 isn't the only day of recognition for the First Nations People, the Pow Wow is a social gathering in which many Native communities will celebrate their heritage with song, dance, feast and honouring their culture. There are protocols and certain etiquettes which are strictly adhered to for each Pow Wow...a respectful behaviour is demanded at all times with no drugs or alcohol permitted on the grounds. Elders are held in high regard and are a cherished part of the "Grand Entry" at the beginning of each celebration. This is all part of an ancient way of honouring their traditions and to acknowledge their ancestors, spirits and the Creator.
Isabel and I were lucky enough to attend a Pow Wow in May and were enchanted by the traditional drumming, singing, dancing and were awestruck by the craftsmanship and detail that goes into the regalia (articles of traditional clothing crafted to represent one's individuality and heritage). There are different regalia styles depending on what the individual feels best represents him/her and their ancestry or depending on the particular type of dance. There are a variety of dancers at a Pow Wow including: Men's Grass, Traditional and Fancy dancers...
...and women's Fancy shawl, Traditional and Jingle dancers, among others. Each dance has a particular meaning or representation. The regalia is designed and crafted using such items as eagle or hawk feathers, deer hide, beads, colourful strips and pieces of material among other articles chosen to complete the outfit.
Months of planning, designing and crafting the regalia, exemplifies the traditional importance to the Native people and their culture. You can see the hard work that my friend, Amanda put into the regalia for her children...each piece of material painstakingly cut out and sewn onto the shawl and bustle...
...tiny beads tediously threaded and sewn into patterns...
...and each thin piece of ribbon, measured and cut to length ( with the ends singed to eliminate fraying) then carefully sewn onto the shawl in a colourful display!
Another example of exquisite Native craftsmanship is the quill box. A quill box was generally made from birch bark, sinew and the quills of a porcupine, which were sometimes dyed brilliant shades using berries, roots and flowers. Sadly, the ancient technique of making a quill box is a dying art but I was fortunate enough to get some photographs of these pieces brought to me by my friend Rod Benson. Rod's mother, Sadie Benson, was a true artist and crafted this box many years ago...
Sadly, Sadie passed away last year along with her skill and knowledge of creating and perfecting a beautiful work of traditional art...
...the patience and hours needed to make these quill boxes with such intricate designs is a true reflection of the creative soul that Sadie seemed to be.
Another tradition of the First Nations people is "fry bread" or "scone"...I wonder how happily many deem this their "tradition" as it came about years ago, when the Europeans came to North America and the Aboriginal peoples were sent to live on "Indian Reserves", which were governed under the Indian Act. Once on the reservation, some of which could not support their traditional ways of sustaining themselves, they were given meager government rations of flour, salt and lard...all of which were used to create a flat dough that was fried in lard or later, leavened with baking powder and baked in the oven. Fry bread is eaten with butter, jam ,maple syrup or made into an "Indian taco" which is piled high with all of the toppings that you would find in a taco.
...and don't even get me started on the residential schools! A very long history of hurt, anger, healing and a lot of ignorance from so many that forget or are unaware of what our First Nations people had to endure.
I believe that our country is rich with a variety of people and traditions and today, I am happy to recognize and celebrate the customs of our First Nations People.
*Recipe link for Fry Bread