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National Anishinaabe Day celebrated at Whitefish Island (12 photos)

National Indigenous Peoples Day festivities take place across Canada June 21

Laura Perrault of Garden River First Nation is with her two nieces at National Anishinaabe Day, putting on regalia in preparation for the pow wow.   

Almost every piece of her regalia has been collected in a different way - some materials from vendors on the pow wow trail, a choker from her father.

“I love to dance - it’s a great way to celebrate my culture,” she said.

Perrault had a dream as a youngster that she was a dancer, and realized that dream five years ago when she took up fancy shawl dancing.  

“My regalia is something that my mother and I worked on together, so it’s got a lot of heart and soul put into it,” Perrault said.

A number of children from local elementary schools also had the opportunity to check out National Anishinaabe Day festivities.

Wanda Trudeau, who teaches at St. Basil, brought 22 elementary students to the event.

“Let them enjoy, let them dance - that’s why we’re here, to celebrate life,” she said.

Whether Indigenous or non-Indigenous, Trudeau wants her students to hear - and feel - the power of the drum during the pow wow.

“When those drums start beating, you’re going to feel the heartbeat of all the people,” she told SooToday. “Yeah, it’s amazing.”

Prior to grand entry for the mini-pow wow, Mayor Christian Provenzano spoke to the public, noting that he noticed an Indigenous man in attendance that he had played hockey with growing up.  

“I didn’t know anything about his history our his culture, or the things that his family and his ancestors had to deal with and contend with,” he said. “I knew nothing of that.”

Provenzano says that his children will not grow up the same. 

“My daughters will grow up and they will learn and know about the substantial contributions that Anishinaabe makes to not just our community, but our country,” he said. “And they will celebrate your heritage and your history, and will recognize the truth of your relationship with the country, recognize what’s happened - and we will learn from it.”

Batchewana First Nation Chief Dean Sayers says that Canada still has a long way to go in clearly defining its role in the nation-to-nation relationship with Indigenous peoples.  

“Canada really needs to make up their mind. Are you going to be the fiduciary, are you going to fulfill the trust relationship?” Sayers told SooToday. “If you’re not, and if you’re failing in your role to exercise that trust responsibility...if you’re not going to do it, get out of the way.”

“We’ll take that back - and we are taking it back - and we’ll make decisions on our own behalf, in our best interests. You just need to make sure that as the trustee, you send over the revenues that come with our expectations, our share of the resources.”

Currently, the federal government is trying to push its Indigenous rights framework, which has sparked some protest locally.

“What Canada is trying to do is take our relationship and put it under Canada’s constitution, so we would be more of a domestic, municipal type of government under their ultimate parliamentary assertion, which is not the way it’s supposed to be,” Sayers said. “We reject that. That eliminates our special nationhood relationship.”

But Sayers is encouraged by some of the progress that’s been made in terms of the nation-to-nation relationship, whether it be the findings of the national inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG) , or the Supreme Court decision handed down this past December in the Robinson Huron Treaty annuity case.

“These are all benchmarks, or mile markers, guideposts that Canada needs to be more interpretative of, or give life to,” said Sayers. “You can’t work in opposition to the legal essence of the relationship. Without First Nations involvement in these lands, and allowing for settlement, there would be no Canada today.”

“Underlying title, if treaties fail, it still lies with us.”

The event hosted by Batchewana First Nation coincides with National Indigenous Peoples Day, held each year on June 21.

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James Hopkin

About the Author: James Hopkin

James Hopkin is a reporter for SooToday in Sault Ste. Marie
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