Colourful ceremonial attire, traditional dancing and carefully crafted artisan pieces were all present at the National Indigenous Peoples Day celebrations on the north side of Royal City Park downtown Guelph, which brought hundreds out on Friday evening.
Though in the past, the day has been marked by an event further downtown, the park had significance for the local Indigenous people because it is where two rivers come together, the Speed River and the Eramosa River.
Across from the dancing, music and crowds and in the south end of the Royal City Park sits the newly built Sacred Fire. There, Fire Keepers, all male, where in place to greet those interested to learn more and to provide a place of quiet and serenity.
Bruce Weaver, an elder of the Mohawks of the Bay of Quinte, told The Post the significance of the Sacred Fire’s location comes from the history of the area where two rivers come together, explaining that it has been used as a “gathering place” for Indigenous Peoples for hundreds of years.
“This is ceremony, the other side is celebration,” Weaver said. The Post was told that its reporter could not take any photos of the activity around the fire or the fire itself out of respect for the sacred nature of the ceremony taking place.
As for people that do not identify as Indigenous or have a heritage that they are not connected with yet, Weaver said that “this is a place of peace, of coming together” and that anyone interested in learning more are welcome to ask questions of leaders like himself.
“The men tend the fire but the women are so supportive in bringing the water. For Guelph particularly, I think it is important we bring the two into balance so that you have the two energies more in balance than they have been in the past,” he explained.
For those that want to connect with the Indigenous community, Weaver said that there are many ways — saying that him and other leaders are “always open” to talk and that they hold quarterly public meetings at The Bookshelf — a bookstore downtown.
Weaver, an urban Indigenous person who only in the last decade discovered his Aboriginal heritage, said that he has also been considering how to reach a broader audience.
“I don’t know what that’s going to look like yet, it may be that we need to make more use of social media,” he continued, but explained that it may be “touchy” because “some ceremonial things you don’t want to talk about on social media” but rather face-to-face.
Guelph resident Debbie Gabriel is an Indigenous artisan from the Saugeen First Nation who crafts dreamcatchers. She and a partner had a tent and table set up at the celebration in Royal City Park.
Gabriel starts off by cutting the leather and wrapping hoops. She has a variety of stones available and sometimes she is drawn to one in particular and then goes from there, she told The Post.
“Sometimes I make stuff specifically for healing,” she said, and in that case she would use amethyst. She also uses hematite stones to keep a person grounded.
There are individuals that have Indigenous background who have yet to learn more about their heritage and to that Gabriel says “they are not alone” and “that there are other people out there that they can connect with if they so choose.”
Another one of the vendors aim to promote Indigenous cultural knowledge and traditional health practices in an effort to “help First Nations, Inuit and Metis peoples within the Wellington Waterloo region connect to spirit, culture and community.”
The Indigenous Healing and Wellness Program, or IHWP, is guided by the community and its advisory committee to improve Indigenous self-determined health and wellness through collaborative partnerships, and self-sustaining initiatives.
In an address on behalf of Ottawa, MP Lloyd Longfield admitted that the government has had “a very complicated relationship with Indigenous Peoples, most of it not good”, but went on to add “the last few years we’ve been working hard on that”.
To claps from the crowd gathered around the Royal City Park gazebo, he noted that his ruling Liberal Party’s Bill C91 — the Indigenous Languages Act — received Royal Assent on Friday, turning the legislation that aims to protect Aboriginal tongues into law.
MPP Mike Schreiner also spoke, saying that it was a “deep, deep honour” for him to be at the celebration and acting in his official capacity on behalf of the provincial government. He emphasized how thankful he was to celebrate Indigenous “heritage, culture, traditions and wisdom.”
‘I think today is not only a day to celebrate but to commit ourselves to action,” he said, saying “it is a time for us to come together as diverse peoples and share this land, this water, this space as one and to promotion healing and reconciliation.”
Coun. James Gordon, who read out an Indigenous land acknowledgment, brought greetings on behalf of the mayor and the city. He added the acknowledgement, which is read at the beginning of Council meetings and city events, is a “living symbol” of collaboration with the Aboriginal community.
“As many as 11,000 years, there’s been Indigenous Peoples gathering right at the confluence of these rivers for trade, for connection and for party,” Gordon said, noting that the growth of the Indigenous Day event, “we’re also growing in our collaboration, in our learning, in our healing and I can only see that growing as time moves on.”