June 21 was National Indigenous Peoples Day, and the City of Surrey and the Fraser Region Aboriginal Friendship Centre Association (FRAFCA) hosted a virtual celebration that showcased different presentations and performances by the Kwantlen, Katzie and Semiahmoo host nations. Viewers were welcomed to the event by the Master of Ceremony Nyla Carpentier and then received a greeting from Chief Harley Chappell (Xwopokton) of the Semiahmoo First Nation.
Chappell introduced the first cultural sharing, which was a song and dance performance from the Kwel Eng Sen youth group, along with drums and singing. Chappell sang while the youth group danced to two different songs. Once they finished, Chappell told the viewers about the second song, a flood song, which he said touches on who the Semiahmoo People are and where they come from.
“The words tell us to stand strong. We are the survivors of the flood. Stand strong, be strong,” said Chappell.
The second song was a war song, which Chappell said is sung to “remind young people to be brave, be courageous, be strong, persevere through hard times.”
Viewers also had the opportunity to watch more cultural sharings. David Kenworthy, a member of the Katzie First Nation Council, shared a welcome song from the Katzie People. Afterward, Mavis Pierre from the Katzie First Nation shared an honour song from the Pierre family.
These were just some of the songs and dances viewers had the opportunity to watch. There were also important stories told. One of them was from Chief Marilyn Gabriel of the Kwantlen First Nation, who spoke about the pain that came with the loss of her culture.
“Losing our culture was devastating to all our people. We only revived. We only re-awoken our Kwantlen traditional name in 1994,” Gabriel said. “Up until then, as me, as a human being, and a young one at that, I didn’t feel like I belonged.”
Gabriel said she always wondered what was missing in her life and at the time did not know the missing piece was her culture, prayers, songs, and being with the family and nation.
“I can’t believe humans would treat humans like that. To rip away, take away our culture,” Gabriel said.
Gabriel added that her aunts would always tell her about how they couldn’t share their culture or speak their language because they would be physically abused. She said she always wondered why her mother never shared their language, and her mother eventually told her that it was to protect her.
“She didn’t want us to get abused for it. But anytime she spoke our language on the phone, our whole house froze. It got quiet because it was so beautiful listening to her language, talking to her brother and her sister,” said Gabriel.
Many more stories were shared with viewers, and though the National Indigenous Peoples Day celebration was a day to learn about the many different cultures and stories of different nations, it was also a day for the people in Canada to hear and understand the important stories and unjust realities that Indigenous Peoples in Canada have faced, and continue to face.
The final song of the event was performed by JB, the First Lady of the Nuxalk and Onondaga Nation. Before she started the song, she talked about how proud she was of herself and her identity.
“I’m proud to wear my moccasins. I’m proud to wear my beadwork. I’m proud to wear my feathers,” she said before she started her song about her pride for herself and her culture.
For those who missed it, the virtual celebration can be viewed on the FRAFCA YouTube channel.