‘We’re still here’: National Indigenous Peoples Day marked in Montreal with ceremony, celebration

“We’re still here,” says Ray Deer, a Mohawk elder from Kahnawake, marking National Indigenous Peoples Day Friday with a ceremony in Montreal that featured traditional dances and drumming. Alyssia Rubertucci reports.

Mohawk elders from Kahnawá:ke led a ceremony marking National Indigenous Peoples Day in Montreal Friday morning in the alleyway of the McCord Stewart Museum and celebrated with traditional dances and drumming.

“We come back to what we call Tiohtià:ke Montreal to make sure that we let people know that yes, this is our territory, it’s unceded territory,” said Ray Deer, a Mohawk elder from Kahnawá:ke.

“We are here and we’re going to be here in the future, that’s why we bring the young children, so they’ll carry on this tradition, they’ll know that this is their their land.”

National Indigenous Peoples Day ceremony in Montreal on June 21, 2024. (Alyssia Rubertucci, CityNews image)

There was a tobacco ceremony and a bonfire onsite.

“We light a fire at five in the morning for the sunrise,” said André Dudemaine, director, Land InSights, “so this is a connection at the longest day of the year. The fire on the ground is connected with the fire in the sky.”

The ceremony comes a day after Steven Guilbeault, the federal Minister of the Environment and Climate Change – who was on hand Friday –  announced an emergency order to protect the boreal caribou habitat in Quebec. The event itself was dedicated to the woodland caribou.

“We were preparing this ceremony when the announcement was made that finally, after years and years, we were waiting for it and now it happened,” Dudemaine said. “The federal government is taking the task to protect the land and to have a surrounding where the industrial activities will stop, to let the caribou live.”

National Indigenous Peoples Day ceremony in Montreal on June 21, 2024. (Alyssia Rubertucci, CityNews image)
National Indigenous Peoples Day ceremony in Montreal on June 21, 2024. (Alyssia Rubertucci, CityNews image)

But some want to see more action to protect the environment and Indigenous Peoples.

“Listen to us, we know what we’re talking about,” says Mohawk elder, Sedalia Kawennotas. “So many times we pass messages and people pretend they’re listening, but they’re not hearing. They’re not hearing that Mother Earth is in crisis.”

“Our people who are living on the streets, find them,” she added. “There’s buildings that are abandoned. Refurbish those and let the homeless have them.”

Montreal Mayor Valérie plante was also in attendance at the Friday ceremony and emphasized the importance of reconciliation and taking action.

“There’s action in the cultural field, economic field as well, so we’re always moving forward,” she said. “I invite all Montrealers to come on Peel Street to see the cultural installation that was put there to remind us of the presence of the Indigenous community here in Montreal before we came around.”

National Indigenous Peoples Day has been recognized at the federal level since 1996.

“In order to celebrate this this day for us, we come here and have fun do a dance and put our feet back on the island of Montreal and let them know it’s ours,” said Deer. “We’re still here.”

National Indigenous Peoples Day ceremony in Montreal on June 21, 2024. (Alyssia Rubertucci, CityNews image)

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