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Maritimers celebrate National Indigenous Peoples Day

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Celebrations are scheduled across the Maritimes Friday to mark National Indigenous Peoples Day.

The day serves as a chance for Canadians to celebrate the heritage, diverse cultures, and outstanding contributions First Nations, Inuit, and Métis people have made to their communities and surrounding areas. The day coincides with the summer solstice, as June 21 has traditionally been a day when many Indigenous peoples and communities have celebrated their rich culture and history.

In Saint John, N.B., the day started with a sunrise ceremony and sacred fire at 5:37 a.m. at the Fort Latour led by Elder Lapskahasit Cihkonaqc (Chris Brooks) of Sitansisk (St. Mary’s) First Nation.

St. Mary's First Nation Elder, Christopher Brooks, says it's important for these events to be held in Saint John on traditional homeland, and says events like these can help to continue on a path of reconciliation. 

“They were all from different walks of life, different cultures, different ways of knowing and understanding but they all came together at that one time to participate in a very important ceremony this morning,” he said. 

“To me it means remembrance, it means celebration, it means working together and I think the combination of those three feelings of what it means to me has come full circle.”

The Wolastoqey and Mi’kmaq Grand Council flags were raised in front of Saint John City Hall, followed by a drum procession down the Harbour Passage to Fort Latour.

A drum procession marches to Fort Latour in Saint John N.B., as part of National Indigenous Peoples Day.

At noon until 1 p.m., Uhkmi singers from Sitansisk First Nation took over the Fort Latour stage with dancers performing traditional Indigenous song and dance. Oscar Baker III from Elsipogtog First Nation served as master of ceremonies for the event.

Wambli Martinez, was one of the Uhkmi dancers, and he performed the traditional grass dance during the performance.

“They would send us out before the village got to where it wanted to stay, we were kind of the scouts and stuff. I was taught you would have a line of dancers and they would dance in a circle and they pat down all the grass within that circle before the village got there so it had a place to go.”

Martinez says he takes any opportunity he can to educate others about his culture. 

“I’m a singer myself and songs are meant to be shared, our dances are meant to be shared. These are not just for us, they are stories to teach people, to educate, a lot of dancers tell stories and stories aren’t meant to be told.”

In Moncton, N.B., the city celebrated the day with a lunchtime concert at Bore Park featuring the Sistema NB children's orchestra from Elsipogtog First Nation.

The group of 21 young musicians performed a number of traditional Mi’kmaq and First Nations songs such as The Gathering Song, The Eagle Song, and more.

In Cape Breton, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was expected to take part in a storytelling session for National Indigenous Peoples Day, followed by the announcements.

With files from The Canadian Press

This is a developing story and will be updated.

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