Vancouver Island’s Aboriginal Day celebrations highlight indigenous peoples’ ongoing struggle for equality. Calvin To reports.
When members of the Cowichan Tzinquaw Dance Group performed at National Aboriginal Day celebrations on Wednesday, they weren’t simply putting on a show. Rather, they were working toward the very survival of their culture.
Performer Clinton Charlie has been dancing with the group since he was four years old. He says it wasn’t long ago that their traditional practices were outlawed by the Canadian government.
“If we sang and danced in public, they would burn our regalia and take it away,” Charlie said. “They threw my aunts and uncles and grandparents in jail.”
“They threw my aunts and uncles and grandparents in jail.”
His dance group was one of several taking part in National Aboriginal Day celebrations across Vancouver Island.
Organizers say the performance, which included audience participation, was a reflection of changing attitudes among settlers — a far cry from times past when indigenous songs and dances were shunned.
“It was taught to [settler children] that our dances were evil, and that they’re not right and not correct,” Charlie said.
As result, settlers were afraid at the sight of traditional Indigenous ceremonies, he says. It’s an aversion he’s been trying to change through education.
“I’m glad that we can share these dances with youth. They all come running up. Before, they wouldn’t do that. So that’s a huge step of us working together in a multicultural society,” Charlie said.
The celebration was held on traditional Songhees and Esquimalt territory on the West Shore and also included a button blanket presentation, a collaboration between the Indigenous Perspectives Society and the Anglican Church, and the culmination of 20 weeks of work by a group of volunteers.
Organizers said it is part of the church’s effort at reconciliation due to its role in running residential schools, where indigenous children suffered various forms of abuse over several decades.
National Aboriginal Day was also a milestone for The Firelight Group, a Victoria company that worked for seven years to have 3,000 Indigenous communities added to Google Maps.
The company says it hopes the change will lead to a better understanding of the history of this land.
“There was a colonial recognition of very small areas as belonging to Indigenous communities,” co-director Craig Candler said.
“When the reality is that Indigenous rights and in many cases title extend much farther.”