National Aboriginal Solidarity Day: Montreal

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Today, June 21, 2008, the first day of summer, the summer solstice, is National Aboriginal Solidarity Day in Canada. I attended the advertised event for Montreal, incorporated into the Montreal First People’s Festival, and dubbed the Solstice of Nations. This was the fourth annual Solstice of Nations. The weather was excellent: deep blue sky, cool fresh breeze, wet grass, and everyone in the park appeared to be happy, refreshed, and outgoing. The event took place in Montreal’s very beautiful Mount Royal park, which is on what is essentially a broad and low mountain in the centre of the city, somewhat higher than the skyscrapers near its base. Approximately between 80 and 100 people attended the event, including Gilles Duceppe, the leader of the Bloc Québécois. The proceedings began with drumming and chanting, followed by very brief speeches, then the lighting of the flame in a large copper brazier, and more drumming and chanting. At one point, as one onlooker told me, a large bird with a very broad wingspan and appearing to be an eagle flew overhead and circled as the drumming ended. The embers from the burning of the flame were preserved and are to be taken to the Fête national du Québec (the national festival of Quebec). The embers will be used to light the bonfire at that festival, on June 23rd, on the Plains of Abraham, commemorating the 400th anniversary of the founding of Quebec City.

Also present at today’s events were indigenous Wayuu from Venezuela and Colombia. They were formally welcomed into the circle by the main speaker who addressed them in Spanish: “Bienvenidos, esta es terra indígena también” (welcome, this is also indigenous territory). (The proceedings were otherwise carried out entirely in French — which is interesting, because local Mohawks especially, and many Cree and Inuit in the province, speak English in addition to their native languages, rather than French.) As many others have observed, it is has become increasingly common in many parts of the world to find even small-scale, local indigenous events attended by at least some indigenous representatives from another nation.

The drummers’ circle…

…and two friends follow the ceremony: