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Close-up: Native Pride

Glen Michel, an aboriginal youth coordinator in Enderby, was among the participants at the National Aboriginal Day celebrations held by the Ke-Low-Na Friendship Society in Kelowna on Tuesday.   - Sean Connor-photo/Kiana Haner-Wilk-graphics
Glen Michel, an aboriginal youth coordinator in Enderby, was among the participants at the National Aboriginal Day celebrations held by the Ke-Low-Na Friendship Society in Kelowna on Tuesday.
— image credit: Sean Connor-photo/Kiana Haner-Wilk-graphics

Few 12-year-olds contemplate how they’ll conduct themselves throughout their teen and adult years, let alone make any promises.

In front of those gathered at Kelowna’s Aboriginal Day celebrations, however, a bashful looking boy named Wind Dance did just that when he made a commitment to respect his family, and join a drug and alcohol free community for all his years to come.

“He’s been brought up to know our culture; he’s ready,” said his grandmother Rose Caldwell, after the ceremony where Wind Dance got his first set of powwow gear. At the same time friends and extended family committed to keep the young man on track, in case he veered off course.

Beyond insight into local tradition, the chain of events was a compelling feast of sights and sounds for the hundreds who joined the national celebration of First Nation culture on the corner of Ellis Street and Leon Avenue.

Throbbing drums, traditional First Nation song and a fragrant smoke overtook the space for nearly an hour as Wind Dance put on each of the carefully crafted pieces of traditional dance-wear.

Then, as the last closure of the ornate, bead and feather costume was tied, Wind Dance led his friends, family and the community at large in a dance under the circular tent that had been erected earlier.

“It’s important for people to see this,” said Caldwell, adding that the event had special significance to her because it was in the Westbank First Nation’s traditional territory.

“We’re a diverse community in this day and age.”

It’s also a stronger community, she said.

One of the notable features of the event was that it wasn’t just the elderly raising their voices in traditional songs, or beating drums the way their forefathers did.

Teenagers and children had a strong presence, as the community came together to celebrate.

Caldwell said that they’re only going to be more present as time goes on.

“Our culture is getting stronger,” she said. “There’s a reawakening of pride in our people.”

When Prime Minister Stephen Harper recognized the damage done through residential schools, she believes a new chapter was started.

“There were a lot of people in pain, and that needed to be acknowledged.

Now we’re able to get beyond those days, to this,” she said, gesturing to the crowd.

Among their ranks was another who holds similar hope and pride for the gaining stature of his people.

Glen Michell is a youth co-ordinator in Enderby, who dances regularly at powwows to celebrate his culture.

“I started 19 years ago because my grandmother asked me to,” he said.

“She was getting to the age where she couldn’t do it anymore, so she asked me to dance for my people who can’t dance for themselves—elders, babies my grandmother.”

In the years since he started dancing, however, he’s also worked to guide at-risk youth to make safer decisions. And the number of those who want to follow that path is growing.

It could help that events like Tuesdays are growing in popularity.

“They give us a chance to come together like our people used to, so we can eat, talk and share,” he said.

They also bridge gaps to other communities.

“It’s nice to share our music and song with people of other races. It can be hard for people to talk about it, but if they’re curious they can do it here.”

June 21 was the start of the 11 days of Celebrate Canada! which includes National Aboriginal Day (June 21), Saint-Jean-Baptiste Day (June 24), Canadian Multiculturalism Day (June 27) and concludes with Canada Day (July 1).

On June 13, 1996, the Governor General of Canada proclaimed June 21 to be National Aboriginal Day, offering Aboriginal peoples an excellent opportunity to share their rich, diverse cultures with family members, neighbours, friends and visitors.

 

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