National Aboriginal Day in New Brunswick sheds light on traditions

First Nation communities along the St. John River and elsewhere in the province came together Wednesday, not only to kick off summer but also to celebrate National Aboriginal Day.

The prime minister announced intentions to rename the celebration National Indigenous Peoples Day on Wednesday

Members of the Oromocto First Nation celebrate National Aboriginal Day. 1:46

June 21 isn't just for celebrating the summer solstice.

People across the country came together for National Aboriginal Day, celebrating the heritage, diverse cultures and achievements of First Nations, Inuit and Métis.

In New Brunswick, First Nations communities organized gatherings and fundraising events that would shed light on Indigenous traditions.

A ceremony at the University of New Brunswick Fredericton took place on Wednesday morning, led by elder-in-residence Imelda Perley.

On the St. John River, Oromocto First Nation kicked off its ceremony early in the afternoon.

National Aboriginal Day, which will soon be officially renamed as National Indigenous Peoples Day, was announced in 1996 as a result of consultation and calls for such a day.

It is part of the federal government's annual Celebrate Canada program, which also includes Saint-Jean-Baptiste Day on June 24, Canadian Multiculturalism Day on June 27, and Canada Day on July 1.

On Wednesday, Oromocto MLA Jody Carr used the celebration as an opportunity to announce a subdivision expansion for Oromocto First Nation.

Other festivities included a traditional smudging ceremony with Perley and ceremonial drumming.

Perley's celebrations stretched over a couple of days, starting at Kingsclear Consolidated School yesterday. She planned to finish Wednesday off with a ceremony by the river at sunset.

"I asked Creator to really inspire every Indigenous person to be proud of who they are, and every non-Indigenous person to  witness that pride so that they could be in friendship and peace," she said.

Perley said days like National Aboriginal Day are important in order to recognize relationships with nature, not just other people.

She also said it's important for the celebrations bring the Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities together.

"We walk side-by-side, beside each other, not one above the other or one below the other," she said.

"That's not what peace and friendship is. It's not one over the other, it's side by side."

Even a dunk tank was on the site as a way to raise money for a community powwow.

Attendees said they looked forward to the day as a way of bringing First Nations together.

Oromocto mayor Bob Powell said tying the entire community together is half the fun.  

"It's incredible … It's like a big family gathering, it's like a family picnic," he said.

Powell, whose son-in-law is a councillor on the reserve, said the First Nations community is an important part of the area and deserve to be treated so.

"I just love the culture," he said.

"It's a fantastic culture, and once you know more about the history and the culture,  it's unbelievable."

Oromocto mayor Bob Powell joined in on the National Aboriginal Day festivities. (CBC)

With files from Nathalie Sturgeon