Nfld. & Labrador·Q&A

National Indigenous Peoples Day is a time 'for us as people to get together,' says First Light

First Light's Sharon Harvey spoke with the CBC's Zach Goudie about what's in store for this year's National Indigenous People's Day, and the importance of bringing Indigenous and non-Indigenous people together in celebration.

'It doesn't matter which background you come from'

Sharon Harvey is First Light's arts and culture co-ordinator. (Darryl Murphy/CBC)

For the first time in almost three years, National Indigenous Peoples Day will be celebrated in person, and the organization leading the way in the St. John's area wants the public to know everyone is welcome.

National Indigenous Peoples Day is celebrated every June 21, the summer solstice, as a day to recognize and celebrate Indigenous cultures across Canada. The day has been celebrated in Canada since 1996, its name being changed from National Aboriginal Day in 2017.

First Light, which provides programs and services rooted in the revitalization, strengthening and celebration of Indigenous cultures and languages, is hosting festivities that kick off bright and early Tuesday morning. A number of other events are also being held across Newfoundland and Labrador.

Sharon Harvey, First Light's arts and culture co-ordinator, spoke with the CBC's Zach Goudie about what's in store for this year's National Indigenous Peoples Day, and the importance of bringing Indigenous and non-Indigenous people together in celebration.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity. 

Q: For folks who are attending their first National Indigenous Peoples Day, what's it all about, and what will it feel like in St. John's?

A: National Indigenous People's Day is a day of celebration for all Indigenous cultures across Canada.… It's a day for us as people to get together and celebrate our culture not just with Indigenous people, but also non-Indigenous people.

There's a full day of celebrations this year in places all over the city. So how are things going to unfold?

We're going to start the day at 6 a.m. with a sunrise ceremony that will be taking place at Cavell Park, which is actually located behind 40 Quidi Vidi Rd. From there we are going to be moving the celebrations inside to the Techniplex.… [We're] more or less having a showcase with family skits and with drum dancing and throat singing. We're going to have a variety of food trucks. We're going to have some specialty food that you'll definitely have to come down to find out what that is. And we'll also have a mawi'omi that will be wrapping up our activities.

We will have something that I'm super-excited about as well: literacy tents. So we're going to have storytelling taking place in a teepee and a Labrador tent telling Indigenous stories.

It sounds like there's a lot of variety built in, but tell me about the mawi'omi in particular?

A mawi'omi is a Mi'kmaw word for gathering. There will be First Nation drumming. There will be First Nation dancers such as grass dancers and jingle dancers. This is a place where we want to invite not just the Indigenous and urban Indigenous community, but also the non-Indigenous community.

When you're coming to the mawi'omi, everyone is welcome. We want St John's and the whole surrounding area to really be excited about this and to come and really celebrate Indigenous culture with us … dance with us, eat with us, celebrate our culture with us.

People in St. John's have not gathered in person for three years to celebrate National Indigenous Peoples Day. (Alex Kennedy/CBC)

Any tips for people who are coming down to their first Indigenous celebration?

Most people would think is this for Indigenous people only, and it's for everyone. Even in the mawi'omi part, when everyone is dancing, there will be an arena director really letting people know what's happening. There's going to be places where everybody can come in and dance, and it doesn't matter which background you come from.

This is a celebratory event. This is where we want to celebrate our culture. This is where we want to share our culture. This is where we want to especially welcome people in and say, you know, share this with us. This is where we want to make that bridge with St John's and surrounding area.

What are you most looking forward to yourself?

I'm really looking forward to all of it, honestly. I was saying to some co-workers, my children are really excited to attend. This is the first time we're going to be in person for the first time in three years, and we're all really super-excited about that. I think that is probably what I'm most excited about, that we get to get together in person this year.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from Zach Goudie

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