By Cory Bilyea
National Indigenous People’s Month is looking a lot different this year.
Every June, Indigenous and non-Indigenous people observe National Indigenous History Month, which provides an opportunity to honour the heritage, contributions, and cultures of First Nation, Inuit, and Métis communities across Canada.
This June, people are still doing things to celebrate but they are a little different.
Normal celebrations, colourful and proud, will not be happening this year, as the world is gripped between a rock and a hard place, with the pandemic putting people into seclusion.
Much of what is happening this year is online.
A Facebook page called Social Distance Powwow started shortly after the pandemic began says, “Many vendors, dancers, singers have been horribly affected by this virus shutdown. This forum is for all to share their creator given talents and be supported. Let’s all spread love and positivity!!!”
Another Facebook page called Social Distance Marketplace has built a platform to help vendors who work all winter to make their crafts and art, and normally go on the “powwow trail” all summer. Since there are no powwows or Indigenous Day/Month celebration this year, this has helped almost 15,000 vendors and buyers connect.
The healing dance of the Jingle Dress dancers has been performed all across Turtle Island, with social media posts going viral and prompting many people to don their regalia and dance alone or with family, on their porches, in their yards or their living rooms, praying for healing to the land and the people.
Kelly Davis, owner and operator of FrantasticHealth – Two Row Education Services has started an online video program called “Haudenosaunee Moments,” where she is sharing her knowledge with her followers. Davis is well versed in Haudenosaunee culture and history, a speaker of the language, and a proud mother of 5 children.
In Kitchener, the community has come together to create a seed sharing program, and are planting traditional gardens in their yards. The food grown will be shared with the communities most vulnerable who are unable to access traditional, healthy food from local organizations, like the food bank.
Local Inuit resident, Shantell Powell has turned her backyard into a garden, saying, “Along with other people in the community, I have been gardening and foraging to assist with Indigenous food sovereignty. Folks from KW have been donating space, plants, seeds, money, etc. to assist.”
Along with the garden, Powell is also learning about medicinal uses for plants and has begun making things like cedar tea and spruce tip jelly to share with the community.
Lori Campbell is the Director of the University of Waterloo’s Indigenous Student Centre and is a strong advocate for Indigenous rights and sovereignty.
She was invited to speak at a Black Lives Matters demonstration in Kitchener, after the senseless killing of George Floyd in the United States sparked the growing movement.
“I think our solidarity is extremely important,” she said.
She told thousands of people who attended the rally, “I stand in solidarity with Black sisters, brothers, and the Queer Black community today and every day.”
“It will take all of us to stand together and speak out, to send a clear message that systemic racism, in all of its forms, must be addressed in this country if we truly want to achieve justice for all. And I know that you do because you are all here today.”
Currently, she is baking fourteen dozen pieces of bannock every week, that she makes outside, because “there is a lot of grease.”
Community people have donated huge sacks of flour and someone lent her another electric frying pan.
Just over half goes directly to the community. Some weeks it goes to ‘A Better Tent City,’ to fill a gap, and other times it goes to Indigenous community members who lack food security.
“The rest of frybread I share for pick up at my house in exchange for cash donations to either tent city or the local Indigenous fundraiser to support local organizations.”
In Ohsweken, Everything Cornhusk owner Elizabeth Doxtator is honouring this year’s graduates with a special collection of cornhusk figures.
“I put these in the window at the shop,” she said, “to acknowledge graduates and their important role at this time in history.”
The Summer Solstice Indigenous Festival, normally held in Ottawa has announced an online version of the celebration.
On their website, they announced, “The Summer Solstice Indigenous Festival – Virtual Edition will take place from June 1 – 21, 2020!
Tune in for “live” Indigenous music and dance performances including virtual competition Pow Wow specials in partnership with the Social Distance Pow Wow.Register for Indigenous culinary and art workshops and receive a “Manitou” spirit box with all of your supplies to follow along at home; learn from Elder teachings; shop at the Virtual Marketplace to support all of talented artisans and vendors.
Education Days are back for students and teachers as well as lots of fun activities for families at home.”
All around Turtle Island people are standing up and coming together as a large community, looking out for one another, checking in with each other, and picking up the tools that will make sure that everyone will eat, have love and friendship.
The elders are speaking, sharing knowledge on social media platforms, people are drumming together online, joining each other in spirit to send prayers up, the online movement is bringing together all nations in solidarity.
The collective voices of all people are raising their voices for change.
National Indigenous Month may be a lot different this year but in a lot of ways, it is so much better.
CUTLINE: Kelly “Frantastic” Davis and her daughter Jade Davis stop for a photo at the Conestoga College Powwow in February, one of the only powwows to happen this year due to the pandemic. Cory Bilyea, Photo