Indigenous cultures celebrated at Royal Roads
Hundreds gathered on the shores of the Esquimalt Lagoon at Royal Roads University Thursday to celebrate National Indigenous Peoples Day on the traditional lands of the Xwesepsum (Esquimalt) and Lkwungen (Songhees) ancestors and families.
The day began with the unveiling of an interpretive audio box on Charlie’s Trail near the intersection of University Drive and College Drive. The project, made possible thanks to the generosity of long-time Royal Roads donor Sue Johnson, is part of a Lkwungen language restoration project on campus. The tracks, recorded in both Lkwungen and English, allow trail goers to learn about the trees and plants found along the trail while helping preserve the language first spoken on this land.
The eight tracks were recorded by Ed Thomas (Seenupin) of the Esquimalt Nation and Elder Elmer Seniemten George of the Songhees Nation. George is the last fluent speaker of the Lkwungen language.
“Charlie’s Trail is peaceful, it’s calm and it makes you think about where you are, and what this place means” said Royal Roads President and Vice-Chancellor Allan Cahoon. “This is a special place in which we can learn from the environment. Thanks to Sue, Elmer and Ed, now we have an opportunity to know even more about that.”
The National Indigenous Peoples Day celebrations at Royal Roads featured canoe races, traditional drumming, dance and song. The day is dedicated to celebrating Indigenous cultural heritage and unity, said Asma-na-hi Antoine, manager of Indigenous Education and Student Services.
“It’s about bringing the Indigenous and non-Indigenous community together to celebrate what reconciliation is and have that practice and have that opportunity to really respect each other’s company and values,” she said.
A traditional canoe protocol practice, led by Songhees Nation Elder Butch Dick, kicked off the event. Eight canoe families requested permission to land on the shore. Paddlers included BC Premier John Horgan, Minister of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation Scott Fraser as well as representatives from Royal Roads, the University of Victoria, Camosun College, the RCMP, the Métis Nation, Shoreline Middle School, Cowichan Nation and the All Nations Women for Education and Reconciliation Group.
“These waterways were the roadway for Indigenous people to travel by canoe from community to community,” Antoine said. “When you’d arrive, the protocol is to state your intention and ask for permission to come ashore. This protocol practice is a small sign of respect towards reconciliation.”
About 800 students from school districts 61, 62 and 63 took part in a range of activities from field games, to fry bread-making, crafts and performances.
Esquimalt Hereditary Chief Edward Thomas said the lighthearted and celebratory day is a time to share stories, lessons, ceremony and song.
“To be able to celebrate a day, a people that have had so much happen to them due to generations—we can’t keep that hurt and anger. It’s time to start living, learning and sharing who we are as a people,” he said.
Colourful and lively performances delighted crowds, including performances by the Esquimalt Singers and Dancers, the Lkwungen Singers and Dancers and by Alex Wells, a hoop dancer from Lil’wat Nation. Wells has performed around the world, including at the Winter 2010 Olympic opening and closing ceremonies.
Thomas said music harbours important stories about past journeys and ceremonies.
“There’s history in those songs. It’s not just beating a drum and making noise. That music tells a story. Hopefully we can build more of these days where we can share who we are and share those stories.”
The event was co-hosted by Royal Roads University, the Ministry of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation, the University of Victoria and Camosun College, with support from the Indigenous Sport, Physical Activity and Recreation Council (ISPARC) and Power to Be.