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Canada prepares for

National Aboriginal Day - June 21


Rob McKinley, VANCOUVER, B.C.







Organization seems to be the key for this year's National Aboriginal Day activities planned from coast to coast in mid-June.

This year's events are expected to draw more people, feature more culture and be better organized than previous attempts at celebrating this new, federal government-endorsed day of recognition.

While small communities, First Nations, Inuit communities and Metis settlements across the country may be planning their own events, the larger centres are planning large-scale activities for those who can't make it out to the rural areas.

National Aboriginal Day takes place officially on Sunday, June 21 on the summer solstice, but has been extended in some areas to include the whole weekend, starting on June 19.

In Vancouver, Germaine Langan and the Aboriginal Arts and Culture Celebration Society have been planning for the June 21 event since last September. The idea behind the British Columbia activities seems to be "bigger is better."

"We noticed in the past for National Aboriginal Day that there were little things going on, but they were just little things. There was nothing of any real significance," she said.

This year, the events kick off with a concert featuring entertainers Fara, Sandy Scoffield and the Clyde Roulette Band. A large parade is planned for the following day, starting at 9:30 a.m. at the CBC building on Hamilton Street, winding its way to the Vancouver Art Gallery. Traditional Mayan and Aztec dancers are also scheduled to participate at the event. Other activities include powwow dance demonstrations, arts and crafts displays, workshops and guest speakers.

Langan said the event is meant to be both fun and educational and is open to everyone, Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal.

Langan said she hopes many non-Native people will attend the events and learn more about the culture.

"Our target is the non-Native community, so we can educate them, because we already have the attention of the Native people," she said.

As we cross the Rockies into Alberta, Jane Woodward, an organizer of Edmonton's National Aboriginal Awareness Day activities, said a large working group of organizers will mean a large event this year.

Woodward, together with the Edmonton Aboriginal Urban Affairs Centre, the friendship centre, the provincial museum and the federal government, is working hand-in-hand to make this year's activities a success.

Woodward said that co-operation between different groups is an indication of the strong support for the event. The group has worked hard to put together a three-day event taking in four venues across Alberta's capital city.

Things get underway on June 19 at the Canada Place office building, with performers, Aboriginal dignitaries and politicians kicking off activities. A feast follows at the friendship centre.

The weekend events take place at the provincial museum and the Alberta Legislature grounds.

An eagle release, tipi painting, an evening concert, arts and crafts and entertainment from a variety of performers will be part of the festivities over the weekend.

Woodward said the various activities and events are to show non-Aboriginal people that Native culture isn't just beads and powwows.

National Aboriginal Day is not just for Aboriginal people," said Woodward. "It's an opportunity to educate non-Aboriginal people about who we are."

Since the officially-designated day was introduced by the federal government in 1996, it has met with mixed reviews from the Aboriginal community. Woodward said by working in partnership with community groups, the event can become more community-owned.

"The first year it was a federal thing," said Woodward, "but since then it has expanded. It is now a community thing, and we are considering it ours."

With the growing success of the event, Woodward and the organizing group are even looking at making the event into a week-long celebration in upcoming years.

#Edmonton organizers would like to see housands of people take part in the events.

"I'm not too good with numbers," she said. "Just to have a crowd of people who are enjoying themselves is enough."

In Calgary, the Calgary Aboriginal Awareness Society is planning a week of activities for Native Awareness Week, starting with the opening ceremonies on June 15 at Olympic Plaza. Organizers of the week-long awareness celebration are working with the Glenbow Museum, the friendship centre, the Pumphouse Theatre, the New Gallery and the Eau Claire Market to feature lectures, movie and stage presentations, arts, crafts, poetry and cuisine of Aboriginal people.

Activities in Calgary wrap up with the June 21 Sacred Day of Prayer at Nose Hill Park.

Other events planned for this year include a celebration on June 21 in Saskatchewan, at Saskatoon's Wanuskewin Heritage Park. Dancers and special guest speakers are expected to take the stage by 2 p.m.

In Winnipeg, CBC Radio will broadcast live from the Forks with a musical celebration featuring the Billy Joe Green Band, plus Eagle and Hawk. The event will be hosted by Billy Merasty. The show starts at 7 p.m. and will also headline a performer who is-yet to be announced.

Other Winnipeg activities include a sunrise ceremony, a parade, opening ceremonies, traditional games, Metis games and a Metis stage. Many more acts are scheduled. The day will wind down with a large fireworks display.

At the nation's capital, the organizers of National Aboriginal Day are planning to turn Ottawa and the surrounding area into an Aboriginal entertainment and information destination.

There's also a powwow planned for Victoria Island, and entertainers, dancers, singers, storytellers and artists will be highlighted at the Canadian Museum of Civilization.

"There's going to be a little of everything," said organizing committee member Christina Delguste.

Delguste, a representative of the Canadian Museum of Civilization, said that as many as 50 vendors of arts and craft will be on hand at the museum over the weekend. Metis jigs, northern throat singers and First Nations dancers will be performing for the 5,000 visitors the organizers are hoping to attract.

More information on National Aboriginal Day events can be found on the Internet at www.aboriginalday.com.