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National Indigenous Peoples Day kicks off with sunrise ceremony in St. John’s

A close up of two hand-held drums being played.
First Light’s sunrise ceremony to mark National Indigenous Peoples Day included prayers, smudging and music. (Danny Arsenault/CBC)

More than 100 people gathered for the annual sunrise ceremony in St. John’s to mark the beginning of National Indigenous Peoples Day on Wednesday — despite the cold, foggy weather.

The ceremony began with smudging, drumming and prayers from Indigenous elders. Marjorie Muise, a Mi’kmaw elder from Bay St. George, said she was proud to be there.

“It’s so important,” she said during the ceremony. “Everybody here came out to support and to celebrate with us, and that in itself is honourable.”

First Light, an Indigenous non-profit organization based in St. John’s, holds the ceremony each year in Cavell Park, a green space near its headquarters on Quidi Vidi Road. 

June 21, the summer solstice, marks National Indigenous Peoples Day in Canada, a day for celebrating the cultures, languages and heritage of First Nations, Inuit and Métis communities, nations and individuals across the country.

Muise told CBC News the spirituality of the ceremony is important.

“It touches a lot of people,” she said Wednesday morning.

She said the number of people attending the ceremony has ballooned in recent years.

“It has grown so well,” she said. “People [are] really acknowledging our cultures and accepting and understanding, which is really what we’re aiming to do — for people to understand who we are and not be intimidated, just come and share and learn.”

‘Come together as one’

For Inuk elder Emma Reelis, National Indigenous Peoples Day is about celebration, remembrance and reconciliation.

“Everybody gets together, come together as one,” she said. “There was so much needed for reconciliation after residential schools and murdered and missing Indigenous women and girls.”‘

Reelis said seeing young people celebrate her culture gives her hope for the future.

“I really do believe in the youth and our children,” she said.

Stan Nochasak, an Inuk drummer from Nain, performed during the ceremony.

“Inuit drum is also the heartbeat of all creation,” he said. 

WATCH | First Light marks Indigenous Peoples Day with sunrise ceremony: 

national indigenous peoples day kicks off with sunrise ceremony in st johns 1

Sunrise ceremony in St. John’s marks National Indigenous Peoples Day 2023

2 hours ago

Duration 1:41

First Light held its annual sunrise ceremony in St. John’s on Wednesday. Participants said National Indigenous Peoples Day is a time for reflection and celebration.

Nochasak said for him, National Indigenous Peoples Day is a time to celebrate and remember his ancestors.

“We want to pass on this pride and keep the spirit alive and to pass it on to the world,” he said.

“Everybody has a role, like a pebble of an inukshuk,” he said.

Following the ceremony, First Light hosted a breakfast at its headquarters.

Later Wednesday, First Light will be hosting free festivities, including musical performances, traditional hair braiding and drumming sessions at the Techniplex in St. John’s. 

First Light events and festivals specialist Salome Barker said the event is meant to celebrate the diverse Indigenous cultures in Newfoundland and Labrador and beyond.

“It’s a happy day, and everyone’s welcome,” she said.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

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