With a crowd of thousands gathered to watch, canoes crossed the Esquimalt Lagoon to the shores of the Royal Roads University campus in Colwood on Tuesday, with a leader from each boat stopping to ask permission to land.
It’s a ceremony which has been performed on the lands of the Lekwungen and Xwsepsum peoples for generations, and on this occasion it was the job of Lekwungen Elder Yux’wey’lupton, or Butch Dick as he’s known by his English name to some, to grant each party permission to land, officially kicking off this year’s National Indigenous Peoples Day celebrations at the university.
With the canoes welcomed ashore, drumming, dancing and prayer followed before a parade of Elders and drummers made their way up to the main event grounds for the rest of the day’s activities.
There, even more people were waiting to watch performances while others stood in line at food trucks, browsed the many artisan booths, or explored tepees and listened to stories told by Elders.
“The pandemic really separated everyone, and this is an event that brings community back together, brings family back together to celebrate, honour and uphold Indigenous people,” said Asma-na-hi Antoine, director of Indigenous engagement at RRU and the event’s organizer. “More importantly, it is an opportunity for us to get together and have fun.”
Antoine said previous editions of the event were organized by herself and a small team at the school, but as more people in the community started to hear about it, the number of volunteers stepping up to help grew rapidly, to the point where the 2022 event saw 21 partner organizations involved.
RRU president Philip Steenkamp appreciated the event returning to in-person status, following pandemic-driven cancellations.
“We are deeply, deeply privileged to be able to work, live, and learn on these lands every single day,” he said. “How incredible it is to be back in person celebrating National Indigenous Peoples Day, it’s just an incredible event.”