June 21 is not only the longest day of the year, with 19 hours of daylight, it is also National Indigenous Peoples Day (NIPD). What makes this day so special are the celebrations of Indigenous culture and the fact that it wasn’t held in person for two years because of the pandemic. After two years, the organizers are busy getting back into the swing of preparing for NIPD in Whitehorse.
“We are in a very busy phase,” said Shayna Hammer, cultural programs manager of the Kwanlin Dün Cultural Centre. “Celebrating National Indigenous Peoples Day, in person, for the first time in over two years, is incredibly special to Yukon First Nations culture. It allows us a time to celebrate together, to heal and to share our stories and traditions.”
In the past two years, the events were celebrated virtually and over radio, but that couldn’t replace the in-person events. “The Kwanlin Dün Cultural Centre is excited to host this year’s festivities and to showcase the pride of our culture and our people,” Hammer added.
Now things are almost back to normal. Still, some communities in the Yukon haven’t published the celebrations program, yet, because of the long break. They are busy setting up a timetable.
Hammer gave a short overview of the set-up at the Kwanlin Dün Cultural Centre on June 21: one act of the festival will be a demo by the Yukon Aboriginal Sport Circle, which is a non-profit society. They are the sport governing body for Arctic Sports, Dene Games, and archery in the Yukon.
There will be lots of traditional dancing featuring the Daghaalhaan K´e dance group and, of course, the Dakhká Khwáan Dancers, who are well-known in Whitehorse. Other artists who will perform on stage at the Kwanlin Dün Cultural Centre are Carl Carpentier and Ben Charlie. Charlie is originally from Old Crow and started playing music when he was very young, learning from his father and grandfather. Carpentier is a member of Tahltan First Nation, from Telegraph Creek in B.C. Both will share some old-time tunes with the audience.
Local Boy will be another act during the celebrations. Jeremy Parkin and Kelvin Smoler are behind the producer duo, Local Boy. They started working together in 2014. Their sound is a mix of hip hop, house and electronic, and which also integrates dancing and visual effects.
Not only adults are welcome; there will be activities offered for children. Coinciding with the day’s programming, they will also have a children’s activity tent by the Whitehorse Public Library; and Stew and Bannock, sponsored by Northwestel. Food trucks will be lining up at the festival for more delicious meals during the celebrations.
When it comes to arts and crafts, artists in Culture Cabins will show off their work. In the evening, Snotty Nose Rez Kids will wrap up the festivities with their performance.
In Dawson City, the Tr’ondek Hwech’in, at Dänoja Zho Cultural Centre, will celebrate their vibrant culture with traditional drumming, dancing, songs, artwork and food. The location for the celebrations in Mayo will be released soon. NIPD celebrations will also be held in Haines Junction, where Champagne and Aishihik First Nations will show their customs at the Da Ku Cultural Centre. NIPD will be celebrated at the Teslin Tlingit Heritage Centre, the Carcross Commons and in Carmacks. Locations vary every year. The long break, because of the pandemic, has delayed the release of programs, but more information will be published at www.travelyukon.com.
NIPD has been celebrated for 26 years now, and 2017 marked the first time NIPD was celebrated as a statutory holiday, after the Liberal government passed legislation earlier in 2017. Before 2017, NIPD was known as National Aboriginal Day. In 2006, the Northwest Territories had already made the day a territorial holiday, so the Yukon was following in the footsteps of the NWT.
NIPD began in 1996, after years of activism by Indigenous groups all over Canada. According to the Government of Canada website, June 21 was chosen because solstice is important to many Indigenous cultures.
All Yukoners are welcome to join the celebrations and explore the richness of Indigenous culture in the territory.