The High Bar First Nation’s inaugural Aboriginal Day in Clinton got off to a rainy start Tuesday but the weather didn’t dampen the spirits of the crowd.
More than 200 people celebrated the National Indigenous Peoples Day event in Reg Conn Park on June 21. The event coincided with the summer solstice – a time when Indigenous people had traditionally gathered.
“This is a day to celebrate our unique heritage and our diverse cultures,” student Shaya Hanemaayer, a member of the Williams Lake First Nation, said in opening remarks.
Yvonne Smith, senior ambassador for the High Bar Nation, dedicated the first-ever event “to those who have gone before us” and encouraged people to have conversations that count.
“We hid the fact we were native, we were taught to be ashamed of our language,” she said. “If you feel a light touch on your shoulder, don’t be alarmed. It’s our ancestors thanking you for coming to celebrate with us.”
High Bar Kukpi7 Roy Fletcher couldn’t make the gathering due to COVID-19.
Mike Archie, former chief of the Tsq’escenemc First Nation (Canim Lake Band), gave the opening prayer and song in Secwepemc.
He also acknowledged former High Bar Kukpi7 Larry “Happy” Fletcher for his “open heart” and said the rain was “blessing Mother Earth for this day.
“If we pray hard enough the weather will turn around.”
Shortly after, the rain did stop, allowing those in attendance to visit the various informational displays, vote in a bannock-making contest and enjoy Indigenous music from the Melawmen Collective, Arlen Park and Demian Pettman.
Archie’s wife Trish Meraw, granddaughter Autumn Archie and Lydia Dick also performed a woman’s jingle dance.
“That’s what reconciliation is all about: sharing our time together,” said Archie, who had lost his son that morning. “Today is a sad day but a celebration of life. I’m pretty grateful for life today.”
Clinton Mayor Susan Swan said she was happy to “learn more about (Indigenous) history which was not taught when I was in school. This is our opportunity.”
Swan also took home a small container of plant-based arthritis medicine, made by students at David Stoddart School under the guidance of Julie Antoine, of the Bonaparte First Nation.
“I have arthritis in my knees so I am definitely going to try this.”
Antoine said the students had gathered 14 different local plants, including dandelion, burdock and buckbrush, and combined them with olive oil to produce six different medicines for use to treat eczema, arthritis, aching muscles, wounds, cough and cold and insect bites.
Student Nolan Hughes said his aunt tried the insect medicine and now swears by it, while Antoine said arthritis tincture has really worked for her.
“Using this, my hands have stopped being deformed,” she said.
Antoine, who learned how to make medicines from her mother and a medicine woman when she was small, said people are always amazed at how so-called “weeds” can help with health, especially plants like Devil’s club and dandelions.
“We pick dandelion the most as it’s the most generous,” she said. “It’s got lots of properties in it that will give you good luck.”
Bev Wassenaar, who works with the Ministry of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation, said the entire event was “awesome.
“It’s beautiful to see the culture and the energy.”
Smith thanked the High Bar staff, David Stoddart School and everyone else for making the day a success.
“I was amazed at the support we received. Our goal is to re-establish our presence and share what we’re working on toward a sustainable community,” she said.
“It was a glorious wet day in the park.”