Across the Northwest Territories, communities are looking forward to National Indigenous Peoples Day on June 21 — a statutory holiday in the NWT that recognizes the contributions of First Nations, Metis and Inuit.
Given the Covid-19 pandemic this year, the usual plans for large public gatherings in many cases are leading community governments to rethink their annual activities or cancel them entirely.
Here’s the status in some NWT communities as National Indigenous Peoples Day approaches.
Katrina Cockney, manager of community services, stated that Tuktoyaktuk will host online events for both National Indigenous Peoples Day and Canada Day. For Indigenous Peoples Day, there will be a traditional dress online competition for all ages. There will also be jigging contests, including with partners, for all ages.
The day will also include best-decorated Indigenous-themed window, which the hamlet will judge. Only one decorated window will be allowed per household.
Canada Day will bring an array of events including a best-decorated bike contest for youth 15 and under, a best face paint contest for youth 15 and under; best decorated cake for all ages; a jigging contest, including with partners, for all ages; and best-decorated Canada Day-themed window. The hamlet will also give away a new bike for youth 15 and under who submit entries for the contest.
Cockney said that Covid-19 has greatly changed how the hamlet organizes its traditional gatherings.
“We will definitely miss having all the people gathering and showing their pride for who they are and where they come from,” she stated. “I’m sure everyone will miss our main events such as foot races, bike races, canoe races, bannock making, tea boiling, fish cutting, goose plucking, tug of war. We look forward to next year when hopefully we can run full-on events as previous years.”
The Deline Got’ine Government is looking forward to four days of celebration from June 20 to 23. The weekend will mark National Indigenous Peoples Day, Father’s Day and Sahtu Day — the latter falling on June 23 — according to Mitchell Naedzo, the community’s communications officer.
Naedzo said residents can expect to see multiple days of hand games over the weekend, but there will also be traditional dress-up, various games and events. A cook-out is expected to take place on June 20. It will offer tasty whitefish and game brought back by community members from federally funded Covid-19 on-the-land excursions in recent weeks.
“What we do for whole community is to send the community and we did the on-the-land where we helped pay for gas so that we could ask members to bring back traditional foods and fish and stuff like that,” Naedzo explained.
Unlike the situation with other NWT communities, Covid-19 is less of a concern because Deline halted incoming flights and it’s quite isolated from outsiders, he said.
Saamba K’e/Trout Lake
The Dehcho community of Saamba K’e/Trout Lake is not planning on National Indigenous Peoples Day activities, at least not as of Wednesday night, according to recreation coordinator Valerie Lamalice.
“So far we have nothing happening under the recreation because we’re just waiting on some GNWT restrictions that are being lifted,” she said. “But, right now, that hasn’t been done with recreation, so there are absolutely no activities or anything.”
Typically planning starts weeks in advance, she added.
“Right now, I would be planning for the Aboriginal and Fathers Day weekend for that event, but there’s absolutely nothing going on right now.”
As an isolated community without an all-season road, Lamalice said the weekend normally features traditional games, handgames, drumming and a big outdoor cookout.
This year will be too difficult with public health guidelines that include hand sanitizers and physical distancing, she said.
There are close to 90 members in the community and about 50 people showed up to the event in past years, Lamalice added.
At the Village of Fort Simpson, festivities involving National Indigenous Peoples Day are organized by the Liidlii Kue First Nations.
Roslyn Firth, wellness coordinator for the band, stated in an email that the chief and council had been expected to meet on Tuesday night, but it wasn’t clear “what/if decisions were made for Aboriginal Day,” she stated.
Inuvik Native Band
Band manager Edward Wright said the community was hoping to have a plan finalized before the end of the week, but as of Wednesday, more consultation was needed with other Indigenous leaders in the community.
“I’m hoping we can have a collective discussion to have a plan should we be able to hold an event but with the situation, it would have to be limited or whatever,” Wright said on Wednesday. “We know we can’t do food and those types of things that we usually do.”
Typically the band, along with the Gwich’in Tribal Council and the Nihtat Gwich’in Council, work closely on festivities every year, Wright noted. This normally includes a fish fry and traditional activities at Jim Koe Park. in front of the post office. Because the park is undergoing redevelopment, that is off-limits, he said.
“If we have any events they would have to be location-based around key Indigenous organizations and they would have to be outside, such as a passport adventure event throughout the day,” he said, adding the band is short staffed with a number of projects on the go, so it may be difficult to proceed this year.
The Tetlit Gwich’in Band Council, as of Wednesday, was still deciding what it would do for National Indigenous Peoples Day. The band stated it didn’t yet have any information to provide.
Tom Beaulieu, spokesperson for the Hamlet of Fort Resolution, stated that the hamlet is not planning anything for National Indigenous People’s Day even though celebrations are usually held by the Dene First Nations and the Métis every year.
Beaulieu added that the community typically holds Canada Day festivities, but that’s also uncertain due to Covid-19 precautions.
“We are waiting to see if there will be changes to the health orders before we plan anything,” he stated. “As it stands now we will likely not have any events for Canada Day.”
News North reached out to Deninu Kų’ First Nation and the Metis Nation of the Northwest Territories, but had not heard of plans as of Wednesday evening.