Members of the Okanagan Nation celebrate National Aboriginal Day in Kelowna

Traditional canoe trip from Westbank First Nation to Kelowna kicks off day long celebrations of Aboriginal people

Kelowna Friendship Society elder George Pierce hands over a feather to Randy Jim in a traditional ceremony as part of National Aboriginal Day.

Kelowna Friendship Society elder George Pierce hands over a feather to Randy Jim in a traditional ceremony as part of National Aboriginal Day.

First Nations’ school-children, along with members of the B.C. Aboriginal Policing Services and the Okanagan Nation Alliance took part in a ceremonial canoe trip on Tuesday, paddling from the Westbank First Nation to City Park, kicking off a day of celebration in downtown Kelowna as part of National Aboriginal Day.

A canoe full of First Nations’ members pulled into City Park, rowing backwards onto the beach, to signify a peaceful approach as elder George Pierce held the feather of a Spotted Eagle high in the air as a sign of peace.

Surrounded by school-children who worked paddles, Pierce said it was a special moment.

“I love being with the children and seeing them happy and dancing,” he said. “It brings out the child in me. We all gather today. We are all from different nations, but we gather as one.”

As Pierce set foot on the beach, he handed the Eagle feather to Randy Jim, echoing how tribes would have approached each other in aboriginal history.

“They came and asked permission to land and we welcome them,” said Jim. “We honour this feather above all else. It’s a symbol of what it means to be a First Nations’ person. It represents honour, freedom, honesty, strength and wisdom.”

The symbolic canoe trip opened up an afternoon of celebration on National Aboriginal Day as the Ki-Low-Na Friendship Centre hosted dignitaries including B.C. Premier Christy Clark, Kelowna-Lake Country MLA Norm Letnick, Kelowna Mayor Colin Basran and West Kelowna Mayor Doug Findlater among others.

“Aboriginal Day is not just for us it’s for everyone to come and share our song and dance and culture,” said drummer and dancer Darwin Asapace, who played traditional drums as the canoe approached. “This is our day so we celebrate our lives and what Mother Earth provides everyone. We worship the sun and the water because without that, nothing would survive.”

School children who paddled came from different schools across the Central Okanagan, taking part in the traditional ceremony and learning about their past.

Amara Waldram of the Ki-Low-Na Friendship Centre said having children taking part in the events is an important part of bridging the gap between generations.

“It’s important that they learn how we used to do things,” said Waldram. “It’s good for them to learn the traditions. That’s why the canoe came into the beach backwards, as a show of respect and that we come in peace.”

National Aboriginal Day was created in 1996 by then Governor General of Canada, Roméo LeBlanc. In cooperation with Indigenous organizations, the Government of Canada chose June 21, the summer solstice, for National Aboriginal Day. For generations, many indigenous peoples and communities have celebrated their culture and heritage on or near this day due to the significance of the summer solstice as the longest day of the year.