Ktunaxa First Nation and Rocky Mountain Métis Association convened in Rotary Park on June 20 to celebrate National Indigenous Peoples Day.
Volunteers taught visitors about Indigenous history and culture at interactive booths.
The Columbia Headwater Dance Troupe performed hoop dance.
A panel of speakers, including Ktunaxa chief Joe Pierre, Ktunaxa councillor Julie Birdstone, Rocky Mountain Métis Association president Jeff Crozier, MLA Tom Shypitka and Cranbrook city councillor Lynnette Wray, introduced the event. They reflected on the injustices Indigenous people face and commended the Ktunaxa’s resilience and strength.
The event was held the day before National Indigenous Peoples Day, so that it wouldn’t conflict with the Yaq̓it ʔa·knuqⱡi’it Border Walk — a day where Ktunaxa living in Canada and the U.S meet in solidarity.
“If we don’t have language and we don’t have culture, our own culture, then who are we? We become mainstream assimilated people” Julie Birdstone told the Townsman.
“My two grandmothers worked really hard in the 70s to work on our Ktunaxa language and to write it down so it would never be forgotten. That’s what carries us, is our culture and our language. For years, it was not recognized how important it was for our children. We have to hold on to our culture for future generations.”
In her speech, Birdstone remarked on the progress that Cranbrook and the country of Canada has made on reconciliation. She recalled that when she was young, Indigenous families were not even allowed to eat in local restaurants. When her family went out to eat in Cranbrook’s Chinatown, they had to go around to the side of the restaurant where they were served noodles in a coffee can.
“There was a lot of services where we couldn’t go into. In fact, it wasn’t until the 1960s that we were actually considered citizens of Canada and we were allowed to vote,” she said. “I remember my grandparents, when it was time to go and vote, they would dress up in their best clothes. That’s how much it meant to them.”
“It’s our responsibility to share our culture and to build our children up so that they’re standing here in 20 years.”
“We don’t just celebrate today. We celebrate every day.”