Popular Indigenous Peoples' Day Gathering Goes virtual

By: Nickita Longman November, 2020

When you are planning to gather hundreds to participate in a popular walk in support of important cause, a pandemic will not slow you down.  So when COVID­19 cancelled all public gatherings, the Saskatoon Indian & Métis Friendship Centre (SIMFC) decided to take its National Indigenous Peoples Day event online.

For the past two years, SIMFC has proudly hosted a National Indigenous Peoples Day event in Saskatoon. Each year, the event has incorporated a ‘Rock your Roots Reconciliation Walk’, which was an added component to honour Residential School and the Sixties Scoop Survivors, and sees roughly 5,500 attendees throughout the course of the day. 

Unfortunately, the pandemic pushed SIMFC’s staff to strategize and continue to plan for the event, but in a virtual, online format. “The staff is used to hosting big [in­person] events, therefore, it took some adjusting,” explains Program Manager Melanie St. Juste. “In the end, we were happy with the results.” 

The organization aimed to keep a similar agenda online to what may have taken place in the park, including greetings from Saskatchewan’s Premier Scott Moe, City of Saskatoon Mayor Charlie Clarke, National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations Perry Bellegarde, and the Métis Nation ­Saskatchewan President Glen McCallum. The online event began with an opening prayer, a Grand Entry song, the national anthem and the Métis anthem. 

“The entertainment components we included in the online gathering ranged from Ahkamayimo Linklater singing opera to a young man named John Timmons singing Elvis covers,” St. Juste says. Other entertainment included performances by singer/songwriters, a powwow dance troupe, drumming, hoop dancers and Métis jiggers. Closing remarks were delivered by SIMFC’s Executive Director Robert Doucette. 

While the engagement was drastically different from previous years, St. Juste feels as though SIMFC was still able to provide cultural education by implementing Indigenous and Métis facts and history lessons throughout the program.  “The feedback we received was very good,” she says. “(People) enjoyed the sound of live music and the performances.” 

Since the start of the pandemic, SIMFC has hosted a handful of online events including its annual FolkFest programming that featured Indigenous culinary techniques and a high school graduation celebration which highlighted up and coming Indigenous performers. Videos of both events are still on the SIMFC website.

While the online National Indigenous Peoples Day event may not have seen as much traffic as in the past, the recorded online celebration remains on SIMFC’s YouTube channel and can be enjoyed year ­round. 

This event received support from SaskCulture's Multicultural Initiatives Fund, funded by Sask Lotteries.