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Jun 21 2021

Joy, sorrow, and hope on the longest day of the year

Posted by Sarah Dickie, Coastal GasLink Indigenous Engagement Lead

This National Indigenous People’s Day, we're honoured to elevate the stories and voices of our Indigenous team members. This story was written by Sarah Dickie, a member of the Fort Nelson First Nation and Coastal GasLink’s Indigenous Engagement Lead.

Indigenous People’s Day falls on the summer solstice, the longest day of the year. In Fort Nelson, the sun is up by 4:00 am, down near 11:00 pm and it only barely gets dark.

I’ve always found it to be a happy, hopeful day full of promise. It’s usually a day when the town, urban Indigenous organizations, and Nation come together to organize an opening event, hand-games exhibitions or tournaments, and everyone is shaking hands and visiting each other.

One year, Fort Nelson First Nation had guest drummers from Northern Alberta join our hand-games tournament – they were the best drum dances ever. I carried my niece through a few songs; she’s now a fully-fledged teenager who’s taller than me!

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A drum dance as the sun sets in the horizon. Photographed by my cousin, Ryan Dickie.

At this time of the year, berries aren’t quite ripe yet, but people pull out carefully hoarded frozen berries along with bags of dried moose meat, rendered moose fat, and everyone feasts. All ages stay up late to enjoy the festivities because 10:00pm isn’t late or past anyone’s bedtime – the sun is still shining!

The winter solstice is the opposite, the sun may crest the horizon by 11:00am and be fully out of sight by 4:00pm. With the rivers frozen, traditional river boat travel is impossible, so in addition to being dark and cold, it can be lonely too.

The stories of family attending the St. Henry’s, Lower Post, and Kamloops residential schools were always horrible, but the recent discoveries of unmarked gravesites at these places was a truly dark time for a lot of people – mentally, spiritually, emotionally and even physically.

I don’t know how people move beyond it, but if that trauma could be likened to the crushing weight of ice floes breaking and jamming against downstream bridges: bridges with strong foundations stand, river banks move, and silt fertilizes new ground for spring growth. Maybe some poorly built foundations shift or break. Maybe some things will break or change in Canada, too. Maybe there will be growth in new areas. 

But it is Indigenous People’s Day. The sun is shining, the river is clear and we can see a long ways away.  Let’s dream of a better, more inclusive and respectful future. If only we could shake hands and share food, watch some hand-games, and join a drum dance circle, too. 

 

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Here’s my favourite picture with my auntie Kathi on the right and my late grandmother Adeline in the middle.