Thousands of people gathered at Royal Roads University, on the traditional lands of the Lekwungen (Songhees) and Xwsepsum (Esquimalt) ancestors and families.
They were there for National Indigenous Peoples Day celebrations which included a canoe landing protocol and canoe challenge; drumming, singing and dancing; children’s field games, Indigenous foods, craft workshops and artists and vendors.
The canoe landing protocol and welcoming ceremony, which took place at 10:30 a.m. on the shore of Esquimalt Lagoon was led by Lekwungen Elder Butch Dick and Elder Elmer George. Seventeen canoes participated in the protocol with individuals in the canoes stating where they are from and asking for permission to come ashore.
Premier John Horgan, who was on one of the canoes, has participated in the protocol before and said it will never get old. He said 14 years ago, it was difficult to find an event like this to participate in.
“National Indigenous Peoples Day has absolutely taken hold,” Horgan said. “It’s a great day in June to remind ourselves of how fortunate we are to live here on the unceded territory of Indigenous people.”
Elder Butch Dick of the Lekwungen (Songhees) Nation said an event like this was a vision of his and Asma-na-hi Antoine. Both work with Royal Roads and were looking out onto the Lagoon thinking it would be nice to have canoes there.
“The first year we had a few canoes, and then we had a few more and now today we had about 17 canoes and lots and lots of people which is pretty exciting,” Dick said.
Several school groups and community members joined in on the celebrations and observed the canoe landing protocol, learning about traditions that have been around for many years. Dick said he it was “overwhelming” to see how many people were there.
He said being able to see the protocols helps pass down the tradition to young people who can continue to practice them.
“In our culture we don’t have books…to tell you what the teachings are,” Dick said. “It’s very important to listen and to be able to pass that along to younger people.”
Philip Steenkamp, president of Royal Roads University, said it is an honour to be able to co-host National Indigenous Peoples Day.
“These are really important lands for the Indigenous people of this area, they’ve been here for thousands of years,” Steenkamp said. “People think about this place as a colonial castle but in fact Indigenous people pre-dated any kind of colonial settlement for thousands of years so it’s honouring that connection.”