Pelham Councillors John Wink, Marianne Stewart, and Wayne Olson, Pelham Regional Councillor Diana Huson, Mayor Marvin Junkin, and Cultural Resource Coordinator with the Niagara Regional Native Centre Joseph Shawana were among those present to raise an "Every Child Matters" flag last Tuesday morning at Pelham Town Hall. DON RICKERS

June 21 was the summer solstice, the longest day and shortest night of the year in the Northern Hemisphere, marking the official beginning of summer. The Town of Pelham used the occasion to recognize the significance of National Indigenous Peoples Day, with an “Every Child Matters” flag-raising ceremony and bench dedication. The flag was smudged with sweetgrass and sage, a Native tradition, prior to ascending the flagpole in front of Town Hall.

The day was first celebrated in Canada in 1996, proclaimed that year by then Governor General Roméo LeBlanc.

The Town of Pelham is situated on treaty land, steeped in the history of First Nations tribes, including the Hatiwendaronk, Haudenosaunee, Anishinaabe, and Mississaugas of the Credit First Nation. Many First Nations, Métis, and Inuit people live and work in Niagara today.

The Town of Pelham stands with all Indigenous people, past and present, in promoting the wise stewardship of the lands on which we live

“We gather here to learn, and to continue to grow the partnership with our local Indigenous leaders, and to continue work towards building a community where indigenous people feel safe, respected, and have equal opportunity to achieve success,” Mayor Marvin Junkin told a small assembly. “We are fortunate to have partners at the Niagara Regional Native Centre, who are passionate about sharing their knowledge so we can have opportunities like today.”

Joseph Shawana, whose spirit name is Red Butterfly, represented the Indigenous population at the event. He was born in Niagara Falls and has lived in Niagara all his life, but his roots are with the Eagle Clan on Manitoulin Island. Shawana shared a prayer that was passed down to him through his great-grandfather, grandfather, and mother.

“Everything in Native spirituality is about gratitude,” he said. “We all have a responsibility as human beings through the Creator, who taught us is to take care of this earth.”

Shawana said that the residential school movement was a place where Indigenous people could not be themselves, where they were displaced from their families.

“I’m really thankful that my great-grandfather was able to keep his language and was able to pass it on to future generations.”

The new Indigenous bench in Peace Park, provided through a donation from an anonymous Pelham resident, has a plaque affixed which reads, “They tried to bury us, but they did not know we were seeds,” a reference to the tragedy of the residential school system.

As part of Indigenous History Month in June, the Meridian Community Centre is collaborating with the Upper Canada Native Art Gallery in Niagara-on-the-Lake to feature Inuit and Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) art and artists from across Turtle Island (Canada). Dreamcatcher kits are free and available in the atrium of the Meridian Community Centre as a self-directed art activity.

Last Tuesday, other Indigenous activities in Pelham included a seminar in the MCC’s Accursi Room with Nokomis Migizinz Cindilee, from 4 Winds All My Relations. Cindilee is a Spiritual Grandmother and Women Bundle Carrier, who engages in various capacities of traditional Native knowledge in the region. Since 2007, she has presented in schools as an instructor, educator, academic coach, and cultural liaison, sharing her teachings and history.

A drumming presentation with Butterfly Spirit Drummers was also featured at the MCC, along with a Cultural Roots of Lacrosse workshop led by Indigenous instructor Jace Sowden of Fuse Lacrosse Club.

“The Town of Pelham stands with all Indigenous people, past and present, in promoting the wise stewardship of the lands on which we live,” said Mayor Junkin.