In 2014 the United Nations General Assembly designated June 21, the summer solstice, as the International Day of Yoga. Here in Canada however, that date already had significance–since 2001 the longest day of the year has also been celebrated as National Aboriginal Day, to honour the original locals of the land we call home.
To celebrate National Aboriginal Day, Whistler’s Squamish Lil’wat Cultural Centre (SLCC) has a full day of celebrations and activities planned. And for the local First Nations the summer solstice (aka the first day of summer) has held significance since time immemorial.
“The changing of the seasons were important to our people,” says Alison Pascal, Junior Curator at the SLCC and member of the Lil’wat Nation. “The summer solstice was a time to celebrate surviving the winter and to prepare for the season of abundance. In the spring we would gather weaving materials and chutes for nutrients but summer would bring abundance with raspberry and huckleberry season, and the return of the salmon.”
Kicking off at 10:30 AM on June 21, 2017, the traditional celebrations at the SLCC will include a First Nations Blessing and Sage Smudging, traditional dancing, singing and drumming presentations as well as storytelling, an artisan market and a feast.
“A smudge is like a cleansing and refocusing of your energy,” Pascal says. “We have one of our local medicine people coming to assist. His English name is Barry Dan and his partner Clara is joining him. It’s important to have balanced energy from the men and the women. The smudge allows us to step back and refocus for the upcoming season.”
The feast is planned as a BBQ (prices vary based on what you order) and the dishes range from venison bannock burgers to buffalo smokies to wild salmon cooked traditionally on a cedar plank.
“Salmon was a staple of our diet,” Pascal explains. “I’m not sure our culture would have survived the winter without salmon. Today we have a ceremony teaching our children to respect and preserve the salmon.”
Living in the mountains, the Lil’wat peoples would winter in pit houses called Itsken and the start of summer meant they could move back above ground for a few months. The SLCC has a replica Itsken that will house Aboriginal craft activities throughout the day. Families and guests can try traditional weaving techniques or create their own deer hide bracelets and wind chimes.
Storytelling has always been integral to Aboriginal cultures and Pascal says there is one story planned for the celebrations that is particularly suited to the longest day of the year.
“It is a story about kids who are not listening,” she says, “and I am guilty of this too. When your mom is telling you to come home and go to bed but it still feels like daytime because the sun is still high in the sky this time of year.”
In the story a giant wild woman comes to scoop children who don’t listen and stay out too late into her berry picking basket, with plans to take them home and eat them.
“The Squamish nation called her Kalkaliilh,” Pascal explains. “And for the Lil’wat she is Skalula, the owl. When I was young, my grandmother was in the dance performance group and she would do this terrifying wild woman dance that goes along with the story. I remember her putting on the costume and hooting and hollering.”
Sensitive and parents can rest assured; all the children survive the story and a great lesson is learned.
“Museums like this one [SLCC] and National Aboriginal Day are important,” Pascal says. “Because we celebrate this all across Canada and shows that even though the government sometimes forgets to respect and honour some of the treaties they signed, this is a day to show that Aboriginal peoples are still here and our culture is thriving and growing with time.”
The National Aboriginal Day celebrations at the SLCC are open to any guests and admission is by donation the entire day. That openness and inclusivity extends to the Yoga crowd as well. The SLCC will celebrate the International Day of Yoga by hosting a class on their outdoor patio from 9:15-10:30 AM.
Namasthe, Wa Chexw Yuu (Take Care – Squamish Language).