With a crowd of thousands gathered to watch – at least 3,000 of which were students – canoes floated across the waters of the Esquimalt Lagoon to the shores of the Royal Roads University campus on Wednesday, with a leader from each boat stopping to ask permission to come ashore.
The ceremony has been performed on the lands of the Lekwungen and Xwsepsum peoples for generations, and on this occasion it was the job of Lekwungen Elder Yux’wey’lupton, or Butch Dick as he’s known by his English name to some, to grant each party permission to land, officially kicking off this year’s National Indigenous Peoples Day celebrations at the university.
With the canoes on dry land, drumming and singing followed before elders and organizers made their way up to the main event grounds for opening remarks and the rest of the day’s activities.
There, even more people were waiting to watch performances while others stood in line at food trucks, browsed the many artisan booths, or explored tepees where they could hear stories told by elders, or learn Indigenous languages.
What started as a small event organized by a handful of people has now grown into a massive community event which sees people visit from far and wide.
“It’s overwhelming. We started this with a handful of canoes and a handful of people, but over the years it has grown and the word has gotten out that it is a fun and safe gathering,” said Dick. “It’s attracted many nations here, along with our friends from many different communities. It’s heartfelt, and it’s just a good gathering.”
Dick said the event is about creating understanding between people, and promoting the belief of “one world, one people.”
“That’s the way it should be,” he said. “There is a lot of good work going on in all the school communities, and this is just an add-on to that. It’s human contact, where you can actually talk to an elder, or a dancer, a canoe paddler.”