ZacMcKenna of Canoe Creek took part in Maple Ridge’s National Indigenous Peoples Day celebrations last year when people were allowed to gather. (THE NEWS files)

Maple Ridge celebration of National Indigenous Peoples Day virtual this year

Event takes place June 21

National Indigenous Peoples Day is going to be celebrated virtually this year due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

The 10th annual Maple Ridge event put on by the Fraser River Indigenous Society, will be honouring the contributions of First Nations, Metis and Inuit peoples in arts and culture.

“This year our focus is on culture and art. Recognizing the permanency of an Indigenous culture in the area, recognizing that Indigenous peoples are not a thing of the past, but current,” said executive director of the Fraser River Indigenous Society Ginna Berg.

It was a challenge, added Berg, to bring the event together this year, having to plan a virtual event within a couple of months because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

READ MORE: Maple Ridge celebrates National Indigenous Peoples Day

“We’ve always relied on our ability to gather as a community. It is very important for this community to gather and to share, especially around pieces like food and dance and song,” noted Berg.

And, she said, they had to wait for a long time before they could move forward with planning. Only when they realized that an actual public gathering was not going to be allowed or even recommended, especially given that the Katzie and Kwantlen are land-based communities and closed to the public for protection of their community from the virus, did they decide they wanted to forge ahead with a virtual celebration.

This year’s event will feature a prerecorded private interview and concert by Juno Award winner performer George Leach that will be released on the day of the event.

In it Leach talks about the role of the artist, comparing the artist to modern day warriors, who carry forward the lived history of the Indigenous peoples’ culture.

READ MORE: Father and son unveil reconciliation pole in B.C. on Indigenous Peoples Day

Spoken word artist Crystal AJ Smith will also be performing along with Metis dancer Jeanette Kotowich, whose solo piece will be a lively celebration of modern jig.

“The voices of the old are actually heard through her song,” said Berg of Kotowich.

“Then she takes the dance she has learned through traditions and has crafted a modern day performance that pays homage to her culture,” added Berg.

Smith wrote a poem the day of the filming, said Berg, while she was waiting for the filming to take place. The poem, called 500 Years, which will be premiered at the event.

“The poem speaks to the 500 years of colonization and the recognition of the movements that are happening currently,” Berg said.

Feature guest speaker will be Ernie Cardinal. Local hoop dancer Jane Willie will also be performing.

And, Elders in the community will be sharing their traditional teachings.

To further the celebration FRIS has invited local Indigenous artists from the Katzie, Kwantlen and Metis Nations, plus an open call to the urban Indigenous population in Maple Ridge, to submit proposals for art installations to be included at their new location, the second floor at 11830 Selkirk Avenue, at 223 Street in Maple Ridge, that is currently undergoing renovations.

“Even through the challenges of us gathering and sharing, there has been a really strong response from the community to share and that’s apparent in the amount of submissions we’ve had,” said Berg of the performers.

Participants will be able to access an interactive map at the festival website, at, that will feature links to additional artists, information about traditional teachings, hear the song of the First Salmon Ceremony, and the learn about the history of the Whonnock people.

The National Indigenous Peoples Day celebration starts at noon on June 21.

To participate log on to the Fraser River Indigenous Society Facebook “live event” page.

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