By Bill Tremblay
In the midst of a brutal winter, Gil and Debbie Sipkema are planning for summer, but the recent extreme weather isn’t their motivation.
The Orangeville couple plan to bring a First Nations celebration to town for June 21, the first day of summer and Canada’s National Aboriginal Day.
“We’re doing a sacred ceremony. It’s a celebration of summer,” Gil said, the artist who runs Global Native Crafts.
Created in 1996 by the Governor General, National Aboriginal Day acknowledges the achievements of First Nations, Métis and Inuit in various fields.
Debbie sees hosting a celebration in Orangeville as a way to create understand between various cultures.
“Right now with what’s going on globally with aboriginal uprisings, we want to bring the two cultures to a better understanding of each other,” Debbie said.
“I want to bring the education to the people that may not necessarily have the knowledge. I want to look at Aboriginal Day as a teaching on what’s going on.”
The Sipkemas plan to bring native singers, dancers, drummers and crafts people to town to demonstrate traditional elements of their culture.
They hope to use Alexandria Park as the celebration’s venue.
“I just think it’s going to be an adventure,” Debbie said.
As well, a First Nations elder is planned to lead the ceremony.
“Everyone we’ve talked to, they love the idea,” Gil said. “They’re tickled.”
In preparation for the ceremony, Gil and Debbie want to include traditional First Nation rituals, from gifting tobacco to a ceremonial smudge stick.
“When you go to church, you have a priest who burns incense, we use a smudge bowl. It cleanses your brain, it cleans out your system,” Gil said. “Tobacco is what you give back to the creator, the earth.”
While the local celebration won’t be of pow wow proportions, Debbie does promise a round dance.
“That’s actually a way of involving the whole group. It’s a friendship circle, that’s the concept of it,” she explained.
“They’re powerful in their own way.”
She also plans to serve traditional aboriginal foods, from buffalo to bannock, a type of fried bread.
“I want to try and have as much representation as I can,” Debbie said.
As Gil and Debbie explain their plans for the celebration, they pass a decorated eagle feather back and forth. The feather is a symbol of truth.
“It’s a very powerful bird. The story of the eagle is it flies closest to the creator,” Gill said. “Which is why you can’t tell a lie while you hold an eagle feather.”
Gil hopes the celebration will help resurrect a disappearing culture,
“What hurts is it’s not the aboriginal culture itself, but the culture of Canada,” Gil said. “It’s a wake up call for the community. The schools might look at this as a stepping stone.”
Dufferin County is home to a growing population of native people, Debbie explained.
“Most people don’t know there are aboriginals walking amongst us,” she said. “We have been lucky enough to find all sorts of people in the area.”
Debbie believes Orangeville will welcome a new cultural celebration.
“We now have multiculturalism being explored here. This is just another culture,” Debbie said. “It’s my hope this is going to break down some of the prejudices that go with the culture.”
She added long before Europeans settled in Dufferin County, the region played an important role for First Nations people.
“The Six Nations in Brantford, that’s only a fraction of what it used to be. They went all the way up to Owen Sound,” she said. “We were part of the summer grounds. We’re already on Native ground.”
Gil and Debbie are reaching out to the community to find sponsors and volunteers to help run the event.
“This is our first time in Orangeville. This is monumental,” Gil said. “We’re just excited to put this together.”
Finding other First Nation artists and musicians is proving to be a difficult task.
“Usually they go somewhere else for Aboriginal Day, but we’ve been coaxing them,” Debbie said.
While the inaugural event is still in the planning stages, Debbie wants Aboriginal Day to become an annual celebration in Orangeville.
“For the first year it’s not going to be as spectacular as it should be,” she said. “But we’re going to try and bring as much as we can this year.”