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Celebration marks National Aboriginal Day

By Barb Pacholik, Leader-Post

Its name derived from a Cree word, Wascana Centre was alive Saturday with the booming sounds of First Nations drummers in celebration of National Aboriginal Day.

With pageantry, dance and song, both aboriginal and non-aboriginal people joined in the gathering. Dickie Yuzicapi, one of the organizers, said he arrived early in the morning to try to find the driest land possible after four days of rain for the circle of dancers, who included everyone from tiny tots in traditional dress to elders. One young woman wore a rainbow of colours, a good omen as the clouds threatened on this first day of summer.

"Everyone's welcome to dance, whether you're aboriginal or not," Yuzicapi said.

Veteran Mike Rockthunder, who carried the Union Jack in the grand entrance, has pitched in at the celebrations for about the past seven years.

"It's good for the people ... The younger generation, they learn from that," said Rockthunder, 84, who served with NATO in Europe in the 1950s.

The federal government first proclaimed June 21 as National Aboriginal Day in 1996 to celebrate First Nations, Inuit and Metis peoples.

Olivia Keewatin, who danced in the grand entrance with her children, has been coming out to the event for years.

A member of the Starblanket First Nation, Keewatin spends the winter months doing the elaborate bead and leather work for their traditional outfits. She and four of her children danced, while her husband sang.

"It's a healthy way of living," she said, describing their efforts to maintain their cultural roots.

Keewatin said the celebrations are a good opportunity to show that culture off to the children and society as a whole.

Yuzicapi, who has helped with National Aboriginal Day celebrations for 14 years, said this weekend unfortunately competed with a number of large powwows, so the event didn't attract as large a crowd as organizers would have liked.

But he said the day is a chance to showcase and take pride in the positives among aboriginal people.

"There's so many of us that are thriving ... We're role models," he said. "It's one day in which we can tell the whole world, tell the whole country ... There's so many teachers and lawyers and doctors. Myself, I'm a master chef," he said.

Yuzicapi operates Sioux Chef Catering - "gourmet aboriginal cuisine with a modern twist," he said.

"I'm the only aboriginal master chef in Canada," he added, explaining that his love of cooking comes from his grandmother. With that, the conversation turned to the best way to cook buffalo, which only seems fitting here in Wascana, from a Cree word meaning "pile of bones," for the bison bones that were once scattered in the area.

The federal government announced in May that it was providing $15,000 in funding to the Regina National Aboriginal Day celebrations.

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